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Organizing tips: Are you a lumper or a splitter?

Posted by Ingenious Storage on

Lumpers & Spliters?


 Lumpers and Splitters: Example of lumping Lumpers and Splitters: Example of splitting
Lumpers sort all like items together Splitters separate out the items entirely

A teacher of mine once told me that the world is made up of two kinds of people, Lumpers and Splitters. Lumpers tend to look at a set of things or ideas and want to put them together in big groups: everything bigger than a toaster here, everything smaller there. Splitters prefer to subdivide things into finely graded categories: extra small, small, medium, large, XL etc. While I’m not sure all of us are only one or the other, it is true that any organizational scheme has to balance the tendency to lump with the tendency to split if it’s to be useful. After all, in the extremes, lumping means one big indiscriminate pile while splitting means every category includes only one unique item; neither of those is useful.

 Lumpers Splitters
Easy to lump together Sometimes it's worth going the extra

If you’re considering organizing a pile of stuff (papers, clothes, tools, food), start by thinking through what level of lumping/splitting makes sense. A rule of thumb may help you to decide whether to err on the side of lumping or splitting:

Lumping is fastest on the sorting and storing end but can mean that retrieving takes longer; splitting takes more time to sort and store but makes retrieval faster.

If the stuff you are dealing with must often be stored but not often retrieved, then larger categories in bigger holders makes sense. If fast, accurate retrieval is key, then splitting the storage into finer gradations will make your life easier in the long run. 

An example may be helpful. You may store away off season clothes to keep your closet tidy and accessible. When putting away your summer clothes in fall, if you will not be taking them out again till spring, you don’t need to sort or classify them at all as you will only retrieve them once and all together. Lumping makes the most efficient use of your time and storage containers (you can put things where they fit rather than with other similar things). Conversely, when arranging clothes you use every day, it may be worth your effort to group similar things together on the rack or in drawers to make getting dressed for work or specific activities easy and stress free. This may take more time on laundry day but the effort will be rewarded through the week. 

 Lumping it all together Refining your organization
Lumped can be fast organizing Split - Makes stuff easy to find

To take another example, modern life produces little bits of hardware at a predictable and unavoidable rate. Screws, nails, washers, the rubber feet off stuff, replacement gew gaws for this and that… it all adds up to an organizers nightmare: lump, split, lump, split??? Go back to the rule for help. How often do you want to retrieve the extra bits provided with new furniture or appliances? Presumably, only when they break or wear out (which shouldn’t be that often, one hopes). If that’s true, then lumping all gear for kitchen appliances together for example ought to be just fine since you’ll know which piece you need by looking at it. Keep that pile separate from the one for furniture or tools and you should be able to avoid too much time wasted on either end. 

Thinking through whether a pile of stuff is best lumped or split in advance will help you plan your storage solutions. Don’t rush off to buy a unit with dozens of small compartments if one with only four will do the job; buy the right sized bins or containers for the quantities you want stored together. And once you have the gear and the filing system figured out, don’t forget to label your containers to make sure you recall what’s where and with what. Getting the balance right between lumping and splitting will make all the difference in your willingness and ability to maintain the system so take time to get it right.


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