One of the most helpful books I’ve read on organizing is actually Organizing for Dummies. It was comprehensive — it covers just about all areas — while also being very clear.
I don’t agree with everything in it (I differ from the approach she takes to filing in some ways, especially the categories). But there was one huge take-away from the book that applies to just about everything you have to organize.
This huge take-away is the acronym she uses for her organizing process. The acronym is P-L-A-C-E:
- P urge
- L ike with like
- A access
- C ontain
- E valuate
This process is really, really useful. And it doesn’t just apply to organizing space, like your garage. I implement a variation of it even when organizing ideas, websites, files, and so forth.
First, purge. Get rid of what is unnecessary. You don’t want to organize things you don’t need.
Second, “like with like” means to group like things to together. This is the principle of good writing we learned in high school English, and it applies to all forms of organizing. This is the central organizing principle of anything.
Third, access means that you put things you use more frequently to be closer to access than things you use less. For example, if you are organizing your kitchen, you probably have lots of hard-to-access spots. You put the pans you hardly use in those places, not the pots you use every day. Or at your desk: things you use every day should be at your fingertips, like an effective cockpit.
Fourth, contain. Don’t leave things scattered about, even when they are grouped. Contain them into contains. Drawer dividers in a drawer, plastic tubs in your basement storage, and so forth. And again, this is a broadly applicable principle. Web pages, for example, apply this principle. The various elements of a page are grouped, and then visual characteristics “contain” the various elements to help guide your eye and make the page easy to process.
Fifth, evaluate. When you are done organizing, step back, consider what you’ve done, and see if everything feels right. Change what can be improved.