Keep It Simple

During podcast and radio interviews, we’re often asked if there is one piece of organizational advice we could give someone, what would it be. Naturally after a decade plus of organizing clients, I’ve got more than one piece of advice. BUT, to stay within the parameters of this query, I always answer “Our 1-Step Rule”. It’s the secret to successfully organizing anything and it eliminates quite a few organization battles between different personality types. It tacks quite closely to the KISS Principle or “Keep it simple stupid”.

What is the KISS Principle

KISS is a design principle noted by the U.S. Navy in 1960, and attributed to an aircraft engineer named Kelly Johnson. The KISS principle is that systems work best when they’re simple instead of complicated. The story goes that Johnson gave a team of design engineers a bunch of tools and challenged them to design a jet aircraft that an average mechanic in the field could repair under combat conditions using only those bunch of tools.

Now with the actual KISS principle, the “stupid” refers to the relationship between the way things break and the sophistication required to repair them, i.e., it’s not saying someone is stupid. A military jet aircraft that can’t be easily repaired by an average mechanic under combat conditions is pretty much useless. Well, so are organizational systems that are so complex that the average person isn’t going to adhere to them.

Why The 1-Step Rule Works

Our 1-Step Rule is that whenever possible, try to winnow down any organization system you create or use as close to 1-Step as possible. The less steps a system requires, the easier the system is to use and maintain the more likely you’ll stay organized. Simpler systems also increase the likelihood that others will adhere to them.

The reason we say “as close to 1-Step” as possible is that it’s not always possible or wise to winnow something down to 1-Step. For example, cold food storage in a fridge is a 3-Step process. You have to open the fridge, put your item away and then close the fridge door. Obviously, if we eliminated the fridge doors, this would be an easier storage system. But, it would no longer be cold. Therefore, cold food storage therefore remains 3-Steps.

Now, take the ubiquitous laundry storage system: a hamper with a lid. Putting dirty clothes in a hamper is also a 3-Step process. You lift up the lid, put dirty clothes in, and then close the lid. If we eliminate the lid from this laundry storage system, it doesn’t ruin this system like removing fridge doors would. It makes it simpler. Even more importantly, removing the hamper lid also prevents anyone from putting clothes ON TOP of a hamper’s lid rendering the hamper semi-useless.

How to keep it simple stupid

Applying the 1-Step rule is an iterative process. there are two ways to go about it. First, whenever you encounter any organizational system, you can ask yourself whether there is a way to eliminate a step. The answer is often, “Yes” even for systems that you consider functional. The second way to go about it is to think about things that drive you crazy at home. When something is driving you nuts, it’s usually because the system is too complex.

Take a coat closet as an example. One complaint we often hear from clients is “How can I get my [spouse, child, teen] to hang up their coat!?” Putting a coat away in a coat closet is a 6-step — Take off your coat, open the closet door, search for a free hanger, grab hanger, put coat on hanger, hang it up, close the door. There are a few 1-Step solutions here. Buying more hangers or getting rid of unworn coats eliminates the search step. But, you could also buy and mount a few hooks on the back of the door or nearby and make what was a 6-Step process now a 2-4 step process.

The genius behind the 1-Step rule is that implementing it isn’t some monumental task. Often the solutions are as simple as ditching a lid on a hamper per the above example, buying extra hangers for your coat closet or making sure there are hooks nearby to easily drape clothes. Yet, with each small change, your life and organizing it gets easier and easier.

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