The other day, I was walking from where I parked along the street to a client appointment. As I neared the turn, this is what I saw.
You can see in the photo that there is a sidewalk that ends at the place where people are supposed to cross the street. The sidewalk slopes gently downward, making it easier for strollers and wheelchairs. Although you cannot see it in the photo, there is also a crosswalk in the road at this location. Clearly, the plan was for people to walk to the end of the sidewalk and cross at this point.
In spite of this design, it is obvious that most people don’t seem to be walking along the intended course. Instead, as you can see, there is a path worn in the grass where people are stepping off of the sidewalk, walking through the grass, and crossing at a different spot.
There are probably some good reasons why pedestrians are choosing to step off of the designated course. Most likely, it is quicker and easier to take the shortcut. Maybe it takes too long to wait for the “walk” sign to appear, and by walking this way, people can duck behind the line of cars rather than wait for them to drive out onto the main road.
This situation got me thinking about why systems in general, and organizing systems in particular, often fail. At the risk of stating the obvious, for a system to work, we have to use it. We can have beautifully organized spaces, cutting edge containers, pretty labels, and color-coordinated files, but if our belongings are not making their way back into their designated locations, the system is failing.
As with the path in the grass, it is honest to observe that people tend to choose the path of least resistance. We are busy and there is a lot to do, so we often fall into the pattern of putting things in the most convenient location: the pile on the counter, the back of the chair, the treadmill, the floor, etc. Surprisingly, the tiniest of hurdles is often enough to deter us from returning items to their proper homes, such as:
- Having to remove a lid
- Needing to walk up a flight of stairs
- Disliking the process of using a hanger
- Not being able to reach high enough
- Needing to lift some items “off” in order to put something back underneath
- Having to complete more than one step (e.g. first putting the disc back in the case, then putting the case in the cabinet)
- Having to shove or stuff items to get them to fit
- Not remembering where things are supposed to go
- Disliking the process of folding
At the end of the day, the best system is the one you will use.
- If you won’t walk up the stairs with your paperwork, then having a second floor office might not be a good idea for you.
- If you hate using hangers, you might be better off with hooks in cubbies than with a closet.
- If you can’t reach ¾ of your kitchen cabinets, you might need to keep a rolling stool in your kitchen, and/or relocate your dishes to a drawer instead of a high shelf.
- If you find you are piling items instead of putting them back into original containers, it might make sense to set up a “grouping” solution that skips the interim step. (e.g. a multiple game case/wallet vs. original plastic boxes)
- If your drawers are so full that you can’t open them, it might be worthwhile to shed a few items
- If you hate folding clothes, perhaps you might set aside a few drawers for things that really do not need to be folded (bathing suits, underwear, bras, workout shorts, etc.), and be content with simply dropping pieces inside.
Knowing yourself is very important when it comes to getting and staying organized. It is critical to be honest when considering what level of energy you are willing to exert for the purpose of maintaining an organized space. It is also helpful to ask yourself, “Where would my intuition send me if I were trying to find this item?” It might seem logical to store your corkscrew near the wine, but if you are more likely to reach inside the drawer where the can opener is, put it there!
For some people an infatuation with “all things neat and orderly” is sufficiently motivating to spur an investment of time into resetting a space. However, many people find that this payoff isn’t powerful enough to make them put everything away. A good system is less about looking good or “making sense,” and more about getting used.
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Take a look around your room. Do you see any equivalents of the “shortcut in the grass?” Can you identify any storage solutions that you avoid utilizing?