This past week I have been sorting through all my clothes and getting rid of items that no longer fit or that I no longer wear. This can be a very daunting and time consuming task. I have two large drawers under my bed where I keep most of my clothes. It had become a disordered mess in there, everything had become unfolded and little used items had been pushed to the bottom or way to the back. I had been putting off organizing my drawers for awhile. It felt good to finally tackle them and because of my Process of Piles I didn't have to do everything at once.
1. Create a work space that will get in your way.
Yes, you read that right. When I begin an organization project, I want to work in a place where the stuff will be in my way later if I choose to leave it there. I prefer to use my bed. That way I MUST deal with the stuff before the end of the day. Other good places would be the kitchen table, or the middle of the living room floor. The temptation is going to be to set up your work space in that unused corner of your bedroom or living room. But in my experience that is the WORST place to work, because it is too easy to allow your piles of stuff to sit and not get taken care of. That unused spot can suddenly become that stuff's permanent home. As I type, there are several stacks of books staring me down from the corner of my living room. I began the organization process but never finished... at least they are not in my way, right? Wrong. Make the things you must sort through in your way.
2. Prepare to Pile
In this process there are going to be piles and sub-piles. This can be as orderly or as chaotic as you want but remember this one thing: every pile must have a purpose. We will get into this more in a bit. To begin, prepare spots for four basic piles. Throw Away, Give Away, Not Sure, and Keep. For Throw Away I don't bother with a pile, I just grab a trash bag for that. I have a canvas bin I use for Give Away so that's not really a pile either, but it is still important for me to keep it orderly. One rule I have is that once something goes into the Throw Away or Give Away pile I am NOT allowed to remove it. Sorry, count it as incinerated. The Not Sure pile is for any item that will take a little longer for you to decided if you want to keep it or not. If at any time during the sorting process you find yourself lingering on one item for more than a few seconds, "Should I keep this or not?" just put it in the Not Sure pile and come back to it later. I usually put my Not Sure pile right in the middle of my floor so that I still have to deal with it before the day is up. Your Keep pile will consist of anything that you still like, but by the end of the day you may not actually be keeping everything in your Keep pile. This pile is actually going to be many sub-piles, more on that in a bit.
3. Unfold and refold everything.
Obviously, this step only applies to clothes. In the example of my drawers I completely emptied them. Most things were unfolded already, but the things that were by some miracle still folded I unfolded. Why? So that I could get a good look at each item. Trust your gut in this moment. If you know you are never going to wear that item again put it straight in the Give Away or Throw Away pile. If it is an item you would like to try on first then put it in the Not Sure pile. The other day when I did this I was home alone. So I just closed the blinds and tried on the clothes as I organized. There is no shame folding clothes in your underwear. But if you would rather try on clothes later, that is what the Not Sure pile is for. The things that are going into your Keep pile, fold neatly.
4. Create piles with purpose.
This is where Ordered Mess becomes a beautiful thing. Begin to sort everything in your Keep pile into sub-piles (with clothes, I begin this process as I am folding them). Every pile must have a purpose. Give it a name. I talk to myself as I am doing this, talk about the items you are sorting, why you like them and how you use them, this will actually help you categorize them. Don't just sort shirts, pants, and underwear, get even more specific than that. For example, yesterday I was sorting through all my T-shirts. I have over 15 T-shirts. Instead of just making a T-shirt pile I made sub-piles of "comfy", "work day", "cute" and "sentimental." Why bother doing this? Because even though all those shirts are in the same category of "T-shirt" I use them all for very different purposes. The ones that I consider to be cute I will never wear during a work day where they might get dirty or torn. I'll never wear a strictly comfy T-shirt in public if I don't think it's cute (unless I REALLY don't care that day, but I have days like that maybe once or twice a year), and I will hardly ever wear a work day shirt when I want to be comfy because it just feels like mixing work with rest (I know, it's a mental thing). And with my sentimental pile I usually don't actually like those T-shirts except for the memories they bring back to me, so I just need to decided if the nostalgia factor is worth keeping them. When you sort things out in this way you are able to ask yourself, "How many comfy t-shirts do I really need?" "How many of these cute T-shirts will I actually wear?", Etc. This will help you reduce your items down to what is really necessary. In my case I've reduced my T-shirts from 15 to 10. Not a huge reduction, but it is a start. Other sub-pile examples would be favorites vs. rarely-worn, books according to authors or genres, casual vs. dressy, etc.
5. Take an honest look.
Once you are satisfied with your piles it is time to take an honest look at what you have. How many of these things do you REALLY need? How many of these things do you REALLY use? How many of these things do you REALLY like? Figure out how many you need, pick out your favorites, and then get rid of the rest. Ask yourself honest questions (again, talk to yourself as you work). "Do I REALLY need 25 pairs of underwear? I wear about 10 of those consistently, can I ditch the rest?" "These two shirts are very similar, can I do away with one of them?" "I really enjoyed this book, but will I ever read it again?" "I love my grandmother and she gave me this tea pot, but will I ever actually display it?" You'll be surprised how much you can reduce your stuff just by being brutally honest.
6. Put away the piles
This is one reason I actually love piles. If they are kept small they are actually really easy to move and put away. After I cleared out my drawers and sorted everything into piles I did not have time to really ask honest questions about each pile. But I was able to put each pile back in the draws and every day since then I have pulled out one pile and sorted through it. I've turned my drawers into an active workstation. In another day or two the project will be complete. Another option would be to get large plastic or canvas bins to put your piles in. BUT make sure this does not become an "out of sight out of mind" matter. Put the bin somewhere prominent, in the middle of the room even, so that you will be reminded that the job is not done.
This Process of Piles is not beautiful while you are doing it, but sometimes you need to make a little mess in order to reduce your mess. Working in this way will help you be aware of the purpose of every item you have. If something doesn't have a purpose, it shouldn't have a place in your house. Get rid of it. Embrace the Ordered Mess, it can be a beautiful thing.
Bonus Tip: Use the Process of Piles to quickly help organize any mess in your house, even if you do not have a lot of time to commit to a full blown project. Is stuff starting to accumulate on your table or counter space? Is your living room getting cluttered with objects casually placed down? Put things into purposeful piles and they will be so much easier to take care of later.
This way of organizing may not be for everyone, but I wanted to share how my brain works. Maybe this will help bring some Method to your Madness.