I was sorting clothing with a client. Rather, she was sorting and I was managing the rapidly growing piles. We used white kitchen trash bags to contain categories, clearly labeled by me with a black Sharpie, such as: Keep; Donate; Repair; Try On; Wash. We talked about how, in this case, the labeled bags doubled as a To-Do List. Then she observed, “It’s really all about the labels, isn’t it?” Yes. Yes, it is.
Why labels? We were taking clothing out of un-labeled bags and determining their previously-determined but long-forgotten status. Did they fit? Did they need repair or washing? How many times have you forgotten what’s inside an opaque, unlabeled container? That’s why. Labels save time and make life easier. They are as important to the organizing process as they are to a magazine-worthy pantry or craft room.
But… it’s just me, and I know where everything goes. Do you? True, labels are especially useful for families and work groups so that everyone knows where to find the things they need, and where to put things away when they are finished with them. But they are helpful even when you are the only one who uses the space, or the supplies, for the same reason one benefits from labeling clear containers…
Why label clear containers? Even if you use clear plastic shoe boxes, and can see inside, and even if you are the only one who will be using the items, labels provide subliminal cues that make it easier to maintain your organized space. Labels not only remind you (and others) what goes there; they also serve to remind you what does NOT go there. As long as you don’t let your containers overflow, this reduces mystery piles and clutter.
But what if I don’t have a label maker? Well, you could always go buy one, but…labels don’t have to be fancy! And you don’t have to use a label maker! I love my label makers (trusty hand-held PT- 65, and higher-tech PT-2430 PC), but I don’t use either of them nearly as often as you might imagine. I rarely take them to client appointments. There are usually far more pressing issues to deal with than how fancy the labels are. I am more likely to be found with Super-Sticky Post-Its and a black Sharpie. Or blue painter’s tape and a black Sharpie. Always a black Sharpie. Why? SO I CAN READ THE LABELS. These make fantastic and quick temporary labels.
Why temporary labels? Let’s say you are still sorting and purging and don’t have a final cast-in-concrete home for something yet. You don’t know exactly which container you will be using, or which shelf it’s going to end up on, after you finish organizing. You wouldn’t want to go to a lot of trouble to fancy-label its current container or shelf only to have to re-do it. But you DO need to know what’s in/on that container (box, bag, bin, shelf, drawer, cupboard) where you just took the trouble to gather like items together. Many times, after our organizing efforts are complete, I will offer to make “real” labels for my clients. Sometimes they accept the offer, sometimes they prefer to make their own. Sometimes, though, they claim to actually like the temporary labels!
This article doesn’t address all possible labels for every possible situation (hot/cold attics, damp basements, dirty garages, professional offices, kids rooms)…I just want to get you thinking about labeling things before you are “ready” and to facilitate the process of organizing. An example of temporary labels that are meant to be removed in a week or two are those I use on drawers and cupboards while organizing a new kitchen. Or on sorting boxes when decluttering an office.
Do I have to label everything? No, of course not. There are, indeed, circumstances where you might not want a visible label, such as on fine furniture, or for privacy’s sake. But usually there’s a way to label the inside, or maybe you really do remember what’s inside and more power to you!
My client had previously sorted some random bags of clothing into similar categories. Later she reported that a lot of the “Try On” clothing should really have been “Repair” way back when she first put them into the bag. It would have saved her time, trouble, and a bit of embarrassment when she wore one of the garments which, as it turned out, had holes in the elbows. (One hopefully wouldn’t bother to repair something before determining fit and worthiness, and mistakes happen to all of us, but you see the point, right?)
It’s all about the labels.
How do labels help you in your home and office?
Are they fancy or plain? Permanent or temporary?
What needs labeling?
Please share in the comments below!
Copyright 2015. Updated 2016 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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