Sorting is a very strenuous activity for our brains. The two-category method can be ideal to make the job easier. Like the name suggests, the key is to limit yourself to only two categories. Here are some examples:
- discard or keep
- donate or recycle
- paper or everything else
- junk mail or not junk mail
- business or personal
- kids or grown-ups
- sentimental or not sentimental
- home decor or everything else
- tops or bottoms
- garage or house
- current or archival
- hobbies or chores (when sorting activities)
- Gather the items you want to sort and choose any two categories that make sense to you, for those particular items.
- Label a container for each category and place both containers within easy reach. You could use bins, laundry baskets, trays, bags, whatever works. Just make sure the containers have wide openings, so it’s easy to toss or drop things into them.
- Sort as quickly as possible into the two containers. If one overflows and you have to add another container, that’s okay.
- After each round of sorting, if you can easily put away any of the items, do so. Get them out of the way, whenever possible.
- Now, choose one of the sorted containers, and repeat the process, choosing two new categories that are appropriate for the remaining items. For example, if your first round of sorting through clutter on the kitchen counter was “stays in kitchen vs. goes elsewhere,” you might want to sort the “goes elsewhere” pile into “family room vs. other parts of the house.”
- Continue this pattern, until you have sorted to your desired level of detail.
At first, this method may seem inefficient, because it involves several rounds of sorting, and many items will be sorted multiple times. Actually, it can be more efficient, because the decisions are so much easier and faster. Also, you don’t have the logistical challenges of managing multiple categories.
At some point in the process, you may decide you don’t need to limit yourself to two options. That’s great! This method is really intended for getting past that overwhelm hump, so once you feel like you’re on a roll, go for it!
When is it Sorted Enough?
You get to decide when each category has been sorted to the appropriate level of detail. Here are my recommendations, but feel free to do whatever you like:
- Don’t spend more time sorting than you are likely to get back. For example, unless you have a very high risk for being audited, it’s probably not worth it to sort all your old financial records to perfect order. Just knowing which box they are in may be sufficient.
- Don’t sort to a level you can’t maintain. If you know that you won’t keep your spices alphabetized, don’t take the time to do it!
- When in doubt, quit while you’re ahead. There’s nothing to prevent you from sorting to another level of detail at a later date.
I’d love to hear your experiences, good, bad or indifferent.