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Where are your boundaries?
A surprisingly nag-free approach that can rescue your countertops from clutter.
This week’s hack comes courtesy of urban planning theory. Here’s the quick and dirty: when you notice that clutter in your home is starting to sprawl out, create an arbitrary growth boundary to contain it.
For this post I’m borrowing the framework of Urban Growth Boundaries (UGBs), which is something my city (Portland, OR) is renowned for. Portland has a boundary outside of which it simply can’t grow. This both protects the rural and forested land outside the city and forces the city to thoughtfully develop the land inside the boundary. UGBs are thought to result in increased density, more infrastructure, cleaner air, faster access to nature, and generally enhanced livability.
UGBs work basically the same in cities as they do in my house (kidding/not kidding).
In places where items “live” on my countertops, I’ve enacted growth boundaries so clutter doesn’t take over the entire countertop. Stuff begets stuff, so sprawl is often inevitable without a clear strategy.
Exhibit 1a: supplements on the kitchen counter (before)
Exhibit 1b: supplements on my kitchen counter (after)
Exhibit 2a: phone chargers and miscellany in the dining room (before)
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Exhibit 2b: phone chargers and miscellany in the dining room (after)
The growth boundaries have worked well for me — I prefer leveraging psychology and behavioral cues to do my nagging for me. Without me saying a word, boundaries give subconscious cues to everyone that:
Your junk (sorry, “daily essentials”) should fit inside this container. It should contain the most important things — if it doesn’t, you need to reorganize/replace what’s in there.
If there’s no clear spot for it in the container, it doesn’t belong here.
We value empty space. Clear surfaces are desirable and expected.
Just like a city revisits its growth boundaries every few years, your kitchen countertop plan isn’t set in stone either. Revisit and evolve it as your habits and needs change.
Having lived in an endlessly sprawling city earlier in life, the urban growth boundary approach works better for me. Less driving, more things to do in each neighborhood because of density, and quick access to nature outside the city—sign me up! Montana randomly has a nice UGB primer on their website if you’d like to learn more.
Some things that caught my attention this week:
Notice optimization sinkholes in your life — are we addicted to optimizing everything? I’ll probably write a whole post about this soon, but interesting exploration by one of my favorite culture critics, Anne Helen Petersen.
Creating a capsule wardrobe - I’m finally attempting to jump on this old bandwagon. I’m down to 70 items of clothing, with a goal of 40. This approach by Leslie Stephens of Morning Person feels very do-able to me.
My son cleaned up his room, unprompted, the other day and I think it may be because of this episode of Ada Twist, his favorite show: “My Messy Valentine” (props to the reference here). We later watched it together and I loved how it explains to kids the perils of clutter and offers a step by step guide. Give it a shot if you have young kids!
Find me organizing in real time on Instagram @rebeccainpdx