It's Not About the Label Maker

July 09, 2012

My husband laughs at me because I read a lot of books about getting organized. After 24 years of being married, living in seven different domiciles of my own, moving cross country, and running our household more or less successfully, he figures I should have it all down pat. What’s funny about this is he’s often not happy with the level of cleanliness and organization in our household. (I suppose he thinks I should put down the book and pick up a broom. And perhaps he's right.)  Now, I believe I am a basically organized person, but sometimes the complexity of life and the sheer number of different activities and projects I need and want to do overwhelm me. I’m always on the lookout for something that will make my life run more smoothly with less mess.

With that in mind, I picked up David Allen’s Getting Things Done, mentioned briefly here. This is not a book focused on physically decluttering your house or workplace, but rather one that focuses on setting up a system for getting all your projects, both large and small, corralled in such a way that you clearly see what the next step is for each one, and nothing gets lost in the shuffle. I’ve found it helpful and have been trying to put the principles into practice.

Enter the label maker.

I’ve always resisted a label maker before, feeling like it was an unnecessary purchase, one that would end up adding to the clutter in my life. And that may still turn out to be true, but in the meantime I’m using it to put my files in order, both personal and professional. Before I take the time to print a label, I make sure whatever’s in that file is really something I need or want to keep—is it label worthy? It’s been an excellent way to purge files and simplify the giant wads of paper I tend to accumulate. (Allen isn’t the only one to recommend a label maker. See here and here.)

Despite what my husband thinks, I have not “read every organization book known to man.” If you type “getting organized” in’s search bar you’ll get 5,385 results in books alone and I’ve only read a small fraction of them! I keep reading because each getting organized book provides one more little piece of the having-a-beautiful life puzzle. I do not think the label maker, or any one gadget or program, is going to magically organize my life. My real goal for getting better organized is to have my family life run smoothly and have time to pursue and get better at my many hobbies and interests. Until I feel like I've got a handle on it all, I'll continue to read about and try new systems. (Next up: Organizing for the Creative Person.) 

What’s one thing you do to keep your life running smoothly?

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  1. I am pretty organized, but I do have a lot of clutter. We just have so much stuff (not that I am buying anymore, we keep getting things from family members).

    I have our home organized in stations like you would find in a preschool classroom. I try to have like things alike in their own areas or rooms. The office area has the normal things, research materials, books on history, etc.

    Our room has the normal bedroom stuff and the sewing center.

    The Mom Cave is a library. I have books in each room of our home, but they are grouped into matching categories.

    I think that I am done changing furniture around; I finally have things where I like them and where they work for us. I never thought that I would say that!

    Best of luck on getting things streamlined!

    Kathy M.

  2. Oh, to be finally organized, once and for all. Probably not ever achievable since life flows along in unpredictable ways and new things are always entering our lives.

    I like your thoughts, though, and have been purging a bit here and there (what a great feeling!). My motto has been: "If I didn't know I had (fill in item here) tucked away in the first place, it might as well not exist in my space!" So off it goes to find a new home or to be recycled or thrown away.

    I've read a lot of organizing books in the past as well. :) There are two things I remember and use.

    1st, try to handle paper only once. Not possible for everything, but works for many things that really don't need to be shuffled around more than once.

    2nd, adapt your tasks to your body and mind. For instance, I'm a morning person, and find it much easier to write, edit, draw, and plan before lunch. At 4 pm my brain approaches a near-dead state. This is my time to do mindless chores: filing, scanning, rote paperwork, organizing and putting things away, cleaning, folding laundry, easy cooking, gardening, etc. This common-sense guideline has saved me much anguish from all those past times I tried to force my square peg into a round hole!

    But I'm a sucker for technology, and think I could use a labelmaker too...

    I like Kathy M.'s strategy of stations and like things alike in each room! I've done that a bit but see room for improvement. oh, we'll be SO organized!!

  3. Kathy--I've enjoyed your posts about the process of getting your house the way you like it. It gives me hope for myself!

    I do something similar to your stations: I keep things where they are used. For instance, the coffee and filters are in the cabinet right above the coffee maker instead of in the pantry, the dog food is in a cabinet next to her dish, etc. It saves a few steps every day and they can add up.

  4. Elizabeth--It's a beautiful dream, isn't it--to be completely organized. I don't see that happening, but at least we keep making efforts to streamline and improve.

    I am still not good with paper, but I do try to do your second point. I have the same rhythms you have, and try to get most of my creative work done in the morning and my more mundane things in the afternoon. Sometimes I can do some creative work at night if I'm not too tired! That used to be my preferred time before motherhood hit me so many years ago!

  5. If you could see my desk at the moment you would mostly like classify me as "non-organized." However, I've made inroads to being more organized in some areas of my life while others...not so much.

    We recently decided to get rid of our VCR(!!!!)...haven't used it in years and yet, the "oh, but we might need that" attitude reared its ugly head. Really? After not touching it in 10 years you think we might need it?

    The VCR is now on its way to a new home—assuming anyone still uses that type of machine anymore. I would have to say that's the one thing that seems to have been helping us lately and that's getting past the "oh, but we might need that...someday" mentality.

  6. Laure--Isn't "piles" an organizational style?! It is in my household.

    I have the same "I might need it someday" issues--I think a lot of us do. Good for you overcoming that little roadblock.