Clutter Interlude: Finding the Stuff You Put Away

(Don’t worry, I’m still progressing on the Clutter Dragon Saga! I’m just taking a little time off to regroup before I continue my onslaught on the evil Closet of Hoarding. 😛 )

Today’s post is about a very important part of de-cluttering, one that most people don’t take into account. Once you’ve cleaned up and de-cluttered your space, what do you do with the stuff you chose to keep? And more importantly, how do you FIND it all again?

If you’re like me, you probably stuffed the “keepable” items into any convenient box and put them away willy-nilly, all in the name of “keeping them from getting stomped on/destroyed” in the savage process of cleaning. However, that approach doesn’t help you actually FIND those items you stored when you need them next.

How Do I Know This? I Lived It

A couple of days ago, I was sorting through my HeroClix collection, admiring the way I could now access them all because of the cleaner state of the closet. All was going well, until I realized something: where were my HeroClix character cards? These cards, printed alongside the newer HeroClix figures, are essential to gameplay…and they were ALL missing.

You can probably imagine what happened next. I began to tear through the closet shelves, searching through all those boxes I had haphazardly stuffed items into, praying fervently that I hadn’t thrown them away. “Surely I would have known better,” I kept thinking. “Surely I wouldn’t have gotten so carried away as to throw something like THAT away!”

What I was experiencing is every hoarder’s nightmare, and probably one reason I stayed away from de-cluttering for so long. It seems that every time I get the cleaning bug, I end up losing track of everything I want to keep–even to the point of “keepable” items getting accidentally thrown away.

In this case, however, the crisis was over within an hour, as I found the box of character cards in the closet–they were crammed behind a box of items utterly unrelated to HeroClix, and thus they were invisible to my panicked eye. But the panic soon resolved itself into indignation: why is it that I can always find things in a messy room, but never find things in a clean room?

The “Logical Place” Trap–It IS a Trap!

It never fails: when I’m cleaning and reorganizing, I handle each item, then put it away in a place that’s “more logical” than the place I had put it before. “Surely I’ll remember to find it here,” I always think. “This location just makes more sense.”

The problem? The “more logical” place is definitely NOT the place I’ve been keeping the item for years on end. Thus, I never remember to LOOK in the “more logical” place!

That was the problem with my HeroClix character cards. For four years, I’d kept the box of character cards on my blue plastic dresser (the one I cleaned off in this blog post). I honestly did not remember having moved them to the closet, though I figured I’d probably put them somewhere close to the HeroClix figures which were already stored in the closet. Nevertheless, when I began my panicky search, where did I look first? The top of the dresser.

Solution: List and Label Everything AS You Organize

Don’t save this step for last, and don’t be daunted by how big this task sounds. I will tell you now, if I had stopped and done this while I was cleaning, I could have saved an hour of hair-tearing panic.

#1: List Everything You’re Keeping and Note Its Location

As you clean and sort items into “keep,” “toss,” or “sell” piles, keep paper and a writing instrument handy. Note all the items that you’re keeping, and out to the side of each notation, write a short description of the place you’ve put it in, or where in the room you’ve placed it.

An example:

  • Scissors (top drawer of desk)
  • Gift cards (bright red shoebox, middle shelf of closet)
  • Program install discs for computer (green box, top shelf of closet)
  • Hair accessories (small white box, top of dresser)

…and my list could go on and on…but you get the idea.

#2: Label The Locations

Listing your items, however, is only half the process. Once you’ve listed where everything is housed, at least temporarily, then you’ll need to label the locations accordingly. (Post-It notes or some other kind of sticky notes are absolutely GENIUS for this.)

Why do you need to label every box and container? Because in the wake of your massive cleaning effort, you have made the room a very different place, so you need to ease the disorientation factor as much as possible. (Think you can’t be disoriented in a clean room? I beg to differ. I still wake up surprised that I can walk to my window without having to wade through junk. XD)

So, using the first example of gift cards in a bright red shoebox, I would stick a label reading “GIFT CARDS” on the box, somewhere where I can easily read it. Label every location (especially closed storage!) so that you can quickly scan through your newly-organized stuff and know where everything is.

Why Does This Solution Work?

Writing labels on Post-It notes or other easily-removable labels means that you won’t have to scratch through or tear off more permanent styles of labels (like Sharpie labels or typed labels). It allows you to have a more flexible system as you determine what locations truly are “logical” for certain items, and which items you actually do need access to more or less frequently. After you’ve gotten your organization system in place, you can add more permanent labels to your storage areas. But let the organization be a little more free-form, at least for a little while, so you can make a few changes even as you get re-familiarized with all your new, tidy storage places.

For instance, if you decide to take the gift cards out of the red box to put them in with the program install discs in the green box, all you have to do is remove the corresponding Post-It note from the red box and add it to the green box. Done! What could be easier than that?

Those of us who are not tidy/organized by nature (like me) have to have some time to get used to being organized, and the list of items plus the temporary labels do just that. It also helps you be aware of just how much stuff you have, and possibly points out unnecessary duplicates along the way.


De-cluttering does not have to lead to the new stress of losing track of your possessions! Keep your will to de-clutter alive by keeping track of your kept items, and labeling their new homes within your newly-tidy space. Believe me, it will make the whole process a lot smoother!

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