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?