03 February 2012

Step 3: The Rules of Simple Home Organization

A full list of the Simple Living Challenge steps can be found here. 

Simple living encompasses dualisms such as in and out, spiritual and physical,  man and woman and yet it is a single entity that can raise our everyday experiences to a higher level by uncomplicated but determined actions.

One person that has been steadily by my side in my simplification for the past year is Melinda of Inspiration Earth - A Journey to Simplicity. The green ideas that she generously shares, as well as her sincere reflections on the topic of simple but deliberate living has set my mind on fire sometimes, robbing me of my sleep. 

As she describes herself: "My life is rich with books, creating, crocheting, gardening, meditating, writing, cooking, teaching and growing. Life has provided me with amazing opportunities for growth, and while at the time they were often very dark and lonely places, they led me to a resting place of deep peace and joy. I have discovered that while wisdom accrues, I will continue to learn and grow and remember until the day I move on from this place, this amazing and beautiful planet that I revere. What an amazing journey it has been so far!"

Today I would love to share Melinda's advice on how to apply the rules of simple living to the organization of your home.

My journey to simplicity started about 8 years ago when in a desperate search for peace I began a series of changes that would alter the course of my life. It wasn’t an easy road, but with great determination and faith I am grateful every single day for where it ultimately delivered me, with great patience and care.

The meaning of simple living
What does living simply do for me? What does it mean in everyday terms? It means space to move freely (literally and figuratively), it means room to breathe deeply, it means freedom to do the things that I enjoy. It means being surrounded by beauty, and treasured objects. It means de-cluttering your mind as you de-clutter your surroundings. It means being inspired and yes, for me at least, it means living in peace. Living simply involves all aspects of my life, but today I thought I’d share with you some things that I’ve found helpful in organizing and simplifying my home. They appear here in random order as they came to me.

My herb & spice cupboard always makes me smile. Clean, glass jars all lined up in neat rows. To achieve the layers I simply cut 2x4 pieces of lumber and the jars sit comfortably atop, making them easy to see and easy to grab!

Simple Living Rule #1
Sort through mail immediately. It arrives daily, mostly uninvited (where does all that junk mail come from??), and over time creates unsightly piles of useless clutter. Before it even gets put down on the counter to join its junk mail mates, sort through it. Immediately dump all the junk mail directly into the recycling bin, no questions asked. Bills go into a designated spot (I have an adorable little bill basket) and perhaps magazines into another. Stop that clutter pile before it even begins to take over your life in its quiet and insidious way!

Simple Living Rule #2
Avoid impulse buys. The easiest way to avoid clutter is to stop it before it even enters your home. That want, want, want mentality is sneaky. It often muddles the mind and confuses wants with needs. Walk away when the overwhelming desire to buy begins and think about it for a week. I often find that my original desire is replaced 4, 5, maybe 6 times over, making me rethink its necessity in my life. If it’s still on my mind I ponder and think about rule # 3...

Simple Living Rule #3
Don’t bring new purchases into your home unless you have the space for them! And by space I mean a designated spot, not a corner of the garage, or the back of the closet because you can’t find room for it in your actual living area. This is best to consider before the actual purchase is made. For me this will stop many impulse buys dead in their tracks. If I’m not willing to get rid of something that I already own, or there simply isn’t the perfect space for it, than it doesn’t belong in my home.

Simple Living Rules #2 and #3 ~ Avoid impulse buys and Don’t bring new purchases into the home unless you have space for them! This is particularly hard to live by when it comes to me and my craft supplies. They whisper and beckon to me in ways that are hard to ignore! Neatly organized bins help show me when I have space, and sadly, when I don’t!

Simple Living Rule #4
Only keep what fits comfortably in the space you have. This is my number one rule when I go on a cleaning and simplifying spree. Bureau drawers are jammed? Go through them, one at a time, systematically. Make two piles ~ one for those belongings that you absolutely love/need and the other pile is for everything else. Put the love/needs neatly back in the drawer and see where you stand. Still stuffed? Do it again. And again if need be. Be patient with yourself and keep at it until you fit into the space you have.

Simple Living Rule #5
Start slow For most people it probably isn’t wise to tackle your entire home all at once. Start with one room, or area that doesn’t overwhelm you. This will later serve to motivate you when you reach those areas that really, really need your attention! Starting with the most desperate area of your home may work for some, but it will probably just foil your attempt at simplifying before you really even get a chance to begin. Organize a bookcase. Clean out a junk drawer. Organize your movies or music. Clear everything out from under your bed. Start small and keep going. One room, one closet, one drawer at a time.

Simple Living Rule #6
Refrain from focusing on what needs to be done and instead admire and congratulate yourself on what you have already accomplished. Yes, the garage is so jam-packed with junk that you can’t even park your car there... but hey, take a look at this super neat and organized pantry. This works, I do it often. At random moments my husband will walk in and catch me admiring and smiling contentedly at a newly organized closet while chaos reigns around me. Focusing only on what is still left to be organized is often another quick route to failure. It can be, and often is, so overwhelming that the job seems insurmountable. Don’t despair, refocus on what you’ve already accomplished and bring your attention back there again and again.

Simple Living Rule #6 ~ Refrain from focusing on what needs to be done and instead admire and congratulate yourself on what you have already accomplished. Start with a small space and clean and organize it thoroughly. It’ll help to motivate you on those days when de-cluttering seems overwhelming. Admire your work often, I always do!
Simple Living Rule #7
Keep only the things that you love. This was a step that took me some time. I couldn’t very well throw out everything I owned (well, I guess I could have...), all at once. But piece by piece (furniture especially), was replaced by those that I truly love. My organic cotton couches. A TV cupboard and coffee table that my husband built. The bureau that I bought when I was 16, refinished and repaired. Only my favorite books now line my bookshelves. Be inspired by the things you do keep, and as an extra bonus, donate the things that you’ve managed to clear out.

Simple Living Rule #7 ~ Keep only the things that you love. A bowl my husband made back in high school, stones collected from our favorite beach, my zen clock with the beautiful chimes. All things that make me smile without overdoing it and creating clutter.
Simple Living Rule #8 
Just because there’s space, doesn’t mean you need to fill it. There’s nothing more fabulous than having a clear shelf in the closet, or an empty drawer in the kitchen. Room to grow. The space that you do want to decorate? Line it with things that have meaning. The bookshelves in my dining room are adorned with hand picked treasures that make me smile each time I look at them. The teapot and tea cups that belonged to my great grandmother. The glass bowl that holds hand selected stones from our favorite beach. A toy airplane that was my grandmothers, I can still see the shelf where it resided in her home each time I see it in mine. The space you do fill, make it special and not just an area(s) to collect meaningless junk.

Simple Living Rule #9 
Pick up as you go. Make a meal? Clean the dishes. Work on a project? Put away the paint, beads or cloth. Cleaning up as you go is the easiest way to stay simplified that I can think of. It eliminates the mess before it has a chance to breed and multiply. Taking 5 or 10 minutes to pick up now saves hours by the end of the week when you’re looking at many days of overwhelming clutter.

Simple Living Rule #9 ~ Pick up as you go. This is my kitchen counter this morning after we all finished our breakfast. No dishes left lying around, no crumbs littering the counter. Cleaning up as you go means that when it’s time to make the next meal I have open space to work in. Makes getting the job done easier and quicker!

Simple Living Rule #10 
Don’t give up. While the road to achieve simplicity can often seem long and perhaps overwhelming, just take it one day at a time. Don’t burden yourself with unrealistic expectations. Instead just keep plugging along. Slow and steady most definitely does win the race.

You can do this!
Pick one of Melinda's simple living rules and apply it to your home.  Don't hurry, don't obsess, deliberate which one you feel most at ease with but have been neglecting and just go ahead. You have the next 9 days for the rest of Melinda's rules.

Share your experience: Tell us how you did. You can come back each day and write a short comment so that we can all follow each other's progress.

[Photos courtesy of Inspiration Earth]

See also:
Step 1: Embrace Your Imperfections
Step 2: Simple Living as Men's Trait
Step 4: Simple Crafting for Happy People
Step 5: Simple Scheduling and Planning Routines
Step 6: Spend More Time With the People You Love
Step 7: Spend More Time Alone
Step 8: Connect to Your Inner Self
Step 9: How to De-Stress
Step 10: Learn to Live With Less and Enjoy it
Step 11: Start a Debt-Free Life
Step 12: How to Overcome Consumerism  
Step 13: Declutter Your Life  
Step 14: Get Rid of Toxic Cosmetics and Reclaim Your Natural Self  
Step 15: Wean Off Plastic  
Step 16: Celebrate Your Story  
The Final Step: Gratitude 

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