Be honest with me. Are you stalling on a big (or even medium-sized, or small) organizing project? Whether it’s because the stuff has been neglected for so long it just seems too huge, or because uncovering and making decisions about items feels humiliating or painful, or because you think it will be downright boring, the potentially organized can find many ways to “put it off by piling it on.” But this month, with its many opportunities for clearing out the old, unloved, and obsolete, I thought I'd share some insights for getting started down the simplified path.
When I’m going through the steps of a project with someone, I use a basic system each time, customizing it for that person’s particular lifestyle, space and goals. I’ve tried a few times to get that system from my head down to paper in an original way that everyone can follow, but it wasn’t until this past weekend it sort of crystallized for me. LESS. As in, L.E.S.S. As in:
L - Learn
E - Evaluate
S - Sort/categorize
S - Systematize
Let’s just take “L” for today: Learn. We just do not know what all we have until we purposely take steps to find out. We also often do not know how we work best with the items and information around us. So for example, “L" is about learning what exactly is in your desk drawer - it’s not just “office supplies”, but rather:
And so on. “Wow,” you're thinking, “it’s just like you’re really here.” I have been here...many times. We negate the volume of stuff by calling the whole drawer “office supplies.” Be honest again...until you checked you did NOT know you had 5 boxes of paper clips. The point here is that we really can’t know at all how to begin clearing and purging until we know exactly what all hides in the space. We have to learn (or in some cases, remind ourselves) what we have, and come to grips with it, before we can progress.
Learning is also about knowing ourselves. Most of us have an intuition that we regularly ignore. Maybe deep down we know we work better when the surfaces are clear. Or, maybe we need to experiment with leaving things visible so we can remember them. Try sitting in a cluttered space and really looking around. Take an empty paper towel tube and “telescope” it around the room - what do you notice? Think back to a time when the space was clearer, or maybe even empty. What sorts of things happened along the way in life that resulted in the current hot mess? It’s more common than not that when I’m first talking with a client and I ask them how long the space has felt uncomfortable to them, there is a dawning of realization that it all started when __________ (the baby came, I lost my job, my business exploded, we moved Mom to assisted living, etc.). Knowing how it all started helps.
So knowledge is power, right? Here’s a challenge for you: pick a space you need to organize and find out what all is in it. Make a list, and put a star next to the things you had forgotten, or that surprised you, or that (sigh) still have shrink wrap or tags on them. If you’re feeling especially motivated, I would love it if you'd share your list insights with us in the comments. In the next post we’ll take my “office supplies” list above and move on to “E” - for Evaluate - and that’s when the fun really begins.
"Many of us feel stress and get overwhelmed not because we're taking on too much, but because we're taking on too little of what really strengthens us." - Marcus Buckingham
Sara Skillen - I'm a Certified Professional Organizer®, wife and mom, and serial list-maker. I'm also an Evernote Certified Consultant. I love to help people from all walks of life get organized and productive - and I'd love to help you, too:
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