Does your stuff have a spot where it ‘belongs’ – the ‘right place’ and, if so, do others in your household agree with that?
I returned a couple of days ago after going out of town with my family. Like many of you, we’ve been staying at home for the past three-plus months. The walls of our house were starting to look WAY too familiar. We really wanted to look at some new walls – or, better yet, no walls – while still being safe. It’s hotter than blazes in North Texas this time of year, which makes outdoor activities pretty miserable. So, we drove west to beautiful Breckenridge, Colorado. For a week, we enjoyed social distancing, hiking, eating outdoors, and sleeping with the windows open in beautiful 60 to 70-degree weather.
To maximize the safety of our getaway, we rented a furnished condo while we were there. As a professional organizer, I spend most of my working hours in other people’s homes or offices. It’s part of my job to look in their closets and open their drawers and cabinets to evaluate their organizational systems. Even in a non-professional capacity, I still notice how people set up their spaces (although I hope it goes without saying that I would NEVER peek inside cabinets uninvited). It’s always fascinating to me to see the many ways that ‘organized’ manifests itself.
Can There Be More Than One ‘Right Place’?
Obviously, in the case of our vacation rental, it was difficult to tell what reflected the homeowners’ preferences vs. how much was the result of a series of guests putting things away after use. Every time I opened a drawer or a cabinet, I found myself looking at what was in there and wondering at the decision process that led to those things ending up in that spot. Most of the time, I could easily follow along but, every once in a while, I found myself really scratching my head.
For instance, on our first morning, I woke up early to 50-degree weather, so I decided to make myself some hot chocolate. I found a saucepan fairly easily in the lower cabinet to the right of the stove. Makes sense, right? Next, I needed a measuring cup and spoon. I had no success finding those in any of the five drawers on either side of the stove. I was also unable to find them in either of the upper cabinets.
However, I did finally locate a measuring cup in a drawer next to the sink on the opposite side of the kitchen. And I found a second measuring cup in a different drawer, and a third in a bowl on top of the refrigerator. I found a set of measuring spoons in yet a different drawer, along with an assortment of unrelated items (e.g. batteries, matches, and instruction manuals for small appliances I never located).
Who Decides What the ‘Right Place’ Is?
I doubt that the homeowners keep their measuring cups in three separate locations by design. So, I pretty easily chalked that up to renters putting them away in the wrong spot. But I started wondering, which spot did the homeowner consider the ‘right place’? That is always an interesting conversation to have with clients, as well as the source of a lot of conflict within households.
In pretty much every house I’ve ever been in – including my own – there are a few things in the kitchen that nobody in the house seems to agree on the ‘right place’ to keep them. For my family, it’s the small metal scissor tongs. They are used to pick up individual food items from a hot pan. So, I always put them away in the drawer immediately to the left of the stove which, to me, feels like the ‘right place’. Except that I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve opened that drawer and not found them there. They’re in the silverware drawer with the serving spoons and forks. Or maybe they’re in the drawer with the grill utensils, or the one where we keep the measuring cups and spoons.
How Important Is the ‘Right Place’?
There are a few situations where the ‘right place’ is critically important – e.g. a surgical suite or emergency room. But, most of the time, it’s a personal preference and it’s often highly subjective. Yet, it can lead to a lot of conflict between people sharing the same household or office space. How do we resolve that? Communication, compromise, and consistency are key.
Talk about the reasons behind why each person thinks their ‘right place’ should be the one. I had a client who adamantly believed that scissors should be in the kitchen junk drawer. Her spouse believed – equally adamantly – that they should be in the office. After discussing their reasons, they learned that each person used the scissors almost exclusively in their ‘right place’. So, both of their positions made perfect sense. Once they understood each other, they purchased a second set of scissors. Household peace for under $5? Priceless.
One of the things I talk about with clients regularly is the importance of considering everyone in the home or office when organizing. On the items where you can’t find agreement, compromise has to be the solution. Who cares the most about this? The office manager responsible for filing the invoices wants them in a letter tray on top of the filing cabinet. That should be given more weight than the accounts payable manager who wants to leave them on his desk. Where possible, try and accommodate the person most affected by the decision.
Finally, once you decide on the ‘right place’, everybody needs to do their best to be consistent in using it. Don’t be passive-aggressive if your first choice wasn’t the final selection. And don’t assume that others are being passive-aggressive either. Gentle reminders and consistency will eventually train everyone to return the item to its ‘right place’.
On our last day of vacation, we received word from the DFW Labrador Retriever Rescue Club that we had been matched with a dog! He’s approximately 12 weeks old so we are going to have our hands full for a while with puppy training. I’ll be taking a break from the blog for the month of July so that I can focus on clients and our new family member (yes, that’s his picture at the top of the blog). Have a great July and I’ll see you back here on August 12th!