One of the reasons you are buried under clutter is that you have failed to define parameters for the places you keep your stuff. The old adage, "a place for everything..." really does work but only if you've put a boundary around your places.

This one rule of organizing is so important. If you don’t do this, you’ll constantly find yourself in an organizing cycle. Take your kids’ toys as an example. If you don’t have a designated spot with defined boundaries - this means top bottom and four sides - you’ll find quickly that you are drowning in toys. You’ll spend a Saturday going through them only to find two months later that you need to do it again.

Do yourself a favor and put a lid on it. Going back to the toy example... define a space for the toys to live. Define smaller spaces for secondary homes. For example, use a bookcase in the playroom, and small baskets for other rooms where toys always end up. Watch for patterns of play and make toy-homes in the rooms where toys always land. We have a cupboard in the family room, small baskets in the formal living room and kids rooms and a cupboard shelf in the kitchen for the toys.

When you have a defined space, organizing is so much easier! Watch how this works. Since our son knows the toy parameters, if we’re at the store, tempted to buy a new toy, he has to choose whether he’d really like the new toy because it will mean getting rid of one of his... and if he really wants the new one (and the budget allows, of course), he has to decide which toy to get rid of.

The same principle applies to our stuff too. Sometimes our biggest problem is that we haven’t defined parameters for our stuff. One natural parameter is our home (four sides, a top and a bottom). Still though, is your house so stuffed it’s spilling into the garage and storage sheds? If so, you’re not sticking to your parameter. Don’t buy anything you don’t have a place for!

This is a simple concept that will free you if you can apply it. It will work for your stuff, paper, cyberspace, and even your time. We already saw how it will work with stuff but what about the others?

Did you know research shows that 80 percent of the paper you file is never looked at again? (Organizing Plain and Simple by Donna Smallin) A file cabinet is a great parameter for paper - that’s why it was invented but if you’re like most, it’s probably not a parameter you are taking advantage of. Instead you have piles of paper stacked up all over your house right? Organizing experts all say you should only touch a paper once. If you are that disciplined, congratulations. Most people (including me) find that too high a standard to reach. If you find yourself in that situation a simple solution is to define another parameter - one for the piles. Allow yourself one pile of “to file” papers but make sure that pile has it’s own home with easy access but a definable top so the pile can not exceed a certain height.

Cyberspace is trickier because it’s harder to define. But it can work. Your computer can quickly become littered with all kinds of cyber-garbage. Computers are supposed to simplify life. If you can’t find what you need on yours, then it’s time to set some parameters. You could limit yourself to a certain number of files or file size. It doesn’t make sense to save something you can never find if you need it. Stay on top of your cyberspace with limits - even if you can’t see the top, bottom and four sides, you can still create limits for yourself.

Defining parameters for your time will ensure you are doing what is important to you. If you don’t have time parameters set up, you will find yourself inundated with requests from others. Soon, you’ll be over-committed, running around like a chicken with your head cut off because you failed to define how you would protect your time. You decide what your priorities are and then determine how much time you will spend working your priorities. When interruptions come, you will be able to determine if they take precedence or if what you are doing is more important.

Think about it. How often do you buy more frozen food than will fit in your freezer? My guess is it’s not often because you have trained yourself to know what that parameter is and you stick to it. You can do the same with so many other aspects of your life. Be creative and be the boss of your space, stuff, paper, and time.