Let’s say your house is in disorder and you’re too disorganized to start to organize your organizing effort. Hey. It happens. Rome wasn’t organized in a day. You don’t have time to find a “system” or products to get started. You just need to get started. You’re too disorganized for methodology at the moment or you wouldn’t be in this mess, right?
Organizational products won’t help you just yet. Organizational methods, systems and tips won’t help you just yet, either. You need to dig out. (I trust you’re not one of those people on The Learning Channel’s “Truth be Told” show, who could do with less organizing and more pharmaceutical intervention.) I offer you, my beleaguered friend, the quickstart non-method: Organic Triage and the Big Stupid Box.
This can go as fast or as leisurely as you wish, but it all works the same. Triage was devised by medics on the battlefields of France to separate out the nearly dead, the critically injured and the walking wounded. In our case, we’ll set up to sort the stuff that leaves your home for good (the nearly dead), the stuff you need to deal with (the critically injured), and the stuff you already know what to do with (the walking wounded).
Here are the steps.
- Set up to collect
- Collect any old way in passing
- Deal with the collection
Set up to Collect
In my opinion, this first action is half the battle. Plan for your house to be “in process” for a few days at least. Collect department store handle bags or grocery bags and hang them on every door knob in the house. Bring in three or four large packing boxes for paper recycling and shredding and put them in the corners of the most cluttered spaces. Now you have repositories for things to take to the trash, to Goodwill, and to people who live not in your house who will use them. Lay out a few boxes of zip lock bags, kitchen trash bags, and lawn and leaf bags. Yes, they’re not cheap, but they’re great for consolidating stuff until you can officially figure out what to do with them. A stack of other bags at the ready will be useful later; keep them out.
Make one large box the Big Stupid Box. This is where you will put things you know you need to keep but don’t want to deal with now or even ever. Make this box big so it’s not likely to fill up.
Collect any old way in passing
Starting out will be pretty easy. Everything should have a place to be, so one of three things will happen to it:
- put it away
- get it out of the house, or
- create a place for it to live.
The “put it away” part is easy enough. If you can put something away in under two minutes, do it on the spot. (David Allen’s Getting Things Done is big on the two minute rule.) Lots of stuff will be obvious garbage, or obviously for charity, or obviously to be returned to its original owner. Get it ready to send off. You might line up smaller bags for giveaways and sort by recipient. Then you can just call the person and hand them the bag when you see them next. Everything else that’s homeless will go in a box or bag. The Big Stupid Box is for things not obvious. It’s the halfway house of stuff.
Hit it with focus or casually, whatever you feel like. Address every single item in the house, even the things you thought were stored nicely already. These are the things that especially need reviewing. When the box or bag fills, take it out of the house. The reason to make the bags and boxes really big is so that you’re not constantly shuttling fiddly little things and making it seem like work.
Deal with the Collection
See if Salvation Army or Goodwill (or somebody) will come to your house and pick up your donations. Working to a deadline can be motivating.
“Throwing Modest Amounts of Money at a Logjam” (would the inventor of this concept please step forward? I want to have your baby.) is another thing to seriously consider if you can find someone competent to hire for a day. Check Craigslist. But do this first.
You’ve now got the space to start organizing for real now. There are lots of terrific books for your new effort of dealing with the stuff you have, several of our favorites in the sidebar.
Sure, this is starting to sound like a system, but really it just boils down to triage now, organize later. Toe tags for everyone!