5 Signs Your Organization System Isn't Working

woman organizing

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Many people kick off the new year with the firm resolution to organize their lives by literally getting their house in order. After some decluttering, rearranging and sprucing up, the spaces are set up to better serve their inhabitants. A few turns of the calendar down the line, the same people who were so determined to get it together are siding back into old habits. What is going wrong?

Liz Jenkins, owner of A Fresh Space in Nashville, Tenn., says it isn’t uncommon for areas that have been organized to become problems once again. “Get in the habit of revisiting the organization on a regular basis and making any adjustments that are needed,” she says. Several signs indicate your best laid new year’s plans aren’t working for you.

Clutter Creeps Back In

Our homes are not models; real people live there, and that means sometimes mail will be stacked on a counter or various boxes and cans will be jammed together in the corner of a kitchen shelf. 

It becomes a warning sign of a broken system when you consistently pile things up in an area that you previously had streamlined. Certain areas of the home seem to be more likely than others to start stacking up clutter again, like the kitchen and pantry, children’s spaces and the main closet. “These are usually heavily used spaces with a lot of things coming and going, which makes them ripe for disorganization,” says Jenkins. “These are also the hardest areas to maintain without good systems in place to start with.”

Shira Gill, author of Minimalista, and home organizing expert, points to the first place you see when you walk in the door as a danger zone for clutter’s return. “If your entry currently serves as a dumping ground for mail, coats, bags, backpacks, coats, and shoes, you are in good company,” she says. “The entryway tends to be a magnet for clutter because it typically serves as a drop station for all of our comings and goings.”

Your Stuff Plays Hide-and-Seek

This sign can become a natural extension of the first one. If you let clutter build up, especially if you aren’t putting your items in the same area where you put them when organizing earlier in the year, finding them will become a challenge. 

“If you find yourself struggling to navigate through random piles of miscellaneous clutter or can’t seem to quickly and easily locate the things you need, an organizational tune-up is probably in order,” says Gill.

Several things can cause this new chaos, and it is important to understand that it isn’t a personal failing by any means. New habits are not as easy as flipping a switch. It can take a few tries to find something that really works for you and your life. 

“Usually what we see is that an attempt was made but wasn’t necessarily implemented properly and they don’t have the proper storage solutions in place, making maintaining really difficult, if not impossible,” says Jenkins.

An organized fridge filled with clear stackable bins

A Fresh Space

Tidying Becomes Tiresome

We organize our homes for several reasons: a clean, uncluttered appearance; to know exactly where everything is when we need it; and to make cleaning our spaces less of a struggle. 

If it’s difficult to get everything back in its place, you won’t put it away. Then when you need it, you can’t find it. And when you are cleaning, you have to clean around it. It can make you wonder why you got organized in the first place! Take a deep breath, and maybe rethink your systems and retool them in a way that makes it easy to clean quickly and move on to all the things you would rather do with your time. 

“The biggest organizing mistakes I see are overcomplicating a system and rendering it too difficult to maintain,” Gill says. “When in doubt, try the five year old test: Could a 5-year-old easily maintain the system you’ve set up with little explanation?”

Gill also stresses the importance of making it a habit to do a daily refresh once you have the right systems in place. These routines will keep your household running more smoothly and also make it less likely that things will backslide.

Frustration Levels Skyrocket

Any of the previously noted signs of organization gone off the rails can cause frustration. When this feeling builds and boils over, causing tension and adding stress to your day to day, it’s the warning bell, red alert sign that something has to give. 

“If the state of your home is starting to affect the rest of your life and/or you find yourself feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, it’s time to take action,” says Gill. “The time and energy invested in creating a well-organized home pays off in spades and can equate to less stress, friction, and fighting, and more freedom, flexibility, and spaciousness.”

At this point, you might feel like throwing in the towel completely, but you can get organized and streamline your life! It will take a fresh look at your space, your lifestyle and your goals to get started back on the right path, experts say. 

A drawer filled with file-folded T-shirts

A Fresh Space

There's No Actual System

A system doesn’t mean everything is shoved in a space,” Jenkins says. “We recommend the very traditional approach of pulling everything out of a space, grouping like with like, editing out anything that is not needed or wanted, relocating anything that doesn’t belong in that space (but you want to keep), then evaluating the space for storage. Too many people skip over the whole first part and jump right to the pretty baskets, which is a recipe for disaster.”

It is easy to be unnerved by the idea of going through everything in your home. Gill offers a scaled-down approach that helps you build on each success. 

Gill calls this process a 15-minute win, or as her Instagram devotees call it, #15minwin. Just set a timer for 15 minutes and see what you can get done in that time. If you are really in a groove when the timer goes off, keep going if you wish, or pick that task up later for another 15 minutes.