Have you ever noticed that having too much of everything is like having nothing? I just learned that lesson again in the Moving Forward company van.
We use the van to carry moving boxes to client’s home to pack their belongings. It also carries a ready supply of tape, markers, gloves, Ziplock bags, colored stickers, small tools, picture hanging hardware, several varieties of plastic trash bags, first aid supplies, box cutters and replacement blades. In other words, it carries a wide variety of items. Of course, there is a designated place for everything. But at the end of a long day it is tempting not to put everything away just so, when you know that you are going to need to use the same things again tomorrow.
That’s How It Starts
That’s how it starts. Few people start out to make a big mess. It’s just a little step, followed by another little step.
After the first day I know that I’ve used a lot of tissue and paper, so I toss in some more. After the second day, an employee wonders if we have enough spare Ziplocks, so she throws in another box, just in case.
The day after that someone else adds some extra rolls of contractor bags that we know we’ll need to use that day. My marker is running low, so I add a handful of those just in case someone else is running low too. And you never, ever want to run out of tape, so someone throws in a new sleeve of tape rolls.
Two weeks later the warehouse is out of markers and tape, and the Ziplock bags are running low. But didn’t we just buy six boxes of those? What the heck is going on?!!
Ah-HaH! There They Are
Before I ordered any more supplies, I cleaned out the van. Ah-HAH! We are not out of anything. Mixed into the box that is supposed to hold tools and large trash bags were all kinds of extra this and that – all ready to grab at a moment’s notice. All ready to grab, that is, if we knew they were there.
How many times have I helped someone organize a kitchen only to find a dozen rubber spatulas, six means of making coffee, a half dozen rolls of tin foil and 4 sets of glass measuring cups. The problem wasn’t that she didn’t have what she needed, it was that she couldn’t find what she needed… so she went and bought a new one.
Too much of everything leads to not being able to find anything.
So the solution to this is to have a place for everything and to put each item back in its place every time you use it. Right?
WRONG: For Heaven’s Sakes!
Last week when I realized that the pouring rain was flooding the crawlspace of my house because the drain system overflowed, should I have stopped to rewind the garden hose that I displaced while digging a drainage trench from the corner of my house? Should I have carefully positioned the towel back in its spot before I got out the shovel and the pick axe?
Of course not. My house was flooding. Who cares if the tool shed looks messy? If it floods, it’s going to look a whole lot worse!
Honestly, it is unreasonable to expect yourself to put everything away every time. Even when it’s not an emergency, if you are going to pick up the same task at the same point the next day, it might make sense to leave things the way they are. (Yes, I have given you permission to not always put things away every time.) The trick is to put things away when the project is done or after the emergency is over.
So that night when the water was finally draining, did I tidy up the garden shed? Nope. Not then either. I was dripping with mud: my coat, my jeans, my hair, my face, even my glasses. But not my shoes. My shoes weren’t dripping, they were simply embedded in deep blobs of dirt. And I was cold. It was 40 degrees and dropping.
With silent apologies to my neighbors (at least it was dark) I stripped at the back door and headed directly to the luxury of hot water in the bathtub. An hour later, I loaded my clothes into the washing machine.
Catch a Breather, Tidy Up
Two days later, during a lull in client jobs and household emergencies, I straightened up the van.
Having a place for everything and putting everything in its place is great, but be reasonable with yourself. Even this professional’s house doesn’t look perfect at every moment. And yours doesn’t have to either.
No, you don’t have to keep everything perfectly put away at every moment (or at least I don’t require that of myself), so I certainly can’t judge you or anyone else. What is important is to straighten up and put things away before you assume that you need to buy anything.
As much as advertisers would like you to think that you “can never have too much product X on hand,” It’s a lot easier to keep a smaller quantity of things in order than to manage too much.