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Staying Organized: the Flow Principles

Part 1 SPACE

The place you are organizing (your home; your office) is your space. The things you are organizing is matter (or stuff) within your space. Compare your space to a body. What comes in must eventually become part of it or come out. Like food to your body, matter to our space gives it life and makes it what it is. This consciousness is the root of learning to stay organized.

Staying organized is a process because space is never stagnant. We continually eat and drink to keep our bodies alive. (Think of the never-ending stream of mail arriving in your mailbox, or groceries you bring in after each trip to the store). Remember - what eventually happens to this nourishment in your body? It benefits from all it can, but then releases the rest in the form of waste matter. Thus, staying organized is simply a flow-in, flow-out cycle.

Learning about this process, or flow, and adopting its principles will not only affect physical changes in your space, but will also affect emotional changes in you. You will learn for yourself that it may be emotionally harder than you think to utilize these principles. It may take some time to claim your routine for staying organized. The idea is to recognize that staying organized is a process and that the consistent thing you can do is get going and stay going in the right direction.

Part 2 FLOW

Where there is a flow-in (and there always is) there must be a flow-out. Whatever matter you bring into your space will either stay in that space or pass through it and leave it. (Like food to our bodies) There are no other choices. From furniture to gifts to documents to plastic wrap on your groceries, there is constantly matter being brought into your space. This is analogous to the continual flow of water in differing circumstances. Everything that enters your space is flow-in matter. The only way to stay organized is to make sure there is also a flow-out. This cannot be overstated. There must be a flow-out. Different types of matter create different flows.


Begin by thinking of your space as a watermill and the matter, again, as the flow of water, in this case in the form of a river. As a river runs constantly, so does matter “run” constantly into your space. This is the matter that may become disorganized. To organize it, you essentially want to utilize it as the watermill does the river flow: to create energy.

While YOU might possibly be able to control every piece of matter that enters your personal space, usually you do not live alone. Inherent with others occupying the same space with you is that there are others who can bring with them each time they enter, more matter. Therefore, learn to be observant of what matter enters your space. Learn to be conscious of the matter flowing in.

Like a river, this flow-in matter certainly can feel just as deep and fast. A very common and a great example for this type of flow is mail. Bills or junk mail, letters or statements: WHAT is not as important as what you DO with it. Leaving the mail in the mailbox is not an option, unfortunately (although I admit I have tried this!). Mail will keep flowing in. I repeat: the only way to stay organized (turn the watermill thus creating energy) is to make sure there is also a flow-out. There must be a flow-out.

For junk mail, the best flow-out is the garbage can or recycle bin. It can’t be put any more simply. And this is where your emotions come in, you must learn to flow-out the matter that you simply don’t have room - or time- for.

Try to recognize every piece of matter inside your space as flow-in matter. If it came in, then it has begun the flow process. Which things are creating life energy? Which things aren't and need to move out?


Reservoirs are another type of flow, a resting place for water that flows in and EVENTUALLY flows out. Sometimes with flow-in matter, there needs to be a reservoir before the flow-out. In this case your "stuff" is more like a reservoir rather than a watermill. Make no mistake: whatever matter you do not flow-out immediately (watermill) must be kept in a reservoir. If the gates never open, can a reservoir flood? Flooding equals disorganization. Reservoirs are designed very carefully. They are made to a specific size and form. Once again and most importantly, there is always a purpose for them: energy. Reservoirs with no purpose are otherwise known in the organizing world as clutter.

When it comes to organizing, reservoirs are not always necessary and can be abused. Each reservoir you create must in turn create for you positive energy, because it is taking the place of the more-efficient watermill. Continuing with the mail example: if bills arrive at different intervals throughout the month but you only pay them at the end of the month, a reservoir is needed to keep these bills together in a specific place until the time you pay them, at which time they will flow out.

This reservoir serves a purpose. Just as a reservoir of water is stored in one place and builds up to hold a specific amount of water for the purpose of creating energy, so will every reservoir you create do the same and in turn create positive energy in your life. As in the example, once paid, your reservoir of bills creates energy: a moving force in your life to keep your utilities on and your home in your name. It was worth it.

Are you a coupon-clipper? Or how about just saving the coupon packet that comes in the mail so you can someday go through it? The emotion involved: you want to be frugal. Bless you. Here is a reservoir. Is it being used or abused? A coupon mailer flows in from the mailbox. Best-case scenario: coupons are mulled over, some clipped and kept. Is there a specific place for these coupons? Is there a flow-out? Does this reservoir create energy for your life? Was it worth it? If you have created this reservoir and it is un-needed (should be a watermill), these questions may make you feel emotional. It is not wasteful to give the time it takes to go through coupons and clip them (energy) and then create the reservoir by storing them IF you end up using them as intended (flow-out) and save enough money doing so to make it worth it.

I used to spend time clipping coupons, but my personal experience was that the only flow-out was eventually throwing away expired coupons. This job took even more time and was an abused reservoir in my case because I wasted energy and time clipping & saving, and received no positive energy (benefit) from it at flow-out. Now, I have effectively changed my unneeded reservoir into a simple watermill. In my case, the coupon mailer flows-in from the mailbox and I flow it out into the garbage can. No paper clutter and no time wasted equals positive energy in my life.

Take this quiz to define your matter: 1) Flow-in (all matter in your space passes this one) 2) Reservoir rather than watermill? Yes if it will create energy, no if it will serve no purpose. This tough question only you can honestly answer. 3) Flow-out. 4) Or recycle?


In the last case, your "stuff" is rather like the flow of a fountain. Instead of a fast-flowing river (watermill), or water in a holding pattern (reservoir), the matter is more a controlled flow of recycled water. Here, the purpose of the flow is to please the senses: to beautify and enrich your space. Examples of matter with this type of flow are furniture, silverware, dish sets, appliances, clothing and home décor.

Consider that getting a new couch (recycling use) doesn’t happen as often (not as fast-flowing) as mail delivery (river with watermill or reservoir). What are the reasons you are purchasing the new couch? If it is to replace the old one then do you throw out the old one? You may or may not throw it out but you certainly will flow it out. Old furniture can be donated to second-hand stores or given to friends or family members. But if the old couch is to be replaced, it will leave your space (flow-out). In this example we have used recyclable matter (furniture). Think of the fountain again. The water creates a fountain and recycles back through the fountain, but every so often the water still needs to be replaced by fresh new water. Recyclable matter is used, and used again (furniture, dishes, appliances) until it gets too old or breaks down. Then there is eventually a flow-out and the matter is replaced.

Disorganization doesn’t as often stem from matter that is recyclable. However, worth discussing further in this part is the subject of clothing. Of all the recyclables, clothing will cause more disorganization than others. Why? Because of the emotional reasons we never flow-out our old clothing. Imagine if our fountain needed new water so we tried to put more water in it over and over again without taking the old water out. Several things would result: the fountain would overflow; the water would still be dirty, etc. We not only keep the old problems but also create new ones.

For clothing or any other recyclable matter with which you are having organizational (flow) struggles, you need only create a flow-out. The reasons for not having one already in place are usually purely emotional. You might lose the weight and fit into them again. It was a present from your aunt who passed away. The principle here is still recycle, but we learn to extend the circle to reach others. The water once used in the fountain must be completely discarded to make room for the new, clean water. If not, we have already discussed the negative consequences (disorganization). But the old water is not necessarily useless. The grass and trees need that water now.

With the recycle principle, there is still and always has been flow. You will learn only when you try it that when you clear your space even if you feel empty for a time, the way will be open for you to receive the new matter that you want or need, and the old matter you flowed-out may even bless someone else.

Likewise, when you don’t have room in your space for the new, the new will not come as easily. It can also be like a clog in your fountain. Things won’t look as beautiful and be as pleasing to the senses as they might otherwise. Frankly, if the jeans are truly too small, someone else truly needs them. Let them go. Second-hand stores or thinner neighbors are great flow-outs for jeans that are, in essence, either clogging the flow or taking up otherwise-needed room in your fountain.

Quiz yourself to recognize your matter as: 1) Flow-in (all matter in your space passes this one by default) 2) Reservoir? Yes if it will create energy, watermill instead if it will serve no purpose. You will get better at seeing this clearly over time. 3) Fountain? 4) Flow-out (an eventual must with ALL matter).


If you have a specific room or area of your space that is driving you crazy and you want it organized, you may want to start there. However, it is safer and sometimes more helpful to start with a junk room, shed or basement where often homeless matter gets stashed. If your first thought is “but no one ever sees this space, including myself, and I don’t care if it is a mess,” then you are normal. This space is a trap for false reservoir matter, however, that is overflowed. Likewise, this same space, if emptied, would allow you to utilize that space for true reservoir matter and help you get a handle on your system of organizing.

The only rule that applies to staying organized is “one step at a time.” After you understand the flow principles, you may begin to apply them. But take on one space at a time. The simplest way to explain HOW to do this organizing is that you need to pretend you are moving out of this space. Have a lot of boxes or storage bins/totes ready and start packing. As you go, recognize the matter for what it is; watermill turned false reservoir, true reservoir, or fountain? Remember the principle about energy and purpose. Remember the principle of outflow. And with these new principles, “pack” or organize matter into totes and boxes, and then move back in, putting each in their proper place, accordingly.

This is where your emotions may come into play as you have inner battles about whether to keep or toss things. It may be easier to toss or “outflow” some things if you know they will go to a second-hand store and others may use them who actually do need them.

Utilize this “moving out” principle for any space, large or small. Once you have packed or piled and organized everything, “move back in.” Place things where they are most needed. Keep things in boxes or totes that you don’t need to get to as often. As you move in to this space again, organize it so it will be intuitive to keep it organized. You can do this according to size, color, uses, or paralleling techniques. The secret is that you only have to initially organize a space once. After that, you just keep it organized by applying the principles of flow-in and flow-out. By recognizing potential reservoirs, and with relatively little effort, you never have to let it become disorganized again.


Size: One example of this type of organizing is a silverware drawer. Big forks in one slot, small forks in another. The same applies to large or small spoons, etc. One might organize other dishes the same way. Small cups stack next to large cups. Maybe the small ones nest inside the large ones. Small plates stack while large plates stack by their side.

Color: An example of organizing by color is a clothes closet. All the red shirts here, then the greens, then the black ones. Dark to light, etc… However, you may be more comfortable applying the “uses” technique to a clothes closet:

Uses: Continuing with the clothes closet, winter clothes in one area, summer in another. Dressy clothes in another section and active-wear yet in another. Also, a refrigerator is a great example for organizing by uses. The pickle relish can go in the back or at the bottom, whereas the milk better be on top and up front. The things you use most need to be most accessible. Be careful of leftovers (potential reservoirs if not used correctly). They should be top and front as well but often get scooted more and more toward the back, forgotten, and then a furry surprise awaits you when upon the next decade you clean the fridge. The outcome will be better to keep it organized by rotating and organizing it in such a way that it stays that way.

Paralleling: This type of organizing might occur at a computer desk used by the whole family. Notebooks are arranged in order of people from oldest to youngest, paralleling each family member. Toothbrushes also could be in parallel order. This would include alphabetical order or any other order that parallels another organization.

Use the technique that best fits your needs, style and situation. Many of the above examples could use a mixture of these techniques. For example, a linen closet might use size and use. Large bath towels then large beach towels then small bath ones.

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