How to Organize a Home

Remember that it's about function and not appearance, and it's a process that doesn't happen overnight.

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Organized Desk in Daily Life DK - House Works © 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Think back to the last 24 hours. Were you out the door without delay or did you lose the car keys again this morning? At mealtimes, was it easy for family members to help set the table, or were the dishes stored too high, too low or sitting, still unwashed, on the kitchen counter?

When you went to bed, was it a relaxing transition from a busy day, or did you have to shove aside a pile of clothing and evict the dog from your pillow to rest your weary head? If daily life is getting you down, it's time to get organized.

Think function, not appearance
First, we need to get clear about what organizing is, and what it isn't. Organization is not a decorating style; it's about how well your home functions, not how it looks. A home organized with mismatched found-and-made containers can be far better organized than one fully outfitted with pricey built-in organizing "systems" that don't work. The paradox is that tidy houses are not always organized houses. Neat stacks of paper can hide unpaid bills and missed appointments. A clean and streamlined bedroom won't show the ripped and wadded clothing jammed into drawers or crammed into closets. By contrast, a busy desk may be the best evidence of an organized household: bills paid, papers filed, letters answered.

One can be tidy without being organized. Tidying is the process of returning out-of-place possessions to their homes. But what if those items don't have the right homes in the first place? Then you're back at Chaos Point One, still looking for the house keys, your wallet or the dog's leash. "Put away" does not necessarily equal "organized." So don't fall for the organized look. Go for the organized function-it's what makes the difference between chaos and calm.

Think process, not product
Pick a yard sale, any yard sale. Chances are, some pretty pricey organizing products will be featured for sale: rotating plastic turntables; bathroom shelf units; specialty organizers like can holders; tie racks and shelf extenders. All on sale for a tiny fraction of their retail price and all mute witnesses to a would-be organizer who has confused "getting organized" with "buying stuff."

There's a difference between organization and the products you'll use to achieve that goal. Organization is a process, not a product. It involves time and thought, effort and motivation, and you can't buy these factors in any store. No tangible item, no matter how useful, can set you on the road to better organization all by itself. The moral is: Nobody got organized by buying stuff. Instead, they ended up holding a yard sale.

Excerpted from Houseworks, by Cynthia Townley Ewer

Text Copyright © 2006, 2010, Cynthia Townley Ewer, extracts from Houseworks, reproduced with permission from Dorling Kindersley Limited

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