I've had the pleasure of working perennially (i.e. on a repeated basis) with Jennifer L. - a warm-spirited, working, super-mom of two, who's environmentally-savvy as they come, loves sewing (in the rare instances she has time for herself), is passionate about cooking healthy meals for her family, and (understandably) craves a daily meditation practice - if only to preserve some sanity amid the plates a plenty she manages to keep spinning with aplomb. (Whew - did I really just cram all of that into one sentence?!) We recently did a mini-pruning treatment on the "catch-all" shelves that sit at Jennifer's kitchen's entryway.
The challenge + vision, in Jennifer's own words:
"My challenges with this shelf and the kitchen, in general, is that we don’t have a good system of what to do with mail, school papers, bills, stuff we want to save for the next few months (i.e. coupons, gift cards, etc.), and things we use regularly (i.e. shopping bags, shoes, keys, bag clips). There is too much clutter, and b/c the orange shelf is full, the clutter spills onto the kitchen counters which looks untidy and messy.
The original intent of this shelf was that it would be used for stuff that we wanted to unload immediately when we got home and to serve as a charging station for our phones, iPads, etc.
Ideally, I would like to implement a system for handling mail and school papers, find a new place for stuff that doesn’t need to be there, open up the space so that it’s not cluttered, have it look organized...and be able to keep it that way. :)"
What Jennifer and family were dealing with is common in most households. And, the more family members there are? The faster the law of entropy has its way with them (NOTE: For those who have repressed high school chemistry like I have, “entropy” is the natural tendency of all things to move towards a state or less order….should you ever so happen to cross paths with my high school chem teacher Mr. Klinefelter, please ask him if I can get any retro-active extra-credit for slipping that term oh-so-casually into practical pruning prose – ha-ha!).
3 practical pruning tips we used to accomplish Jennifer's vision:
1.) Contain the visual clutter created by abnormal edges.
Come the end of the day, Jennifer's brood is a "kick your shoes off" type of family - and the bottom shelf is the landing pad for them - an easy and predictable place that kids know to find their footwear amid the morning rush to get to school on time. So too is the case for their lunch bags - which Jennifer likes to be able to quickly grab and fill. The likelihood of anyone taking the time to manically line up their shoes or lunch bags "just so" after a long day? So never happening.
To embrace reality while addressing the visual distraction (that's inevitable with abnormally shaped items), we added simple storage baskets to contain the items. Psst! In my experience, this easy-peasy step is the #1 quick-fix to alleviating the anxiety created by the visual cacophony caused by things like this (or things like toiletries and cleaning bottles cause under kitchen sinks and bathroom cabinets). The more you can get identical looking containers for the area, the better as it reduces the visual variety.
2.) Put similar things together - in a place that makes sense.
In addition to housing mission critical, go-to items like charging phones and iPads, Jennifer’s well-intentioned shelving system had become a parking lot for items that didn’t have an immediate action required and/or that didn’t need to be accessed daily. We found everything from old receipts and inspirational articles to aspirational recipes and art projects. This "parking lot" phenomena is common, and happens after when the brain - already tired after a long day of decision-making - simply discards things it doesn't have the energy to determine what to do with. As this catch-all pile or file grows...it starts to hide things…and to haunt you.
The solution? Designate a specific place for these things and put them there with similar items - as soon as you can. Jennifer and I filed items such as hospital bills in their office filing cabinet (in a folder labeled 'Medical'), placed inspirational and instructional articles into a single binder (divided by tabs using categories such as Health, Family, Personal Inspiration), and placed recipes-worth-trying with her cook books. Because they're now stored with other like-items, her brain will easily know where to find these items when she needs them.
A short-cut? If you're human, you won't have the time or daily discipline to file things as they come in each and every day. So, at least have a single "to file/place" folder, then commit to 15 mins (as in, schedule it on your calendar!) - ideally at the very end or beginning of the week – to quickly courier items around the house and put them in their proper place at least weekly to avoid the towering pile/stuffed folder effect. One caveat? When you courier, simply place, don’t allow yourself to get consume sorting through the areas you're placing things in.
Bonus tip: invest in a small shredder for at home. ~50% of the papers Jennifer and I sorted through landed in the recycle bin or "to shred" pile. Having a small shredder nearby to shred on-demand alleviates the risk of simply creating yet another looming "to do" via a "to-shred" pile - which will only create mental clutter. The one exception? Put it in your car or at your exit-way if you'll take it to work and shred it there the very next day - as soon as you arrive. Because the last thing we want is the "clutter creep" situation you'd create by simply moving that pile to sit in your office!
3.) Ask "how many of these do I really need on hand?"
As we surveyed the office supplies of the shelves, Jennifer's natural pruning instincts kicked in: she recognized that they really only needed a handful of rubber bands, twisty ties, papers clips, notepads and such. She chose to keep 5-10 of each and then donate the rest (to places like Austin Bat Cave or Central TX. Area Food Bank who welcome office supply donations). She continued this “redux” theme with her re-usable grocery bags. She created sets of 5 to keep in each of their cars (so they’d be ready for ad hoc stops at the grocery store)...then, a la Pruning Tip #2 above, she moved to extras to the handy hooks she has in the garage where the rest of their bags were already hanging out (…see what I did there? Ha!). She's a quick learner that Jennifer! She donated all others (because Lord knows we all have more then we need these days) to Savers (a great post-pruning destination that both supports your local neighborhood and is sensitive to sustainability and landfill concerns).
So there you have it: three tips from our pruning trenches you can put into play today, Any handy tips you've discovered to keep your own "mission control" area under control? Do share below!