Pile Sort Stash

How do you deal with the stuff in your life? You know, all the flotsam and jetsam of life that you can’t quite throw away but have no good place for either – mail, catalogs, junk drawer contents, memorabilia, pieces of projects you promise to get around to but never seem to. In the mean time, do you pile it around your office/kitchen/entryway? Sort it into organized files and boxes (or at least, files that you intend to organize…someday)? Or just stash everything in a drawer until you can’t open it anymore?

There’s also the stuff you need to keep, but can’t seem to keep in one place. In my house, it’s water bottles, dog leashes, sports gear, reusable shopping bags, shoes, jackets, retainer cases, and bills.  It’s a constant battle for clear counters, enough space on the dinner table for eating, and trying not to trip in the hallways.

There is a lot of discipline involved in tidiness – but I also believe that good systems help. However, organization has to be flexible, simple, and accessible – or we won’t use it. Life won’t fit in a tidy little box, even a well labeled one. No matter how well-thought out a system, something won’t fit. Or it might belong equally well in two or more places, and you won’t be able to remember which one you chose. Building in just enough control to make things “findable” but keeping the system broad enough to be useable is the constant challenge.

For example, when you come home from work or errands with your arms full, you will not want to stop and organize everything you’re holding into tidy, logical compartments. Most likely, you want to drop everything on the floor in your doorway! A usable system here might be adding baskets and pegs to an entryway that keep things accessible (and easily unloaded) without being too visible or disorderly. Drop zones can be utilized at either the front door or the back door – wherever traffic is busiest.



Generally, the more complex the system, the less it gets used – it’s just too hard to keep track of where things will be when you need them, or to find that exact spot you are supposed to be putting something when you’re arms are full and you just need to unload.  Think of the recycling program – if you have to divide your glass and plastic, you’re more likely to just toss both in the trash. If the choice is throw a bottle in the trash or throw all your containers in one recycling bin, that’s easier to commit to.

I love the spice drawers offered by Pacific Crest. They are simple, visible, and easy to use. You can alphabetize your jars if you are so inclined – but we all know how long that will last. In the mean time, all the jars are easy to see and grab, so such over-organization isn’t even necessary. In addition, the flavors in those spices are safer tucked away in a drawer than they are stacked right next to your stove, where the heat will dry them out.

Finally, the greatest, simplest, most logical system won’t get used if it’s not accessible when and where you come across your stuff to organize. My file cabinet in the garage doesn’t get used – but my “to file” box next to the kitchen is overflowing. If I could keep those two closer together, the lag time for papers to transfer from one to another would shrink considerably.

A recycling center in the kitchen feels like less of a chore than one in the garage – and so recycling can become a mindless task instead of an effort. A cookie sheet cabinet keeps baking supplies handy but out of the way. Since it’s built for what it’s holding (unlike wherever your trays are currently being crammed), it’s easy to use and can be built in right near where you will use those trays.

Remodeling offers a unique opportunity to build in organizational systems that will work. Some of the trendy kitchen upgrades out there are more of a neat idea than a practical solution (how many of us really make enough pasta to warrant that oven-top pot-filler spigot?), but many are actually useful. There are of course many systems that can be added without a remodel project – but such projects create great opportunities to get your home to work for you, instead of creating more chores!


Ask the Expert 2022 – Matt K.

MAK's own Matt K. was featured this year as SacTown magazine's construction expert. Read an extended version of his expert advice here!

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