Sorting Things Out Five Items at a Time Agent Palmers Guide to Organization

Back in 2018, I decided that I had too much stuff. I’m not a hoarder, but I do tend to hold on to things.

I didn’t go through a complete purge of my life asking if every item in my house brings me happiness because to me, that’s not always the smartest question. (Sorry, Marie Kondo, I won’t be joining your cult.) I’m not looking for a minimalist lifestyle either. I’m just looking for an organized and, if possible, optimized lifestyle.

So I came up with a system of rules based on minimums. My purging system is simply called “Five Items.” My friends and podcast listeners have heard about it for a while, so now I would like to share with you exactly what it is.

First off, this isn’t going to purge your house of things in a day, a weekend, a week, or a month. It’s a long, slow process that may or may not have an end. I don’t know yet because years into the experiment, I’m still going strong. I’ve seen noticeable improvement in my home and my home office along the way.

Here are the rules.

Five Items per Day

Every day, I get rid of or put away a minimum of five items in my house. That’s it.

Think of it like, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Mise en place, as it’s known in the culinary industry, is one of the top rules for an organized, functional kitchen, so why can’t it work for the rest of the house?

Kitchen and Laundry Don’t Count

Maybe the kitchen is a bad example as I don’t count anything to do with the kitchen or laundry. Putting silverware or clothes away would get you to your minimums daily without accomplishing anything meaningful. They’re also net zero categories. You start with all of your clothes put away, then you wear them, clean them, and put them back where they came from. The same goes for dishes. The object here is to slowly make a difference.

Mail Does Count

I do count mail because one of the reasons I started this process is that I had non-bill mail piled up. For things that I do need to keep that come in the mail, well, digital copies take up less space and are much easier to organize.

Photo by Liam Truong on Unsplash

Photo by Liam Truong on Unsplash

A Scanner is your Organizational Friend

That scanner has also helped shrink the amount of paperwork and “archives” in my file cabinets and other areas. It all goes to the cloud or a singular thumb drive, and neither take up as much space as all that paper.

Loose Rules Breed Freedom

I’ll be the first to admit that it is a pretty loose concept. If you cheat, however, you’re only cheating yourself. On occasion, I’ve made it easy on myself by doing five items on Monday and then setting up Tuesday’s five to preempt a busy schedule. Maintaining my expectations and doing just enough each day has worked wonders.

No Mass Purges

In the past, I would take a weekend, tear apart a room, and do a singular purge. The problem with that is that it just sets the “junk counter” back to zero. Because I had just cleaned it, I let it fall back into chaos. By doing a little each day, I’m always on the lookout for what can get put away or removed altogether.

I’m sharing this process with you now after two years because I am finally seeing impactful results. My purges of the past never maintained long-term impacts. In continually working towards minimization and optimization, I’ve kept my clutter down to a minimum and I’m finding that my brain has changed as well.

That is the beauty of the simplicity here. Because it’s incremental it allows you to grow and change, and your thoughtful tossing can adapt accordingly. I’ve found a home for things and decided months later to get rid of it altogether. That’s cool. That counts. Twice, in fact. People and their needs change.

Ferdinand Cheval’s Le Palais idéal (the “Ideal Palace”)

Ferdinand Cheval’s Le Palais idéal (the “Ideal Palace”)

I don’t know when this process will end for me. I suppose when I’m wandering around my house for more than 30 minutes looking for things to put or throw away, it’ll be time to ease up on the throttle and see how it goes? I’m not sure when that could be because I know there are closets and drawers and boxes in the basement awaiting their reformation.

You may not want to be so loose with the process. Perhaps you’d prefer to tackle your place room by room, drawer by drawer, or shelf by shelf. That’s fine. I have done that at times. Just know that the longer you keep it up the further it’ll take you. It’s sort of like Joseph Ferdinand Cheval building the Ideal Palace, but in reverse, because you don’t need those stacks of old magazines.

In my experience, my desk drawers have fluctuated in fullness. It’s low tide now, and I hope it stays that way. My office as a whole is much more organized now than it ever was. I still want to get rid of the file cabinet and put in a bookcase, so there’s work to be done. I know that my basement still has junk in it and that my main closet is on the “to go through” list, but I’ll get there at some point.

The good news for me is that I’m still making progress. I won’t be going so far as to say it’ll be all over when I have no stuff; that’s not realistic. I know that my parents are doing a purge of their own and there are books on their way, so I need to make room for them, and I don’t want them in boxes strewn about the house. I want them on bookcases, where they belong.

It’s a simple method with forgiving rules, but I hope this helps you in some way. Personally, next up is to try and similarly use the system to tackle my digital organization. In a few years, I may be able to tell you how that went.

In the meantime, happy cleaning. You don’t need a new year to start these things, or even a new month or week. Just start! If you keep going, in a few months you’ll be glad you did.