Organizing Lessons from a Bookstore

The store reminded me of a well-worn slipper ? tattered and dusty, but obviously used and loved. I toured the aisles and backrooms with storeowner and publisher Britton Trice. Celebrity book signings and individualized customer service are obviously major factors in the success of the store. File after file with details of book parties past. They mail out about 200 autographed Anne Rice books everyday! Piles of papers, some of them back to 1984, and announcements of summer reading programs and travel opportunities for the summer past told the tale that getting rid of things was obviously not his forte! The front counter and the shelves beneath were covered with bits of paper, containers of various sizes containing a variety of items ? most of them identifiable.

In addition to books for sale, there were books to be signed by frequently appearing authors, books to be returned because of damage, books being held for customers, unwanted or old editions of books to be donated to charity, and various other items to be returned to their rightful owners. Walls were lined with posters ? signed and unsigned. Tired and unused display cases were scattered throughout ? they might be useful someday?

1. Put like items together ? e.g., office supplies (organized by type), forms, take-out menus, tourist information, first-aid supplies, party supplies, tools, etc.

2. Find a container or space (shelf, file) that will hold the largest amount of each item to be kept.

3. Choose a container that is easy to use ? e.g., no lid, easy to open.

4. Locate the container where people are most likely to use the items.

5. Label the container clearly.

6. If the container becomes too full, clean it out, or get a larger container. A "place for everything" is the key to organization in a busy environment such as this bookstore. Then "everything in its place" can happen from time to time with relative ease.

Identifying routine things easily delegated, such as checking for outdated signs, updating photo albums, and posting cartoons and other items of interest, will simplify the maintenance of the shop.

A card table sitting in front of two bookshelves positioned at right angles created a bottleneck for postponed or ignored decisions. Replacing it with a circular table in the middle of the room could improve flow of traffic, eliminate unnecessary clutter, and perhaps invite customers to browse longer. Six boxes for required tax records will make "one in, one out" a simple transition, and will streamline the beginning of the New Year.

Finally, remember that clutter is postponed decisions ? you have only three choices: File, Act, or Toss!

© Barbara Hemphill is the author of Kiplinger's Taming the Paper Tiger at Work and Taming the Paper Tiger at Home and co-author of Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever. The mission of Hemphill Productivity Institute is to help individuals and organizations create and sustain a productive environment so they can accomplish their work and enjoy their lives. We do this by organizing space, information, and time. We can be reached at 800-427-0237 or at

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