Have you ever noticed that few people enjoy putting things away? It seems to rank right up there with filing taxes and going to the dentist. Most people either struggle themselves or are frustrated with trying to get others to return items to the drawers, closets, shelves, cabinets and containers in which they belong.
If you think about it, this reluctance is not surprising.
The reward for taking an item out is immediate and tangible:
- Eating the bag of chips
- Playing the game
- Wearing the shirt
- Using the paintbrush
- Writing with the pen
In contrast, the payoff for putting items back comes primarily in the future and is a bit more vague:
- Knowing where to find the scissors
- Retrieving a needed piece of paper
- Preventing the shirt from wrinkling
- Minimizing the presence of bugs
- Keeping the toy from being stepped on and broken
For some, the peace of mind of having things in order is enough of a motivator to put things away. However for many, the benefits are not compelling enough to justify the effort required to put things away. In fact, all it takes is just the tiniest of hurdles to deter us. Hurdles include things such as:
- A lid that needs to be removed
- A hanger that requires a few seconds of effort
- Stacked storage that requires moving bins on the top to access the one on the bottom
- Absence of convenient trash receptacles or laundry hampers
- Cramped or broken drawers that are difficult to use
- Containers that are too high to reach
Whenever barriers are in place, we are probably going to simply “stick” an item in a convenient location. For instance:
- Putting the clothing tag we just ripped off the new shirt onto the nearby shelf rather than walking into the bathroom and throwing it away
- Piling the papers on the kitchen counter instead of taking them outside to the recycle bin or filing them in the drawer in the upstairs office
- Dropping the dirty soccer socks in the entry instead of walking them to the laundry room
- Leaving the folded clothes on the dresser/chair/floor instead of shoving them into the broken or crowded dresser
- Hanging the coat on the back of the chair rather than wrestling to get it onto a hanger and into a cramped closet
The best way to make yourself (and others) put items away is to establish storage systems that are “toss easy,” where items can be put back with little more effort than it takes to toss a pen into a cup. The key word here is EASY! If you are finding items strewn about, odds are there is a little barrier in place that is keeping family members from putting them away. Again, it doesn’t take much to dissuade action, so look for any small obstacle that can be eliminated.
Of course, everyone has limited space, so not all of the items you own can be given quick access storage. For instance, the holiday dishes may be stored in a bin in the attic or in the cabinet over the refrigerator, but since they are handled only once a year, this is appropriate. The key is to establish convenient storage for the items you use every day. If you use it frequently, aim to make it just as easy to put away as it was to take out.
One caution: you want it to be easy, but still organized. While it is relatively effortless to toss items into a junk drawer, without sorting and a drawer insert, items will quickly get mixed together. This undermines the whole purpose. It is important to add structure and labels so like items stay together, and objects remain where they are supposed to be.
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Are there items in your home that never seem to get put away? Can you think of a way to make storing them “toss easy?”