(Video link here.) At Things Organized Neatly, a website about exactly THAT, we found this terrific except from Ten Bullets, artist Tom Sachs‘ essential principles — “his code” — for employees working in his studio. Here he outlines something he called “knolling”, an action we’ve always done but never had a word for. Sachs’ interpretation is less uptight and more useful and expansive than the original definition.

“Knolling: to arrange like objects in parallel or 90 degree angles as a method of organization”

Sachs outlines the steps succinctly in his notebook:

Tom Sachs
Tom Sachs

Number 3, “Group all like objects” is, for us, THE essential principle in decluttering and organizing. In our experience, “like goes with like” is a practice many people don’t remember to employ. If you have rubber bands scattered through the house, gather them all together…then edit the ones you want. Same with books, paper clips, clothes etc.

Knolling is essential not just for workspaces but for keeping ANY space neat and livable, for quickly neatening a messy room or apartment.

Since Improvised Life has so many projects going on in its big main room, we do it all the time. Even if a lot of stuff needs to stay out for “works-in-progress”, knolling makes a huge difference in how the space looks and feel, not to mention our mindset.

To knoll the mess, below, that occurred when we were just moving in, we put the phone back on its charger, grouped the papers together in neat piles, put the pan with other pans near the kitchen, placed the work gloves with tools.

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

Often, knowling is an opportunity to create still-lives, as Maria Robledo does with her cutting boards:

Maria Robledo
Maria Robledo

We find ourselves in a constant motion of messing things up and then knolling them together (the before and after, below,  from early on in our life in Harlem. Notice the stack of boxes and stuff covered with a canvas drop cloth on the far right…) Hiding things can be an excellent way to neaten things you don’t need right away…

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider



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2 replies on “How to Neaten Up Stuff via Sachs’ Practice of Knolling

  1. So interesting. I had been wrongly categorizing Improvised Life as martha-stewart perfect, probably because of the nice pictures of the lab. I find there’s a huge pressure to have your house look like you just occasionally watch TV in the den but cook, eat, sleep, and live an a different house/apartment.

    I’m constantly struggling with partially finished projects and other tell-tale signs of my living my life in my own house/garage/yard.

    So far my best advice came from a blog post about an Anglo who worked with some Japanese carpenters to build a tea house. He said that every day, when it was time to quit, the master put down his tools and started sweeping. This humble act was a command to stop, no matter how close to completion you were on a particular task. This gesture is a philosophy in and of itself. To work steadily is required. What follows the master’s signal is a routine of putting away and sharpening tools, cleaning the build site, and generally preparing for the next day’s work. I’m still trying to implement this idea because I’ve spent 15 years trying the other way, complete with all-nighters and other extreme foolishness. But now I’m thinking steady is better than heroics.

  2. Curious, yes. I am anti-Martha, really, finding that her by-the-numbers perfectionism has infiltrated many people’s thinking in a negative way. That huge pressure you feel comes from her and other media sources. When I taught cooking, helping people to improvise and would ask them what they are afraid of, they’d often answer: that I’ll make a mess, or I don’t have a matching set up pots. So I’d make a mess right in front of them in the process of making a dish, and they’d see that THAT’S how it works.

    That said, I do move away the extra stuff out of the picture when I photograph for Improvised Life, which is no doubt a holdover from having been a food stylist. I’m always looking for the combo platter of clarity, style and REAL. I’m working on a a post on this subject, and just for you next week.

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