Monday, May 18, 2009

Using color in organizing systems

There are a gazillion products out there marketed to help get your life in order. A lot of these items, from Post Its and folders to plastic bins and shelving units, come in a variety of colors. When selecting items, it might be tempting to “color code” things. That is, make all of your files having to do with your business hang in blue hanging folders, while your taxes are in red ones and your personal business in green. The idea behind color coding things is that, once you have the system in place, your brain is trained to see the color before the label and you will be able to find things more easily.

For people who really respond to color and patterns, this is true. And it can be fun to add the visual element of color to your space to liven things up. However, the extra step involved in color coordinating an organizational system is usually not worth it for the following reasons:

  • Special color products are usually more expensive then the generic version. Why spend twice as much on blue manila folders, when the plain vanilla white ones do the exact same thing?
  • Once you get certain colors set up, if you have to buy more products as your system expands, it might be impossible (or too much work) to find the exact color or brand you used the first time, and you’ll end up with two shades of red that don’t exactly match.
  • Down the line, it makes it difficult to keep the system consistent, which makes the color coding approach less effective. For instance, if you get new Christmas decorations and you need another green tote box to store them in, but you only have a clear one on hand, are you really going to go out in the middle of the holidays to track down a matching green box, or are you going to have to live with three green boxes and one clear one?
  • The plain stuff is simply easier to get a hold of. Everyone sells olive green hanging file folders and plain manila folders with clear tabs. 
So, my recommendation is to stick with the plain organizing items that are cheaper, more readily available and easier to duplicate, and save the fun colors and patterns for customizable areas of your home and office like couch pillows, blankets, rugs and art. 

One area where color organization comes in handy is for families with kids (or even just two adults). If each family member chooses a color they want to have as their own, then towels, toothbrushes, and backpacks can all be color coordinated and there is no confusion over what belongs to who.

Creative Commons photo of Really Useful Boxes posted to flickr by Valerie Everett

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