The Perfect System

Heather asked, "Can you discuss organization of pantries? We keep ours kind of organized, but I wonder if there are some secrets I don’t know of which would provide the perfect system for us."

I hate to break it to you and Heather, there is no perfect system. Everyone’s lifestyle is different. People have different needs and different wants. Our families are different sizes. People have different personalities.

People search for the perfect time management system or an organization system for their closet or the perfect declutter system.

The reason no one has found the perfect system is that it doesn’t exist. And I hate that some of you may feel like you have failed if a certain system didn’t work for you.


If what you are doing works, keep doing it.

If things don’t work, tweak your current system so it fits your personality and lifestyle better.  Simpler systems usually work better than overcomplicated systems that take tons of time.

One of my clients wanted to keep her action files in a nearby file drawer. Papers never ended up in the file drawer. Instead papers piled up on her desk because she liked to see them. I suggested she use a desktop file box that she already had, for her action files and keep it on her desk. She thought she should keep them in her file drawer because that was her perception of where papers had to go. But, it went totally against her visual personality.

To create good systems that work for you:

  1. Know your habits. Work with how you already do things. If you throw your keys on the table, put a dish on the table to hold your keys. If you take off your shoes by the door, have a shoe shelf there. If you check email and do little things before starting work, maybe you are the type of person that needs to ease into their work. Put a time limit on that easing time and see how that works for you.
  2. Use checklists. If you do something over and over, make a checklist so you don’t have to re-decide what to do next each time. I have checklists for my routines, sending my newsletter, submitting articles, etc.
  3. Know your personality. If you need to see things in your view, you need a different system than someone who feels calmer when things are all put away. If you are spontaneous, you need to plan with more flexibility than someone who likes routine.
  4. Do you prefer paper or technology? This will help you decide whether to have a budget book or Quicken. Whether you use a PDA or paper planner.
  5. See what already works for you. What makes your menu planning system work? Or maybe your books are all organized. Look in your life to see what is working the best and create new systems based on what is already working. And think of your current systems and routines to see what doesn’t work. Maybe you only need to change one small part.
  6. Before implementing a new system see if it matches your habits, personality and what you want. It’s rare for something to work right out of the box or the article.
  7. You will use systems more if you find them attractive and easy to use. If you have a file drawer that sticks every time you open it or is a drab grey you will be less likely to use it than a nice wooden file cabinet with smooth opening. I love decorating current notebooks or clip boards. My whiteboard has ribbons and fun magnets.

As for the pantry, it’s one of the easiest places to organize. Like goes with like: fruit cans with fruit cans, cereal with cereal, pasta with other staples. Keep things that aren’t food out of the pantry if you don’t have room to get to the food easily. That is usually the biggest problem in a pantry.  The second biggest problem is having more food than you need in your pantry. Keep only what you have room for.  And keep a pantry checklist on a pantry door so you know what you need to buy. In the pantry along with most areas, utilize the space you have without overfilling.

Photo credit: Crystal