The Power of Acronyms

An acronym is an abbreviation, usually using the initial letters of words, that is pronounced as a word. NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) are well-known acronyms. Some acronyms have evolved into words themselves whose origins have been forgotten, like scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus), radar (radio detection and ranging), laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation), and of course, snafu (situation normal – all “fouled” up).

Acronyms are also powerful mnemonic devices. The colors of the rainbow are easily recalled using ROY G BIV (Red-Orange-Yellow-Green-Blue-Indigo-Violet).

The two mnemonic acronyms I find especially useful in de-cluttering and productivity are:


Julia Morgenstern, in her book Organizing From The Inside Out, coined SPACE to describe the steps of an organizing project: Sort-Purge-Assign a home-Containerize-Equalize. I use it to explain to clients how we are going to proceed. Each step must be done, in order, to be successful.


Before you can start any organizing project, you need to know what you have. The easiest way to do this is to sort your items into categories. If you’re disorganized, chances are your categories are jumbled throughout the house. Categories can be broad (clothing, paper, tools) or detailed (black pants, white shirts, colored socks). What’s important is to sort like with like so you know how much or how many of each category you own. Unless it is obvious, don’t spend time at this stage deciding what to keep. That comes next.


Once you’ve put like with like, it’s easy to reduce the categories to essential items. Purging is not just getting a huge garbage bag and throwing everything out. It is a process. There are obvious things to throw out – damaged or badly worn items, and to donate – duplicate items in good condition that you no longer need.  Don’t overthink this step. If you’re unsure, set it aside in a “Don’t Know” pile and come back to it later.

Assign a Home

Now that you know what and how many items you are keeping, you can decide where they will live. The best rule of thumb is to keep things where you will use them. Items you use frequently should be most accessible and items you rarely use can be stored more remotely.


This is where most of my clients think they should start. They run out to Target or the Container Store and buy plastic bins and boxes. In actuality, this is one of the last steps. Until you know what you have and where you will keep it, you don’t know what kind of container you need. Also, you probably have items already in your home that can be used to hold your things. Measure your space and if you are buying bins, make sure you buy ones that will fit where you need them.


Okay! The heavy lifting is done. Are you finished? No, your organizing project isn’t over. Organizing is a ongoing process. Evaluate your new system within the first couple of weeks. Do you need to re-think the location of some items? Can you find what you need easily? Does your system make sense? Continue to make adjustments over time to fine tune your system.


Stephanie Winston, in The Organized Executive, describes her TRAF technique. It’s a tool to manage incoming information, whether it is paper or electronic. TRAF (think “traffic”) describes the four actions you can take with each piece of paper or mail: Toss-Refer-Act-File.


This is my favorite action – throwing out the junk. Always open your mail next to a wastebasket and immediately discard the ads, fliers, catalogs and other solicitations. Make sure your spam filter is set to catch the most flagrant promotions and delete or set rules for email junk that slips through.


In an office setting, you may need to delegate tasks, or discuss tasks with others. The same applies in your personal life. You may receive an invitation that requires you to consult with a friend or family member. You may have a question about something that requires input from someone else. Either note on the document or set up a file with the name of whomever you need to consult.


For every piece of information that comes in, whether paper or email, ask yourself if it requires an action. Is it a bill to pay, a phone call to make, a date for your calendar, or an article to read? Set up action files on your desk or computer for each action you need to take.


Is this information you will reference at a later date? Is it something that you need to keep for taxes? Either file it immediately, or put it in a “to file” box to be filed at the end of the day or the end of the week at the latest.





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