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Better Systems, Not Just Better Bins!

Updated: Dec 21, 2022

Stella had found a perfect vintage basket with hooks underneath that was exactly what she’d been looking for to store her mail and keys. This thing was going to solve two problems at once for her: lost keys and disorganized mail. She’d put the mail in the basket, hang her keys on the hook, and then come back to sort the mail once she’d taken her shoes off and settled in. She even knew the perfect place for it- right there when she first walked into the kitchen, on the right. It’d look amazing against the blue of the kitchen wall and it almost perfectly matched the pot rack!

So she bought the basket, hung it on the kitchen wall, and it worked like a charm. For two days. After that, more often than not her keys weren’t on the hook, the mail wasn’t in the basket, and she was still frustrated.

Can you relate to Stella? Great ideas bolstered by the most adorable baskets or bins, yet your organization dreams don’t seem to materialize? What’s happening? Are you a total failure at being organized? Nope. Your goal of keeping track of your mail and keys is being thwarted by your current system.

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear says, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” You might have the noblest of goals when it comes to organizing, but if your systems aren’t working, you will never reach that goal. What does that mean… “systems not working”?

Shifting a habit can be a lot easier than changing it altogether. Those who research human behavior called this “habit stacking.” If you want to develop a new habit, piggyback it on to a habit you already have to build a system that works better for you and gives you a fighting chance at success. A common example: you want to add a multivitamin to your routine, but you keep forgetting to take it. Put the vitamin with your toothbrush. Since brushing your teeth is a habit you already have, you can stack the multivitamin with the toothbrushing, and have a much easier time remembering to take the vitamin.

So back to the mail sorter- Stella needs to pay attention to her current habits with her mail and keys. She walks in the front door and tosses the mail and keys on the end table right there beside the sofa. Her brain and her muscles are used to that. Instead of trying to change that habit entirely (and most likely set herself up for failure) by completely relocating to the kitchen, she needs to just shift the habit. That wire basket might have looked amazing in the kitchen, but what if she hangs it on the wall just above that end table? This gets her system (dropping mail and keys on the end table) closer to the goal (keys are always on the hook) and will put her closer to organizing success.

If you’ve got a particular problem spot, first figure out what’s causing the problem (too many shoes, no dedicated hook for worn-but-not-dirty-yet jeans, shredder stored in an inconvenient place, can’t see the little spice jars) and then work from there to find a better system to manage the problem (purge some shoes, hang a hook, move the shredder, get a shelf for the spice cabinet) rather than just buy a prettier shoe bin to hold all the shoes. Identifying problems and creating better systems is an efficient way to help you make sense of your stuff!

What are some places you struggle with in your home? How might you set yourself up for better success by shifting your systems to deal with the issues, rather than just trying to move things around?

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