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Etcetera – From the Latin ‘et’ meaning ‘and’ and ‘cetera’ meaning ‘the rest’

The word ‘etcetera’ is typically used at the end of a list to indicate that there are additional, similar items that you aren’t going to bother to name.

Does Etcetera Have a Place in Organizing?

At first glance, ‘etcetera’ seems to run contrary to everything we have learned about organization. Isn’t organization supposed to be all about ‘a place for everything, and everything in its place’? Doesn’t dumping unrelated things together undo the whole point?

Obviously, if you throw everything you own into one big pile, labeling it ‘etcetera’ is NOT organizing (no matter how aesthetically the labeling is done). But it is also true that labeling everything you own in a hyper-specific way is not organizing either. Sometimes, ‘etcetera’ IS a category. Let’s take a quick look at the process of organizing to see how it fits in.

General → Specific

When you organize an assortment of items, you typically sort them into broad, general categories to begin with. For instance, in a garage, I would start by grouping together Yard Care items, Automotive items, Home Maintenance items, and Sports. Yard care might include gardening tools, potting soil, fertilizer, extra line for the weed eater, etc. Automotive items might include motor oil, car washing supplies, replacement wiper blades, etc. Home Maintenance might include tools, hardware, replacement light bulbs, etc. And Sports would include all sports and recreation-related items.

For most people, a broad Automotive category is sufficient for what they keep in their garage. But if I’m working with a client who is an auto hobbyist with multiple vehicles, that would not work. They might have dozens and dozens of items that fit in that Automotive category. We might need to have several specific sub-categories for parts, paint, and tools unique to each car. Similarly, a do-it-yourself enthusiast is going to have a lot more nuts, bolts, screws, and washers than someone who calls a handyman to change a lightbulb. The former is going to need to sort and label those to be truly organized.

How Many Categories Do I Need?

That will be determined by what you have. Continuing with the garage example, we might have a large pile of related things that don’t fit into any of the established categories. For instance, in smaller homes, garages sometimes serve as overflow storage for infrequently used items. So, there might be a bread maker, a large stock pot, some serving platters, etc. that we could group together in a Kitchen category.

What we would NOT do is create a category for Bread Makers, or even Appliances, if there are only one or two items that would fit in that category. The point of categorization is to make it easier to find what we need by grouping like with like. When the categories become too specific, they lose all meaning.

What About All of This Other Stuff?

So, what do we do when everything has been sorted into reasonable categories and there is still a small pile remaining? Nothing in the pile fits into any of our established categories, but we still need to organize it. 

The first question to ask is, ‘Do I need to keep these items at all?’ Maybe the reason they don’t belong anywhere with your other things is that they’re excess clutter. Often, when something doesn’t fit into your space, it’s because it doesn’t fit in your life. Let it go.

The second question is, ‘Are these things similar to each other’? Do they form a category of their own that makes sense? If the pile includes two dozen items, all related to your birdwatching hobby, then it probably makes sense to store them all together under a Birdwatching label.

The third question is, ‘Do these things need to be in this location?’ Sometimes, the reason that pile of stuff doesn’t fit into any of the categories in, for instance the garage, is that it doesn’t belong out there. If any of the items in the pile are obviously part of a category in another location, the easiest (and most organized) thing to do is to move them there. Group like with like.

Enter Etcetera

After you answer all of these questions, there will almost certainly still be a small pile of things. Maybe there are only a couple of them, or they are rarely used, or they are highly specialized items. Whatever the reason, they are what is left over after you’ve taken care of the obvious things. How to deal with them?

That is your ‘etcetera’ pile. Don’t waste time agonizing over how to label the items in that pile. You’ll only end up creating ridiculously specific categories and labels that won’t make that pile any more organized. Deal with it by putting it in a drawer, bin, or box; labeling it ‘etcetera’ and moving on. 

This is the philosophy behind the junk drawer. EVERYBODY has a junk drawer in their house. Mine has a pair of scissors, a box cutter for opening Amazon boxes, spare house keys, a couple of charging cables, a small container with a few rubber bands and paper clips, and lens wipes for cleaning glasses. All of those things could be stored somewhere else, but the junk drawer is in the most frequently used area of the house, the kitchen, and that’s where we are 95% of the time when we need those things.

In short, ‘a place for everything, and everything in its place’ is an excellent rule. But sometimes the place for something IS the junk drawer/box. A junk drawer is NOT a sign of being disorganized. As long as everything in there is functional and necessary, a junk drawer can be your best solution to objects that aren’t easily classified.

Embrace the power of etcetera, close that junk drawer/box, and move on to the next project.