CSO Book Club: Organizing from the Inside Out

CSO Book Club: Julie Morgenstern’s Organizing from the Inside Out

For CSO Book Club this month I finally got around to reading Julie Morgenstern’s Organizing from the Inside Out. I had this book in my library long before I began my own professional organizing businesss. A New York Times best seller, it is the first book many turn to as an introduction to getting organized. Morgenstern has been an organizing and time-management expert for over twenty-five years, and I was excited to learn from one of the originals.


In Organizing from the Inside Out, Morgenstern outlines clear steps to implementing systems in many areas including home, office, children, and personal organization. Her premise is to organize by activity, what she refers to as organizing like a kindergarten classroom. This strategy of dividing space by function is logical since you would know to go to that location for that specific activity or item you are looking for. If you are a crafter, then all of your craft supplies should be neatly stored in a designated crafting workspace or if you are looking for a stamp, they should be stored where you do all of your correspondence and bill paying.


Organization systems are most effective when they not only are divided by activity, but also when they account for personal habits and patterns. If organization systems are implemented where and how they are most likely to be used, then they are more likely to be sustainable. A simple example is if you always drop your keys when you walk in the front door, it would make sense to install hooks right by the door, or a decorative bowl on a table in the entryway because that is where you naturally go to put them.


Organizing from the Inside Out was originally published in the late nineties, so as is to be expected, some of the information is now obsolete. Beyond just outdated information about storing cassette tapes and fax machines, my greatest critique of this book is the lack of emphasis on the importance of reducing the amount of what we own. Morgenstern often suggests off-site storage units throughout her book which made me cringe. Unless you are in the process of moving or another transitional situation, it is rare that I would ever suggest off-site storage. Most likely if you are not using those items in your home, you don’t need them. At one point, she suggests for the reader to take home files from your office if you don’t have room for them at work to increase your file storage area – NO! If your files are overflowing in your workspace, they simply need to be reduced.


Getting organized is unlikely to be sustainable if it doesn’t start with a good purge. We all live with more than we need, and although Morgenstern does encourage a purge at the beginning of each project, I want to further emphasize how essential this is. Organizing is more than simply containing your items in a tidy way. It is about streamlining and simplifying your life. Morgenstern has since written Shed your Stuff, Change Your Life, so she clearly knows the importance living more minimally. If you check back on the blog, this will be a CSO Book Club choice in coming months.


In order to start the purging process, it can be challenging to deicde what to keep. Morgenstern offers a great framework for evaluating this: “Use the 80-20 rule, which states that we only use about 20 percent of what we own. The other 80 percent is stuff we once used, feel we ‘should’ use, or think we might use ‘someday.’ Pinpoint what the 20 percent is that you use all the time. Imagine that there were a fire in your home or office and you only had thirty minutes to save your most important possessions and papers. Which would they be? Your answers will tell you what really matters most to you,” (44). Once you have this scenario in your mind, the evaluation process will be more clear, and it will be easier to let go of the items that are not as special to you, or that are not in regular use.


After the ridding comes the sorting, then organizing, and finally the maintenance of your newly organized space. It’s important to be realistic throughout this process. Don’t underestimate how much time a project will take, so you don’t feel rushed or leave it incomplete. Instead of thinking about organizing your entire home, tackle one project at a time. Morgenstern reminds us: “The nice thing about closets is that you can do them quickly; the feeling of reward and satisfaction you get from so short an effort can enliven you to tackle other areas of your house,” (172). Working on an area like a closet, a drawer, or any other project that you can complete in one go is a great way to keep the motiviation up to continue organizing. It also allows you to feel good about the work you are doing, and to start to see the benefit of your work along the way.


If you stick with each closet, drawer, system, and room, then eventually your entire space will be organized. Morgenstern suggests that after the organizing is complete, make sure you schedule time for evaluation and maintenance. Try out your new systems and decide if anything needs to be tweaked to be more effective or more in tune with how you are actually using it. As for maintenance, if you schedule in daily, weekly, and monthly time to maintain your spaces, then you won’t have to do the big overhaul nearly as often. Hang up all the clothes in your bedroom at the end of the night, pass on a book when you have finished reading it, put away all of your supplies after working on a project, clean up the kitchen after each meal, and your systems will effectively keep everything in its place.


After this process, whether you are doing an entire house clean sweep, or just cleaning out your bedroom closet at the end of one season, you will feel more aware of and more in control of what you actually own. Organization doesn’t just feel good when you’re doing it, the benefits are lasting. Morgenstern quotes that “Cleaning professionals say that getting rid of excess clutter reduces housework by 40 percent,” (202). Living more simply and with effective systems reduces the stress of clutter and disorganization and actually adds time to your schedule. Beyond just a tidy home, organizing adds value to our lives. So whether it’s Morgenstern’s book or something else that gets you inspired, take the time to organize and create space in your life.