Just about everyone at one time or another thinks, I want to get organized.
And while they may think they are the worst “pack rats” in the world, chances are they are not.
When clients ask me is this typical? pointing to their overstuffed garages, closets or drawers, I usually say, YES. Then they relax and start to tell me about all the ways they have tried to “get organized” with limited success or none at all. They feel ashamed or angry, usually with themselves, sometimes at their spouse who they tell me wants to “keep everything!” They think they are lazy or worry that others do. What I tell them is this:
Getting organized is not a goal.
After staring at me quizzically for a moment, I continue.
What will being organized get you?
Usually it’s along the lines of I just want all the stuff out or I just want to be able to breath. Again, I ask them the question in a slightly different way:
What will you do that you can’t do now if everything were organized the way you want?
- Would you have more room to play with your kids?
- Would you be able to focus on your job or business?
- Would you have more time for your hobbies?
- Would you be able to invite friends over?
- Would you pursue a hobby?
- Would you be able to save or make more money?
- Would you be able to feel more at peace?
- Would you feel like you could get more done?
Getting organized is a series of habits and behaviors, both physical and mental; we learn and practice being organized for a particular benefit that is motivated by a specific outcome.
In the same way one learns how to engage in a physical activity such as yoga, or play a team sport such as soccer, for the sense of wellbeing, physical challenge or fun, learning to be more organized is a means to an end, not the end itself.
So, the next time you find yourself cringing when you walk past the unidentifiable stuff gathering in what was supposed to have been your guest room; or the piles of paper on your desk forcing you to use your dining room as an office; or the bags and boxes threatening to push you out of your own bedroom; or the well-intentioned projects that never get done but are cluttering up your garage so you haven’t been able to park your car there for months, go easy on yourself!
Guilt and shame won’t clear your clutter.
Instead, consider objectively what it costs you and more importantly, what it would give you to have more room in your life? Ask yourself, “If I were more organized what would I be doing that I can’t do now?”
Then decide if it’s worth your time, energy and money to get it done.
Making that decision is half the battle. The other half is learning and practicing the simple, though not always easy, steps it takes to get and stay organized. Remember, your disorganized space did not happen overnight so getting it to where you want it to be will take time too. Don’t dive in until you have a plan:
Determine your WIIFM goal.
In other words, what’s-in-it-for-me? Why are you doing this? Organizing is both physically and mentally draining. It’s similar to remodeling your home but just on a smaller scale. You’ll need to remember why you’re doing this to stay motivated.
Choose your area of focus.
Where are you going to get the biggest bang for your effort? This will depend on what your WIIFM goal is. Maybe you want it to be your dining room so you can enjoy dinner at night with your family. Or you want it to be your bedroom so you’ll have a peaceful place to read or watch TV. It could be your closet so getting dressed in the morning or finding what you need will take less time. De-clutter a spare room so you can have your best friend visit from out of town.
Decide on a timeline.
If you are not in a big rush, and the clutter isn’t too bad, you may be able to tackle some or most of the job alone. If it’s moderately cluttered or more, or if you want it done quickly, you may wish to elicit the help of a professional organizing company.
Use a strategy that works for you.
For example you may be more productive if you build in “break time.” For example, work for an hour, stop for 5 minutes, work for another hour. Set a timer if you need to so another project doesn’t sidetrack you.
Understand the difference between organizing stuff and organizing paper.
Hint: organizing stuff is much easier, less time consuming and therefore more satisfying. If you are overwhelmed by paper consider consulting with a professional organizer that specializes in paper and productivity.
Set up a system and stick to it.
If you are organizing stuff, try sorting everything first before you start purging what you no longer use, need or love. Empty and dispose of all the paper or plastic bags and old cardboard boxes containing items you own. It’s much easier to decide what you want and what you don’t if you can see exactly what you’ve got.
Don’t confuse products with being organized.
The latest and greatest organizing tool will not make you more organized. Shop for organizing products or systems after you’ve sorted and purged.
Assign a “home” for items you keep.
Consider how and where you use them as well as how frequently you need them. In other words, ask yourself, if I were looking for this tomorrow or in six months, in which room would I want to find it?
Don’t over complicate it.
Keep only what you would use, not what you could use.
Stay in one place.
Don’t try to organize every room in your home at the same time. As the saying goes, if you chase after two rabbits you’ll catch neither.
This insightful guest post is from Lisbeth “Lis” Mckinley. Lis is a board certified professional organizer and owner/founder of LET’S MAKE ROOM based in Oakland, California. She can be reached at 510-846-1976.