You’re at the 7-11 down the street during your thirty minute lunch break, but you cannot find your wallet.
You frantically dig through receipts, reward cards, and cell phone chargers, anxiously watching the line behind you grow. Hot embarrassment climbs your face until you finally fish out your debit card.
Now you’re running late, again. You wonder how other people keep it all together, literally, while stuff explodes out of your wallet, purse, and every other bag you’ve tried carrying.
You just want to be able to have what you need and grab it when you need it. Surely that’s not too much to ask…
Male or female, most of us carry some sort of bag or purse when we’re on the go. From electronics to medications, we carry our lives on our backs. The extra weight from unnecessary items and accumulated clutter can create strain across your shoulder and neck, ultimately causing long term problems.
But, with just a few small actions, it’s easy to lighten your load and simplify your life!
- Empty It!
First things first, if you want to get organized, you need to know what you have. Empty your bag or wallet of every single thing. Be sure to check every pocket, zipper pouch, and velcroed section. You need to see everything out and in front of you so you can determine what to keep and what to get rid of.
As you’re pulling everything out of your bag, take the time to throw out any garbage: expired coupons, unneeded receipts, half-eaten granola bars, etc.
Your goal in this first step is to make sure that your bag is completely empty and you have everything in front of you.
- Categorize It!
With the trash tossed and only useful items remaining, it’s time to put everything into categories! First, pull out everything you use most often (daily), and set those items aside. They will get packed differently than everything else.
Next, organize your nonessentials into categories such as electronics category (cords, chargers, plugs), coupons and reward cards, loose change, medications, hair items, cosmetics, pens/stationery, and gum/mints/snacks. You can, of course, create any additional categories you need. Depending on your lifestyle, you might have a change of clothing, laptop and charger, or other things that you specifically need for work.
The goal for this step is to place all nonessential items (things you don’t use often) into similar groups.
- Question It! (Purge It!)
With all of your items categorized, it’s time to go through them and figure out what you should keep versus what you should donate or throw out. This is a very important step! Often, what’s weighing you down are items you don’t even use.
But it seems like you need everything, so how do you decide what goes and what stays?
Most professional organizers recommend that you “question it!”
It’s actually a pretty simple concept, something anyone can do. “Questioning” means you consider the true usefulness of your categories and the items within those categories. Will you really use it? Or are you just telling yourself it’s a “good idea” to have it with you? If it’s the latter, your bag may be exploding as a result.
Here are some examples of “questioning:”
Electronics: You might need a cell phone charger, maybe a laptop charger if you use it for work or school. But do you need three phone chargers? More than one USB cord? Do you even need an HDMI cable? How many sets of earphones will you actually use? Look for the things you truly use with regularity, and keep only those in your bag.
Coupons and rewards cards: Are they expired? Is the coupon or card for an item or company you actually like and frequent? Or will you have to go out of your way to even use it? It may not be worth keeping if you don’t like the store or item. Also consider relevance: Will it get used in the next couple weeks? Are there duplicates that can be tossed or shared with a friend?
Continue with each category in this fashion, asking yourself, “Is it necessary? Will I actually use it? How often have I used it in the recent past?” If you can’t justify carrying it with you daily because you just won’t use it that often, or you have extras, or you can’t imagine using it at all, set it aside. Those things don’t need to go back in the bag.
The goal of this step is to minimize the number of items you carry. Having less stuff in your bag overall makes it easier to organize your bag, easier to find your items, and easier on your back and shoulders. Keep only what you know you’ll use.
- Repackage It!
Now that your items are categorized, the next step is to figure out how you’re going to store them in your bag. This is the time to be creative! Cords can be stored in little zippered pouches or baggies or a sunglasses case, and you can separate them using twist ties. There are also many different cord wraps and storage options for cords available online.
Coupons and receipts can be stored in tabbed envelopes, which are available at anywhere office supplies are sold. The tabs also allow you to label and further organize those loose items in a neat and tidy way.
Cosmetics, first aid supplies, loose change, medications, and gum can each be stored in different zippered or snapped pouches. There are all kinds of customizable storage bags available.
A great way to repurpose is to store gift cards and reward cards in a metal mint tin (to help clear out some space in your wallet and make everything easier to find when you’re in a rush). You may also want to label everything, or at least ensure the storage bags you use for each category are unique enough that you’ll recognize them at a glance. Doing so will make it easy to find your items when you’re in a rush.
- Put It Away!
Now that everything is separated, labeled, and packaged neatly, it’s time to put your categories away. Now is the time to consider the type of bag you need, especially if you’ve been feeling like your old one isn’t working for you. Do you have a wide variety of categories? Do you require a lot of storage? Do you need a flatter messenger bag with lots of pockets, or do you prefer a big, deep bag into which you can simply toss your categorized items?
Now is the time to grab all of those daily use items – the things you set aside initially (phone, wallet, glasses, keys) that you use the most. Put them away first, and make sure they go into easy to reach areas that are accessible when you’re in a hurry.
Once the everyday things are put away, you’re ready to find a place for everything else, based on the type of bag you’ve chosen. The goal of this step is to determine the type of bag you need for everyday use, and intentionally make homes for all of your newly-organized things.
- Clean It Out Everyday!
Keeping your bag organized is the most important step of all, and doing so ideally means taking action every day. At the end of each day, either as soon as you get home or before you turn in for the night, go through your bag. Take out all the bits that have accumulated, especially any junk, garbage, duplicate items, or things you really don’t need.
Then, make sure your categories are put away in their appropriate places, checking to make sure nothing is missing. Finally, keep your bag (and your keys!) in the same place every night, so you can grab and go the next morning.
With a little upfront effort and some quick daily upkeep, you can ensure your everyday bag is always ready and all your items are easy to find. You’ll never be stuck holding up the line again!