Even though I’ve talked about simplifying first, then sorting, they do not have to be done in that order. You can do either first, or together. I would estimate about 50% of the time it works better to simplify first, 50% it works better to sort first and 50% of the time it works better to do them both together. Go figure!
If simplifying is easy for you, I recommend simplifying first, because then you don’t have to spend time sorting items you’re just gonna get rid of anyway.
However, if you find that simplifying is difficult or time consuming for you, or if you’re getting dragged down into it, it maybe easier to sort first.
After sorting, it’s easier to comprehend what you have and it’s easier to take stock of your possessions and see what’s unnecessary. it will them be easier to simplify, if you view a possession in isolation it maybe hard to really know if you need it or not, but when you view it in the context of all the other stuff that’s similar to it, it’s easier to see redundancies and to see when the quantity of possessions is out of proportion with the value in your life.
In general if it’s easy to let something go, let it go immediately, otherwise sort it.
Sort means, very simply to create categories of similar items, it means to put like things together. You can even think of the word Sort as an acronym for:
There are a number of different reasons to sort your stuff, I’d like to point out 3 of them.
- First, when you sort your stuff, it becomes more comprehensible.
Imagine a room with 4,087 unsorted objects. It’s nearly impossible for your mind to be able to comprehend what objects are in that room.
On the other hand, if all those objects had been sorted into categories, it’s much easier to get a sense of what’s there. Your mind can comprehend 24 categories much easier than it can comprehend 4,587 individual objects.
- Second, when you sort your stuff, it becomes easier to find and access. Suppose you want to find something in the aforementioned room, like a stapler for instance. You know it’s there somewhere but you can’t remember specifically where its located. If the room is unsorted, you’ll have to look through 4,587 individual objects to try to find it. But if the contents of the room have been sorted you merely have to look through which category corresponds to the staple, which maybe office supplies for example. This will undoubtedly be much easier, because the category contains a much smaller amount of stuff than the entire room.
- So these 2 benefits come from having your stuff sorted, even if your stuff was sorted by somebody else. But beyond that, you get a third benefit from actually going through the process of sorting. This is because memory is associative, your mind keeps track of information through its associations and relationships to other information.
When you sort, you are building associations and recognising connections and relationships between objects, you can’t help it, it’s an inherent part of the process. Regardless of what categories you create and how you place different objects into those categories, just the process of sorting itself will help you keep track of what you have.
The actual process of sorting is quite simple:
- Go through the belongings to be sorted.
- For each item decide which category you would like it to belong to.
- Physically place the item in that category. if the category does not exist, create it. Use temporary sorting containers if necessary.
When you sort, categorise based on how you think about the objects. There can be a large about of creativity and flexibility in how you sort. One person might put blank CDs with music, another might put them with computer supplies, while someone else might categorise as office supplies.
You might sort shirts by dress or casual, by short sleeved vs long sleeved, by type of collar, by colour, or a combination of these.
One client, stored clothes pegs with washing, and another in the kitchen because she mostly used them for freezer bags. You sort based on how you use the item and consequently how you think about it.
Sorting is a skill
That like any other skill, it gets easier with practise, and there’s no wrong answer, there is no standard sorting system and I wouldn’t recommend it if there were. There’s no perfect or best solution, there’s only the way you use an object and how you think about it.
Furthermore, there’s no wrong answer because just looking at an object and consciously evaluating it, is gonna help you remember how it is categorised. That ultimately is the goal.
As you’re sorting there’s one thing to watch out for; make sure you don’t pick something up, look at it and then put it down again. If you do this you’ve invested time and energy but haven’t made any progress. Make sure you put the item with its category. If no category exists create one.
When you first start to sort, you may need to be a category making machine for a while, but after you create an infrastructure of categories, the process will go more quickly.
I offer you the following 4 recommendations to help your sorting flow more smoothly.
Start with categories you already have
It’s likely you have some already and it’s better to use them then to start from scratch.
Keep it simple.
The simpler your categorisation is, the easier it will be to create, use and maintain. Especially, make sure you don’t spend more time categorising items than you will save when you access them.
Let me give you an example to illustrate this, I used to have 1 folder for my credit card statements, even though I had them from several companies, this was before I went paperless. I could have sorted the statements by bank, then date, but I didn’t, i just threw them all in 1 folder. This worked really well because I never accessed the statements, I just shredded them at the end of the year.
So it wouldn’t have been a good use of my time, to spend even an hour, sorting and categorising these statements since I wasn’t going to save any time by accessing them.
If on the other hand I had used these statements more regularly, it might have been worthwhile to create more refined categories, to allow me to access the statements without having to look through so many others.
Start with broad, general categories.
Then, if and when it becomes necessary further refine those categories into more specific sub-categories. In other words, do macro sorting before micro sorting. This will keep you from getting too wrapped in details at the start of the process.
Separate between sorting and processing.
Sorting is categorising only. Processing is taking some action on the stuff you’re sorting. Like reading, making a phone call, sending email, or fixing something that is broken.
For example, if you’re sorting articles, it’s important to not read all of the articles you are sorting. If you do, the process of sorting comes to a grinding halt. If you’re sorting articles you want to only read enough to determine how to categorise the article, ideally that would just be the title.
Similarly, if you are organising the papers on your desk and you end up spending a lot of time making phone calls, you’re not likely to get your desk organised. It’s more efficient to focus first on just sorting. If you mix sorting and processing, you end up not doing either of them very well.
When you do encounter things you need to do, and you know you will, I suggest you add them to a list as you are more organised, you will be able to do 2 things you would have not been able to do earlier.
First, look over the list and see which responsibilities are most important and start with them first. If you take care of tasks as you encounter them, there’s a risk you maybe spending time on tasks that are important, while failing to complete those that are more important.
Second, after you are more organised you will be able to take care of those tasks more quickly and efficiently because you will be able to find everything necessary to complete those tasks.
The most common question clients have asked me about sorting are, “what do I do if, I encounter an object that could belong to 2 or more different categories?”. The short answer, put it in whichever category matches the item most closely. Consider how it fits in the first category, then consider how its fits in the second category, then decide which is a closer fit.
Regardless of which category you choose, the process of considering and deciding, will help you in the future where the item is. In this case the mental process you go through to choose a category, is more important than trying to find the correct category.
There is no correct category, there is just how you think about the object. If you have considered the alternatives and feel like the item applies to both categories, then pick one! The act of consciously evaluating the different alternatives and choosing one, will help you remember how you categorised it.
If you are still not sure if you will remember, for some additional reassurance, you can create something called a cross reference. A cross reference is a note, picture, or some other pointer to the object in its location. For example, if you’re not sure whether to place blank CDs with music supplies or computer supplies, you might put them with music supplies then place a note in computer supplies, that says, blank CDs are with music.
Now once you make this decision, and then create the note and place that cross reference in the other category, you will almost certainly remember where the object is, without needing the cross reference. But it’s still there just incase. If you happen to look for it in the other location, you will see the reminder of where it is.
I’ve seen examples where, instead of creating a cross reference someone once said, duplicate or a category. I Strongly recommend against this, and I’ll give you 2 examples to illustrate why. First, I’ll continue with the earlier example of the blank CDs that could be categorised with music or computer supplies. If you were to put half of the blank CDs with music, and the other half in computer, its likely over time you will use one set of these and forget about the other. Eventually you may end up buying new CDs because you mistakenly thought you had run out. When in reality, you had a whole bunch more in another location.
Now imagine for the second example, you have a 10 page document, that could belong in either of 2 different file folders. If you copy that document and place one copy in each folder, then this duplication causes the document to take twice as much space, as otherwise would.
Furthermore, suppose you want to modify this document? You’ll take the document out, write some notes on it, and then re-file it. At this point, you either need to remember about the other copy and update it in the same way, which is more work to maintain, or else one copy will be out of date and possibly have misleading or inaccurate information. This defeats the purpose of having multiple copies.
So to avoid the pitfalls of duplicating items or categories, use a cross reference instead.
I’d like to wrap this article with the second S by giving a quick review. Sorting is creating categories. Put similar items together based on how you use them. If a possession could fit in multiple categories, pick 1 to be the home for that item and create cross references if necessary.
In the next article I will move onto the third “S” which is Store.