Organizing 101: Purchase New Storage Systems as a Reward (Not an Incentive)

I was at one of my favorite sporting goods stores a few months ago, eyeing all of the athletic wear and wishing it were in my closet when I ran into someone I knew.  She was holding a shirt in her hand and I commented about finding something.  She explained to me that she has been working out for the last few months as part of a greater goal to be healthier and created an incentive system for herself.  For every ten pounds she loses, she gets to buy a new piece of workout wear.  My first thought was “Genius!”, my second thought was “Shoot.  There’s probably no more need to rehearse my sales pitch to my husband for why I need this new Nike shirt…..”

Every time I go to the store and walk amidst the running clothes, I get inspired to run more.  But, not once in my life has owning new running clothes been the incentive that has made me change my running habits.  I may run the day or two after bringing the new item home, but, never once has it changed my habits.

That’s the key.

I think it’s the same way for our organizational tools.  I get it.  I’ve done it too.  I walk around The Container Store and see all the beautiful bins, containers, baskets, drawers and labels and I get all swept up in the potential of how orderly and beautiful my life could be if I just had these things.  But, the reality is that it just doesn’t work that way.

Instituting order in your life does not mean needing lots of fancy storage systems.  Marketers spend a lot of money to make you believe that, but it’s just not true.  The best way to make storage systems work for you is to purchase them as a reward and not an incentive.

When organizing a space, start with The Big Three: Sort, Purge and Clean.  THEN purchase any necessary storage equipment.

This is more effective for two reasons.  The first is that, more often than not, when we buy new organizing tools as inspiration, they end up just adding to the pre-existing clutter.  It’s easy and exciting to buy new stuff.  It’s not easy or exciting (for most of us) to actually do the hard work of going through our stuff and getting rid of it.  So, what we intend to be the solution ends up compounding the problem.

The second reason buying organizational systems as a reward is more effective is that it allows you to buy for what you know you need versus what you think might work.  After you’ve sorted & purged, you have a blank slate.  And you have gone through and know exactly what items need to be stored.  You know if drawers or baskets would be best.  You know how much space you need.  You know how many shelves you have in that closet that are set aside to store certain items.  You don’t add to the pre-existing clutter with more tools that don’t do the job you need them to do.

Try it.  Tell me if it doesn’t work.  What’s the worst thing that can happen?

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