I Stink At Sorting: An Organizing Lament
Posted Under Room Organization

If organizing is one of those God-given talents that wasn’t given to you, maybe you’ll admit, “I stink at sorting.”


I suspect I was one of those kids who just loved sorting. I remember getting packs of pencils with my name engraved on them and lining them up in a progression of color. One of my absolute favorite things as a kid was a brand new box of 64 crayons (wasn’t that everyone’s favorite?) and I never really had a drawer of mismatched socks. Sorry. Basically, anything lined up has the potential to make me happy.


But here’s the thing. Many of my clients will admit, almost before I cross over the threshold of their front door, that they stink at sorting. Sorting is pretty much essential to good organizing, ergo, they decide they are a lost cause at organizing before they even start. Let’s address some of those sordid sorting issues together.

There is no one right way to sort. If I throw a handful of random objects on the table, one person may sort by color, one person may sort by shape, and still another person may sort by use or function.

There may be a particularly good way to organize for a particular task, but there may not be. If, for example, you are in charge of an operating room, you want to know how to arrange the instruments for surgery. But if you are in charge of making dinner, it may not make a huge difference if the salt and pepper sit together or apart on the counter.

Paper items may have to be sorted in a couple of dimensions at the same time. For instance, some items have a deadline (time) while some items are reference and just need to be sorted with other similar items for storage (space), and still other items are really memorabilia, so they might need to be sorted by past event.

There is no such thing as the Organizing Police. True, there is the IRS, but even they won’t tell you what to keep and how to sort it. IRS documents (yes, I’ve read them), just recommend that you keep related documents for recommended periods, depending on your tax situation.


How can you get better at sorting?

Relax. Remember, the Organizing Police will not be checking on your sock drawer, your pantry, or your files. (See above).

Do more. It turns out that we get better at mental tasks, like sorting, with practice. The more you do it, the better you will become. Start with ten or fifteen minute increments, and praise yourself for getting through a small block of time.

Stay focused. It’s easier to stay focused for seven to fifteen minutes at a time, rather than feeling defeated by a huge pile to be sorted. Set a timer, and promise to stay focused for just a few minutes at a time. You’ll be surprised how much you can accomplish going all-out for just a few minutes at a time.

Use your head. We are all wired differently. That’s why no two filing systems look the same. Use headings for categories that make sense to you, even if they don’t make sense for anyone else. In three difference offices, the same type of file might be called: Follow-up, People I Gotta Call, or Things that Keep me Out of Jail.


What sorting trick do you like to use?


Get Organized wishes to thank Darla DeMorrow for contributing this post. Darla DeMorrow is an award winning Certified Professional Organizer®, Color With No Regrets consultant, decorator, author, speaker, and owner of HeartWork Organizing. She helps her clients to reclaim control and add beauty in their lives, their homes, and their workplaces. Request your free 31 Simple Tips for Organizing Space, Time and Paper & Information at www.HeartWorkOrg.com. Her book for new moms, ”The Pregnant Entrepreneur”, is available in hardcopy and e-book.


Photo credit: HeartWork Organizing


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