12. The Third ‘S’: Store

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Previously, I introduced the “Three S’s of Organizing,” and have discussed simplify and sort. This brings us to the third ‘S’, store, which very simply means to position these categories for future use. The goal in storing is to find a home for your categories in such a way that you can find, access, and utilize your possessions when you need them.

The good news is that storing is generally the easy part. After sorting and simplifying, most people find storing to be quite simple.

There are four factors to consider when deciding how to store your stuff. The first, and most important, is how often you use it. It’s most efficient to have possessions you use very often be right at your fingertips, while the things that you don’t use so much could be in deeper, less-accessible storage.

I found it helpful to have some kind of classification related to how often something is used. One way to do this is to classify items as active, reference, or archive. “Active” means you use it every day or at least several times a week. Things I would consider active are car keys, pens, a stapler, and, most likely, a toothbrush. “Reference” means you use it occasionally, but it is very important to be able to access it when you need it. A phonebook, dictionary, or users manuals are good examples of “reference” material. Something you use rarely or never, but still need to keep, can be considered “archive.” Archive material could include old tax returns, tire chains, or holiday decorations. Of course, there are many different ways you could classify possessions in terms of how often they’re used. I have found this classification works well because it’s so simple.

In storing, you want to position the categories in such a way that the ones you use most often are most accessible. Items that are “active” can be on your desktop or in your most convenient drawers. Items that are “reference” can be in less convenient drawers, in a closet or cabinet, or in some other location where they can be accessed when necessary. Reference material should be accessible but it doesn’t have to be right at your fingertips. Items that are “archive” can be stored on the very top shelf of the closet, in the basement, or in a garage.

The second factor to consider when storing is that you want the size of the category to match the size of the storage area. For example, it wouldn’t make sense to store pillows in a desk drawer or paper clips in a three-gallon storage container.

Thirdly, you want to store the category near the place where it will be utilized. For example, it would probably make sense to store office supplies in the office and automotive supplies in the garage.

The fourth and final factor is what is familiar. If you’re already using your top left desk drawer for office supplies, and that’s working well for you, and it satisfies the other three criteria, you may wish to go with what’s already comfortable. However, since you’re reading this blog, it’s possible that what you’ve been doing up until now isn’t working for you. In that case, it would be better to change it than to maintain a broken system.

Those are the four factors to consider when deciding where to store your stuff. They are general enough that they will apply to anybody. This blog is reaching a large audience, and so I’m not able to tailor the advice to specific situations. But your storing project is unique, because the number and size of your categories, as well as the size and location of your storage spaces, will be different than anyone else’s. It’s a matter of matching categories to storage spaces. Generally, doing this is pretty straightforward, however, if you’re having difficulty, it may help to make a list of your storage places and sort them by how accessible they are. Then, assign “active” categories to easily-accessible storage, “archive” categories to deep storage, and “reference” categories to storage places that are somewhere in the middle. Or, if you’re having difficulty, you may wish to enlist the help of a professional organizer.

I now have two bonus suggestions you can use when storing.

The first bonus suggestion is to make extensive use of containers. Rather than having a bunch of loose items on a shelf, place them in a container instead, and place the container on the shelf. This makes the category easier to move from one location to another. By retrieving one container, you can bring everything you need to work on a project into your workspace and to replace it when finished. It’s also easier to clean, because instead of having to move a bunch of loose items, you merely have to move one container.

Also, containers are easy to label, which brings me to the second bonus suggestion which is to make extensive use of labeling. Labels can be words, pictures, icons, or a combination of these. Labeling will help you to know what’s inside a container without having to open it. Label everything, even temporary sorting containers. Some people don’t label clear plastic bins because they can see the contents. I recommend using a label anyway for three reasons. First, the process of creating a label will help you understand and remember more clearly how your possessions are categorized. Second, if for some reason you ask a friend or family member to retrieve something for you, they may not be able to recognize the contents, and the label will help them succeed in their mission. Third, after years of putting things into and taking things out of a container, the specific items visible from the outside may no longer accurately represent the contents. Labels are clearer and less confusing.

If you buy in bulk, like at Costco, Sam’s Club, or BJ’s, you must have a strategy for storing wholesale purchases. When you buy toilet paper, for example, you end up bringing home a quantity of fifty rolls or more. Of course toilet paper is a very important item, one that you will use often, however fifty rolls is more than you would want to store in your bathroom vanity. The solution is, of course, to separate the quantity into an active supply and an overflow supply. The active supply would be in the bathroom vanity, and the overflow can be in deeper storage, like a garage. When the active supply starts to run low, merely restock the active supply by retrieving from the overflow.

I’d But like to make one more point about storing by using an example. Andy — not me, a different Andy — created eight copies of a really important document and put each one in a different location in his office. He thought that he would then have a greater probability of finding that document when he needed it. Do you think it worked? Well, as you might be thinking, it didn’t work. I’ve never seen an example where it does, and it’s pretty easy to understand why.

The reason it didn’t work for Andy is because he never created a home for the document. It needs to have a definitive location where it is stored all the time. If it has a home, and is always returned to that home, he will always be able to access it without having to look through a bunch of stuff.

If the item doesn’t have a home, looking for it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Andy created eight copies of the document and put them in eight different places, without really creating a home. Now, instead of looking for a needle in a haystack, he’s looking for eight needles in a haystack, and, at the same time, he has made the haystack bigger. It’s been my experience that it’s better to have one document in a place where you definitely know where it is then to have eight copies where you’re not sure where they are.

To summarize, storing is to create a home for each category in such a way that the things you use most often are most accessible, that the storage space matches the size of its contents, and that stuff is stored near where it is utilized.

When storing, sometimes a fear arises which can be expressed as, “I’m afraid if I put it away I’ll forget about it.” My next post, “Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind,” coming up soon, will be devoted to a discussion of this belief.

One Response to “12. The Third ‘S’: Store”

  1. [...] to organizing paper as well. The “Three S’s of Organizing,” simplify, sort, and store, is a great methodology to use for organizing [...]

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