The two best organizing tools that don’t cost a dime

January 7, 2010

And why money doesn’t create organizing bliss.


Last week, I purchased a copy of the Better Homes and Gardens annual “Get Organized!” January edition.

The thing I love about this issue is it encourages readers to think beyond the day-to-day. Instead of mindlessly slogging through life, this issue asks subtly, “What kind of life would you like to have?” For example, the recipes looked delicious and the article on growing orchids (complete with gorgeous photos) was amazing. The two featured home makeovers were compelling as well.

I read it cover to cover and thought, “I want that life!”

Here’s the catch

If you have kids or cats or forced-air heating, you probably don’t have the right conditions in your home to grow orchids. You might not have the budget to make over your apartment or office. You might not have the time to buy fresh ingredients and prepare meals from scratch. So the life presented feels painfully out of reach.

(Um. And what, exactly, do these things have to do with organizing in the first place?)

When we want, but can’t have, this is the mental leap that most people take:

  • “I can’t do the whole office makeover, but I could at least buy the chair.”
  • “I can’t have that gorgeous bathroom, but I could at least buy the lined wicker baskets.”
  • “I don’t have the body, but I could at least get the strappy heels.”

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with this thinking. That’s what the publishers want you to think. I counted – this magazine featured over 35 product endorsements and product suggestions not including ads. I didn’t tally up the costs, but that’s a lot of stuff to buy to get organized.

Inspired reality-check:

You only need two things to get organized, both of them are free.

A brain. It’s a mighty muscle. Identify any area that’s giving your trouble and your brain can solve it. Don’t let a magazine do the thinking for you. What do you really need? Let your brain create a solution.

Time. Yup. I said it. Time isn’t a commodity, it’s a tool. Use a few moments to create order and you’ll get clarity immediately. Use a few moments regularly and you’ll get momentum. Repeat the pattern of moments/regularly long enough and your space will feel like a haven. Can you imagine what it would be like to work in a haven?

The moral of the story…

The thing I liked best about the BH&G January edition was the editor’s message. Gayle Goodson Butler hits the nail on the head when she writes, “…living organized is something else entirely.” Amen. Although she contends that it takes persistence and good habits, I propose that all it takes are your brain and time. Either way, none of these cost a dime.

Thoughts? Yeah, buts? Me, toos?


  1. Wait … are you suggesting that I can actually be organized by not spending money? I think you’re trying to kill the economy!!! And America! Because that’s the only thing Americans are told to do: buy stuff to fix “it”. Pres. Bush said so after 9/11. Every magazine and TV show says so too. (/sarcasm)

    What you’re talking about is going to rehab.

  2. And one more thought:

    I’ve always found it interesting that we need to buy stuff to get more organized, because usually we’re disorganized because we have too much stuff that we don’t use or need anyway.

    If we’d just stop buying so much stuff, take better care of what we have and value, then we wouldn’t need so much organization.
    .-= Lynn @ human, being´s last blog ..The Last Decade: 2004, part two =-.

  3. Love the way you reduced the Jan. edition of BH&G magazine to simplicity and reality. Kudos!

  4. Once I heard the phrase ‘clean porn’ I looked at those magazine articles and Container Store catalogues in a whole new way!
    It’s the same kind of fantasy world where if you only had this shelving system, your closet would look as sexy as the one in the mag.
    But just like the models are fluffed, buffed and airbrushed, the rooms/closets etc. are equally far from reality. My closet would look as good as the one in the magazine if I only had three shirts and two dresses and they were all the same color.
    But just like buying the aftershave, the watch or the car isn’t gonna get you the hot babe, buying the wicker baskets, nifty organizers or expensive shelving isn’t gonna get you organized. Sad but true!
    .-= Liz´s last blog ..Playing to Your Strengths =-.

  5. 2331 days ago,
    jennifer said:

    Liz – Seriously. I mean, who leaves out a perfectly good, fresh leek on the kitchen table just for ha-has? The images in home magazines are always photo-ready – and a far cry from how we actually live. Clean porn, indeed. I contend that home magazines challenge our self-worth and happiness the same way that fashion mags (with stick-thin models) do. Save yourself the $4 and look inward instead. Ahhh.

    Nancy – Thanks!

    Lynn – You crack me up! πŸ™‚ It really *is* like rehab. Or recovery. Or therapy of some kind – the splitting apart perceived problems and the inevitable purchase of “solutions”. What a difference it makes in life when these two are separated.

    Buying isn’t a bad thing, mind you. But it’s not usually the best place to start. When a purchase is mindfully chosen, we really do appreciate that one thing more than a dozen things purchased on automatic-pilot.

    Thanks for the comments!

  6. Yeah, but! I think maybe *more than one brain* is sometimes a nice bonus. Because one brain might be fogged up with Feelings About The Stuff. Just sayin’. And oh, hey, awesome: Jen = brain for hire. You know, as available and everything πŸ™‚

    And of course, yes, the one brain can go it alone but it’s just slower and frustrating that way sometimes (and my brain protests!). I guess if you also count time in the form of patience then the equation you put forth needs nothing else whatsoever. So I’ll just zip it now.

    And the leek comment. Ha!
    .-= Darcy´s last blog ..Day 74: I ain’t got it =-.

  7. 2323 days ago,
    jennifer said:

    Darcy – Right on. I’m a big fan of the second brain equation. πŸ™‚ I get gummed up in my own brain all the time (which is my excuse for being on Twitter – trying to connect with other brains).

    No need to zip – nice to see you here! πŸ™‚

  8. Great tips! It was so easy to read too – very organized πŸ˜‰

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