I love my label-maker as much as the next person.

Labels are usually put into place with great intent. To create structure. To remind. To help guide where things go.

However, often I see places (specifically classrooms) labeled to death – and most of the time, it’s not doing much for organization.

We have been taught that having a print-rich environment is beneficial to our children. This is true! This is a great article that gives some good classroom tips (that can also be used at home) about labeling.

Very often, though, I see shelf labels to match item labels to match the labels on bins to match a picture to a word…and it all is just too much.

So – how should you use labels?

To coach. My brother lived with me for three years to save money before he bought a condo. He was an excellent roommate, but of course, like living with any roommate, we had our differences. One of them was that I liked to keep drinking glasses on the bottom shelf and mugs on the top shelf.

So I made labels to show where mugs and glasses should go.

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Did he start putting things in the right place?

No.

Why do I think that is? Because I used it as a way to avoid talking to him about it.

The same thing can happen with kids – sometimes we put one thing in place, hoping that will make them do something or act a certain way. But people aren’t like that – we often need an approach with more than one aspect.

If you are using labels in your space to try to get someone to do something, make sure it’s discussed why you have labeled something and what the outcome is. Then, be sure to give gentle reminders as time goes on.

To remind. I don’t label tons of things in my home. I do, however, label things when I have to remind myself about what is there.

Here is a photo looking down into one of my drawers. This drawer seems mish-mashy, so that’s why I labeled it: to remember what the common theme in there is.

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To find. I’m a big fan of using solid-colored boxes in areas that are open so that things aren’t visually over-stimulating. Of course, with the boxes being solid-colored, I can’t see what’s inside – so labels are necessary.

To guide. Google defines the verb “guide” as to “show or indicate the way to (someone).”

Notice that guiding does not mean “to perfect.”

I have seen so many spaces that people have attempted to organize (or have completely organized) at one point that are labeled perfectly – yet the items still never made it back to their labeled space. Often, labels set us up for failure. When we see them, we are reminded of that organizing project that just didn’t work, or our child who just can’t get the Legos and the Duplos in the right spot on the shelf.

So often we label things hoping that now, finally, with just a simple label maker, our organizational systems will be perfect. But it’s simply not true. Being organized is a series of ongoing actions and adjustments. Labeling things is just one tool that can be used – but it’s certainly not the only one – and it certainly doesn’t guarantee organization.