Sometimes we get all caught up in the creation or discovery of a new organizing system. We’ve worked through purging unnecessary stuff (or tasks, or issues), learned about what we truly love and need, discovered how we work through our spaces and our lives, maybe did a bang-up job of recycling, donating and shredding. Then we come to How It All Gets Put Back. Perhaps a friend or colleague suggests a system to us - a new app, a book, or some other method. Maybe this system has fascinating bells and whistles or is promoted by the latest productivity guru, or it has captivating levels of complexity that make it seem like the PERFECT solution to everything we’ve been doing wrong. Or, we rush out and get the cute baskets or bins we saw on Pinterest to set a system up ourselves. We just know it will work, and we’ll finally “get organized.”
But then something breaks down. In six weeks (or three, or one) the mess and the disarray and the confusion are back again, and we’re left feeling like failures. I recently had a new client lament, “I don’t know what happens. I’ve purged all kinds of stuff but my spaces are still jumbled, and I just don’t stick with anything.” What does happen that goofs up all of that hard work?
My theory? It can be several factors, but one problem is something I call Barriers to Maintenance. A Barrier to Maintenance could be a drawer that doesn’t slide smoothly or having to reach a slightly-too-high shelf. Sometimes it’s the tiniest of irritations that become Barriers, like a closet door that won’t close all the way or having to lift a lid on a bin. Sometimes it’s complication, like having to go through a huge collection of email folders and subfolders to find that one critical message. I encountered a Barrier the other day when I realized that I wasn’t putting cups back into a cabinet just because an errant vine on a houseplant kept getting in the way of closing the door. Silly, I know, but that’s the kind of obstacle that can snowball left unchecked (yes, I moved the plant).
If something isn’t ridiculously, intuitively, and stupidly easy to retrieve and return to its best home, it’s probably not going to stay organized.
One person’s Barrier to Maintenance might be totally different from another’s. For instance, I adore the slim profile velvet-covered hangers because to me they look uniform, clothes don’t slide off, and they don’t warp. Those hangers encourage me to keep the closet straight. But I know clients who absolutely won’t use them precisely because clothing won’t slide on and off easily (I even had someone tell me they just didn’t like seeing lint collect on the velvet), so everything eventually ends up in a pile or on the floor. It doesn’t matter whether the Barrier seems trivial or not, if it prevents you from sticking with something in any way shape or form it needs to be reevaluated and resolved.
Developing awareness is key. When your system doesn’t feel instinctive, or if you’re noticing that it’s taking several steps to keep stuff in place, stop and ponder. Ask yourself if the system could work more smoothly, if it's too complicated, if anything needs repair, or if you are feeling any resistance or irritation. And remember - just because someone else told you the solution was awesome doesn’t mean it is awesome for YOU.
What are some of your personal Barriers to Maintenance? How will you knock them down?
Sara Skillen - Certified Professional Organizer®, coach, wife and mom, and serial list-maker. Excited to be in the long but worthwhile process of becoming a Certified ADHD Organizer Coach. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?