The Power Of Simple Sorting For Personal & Home Organization

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The Power Of Simple Sorting For Personal & Home Organization

Home organization can be tricky, especially if you don't know where to start. Before you get too overwhelmed, you need an organizing system that works for you.

A few weeks ago, I started working with a client — we’ll call her Rhoda — who had piles of papers on her kitchen table and strewn throughout her home.

She, like many of us, had tried various organizing ideas and paper-management systems, but none of them seemed to work.

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She knew she didn’t need all of it, but she also didn’t know what to keep, either. She told me very clearly that she wanted the knowledge on how to handle it, along with an organizing system in place that she could manage.

Simple enough, right?

Rhoda had all of the usual categories of papers: flyers and ads, medical info and bills, recipes, bank statements, magazines, catalogs, non-profits asking for money, church bulletins, cards, photos, memoirs, etc.

Plus, she had dozens of Post-Its containing her own personal notes scattered around the house.

It was the kind of situation where you could imagine clearing off your bed and spending the day sorting your papers into dozens of categories.

But, what do you do with it all once it’s sorted?

The answer is simple: Take a step back, grasshopper, and start with the basics.

Start with the basics.

In this situation, I had Rhoda gather most of the papers scattered throughout the house and put them into one single bin.

From there, she did one simple sort: things to keep and not keep. We didn’t go into the rules of what to keep — that’s for later.

Right now, I was only interested in reducing volume, as that visual can serve as a strong motivator.

Once that part was done, we went through the "not keeps" and further categorized those into four piles:

  • Recycle
  • Trash
  • Shred
  • Give to someone else

That’s it — four categories.

Once the "not keeps" were gone, we were left with just one large bin of keeps.

As we were going through the initial sort, we were certainly aware of the types of papers Rhoda had accumulated.

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I didn’t want to overwhelm her with too many piles, so we put these into general categories with the understanding that they would likely need to be further sorted at a later time:

  • Bills
  • Reading
  • Reference
  • Notes
  • Miscellaneous
  • Second trash

Now, I realize that notes are likely to be things she’ll want to reference or read eventually. But honestly, the sheer quantity of notes she had made me want to save those for its own organizing session.

Further dividing her "keeps" into broad categories allowed us to at least determine the location of each.

For instance, bills would need to be kept toward the top of the pile, while reference could be kept toward the bottom or, eventually, in her home office.

Determining the location of these papers is a key part of the process because when we’re overwhelmed, it all seems important.

Once we were finished with these categories, we had a few lessons on what really needs to be kept.

For example, she absolutely did not need to keep her bank statements, so I encouraged her to shred those and set herself up for paperless statements online.

Another example was her memoirs. Rhoda just had a birthday, so she had a few cards in the pile. I encouraged her to put the ones she really loved and appreciated on her mantle, and gave her permission to throw away the rest.

Finding a system. 

We continued with this system of streamlining and further narrowing for a few sessions until we had a system that worked for her.

In the end, the most important items — along with recipes she hadn’t yet tried — were kept in an inbox that hung on the wall in the kitchen.

Catalogs and other items she wanted to read — including her Post-Its — were on the coffee table in the living room. Reference items were kept mainly in Rhoda’s home office.

This process can be done in as little as five-minute increments.

Have a few minutes before you need to leave the house? Grab a pile of papers and do a "keep/not keep" sort.

See that box of old bank statements in your attic? Bring them to the living room and shred away while binging your favorite show.

Technically, a pile of anything is a pile of dozens of decisions to be made, meaning that you can deal with one single item on the pile and call it progress.

Happy sorting, everyone!

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Aubrei Krummert is a Certified Professional Organizer and Residential Productivity Specialist in Athens, Ohio. She is also a Level 2 Chronic Disorganization Specialist through the Institute of Challenging Disorganization. She does on-site and virtual organizing sessions with her clients.