Tip: 4 minutes

Everybody wants to know how to keep their spaces organized. The most common question I get, from almost everyone I talk to about organizing, is "How do I keep the place looking like this?" 

My usual answer: 4 minutes.

Take 4 minutes of your day, every day, and focus on organizing one manageable little space. Choose a different one each day. Tidy a drawer. Clear off the surface of your dining room table. Straighten up the coat rack or coat closet. Go through last week's (or last month's) mail and recycle or shred everything you don't need. Get a basket or create a system for the mail you don't have time to deal with right now, but that needs to be dealt with at some point relatively soon. Go through the food you've had tucked away for months - put some aside to donate, or throw away what's expired. With an investment of 4 minutes, if you really do it every day, you'll be able to make surprising progress towards keeping your space organized. 

But... lately I've started to think that maybe my answer is too simple. Maybe it's simplified enough that it's worth complicating, just a little. Because saying that it takes 4 minutes a day to organize is a trick. It's a trick that's designed to get you to notice the shape your space is in, and incorporate the little time it takes to keep places organized into your daily routine - but it's still a trick.

The trick in giving "4 minutes" as the answer to that question is that it covers up what's really going on. It is true that keeping spaces organized doesn't take that long, if you do it regularly. But it IS a basic change in the way you interact with your space. Taking those 4 minutes every day is a commitment to yourself, an affirmation that a well-organized home is important to you. It will change how you interact with your stuff. Perhaps it will make you a little more deliberate in deciding whether or not to bring new things into your space. It might shift your priorities ever so slightly. This might not be exactly what will work for you. But it is worth noting that the very commitment can become a point of discord if you live with a person (or several people) who haven't made the same commitment themselves. And the decision to take those 4 minutes every day - or not, if it's not the right thing for you - is one that should not made blindly, thinking that's the only thing that will change. It feels wrong to withhold at least a hint that, like any decision, there may be consequences to your choice that go farther than just having a well-organized house.

What those changes will be... well, you tell me.