What does it mean to be organized? The ability to find anything you need in 30 seconds or less.
What is the purpose of being organized? To take effective action and live the life you want.
What does clutter represent? Postponed decisions. When we save things we don’t need or make plans we don’t really want, we trash our future. When we let go of things and activities we don’t really need, we create space for a new future.
Have you tried to get organized and felt stumped by where to begin? Or looked at your organized friends or colleagues and wondered how they do it?
So let’s look at Strategies for Reasonably Organized people. Notice I didn’t say “perfect” people. These are key strategies that really do work for real people and can be applied to any space, whether it’s in your home or office.
First we’ll look at set-up strategies, which provide the structure of an organized system. And then we’ll talk about maintenance strategies – the habits and routines of organized people.
Make your systems fit you and your life as it is now
Signs that your systems don’t fit you/your life:
- Space is set up for activities you’re no longer doing, such as supplies from an old hobby you haven’t touched in years taking up valuable space.
- Stuff for current activities is floating around without a home.
- There are unused rooms in your home. Perhaps a rarely used guest room could double as a home office rather than using your dining room table for this purpose.
- Evaluate the purpose of the spaces in your home and the current activities to be performed there.
- Build out spaces around your natural habits and preferences.
- Consider the relationship of one activity to another.
- Remove items that don’t fit into the purpose of the space – put them elsewhere, sell, donate, recycle, or trash them.
Sort everything by how you use it
Symptoms of disorganization:
- Closets and storage areas are a jumble of mixed items and you can’t find what you need.
- What you need is stored far from the activity.
- You don’t know how many items are in a collection – books, shoes, kitchen gadgets
- Group similar items together – papers that require action, books, office supplies.
- Identify what is important, those items that you currently need, use and/or love.
- Think like a realtor: location, location, location! Put high-use items into high-use spaces. You want the things you need and use every day at your fingertips, such as the top of your desk. Medium-use items go into medium-use spaces – file cabinets or a credenza adjacent to your desk. Low-use items are stored in low-use spaces, like an office supply closet or a basement storage room.
Use the right containers and tools
Signs of a mismatch:
- You spend a lot of time looking for basic items.
- There aren’t enough containers to hold belongings and stuff is everywhere.
- The furniture in a room doesn’t work.
- Make a shopping list and purchase supplies you need – pens, scissors, step ladder, etc.
- Based on what needs to be stored in the space, evaluate and make a list of the containers you need – file folders, storage containers, laundry hampers, etc.
- Evaluate furniture needed to support activities; for example, a “working desk” has drawers for supplies, two file drawers, and a large enough surface to spread out as you’re working.
Signs that you’re label-deficient:
- You don’t know what’s in boxes, drawers and storage containers.
- When you put things away, you can’t find them again.
- Only one person in your home or office knows how to find anything.
- You can’t locate your important papers.
- Label all shelves, boxes, and storage containers.
- Use a Sharpie and stick-on labels or purchase a label machine.
- Label logically, legibly, largely.
- Set up a user-friendly filing system and create a filing system for electronic documents that mirrors your paper system.
Keep it simple
Symptoms it’s not simple:
- Systems are set up, but don’t get used because they’re too complicated.
- Things are left out because it’s too hard to put them away.
- You spend too much time and energy doing things that really don’t need to be done.
- You have no time to sit and relax.
- Think before you buy. Studies show that 80% of the things in our homes are rarely or never used. Before you buy anything, consider the time you’ll spend cleaning, storing, and maintaining the item.
- Thoughtfully plan your schedule and avoid activities that are unimportant or drain you. Learn the art of saying “no” gracefully.
- Avoid perfectionism. Resolve to be “organized enough” – doing something is better than avoiding doing anything because it must be absolutely perfect.
- Be flexible. Tweak your system until it flows and requires little thought.
Decide to decide
- There is unopened mail everywhere.
- Your “To Read” pile is enormous.
- You often use phrases like “for now” and “someday.”
- You have lots of piles all over your home or office waiting for your attention.
- Open the mail every day and deal with it right away.
- Avoid looking at documents and putting them down without making a decision. Try to handle paper only once.
- Stop making excuses and take it one step at a time. Getting started is half the battle.
- Realize you can have a little pain now or a lot more pain later. You get to decide.
Signs You Need to Weed:
- You have more stuff – papers, clothing, keepsakes – than will fit into your space.
- All the flat surfaces in your home or office have piles.
- Belongings are overflowing from storage areas into the living space.
- Maintenance of your things is taking over your life.
- Make friends with your trash can. Resolve to be ruthless with clutter.
- Invoke the Six-Month Rule: If I haven’t used it in six months and don’t plan to use it in the next six months, I probably won’t miss it (seasonal/specialty items excluded).
- When something new comes into your space, look for a similar item to leave your space. This applies to paper and electronic files too.
- Designate a place for donation items and add to it regularly.
Evaluate honestly and often
You need to re-evaluate your stuff and your space if:
- Things used to be organized, but now they’re piling up and causing problems.
- You don’t know what’s in closets and storage areas.
- You’re going through or recovering from life events.
- Take a little time along the way to maintain systems so things don’t go back to their former condition.
- Look at your schedule and scale back on unimportant activities that are taking too much of your time and energy.
- Be patient with yourself if you’re going through difficult life events that are causing situational disorganization.
Get help when you need it
Signs you need help:
- One person is doing all the work while others do little.
- Tasks aren’t done because no one knows how to do them or wants to do them.
- There are conflicts about how and when things should be done.
- Don’t try to be a super hero. Realize that no one can be good at everything; we all need help sometimes.
- Ask for what you need – talk to family, friends and colleagues.
- Sometimes it makes sense to pay for help with tasks you can’t do or don’t want to do
- Professional Organizers and Seniors Move Managers are available to help – check out napo.net and nasmm.org for professionals in your area to help. If you’re located in the Atlanta metropolitan area, feel free to contact us for additional information.