When labeling is a good thing – for getting and staying organized!
As a professional organizer I’ve been surprised by how helpful it is to label containers or areas both while organizing (to build awareness about what you have and how to sort it), as well as at the end (to stay organized long-term). Here’s how I’ve seen the power of labels play out.
1) Labels help people know what they have and where it is.
Many of my clients say their primary goal for organizing is knowing what they have and where it is, so they can find things, put things away where they belong, and prevent duplicate purchasing. Labels help people meet this goal, and signify the importance of knowing over simplifying. People are often anxious that they have to get rid of a lot of things to be organized, and labeling reminds people that it’s knowing where things are that’s even more important.
2) Labels help people track progress and define categories while organizing.
Labeling is often associated with the end of the organizing process, but I’ve experienced it as even more valuable during the process of organizing. Labeling while organizing can help:
- Mark progress. Labels help me and my clients keep track in the midst of clutter, see where we are in the process, and see what’s been accomplished.
- Prototype categories. Categorizing similar items is very important for organizing, and labels help me and my clients identify categories and change them as needed. For example, we might have a group of candles, lightbulbs, flashlights, etc. and I will ask my client: “What do you want to call this group of items? This group might be called “lighting,” but it can also be connected to emergency preparedness. The answer can generate conversation and define helpful categories.
- Share knowledge. Having visual labels helps me stay on the same page with my clients, and can help them share new categories and locations with other household members. In kitchen reorganizing, for example, I often suggest keeping Post-its on the cabinets for awhile until all household members learn what’s where.
3) Once storage systems are set up, labels help people stay organized.
Organizing often requires some behavior change, shifting from just setting items down where it’s convenient, to making the time/effort to put items where they now belong. Changing habits is hard, and labels help you:
- Remember where things belong. On a practical level labels show all household members where things go now, and help everyone commit to items having a home.
- Stay accountable. When you really want to just put something in a spot because it’s easy or habitual, the label is a barrier to making that choice. If a bin says “socks” on it you’re less likely to put a scarf in there.
- Make new categories. Continuing with this example, if you don’t see a bin for scarves, you can ask yourself “where should scarves live” and define a home for it. This prevents categories from becoming randomized, and once that starts, the system can start to unravel, which causes disorganization to begin.
4) The type of label matters.
While there’s a time and place for label makers, I find that they are limited, primarily due to the small text, and because they make things feel final. For labeling I recommend:
- Post-its for use during the organizing process. Post-its are bright, easy to read, and temporary, which is important as they should be easy to remove until categories are more final. You can also add drawings to them if you’re working with young kids.
- Labels that clients can make themselves for use at the end. Having clients label themselves can help cement their commitment to their new organizing system, and ensures that they have a way to update the labels on their own, acknowledging that systems will evolve as lifestyles change.
Organizing isn’t necessarily an epic challenge. Small habit changes like labeling during and after the process can be just the thing that helps someone become more organized.