It is the start of the new year and a time when many people vow to Get Organized, Pare Down, or Go Minimal. Whatever promise you’ve made to yourself or to your loved ones, I’d like to suggest a more encompassing solution. Rather than thinking about “getting organized”, put some thought into Staying Organized. Carl Richards, a financial planner and host of Behavior Gap Radio, shared his own revelations of paring down and “Kondoizing” his home on a recent podcast episode. His basic story is similar to what you’ve probably experienced before. You blocked out a portion of your weekend to organize a space in your home; you sorted, you purged, and in the end your space looked clean and you felt great! Fast forward a few days or maybe weeks later and your space is now cluttered again with who knows what, and you think (in the words of Homer Simpson), “Doh!! Where does all this stuff come from??”

According to Richards, “Stuff you bring in today is what you’ll be tidying up later.” His advice (and mine too), make a plan to bring in less. The less you have coming in, the less you’ll have to find a home for and the less you’ll have to move around to get to what you need. How do you do that? Richards goes on to explain the need for a “Quarantine Zone“. Similar to clearing customs at the airport, things that come into your home need to pass some form of inspection in order to be approved for entry. Members of your household can serve as inspection agents in order to help each other decide if an item is worth schlepping across the border (or in this case, the doorway of your home).

  • Do you really need it?
  • Will you use it?
  • Do you really love it so much that you’re willing to make space for it?
  • Could you borrow something similar from someone else if you really needed it?
  • Do you need that much of it (e.g. the Costco size) (In travel terms, will it put you over the weight limit or make you incur excess baggage fees?)
  • Where are you going to store it?

I recently had this type of experience with my husband. I have a little ritual at the start of a season where I order a bunch of boots on-line and then return the ones I don’t want or need (about 8 come in and 7 go out:-). However, this year I was struggling to return this one pair. They were over the knee, I had gotten them at a great sale price, and they were just really cute. As I was trying them on, my husband walked in, looked at the boots and said, “Don’t you already have a pair just like those?” I knew I did (literally they were almost exactly the same except for the color of the buckle, one was gold and one was pewter). Being one who does not like to have a lot of extra stuff, my reality check came through and I sent the boots back. Done! No having to figure out where to store them, no overflowing boot storage in my closet, and I saved a few dollars in the process–a win, win!

Items that need to be quarantined are not always items you purchase; some may be free or some may be given to you. Below is a list of potential items that need to be quarantined if you staying organized is your priority:

  • Mail – Stop the junk mail at the door by recycling it immediately (or use an app like Paperkarma to stop it before it reaches your mailbox) .
  • Travel Souvenirs – Do you (or your child) really need that tikki doll from Hawaii in order to remember your trip?
  • Art Projects – Is every single one a keeper? (These are often about process, not end result.)
  • Tech Toys/Gadgets – Do you really need the latest (then get rid of the old as soon as you bring in the new)? How long will the novelty of the gadget hold your attention?

If you are so motivated to start the new year being more organized and having less clutter in your life, don’t just make it a short term goal. Make a commitment to bring in less so staying organized becomes the norm and carving out time to get organized becomes a thing of the past.