Forget about “flow planning” and “frequency of use” - Storing your things to make your life shine

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing - Marie Kondo 2014

Forget about “flow planning” and “frequency of use”
Storing your things to make your life shine

Serious books on tidying commonly advise their readers to consider the flow plan when designing storage. I am not saying this advice is erroneous. There are many people who advocate practical storage methods based on careful consideration of the line of traffic in the house, so what I am saying here is intended to apply only to my own storage method. And I say, forget about flow planning.

When one of my clients, a woman in her fifties, had finished sorting and storing her own things, we tackled her husband’s belongings. She told me that her husband had to have everything right at hand, whether it was the remote control or a book. When I examined their living space, I found that, indeed, her husband’s things were stored all over the house. There was a small bookshelf for his books beside the toilet, a place for his bags in the entrance hall, and drawers for his socks and underwear near the bath. But that did not affect my policy. I always insist that storage be focused in a single place and therefore I told my client to move her husband’s underwear, socks, and bags into the closet where his suits were hanging. She looked a bit anxious. “But he likes to keep things where he uses them,” she said. “What if he’s upset.…”

A common mistake many people make is to decide where to store things on the basis of where it’s easiest to take them out. This approach is a fatal trap. Clutter is caused by a failure to return things to where they belong. Therefore, storage should reduce the effort needed to put things away, not the effort needed to get them out. When we use something, we have a clear purpose for getting it out. Unless for some reason it is incredibly hard work, we usually don’t mind the effort involved. Clutter has only two possible causes: too much effort is required to put things away or it is unclear where things belong. If we overlook this vital point, we are likely to create a system that results in clutter. For people like me who are naturally lazy, I strongly recommend focusing storage in one spot. More often than not, the notion that it’s more convenient to keep everything within arm’s reach is a biased assumption.

Many people design their storage layout to match the flow plan within their house, but how do you think that flow plan developed in the first place? In almost every case, flow plan is determined not by what a person does during the day but by where he or she stores things. We may think that we have stored things to suit our behavior, but usually we have unconsciously adjusted our actions to match where things are stored. Laying out storage space to follow the current flow plan will only disperse storage throughout the house. That, in turn, will increase the chances that we will accumulate more possessions and forget what we already have, making life more difficult.

Considering the average size of a Japanese dwelling, a storage layout that follows the flow plan is not going to make that much difference. If it only takes ten to twenty seconds to walk from one end of your home to the other, do you really need to worry about flow plan? If you are aiming for an uncluttered room, it is much more important to arrange your storage so that you can tell at a glance where everything is than to worry about the details of who does what, where, and when.

There is no need to get complicated. Just designate where to keep your things in accordance with the design of your home and your storage problems will be solved. Your house already knows where things belong. This is why the storage method I use is so amazingly simple. To be frank, I can remember where everything is kept in almost all my clients’ homes. That’s how simple my method is. I have never considered the flow plan when helping clients organize, yet none of them has had any problems. On the contrary, once they’ve created a simple storage plan, they never have to ponder where something belongs; it becomes natural to put things away, and consequently, there is no more clutter in the home.

Store everything similar in the same place or in close proximity. Don’t disperse your storage space. If you follow this advice, you will find that you have created a very natural flow plan. There is also no need whatsoever to consider frequency of use when designing storage space. Some books on tidying offer methods that classify things into six levels according to frequency of use: daily, once every three days, once a week, once a month, once a year, and less than once a year. Am I the only one whose head swims at the very thought of dividing my drawers into six compartments? At the most, I use only two categories for frequency of use: things I use often and things I don’t.

Take the contents of a drawer, for example. You will naturally start keeping the things you use less in the back of the drawer and those you use more in the front. There is no need to decide this when you first lay out your storage space. When you are choosing what to keep, ask your heart; when you are choosing where to store something, ask your house. If you remember to do this, you will instinctively know how to proceed with organizing and storing your things.