I have been writing here at Small Notebook for four years now. Four years!
If I was writing this blog twelve years ago, it would sound very different. I was single and living by myself at the time, and I worked a lot, so whenever I organized something at home it would stay that way. Organizing was my hobby that I did sometimes because it made me feel like I was doing a good job. My papers were always neatly filed, and my clothes were always put away. It was easy.
Fast forward a few years, and organizing was no longer something I did to pass my free time, but something I was doing to keep up with an apartment and a family. It was not easy anymore. I also tried to focus on simplifying and having less stuff.
I started writing this blog, and after two years of focusing on simplifying and organizing, I felt frustrated that I was still spending so much of my time taking care of stuff. There was always something we needed to buy or replace, and I was spending time cleaning and picking up. It took time to make donations and keep records for tax purposes and sort through closets. I didn’t feel like there was an end to it.
I started having doubts about this whole process of simplifying.
If the idea of simplifying is to make your life simpler and free up some time, then why does it take so much time? And you’re never done!
Would it be easier, I wondered, simpler even, to just ignore my stuff? Was the process of trying to break free from consumerism and all my stuff actually causing me to think about my stuff more? I was spending a lot of time trying to make careful decisions about what I bought, I was going through closets and photos. What if I just put everything in a closet and pretended it wasn’t there?
At first our simplifying was about clutter removal, but gradually it became about clutter prevention. For example:
- I didn’t want to buy more clothes after I had just cleaned out my closet and donated several.
- I opted-out of receiving catalogs, phone books, and junk mail so I would have fewer papers to sort, and I started getting all of my bills and statements via digital download.
- I bought fewer clothes for the kids because I noticed I was organizing so many outgrown clothes that were not worn enough.
I didn’t see it at the time, but the process of simplifying was helping me. It was like an investment for the future, and it let me do a lot of things last year that would have been more difficult otherwise, such as putting our stuff into a storage unit and going to Europe for three months, convincing my husband to take a year-long work sabbatical after working for twenty-five years, and making it through a home search and renovation. Plus day-to-day life with kids. (Also? We’re about to launch a business. I’ll have to tell you more about that later.)
Simplifying and organizing go together. When you simplify your stuff, you don’t need to spend so much time organizing it. I skipped filing papers for a year while I worked on other things, and nothing bad happened.
Becoming more organized is not the goal. In fact, simplifying is not the goal either. Both are tools to help you reach better goals that involve people, plans, and dreams.
I used to have a nice coworker, and we got along well because we both liked order. He lined up his french fries in a row before he ate them one by one. He loved his wife, and even though his wife didn’t place as much importance on order as he did, he didn’t say anything about that to her because he wanted a happy home more than he cared about having the plastic wrap and the foil nicely lined up in the kitchen drawer. It just wasn’t that important.
I want my organizing efforts to be beneficial but stop short of crazy lady with color-coded menu plans and label maker. At Small Notebook I’ll try to put my advice on the left side of the organizational bell curve.