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
I originally had a different plan for this week's post, but received some inspiration that took me in another direction a few days ago when I was scanning XM Radio channels. I heard, on the station I refuse to play before November 29, a snippet of "My Favorite Things." Complete with sleigh bells and a full string section - Tony Bennett's version, if memory serves. I'm not alone in wondering when it morphed into a holiday song, and of course, I Googled - there's a more extended history than I knew. So when I sat down to write this week and realized I likely won't crank another post out before Thanksgiving, I got to thinking about the season and well...here we are.
Aside from whiskers on kittens, and Julie Andrews' voice, there is not much in the song that appeals to me. I'm more of a The King and I girl. But if you've read any of my holiday posts in years' past (or if you know me even slightly), you'll know I'm not big on stuff-giving. What does resonate for my list, and what could you do this year to cut back on the stress of shopping and the future soul-sucking curation of excess objects? I have some thoughts. I flirted with the idea of getting everything to rhyme in some sort of parody, but that was just working too hard for this time of year. Besides, do you know how many recorded versions there already are of this thing (I stopped counting around 210)?
So here it is, My Favorite Things, 2019 Edition. With apologies to Rogers and Hammerstein, read on for my ideas on gifts and cool things to do that make me smile whenever the dog bites or the bee stings...
1. Tickets. $-$$$$. To the opera. For an Amtrak ride. To the kids' school production of A Christmas Carol, complete with rattling chains and stakes of holly through the heart. To The Rise of Skywalker, or that Beatles tribute band concert. A ticket to any sort of trip or event, for any kind of taste, is available pretty much everywhere in price ranges to fit any budget. And if you get two, maybe you'll get lucky and be invited along to make some memories.
2. REI Opt Outside. Free. You've likely heard about REI's policy of closing its doors on Black Friday, and encouraging everyone to skip the consumerism and go outside. I have always thought this was a fabulous idea. Still, even though I haven't darkened the door of a store on Black Friday in years, I've never actually "opted outside" in an intentional way. I mean, I was a Girl Scout and all, but I'm not sure anyone would accuse me of being outdoorsy. Maybe this is the year to give it a whirl.
3. Dr. Bronner's Soap. $-$$. An object, yes, but consumable and sustainable. This stuff is amazing. We've been buying it for close to 20 years now after my husband discovered it on a business trip to Austin, TX. You can use it for darn-near everything (washing dishes, bathing Fluffy), but one of the best ways is to soak in a tub with a couple of spoonfuls in the water - lavender is my favorite - and read the label. Seriously, read the label. You can check out gift options here.
4. A library card. Free. I still vividly remember the day my mother took me to the library (I'm guessing I was five) to get mine. So first, there was this cool, grown-up looking piece of cardboard I could carry around in my pocket, and second, there was this massive building full of books. Total win-win. Even if your kiddos are not huge readers, there are usually all kinds of other wonders - when our kids were small, we used to check out puppets or board games. Our son was (and still is) big on audiobooks. Plus…ssshhhh. All. that. quiet.
5. Masterclass.com. $90/class, or $15/month annually. You guys - online masterclasses on everything from writing and music to political science and barbecue, taught by experts. We're talking instructors like Gladwell, Leibovitz, Wintour, and Elfman (tip of the iceberg). If you have a lifelong learner in your family with a little time on their hands, this gift could be heaven on earth (and despite my lack of free time, I've requested it).
What sort of non-stuff-accumulating ideas could you come up with for the holidays? What could we all do to make that gift-buying or event-planning stress go down like a spoonful of sugar? Oh...wait. Wrong musical. :-/
I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving, however you choose to celebrate. See you in December.
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?