When we speak of someone who is “organized”, we’re often describing an overall impression that they “have it together.” They’re on top of things. Isn’t that the bigger picture kind of organization most of us want more of in our lives? But many of us know all too well that it’s impossible to have “it” together if you can’t find where you put it!
Physical organization is a really crucial part of that bigger picture kind of organization. We need to have and maintain a sense of order and logic in our physical surroundings, in order to be able to function effectively and with less stress. Without physical organization, it’s virtually impossible to manage your time well, to be punctual, to take care of what needs to be done and when.
Without a sufficient degree of physical organization in our surroundings, it’s virtually impossible to be on top of the things you have going on in our lives.
But I don’t actually advocate the kind of organization that is represented in this picture! (Although I’m sure my husband wishes that I did!) As a coach, my job is to help my clients find their own “sweet spot” of organization: that just-right level of organization that supports them and helps them function at their full potential, but is not so rigid and “perfect” that the effort it takes to maintain is too much to keep for the long haul.
Here are my 10 Essential Rules for Organization to help you start moving toward the just-right level of organization you need to get your own “it” together!
- Clear the Clutter, and keep at it! It’s easier for you and your kids to keep on top of things when there’s less to manage! Store things that aren’t used regularly elsewhere if you can. Institute a “Net Zero Stuff” policy in your home: for every item that comes into your home, an equal number of similarly sized items must go out! Learn to keep an eye out for clutter regularly—scan closets, toys and drawers often, for example, and get rid of a couple things regularly. Remember—keeping clutter at bay is an ongoing process. Build routines around de-cluttering, and schedule time to de-clutter.
- Start Small. Think of 1 -3 things or small areas (max!) you can start working to get organized, that will make the biggest difference in your life. Keep at those 1-3 things until they feel like 2nd nature before you start tackling something else. Be clear, be specific, and master those things before you add on. It takes at least a month (I think more like 2!) for a new behavior to truly become a habit that won’t’ require as much effort—more for certain things!
- Create Routines. Create morning and evening routines to set yourself up for an organized day, and maintain your systems. Keep the routines simple, and use checklists until they become auto pilot. Creating habits and routines for the things we need to do (especially the things we tend to resist or have a hard time keeping up with), can get our heads out of our own way, and make it so much easier to keep up. When something becomes a routine, we don’t have to decide when we’re going to do it, decide whether we have enough energy to do it, or talk ourselves into doing it. It just gets done! Effort and energy expenditure are minimized.
- Make a Place (or 2) for everything, As much as most of us hate the expression, we really are better off with “A place for everything.” We know we should store items near their point of use,and that it’s always easier to find something if we know where it belongs, and we’ve kept it there. Yet, sometimes, it’s hard to do and, frankly just not that practical! For things we tend to use or access in multiple places, we might be better off having just a few places it “belongs”, rather than just one, single home. For example, having just one acceptable place or “home” for your cell phone or glasses can be hard for us to stick to. I honestly know that I’m not going to bother to spend the time and energy to get up and schlep my cell phone across the house to put it in its one, acceptable “home” every single time I use it, and that feeling like I had to do that just might make me more likely to misplace it from time to time when it set it down “just for a moment!” (We all know how that ends!) So, I’ve created a few acceptable “homes” for my phone throughout my home (one in my office, one in my bedroom, one in the kitchen, my family room, and my basement). While having an acceptable home for your cell phone or glasses on every floor of the house may not completely eliminate the need to search for them, it sure does limit the number of places you have to look! Having a single “place” or just a few home(s) for everything will go a long way to improve your organization!
- Build Organization Maintenance into routines. Create habits and routines around making sure you put things back in their “place(s)” multiple times each day, and schedule those time if needed until they become second nature! Identify your trouble areas (those areas you tend to mess or clutter up regularly), and work on them for a small amount of time every day. Say, just 5-15 minutes to improve and maintain a specific section of your counters, dressers, a table, etc. Building organization maintenance into routines keeps us from digging those proverbial holes of clutter for ourselves that are so hard to dig ourselves out of, and it takes the thinking, deciding, and much of the energy out of forcing yourself to do it! Remember: habit and routine gets your head out of your way! And it’s usually our head, our thinking, that’s our biggest obstacle to maintaining organization.
- Build Off of what works! Do you have no trouble keeping track of written requests at work? How can you apply what works there to other, similar situations—like the bills at home? Keep it simple! Do you know that you’re a visual processor (do you picture the things you’re looking for when you’re looking?)? Then build off that and use color—lots of color! Put that phone you keep losing in a brightly colored case that won’t blend in anywhere! Use color-coding for filing and to make it easier to distinguish similar things. Use your strengths!
- Go with the flow! Look at the problem areas and think about how you can make it easier to maintain them. Where do you leave your dirty clothes? Put the hamper there. Do you often forget to leave your key on the hook inside the door when you come home, and frequently toss it somewhere else instead? Look at where you’re tossing it most often and place a dedicated dish or basket in that. Store things near where you use them most, and create just a few places to store items that are used in a variety of locations. Think of it as “reducing the barriers to keeping things organized!” Keep it simple, and make it as easy on yourself as possible!
- Practice being Mindful! Do you lose particular things often? It can be really helpful to practice being more mindful of those things—more intentionally aware of those things and mentally present when you’re dealing with them. It sounds odd, but pick one item at a time, and think about why it’s important to you in the bigger picture of life. For a week or two, intentionally be more thoughtful about what you do with that one thing—where you store it, acceptable places to put it down, and really start to feel yourself being more connected to that thing. I try tell my clients to think of that thing as “precious” and treat it that way—be intentionally aware of what your phone feels like at you hold that “precious cargo” tightly in your hand, for example, and what it feels like when your hand is empty. It sounds a bit odd, but I’ve had many clients be very successful practicing this technique!
- Be careful with containers! For those of us with ADD, Out of Sight truly can be Out of Mind! Use clear bins with labels. When using containers for things that are not for long-term storage, like mail or papers or other things that have yet to be dealt with, be VERY careful about how you store them—simply removing the lid from the bin you store your bills in may make a big difference in your ability to keep up with them. Also, containers that are small and somewhat self-limiting in size can keep the contents from becoming an overwhelming project to deal with.
- Ask for help! Have a trusted friend or family member help you. Hire a coach. There are lots of people out there who love all things organization, and love to help other people. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it!
If you take nothing else from this article, remember my saying, “Physical clutter creates mental clutter!” Clarifying and simplifying your surroundings will dramatically improve your organization, your overall functionality, and reduce your stress.
And if you’re ready to do the work to “get it together” yourself, the support and insight of a Coach can be a tremendous help! As always, I’m here and ready to get to work when you are.
What are you willing to commit to so that you can finally feel like you “have it together?”