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Organizing Drawers In Shared Spaces

As Published At Organize My Drawer
Organizing Drawers In Shared Spaces

Unless you live alone and work for yourself, you know what it’s like to have to share space with another homo sapien. Keeping these areas organized can be problematic — ‘specially when you’ve got one neat-freak and another packrat. The cure? Learning to draw a few healthy boundaries around your storage.

Dividing Up Your Real Estate

There are two types of shared spaces — the kind where multiple people access communal items (like dishes in the kitchen or bulk office supplies at work), and the kind where you each get a shelf (or a drawer, or a rod, or a cabinet) for your own belongings. In the latter of these two scenarios, you need to be okay assigning each person a designated spot, and then letting that individual set up the organizing system that best suits him or her — even if it’s not the one YOU would have chosen for yourself!

Getting On The Same Page

In communal spaces, you’re going to need to reach a compromise about how that area is configured. Sit down together, examine your current organizational challenges, and discuss your options. Talk about your individual needs — and if any conflicts arise, figure out a solution that best accommodates everyone involved. For example, one person may want a clear space with everything hidden away, another may function better with everything in view — how will you work around this potential problem?

A Bin For Each Of You

One of my favorite multi-person organizational tricks is to set up a series of trays in a common area (the kitchen, the mailroom, wherever) — one for each individual. Whenever something comes for that person (mail, a purchase, a memo) — it goes in his or her bin. Whenever another housemate or colleague finds something belonging to that person just lying around homeless, it goes in his or her bin. Then once a week, it’s each person’s responsibility to give all the junk in their bin a permanent place to live. Brilliant!

Labeling Helps

A lot of the confusion and consternation in shared spaces has to do with miscommunication about what goes where. Come on people — we need to get on the same page! (In fact if I’m not mistaken, that was item #2 on this tip sheet — “Getting On The Same Page!”) Just taking a second to as you set up each space to label not only the overall storage area (like a drawer or cabinet or shelf), but also the tray/container subdividing it, will prevent a great deal of organizational head-butting down the road.

Have A “Putting Away” Policy

Another area in which communication is key relates to expectations about how “cleaning up” will happen when the place gets cluttered. Setting aside a chunk of time every day for a quick tidy in each area is optimal, but not always feasible — weekly might work better. And if you find something belonging to another person, what step will you take that respects both your needs and his/her space? Do you put it away for them? Stick it in a holding bin until they can deal with it? Leave it lying out for them to address?

Teaching Your Kids Cooperation

Spaces shared by adults can be challenging enough — but when you throw children into the mix, things can turn downright chaotic! Use your organizational systems to help little ones understand the logistics of cooperation. This might include labeled storage for each individual child’s toys (as well as communal toys), scheduled joint clean-up time each night or weekend — and even a system for sharing the most popular household playthings (like video game systems, bikes, and sports equipment).

Shared Workspaces

Even more problematic than dealing with family organization is trying to create workplace order. (If you thought getting mom, dad, and kids on the same page was hard – try doing the same with a couple dozen employees!) The best way to handle this is with a staff meeting. Discuss your office organizational plan, get everyone’s input, allow them to contribute and become invested in the system you’re setting up — then issue a memo clearly explaining management’s expectations and each person’s responsibilities.

Be Prepared To Make Adjustments

No system is perfect — but you usually can’t see where the flaws are until you try it out for a while. A good indicator of a problematic organizational issue is a big pile of stuff that continually appears in the same area — one of those infamous clutter “hot zones.” Commit to giving things a go for a few weeks, then get back together with your crew and discuss what aspects of your plan could stand to be tweaked. You might be looking at minor revamps or a major overhaul — be patient, you’ll get it right eventually!

Not Everything Has To Be Shared

Keep in mind that even in a “shared” space, not everything has to be communal property. For example — in the kitchen, you have the option to set up individual drawers and shelves (and even whole cabinets) for a particular individual’s belongings. Works great for roommates, kids, and co-workers. The nice thing about this system is that it makes it easy to hold folks accountable for whether or not their stuff gets back where it belongs — plus, no one can accuse anyone else of misplacing their favorite mug!

Pick Your Battles

There are always going to be organizational issues that seem more important to one person than another (and usually one individual who’s FAR more anal-retentive than the rest) — but if you want to keep peace, you need to pick your battles. Communication is key — as is finding other creative solutions besides nagging. For example — if your spouse forever leaving the toothpaste out on the counter (instead of putting in the drawer) drives you crazy, set up an organizer right there on the counter. Battle averted!

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Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream. Learn more at and

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