The Golden Rule of Organizing

Kelly McMenamin
4 min readApr 15, 2021

As an organizer and personality-type expert, I’ve got a lot of advice about how to organize — maybe even too much advice. In my defense, I’ve been doing it for over 10 years and wrote a book on the subject. Yet, with all that advice swimming around in my head, I’d say that there is one gold nugget that is universally helpful and will transform the way you organize (and live): The “1-Step Rule”.

The 1-Step Rule is the secret to successfully organizing anything. It also eliminates more than a few organizational battles between different personality types and the stress that goes hand in hand with those struggles. What I love about the 1-Step Rule is that it tacks closely to the age-old KISS Principle or “Keep it simple stupid”.

What the KISS Principle Is

KISS is a design principle created in the U.S. Navy in 1960 and attributed to an aircraft engineer named Kelly Johnson. The KISS principle is that systems work best when they’re simple instead of complicated. The story goes that Johnson gave a team of design engineers a bunch of tools and challenged them to design a jet aircraft that an average mechanic in the field could repair under combat conditions using only those bunch of tools.

Now with the actual KISS principle, the “stupid” refers to the relationship between the way things break and the sophistication required to repair them, i.e., it’s not saying someone is stupid. A military jet aircraft that can’t be easily repaired by an average mechanic under combat conditions is pretty much useless. Well, so are home or office organizational systems that are so complex that the average person isn’t going to adhere to them.

Organizing needs to be easy for not only you to do it but anyone in your household or office to follow and maintain it. You want to create systems that no matter what someone’s personality type is — naturally messier or tidier — they’ll be able to follow it. This is why every system we set up for clients is always as simple as it can be within the parameters of our clients’ aesthetic preferences.

Why the 1-Step Rule Works

The 1-Step Rule is that whenever possible, try to winnow down any organization system you have to as close to 1-Step as possible. The fewer steps a system requires, the easier the system is to use and maintain. The easier a system is to use and maintain then it follows the more likely you’ll stay organized. Simpler systems also increase the likelihood that others — especially the naturally messier amongst us — will adhere to them.

The reason it’s “as close to 1-Step” as possible is that it’s not always possible — or wise — to winnow something down to 1-Step. For example, cold food storage in a fridge is a 3-Step process. You have to open the fridge, put your item away and then close the fridge door. Obviously, if we eliminated the fridge doors, this would be an easier storage system. But, it would no longer be cold food storage. Therefore, cold food storage remains 3-Steps.

For a different example, take the ubiquitous laundry storage system: a hamper with a lid. Like cold food storage, putting dirty clothes in a hamper is also a 3-Step process. You lift up the lid, put dirty clothes in, and then close the lid. But in this case, if we eliminate the lid from this laundry storage system, it doesn’t ruin this system like removing fridge doors would. Removing one step — the lid — makes this organization system simpler to use. Even more importantly, removing the hamper lid also prevents anyone from putting clothes ON TOP of a hamper’s lid rendering the hamper semi-useless.

How to Keep It Simple Stupid

Applying the 1-Step rule is an iterative process. there are two ways to go about it. First, whenever you encounter any organizational system, you can ask yourself whether there is a way to eliminate a step. The answer is often, “Yes” even for systems that you consider functional. The second way to go about it is to think about things that drive you crazy at home or the office. When something is driving you nuts, it’s usually because the system is too complex.

One complaint we often hear from clients is “How can I get my [spouse, child, teen] to hang up their coat!?” Putting a coat away in a coat closet is a 6-step process: Take off your coat, open the closet door, search for a free hanger, grab hanger, put coat on a hanger, hang it up, close the door. There are a few 1-Step solutions here. Buying more hangers or getting rid of unworn coats eliminates the search step. But, you could also buy and mount a few hooks on the back of the door or a wall nearby and make what was a 6-Step process now a 2–4 step process.

The genius behind the 1-Step rule is that implementing it isn’t some monumental task. Often the solutions are as simple as ditching a lid on a hamper per the above example, buying extra hangers for your coat closet, or making sure there are hooks nearby to easily drape clothes. Yet, with each small change that you make, your life — and organizing it — gets easier and easier. As we always say … life isn’t always easy but organizing it should be.



Kelly McMenamin

Kelly McMenamin is an author, organizing coach and speaker and co-founder of PixiesDidIt!, a company that helps people organize according to personality.