Stop Organizing, Start Simplifying

 

A television crew is coming to our home this weekend. They’ll be filming my little family over a few days for a lifestyle show that airs in North America. Another interesting experience this blog has brought my way.

I am neither obsessively cleaning nor crash dieting in preparation.

I am not buying expensive throw pillows or mirrors to glam up our little home.

I’m not paying a professional cleaner to take a toothbrush to our bath tub.

I haven’t bought myself a new camera ready wardrobe.

I haven’t booked a make-up artist to beautify me each day of the shoot.

What am I doing?

Organizing.

Organizing is a dirty word to me. A loaded word.

“If I just got more organized my house would be _____, my kids would be ______ and my life would be ______.”

For so much of my life I thought the reason I failed at housekeeping or couldn’t find the time to write or couldn’t “do it all” was because I wasn’t organized.

I developed elaborate and time consuming systems for keeping my wardrobe in order. T-shirts stacked in perfect squares, underwear and bras placed in alternating rows in drawers and my closet divided into sections for work, casual and formal wear.

An afternoon of hard work was undone within a week. A few loads of laundry haphazardly put away and, once again, I was back to drawers that would barely shut and a closet that I had to weed through every morning to put an outfit together.

This same cycle repeated itself with so many areas of our home. The office, the kitchen, the living room. I’d invest in a piece of IKEA furniture that was going to “save us” and after a weekend of work our home looked fantastic. Books lined up by height, picture frames tastefully displayed and a few pieces of decor for fun.

It wasn’t long before opened mail was wedged in next to the picture frames, the books were dusty and out of order and the decor was hidden under leftover packaging from new electronics.

Until this week I had given up on organizing. Simplicity and owning less stuff has brought more order to my life than organizing ever did.

So why am I organizing now? There’s a process to this television shoot and a timeline. Our possessions will need to be moved out of our home and then quickly moved back in and unpacked. To make the process smoother and faster I am organizing.

Of course, I am organizing and doing some decluttering as I go. We have a garbage bag full of Chris’s clothing for donations and a small box of toddler toys to give away. Henry’s just had a growth spurt so I’ve put away all his 12-18 month clothing and transitioned him into 2-3 year sizes. I do love how we skipped buying a size – another reason to buy adjustable sized clothing.

The beauty of organizing when you own less stuff: it’s an easy process and the results last longer.

Tell me, are you still organizing or have you moved onto simplifying? If you’ve reduced what you have do you find it easier to keep everything organized?

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  • I am totally with you on this Rachel. I used to pride myself on being a master organiser of complex projects – both personal and business. No more. Took me a while to realise that the real intelligance was in, as you say, simplifying and having less stuff to manage (both mental and physical).

    Implementing this in recent years has been liberating beyond what I can put into words.

    Have fun with your television programme. We did one a few years back. Was a great experience.

  • I really enjoy your blog …and also reading your book. I have spent years thinking that as soon as I get organized, life will be better and everyone will be happier. I have come to realize that what I needed to do all these years was simplify. We are now in the process of simplifying, and it feels like a big weight has been lifted.

  • I think it’s true that in a de-cluttered home the stuff pretty much organizes itself.
    When everything has a proper place (and there is always actually room in that space) there is no need to organize, just put everything where it belongs, preferably right after use.

    Achieving this state of household bliss involves two steps exactly:
    1. De-clutter until you are left with bare essentials (and a very few select sentimental objects)
    2. Stop bringing new stuff in.
    :)

  • Very true! The less stuff you have, the less you need to organize. But sometimes I find that I need to organize something first, and then I can declutter because I know what I have.

  • At church last weekend, our pastor talked about how we come into this world naked and we leave the world basically the same way. We cannot bring any of our posessions with us. It made me think about de-cluttering some more. I already have 2 boxes of stuff to get rid of from only one corner in my office. Argghhh – why do I have so much junk?? We have a garage sale the first weekend in June – that is my motivation to get rid of at least 1/3 of our stuff. I would like to get to decreasing by 1/2, but I don’t think we are quite ready for that yet!

  • oh wow, my husband (yes i have him reading too!) felt that yesterday’s blog was written to him AND I feel like today’s was for me!!! thank you for being an inspiration!

  • I LOVE that you aren’t doing all of those things in prep for this fantastic opportunity!!! LOVE it. Being real with it will have so much more impact. I think that is what is so appealing about you is that you keep it real.

    I’ve experienced the organize vs. simplifying difference. I am trying to convince a girlfriend who is asking for my help with her decluttering issues. I would spend 6 hours each week (no lie) picking up and replacing things in their organized spots and the laundry never ended up folded. The organization looked great when done and I was drained, stressed, exhausted EVERY Saturday thus no folding. I now spend, at the very most, an hour for absolutely everything and that is when I truly have a mess. When it takes me longer, it is time to send more “stuff” on its way. And, I believe it shouldn’t even take an hour so I still haven’t reached my absolute goal of minimalism yet.

    Enjoy your opportunity!

    • Wow, I love your idea for measuring material simplicity. I’m close but not close enough to my definition of simplicity.

  • I have been in the process of going minimalist for some time. I am not nearly as far on your path as you are. I agree organization is a very dirty word! I have found it is just a creative way to have a lot of crap look nice. Most people have no idea what is in that organized crap anyway. I am finding if I have to “find” a place to put something or organize it, then I have too much stuff. This especially is true when it comes to certain areas of our home. I KNOW I have to get rid of more stuff, but I have to deal with the attachment issues in that area beforehand. Someday, I plan to have so little it is naturally organized…hahaha!

  • How exciting! And how brave of you to let a tv crew in to your home. I’m organized by nature – I just can’t help myself. That, combined with a lack of ‘stuff’, means that I’m only ever 10 minutes away from having a spotless house to welcome visitors – although, unexpected ones won’t find too much to complain about either. Good luck!

  • I completely agree, and I am getting there! You have provided so much inspiration for me and my family through your blog!! Are you allowed to tell us the name of the TV show?

  • I was once told ‘chuck don’t store’, the less you have the less requires organising. The same goes for all things in life, commitments the lot. So looking forward to your TV appearance, hoping I can get it via the wonder that it the web.
    (p.s – if you wanna see some serious sentimental clutter check out my first photo on my post – needless to say these babies are goners :-))

  • I do both. I’m constantly clearing out stuff, constantly. Our neighborhood has a good email list which is great for giving away things you no longer need, and there is also a thrift shop on the corner that takes donations. But I also organize what I have. Sometimes I’ll notice something like I’m always reaching in the back of the cabinet for a certain pan and realize I have to reorganize that cabinet so the things I use most are most handy.

  • I seem to be missing the organizational gene that both my mom and sister have. I will have a place for things – but inevitably, much to my husbands dismay, they will often end up a few feet short of where they should, and they stay there until he puts them away, or makes me feel guilty enough to do it myself. I am trying – TRYING – to teach my children to be better than me…. 2 of my 3 figured out that it is easier to hang their jacket up the first time.
    My only hope is that with my next move I can eliminate more stuff, in order to have less to be disorganized with.

  • I love this post. I used to always say such things.. If I only owned the right shelf for this room it would be much neater in here. After years of trying new shelving units, and whatnot it just hasnt ever happened. We have piles and piles of laundry sometimes for weeks and once we finally do those piles they are always the clothes we dont wear. Because of you, in the last month I have gotten my wardrobe in half.. Still lots of stuff to go, but its awesome to have less laundry cluttering up the home. I think it even all fits in hampers now. which rocks, in a pinch.

    I used to worry about not being organized enough, but I have seen the light and I now know I just need less crap! Thanks!

  • My husband and I are getting ready for our third big move in six years, each time moving to a smaller space. The first move forced us to weed through almost twenty years of accumulated stuff. It’s amazing how things build up, even with having yearly garage sales and making regular charitable donations. Because the current move is a temporary one (12-18 months), I’m having even more difficulty deciding how much to get rid of. Part of me wants to cut the cord and let most of our stuff go, and the other part worries that I’ll end up with a home that has no personality and reduced functionality. Then I open a box that has not been unpacked since the last move and wonder why we saved the contents the last time around. I’m tired of my life feeling heavy. Organizing does not reduce the weight.

  • I LOVE organization! Even in a minimalist house, I think there can and should be organization. However, I probably take it too far because I hyper-organize lol. It makes my life easier for me (I get overwhelmed, anxious, & stressed when things are aesthetically like I want them), but I know it makes little difference for others. Can’t wait to see what comes of this show! So exciting!

  • OOooh so fun about the TV show! Very excited for you!
    You’re so right, organizing is like trying to herd cats.
    I find the less stuff there is, the less need to for a cat corral to begin with.
    I used to run out & buy storage boxes with the new year & simply cram stuff from one box/location to another but never reducing the stuff. But once I got wise to less is more, then I ended up with a bunch of empty storage boxes that I ended up donating because I have no plans to drag in more stuff again thus there’s no need to keep the boxes.

  • I’ve been moving into the simplifying mindset. Even with 5 kids, there’s still a lot that we don’t need to have. The trick is finding the time. Since I’m busy with a bunch of projects right now, I’m decluttering 15 to 30 minutes at a time, sometimes as a need like shorts for warm weather comes up. Our homes will continue to change as our kids grow and we change. Simplifying is definitely an on-going process. It does help to be intentional, as you know, about what comes into our homes to begin with.

  • Still exploring, still doing both! I did take everything out of my craft room with the purpose of only putting back into the craft room that which would fit. Humorously, it is amazing what fits into an organized room! I’ll still purge but probably not as much as I hoped. On the other hand, I’m on a craft supply diet and that’s going much better than my chocolate diet! :)

  • I love spending more time with my children then cleaning up their toys they dont seem to miss! :-) theylove it to, when they get a little bored with their very minimal toys we go to tbe toys library :-)

  • You hit the nail on the head. I couldn’t pin-point why being organised seemed to hard for me when all the Pinterest and Blogger Mums seemed quite capable and with ample time up their sleeves I might add.
    We’re just starting our journey down a minimalist path (not to the extreme, but enough to make a difference) and when I found your blog, it clicked. I can’t organise unnecessaries, but I’m sure I’ll be able to organise necessities.

  • I have been working vigorously on decluttering and simplifying our life. I need advice though for when much of the clutter seems to come from other people and not from me. What about all the stuff that the kids bring home, their toys…and my husband is a musician and has so many guitars that I trip over them! WE don’t have room for all of it and it’s a constant battle!
    It’s so frustrating but I’m doing my best! Also, should I feel guilty for throwing away kids toys, papers, projects, etc???

    • My son brings home a few pieces of ‘art’ every day from school. Most of it goes in the recycle bin. I tape a few pieces up with washi tape for a short time if he has worked particularly hard on it or is really proud of it. Some I take a picture of, preferably with him holding it. Don’t feel guilty. I also declutter their toys regularly without a lot of input from them. If I didn’t do this I would be overrun with stuff in our small home. When they’re older they can start managing their stuff on their own.
      Fight the good fight! Keep on decluttering and try to look at how much has gone as the real victory – not what may be left behind that’s bugging you.

  • Hi! Thank you for your blog. Looking for a little advice from fellow minimalist – minded folks!

    First of all, I’m far from having an ideal minimalist home, but I see it clearly in my head and working towards it. There are many things that are easy for me to minimize – clothes, furniture, kitchen stuff, decor stuff, etc…. However, I like books, especially craft books, classics, sci-fi, etc…. Basically I want to keep the books I already read if I liked them and would read them again someday. Especially the craft books, I want to knit, crochet etc… things from a book, but then keep it because now it’s part of my “repertoire” and they are easier to make in the future multiple times. I know I could scan them or could read books online, but I like the physical books. Online reading for me is fine for flavor of the month books that I would never care to read again….
    Similarly, with the craft materials – yarn, buttons, felt, foam, scraps, etc….. These things are hard to “purge” because they are not “just in case” they are meant for crafts that I do, I might not necessarily use all of them all the time but need to have a choice and it would be expensive to go buy a button or something for each project….

    So… I know minimalism is very personal and I don’t have to follow anyone or anything… But ideally I want to live very minimally so there are less things to take care of, easier to move, etc…. How to combine this with my strong preference to keep not all, but certain things in large quantities? I know it will be OK to have minimal everything except books and crafts let’s say. But the question is should I also work on learning to let go of other things even if I really don’t want to? Clutter does make me very stressed and even contributes to my depression greatly. But if I imagine having a house with a library or just a long wall of book shelves that doesn’t make me feel stressed or cluttered. Especially if the shelves have glass doors which would protect the books from getting dusty and all i need to do to maintain is wipe the glass….
    Sorry for a very long comment, just trying to decide how have few possessions while maintaining my hobbies…
    Thanks!