There are a million and one tips, tricks, and lifestyle fixes that claim to be the way you’ll finally organize your life.
All of them live or die by whether you can integrate them into your life seamlessly and naturally, and most of them stack the deck against you. A lot of the struggle people have with staying organized is that a lot of organizing advice takes more effort than being messy. But there is a way that takes less.
The first step is to be very aware of what you’re doing that makes your home untidy. Do you have a particular chair where you dump your dirty clothes? Do candy wrappers and napkins accumulate on your desk? Does that one kitchen tool never quite make it back into storage?
Notice these patterns and quirks and make a note of them.
This is your natural path through your home, and this is what all of the other organizing and tidying advice is asking you to fight. You’re not going to fight it, though — you’re going to use it.
You’re not going to change what you’re already doing. You’re going to take what you’re already doing and make it work.
That chair where you’re always tossing your clothes when you’re finished with them? You’re tossing your clothes there for a reason, maybe because it’s next to where you usually disrobe. And that reason won’t go away because you’ve decided you need to be tidier.
If you try to force yourself into a whole new routine to save that chair, statistically, it won’t last. So we’re not going to build a whole new routine to deal with the laundry heap. Instead, put your laundry basket there, and put the chair somewhere else.
If you put your laundry basket in that spot, none of the reasons or patterns you’ve already built need to change, but you still get your heap of dirty clothing out of that chair. It might seem like an odd place for your hamper, but that doesn’t matter, because it’s your place.
You don’t have to build a new habit to use it, because you’re already using it. That means no false starts when you try to put things in the old spot and have to switch to the new, no regression back to the old over time, and no worst-of-both-worlds event where some of your dirty clothes are in one place and some in the other. You’ve taken what you were already doing and made it work.
You can take this approach to anything else in your life. Maybe you have a spice cabinet that spices never seem to find their way back into after you use them. There’s a good chance that this cabinet is too inconvenient to fit into your life, and establishing a different system that fits where your spices naturally end up will work out better.
Can you never seem to find that one important paper — like your passport — when you need it?
Try making a separate “vital documents” folder at the front of your file cabinet, instead of wondering whether your passport is in “travel” or “government” or next to your old driver’s license. You can easily drop it there instead of filing it where you’ll have trouble finding it again.
If your desk is covered in paper waste, put a bin next to your desk so that you don’t have to get up to use the one in the next room, since you weren’t doing that anyway.
If this approach is helping you, you can get even more mileage out of it by using it backward. If you routinely forget tasks that are outside of a well-defined routine, such as bringing specific documents with you to work that you don’t always need, block your natural path with those tasks.
Put that object you can’t forget under your glasses, or prop it up against your front door so that you can’t not notice it on your way out.
Move your laundry basket from its usual place to the front door so that you see it and don’t forget to do laundry.
Your natural path is always there, and just as trying to force it to be somewhere else is never easy, interrupting it takes you off autopilot and gives you the option to do something different.
This approach gives you something that most other organizational approaches don’t: Trust in yourself. It trusts you to be already doing what works for you and fits within your habits and your psychology. It tells you that all that’s missing is making it fit into your actual life.
You aren’t the problem — the world around you is. You can make it better through something as small as keeping the bin where you put spent toilet paper tubes next to the dispenser. We often hear that it takes more effort to be messy than to be organized, and by thinking about organization this way, we can finally make that true.