Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Chaos Control Part 3: Grouping Like with Like

I'm not good at putting things away.

This is another one of those tendencies that I've spent a lot of time beating myself up over. I mean, it seems so simple, doesn't it? "A place for everything, and everything in its place."

The problem is that I'm really an out of sight, out of mind person. And once I put something "away" it's like it simply vanishes. Honestly, I often feel like putting it away is the equivalent of throwing it away, because once it's out of my visual field, the chances of me ever finding it again are quite slim.

Seriously, one time I was putting on my jacket, and since this task required two hands, I momentarily stuck my keys in my mouth. But as soon as the keys were no longer visible to me, I couldn't find them. CatMan nearly died laughing as I was standing there exclaiming through a mouthful of keys that I'd lost my keys and couldn't find them!

CatMan teases me incessantly about my disorganization. He's suggested (only partially in jest) that what I need is a database telling me where all my stuff is. OY!

Enter the carpet beetles.

Dealing with this situation has meant that I literally had to go through every single thing that I owned. I purged a great deal, and for the rest I had to find storage solutions that would not leave things vulnerable to infestations. For things that are attractive to beetles (natural fibers including cardboard, and any sort of fabric) this meant sealed air tight containers. Everything else required containers with lids, that aren't made of cardboard. All of that translated into plastic bins... a LOT of plastic bins.

Initially, I just took everything that had been in boxes or baskets, cleaned it out and put it into plastic bins with lids. And while being able to see the contents of the bin through the clear plastic was a definite improvement, it didn't do much for the chaos of my system-less storage system.

This became very evident one day when my rear bike light fell off and broke. The light still functioned, but the plastic clip that holds it to the bike was broken. I was really bummed because this was an expensive light, so rather than pony up $30 to replace it, I decided to try to glue the broken piece back on.

Thus began "Glue-Quest 2016."

Now, I was sure that I owned a lot of different varieties of glue, and I wanted to choose the best one for this particular application, so I wanted to see all of the different glues that I had to choose from.

Oh. My. God. 

I'm not kidding here... it took me the better part of an afternoon to search through the house gathering all of my tubes of glue. There was one in the kitchen junk drawer, a few in the hall closet junk box, 2 or three in various desk drawers, half a dozen in various bins, drawers, and tool boxes in the shop, a few with the sewing/crafts stuff, a few more out in the garage, and even a few in the bathroom!

Now, in my defense... all of those locations made sense in a twisted, crazy sort of way. The glue I bought to repair some shoes was stored in the closet near the shoes. The glue I bought for a craft project was in the bin with the craft stuff. The glue I bought to fix a hose was out in the garage where the hoses are kept. The epoxy I bought for a plumbing project was with the plumbing stuff. The super glue that I bought to glue on a fake fingernail over the one I tore was in the bathroom with the fake fingernail stuff. Etc., etc., etc.

But quite obviously, my "project based" storage system had some real limitations.

When I finally gathered all of the glue, here's what I was left with.

What a revelation! All of the glue in one place so I can actually find it!

Now, this is another one of those things that's probably totally obvious to those of you for whom organization comes naturally, but for me this is a completely revolutionary way of thinking.

So, I've been slowly working my way through my stuff, collecting "like objects" and putting them together.

I now have a bin for tape:

One for electrical stuff:

One for batteries:

You get the idea.

And in areas where I've got lots of stuff, I sub-divided my categories. So here are two bins of bike stuff: one for maintenance & cleaning, the other for tires and tubes:

I even put all the stuff I need on ride day together in one location:

And taking it one step further, I put the little things that I carry in my pocket for a bike ride (sunscreen, chapstick, extra gatorade powder, hankie) all together in one easy to grab plastic bag - no more forgetting the extra sunscreen! Woo Hoo!

Honestly, I have a ways to go before I get everything organized this way, but this is really having an enormous impact on the chaos factor around here.

Now, I still think that things used every day should be kept in the area where they are used. It doesn't make sense to have to go trudging down to a bin in the basement every time I need a pencil or something like that.

I think the trick is deciding which things should be considered "frequent use" and which things should be stored with their brethren. But at least now I've got a mental framework to work with, and I'm starting to think that organization might actually be possible in this lifetime.

So what's your system for storing things? I'd love to hear what does and doesn't work for you.


  1. I think the really annoying carpet beetles were sent to you for a reason--to help take the chaos out of your life. Or organizing is the silver lining to the difficult carpet beetle problem. Or some such saying like that.

    Anyway, we are organized something like you are with like things being together. We have a tape and glue basket, a shelf with light bulbs, extension cords, and batteries, etc.
    Are you labeling your boxes? I do this with some of them. Even though you can see through them, I still find a label useful. Especially for things we don't use everyday. It's an extra visual that helps. My labels aren't fancy. I usually just use a sticky note.

    Although we are somewhat organized, entropy is always trying to creep in. So we have to reorganize from time to time.

    1. Ha! I sorta see the carpet beetle thing as karma, and it reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from the Dali Lama: Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.

      Anyhow, the suggestion to put labels on the bins in interesting. My initial reaction is an emphatic and emotionally filled "NOOOOOOO!!!" Which is sorta interesting, don't you think? Why should something as benign as a label on a box illicit such a strong negative reaction? Not sure if that's coming from some sort of emotional connection I have between labeling things and work/school, or if it's just completely random. Probably worth exploring my reaction though, in either case. :-)

    2. Love that quote! ('that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.') That is a powerful reaction to the labelling...eek, makes me wonder as a school teacher what we might be doing to kids with our labels, filing and whatnot!

    3. I'm still not sure what it is about labeling things that gives me that reaction, but it is interesting!

  2. I am still feeling horrible thinking about all the work that resulted from those evil carpet beetles but the amount of organizing you have done is really amazing. I am totally with you on how things like glue and tape can be dispersed all through the house depending on their use. I have similar piles of tapes, glues, batteries, light bulbs, tools, cords, and the never ending assortment of cleaning products that seem to congregate in various rooms according to their usage. I think my kids are hoping I "downsize" long before my eventual demise so they don't have to sort through the cupboards, closets, drawers and bins to deal with all the "stuff".

    1. Ha! Don't feel bad yet, I haven't even started to rip up the carpet! :-)

      You know, the lady across the street from my parents (dad & stepmom) died a few years back, and apparently the fallout was enormous. I think she might have been a bit of a hoarder, but in any case, they had to bring in several of those MAC truck sized dumpsters to deal with it all. The whole thing lit a fire under my stepmom and she's been on a massive purging spree ever since.

      Of course, there is the easy way out. When my mother died, my brother & I decided that trying to coordinate dealing with her stuff from across the country was not a feasible option, so we just hired a company to come in and do an estate sale and basically deal with it all for us.

  3. I'm with Cheryl saying she feels horrible about all the work those evil carpet beetles created! The very thought of having such an uphill battle...

    Your organising looks amazing (and beetle proof!)I really like the idea of your bike grab bag. I also forget the 'little things' that I need for a specific purpose (like a bike ride.)

    Also love the idea of dividing things by purpose or task more so than by 'item' (e.g. your bike parts for cleaning separate from tyres/tubes.)

    I used to be blissfully happy having minimal stuff and no real need for 'organisation' strategies. But with a child with ADD things get really impossible to manage if we don't classify, label and sort things clearly in the house. Our laundry / garage look almost identical to your boxes!

    1. Well, I'm afraid I still have a bunch of boxes that are just a mish mash of junk, so my work is far from done! But it's all starting to feel more possible.

      My next adventure will be swapping out the clothes since the seasons are definitely changing. We'll see how that goes!

  4. Laughing at your picture of the cat with glasses. I've "lost" my glasses in this way more than once!

    I am relatively organized ... my other family members, not so much. Wish I had a magic wand to wave over them and make them have tidier habits. Sigh.

    1. I lose EVERYTHING if I can't see it. Sigh. And maybe your family members aren't just habitually disorganized, maybe they need a different system. Just a thought. :-)

  5. I love how organized you are. If I don't keep my keys, wallet and phone in exactly the same place I will lose them and lose my mind. For 2017, one of my goals is to get better organized and clean up closet. I have too much stuff and need to get better organized. Thanks for the tips.

    1. I'm laughing out loud at the idea that anyone might call me "organized!" It's definitely a work in progress, but I have to say that I am enjoying not having to waste so much time searching for things. :-)

  6. Sorting by type and function, rather than "the room or drawer it was last in" makes a ton of sense. We're still cleansing, so maybe we can steal your idea and put, say, all the pens in one place, all the tools in one place, etc.

    Glad you're trucking on with the great purge!

    1. You know, some part of me has always known that I should "put things away" after I use them. My problem has always been that figuring out where "away" ought to be!

      Good luck with your cleansing! :-)

  7. I can't say that I'm a great organizer either. I'm the "keeper" in the family. With both parents dead, I keep all the photos, widgets, gadgets that my parents owned. Now my mother always had too much furniture in her house and I'd often tell her that "less was more", but I think she and my father both lived through the depression, so having "things" was good in her mind. I have: count them-23 measuring tapes from my father. I have them placed neatly in a row in the garage, but like you I have also one in the house in a "tool" drawer so I don't have to go all the way out to the garage to get it. I am looking for a good storage system for sewing stuff. And I know I've been guilty of buying more than one '"sizer" for determining the size of knitting needles and the like, but I like you feel if I don't see things, then the odds are, I won't use them. I do admire friends of mine though who bring a plastic container carrying all their paraphernalia for a particular hobby. So they can "change" hobbies in an instant, since all relevant items are in the container. They do multiple hobbies: egg carving, spinning, weaving, felting, etc.. There's no one solution to organizing.

    1. I think you've hit on the issue I struggle with - I want things to be convenient (hence the tape measures scattered throughout the house... which I have too) but I also want to be able to find things easily and not have to go on a hunting expedition every time I need something.

      I don't think I've quite figured out how to strike a proper balance between those two strategies, but hopefully it will get better the more I focus on it.

      At least I've grasped that idea that I do need an actual system. So now, I guess, I'm just working on parameters.

  8. You're right -- I have numerous types of glue all over this house and I can never find the right kind when I need it. If nothing else, you've inspired me to organize my glue collection this month. (I like to keep my goals small and achievable.) I love hearing and seeing how you organize things, and as usual, your article made me think.

    1. Well, they don't call me "Cat, The Organizer of Glue" for nothing!

      Lest you think I've succeeded in taming all of the clutter though, I have to admit that I spent the better part of an afternoon searching for a gallon of brown paint that I'm SURE must be SOMEWHERE. Alas, since I've run out of places to look, I'm forced to conclude that perhaps I already used it... even though I could swear I didn't. Oh well, I think I see a trip to the hardware store in my near future. At least I know where my glue is though! :-)


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