“This is the key to time management: to see the value of every moment.” —the Lubavitcher Rebbe ZT”L
After reading that the average person spends 30 minutes every day looking for stuff, I went on an organizing kick. (I’m assuming that number doesn’t include work hours; I spend a lot more than 30 minutes a day looking for various emails, files, and information on my computer.) Since Rosh Hashanah, I’ve reorganized my medicine chest, the drawers and cabinets in my bathroom vanity, my laundry area, my linen closet, and the utility closet in the basement.
For a lot of people, an organizing project means a trip to the Container Store or Hold Everything to buy a lot of plastic tubs and bins. Plastic bins certainly have their place; I’m headed out today to buy one to hold my silicone scrubbers and bamboo scrapers under the kitchen sink. But most of the things we need for organization are around our homes in the form of glass, metal, and cardboard packaging. Zero-waste organization is also a great way to reuse extra coffee mugs, cracked dishes, and more.
For me, storing things upright is key to keeping them organized. It lets me see what I have at a glance, and I don’t have to move items around to get the thing I want. In my house, a neat pile or stack is always going to become a messy clump, but things organized upright usually stay that pretty tidy. This is a tip I picked up from Marie Kondo’s books: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy. (Note: My rabbi feels these books are fine to read, but some rabbis feel differently because she writes from her perspective as a Shintoist, a religion that ascribes energy to objects and asks us to be grateful to them. When reading them, I make it a practice to keep in mind that the only energy objects have is from the malakhim HaShem creates for each thing in our world.)
When I spoke to my rav about these books, he reminded me of many stories of gedolim expressing gratitude for material things. In Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar, Alan Morinis tells a story of what Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk did when he had a pair of worn-out shoes that could no longer be repaired. The Kotzker Rebbe would neatly wrap up his old shoes in newspaper before placing them in the trash, saying, “How can I simply toss away such a fine pair of shoes that have served me so well these past years?”
After purging expired or just not-going-to-get-used items from the bathroom vanity, I took everything from my makeup bag and stood it up in a small container I had left over from my son’s birthday party last year. The only two things that didn’t fit were my blush and my eyeshadow palette, which I put right next to the container. This lets me pull out just those things I want without digging through a bag each morning. I make sure to store my lipsticks with the color indicator facing up, so I can quickly grab the one I want. It’s a small change, but it definitely makes my morning prep go faster and reduces stress because I never feel like I could or should be moving more quickly.
Most of my organizing projects for closets and cabinets rely on two staples: cardboard boxes (mostly shoe boxes) and empty medication bottles. When I tackled the top shelf of the linen closet, where we keep things like sunscreen, bug spray, and extra bottles of shampoo and such, I wanted a little nicer feel, so I gathered the shoeboxes I had put aside for this project and spray painted them with a warm white color. The labels are printed on paper and attached with washi tape. Not only does it look nicer, but it also staves off “cant-find-itis” from my kids. Looking at a shelf crammed full of stuff, they had an excuse for saying they couldn’t find something. But when directed to the box marked Extras on the top shelf of the linen closet, they usually concede they can get what they need without my help.
Organizing is a great chance to reconsider where you keep things and why. I used to keep some lightbulbs upstairs in the linen closet so I didn’t have to go to the basement just to replace a bulb. My kids were smaller and they neither wanted to go to the basement storage area nor leave them upstairs by themselves. Plus, it felt like changing lightbulbs was a weekly task, at least. With the new energy-saving LED bulbs, we don’t have lightbulbs burning out so often, so it’s not such a big deal to go to the basement and grab one from time to time.
My utility closet overhaul has been on my to-do list for months, but it was such a big job, I was having trouble motivating myself to get started. It had once been pretty neat and tidy, but between my husband, the cleaning ladies, and the kids, it was just a cluttered mess. How cluttered? So cluttered we couldn’t get in the door of it to reach things near the back. So cluttered I didn’t even want to take a “before” picture, so all I have are pictures of bags and stacks of stuff spread across my basement after I cleared everything out and got ready to get down to work.
Here I have to insert a warning: if you are using things you would typically throw in the trash or recycle for a zero-waste organization project, be sure to tell the people in your house who take out the garbage. I had gotten two big bags of shoeboxes from a neighbor with a shoe boutique, putting them in the garage until I had a minute to start on the utility closet. When I went to grab them, they were nowhere to be found; my husband had taken them out to the curb on the previous trash night. Luckily, when I asked a few friends if they had any shoeboxes I could have, I got as many as I needed.
Getting things in order was as easy as putting like items together. For smaller things like screw and nails, there was a little bit more effort deciding what dividing line made sense for separating them into useful categories for later retrieval. All these items are stored in medication containers of various sizes and labeled with taped-on paper labels.
I had been hoping to transition next year to more natural (and less expensive) cleaning supplies, but the messiness of the utility closet meant the cleaning ladies, my husband, and I were all buying things we thought we needed but already had. With three gallons of all-purpose surface cleaner (and more), I won’t be switching anytime soon!
I have more to say about organization projects, time management, and what putting our stuff in order can teach us about our consumer habits in a future blog post. In the meantime, think about how sorting things you own into containers can help you let go of things you don’t need (give them away or recycle if you can!) and save precious seconds and minutes every day.