Top Ten Storage Mistakes

by Ramona Creel

Starting Without A Plan

Imagine taking a trip to a new city without a map, a GPS, or even directions to your final destination. How would you ever get there? That's what organizing without a plan is like — you can make as much forward progress as you like, but you have no idea if you're even headed the right way (in fact, you might just be going in the exact opposite direction of where you would like to end up!)

Before beginning any organizing project, think about what you want to accomplish — what your life will look like when you're done. From there, you can figure out the steps you will need to take, and your timeline for each phase. But knowing where you are going prior to starting out is the only guaranteed way to reach your destination.

Not Cleaning Out Before You Organize

Organizing involves more than just moving your stuff around. Decluttering is about devoting your space to those objects that you actually use and love — and being willing to let go of the rest. If you want your organizing experience to be a successful one, expect to make some hard decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of.

Before you start worrying about organizing supplies and storage containers, begin with a full-scale purge. Go through your stacks and piles, and pull out anything that you don't use, need, or want anymore — functional items in the “donate” bin, the rest in the recycle or the trash. If you clear out the excess first, you'll have less to organize and the rest of the process will be a snap.

Using Opaque Storage Containers With No Labels

All the space in the world won't do you a bit of good if you can't see what you're storing. Many people waste as much time searching for items that they have “organized” (read as “hidden out-of-sight and out-of-mind”) — as they did when it was all just heaped together in a pile! You should never have to guess where you have put something away.

Your best choice is a clear container that allows you to see what's inside. You're less likely to lose things when you can tell a box's contents without ever having to remove the lid. If you must use an opaque tub, be sure to clearly label it — and be specific! That means going a step farther with your descriptions — not just “Christmas decorations,” but “Christmas lights” or “holiday candles” or “tree ornaments.”

Saying “I'll Put It Here For Now”

One of the biggest mistakes you can make with your storage is creating “in-between” spots for your belongings. The minute you say, “I'll deal with it away later” — you've not only created extra work for yourself later (two steps instead of one), but you have also diminished your chances of actually putting the damned thing away at all!

Rather than sitting something down in the first place you see, make sure you have a set home for each item and a logical reason for putting it there. Cleaning up is quick and easy when you know that your iron lives on the shelf above the washing machine,  and your whisk belongs in the third drawer from the stove. Not to mention the fact that you will actually be able to find that item again when you next need it.

Failing To Subdivide Big Open Spaces

A lot of storage spaces are so big that they become almost impractical. Just dumping your stuff into a huge gaping closet or cabinet doesn't make you organized — in fact, this sort of arrangement can actually encourage clutter. Sometimes it's better to break large spaces up into smaller components.

When dealing with oversized storage, try to find some way to compartmentalize collections of small items. Desk drawers just beg for dividers, your kitchen pantry becomes more manageable with a few shelves, the tools in the garage can be hung on racks, and the extra toiletries in your bathroom closet are less messy when placed in containers.

Ignoring Your Dead Space

Most people wish for expanded storage, but you actually have more room than you think — if you look in the right places. Glance around and see if you've been overlooking spots that contain unrealized organizational possibilities. Taking advantage of underutilized “dead space” can sometimes double or triple your available storage.

Don't forget about the areas under beds, on the backs of doors, near the ceiling, and on the floor.  Hang tools and sports equipment in the garage, hats and belts in the closet, and kid's school bags in your mud room or entryway. Less accessible spots in the basement, garage, and attic are particularly good for storing items you don't get at very often — like holiday decorations and memorabilia.

Failing To Make Adjustments

Remember that your storage is a dynamic system — it should continue to evolve as your interests and lifestyle change. The system you set up today may serve your every need right now, but will it still work for you in a year or two? Organization is a journey, not a destination. And while you can certainly clear up your clutter worries, it takes regular maintenance and revision of your systems to keep it that way.

The key to lasting organization is flexibility — don't be afraid to make changes to your systems when necessary. Keep an eye out for systems that need a little tweaking. If you're experiencing frustrations, can't find what you're looking for, or seem to have run out of space, it's time for an overhaul.

Filling Your Storage To Capacity

Do you ever plan to buy anything new ever again? Even those of us who are committed minimalists are going to eventually bring home a new acquisition — it's unavoidable! But if you stuff your storage spaces to overflowing, where will you put your purchases?

As you organize, think about leaving some free space — room to grow. The general rule of thumb is that you should always have about 15% of your storage unoccupied — that way, when you do go shopping, you won't have to worry about “making” a spot for the newcomers. But if you can't manage that, institute a “one-in/one-out” rule — every time you bring something into your house, something else has to go away. With a little discipline, you'll never run out of room again!

Storing Items Too Far Away

It may seem like common sense, but we don't always think to put things nearest the point where we use them. A poor choice  of storage location makes daily life vastly more complicated than it needs to be! The most direct route to “efficient” is via “convenient,” so keep your storage close to where that activity occurs.

Make an effort to look at your storage with a critical eye — asking yourself if a simple shift in geography would relieve some of your stress. Then feel free to move objects around if your current system doesn't make sense. You don't want to have to walk across your office every time you need something off of the printer — and your child is less likely to put his dirty towel in the hamper if it's in the other room.

Skipping The Yearly Purge

Don't think that once you have set up your storage spaces, you can simply sit back and rest on your laurels. You may be “done” for now, but your system is going to need a little annual TLC if you expect it to keep the clutter at bey. Sure, if you set up an organized space and then never touched it, things would remain in good order — but daily use, changing needs, and the addition of new “stuff” will kill good organization if you aren't careful!

You need to take some time at least once a year to sort through your belongings — pulling out anything that is broken, hasn't been used in the past 12 months, or has become obsolete. The best time for this is during a natural point of transition like a change in the seasons — spring cleaning, back to school, or the New Year.

© Ramona Creel, all rights reserved. Ramona Creel is a modern Renaissance woman and guru of simplicity -- traveling the country as a full-time RVer, sharing her story of radically downsizing, and inspiring others to regain control of their own lives. As a Professional Organizer and Accountability Coach, Ramona will help you create the time and space to focus on your true priorities -- clearing away the clutter other obstacles and standing in the way of that life you've always wanted to be living. As a Professional Photographer, Ramona captures powerful images of places and people as she travels. And as a travel writer, social commentator, and blogger, she shares her experiences and insights about the world as we know it. You can see all these sides of Ramona -- read her articles, browse through her photographs, and even hire her to help get your life in order -- at www.RamonaCreel.com. And be sure to follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.