Putting Things Away Can Be Hard

Man pushing stone up a hill. Putting things away can be hard.
Image by Schäferle from Pixabay

Putting things away can be hard.

The other day I came home from an event to which I had brought a camp chair. This was one of those chairs that folds up and slides into a bag that has a strap for easy carrying. When I got home, I took the time to fully close the chair and put it into the bag. This felt like a chore, but I knew I wanted to put the chair away. When I went to hang the chair up on a hook in the garage, I couldn’t find the strap. It took me a minute to realize that the bag was inside out. At that moment, I was strongly tempted to just drop the chair on the floor. I really didn’t want to open the bag, extract the chair, right the bag, and then reinsert the chair. Even though I am a professional organizer who highly values putting things away, I was tired and just didn’t feel like dealing with it. (Read on to find out what I did.)

The thing is, summoning the energy and prioritizing the time to walk around put things away can be surprisingly difficult. In reality, there are many hurdles that result in this process being undesirable, frustrating, or otherwise unpleasant. Sometimes, the issue has to do with WHERE the item is supposed to go, such as:

  • The appropriate storage location is hard to reach.
  • There is no designated receptacle in which to keep the item (i.e., it is “homeless”).
  • The item is trash, but there is no trashcan nearby.
  • The storage container has a lid that is hard to remove (especially when we only have one free hand).
  • The storage container is at the bottom of a stack, requiring that many boxes be removed in order to reach the one at the bottom.
  • The storage location is overstuffed, making it difficult to fit incremental pieces inside.
  • There are insufficient hangers for garments, and it is much easier to toss them on the back of a chair.

In other cases, the challenge is with the ENVIRONMENT around us at the time we would ideally be putting things away. For example:

  • We are urgently needed by someone else in the space (e.g., the phone is ringing, the baby is crying, someone is at the door, etc.).
  • We have time sensitive responsibilities that are pressing on us (e.g., we need to get dinner on the table, we need to send work emails, etc.).
  • We have other tasks we need to do for which there will be a clear consequence if they are left undone (in comparison to our perception that leaving items lying around has no consequence).
  • We are tired.
  • We are racing to another commitment.

Whether we procrastinate putting things away for reasons of space or situation, the reality remains that putting things away is one task we frequently avoid. We are experts at coming up with rationalizations and justifications for procrastinating this task, such as:

  • “I’ll just put it here for now, and then I’ll put it away later when I have more time.”
  • “I am leaving it out to help me remember to do something.”
  • “This clothing is too dirty to put away, but not dirty enough to put in the laundry.”
  • “I don’t feel like putting it away now, so I will wait until later when I will feel differently.”
  • “If I put it away, I’ll just have to get it out again.”
  • “I’m not going to spend all my time putting things away when no one else will put their things away. My space is just always going to be a mess.”
  • “I don’t have the time I need to put things away properly. I need a larger block of time.”

Do any of these sound familiar? It doesn’t take an expert to know that excuses like these typically come back to bite us. We never seem to have that “extra” time for restoring order. The items we left out as reminders get covered up by a bunch of other stuff. We have a room full of “half-dirty” clothing. We never seem to feel like organizing.

If you want to do better when it comes to putting things away, here are a few approaches you can try.

#1. Declutter. Having fewer items makes both putting things away and taking them out easier.

  • Simplify your storage as much as you can. Minimize barriers to using the storage locations you have. For instance:
  • Add (extra) shelves so that boxes can be individually accessed instead of stacked.
  • Install hooks as alternatives to towel bars and hangers
  • Remove lids from containers that sit in a drawer or on a shelf.
  • Use storage containers that work like drawers on shelves.
  • Add labels to storage locations so you can easily remember what goes where.

#2. Set aside time each day for restoring order. If you find yourself feeling reluctant, set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and do as much as you can. Then, when the time is up, allow yourself to be finished.

#3. Avoid the temptation to “clean up,” which can lead to sweeping disparate items into bins, drawers and/or closets. Focus instead on putting possessions back where they belong.

#4. Designate storage for commonly used items that is within easy reach, such as a hook for keys near the door or an organizer on the bathroom counter for daily makeup.

#5. Get a folding stool and keep it tucked near any space where the storage container is out of reach.

#6. Consider adding glide-out shelving to deep cabinets that you frequently use, such as lower cabinets in a kitchen or pantry.

#6. Put trashcans in every room.

*     *     *

I promised if you read on I would tell you what I ended up doing with my chair. The answer is, I heard my own voice in my head saying, “If you don’t do this correctly now, this is going to be a mess later.” I reinserted the chair into the righted bag and easily hung it from the strap on the hook. And you know what? I felt really proud of myself for exerting that extra bit of effort. Admittedly, it is a small victory over a relatively insignificant situation. Nonetheless, this tiny action reminds me of a quote I love:

“The small choices and decisions we make a hundred times a day add up to determining the kind of world we live in.”

Harold S. Kushner

Do you find it can be hard to put things away? Do you have any tips to add?

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22 thoughts on “Putting Things Away Can Be Hard”

  1. Seana, I can totally understand your frustration with the chair. I have one just like it and have had that exact thing happen to me. I love the way you used this as an opportunity to highlight what so often happens to each and everyone of us. The truth is that when we use simple solutions (trash cans in every room, hooks, easy to access storage) we are more inclined to use it. And, when we acknowledge that ‘later’ never comes – it is just another way to say ‘I don’t want to do this’ – we can push ourselves to do it now or schedule the task for a specific time. I love the way you said you were proud of yourself for following through and putting the chair away. It’s important to have that sense of accomplishment. It leads to other good feelings!
    Diane N Quintana recently posted…Celebrating the 4th of JulyMy Profile

    1. Thanks for the affirmation, Diane. I think it can be helpful for people to see that even organizers go through those moments of not wanting to follow through and put things away. It takes a commitment to the process sometimes to stay strong and just get it done.

  2. At this point in my life, I have arthritic pain that makes it painful to walk. (Getting hip operation next month- yeah!) Because of this I often “stage” items that need to be put away and wait until I am already walking in that direction to pick up the item and put it away. When walking to the back of the house, I always make a visual sweep to see it anything needs to go back to that area like folded laundry.
    I think of Diane Quintana saying, “Make like a waiter – their hands are never empty.”
    Jonda Beattie recently posted…Personal Freedom: Here are 4 Important Ways to be FreeMy Profile

    1. First, everyone I know who has had the hip surgery is amazed by how quickly they feel better after surgery. I pray everything goes smoothly and you feel relief soon!

      Second, I love that phrase from Diane. I stage items as well, especially anything that needs to go upstairs. I put it on the stairs and grab it on my way up. At the same time, I’ve noticed that not everyone in my home will pick up items on the stairs and carry them up. This shows me that regardless of the system we design, we need to commit to seeing it through to the end to reap the benefit.

  3. With two kids playing basketball this summer, I’m opening, closing, and bagging up a camp chair multiple times a week. I totally get what you’re saying!

    I think that part of why it’s hard to put things away is that it signifies the end of something–the end of a basketball game, the end of playing with toys, the end of a relaxing vacation. Endings can be hard physically and emotionally, thus putting away items having to do with those endings are hard, too.

    1. I love this comment, Stacey. It’s very true. We are much more excited about taking things out, anticipating the fun that lies ahead. How many times do we see suitcases sitting largely unpacked for weeks after a vacation. Same thing, right? I think this truth is also true about buying new things vs. removing old/unwanted/unneeded pieces. It feels more fun to bring in something new. However, we can underestimate how GREAT it can feel to have an ordered space. Sometimes I need to remind myself of this.

  4. Every bit of this is spot-on, but I particularly love the point about having a folding step-stool. After years of complaining about how hard it was to put away certain things in my kitchen and bedroom closet (because I’m vertically challenged), the last purchase I made just prior to the pandemic was a pretty black-and-white patterned folding step-stool. It’s not very high, but it makes me just tall enough to accomplish tasks without even thinking of delaying them, and it has made all the difference!

    This is a really robust look at all the reasons why we have trouble putting things away, and we ALL do have these obstacles. These reminders and suggestions will go a long way toward reminding us that we are not powerless.
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Toxic Productivity Part 5: Technology and a Hungry GhostMy Profile

    1. You and I have similar “height” restrictions, so we understand how awesome those little collapsible stools are. I have them all over the place, and they tuck into very little space. I love them!

  5. People that don’t put things away (like my husband) I call 95%ers. They can complete a project all the way to the part where you need to put the items away, but that never happens. It certainly does make it hard to use a space when things haven’t been put away.

    1. My husband has this same tendency, although after many years of living with me, I must say he has gotten better. It does require a bit of extra perseverance, but it is so rewarding… like a gift to your future self.

  6. Totally agree with #1 and #2. Make it easy and set a time. It is really hard because we only have so much energy to do what is needed. However with a plan it is much easier!

    1. I think it is actually all the more important to push through when you are in a small space because a small bit of clutter takes over in no time. When visitors are present, the situation is harder because a lot of things are in the space that don’t have a home. However, guests only stay temporarily, and then you are left with the memories, which take up very little space!

  7. The putting away of things can be a challenge. You described so well what I have often observed in these decades of organizing. I love how you state the many ways we postpone and the way you group the reasons- by a feeling or a need.

    I like putting things back to their homes and did this just yesterday when returning from being away for several days. I felt compelled to unpack. But guess what the last item to put away was? Yup! My beach chair. This one wasn’t as challenging to store as the type you described, but it is a little tougher to get back into its ‘spot’ than all of the other things I unpacked. However, after coming back to it leaning against the wall NOT in its home, I finally returned it to its space.

    In the end, it was easier than I expected. And I think that’s what often happens when we procrastinate. We think it’s going to be more difficult than it actually is. But the thinking about doing it gets larger and larger until it becomes a bigger deal in our minds.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly, Linda. We make things worse in our minds than they actually are. I see this phenomenon when we are anticipating so many things, including starting a new job or moving to a new city… even celebrating a “decade” birthday! The anticipation of the hard thing is often worse than the thing itself. That’s a good message to remind ourselves of when we are feeling inclined to procrastinate!

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