Organizing what you put into storage |

Organizing what you put into storage

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‘Storage’ is a specific concept with an ambiguous definition. Simply, it’s a means to hold something for future use. Without further description, that’s pretty vague — and when I work with my clients around their personal and professional storage systems, it shows. Clarifying what is worth storing and how has an important impact on understanding why we hold onto things in the first place.

People tend to dump and cram ‘items for future use’ anywhere they can — without very much intention. If they can drop it easily or cram it to fit, that’s where it goes. Efficient retrieval of those items becomes about as impractical as maintaining any kind of useful inventory. When things accumulate over time, we tend to pile our stuff out of sight. That gets costly.

According to the Self-Storage Association, the United States storage industry generated more than $24 billion in annual revenues last year alone. Widely regarded as the fastest growing segment of the commercial real estate industry over the last 40 years, Wall Street analysts consider the industry to be ‘recession resistant.’ This begs the question, what’s in all those big metal containers? I bet I could tell you what’s in a lot of them — and it ain’t pretty.

The good news is that systems for storing treasures for ‘future use’ are exactly the same, no matter if we’re talking about love letters, grandpa’s golf clubs, or electronic files on your computer. Whether baseball cards and stamp collections, antique furniture, vintage automobiles, or family heirlooms, how we maintain those items is just as important as why. It starts with getting some clarity on what is important to you.

When people feel guilty about holding on to something they don’t want, use, like or need — that’s usually a pretty good sign something is ready to go. I always suggest upcycling, recycling, thrifting, trading, and consigning items that may still hold value to others. Those are viable alternatives to the dumpster, or worse — paying to store junk indefinitely until we die.

In my practice, I help clients identify storage-worthy items and create systems around two different types of storage: functional and archival. That distinction alone helps to provide clarity around which systems and what tools are most effective. My freakish brain looks at everything in one of two ways: something is either a container or something to go inside a container. With the Russian doll effect, good containers nest easily inside other containers, creating expandable systems that are as efficient as they are effective.

A filling cabinet is a good example of the Russian doll system. Documents that may need to be retrieved for future reference are organized into similarly categorized file folders, grouped together in hanging folders, sorted by topic into similar sections, drawers, and filing cabinets. Every element of the system is logically labeled to reflect its contents, nested together and strategically positioned in order of priority based on urgency. This system is scalable and applies to anything, including physical objects, digital files, and intangible ideas.

For functional and archival storage systems, items utilized most frequently are grouped together in the most convenient locations. Items used less frequently, are stored in progressively less convenient locations. I refer to this as primary, secondary and tertiary storage, and it applies to anything we may want to save out of the way for future use.

Using Intentional Solutions’ 4 rules of organization, sort storage-worthy items in the following ways: 1) like things together, so that they are 2) easy to find, 3) easy to reach, but 4) out of the way. But before you do, make sure to purge everything that does not directly support 1) who you want to be and 2) what you want to do. Clean out, get organized and spend more time enjoying the people you love and the experiences that make you truly happy.

— Evan Zislis is founder and principal consultant of, delivering hands-on organizational solutions for households, businesses, nonprofits, students, and life transitions. For more information about simplifying your stuff and organizing your life, call 366.2532 or email

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