4. The Three S’s of Organizing

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Now it’s time to introduce an easy and effective three-step approach that will work with any organizing challenge. Remember that the goal of organizing is to arrange your possessions to support what’s important in your life now. You can actually harness the power of your possessions in order to live a better life. The organizing process must always be grounded based on your goals and what is truly important to you.

As a professional organizer, I don’t have an agenda about what stuff you should get rid of, or how the stuff you keep should be arranged. Instead, I’m really interested in helping you reach your goals. In general, it’s easy for an objective bystander to look and see whether the specific actions you are taking are getting you closer to reaching your goals. For example, if you want the surface of your desk to be clear and uncluttered, but have a habit of making piles of papers on your desk, then that habit is taking you further from your goal.

If you were in San Francisco, and you said you wanted to go to Los Angeles, which is south, but then you started driving north over the Golden Gate Bridge, I’d say you were going the wrong way. It’s not that there’s anything morally wrong with doing what you’re doing, and of course the Golden Gate Bridge is a beautiful site to see, it’s just taking you further from where you say you want to go.

The perspective I hope to bring to organizing can be summed up with one of my favorite quotes by Henry David Thoreau, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”

As a way of laying the foundation for the easy and effective three-step approach to organizing, I will now introduce three principles of organizing.

Principle number one: The smaller the quantity you are working with, the easier it is to organize. In other words, it is easier to organize a smaller amount of stuff. The fewer items you have, the easier it is to get organized.

Principle number two: Memory is Associative. The mind can keep track of fifteen categories much easier than it can keep track of five hundred eighty-seven individual objects. Furthermore, the mind remembers information through its relationships to other pieces of information. Your mind will keep track of your stuff through its relationships and connectedness to other stuff.

And finally, principle number three is what I call the frequency of use principle. For greatest efficiency, Items which are used most frequently should be most accessible.

Based on these principles, I have created an easy and effective three-step approach that works for any organizing challenge, whether it would be a garage, an office, a purse, or a car. I call it “The Three S’s of Organizing.” The Three S’s are Simplify, Sort, and Store.

The first S is simplify. Simplify means to make life simpler by eliminating anything that is not serving you, that is not supporting your vision of what’s important in your life now. Examples of simplifying would include getting rid of food which is beyond its expiration date or a user’s manual for a product that you no longer own.

The second S is sort. Sort means to create categories, and put like things together. For example, you might put all office supplies together and bicycling equipment together.

The third S is store. Store means to create a home for each category and then store that category in its home. The most important factor in creating the home is that you want the categories you use most often to be most accessible. For example, items that you use every day, like your keys, pens, and maybe a letter opener should be right at your fingertips, while things you don’t use very often, like old tax returns, can be stored out in the garage or in a storage unit. Beyond that, there are two other less important criteria to consider. You also want the size of the category to roughly match the size of the storage space. For example, you wouldn’t place large pillows in a small desk drawer. And finally, ideally the category would be positioned near where it will be used. For example, you might store the office supplies in the office and the bicycling equipment in the garage.

The first two S’s, Simplifying and sorting, are not necessarily done in that order. Either may be done first, or they may both be done together. Sometimes it’s easier to simplify first, so you don’t spend time sorting things that you’re not even going to keep. However, if you’re having difficulty simplifying, I recommend sorting first, because sorting will give you a better sense of what you have, and knowing what you have will make it easier to simplify. Also, the sorting will help you see when you have redundant possessions and therefore make it easier to simplify. For example, if you find that you have three copies of the same book, it may not be necessary to keep all of them.

I’ll be talking a lot more about each of these three steps in future posts, starting next time with “Simplify.” Until then, may you continue living a life of meaning and value.

2 Responses to “4. The Three S’s of Organizing”

  1. albroth says:

    Valuable advice. Strikes me as just right. I like using the audio then following it with the text. I hope I will stick to the material. I wrote “can” but of course I can. So I changed it to “will.”

    Thanks, Andy

  2. [...] apply to organizing paper just as they do to any other organizing challenge. In particular, the “Three S’s of Organizing,” apply to organizing paper as well. The “Three S’s of [...]

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