3 Organizing Rules I Think Are Nonsense, 3 To Adopt ASAP, & 1 Of My Own Not Enough People Talk About

Thursday, May 21, 2015

I guess I feel like being controversial this week. Maybe it’s all the dust I’ve been breathing in lately that’s bringing out my ornery side, I don’t know.

Like every other topic, organizing has been thoroughly condensed by publication after publication into bite-size concepts. Although most people know these rules by rote, many of them are, in my mind, ineffective, or, at least, over-simplified. So today I’m letting you in on three of the most common organizing rules that I think are hooey; balancing the scales with 3 common rules I think are right on the money, and raising the stakes with 1 rule I wish more people would advocate for (incessantly, as they do).


3 Rules I think are nonsense…


1. To declutter your closet, turn all your hangers backwards. When you wear an item, turn the hanger around. After x amount of months, get rid of the clothes whose hangers are still facing the wrong way.


This rule is–pardon me for sounding jaded–laughable. For one, most of the male clients I’ve had don’t realize there’s such a thing as hanging a hanger backwards or frontwards. For two, most everyone I know is far too preoccupied and frazzled to ever seriously revisit and abide by the direction of their hangers many months later.

But the biggest reason why I think this rule isn’t successful is that it isn’t inherently thorough enough. I’ve spoken about this before, but you just really can’t get into the editing mindset unless you fully commit, you take everything out, and you evaluate things in a neutral location.

Can this rule work for some people? For sure! And is that stellar for those people? Heck yeah! And do I think those people represent the majority of people? Heck to the no.


3 Organizing Rules That Are Nonsense, 3 To Adopt ASAP, & 1 Not Enough People Talk About; a professional organizer dishes.



2. If you’re unsure whether or not to get rid of things, put them in a box in the basement. Over the next x number of months, fetch out anything you recall and desire from the box. Anything left in the box after the allotted time period gets donated.


Similarly to the above rule, this one is far from being helpful for most people in my experience.

For most people, the “maybe” pile or the “let’s see about it” basement box is nothing more than procrastinating the inevitable. It’s yet another chance to avoid making a decision they are fully capable of making in the moment.

And the people I know and have worked with? They ain’t never going to go down to their basements on a pre-appointed time, nod obediently to themselves, and then cart that box out of there.

That box will sit there. For a long time. That’s what will happen there. For most people.


3 Organizing Rules That Are Nonsense, 3 To Adopt ASAP, & 1 Not Enough People Talk About; a professional organizer dishes.

3. Never touch a piece of paper twice.


This one honestly confounds me. I don’t know who made this one up, but I think it’s just about the dumbest rule ever. Why? What?

3 Rules To Live By…

1. One in, one out.


If there is one typical organizing rule that I condone and often recommend people follow, it’s the one-in-one-out rule. It’s the rule I find easiest for people to follow, since there’s no gray area to it. And especially once people have worked with me to become very familiar with what they own, it’s easy for them to evaluate a given collection of items and continue to vote off the weakest link with the addition of each new thing.

I love this guideline and highly recommend you get it going as well.


3 Organizing Rules That Are Nonsense, 3 To Adopt ASAP, & 1 Not Enough People Talk About; a professional organizer dishes.


2. Store it where you use it.


This is another common organizing rule that I find completely sensible and highly helpful for people. In fact, being told they can and should keep things where they actually use them, even if that location isn’t typical for anyone else, is often the breakthrough moment with clients.

Your home and your belongings have to work for you, have to support your daily functioning.


3. Label things.


Labeling isn’t anal or “OCD,” it’s just smart. Seriously, do it.


3 Organizing Rules That Are Nonsense, 3 To Adopt ASAP, & 1 Not Enough People Talk About; a professional organizer dishes.


1 Rule I Wish More People Mentioned…


Maintain A donation bin


At all times. No matter the size of the household. Have a collection spot or vessel for any donation items that crop up throughout your days.
What organizing rules have worked or not worked for you??


Image credits: My Dubio, Martha Stewart, The EverygirlCurbly

16 thoughts on “3 Organizing Rules I Think Are Nonsense, 3 To Adopt ASAP, & 1 Of My Own Not Enough People Talk About

  1. Kim Alexander

    I think I read the “paper” rule many years ago in “The One Minute Manager”. It was the late 1980’s/early ’90’s. More business was on paper instead of the computer. I feel really old.

  2. Sarah Neuenschwander

    Very good post, I totally agree with the 3-rules-to-forget, Annie!

    Personally I don’t follow the ‘one in, out out’ rule (I don’t own much) and haven’t decided yet if I should teach this rule to my clients (I’m a fellow professional organizer).

    In regards to the labeling rule, for the pantry I recommend using transparent containers and if one cannot distinguish their spaghettis from their chickpeas and sugar, well… 😉

  3. Bev

    I have always had a donation bin somwhere in the house. I like how it allows me to not think too hard when I realize something should be donated. Away it goes. It does also kinda work like the box in the basement in that I will then occasionally go pull something out of the box before it makes it’s way to donation. But that is becasue I become aware of it and then find a use for it.

  4. Heather

    I also think the hanger trick is a bit silly, unless stats on how much you wear your clothes is your goal rather than decluttering. I did, however, try this on my husband recently. After we cleared out a bunch of stuff that he knew he wouldn’t wear, I turned all the hangers backward to see how many of the remaining shirts never got worn. Six months later two hangers are still backwards. He never noticed the backward hangers. He never would have used this trick on his own; it wouldn’t have worked. It was a little helpful AFTER decluttering but it requires way too much wait-and-see time to be truly useful. I agree about an ongoing donation bin too. I have one plus a pass-along to friends bin (for outgrown kid stuff).

    1. Annie Post author

      Good point, Heather. It’s much more of a wait and see than it is a proactive, see results now method. Love that you have an ongoing donate bin!!

  5. BH

    We totally do the donation bin/bag. Every month or so one charity or another calls for donations of clothes and household goods and out our stuff goes on the front step for pick up!

    Now I just need to work in the other rules. Especially with kids toys! Labelling and one in, one out in particular.

    1. Annie Post author

      Love that you have a donation bin! So key. If you can do that you can totally rock those other rules.

  6. Stacy

    I am a visual person–out of sight, out of mind. So I finally gave myself “permission” to store items out in the open, not behind closed doors. In decorative boxes, baskets, bins, whatever. And that was key to letting go of things that I didn’t use or no longer loved.

  7. Georgie

    Great post Annie! I always thought I was failing at the tip around turning hangers around, but you’ve vindicated me there 🙂 Now to convince my husband I’m not crazy to start labelling things…

    1. Annie Post author

      Total vindication. And yes, better get on that, since labeling is anything BUT crazy. 😉

  8. Haley

    I put post-it labels on the cabinets and drawers when we moved into our house a couple of months ago to help me visualize before putting things away. My boyfriend still doesn’t want me to take them down. 🙂 I agree with all your points especially the basement box. I just use my donation basket, that’s in a prominent place in the house, as the holding area.

  9. Priscilla

    An organizing rule that I live by is to organize my young child’s room WITHOUT my young child present! He tends to want to keep the skull t-shirt that stopped fitting him last summer, or the Shamu stuffed animal that the dog chewed a hole in. He’ll never even remember it once it’s gone. I may be teetering on the evil-mom line, but I have ZERO attachment to belongings, and hope my son inherits that trait.

  10. Pingback: Please, DON’T Try This Organizing “Trick” At Home! | Live Simply by Annie

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