Staying Organized When It’s Not Just You

One of the most frustrating aspects of organization projects can be other people’s seeming lack of appreciation for your hard work. You’ve spent hours putting every last detail into place only to return days (or hours) later to find the place in chaos! Too many repeats of this situation and you’re bound to swear off organizing for good, for, “What’s the use!”

While keeping shared spaces tidy will always be more of a challenge than taking care of your own little nook, there are a few tactics you can implement to prevent complete decimation of a shared area. In fact, you may find yourself a few organization allies by the end of the process.

Get them involved

In this instance, “them” is whoever will be using this space. If you’re organizing the kids’ closet, enlist their participation. The master bedroom? Partner with your spouse. The family room? Yes, the whole family! They don’t have to help you every step of the way, but by allowing them to be a part, they will have more of a vested interest.

Ask for their input as you go through items. “Do you still use this?” “Do you think another boy or girl would like this toy now that you’re older?” And ask for their input as you put things back in place. “Where should we keep our current library books?” “Do you think it makes more sense to hang the hats here or here.”

When others help to clean out the space and develop the system, they will be more inclined to maintain it. Not only will your child remember where the library books belong, if she neglects to put them there, you can kindly remind her, “Remember you had such a great idea to keep our library books in the basket by the hearth! Would you mind putting them back where they go?”

Leave no room for guesswork

One major key to keeping shared spaces organized is a clear system. This means lots of labeling with a designated spot for every item. If (when) your family member forgets where you said to put the towels, you want him to be able to look at the closet and figure it out. If he can’t, the towel will be tossed in haphazardly and before you know it, your shelves will be in despair once again. However, if he opens the closet to find shelves or bins labeled “bath towels” “bath toys” “washcloths” etc., it will be abundantly clear where the towel should go!

If there’s a label and they can read, they know where it goes.

Labeling can be magical. Even if people don’t immediately see the correct label, most will spend a moment searching for it before they put a bag of chips in the “cereal” bin. On the contrary, if there is no label, they’ll will show no qualms about placing an object on a random shelf, even if the items around it aren’t related in the least. So do yourself a favor, and label, label, label! You’ll also have recourse for the ol’ “I didn’t know where it went” response. If there’s a label and they can read, they know where it goes.

Have a conversation

Once you’ve developed a new system, have a conversation with everyone who ever uses space, even occasionally. Clearly explain what you did (what you got rid of, what you moved to other areas, and how you arranged the remaining items) and your expectations for keeping up the space. You cannot expect others to maintain a system they don’t understand!

Your family members may need reminding from time to time, especially at the beginning, but hopefully you’ve made your labeling and system clear enough that they will catch on sooner rather than later. In regards to children, remind them of the virtues of initiative (recognizing and doing what needs to be done before I am asked to do it) and orderliness (preparing myself and my surroundings so that I will achieve the greatest efficiency).** Helping them learn to abide by a system is a wonderful opportunity for instilling these character traits.

You cannot expect others to maintain a system they don’t understand!

Be adaptable

You did it- you took your closet from mess to success and it looks wonderful. Everything is in its place, and it looks like it belongs in a magazine. You’ve explained the layout and system to your spouse and are confident that all will be well going forward. But then it’s not. Some things seem to be working fine, but one or two problems are creeping up. Maybe your husband is not hanging up his robe or is leaving his belts on top of the dresser instead of coiling them up in the drawer like you showed him. He seems to do fine maintaining everything but a few items, and it makes you want to pull your hair out! Take a step back and take a deep breath.

Before you criticize others for lack of trying, do some investigation.

If overall someone is abiding by the system except in one or two areas, maybe the system is to blame. Reevaluate the expectation you’ve set. Is it realistic? Is it functional? Sometimes things look great when organized initially, but real life just doesn’t make it practical to store them that way. Perhaps your husband would put up his robe if you installed a hook – easier than putting it back on a hanger. Maybe the belts are too crammed where they are currently stored and the drawer jams often, leaving your husband saying, “forget it!” Before you criticize others for lack of trying, do some investigation. Give them the benefit of the doubt and see if there is a way to adapt and improve the system you’ve developed so it’s more user friendly for everyone going forward.

**Definitions borrowed from “Operational Definitions of Character Qualities,” http://www.iblp.org

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