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Ten Uses of Open Bins in a Messy House

Those of us who are easily distracted or are Thinking Big Thoughts have a really difficult time putting things where they belong in our homes. For some people, "a place for everything and everything in its place" is something a parent may have said, but it just isn't how we live. One goal of Messy Desk Consulting is to offer decluttering and organizing strategies that fit people who want to be tidier, but not Konmari minimal.

Right now, my favorite organizing strategy is to have open bins for various purposes. It is really important in our house that these containers not be closed. More on that below.

1. Trash cans without lids. I learned the hard way that a trash can with a lid is most likely to have a pile of trash sitting on top of it. A trash can without a lid is a basketball goal. It's much more fun to throw that wad of paper away if you can toss it across the room. I also have small trash cans in every room, next to the places where we sit. That reduces the amount of trash bits left on tables or the floor. I try to go around and get the trash out of each of these bins on trash day, so that way they never overflow. [Side note: That right there is a habit. I am really bad at habits. But a good habit has a trigger and an action. For this, the trigger is "Trash Day" and the action is to gather all the things from all the little bins]

2. The nearly-weekly bin. This is a big plastic bin that I toss the mail and other stuff that I need to do something with during the week. I keep it in a handy place, like near my favorite chair, or in the bedroom, and I toss random items in there between house cleanings. Then, when I get my cleaning mojo on, which is currently scheduled for Sundays (and sometimes actually happens then), I go around the house and gather up things that should have been in the bin for the week's perusal, but never quite made it there. If I did this regularly, I wouldn't need such big bins. Right now, I have two.

Basically, I try to go through the bin every week and do at least some of the things that need to be done--hang up the shirt on top, unpack the suitcase in the middle, pay a few bills. Things that I don't need to deal with yet get placed in the second bin. The purpose of that second bin is so that I don't quit halfway through the task and have a pile of stuff on the floor. To get it out of the way, I just move both bins. If I have completed Bin 1 and it is empty, I stack the two bins and (eventually) put them in my bedroom. When company comes, they go in the closet.

3. Dirty laundry hampers. I have two large laundry containers. They are cute and color-coordinated, but one is dark grey and the other white, and I toss dark clothes in the darker hamper and light clothes in the white hamper, so everything is pre-sorted for doing laundry. You can match your bins to the kind of sorting you do when you do laundry (Delicates? Dry Clean? Heavy items?). The next important thing is that the bins have to be in the place(s) where you undress. Look for the piles of dirty clothes in your house. Put at least one laundry basket in each place. I have dark/light bins in my bedroom, another near my soaking tub, and a single basket in my closet. Just remember to gather those clothes when you do laundry, or you will wonder why your favorite t-shirt disappeared.

4. Clean laundry baskets. The ideal situation: I take clothes out of the dryer. Folded clothes go in the laundry basket. Hanging clothes go on hangers and back to my closet. The laundry basket goes to my closet and is unloaded. You can guess the Messy version of this. However, the point of the laundry basket is to give the clothes a place to go that isn't the top of the dryer and that is easy to pick up and put in the closet for either a) digging through to find an outfit for the day; or b) unloading and placing on shelves and in drawers. Easy is the most important thing because I don't want to waste time messing with laundry, or having to iron things because I didn't fold or hang them. I have also tried having separate baskets for socks and underwear, since those don't really need to be folded.

5. Paper files. I have a variety of open containers that I toss particular paper in for later processing. As you can see from the bins above, I like to label my boxes. It helps remind me what things go in which box (I try for everything has a place), and in shared spaces, it helps household and office-mates know where things are kept. At home, I have organizing containers labelled "to shred" and "to recycle." I keep these near me when going through the nearly-weekly bin.

6. Decluttering bins. When I'm decluttering a particular area or room, I have open bins/bags to throw things into as I decide what to do with them. Most organizers tell you to have three: keep, give away, and throw away. I usually use those, but I might add others, depending on individual goals for that space. So, in my office, I often have an individual box for current and urgent projects.

7. The donation bin. Unless you are a lifelong minimalist, everyone reaches a certain point in life when they simply have too much stuff. I got to that point a long time ago, so I have a designated place for items to be donated. It helps to have a place to put these things as I run across them. So, I put things in the bin when I try on a pair of pants and it's clear that they don't fit and are never going to, or when I decide I am tired of a particular knick knack. Doing this piecemeal is less daunting a whole-house declutter, and I drop off bags for a domestic abuse charity every few months (after they ride around in my car's trunk for awhile).

8. The take-it-with-me basket. This pretty basket sits near the door and goes with me when I leave the house to run errands. I put things in it related to those errands: library books to drop off, things to take to work, coupons (that I may forget to use). I also have a basket at work that I pile things in to bring home. When one of the baskets is empty in the car, I pile the random detritus that floats around in the footwells into the basket (preferably in a plastic bag--it's often really dirty). Then I sort the car stuff when the basket makes it back into the house or office.

9. Tiny counter trash cans. There used to be a small pile of used Splenda packets on our kitchen counter until I put a little bin next to where my spouse creates the sweet and milky concoction he calls coffee. He might not walk across the room to the trash can, but he does put the bits and pieces into this little basket. I bought an attractive basket in the same color as my counter, so it blends right in. You might consider these for bathroom cotton balls and such, as well.

10. Labelled bins inside closets. In the linen closet, for example, you can have one bin for sheets and another for towels. In the medicine cabinet, a basket for medicines and another for makeup. If you prefer a tighter organization, your medicine basket could be smaller containers for smaller categories--Pain, Indigestion, and First Aid, for example.

It's time for me to move my wash to the dryer, and then do the sort for the nearly-weekly bin.Sometime, remind me to tell you about using the laundry to keep me focused and keep me moving between necessary tasks. Until then, consider whether open bins fit your style of organizing.


What I'm reading: These notes are here to give you an idea of what's percolating in my brain this week and offer further resources for you. Because there are only so many organizing ideas in the world, you will often find echoes of my recommendations in the readings. I promise to specifically cite my sources if an idea or practice was new to me. If I think a particular item is worthwhile, I'll write a full review of it soon.

This week, I listened to the Audible version of The Mindset of Organization, by Lisa Woodruff (the ebook is available for free if you are a Kindle Unlimited member).

Also, I recently discovered this amazing website Little Miss Lionheart. This page was love at first sight for me. I am sure you will hear more about it later (and no, I am not affiliated with her site or her personally).


Affiliate note: This page contains an Amazon link. If you click on this link and buy a product, I receive a (tiny) amount of money from Amazon, but you don't pay any more than you otherwise would. Advertising on this Messy Desk only includes products or services that I would personally recommend and fit with site content.

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