What Not To Do When Organizing

Mistakes, which can undermine the long term effectiveness
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Getting organized feels terrific – one of the best feelings there is! Unfortunately, I often see people making a couple of mistakes, which can undermine the long term effectiveness of their organizational system.

Here are a few reminders.


1. Place small items loose in a large space.

The key here is the relationship between the size of the space and the size of the items being stored there. Most often, we have small items to store in a larger space, such as cosmetics in a drawer, or tools on a shelf. Never just toss small items into a drawer or onto a shelf; they will undoubtedly end up muddled.

Instead -> Subdivide the space with smaller containers, such small boxes, cutlery trays or drawer inserts.

2. Wrap rubber bands around paper.

Rubber bands are great for some purposes, but paper isn’t one of them. They make the paper bend, get stuck in files, and ultimately loose elasticity, dry out and break. I rarely use a rubber band, and never for a long term storage solution.

Instead -> Keep papers organized with folders and hanging files. If you wish to group papers within a file, use a staple, paper clip or binder clip.

3. “Hide” objects in containers.

Containers that aren’t clear are concealers. They hide their contents, and most of us end up forgetting what’s inside. Sometimes we intentionally select opaque containers because they will be seen and we want them to be attractive. But anytime we stash items in a concealer, we are at risk of losing them.

Instead -> Use clear containers where appropriate and always use labels. When you don’t want the labels to show, put them under the container, on the inside of the lid, or on the back.

4. Create complex storage solutions.

Most people don’t enjoy putting items away. A system that requires the user to jump through hoops is probably a failure-in-waiting. We are less likely to put belongings away if we have to…

  • go up too many stairs,
  • remove lids,
  • transfer items from one container to another,
  • access a space that is out of reach,
  • unpack other objects first,
  • or do anything which seems difficult.

Instead -> Make it as easy to put away as it was to take out, and keep it as simple as possible. Also, make sure the system is age-appropriate.

5. Pack a space to capacity.

A system that is “filled to the brim” is likely to become quickly out of date. Most people are regularly bringing items in, so a good system will be able to accommodate new arrivals.

Instead -> Always leave “room to grow.” If you find yourself shoving and squeezing items into a container, consider letting go of a few. When a container nears capacity, follow the “one in, one out” rule.

*     *     *     *   *

Expending effort and energy on a system that quickly falls apart is discouraging. Be smart when organizing, and don’t be afraid to make adjustments if you find something isn’t working.

What mistakes have you made with your stuff?

20 thoughts on “What Not To Do When Organizing”

  1. Sadly have made these mistakes in the past myself, but thankfully have learned little by little from the mistakes. Thanks for sharing Seana and reminding me what not to do when organizing 🙂

    1. Our best lessons come from our own mistakes, right? Sometimes I get frustrated when I see complicated or limited organizing solutions on TV or in magazines. They need to be fluid and easy, or they will end up not working, and then people feel deflated. And who needs that? The stuff is supposed to make us happy, not depressed!!

  2. Not labeling containers with simple but specific labels. Not sharing your system with other family members so they can both find items and put them away properly. Not purging enough!

    1. Oh Kerith, I love the “not sharing your system” point. That is so key! Often it is the “other users” who don’t keep up the system. Labeling helps with that, but everybody needs to get checked out when you’ve done the hard work of setting up a new space, right?

    1. What a nice thing to say, Susannah! I guess I love organizing, so I’m always trying to find a way to get others to dive in and enjoy the process:)

    1. Glad to hear I’ve got a kindred spirit out there on the rubber band issue, Savanna. So many times I’m working with clients and we pull out paper that had been wrapped with a rubber band… you end up with bent paper covered with bits of what looks like dried worms – not the best solution!

  3. You are soooo right about the clear containers! Years ago I bought all these cute, colorful containers to store things in. BIG mistake, since they weren’t even labeled. I always had to drag several out to find what I was looking for. Needless to say, I’ve switched over to the clear plastic storage bins! Thanks for the great tips you shared here!

    1. Has happened to me as well… now I’ve got clear plastic all over the place – AND I label them. Doesn’t look quite as nice as the magazines, but at least I know where everything is:) Thanks for reading, Marcia!

  4. I’m definitely guilty of the rubber bands one!
    What’s really funny is that Scarlet does #1 over and over. Somehow she doesn’t lose things often, but that’s by some act of miracle!

    1. Well, maybe Scarlet has a strong internal organizing sense!! Nonetheless, as life gets more complicated, it gets harder for all of us because we just have so much stuff to keep track of. As far as rubber bands… just say “no”:)

    1. Thanks for reading, Sarah. Funny how much we learn from our own mistakes, right? I’ve made my fair share. I’ve definitely come to realize that I have to label if I want anyone else in the house to stick with “the system.” Since you are unpacking, you are at the perfect place to be very intentional about you put things. Being smart now will save you from grief later:)

  5. Hi Seana – You make so many good points here. I especially like the one about opaque containers being concealers. So true!
    I am definitely guilty of a few of the above. But organizing is a work in progress.

    1. Thanks for reading, Neena. I’ve been guilty myself… I’ve learned a lot this way! Organizing is definitely an ongoing process. And our lives are dynamic and shifting, so we need to shift our systems as well:)

  6. Ha! I think #2 has got to be a pet peeve of mine for sure, lol! I mean really? How many of us buy rubber bands THAT big, so surely they’ll contract around whatever they’re wrapped around. Smh…too funny!

    After having moved so many times, one lesson I’ve learned is to pack the MOST important things last, so that they’ll always be the easiest and first to get to. As always, thanks for sharing Seana!
    Michell @Prowess and Pearls recently posted…Mastering YOU Monday…surgery and recoveryMy Profile

    1. I love that last tip, Michell. People often wonder how they should pack for a move, and I think your idea is spot on… like pack the coffee pot last:) Great to have your comment on the blog!

  7. that’s my biggest struggle, putting things away IMMEDIATELY and in the proper place. I ten to drop and go make lunch, dinner, or clean. I am learning and trying to get better.

    Having a cleaning lady come to my place every other week forces to me to make sure things are off the floor and organized….
    karen recently posted…Just Finished Reading…My Profile

    1. Yes, I always think the cleaning lady provides a measure of accountability. We need to respect them by providing a space they can actually clean, not a mess to push around. I think most people struggle with putting things away in the moment. We often just don’t feel like it, or we’ve got a million other things drawing our attention…

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