The Working Waterfront

Getting your island home organized

Island living offers unique options

Staff Writer
Posted 2015-09-24
Last Modified 2015-09-24

By Bonnie Joy Dewkett

So you’ve been thinking about getting organized, but you aren’t sure where to start. You may be wondering how you’ll get started living on an island with limited access to traditional big box stores. It can be done!

I’m a professional organizer, and these are lessons I try to teach all of my clients in order to reduce clutter, make the most of the time they have, and the homes they own.

Island life has always fascinated me as an organizer. Because I pay particular attention to stuff, and where it comes from, I often find myself thinking about what island life can teach everyone about getting organized.

As a general rule, the more stuff you buy, the more clutter you create. When shopping involves a ferry ride, you’re now spending time and money, both of which may be in short supply. The key parts to getting organized are reducing, recycling, sharing and making do with what you already own—living simply, but richly.

Reduce: One of the first steps in getting organized is to reduce. Start your organizing journey by walking around your home with a trash bag and a box. If there is any trash, or items that can be discarded to a landfill, put those in the trash bag. Place useable items you no longer use and love into the box for donation. You’ll be shocked at how much you can accomplish in just a few minutes, and how much you can purge.

Everything on an island is a little more valuable since it’s traveled to get here; always consider donating or repurposing it before tossing it away.

Recycle: Things on an island are like cats; they have nine lives. They serve their purpose with one person and then are passed on to another for a second life. Items come and go from the swap shop, the flea market and between friends and family. Recycling and reusing is key to staying organized, keeping costs down by not buying new, and keeping the Earth healthy. Knowing that your items will better your community makes it a little bit easier to part with them. By the time an item makes it into the dump for its final resting place, it’s lived a long, useful life.  

Make do, not new: A ferry trip makes the planning stage a bit more important than on the mainland. It’s not uncommon for someone organizing a closet to run out to Target, Bed, Bath and Beyond and Walmart to buy supplies.

Buying new stuff tends to be the first step on everyone’s organizing list, but making do with what you already have is easier, and less expensive. If you have underutilized totes and bins, reorganize them to maximize their benefit. If you must buy new, it is critical to measure all of the spaces you will organize. Make a detailed list of the measurements and items you’ll need. If possible, take photos on your phone to view in the store. 

Sharing: What if instead of buying everything you think you need, you share items with your neighbors? You use their items when you need them, and you share yours when others need them. You have less to store, less to maintain, and less to buy. Island life, where you know your neighbors and fellow community members, is perfect for sharing.

Don’t think sharing is for you? Think about the tools in your garage. Do you use everything you own, everyday? What if you didn’t have money to buy, or space to store these tools? I bet you’d find a way to get things done, regardless. Sharing is an important lesson that every community should embrace.

To maintain progress after you’ve organized your space, I suggest implementing what I call a “Ten Minute Tidy.” Set a kitchen timer for ten minutes, and have every member of your family pick up their stuff and put it away until the timer rings. Play music and make it fun. For a family of five, that’s almost an hour (50 minutes) of cleaning and organization in only ten minutes. Make this a part of your daily routine.

Island life is all about living simply, beautifully, and as part of a community. Instead of stuff, people are the key to happiness. 

Bonnie Joy Dewkett is a nationally recognized organizing expert, motivational speaker and author. Her company, The Joyful Organizer, simplifies the lives of her clients through hands-on organizing, consulting, and one-on-one coaching. She spends part of the summer on Vinalhaven.