Your Household Is a Container: How to Organize Your Home
My beautiful friend, podcast guest, and student Tia asked me how I kept my household organized without it becoming a cluttered mess or a giant pain in my ass. This is my response.
Your household is a container full of smaller and smaller containers.
And though I love the Container Store as much as the next organized person, I don’t mean physical containers – although they can be – I mean spaces to contain your life.
Your dresser is a container for your clothes, your under-the-bed bin for your blankets, or your pantry for your food. You might have a box you keep favorite cards or letters you’ve received, or a place for your jewelry.
I think that keeping healthy containers in your life – both physical space and boundaries – help increase your capacity or energy and allow you the space you need in your life to create.
You might have a container around your bedroom – no work happens in there, only sleeping! (Studies support this as a wise move, btw.) You might use a virtual Zoom background as a container to keep your work life and home life separate during the unprecedented pandemic. (If someone gives you shit about doing this, please email me and I will be your workplace advocate.)
All of these are containers! And household containers can support us or hurt us as much as boundaries can.
First and most importantly, please know that it is much harder to return things to a container if it’s not easy for you to do so. For example, short folks who have divorced their tall partners report taking years before they realize they don’t need to use the top shelf. Or in my case, I had a very complicated under-the-kitchen-sink organizing system that was fine when I was single and sent me into a rage at 4 am with a very awake baby. Life changes, containers need to change, and assessing how they affect us can make our lives easier.
However, you can sometimes choose to make the container not easy for you, and if you do, the reason must be more important than the ease. For example, my father gave me an antique pitcher and basin when my husband and I moved in together. The basin is large. The pitcher is heavy. The whole set needs to be – dusted! Dusted, folks, I am not known for my dusting. I have always loved that gift though, and since my father passed away in January, I will *cut* anyone who gives that pitcher set even a side-eye. The pitcher and basin – they’re love. They don’t need to be ease filled because they are love-filled.
But on the flip side, I had a box given to me by a friend who ditched me and then burned me in the rona times. And that box got donated, thank you very much. It made me angry or sad every time I looked at it, and now, it’s bringing someone else joy. This was an effective container change for me.
If you too need to create more effective containers, most likely because the clutter of your household is getting to you when you cannot leave it in a worldwide pandemic – this is how I would tackle it.
Household Container Clearing Steps
1. Get real about your possessions.
No, I am not Marie Kondo. (Her drawer method is life-changing though, it really is.) American capitalism is always pushing you to need and want more and more and more, to the point that most people’s homes can’t even fit everything. If this is you, you will have to do some pairing down to fit into the container of your home. Or move into a new home, I’m not telling you what to do, just suggesting that this part is physics. Mary Poppins’ bag is sadly not available on Amazon.
This doesn’t mean you need to get rid of everything you own! It means you need to be intentional about what you own. Do you have clothes you hate? A hat too small for your head? Books that you read and hated but are still holding on to? Donate or sell, but clear the space.
And be honest with yourself. People tell themselves all sorts of crazy stories about everything under the sun, but no more than they do about their stuff. This blazer makes me a real executive (even though the button can’t close over my giant post baby breasts). This leather skirt makes me a real artist (even though I am scared to wear it because what if I spill?). Etc etc. Don’t bullshit yourself. If you need help, Zoom a straight shooter friend of yours for help.
2. What do you have that can pull double duty?
Ottomans! Shelves! Hooks! Drawers! All the natural containers you already have might be able to fill a dual purpose. I wanted a place to sit down at my front door and put my shoes on, and I had an ottoman that I had been using for toys for my Bean. I organized the toys in his room in a different way – on shelves installed in the closet – and took the ottoman for the door. Now I could sit to put on my shoes and store items near the door. Didn’t need to buy anything, didn’t add something new to the space, plus it serves dual purpose in its new role.
Do you have a need and an item that can be matched? For me, I had these shelves I loved but didn’t know where to put them and couldn’t find bedstands I liked that were in stock in the pandemic. Need, meet your match!
3. What can you replace with something that can pull double duty? Or even triple duty?
Do you have a chair that you don’t really like but an ottoman you do? Could you donate the chair, replace it with the ottoman and store the vacuum in there?
Maybe you have 3 small shelves that make it hard for you to move around your kitchen, but if replace them with one long shelf with hooks, you could move around freely and hang your apron?
These can either be items you already have or items you can source, including buying. Sometimes I will put a new container on my wish list, and I will figure out another way, and sometimes, a friend just gifts me it in the mail.
4. How can these containers be easy?
If you only use something once a year, it does not need to be in the front of the closet.
If the cat litter box is in the closet, can you store the litter and scoop right next to it with the spare bags so it’s an easy chore?
Where can you store the laundry basket so it’s easy to handle? If you have a bad back, maybe storing it in the laundry room makes the most sense. If you have a bad back, maybe a laundry basket in addition to the hamper makes the most sense. Do what works for you and your life.
I have a basket on the kitchen breakfast bar as a COVID-19 catch all. Masks, hand sanitizer, wipes, etc. live there. My husband hates the basket, and he desires it to move. But it is the absolutely best location for it, and we can easily find these items related to our safety. Practicality combined with safety combined with ease of use make this container more important than the annoyance of having it on the counter.
Is this an overnight process? No. Sadly no. It took my years to find my container balance. But bit by bit, it got better and better, and easier and easier.
My only other tip is that after finding this delicate balance, you must work every day to keep it. I personally prefer to restore items to their home throughout the day. I would not say my husband and son agree. They usually pick up about half their items before bedtime, and I walk through once and finish the job. In theatre terms, I restore the home so when we wake up the next morning, we are ready to go, starting off on the right foot.
Is that emotional and physical labor? Yes. Am I carrying the mental load? Yes. But does it make everything easier for me in the long run, yes, it does. And I think we make incremental progress as a family pack all the time, especially in the pandemic because we get to practice every day.
If you try this process, let me know how it goes for you. May you feel lighter and grounded and ready to kick ass. Godspeed.