Too Many Choices

Making decisions can be exhausting. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered that I can reduce that stress and exhaustion by limiting the amount of decision-making I have to do each day.

Do you know those famous people who seem to wear the same thing every day? Steve Jobs wore a designer black turtleneck and blue jeans. Mark Zuckerberg wears a gray t-shirt. Barack Obama said, “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

I like a little more variety than wearing the same thing every day, but I have created certain limitations to my wardrobe. My default outfit starts with a pair of black or blue jeans (in the summer, I start with black or navy blue shorts). I’ll add a colorful shirt and coordinated earrings. I have very little variety in my undergarments. I’ve also reduced my daily cosmetics routine to three products: powder, eyebrow pencil, blush. (I’ll add some lipstick on the way out of the house.)

I own so few shoes that I can fit all of them — summer and winter — into a 10-pair hanging shoe organizer. I keep two handbags by the front door: a convertible backpack for when I need to carry a lot of stuff, and a small crossbody bag for when I don’t. A handbag insert makes it easy for me to switch from one to the other.

I’ve also simplified my kitchen. The three pans that I use the most often are hanging on the kitchen wall for easy access. I’ve reviewed and downsized the rest of my pots so that there are no duplications. I have one set of dishes, which I use for both everyday and company. Ditto for my flatware.

Another key to decision-making is being able to see everything you own. Having fewer items definitely helps make that possible. Organizing similar items together also helps.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the number of decisions you need to make every day about fairly mundane things, try to figure out where you can simplify.

I’d Forgotten I Had That!

In my nearly 16 years as a Professional Organizer, I have heard two statements uttered in almost every client session: “I was looking for that!” and “I’d forgotten I had that!”

A quick search of my blog reveals that I wrote about “I was looking for that” in this post. The bottom line: when you come across something that you had previously been unable to find, relocate that item to the place where you were originally looking. In your mind, that is the “home” for this item.

So let’s talk about “I’d forgotten I had that!” Even for organized people, it’s impossible to remember everything you own. You are most likely to forget about owning something if it hasn’t been used in a long time and it has gotten pushed to the back of a closet or cabinet, or buried in the bottom of a drawer.

When clients say, “I’d forgotten I had that!”, I ask, “Did you miss it? Are you glad to see it?” If they are excited about using this newly-discovered item, then we relocate it to a more visible and convenient place.

In some instances, the reason why they haven’t seen that item in a while is because they got a newer one and just never got rid of the old one. If they are happy with the new one, we dispose of the forgotten item (donate, recycle, or trash). If they aren’t happy with the new one, we consider swapping it out for the older item, which probably needs a good dusting after months or years of neglect.

In other instances, the item was purchased on impulse but never used because it was not really a good fit for the person’s lifestyle. Or it was an unloved gift. In both cases, I recommend that the item be donated.

How can you prevent forgetting about things you own? One way is to be sure to rotate your items. For example, when I put away my laundry, I put my clean items on the bottom of the pile or in the back of the drawer. This ensures that everything gets used and nothing gets lost.

Another way is to regularly revisit what’s in your closets, cabinets and drawers. If you notice things getting crowded on a particular shelf, take a few minutes to take everything out and see what’s hiding back there. When you get something new, instead of shoving it in, rearrange what’s there and eliminate what is unused.

The Burden of Getting New Things

For about a year, my husband had been saying, “We really need to replace these dishes.” He was right. Our everyday plates, bowls, and cups bore numerous chips, dings, and scratches. We had broken or chipped so many cups that we barely had enough to get through a day of three people consuming various beverages.

And yet I hesitated, because I know that in my house, “we” means “me”. If I could have magically snapped my fingers and had new dishes appear in place of the old ones, that would have been great. But I knew that it wasn’t going to be that simple. First of all, I needed to decide which new dishes to get. I would probably want to see them in person, which would take time and effort (especially during a pandemic). Secondly, I’d need to figure out how to dispose of the old ones, which sounded even more burdensome. And I might have to rearrange the cabinets to make them fit, since there was no guarantee that new dishes would fit into the same spaces as the old ones.

Late last year, I had an epiphany. Why not replace our old dishes with the same set? We knew that we loved the way they looked, and I also knew that I could order them online, as I had done with several pieces over the years. The simplicity of this solution was stunning.

I got online at the Pfaltzgraff website and looked for the Winterberry pattern. Unfortunately this was right after Christmas, and the green and red Winterberry pattern is a popular one at that time of year. Nearly everything was sold out. I started browsing the other patterns, and that’s when I discovered the Filigree pattern, which was essentially an all-white version of Winterberry. I had never had all-white dishes before, as I usually like a subtle pattern, but the elegance of these dishes won me over. I measured all of our plates, spoons, and bowls, and compared them to the Filigree measurements. In most cases, they were exactly the same.

I also gave careful thought to how many dishes we needed. I had previously purchased a service for 12 back in the early 2000s. But circumstances had changed since then. Both of my parents had passed away, and I no longer hosted large family get-togethers. I really didn’t need any more than 8 of each.

Certain dishes — like soup bowls and dessert plates — had been purchased online in more recent years, and they were in better shape than the rest. I decided to keep most of those and just to replace the older dishes. I knew they would go well together because of the similarity of the styles.

I went ahead and ordered 8 dinner plates, luncheon plates, dessert plates, cereal bowls, and mugs. They arrived a few days later in several heavy boxes, and the real work began. First, I had to undo the carefully cushioned packaging and examine each piece for damage. Luckily, everything arrived in great shape. Then I had to remove the labels and put all the items in the dishwasher. (It took two loads to accommodate everything). In the meantime, I removed all of the existing dishes from the cabinets and gave the shelves a good scrubbing.

Then I had to figure out what to do with the old dishes. Many of them were destined for the garbage, as they were not in good enough shape to pass on to someone else. I couldn’t just put them all in a garbage bag, as it would be too heavy. So I stacked the throwaways in the corner and deposited two per day into the garbage, wrapped in some of the bubble plastic from the new dishes. I didn’t want the plates to shatter and end up cutting somebody.

As for the ones that were in good enough shape to give away, I reached out to someone from my local Buy Nothing group on Facebook who I knew was setting up a household from scratch. I sent her a photo and she was excited to get them. I wrapped those up securely, again using the packaging from the new dishes, and on the appointed day I transported them to the lobby of my building so that she could pick them up.

As I suspected, disposing of the old dishes (and the remaining packaging that I did not reuse) was more work than washing and putting away the new ones. But the good news is that reducing from 12 settings to 8 meant that there was more room in the cabinet, and I was able to move around some items that had been less accessible. Overall, we ended up with a better arrangement in our cabinets than we had before. And while it took me a couple of weeks to get used to dishes that had no design on them, now I love them!

As with everything I do, I saw some important organizing lessons in this experience. Before purchasing anything, give careful thought to where you will store it and what you may need to get rid of in order to have room for it. Ask yourself whether owning this new, shiny item is worth the effort that will be required. Don’t buy it unless you have figured this out beforehand. I have been to too many client homes where new items sit on the floor in the box, unused, because their purchase was not well thought out. Or other homes where old items get relegated to the top of a closet or a storage unit because there was no exit plan for them.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.”

Tricking Out My Kitchen

The more time I spend in my home, the more organized it gets. I’m continually revisiting spaces that I’ve already worked on to make them even easier to use.

Take my kitchen, for example. I’ve written about numerous kitchen projects in recent years. In Keeping A Lid on Your Pots and Pans and But I Paid So Much For It, I wrote about getting rid of pots I wasn’t using, rearranging my lower cabinets to make my pots and pans more accessible, and hanging my two most frequently-used pans on the wall.

The catalyst for my latest change was when one of my colleagues posted a picture on Facebook of the youCopia Pan & Lid 11″ Rack. This product lets you store frying pans, pot lids, and baking pans vertically so that they can easily be taken out and put back without having to rearrange everything. I had been struggling with that very issue, so I excitedly measured my cabinets and ordered it from Amazon.

While I was waiting for it to arrive, I gave some thought to the content of my lower cabinets. Ever since we got rid of the china closet in the living room (see You Have More Room Than You Think), one of my lower kitchen cabinets has been chock full of serving dishes that we rarely use. The other cabinet is one of those deep and wide cabinets that is partially a blind corner. It was actually rather spacious because we had gotten rid of so many large items in recent years.

On the day the Pan & Lid Rack arrived, I took everything out of both cabinets, scrubbed the cabinets carefully, and then started rearranging. The rarely-used serving dishes were carefully reviewed and culled, then stacked in the blind corner. The liquor that had previously been stored there was put in a better-lit spot. In the narrower cabinet, I put the Pan & Lid Rack on the bottom shelf and the pots on the top shelf. And I added one more frying pan to my wall of pans.

The Pan & Lid Rack has been working out beautifully. The baking pans that I use several times a week in my toaster oven are so easy to slide in and out. And the large pan cover that also gets used frequently is no longer taking up horizontal space and getting in the way of the pots. The slats of the rack are adjustable, so I was easily able to match the width of my items.

My three most frequently-used pans are now hanging on the wall, providing easy access. It’s such a pleasure now to cook and clean up, because it’s so easy to reach what I need and then put things away afterward. And that, my friends, is what organizing is all about. It’s not about making things look pretty and photo-worthy. It’s about making your life easier.


Keep Like With Like

One of my five basic organizing principles is “Keep like with like”.  In  my clients’ homes, I see over and over again what happens when this principle is violated.

I often hear the anguished cry, “I had no idea I had so many of these!”

When you don’t keep like with like, one of two results is likely to happen:  (1) you run out, or (2) you overbuy.  You may be asking yourself, how can one behavior result in two completely opposite outcomes? 

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