Julie Morgenstern’s S.P.A.C.E Technique

I’ll admit it –I’m a nerd.  I really, truly love reading books on various organizational theories.  Actually, I really love reading books about a lot of things.  And I love organizing.  So I guess it makes sense that I like to combine the two.

One of the best organizing books that I have read is Julie Morgenstern’s Organizing From the Inside Out.  If you’re someone that struggles in this area, I would highly recommend that you check it out.  I really love the way that she guides a reader through some of the emotional work of figuring out what is driving negative patterns and then offers practical advice for developing better habits.

Today I thought I’d share one tidbit from her book that helps me focus on being as productive as possible.  Whenever you set out to organize a space, just remember S.P.A.C.E.

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Sort – divide all of your “stuff” into categories that make sense to you.

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Purge – get rid of anything that no longer belongs in your life. This can be trash, donations, or things to be returned to their owners. I find that it’s easier to part with things if I can set them aside and give them to someone else that can enjoy them.  For example, I’m an unreptentant beauty junkie so I end up with a ton of samples and products that don’t always work for me. I save the castoffs and bring them with me to family gatherings.  I barely have time to set down the bag before my cousins nosedive into it for nail polish and perfume.  It’s fun to be able to bring others joy while also cleaning out my vanity.

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Assign a Home – decide where a particular item or category of items belongs. This is possibly the most important and most difficult step in the process. Once everything has a “home,” it is super easy to make sure you always know where it is when you need it.

Containerize – This is where you can go buy cute bins or shelves if you choose. It’s better to wait until you know what items remain and where they’ll be located so you don’t risk being stuck with a bunch of expensive organizational gadgets that you don’t need. The goal here is to contain your stuff rather than to end up with even more junk that you have to organize. You can also use free items that you may already have around the house. Shoeboxes are great for crafts, furniture with built-in storage saves my ass daily, and an old jelly jar serves as a cute shabby-chic toothbrush holder.  Use your creativity to find solutions that fit your lifestyle and budget.

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Equalize – Remember how I always say that getting organized isn’t a destination? Still true. You will need to devote some time to maintaining your new space. The good news is that if you’ve made it this far, the rest is a piece of cake. You can probably even get by using the One Minute Rule that I discussed last week.

Want results? Practice the One-Minute Rule

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We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.


This quote by Aristotle is probably my very favorite because it perfectly captures a simple yet powerful idea: that we have the power to set ourselves up for success by simply developing good habits. Each day we’re forced to make countless choices from the time we get up until we go to sleep at night. All of this activity takes energy and will power. It’s no wonder that we sometimes neglect the things that are important for our well-being. The problem with allowing bad habits to take root is that minor lapses can quickly become larger problems that can seem insurmountable.

Never is this more apparent to me than when it comes to clutter. I tend to be a pretty visual person. I love art, color, and beauty. I’m also extremely sensitive to a messy environment. To me, internal calm cannot exist in external chaos, and I immediately feel anxious when surrounded by too much “stuff.” In fact, at some point it becomes easy to lose site of the individual issues contributing to a mess and the surroundings can become an overwhelming mass of disorganization.

One of the easiest and most helpful ways that I’ve found to counteract this issue is by practicing the One Minute Rule which Gretchen Rubin outlines in her book, The Happiness Project. (GretchenRubin.com) The basic premise of this principle is to complete any task that will take you one minute or less to accomplish. The result is that this seriously cuts down on the severity of any disorganization without a ton of effort.

This rule has even helped my relationship since I live with a partner that is somewhat less senstive to clutter than I am. I used to nag about things such as dirty laundry on the floor or opened junk mail on the counter. To her, it just seemed easier to leave things where they naturally fell if she was in the middle of a task. To me, it seemed that I was always wading through junk that had the sole purpose of making me angry. The problem is that those minor messes add up quickly. So I agreed to stop nagging (the struggle is real) if she would agree to start practicing  the One Minute Rule, and it’s been so helpful.

Here are some examples that I try to set in my own home:

1) Process all mail as soon as I get home. I put all junk mail into the recycling right away rather than let it linger.

2) Pick up and put away Asher’s toys (seriously…..why does that dog want ALL of his toys to be tripping hazards?)

3) Rinse the dishes after dinner and put them in the dishwasher. This one is so hard for me because I usually just want to veg out and watch The Walking Dead after dinner, but it’s a lot easier than trying to scrub the dishes the next morning.

4) Take the time to put things away properly, even if it goes upstairs. Trust me, the extra exercise won’t hurt you any.

Try the One Minute Rule in your life and see what happens. I bet you’ll find that it’s much easier to break down your efforts into the smallest tasks.



Getting Started

Over the years, I’ve noticed that whenever someone expresses disdain for organizing it generally involves difficulty with getting started. Let’s face it– a mountain of clutter can  make anyone feel like giving up before they’ve even begun. My belief is that this feeling of defeat often stems from an assumption that “getting organized” is a huge, daunting task. Not so!

The reality is that effective organization is not a task that demands hours upon hours of effort followed by a year of zero maintenance. Yes. It does take work, but it shouldn’t require you to devote all of your free time to ensuring that your home is always flawless. Where’s the fun in that? I encourage anyone struggling in this area to abandon the idea that “getting organized” is a destination and instead start viewing it as a process. And the most important step in any process is simply getting started. So here are three tips that help me on days when I feel overwhelmed.

1. Set a timer.
You can do anything for 10 minutes. And you would be surprised by how far that amount of time can take you when it comes to de-cluttering your home. 10 minutes allows you to fold and put away the clean laundry. 10 minutes and you can turn that junk drawer into the perfect place to neatly store office supplies. In 10 minutes, you can make extra space in your closet by removing things that you no longer wear. And if you still don’t feel like organizing after that 10 minutes is over, you have my permission to walk away–guilt free. But who knows? You may feel so great about what you’ve accomplished that you keep going.

2. Take Baby Steps
I’ve seen it so many times: We decide to organize a room and pull out EVERYTHING from every nook and cranny. “I’m going to be ruthless,” we say. Instead, we end up too exhausted to continue and things look worse than when we started. Make it easy on yourself! Start with only one drawer, one closet, or one corner of the room. If you finish early and are still motivated then by all means, continue. But if  your sessions typically end with a giant pile of stuff in the middle of the room, then I recommend that you try taking on smaller projects. This tactic is particularly helpful if you have trouble focusing on the task at hand.

3. Reward Yourself
Sometimes the best way to find motivation is to give yourself an incentive. If you’re struggling, promise yourself a reward that is meaningful to you. For instance, maybe you’ll treat yourself to an afternoon latte if you complete a small project that you’ve been avoiding. Or buy yourself a new sweater once you’ve successfully cleared your closet of old clothes that no longer fit. Your reward can be something free like a hot bath with a book from the library. Enjoy the reward while you work on your task if you prefer. For instance, you could make a “rule” that you only watch a favorite tv show or movie while you work on one of your projects. The most important thing is to take pride in your accomplishments and celebrate.


So there you have it. 3 tips to help you get started on your projects. Keep in mind that these tips also translate well to any non-organizational goals. Try them out and see which ones work best for you.