When I tell people I’m a professional organizer, they almost always ask, “is your house immaculate?”
In the early years of my career as a professional organizer, I dodged the question because I didn’t want others to think I wasn’t perfectly organized.
Over time I came to realize that there is no such thing.
When it comes to having a fulfilling, organized life, perfection will get in the way every time. I don’t want to be model of perfection. More importantly, I don’t want my clients to expect that of themselves.
Having a home that you enjoy, where you can spend time relaxing, enjoying time with family and friends, pursuing your interests and taking care of the business of your life, is far more important than having a perfectly organized life. There is no such thing. Life is messy.
The question about how organized I am in real life prompted me to think about other truths about my personal approach to organization.
So here are 13 confessions about me as professional organizer that may surprise you:
My house is not organized perfectly. It’s tidy and I can generally, though not always, find what I’m looking for. My home is not a Pinterest post or a cover of Architectural Digest. My style is to organize for my real life, not a fantasy life that I could never achieve let alone maintain.
I don’t have an opinion about what my clients keep, donate or toss. The only time I do care is when I see them make decisions that seem contrary to their goals. In that case I will ask their permission to gently point it out.
The papers I keep are contained in three places in my home. One is a small file box. Another is an old suitcase that belonged to my mother. The third is a single file drawer. My paper supplies are kept in a drawer and on a shelf.
I rarely scan anything. The only exception when I need to scan or upload a document to share.
If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t exist. I have no short term memory.
I can’t fold a fitted sheet like Martha Stewart. (Believe me I’ve tried dozens of times). However, I can make it tidy in a linen closet.
If it’s trash, I don’t feel bad about tossing it. I do my best to donate or recycle it but the world is not set up yet for zero waste and that’s not my fault. I appreciate sites such as Stopwaste.org when I want to recycle something less typical.
I don’t watch TV shows about organizing or hoarding.
Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I don’t decant into containers. If you want everything in your kitchen, pantry or home to be labeled in pretty, matching ceramic containers, as organizers we are happy to do it.
We don’t have a garage. The previous owners of our home took it down to put in another room. We use it as a TV and exercise area. It has a large storage cabinet we use for holiday supplies, camping, memorabilia, sporting goods and games. Behind it is where I store all my supplies for work. My car is parked in a driveway.
I never liked the term “professional organizer.” Unfortunately they haven’t come up with anything better.
My team organizes better than I do but I know what works and I am great at managing projects, people and getting things done.
When I cook, my kitchen becomes a disaster. I am not an “organized cook.” I guess that’s because I’m focused on the food itself, not on the dish that didn’t get washed, the counter that didn’t get wiped or the container of cream that didn’t get put away. My husband is an incredibly organized cook.
If you have household items or unsorted paper on your floor in boxes or bags, chances are you have a clutter problem. That’s because bags and boxes are not furniture, not permanently anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, bags and boxes have their place in organizing. I use them all the time to carry out donated items, to contain trash or recycling or to pick up my groceries. It’s fine to keep a small supply but they are “temporary” containers, not permanent fixtures.
As a professional organizer, coach and move manager, boxed and bagged “clutter” is a common problem for many of my clients.
I’m not talking about items you have stored in a closet, garage or attic. These too may need to be “gone through” – usually when you’re planning to move or sell your home.
It’s sometimes an issue of time management, motivation or other more pressing priorities. Conditions such as ADD, anxiety or depression can also make it difficult to focus on the task at hand.
Whatever the reason, bags and boxes usually signify a “holding” place for your stuff, instead of a “home.”
Here are 10 easy steps to manage the bags and boxes of stuff in your home:
If you have both unsorted paper and physical items, start with the physical items. You will see results quicker and feel motivated to continue.
Sort the items on a clear surface, such as a card table, counter or ironing board if that’s the only surface available.
As soon as the box is empty, break it down and place it by your recycling bin to see space right away. It’s important that you see see results right away to stay motivated.
Now it’s time to make decisions. Look at each item by category and decide if you are using it now or whether it’s something you love. If you wouldn’t buy it in a store, don’t love it, haven’t used it, or it brings up negative emotions, let it go. If it feels good to keep it for yourself, then keep it.
Most clean and usable items can be donated to conventional charities such as Goodwill, Salvation Army or a local thrift shop. Be sure to check days and times they accept donations. Since COVID, many charities have limited their donation drop off times or require appointments.
Don’t spend a lot of time on where you donate your items.This is a form of procrastination. Some haulers now will take items for donation. Two of my favorites in the San Francisco Bay Area are NixxitJunk.com and Remoov.
If you have high value items consider consignment, or online platforms to sell them. Do whatever is easiest or makes the best use of your time.
If you plan to use your empty boxes for donations, be sure you can carry them. You are better off using a double paper-bag or reusable shopping bag for donated items.
Now the fun part: Look at what you kept and decide where it should live in your home. Like you live in your home everything in your home should have a home. An item’s home gets determined first by asking, What room would I look for this? Consider also, where will it be contained? For example, a certain piece of furniture, a specific closet, drawer or a type of bin? Don’t worry if these areas are already cluttered themselves. Get them closer to home!
Do this for each item you’ve decided to keep before moving on to the next bag or box.
Did you get through at least one bag or box? Did you toss or recycle them to make more room for you? Good job!
Aim to do one bag or box as often as you can and before you know it, your floors will be clear of clutter and you’ll feel great!
Too much stuff to do it yourself? Having difficulty focusing or feeling overwhelmed? Consider hiring a professional organizer to help you.
Find one in your area at the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals or NAPO.net and search by your zip code.
Last year you spent a week, month or a lot of money, to organize your home, or one area of it, and now it’s back where you started.
During Covid, you coped last year by shopping. You got into a new hobby. You inherited items from your family. Either way, you got some new stuff. It may even be better than the old stuff but the old stuff is still there. The stuff you had and the new stuff didn’t get put away or it piled above other stuff you already have.
In addition, all those great storage systems for containing your stuff stopped working for you or your family. You started to fall back into old habits. Now you’ve got more stuff than before.
My advice to you: Don’t be discouraged. It may be time to examine your thinking, perspectives and habits when it comes to obtaining and organizing. Remember, sometimes life gets in the way and your priorities change.
First and foremost, consider it a learning, not an opportunity to shame yourself!
How often do you say to yourself…?
I’ll get to it later
I’m keeping it just in case
I’ll just put it here, for now
My family isn’t cooperating!
I couldn’t find it so I bought another
I’ll go through it tomorrow
I may need it some day
It belonged to my parents. I just couldn’t toss it!
Everything in life is an experiment
Remember that great feeling you had when everything had a “home” and it was so neat and tidy?
It didn’t happen by accident and whether you did it yourself or had help from friends or professionals, chances are you learned something you’ve just forgotten. When you forget, your old habits return.
It’s like other things we try to change in our lives. (Believe me. I know this firsthand!)
For example, imagine you need to get to a healthy weight. It’s going to take action and consistency. Not just once, not just for a week, but every day or at least more days than not. You’ll also need a plan based on your strengths, needs and goals.
The same is true when you want to develop an organizing habit.
Know your strengths
Are you visual? Consider “envisioning’ what an organized space looks like for you. Draw or design it or find a picture online or in a magazine that inspires you. Look around and start to notice what you like about your space, not just what bothers you.
Are you tactile? Go around the space, from right to left, and mark all the items you want to get rid of with some painters tape. Touch the items and decide if they still hold meaning for you or not.
Are you a great listener? Consider watching organizing videos online, listen to podcasts or attend a free organizing talk in your area. Organizers often speak for free at retirement communities, real estate groups, community centers or libraries as a way to promote their services. Better yet, get some free advice
Are you physically agile or strong? You may be able to work alone and declutter yourself. Perhaps you can build yourself new storage systems or shelves. This type of strength is called kinesthetic.
Are you intuitive and pretty self-aware? This will help you to edit what you have. Ask yourself key questions that make it a whole lot easier to feel in control and less overwhelmed by your clutter.
Do I love this?
Does it bring in negative emotions or bad memories?
If I saw it in a store, would I buy it again?
Has it been more than a year since I used it?
If it should disappear would I miss it?
Do I know someone who would enjoy it more than I do?
Would it give me pleasure to give it away?
Am I truly honoring the person or their memory by keeping this?
Consider your needs
Sometimes we just don’t want to do something. We “don’t feel like it.” Other times it’s the thing that gets us out of bed in the morning. Your needs are the basics of what makes life possible for you. For some it may be survival needs for others, they may be linked to your highest values. In general needs are the pre-requisites for functioning at your best. Consider your needs and how they fit into these four questions:
Is this something that’s important to me now?
Will having this space more organized help me get up in the morning or improve my day to day life?
Would learning a new organizing habit make me feel better about myself or change the way I perceive myself now?
What would happen if I left things as is? What would be the consequence?
Reflect on your WHY
Take a moment to identify what you want, how you’ll know you got there and why it’s important to you right now. This could be a short-term goal or a long-term goal. The short-term goal can tie into the long term goal but it should be satisfying in and of itself. For example, if you want to get your garage organized again, start with organizing one cabinet or the tool box. If your guest room has been overrun with stuff and is now a storage area, start with just the things on the floor and leave the surfaces, closets and closet organizing to later.
Achieving small successes will have a big impact on your ability to meet your larger goal. Along the way, you will also want to clarify why this is important to you so you can feel and be motivated to take actions that move you closer to your goal. Try asking yourself these four questions:
If everything were organized just the way I imagine, what would that bring me?
What would I be able to do that I can’t do now?
How would it feel to know that I have reached my goal and am maintaining it?
Besides me, who in my life would be most impacted if I did or did not develop this habit?
Change is certain when you know who you are
The process of change and developing any habit is not impossible. As a professional organizer, move manager and personal advocate for those who want to make change in their lives, I can tell you I wasn’t a “born organizer.” My home is tidy but not a magazine showpiece. I learned to be more organized as I discovered my strengths, needs and what was important to me (and what wasn’t).
It works for me and my husband. We each have our shared and separate responsibilities to keep up with it and I don’t take for granted that I can share those tasks with someone else. If I lived alone, I know it would be harder but not impossible. I also know I would need to make choices about what I could accept and live with.
Even if you live alone, are a single parent, have learned to cope with a physical or cognitive challenge or are recently retired, know that you already have certain strengths that can help you to develop and maintain an organizing habit, enjoy your life and get more done.
Organizing, like meditation, is a practice. It starts out feeling strange and unfamiliar. Over time it becomes the opening to a new way of being.
Over the years I’ve dipped into meditation but never with any consistency. I considered myself a meditation failure.
A few months ago I started again with the help of an app called Ten Percent. I pay for it but not much. The app was inspired by the book Ten Percent Happier. Its author is a journalist named Dan Harris. Harris experienced a very public panic attack while delivering the news on air one day. For more on his story, which is worth reading, visit www.tenpercent.com
When I first heard him at a conference on happiness, (yes you can roll your eyes), I liked him right away. First, he is a reporter, not a “wellness guru.” He is a self-proclaimed “non believer,” critical thinker, funny, Jewish, cute – hey it doesn’t hurt – and about as far from woo-woo as I could imagine.
He describes himself as workaholic. I once heard him say that since he started meditating his wife thought he’d become “less of an asshole.” He sounded like the right teacher for me.
So one day I started. That was 89 meditation sessions ago. (The app helps you keep track.)
The Good Side of Failure
Meditation is not hard but it’s not easy either. It helps if you have a guide and a structure; A thought or phrase to focus on like your breath. I also had to learn that meditation is not about “clearing your mind.” That’s impossible nor the goal. Instead, I learned that failing at meditation is the whole point of meditation.
You focus on something, for a second, lose track of your focus, notice you’ve lost track and get back on track.
It’s in the noticing of when you’ve lost track, that helps you to become more aware. What struck me is that it is the in the moment of “failure” where you gain the most awareness.
We live in a culture and a country that fights failure at all costs. Like vultures at a carcass, we go after people when they fail. Simone Biles withdrawing from the team events at the 2020 Olympics for her own mental health is one recent example. Worst of all, we are ruthless when it comes to our own failures. My inner critic almost made my therapist jump out of her chair recently.
Failure, fear of failure, shame, guilt. I see it so much in the coaching and organizing work I do.
Our clutter – both the mental chatter and the physical stuff – is the manifestation of our sense of self. It’s like being in a self-driving car that’s lost control. By the way, being in a self-driving car is my worst nightmare.
Meditation has shown me the good side of failure. That is, in the moment of losing track, comes the new way of seeing, the shift in perspective. In that moment, it feels like your inner bully is in full force, but that’s where the self-compassion comes in.
The Sting of Self Compassion
Is it easy to find self-compassion when our critical mind is attacking us like a swarm of bees? It’s almost as if the medicine is worse than the pain. But that in fact is the opening, the antidote to the sting if you will.
I have to admit I’m not great at this, yet. I’m still working on turning up the volume of my self-compassion and turning down the volume of my critic. At least I am more aware of it now. I have an opponent I can see a bit better. With time I hope I will be able to hold us both, in the same space, not as my enemy, but with kindness and forgiveness.
I was walking my dog today thinking about how this so called “new normal ” is surfacing some of my old habits. Some of them not so great.
I’m eating more, working out less, and most of all feeling stuck in more than a few places. For some reason when I’m feeling stuck I start thinking about The Roomba.
The Roomba is a self-governing, robotic vacuum cleaner that navigates the floor area of a home to clean it. When the Roomba hits an obstacle, it senses the obstacle and adjusts itself to go in a different direction to complete the task of cleaning.
It occurred to me today while walking my little Cherrier (Chihuahua-Terrier) in the park, I could be more like The Roomba.
Think about it. How many times have you set a goal for yourself or intended to do something only to be stopped by an obstacle? The obstacle in itself may not be inherently bad or good. It is what it is. But then you start thinking, “what’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I do this?” Why am I so ____?” fill in the blank. Lazy, stupid, fat, scared. Then I thought about The Roomba. The Roomba doesn’t tear itself down when it hits an obstacle. It doesn’t berate itself for things beyond its immediate control, it doesn’t judge itself. What does it do? It shifts direction.
Last week I kept thinking, “I need to record some video presentations and share them.” This shouldn’t have been that difficult. Afterall I speak publicly quite often. I have grown quite comfortable with getting up in front of a room and sharing my expertise. So why then was it so hard for me to record what I already know I can do? The more I kept thinking about it, the more anxious I became. My inner critic starting shouting at me. I felt myself banging up against the same old obstacle.
So what did I do? Just like The Roomba, I shifted direction, in this case to something I knew I could do without fear. Instead of recording my talk, I organized my office. (Yes, even organizers need to stay organized.) Then I reached out to some clients by email; I participated in a webinar with other small business owners; and I even took an online class which I could add to my CEU requirement. Then I went out and took a walk with my dog.
In other words I pivoted. It’s a word I’m hearing a lot lately to describe how businesses are responding when they find they suddenly don’t have any business, but it’s also a great strategy for overcoming internal obstacles. Not to mention, it’s one of the cultural and behavioral outcomes of this pandemic – a new lingo just like social-distancing and flatten the curve.
If like me, this horrible pandemic is keeping you from being your best self or scaring the living daylights out of you, or something in between, get out there, turn your switch on, pay attention to what your sensors tell you and if you hit an obstacle, shift directions. Just keep moving. You will get through this. You will more than likely survive. Be like The Roomba.
If everything in your home was organized – easy to find, orderly, containing only what you love and use the most – what would you do that you can’t do now?
In what ways would you feel different then you do now?
What impact would it have on you and those around you?
Your answers to these questions are the most important part of getting organized. Why? Because getting organized is not a goal, it’s a process, a method, a system for achieving something important to you. It’s not enough to say, “I want to be more organized,” if you don’t know why.
Whenever I meet with clients for the first time I ask them these three questions. This is because getting organized is hard work! If you don’t have a compelling reason to tackle the physical, mental and emotional tasks often associated with organizing your home’s contents, you will lose focus, motivation and you’ll end up back where you started or worse.
Stop thinking and start doing
Here’s an easy way to get started and break the cycle of procrastination:
Decide about an area of your home you wish were more organized. Is it your office? Your garage? Your kitchen? Your bedroom?
Write down the one room that most interferes with your day to day life now and why!
Are you feeling an overwhelming sense of stress because your office is a mess? Does your garage make you cringe every time you pass through it? Are you finding it more and more difficult to prepare a meal in your own kitchen? Decide which area is bugging you the most and write it down.
The most disorganized room in my home that is making my day-to-day life more stressful is ________________.
Close your eyes and imagine that room completely organized. You know exactly where everything is and it’s easy to find. It contains only what you love and use the most. It is clean, tidy and orderly. What’s more, you have systems in place for keeping it that way.
Fill in the blanks to these three questions:
If my ____________ was organized I would be able to ____________.
This would make me feel _________________.
As a result, I could _______________ for myself and the people I care about.
How it might look to you
You thought about your home and the area you wish were more organized is your kitchen.
Maybe your kitchen has too much clutter on every surface. The floors, table, counters. You’ve lost control of it and now cooking a meal for yourself or your family is challenging if not impossible.
You’re spending too much on take-out meals as a result and you’re worried about your health and your family’s health, not to mention your finances.
You can never find what you need when you need it so you end up buying more of what you may already have.
You are feeling an unacceptable level of stress and you may even be fighting with your family or others you live with as a result.
You work full time or are taking care of others and are exhausted at the end of the day and the last thing you want to spend your time doing is cleaning.
Now imagine your kitchen has undergone a miraculous organizing makeover.
You know exactly what you have and everyone in your family knows where to find what they need and where to put it back when they are done.
Opening your cabinets, cupboards and pantry makes you happy because the things you use and love the most are organized and visible or labeled.
You can now cook and prepare food in your kitchen with pleasure. You enjoy relaxing in your kitchen with a hot cup of coffee or tea.
You can invite friends over or your family can sit around the kitchen table and have a meal together. This makes you feel happy, connected, free, light, and more available to yourself and others.
You spend less time in the kitchen so you are able to get to work on time, or spend more time enjoying what you love to do including spending more quality time with your friends or family.
Never make “get organized” or “be more organized” the goal in itself. It sounds nice but unless you have an overwhelming and compelling reason to do so, it probably won’t happen. Instead focus on what an organized space, room or house would give you that you don’t have now.
Recognize when you need help
Many home organizing projects can be as labor intensive as a home remodel. Unless you are a contractor, I doubt you would remodel your own kitchen! Know when it’s time to hire a professional:
When the project is too big to handle alone (hint: if you’ve procrastinated or attempted, only to turn away from it once again)
If you have physical, emotional or mental limitations that would prevent you from managing the job alone
If you just don’t have the time to do it alone but want to get it done.
If you are on tight deadline from an impending move, remodel or you need to put your house on the market
Know your WIIFM – What’s In It For Me – your overwhelming and compelling reason for getting organized. It is the most important part of your plan. Make this, and not “get more organized” your resolution for next year, and you will probably be successful.
How to keep your office organized when it’s is in your bedroom
You are finally in bed after a long day. You cover yourself with a blanket; feel the warm comfort of your pillow beneath your head and the soft, cool sheets against your tired body. You begin to relax into a night of slumber when you are suddenly startled by the pinging sounds of your computer sending notifications about tomorrow’s busy day. You get up and turn down the volume and get back in bed. That’s when you notice the pile of papers strewn across your desk, in varying heights and reminding you of a slew of unfinished tasks, unpaid bills and projects still yet to be started. You shut your light out, hoping in darkness you will forget the site of all that you have left undone. All of a sudden you see the blinking of all your devices in random rhythms, your router, your modem, your phone. Your room lights up with a blue blinking glow. You cover your face with a pillow and somehow manage to fall into an exhausted sleep.
In general, I don’t think a bedroom is a great place for your office. Your bedroom should be a place of respite, relaxation and most of all sleep. Yet sometimes, there is no choice. Space is at a premium. You share a home or an apartment and there is no other available space to work.
This doesn’t mean you should lose sleep when your office is in your bedroom. Here are some ways you can minimize those distractions without sacrificing your personal productivity.
Hide your desk. Space permitting, hide your desk behind a free-standing, decorative folding screen or room divider. You can buy them online or in most home decor stores. When it’s time to leave work, simply pull the screen around your desk.
Shut out and shut down. Turn off or block digital noise and distractions. If you can’t hide your electronic equipment, things like your modem, router, or fax/printer behind or under your desk, place a small piece of dark blue painter’s tape over the lights that blink. Painter’s tape will not harm your equipment and can be easily removed or re-placed. This is especially recommended if you use a guest room for your office. You don’t want your guests losing sleep from all the pings and blinking lights.
Re-purpose and reposition. If your room is configured for it, why not turn your desk into a combination bedside table-workspace. That way, you are no longer looking at the desk from your bed. You’ll need a lamp on your desk anyway, so why not make it your bedside lamp. You can also leave a little room nearest your bed for a book or notepad, a place to put your reading glasses, a small plant or decorative item, and a clock or device with an alarm. In other words, all the things you would need nearby while you’re working.
Clear the decks. Surfaces are notorious clutter catchers. No matter what size the surface, they have a way of getting covered with things. Just like you have a home, everything in your home should have a home. Take the time each day to survey what you have on your desk or work surface and decide 1) Can I toss it? 2) Does it need to live on my desk? 3) where else could it live in my home? Then toss it, move it or take it back to where it lives. No more homeless items!
Create vertical storage. Install simple bracket or wall-shelves above your desk area for less frequently used items, books, or reference materials. Use decorative boxes in like colors to contain surplus office supplies. Get these all off your desk and on to a shelf to free up space for working, creating and being more productive.
Equalize your workspace. Before leaving your desk for bed, take 60 seconds to put loose items in drawers, loose papers in a stack or contain them in a shallow box (e.g. an “in-box”). Review your calendar and most important to-dos for the next day. Then shut off your computer (or put it in “sleep mode”) along with all other unnecessary electronics. You’ll save money on your electric bill and may even get a few more Zs tonight.
Personal and home organizing is a hot topic and almost everyone has an opinion about what works. Here are ten beliefs about organizing that I have heard numerous times in my ten years as a professional organizer and move manager. Ask yourself, have I heard myself think or say any of these? If so, read why I think you’d be better off tossing out these beliefs next time you decide to get organized at home.
Myth #1 If it’s visible I can see it. (Also known as, I will remember I have this if I put it here.)
If everything is visible, nothing is. Your eye doesn’t know where to focus. Picture things in a pile. They might be visible but good luck finding what you need in a hurry. If you find yourself saying, “I will remember it if I just put it here,” in my industry we jokingly refer to that as the FHS system of organizing, as in First Horizontal Space.
Myth #2 Just touch the paper once.
I’ve heard clients repeat this back to me dozens of times but it never made sense to me, especially for paper that is prompting you to do something – such as pay a bill – or paper that is likely you will look at again – such as your credit card bill. The only paper I can see looking at once is the paper you toss (or shred) like your junk mail.
Myth #3 It will just take me a day to get organized Unless you make a living as a professional organizer, I would never recommend you spend an entire day on an organizing project unless you have a lot of energy! Organizing is both a physical and mental task. Spending eight hours sorting, purging, assigning homes to items, then containing them in a way that makes sense, not to mention shopping for the right organizing products and labeling them, is a lot or work! Most of my clients consistently underestimate the time it takes to organize a space. Organizing a room includes not just what you can see, but what you can’t see (hidden on shelves, in cabinets and drawers). If you are motivated to get organized, pick a day and time frame when you are feeling normally energetic or when you do other types of household tasks. Don’t spend more than 3-4 hours working. Do you really want to spend your precious days off organizing your garage if what you really want to do is tend to your garden, take a walk with your dog or have brunch with a friend? One more tip: Never use your vacation time to get organized if you don’t have to.
Myth #4 Containers, bins and labels will get me organized That of course is what many stores carrying organizing products and systems will want you to believe. Don’t get me wrong, many of these products are great and I would be the first to recommend a good storage bin to a client when it calls for one. Just buying products and having them collect dust in your home will never get you more organized. Plan on using them for a specific set of items that you have already sorted through and decided to keep because you use them.
Myth #5 Organized people are dull Dull no. Passionate, creative, caring, quirky, friendly, obsessive (sometimes). If you like your “messy” side and have no reason to be “tidy” then embrace that part of yourself if it doesn’t cause pain for you or your loved ones. That being said, I’ve always believed that when you create more physical space in your life, it gives you the room to focus on or discover what truly gives you joy.
Myth #6 I am hopeless when it comes to getting organized The messages we give ourselves often manifest as reality. But just because you don’t have the expertise, skill, “mindset” or intention to get organized doesn’t mean you can’t be me more organized. I understand not everyone is cut out to be better at something they wish they were. No amount of effort will ever turn me into a marathon runner but I did once complete a marathon-walk. It took months of training every weekend, motivation and a plan. If you want to learn to be better organized, you can do it
Myth #7 I just need time to do some filing
Several years ago, I started a new personal productivity service for my clients who were struggling with too much paper.
I was inspired to do this after I heard so many of them say that the answer to their paper piles was filing. It’s not! The answer to your paper piles is less paper! But knowing what paper to keep, how and why, and having a simple system for organizing and managing new paper as it comes in to your life, does work. Learn more about my personal productivity service here.
Myth #8 I just need more storage space The famous comedian, George Carlin, had a great routine about why people buy homes (as a “place to put their stuff.”) Check it out here for a good laugh: https://youtu.be/MvgN5gCuLac. While storage or lack thereof may be a contributing factor to your disorganization, buying or building shelves will not make the clutter go away. It will just “contain” it. But buying shelving just to contain your “stuff” is like, as Mr. Carlin said, like buying a house just to have a place to put your stuff.
Myth #9 Live minimally While I love to watch the shows about Tiny Houses, not everyone is cut out to live in a 200 square foot home. I know I’m not! When I was in college, I had a boyfriend who literally had one knife, one fork, and one spoon. At dinner we used to playfully compete for who got the fork at dinner! It may have seemed romantic at the time, but you don’t have to live this minimally to enjoy your life. There is a grey area in between. When it comes to deciding what you really need, I prefer to use the word “curate” as it implies keeping only what supports you. Curate comes from the Latin word Cur or care. Thus we keep what we care about and anything left that is still useful, finds new life in the care of someone else. Living in a consumer and technological culture has made that very difficult. Sadly there is so much I see that can’t be re-used or recycled. Choose carefully what you bring into your life. Everytime you are tempted to buy something new, consider that the day may come when you will want to part with it. Will it be usable or trash?
Myth #10 Having a place for everything I own will make me more organized. Having a home for what you use, love and need is important but having a home for your stuff alone does not make you more organized. It won’t help you, for example, if you have used your space so efficiently that every square inch of your home contains things that you’ve never used, exist in quantities that exceed what you need or you are keeping for sentimental reasons that never honor the person who gave them to you. What’s the point of holding on to your grandmother’s china if you never use it! In her day, she probably kept it as an heirloom for you and chances are she used it because in her day, China was part of her lifestyle the way mugs and plates we own are part of ours. If you are keeping something for sentimental reasons, use it to bring back memories otherwise release it for someone else to enjoy. Just keep in mind, to someone else it’s just a plate and saucer.
The other day I decided to organize my one and only recipe binder. Most recipes I look up online. A few I take from cherished cookbooks and an old 3-ring, 1-inch recipe binder I’ve had for years. I found myself wanting to organize the binder recently after it took me a little too long find a recipe I needed.
When I started the process of organizing the binder- emptying the contents, sorting each recipe by category, disposing of the ones I knew I would never make again, then putting them back in order – I thought to myself, “I really don’t feel like doing this right now.”
Being organized is all about developing an organizing habit. It requires a thought, a motivation, an acton and a result.
Developing an organizing habit comes from a desire to continually survey your environment and be willing to improve your surroundings so you can function on a day to day basis with more ease.
It takes a willingness to regularly decide whether or not this thing or that still serves you or adds value to your life. Once decided, it then should be followed up with action – a choice to retain and store it logically and aesthetically, or to let it go to to find a new life somewhere else or to dispose of it safely and conscientiously. It’s not easy. Even sometimes for an organizer.
I had no strong motivation, nothing forcing me to undertake this little project. I also realized if I wanted to find a recipe in the binder, I still could, if I was willing to tolerate the inconvenience of looking for it (I was). There were other more pressing priorities in my life. I’d just returned from a trip to New York and was still adjusting to the time change and catching up on my to-do list.
Now back home, I realized, “I’m tired.” I thought it would be nice to get this done, but it wasn’t really necessary right now. I can live with it the way it is. Further, I just didn’t have the bandwidth to make decisions or take on any actions. This, I thought, is just how my clients feel.
It’s nice to be organized but let’s face it, it’s not always easy to get organized. When do you really have to get organized? It differs for everyone but in general here are some reasons you don’t have to get organized:
If what you want to organize is good enough and still usable (like my recipe binder)
If you (and your family or housemates) can still find what you need when you need it without too much effort
If you are okay with your home looking “lived in” and doesn’t have to look like it’s staged for sale
If you are not regularly losing things, paying bills late, incurring late fees, or paying for things you already own and can’t find
If you and your family are not fighting over the clutter in your home
If you are not feeling stressed every time you open your closet
If you are enjoying your life to the fullest
Here’s when you probably should think about getting organized:
When you are selling your home or moving
When you are planning a remodel
When you or a member of your family has to downsize for their own safety
When you feel the stress of your paper or physical clutter impacting your wellbeing or mood more days than not
When you and your family are arguing over the clutter in your home
When you realize you feel ashamed or embarrassed to have people into your home when you otherwise would
When you’ve used up your storage space or can’t use your storage the way it was intended (e.g., parking your car in the garage)
When you find yourself renting storage units for more than a year (this is a very costly way to defer organizing)
I frequently meet people who when they find out I’m a professional organizer will say, “oh, I need you!” but in fact they really don’t because they’ve learned to live with and tolerate their cluttered closets and messy garages. They put up with the fights with their kids or their spouses. Or they just don’t feel like doing it even when someone can do it for them because it’s one more thing on their to-do list.
Most people realize the time to get help is when the disorder exceeds their ability to tolerate the consequence. It’s when it costs them more in money or peace of mind to do nothing. Sadly, this is also when they are least equipped to take on the task. Like me in that moment with recipe binder, they are just too tired and there’s too much else they have to get done first.
Think you want to organize your office? What’s it costing you not to? What can’t you do now? How would it help you if you could find what you need when you needed it?
Want to organize your kitchen, living room or closets? What’s it costing you not to? Are you unable to prepare a meal? Are you fighting with your spouse because there’s no place to sit and play with your kids in your living room?
Are you feeling sick to your stomach every time you open a closet, cabinet or cupboard because the mess is unbearable?
Are you moving and waking up nights thinking about how the heck you’re going to get all the stuff from your 2,500 square-foot home into a 1,200 square-foot condo with no garage!?
I often say to my clients, don’t let the small stuff get in the way of the big stuff. What I mean by this is consider the cost of not taking action.
If it’s small, like my deciding not to organize my recipe binder right now, there is relatively little consequence. But if you defer taking action or decide you can do it all yourself, consider the cost to your health, your marriage, even your dreams and goals. For those large painful organizing projects that are impeding your life or causing you great stress, it’s not whether you can afford to do it, it’s whether you can afford not to.
Anyone who juggles life’s internal and external demands, whether that be a promise to stay healthy or a need to get things done at home or at work, will recognize themselves in at least one of these 10 little lies.
The lies themselves are a kind of time rationalization, says Dr. Ari Tuckman, author and subject expert on adult ADHD. The lies people tell themselves keep them disorganized or stuck in bad habits. How close in time something has to be done is what determines whether or not we take or avoid action.
For example, if a deadline is looming within days or hours, we may be more apt to take action then if it’s weeks or months away. The closer something is to the present the more we see and feel its impact. This can either be felt as pleasure, such as a having our favorite food nearby or painful, such doing our taxes or preparing to move.
In essence we are constantly asking ourselves, “Is it better to suffer in the present to experience joy in the future or should we aim to enjoy the present moment at the expense of possible future consequences?” It is an ongoing tug-a-war between the pleasure-motivated side of our brain and the executive function that helps us to make wiser choices that can also feel inconvenient or downright painful.
How many of these 10 little lies do you tell yourself?
I can do that tomorrow
I’ll put that away later
I don’t need to get organized; I remember where everything is
I don’t have to write that down. I’ll remember.
This will just take a minute
Sorry, I was late….traffic!
I’ll just start after a quick break
I’ll just work twice as hard tomorrow
I’ll get to that in a minute
I don’t need to do that now
People fall somewhere on a continuum between complete impulsivity (those with attention issues) and overly diligent (those with obsessive tendencies). Those with better self awareness fall somewhere in the middle, says Dr. Tuckman. When you find yourself using one of these little lies, Dr. Tuckman advises stopping to pause and visualize the outcome as both your “today self” and your “tomorrow self.” Introducing that momentary pause and visualization can sometimes cause you to do something – like scheduling that appointment – and make the difference between staying on track or going off the rails.
Need help getting organized? Call us to schedule a free project assessment, by phone: 510.846.1976