I'm often in organizing sessions where a client will say something along the lines of:
They're saying these things in a jokey way, but I know there's a little defense mechanism sentiment behind them. They're getting out ahead of me possibly making some organizerish judgment call. We may be looking at a rock their school crush gave them in 5th grade, or a massive collection of concert t-shirts, or a folder full of articles about seahorses that they've curated over the years.
Skeletons in closets? Shoot, that's nothing compared to some of the unusual objects or pieces of paper that folks hang onto. I recognize it's a vulnerable moment when someone shows me their own personal skeletons - things that are kind of weird or funny or over the top. So I don't take the sharing lightly. I was cleaning out a container in my own home not too long ago and found the entire stash of boards I broke for Taekwondo belt tests years ago. All the boards. Why all the boards? Organizers keep odd things sometimes, too (plus, I'm thinking we have too much storage in this house).
I'm also not in the business of forcing someone to let go of all of their unusual stuff. What, just because most people don't keep an E.T. rubber mask, or a collection of Star Trek action figures in their master closet, you should get rid of yours? If you have the storage to store things properly, and that is:
...I don't see the harm in keeping things you care about. Regardless of how unusual they might be, or my opinion of them.
Along those same lines, sometimes someone will apologetically show me something they've devised to create their own organizing system. For example, maybe they've repurposed items like using a rickety old ladder as a bookshelf, or used things differently like S-hooks and a towel bar for necklaces. Systems created uniquely, especially by repurposing and without the pressure of conforming, are often the perfect solution.** If they ask my opinion, my usual response is to ask how it works for them (and their usual reply is that yes, it's a great system).
You obtained it, saved it, created it, devised it...why not own it? Why fix what's not broken? When I work with people to improve their organization, I'm working to help their environment support who they are, not trying to change who they are. If you need to modify habits that got you into trouble with your stuff management, that's one thing. But one of the aspects I love most about what I do is learning about other people's unique personalities. Party quirks, if you will. It's interesting to find out that someone is really into genealogy, or entering the annual neighborhood holiday light competition. Or that they've figured out that putting lists on the refrigerator under that special Dunder Mifflin magnet will help them to remember things.
If it's working for you, let your own weird way of organizing shine through.
*Pet peeve time - the term 'woo-woo.' It's unfortunate that we are reluctant to talk about various branches of spirituality, and have to reduce it to a slightly diminishing colloquialism to make it acceptable. Maybe that's another post.
**As a result of my research for this post, I'm now a little obsessed with finding and upcycling an old card catalog for my office. Hey librarians - anyone out there with a lead? Anyone?
Do you organize to organize, or do you organize for results? I asked someone this question recently in the middle of their session, and it kind of stopped them in their tracks. They had been describing a fairly complex idea that included setting up times on their calendar and making several lists and checking in with me for accountability and, and, and... Missing in their organizing equation was what all of this work was supposed to do for them.
Sometimes when I'm working with new clients, and we're not quite used to each other yet, and they don't totally know my philosophy, there are some interesting expectations. Sometimes they're thinking I'm going to do some sort of Marie Kondo-like move on them, or tell them to get rid of everything they own, or - and this is the one that gets me - show up with lots of products and supplies that will answer all of their problems. Not to mention a pocketful of my best tricks or hacks for organizing success.
Aside: I really dislike that word - "hack." To me, it implies that you can trick or outsmart a process, circumventing the uncomfortable work that may be needed to make progress. As if I could wave a magic wand and give someone a two-sentence solution for conquering years and years of clutter. Also, it puts me in mind of something my long-deceased cat used to wake me up with in the middle of the night. But I digress…
If you are accustomed to reading or looking at lots of organizing advice and ideas, it's easy to get caught up in the systems or products that are used. Buying the latest gadget or set of pre-printed labels can seemingly get you where you want to be. But as I outlined in a post about L.E.S.S. long ago, no system will work for your stuff until you work with your stuff first. You can't know what you'll need in terms of a system until you understand what you need it for.
The other piece of that understanding is keeping in mind what you ultimately want out of the process. Do you want rooms and storage spaces to look clearer and lighter? Do you want to get out of the door every day more easily? Maybe you want better control and a clearer head, or to be better prepared for an upcoming life transition. Why did you decide to organize in the first place - what was the point?
There are some cool products and ideas out there, some really excellent ones. I know someone who is still making great use of a paper and file organizing system that was produced and marketed over 15 years ago. They understood what they wanted it to do, it worked and has stood the test of time. I love velvet clothing hangers - they work for me, and my closet is always in better-than-average shape as a result. But, as is often the case, I have questions:
Lots of people (including me) have shunned resolutions in favor of things that are more meaningful to them, like words, phrases, or themes for their year. Sometimes they write mission statements that help them to give their year some shape, and provide support to the goals they want to achieve. It's more expansive, and less punitive, to state that "2020 is my Year of Intention" than it is to say that your intent is "By God, I'm just going to force myself to exercise every single day!" Coming up with a word or phrase may get you closer to the why of it all, too.
Here's something: try writing out a simple statement that expresses what you want to get out of being more organized this year. What's it going to do for you? If you're up for it, please share your thoughts in the comments.
So here we are, ten days away from a new decade.
For some of you, that opener may be a relief:
For others, it may bring some dismay:
How many of you are actually at peace with it?:
I frequently wonder, often while digging through bags of car clean-outs or piles of random paperwork: What are we humans really here to do? Are we here to alphabetize our spices and color-code our clothing? Not me. Are you here to shop? To save? To "hustle"? To compare? To post? To raise kids that achieve everything you didn't? To buy things to solve problems you didn't know you had? I'm fortunate to have some communities and connections where these ideas rarely even come across the radar, except in a "bless-their-hearts" kind of way. These communities humble me, and ground me when I most need it. What if we could all find grounding like that? How would our pondering and possibility-thinking change? How would our relationships with "stuff" shift?
That social media ten-year-challenge thing going around a few weeks back snagged my attention. It got me looking back at a time when, unbelievably, I was not organizing professionally or coaching. How is it that I could be such a different person, how was that not a thing for me ten years ago? I used to say that I wished I had discovered my current path sooner, but now I know I found it when I was supposed to. I know I wouldn't have been ready then, at least not in a way that would have been most helpful for me or anyone else.
Ten years ago, writing a book was definitely something I wanted to be able to do - I felt like it could be a part of my own particular mix of contribution. I had not a clue what it could even be about. I just knew I wanted to play with words backward and forwards until hopefully, something interesting or helpful came to the surface. I'm so in awe of those who can write things that move us and make us look at all things new again. Talented writers make it seem so easy.
Understanding that we all have to start somewhere, I started writing my blog at the exact same time I started organizing professionally. When I look back at those early posts, I cringe a little (ok, no, I cringe a lot - check out this little gem for a laugh), but they are a reflection of where I was. It wasn't easy to start writing and putting it out in the interwebs, wondering if anyone would ever even see it. Hellloooo? Anyone out there?…[cue the crickets]. What if I had never even started them? Who or what would I not know, not have come into contact with? Three years ago, I did start a book, which should also be out wandering the world in about a week. I cringe a little looking back at it as well, but...
I did what I could. Thoughts, for better or worse, have been written. I have more to do, but it's all good.
I am at peace with this decade, with all of its highs and lows, fits and starts. I'm looking forward, with deep gratitude, to the next. How about you?
We bless this year for all we've learned
Sara Skillen - Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Organizer Coach®, wife, mom, dog-lover, author. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?