You know that tired old Ben Franklin quote, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”?  Well there’s a reason why clichés are what they are – they’re usually spot on, and Ben’s quote is especially pertinent to organization.

When I work with a client to organize a space, it’s always foremost in my mind to create a system that not only makes for a pleasing, calming environment, but also a system that gives them the power to maintain it.  We talk quite a bit about ways to prevent clutter before it ever has a chance to goof things up again.  With that concept in mind, I’ve put together a few tips that you can test out in a variety of places where disorganization tends to want to creep in and wreak havoc:

Always shop with a list. This simple, commonsense approach will save you time, money AND clutter. No more wandering up and down aisles without a clear agenda, and no more buying too much of something because you can’t remember whether or not you still have it at home. Check out some of the many list-making apps out there to use on your smartphone (many of them free), so there’s less chance you will leave your list behind. If you’re more of a paper-and-pen person, purchase a large stickie note tablet that goes on the wall or fridge, and add to it only as you run out of things. List making works for clothing, too – and you can narrow your choices by looking through items on the web before you head out to shop. Additionally, recognize that something is NOT a bargain if you never get around to actually using it.

Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe.  Whether it’s your snail mailbox or your email inbox, unwanted newsletters, ads and other marketing flotsam and jetsam often just get piled up and ignored. Take action by cancelling subscriptions to magazines you never get around to reading, managing your email preferences for newsletters, and requesting that your address be taken off of marketing lists. Check out the Direct Marketing Association’s for ways to opt out of unwanted mail, and you can feel good about saving a few trees in the process. Ditto for those monthly subscription boxes – cancel them and save yourself enough each month to buy something you really want or need.

Remind yourself that “free” does not always equal “good”.  You go to a conference and bring home a bag of smiley-face stress balls, fridge magnets and notepads that gather dust. Or you shop for your makeup during “bonus” or “special gift” time, only to end up with lipsticks you won’t use (wrong shade) or samples of perfume you don’t like. Retailers are masters at using the word “free” to get you into their store or on their website, because it implies you have nothing to lose. Nothing, that is, except the space on your shelves filled with useless samples or trinkets. The next time something is offered for free (or two-for-one) stop and ask yourself whether or not it is something you already have, or will truly use. If not, just keep on moving past those nifty coin purses, coasters and drink cozies.

Clear your mind.  Why do supermarkets place candy, gum and magazines at the checkout line? Because they are betting that after making all of those grocery decisions (especially if you didn’t make a list!) your resistance is worn down and you’ll buy the things that aren’t necessarily good for your health OR your wallet.  It’s called decision fatigue, and it’s a phenomenon that everyone may experience at one time or another.  Taking a few moments each day to meditate, pray, work out, or practice yoga goes a long way towards keeping your mind sharp, relaxed and under control.  If you are faced with a series of draining decisions (and anything from picking a fresh paint color to choosing a new computer can be exhausting) try taking a little time out afterwards to step away and breathe deeply.  You’ll be less likely to add something into the mix that you didn’t want in the first place.

I’m betting that old Ben had a pretty streamlined existence, and he managed to be a pretty productive person, no?  Of course, he didn’t have all of the choices we have now, so we need to be even more intentional in our approach to our belongings.   Take a little time to try one or two of these tips and see how it can make a difference in maintaining your organization.  Keeping excess stuff out of the home in the first place goes a long way towards winning the war on clutter.

Photo by Jurgenfr