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Designated Organizer

Updated: Oct 13, 2023

This week I was volun-told to help Behr organize his clothing.

I did not volunteer. Hubs recently purchased new chests of drawers from IKEA for Behr’s clothes and the current organization system of shoving everything in the drawers and forcing them closed was not working. So, while they installed the cabinets, they teamed up and decided to flatter and cajole me into helping Behr organize his things.

Because you are just so good at it.

They’re not wrong. I am someone who loves to sort, organize, and fold things into tiny little squares. Hubs washes the clothes, so I don’t have to worry about that. But I like to dump my clean clothes on a freshly made bed and fold everything while watching TV. I used to work at the Gap, so I know how to fold shirts and pants like they are showroom ready.

In addition to losing weight, being more mindful, and taking probiotics, New Year’s is when many people decide they are going to be more organized. I can tell because Target replaces its Christmas decor with storage boxes. They have 50% off storage baskets right now!

I love it when things have a home. Unfortunately, I live with other people who are not always so keen on making sure everything has a proper location. Hubs and I have had many discussions about the messiness of his bedside table, months of him saying, “It will be clean by the end of the year!” And he did – on December 31!

The other issue is it’s difficult to have a home for everything when one lives in a small space. For the duration of our marriage, we have only lived in small spaces – one-bedroom apartments, then two-bedroom apartments, and now our condo. Any amount of space is precious. When things got crowded, random items would be stored in strange places. We had an unopened crock pot in the corner of the dining nook, and an old computer console was acting as a side table next to Hubs' recliner. It drove me insane, but we had no other place to store these things.

There are many organizational systems and philosophies that one can subscribe to. And I love to read about all of them. I love looking at celebrity closets and chef’s pantries. I love labeling things and storing boxes inside of boxes. However, as much as I love The Container Store, storage systems are not cheap. Celebrity closets are funded with celebrity money. And for most of my marriage, we haven’t had any. Adults who are going to grad school and raising kids do not have spare cash to invest in plastic boxes for holding pens.

It was Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix that helped me find my style. Her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, was well-read and well-mocked, however, the thing that appealed to me the most was the fact that her method didn’t cost a lot of money. The konmari method is about making the most of a small space, getting rid of what you don’t need, and releasing what is no longer yours to carry.

One of the things that worked best for me was using everyday boxes for storage. For example, I was always digging around my utensil drawer for tiny frosting tips whenever I wanted to decorate cakes or cookies. I took an old tea box, sliced off the flaps and suddenly I had a storage box for small items in my utensil drawer. I use lots of household items or containers others would throw away for storage. I keep pens in a pink Almond Roca can, highlighters in a Cafe du Monde coffee can, and paperclips in an old espresso cup.

I also started implementing a one-in-one-out system. If I bought a new cardigan, I had to send an old one to Goodwill. A new quilt comes in, an old quilt goes right back out. Where I am weakest in this area is coffee mugs. We drink many warm beverages, and my kids love to purchase them for me as gifts, so my mug cabinet is always overflowing.

“Sparks joy” was something I said often, and still do. I think it’s important to be able to get rid of things that don’t work for you anymore. I am not sentimental, so other than my wedding dresses, my clothes come and go. I’m not even precious about my books. I often downsize my bookshelves and sell what I can to Half-Price books. The problem is when you are holding on to something for someone else out of obligation. When it comes to families, there is so much stuff that people just don’t want to get rid of because of guilt. I have siblings, so at least the heirlooms can be passed around. My gurl, Slone, is an only child, so we joke about how her mother has designated that she be the curator of dead relatives' relics. What does someone do with these things? I wish I had a better solution.

Also, I had to insist – and restrain myself – to not organize everyone else’s things as well. I cannot decide what does or does not “spark joy” in others. Behr is a bit of a packrat. He not only wants the toy, but the plastic and cardboard container it came in. When W. and Behr shared a room, sometimes W. would try to throw out Behr’s packages or containers. One time, Behr is having a complete come apart because W. threw out a cardboard image of a rubber duck from a Bath and Body Works advertisement. W.’s like, “It’s garbage.” and Behr’s like, “It’s mine!” And because anyone who has watched Hoarders knows that watching someone throw out something that belongs to you has serious psychological ramifications. We had to make the rule … only Kondo your own Kondo. Behr got to keep all the things that sparked joy for him, but he was not allowed to rescue anything from the Goodwill pile that belonged to someone else originally.

W. has grown into an organized teen. The only messy space in his room is his desk. Behr is messy, but he’s trying. The new cabinets were designed to be the first step. Hubs set them up inside Behr’s closet, and they started transferring clothes. I’m in the kitchen cooking and Behr appears at my side, “Dad needs a Sharpie.” I showed him where I keep them in the kitchen and send him on his way. When he invites me in to show him how to fold his clothes, I see that the reason they wanted the Sharpie was that Hubs instructed Behr to write on the drawers what items would go where. A ten-year-old’s handwriting on unfinished wooden cabinets in permanent marker. I almost lost my damn mind. I had labels! I had other markers! I have excellent penmanship! “Did your dad suggest you do this?”

“Yeah! He told me to do that!”

A chest of pine drawers where someone has labelled each drawer with a sharpie marker

I had to let it go and proceed with the lesson. I showed him how to fold shirts and pants. We balled socks. We matched pajamas. We hung up church clothes. I was waiting for him to give up and start playing on his tablet like he did when he and Hubs assembled the cabinets. He was surprisingly enthusiastic about the process.

Toward the end, Hubs appears at the door.

I pointed at the cabinets, where Behr’s black marker marks shone like a neon sign. “This was your idea.”

“Yeah!” So proud.

“Moving forward, if you could give me a heads up before allowing our 10-year-old to write on the furniture in permanent marker, that would be great.”

Will these nicely-folded clothing stay that way? Have I changed this child’s life? No. I asked him if keeping his clothing organized was going to be his New Year’s resolution, and he said “No”. The first load of clean laundry that he’s asked to fold and put away will stay crumpled in the basket until time for them to be worn. I’m sure he’ll still walk downstairs in his robe and announce he’s out of pants or underwear when we just sent clothes up the day before. But at least I can say he tried.


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