Make Room by Making Homes: Creating a Purposeful Place for What Matters

This is Step 4 of theNeatNiche’s 5-Step ASK ME Process to Organize Anything. If you’re just tuning in, check out Step 1Step 2, and Step 3!) 

You’ve probably heard the old adage, “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” Maybe you’ve even tried to make it work for you. 

But if you’re living with clutter, you know everything does not have a place, and things certainly aren’t where they belong, wherever that may be. 

Fortunately, with just a little organizing guidance, you can clear the clutter and ensure all your treasures have a place they belong. 

Today, we’re talking about “making homes,” which is the fourth step in theNeatNiche’s proven, five-step system to organize anything. This repeatable organizing process, represented by the acronym ASK ME, is designed to take you from chaos to calm every time.  

ASK ME™ stands for: 

A – Assess 

S – Sort 

K – Keep or let go 

M – Make a home 

E – Establish a system 

In this five-part series, we first talked about assessing the situation to figure out what’s really going on and what needs to change. Our second topic was sorting, a preparatory step that makes decision-making much easier. Last time around, we dug into the decision-making process with the “keep or let go” stage.  

Now that you know what’s staying, it’s time to put it away. That starts with determining what should go where… and in what kinds of containers. 

A Place for Everything 

The reason that old adage about “a place for everything” is so well known is because when everything has its own home and is returned there regularly, it’s easy to keep things straight. You can always find what you need when you need it because you always know where things are going to be. 

But if you’re making homes for your things for the first time, it can be a little daunting.  

How do you know what should go where? 

What kinds of containers will you need?  

How can you make sure you can actually access everything? 

How do you keep things organized once you make homes? 

They’re common organizing questions. Let’s answer them now. 

Making HomesGet Strategic About What Goes Where 

One way to think about making homes for things is like putting together a puzzle. Only in this instance, your things are the pieces, and you’re trying to figure out how they fit together in an organized way that actually works. 

When making homes, there are several factors in determining what goes where.  

For each category or type of item, consider: 

  • How often do you use it? The more frequently you reach for something, the closer it should be stored to where you use it. 
  • What level of access do you need? Things you use most often should be easiest to access within the storage system. If accessing something requires too many steps, you’ll either forget about it entirely, be irritated every time you reach for it, or “forget” to put it back where it belongs. 
  • What other things do you use at the same time? When possible, put categories of things that are used together near one another to improve efficiency. 

With these considerations in mind, it’s time to take a look at storage options. 

Containers, Containers, Containers 

Before we go any farther, let’s pause for a minute to talk about containers. If you’re looking to get organized, chances are you already have a storage bin or two laying around your spaces. There may even be a plethora of baskets, bins, boxes, cabinets, drawers, dressers, or other storage pieces already hanging around.  

For exactly this reason, we often tell our clients not to buy containers before an organizing project. As the sorting and letting go process happens, even if those bins are full of stuff, they are inevitably emptied. In almost every organizing project, we end up with tons of empty containers. These bins can easily be reused and incorporated into the new system, keeping “container clutter” from piling up in your spaces.  

If you don’t love the containers you have, you may want to consider an upgrade or swap-out. Ideally that upgrade happens after you’ve clearly determined what you are storing and the best way to do so. But until you know how the puzzle will come together, try to hold off on buying lots of new containers.  

Instead, treat container shopping as a reward for a job well done. You’ll save time, money, and end up with only what you actually need. 

Five Techniques to Maximize Space & Functionality 

Ready to build your ideal storage system? As you assemble the puzzle (your personalized system for storing your stuff), follow these five expert tips. 

  1. Make a home for frequently used items first. Ensure they live front and center so you can always reach them when you need them. 
  1. For infrequently used things, go verticalLook high and look low. If you can see the back wall behind where you are storing your stuff, there’s opportunity for additional storage (though you may need the right organizing tool, container, or build-out to take full advantage of the height). 
  1. Structure your system with containers and tools. To maximize storage, consider modifications to existing storage options such as adding in additional shelves, using shelf risers, or even full build-outs, if that’s in the budget.  
  1. Focus on functionality. For every item, think about how easily you’ll be able to access it when you need it. Avoid overly full containers; always leave 20% room for growth so your system can grow and flex with you.  
  1. Label, label, label! There’s no guarantee you’ll remember what you put in that opaque box or container next week, much less next month. Labels help keep things straight in the long run, especially if multiple people are using the same system. 

With your system complete, you’re ready to start using it. Don’t forget to make homes for new things as they come in, too! 

Mental Organizing: Making Homes for Thoughts, Ideas, & Tasks 

In addition to physical stuff, you may also have mental “stuff” that needs organizing. To-dos, projects, ideas, tasks, and communications can all steal your brain space if not intentionally organized. But how do you make “homes” for these intangible items when it feels like they simply float around in your head?  

If you’ve been following along with our ASK ME™ series and have been applying it to your mental space, by now you should have completed your big brain dump of thoughts and ideas and sorted them into categories. Hopefully, you’ve also managed to cross a few things off that list, not because they’re finished but because they’re just not worth your time and energy (we can’t do everything – gotta be judicious with our time!). 

Now it’s time to decide how you want to capture the kinds of thoughts, tasks, and ideas you tend to have.  

To help you figure out what you need, think about: 

  • What are you capturing? You might need an ongoing task list for work, reminders to take action at certain times, a place to collect ideas, and a way to document the sequential steps of a project.  
  • What’s the best solution for you? Think about the way your thoughts come to you. Where are you? What are you doing? Your goal is to equip yourself to capture thoughts as they arise and in a place or way that will allow you to easily find and access them later. 
  • Do you prefer pen-and-paper or an electronic approach? If you’re already fighting disorganization, there’s no need to also force yourself to use a tool you don’t like. Start with what you prefer, and, once your system is working, you can always switch.  
  • How complex a system can you handle? It may seem like a good idea to have separate places to keep every different kind of thought or idea. But the more complex your “homes” are for your different kinds of mental stuff, the more work you’ll have to put in to keep things straight. Simpler is almost always better. For example, a notebook or notes section in your phone with an area for “personal” and “professional” might be enough to help you keep work at work. 

With intentional consideration of your habits, goals, and preferences, you can systemize the way you store your thoughts similarly to the way you store your stuff. 

Whether your clutter is physical or mental, by following tNN’s ASK ME™ methodology, you can ensure there’s a place for everything.  

The final step is to ensure everything stays in its place. Accomplishing that goal requires another kind of system, a system for maintaining. More on that next time around in our fifth and final ASK ME™ post, where we’ll talk about establishing systems for long-term, organized success. 

Got questions or a success story about containers, making the most of your space, or setting up your storage system? Share in the comments! 

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