To contrast with the last post, let's talk about the times when you're ready for a HUGE project. You're done messing around with the odd drawer or shelf. The organizing fever has taken hold, and you've just had enough of the clutter and not being able to find things. Or maybe you've got a deadline coming up that's inspiring you to be ready...something like the in-laws coming to visit for a month, or an upcoming audit, or a move. So where will it be - garage or attic? The kitchen? Your business?
What steps do you need to take to prepare, and what tools do you need to "dive in" on the big job? Here's my two cents (or nine, as the case may be):
1. Choose the right amount of time, and set the right expectations. It didn't take two hours for your space to become disorganized, so don't expect to get it all Real Simple-worthy in two hours. I usually tell people to calendar a weekend or a few days off to get a big project completed correctly. If you finish faster, great! Take the extra time to enjoy the space.
2. Choose the right environment. There's a reason we have "Spring Cleaning" - the weather is usually good for being comfortable, opening the windows, and taking the necessary trips in and out. A 101-degree day in July is probably not best (nor safe) for working in an attic or garage, so be smart about picking your time.
3. Think about getting the right kind of assistance. The project goes much faster with extra sets of hands, but be sure you choose your helper(s) carefully. For example, kids can be really helpful in a neutral spot like the garage, but other times they can completely sabotage a project (like in their own rooms!). A friend can be great, unless you get to chatting so much you don't get down to business. It might be a job for a professional organizer - someone who can look at things objectively, offer expert advice, keep you on task and cheerlead you though the boring parts. Which leads me to...
4. Plan a budget. Are you thinking of hiring a professional organizer? Do you want to have a contractor do a makeover of your master bedroom closet? Even if you're great at do-it-yourself projects you will need to think about the materials you'll need and plan accordingly.
5. Make space to sort. You can't purge or make decisions about what you can't see, so you need to have room to spread everything out. Make peace with the fact that you will make a big mess before you clean up the big mess.
6. Have what you need on hand. Having to stop and go get trash bags or a Sharpie will goof up your organizing rhythm. Keep some water (or coffee!) close by. Gather some boxes or bags for sorting items into what you need to keep vs. what you need to get rid of. That being said...
7. DON'T go shopping for storage items before you've sorted. Many's the time I have worked with a client and we've ended up with a huge pile of plastic bins or filing supplies that were not needed. Create neat configurations of the items you've sorted (like with like) and take time to assess what kind of storage will work best. Do you want it to be attractive, or just functional? Could you go "shopping in your own home" for storage solutions and save yourself some money? And remember - measure twice, buy once.
8. Call ahead to arrange for pickup of donation items. You'll be tired when you're done, and it's nice to not have to think about driving a carload of stuff somewhere. Check out Donation Town (http://www.donationtown.org/) to find a listing of charities that will pick up. You can even schedule the time via the website.
9. Keep your eye on the prize. Your motivation will no doubt wane (especially when you uncover the fourth box of old VHS tapes), so plan some breaks and remind yourself of how much better you're going to feel when the job is done. The best results come from unwavering commitment to the task at hand. So dive on in - the water feels fine!
"Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second."
- William James
"It's just too much."
"I don't know where to start."
"I can't seem to get motivated."
And the best one: "It's not any fun."
These phrases could be uttered in connection with most any big project or goal - weight loss, smoking cessation, reducing personal debt, and of course - organizing a life. A former colleague of mine had a huge sign in her office that read "Results, Not Excuses", and its common-sense simplicity has stuck with me ever since. So I'm writing today to tell you that getting results does not have to be painful or difficult, and there's more than one way to make progress.
Most of the time I really like to dig into the reasons why disorganization exists in a home or office and learn what's behind those excuses. I find it's the best way to create a lasting change and a system clients can maintain by working with their natural tendencies. That kind of work takes time, but there's also no reason why anyone wanting to make some positive changes can't get started with what I call "Toe In The Water" organizing.
It's really cold in that pool, right? You're standing there in your suit and goggles, covered in sunscreen and ready to go - but jumping in with both feet is just not happening. And so it often goes with streamlining your systems - you've bought (and at least skimmed) a great de-cluttering book, thought about it how great it will be when you can find everything, stared with grim determination at the pile on your desk or in your closet that's absolutely driving you nuts...so what the heck is the problem?
Maybe you just need to cut yourself a little slack. Maybe you just need to test that water and make sure it's safe. So start really small: empty and sort your pencil/pen holder, fold one stack of t-shirts, or sort one week of mail.
And then STOP.
No, really. Step back, and look around. Do you feel a little better? OK, then maybe try one more thing: file a little paperwork, pull 5-10 things out of your closet that you could donate, get all of the expired stuff out of the pantry. Is the water getting a little warmer, a little easier to take?
When I suggest or use this method in my business, many (if not most) times a light bulb pops on at this point. Suddenly an initially reluctant client goes all out and dives right in...32 extra pairs of shoes and all. They start making huge piles for shredding, load up box after box of books - it becomes an organizing frenzy. It feels good to let go of things that have no use in their lives any more.
When you are confused and overwhelmed by organization, it can be helpful to break things down to manageable steps, and no start is too small. The important thing is to just get in the water, and leave your excuses behind.
I get a lot of calls from frustrated family members. Often it's someone who wants me to come into their home or business and "fix" their spouse, partner or another loved one. For the record, it's about equal parts wife vs. husband vs. adult child (disorganization is most certainly an equal opportunity problem). It can be dangerous territory to tread, because emotions typically run very high when a person who loves completely clear countertops and desk surfaces lives with someone else who feels having lots of knickknacks around is cozy and comforting. Parents of children sigh, "I bought him color-coded toy bins, so why won't he use them?"
One person's junk is another's treasure, and so on...
Alas, most all of us have to learn to live with other people. In the spirit of the "you can lead a horse to water" school of home organization, I'm offering three pieces of advice for dealing with someone you love who is clutter-challenged:
1. Keep the anger in check. I do not recommend going into your loved one's closet, garage, workshop, office, kitchen, etc., when they are not around and starting to pitch everything in a fit of fury. This approach is a recipe for disaster and deep resentment. I had a potential client call me and get pretty heated because I would not agree to come to her home while her husband was on a business trip and "get rid of everything" in the basement. She had pretty much had it (perhaps with good reason), but after some more discussion I realized that many of the items that bothered her were things that he actually used for business purposes. Perhaps they weren't arranged or stored properly, but throwing them out was clearly not the answer. While she might get some immediate satisfaction from the initial purge, it wouldn't fix the underlying problem (and might well make it worse). If the items in question are interfering in your life in negative ways, take a deep breath, cool down, and then...
2. Have a calm conversation. It's possible that the disorganized person in your life doesn't realize how much the situation bothers you. Do a little homework beforehand so that you can present some clear and reasonable facts about why the clutter is affecting your lives negatively. Money talks. Are you misplacing important paperwork like bills and tax backup (think late fees and lost time)? Have you replaced something expensive (camera, watch, smartphone) you thought you'd lost, only to find it later? How much money is tied up in "collections" that were going to be worth something someday (like those baseball cards, Madame Alexander dolls and Beanie Babies)?
If the money doesn't get their attention, perhaps pointing out the excess stress will. When you're trying to get your kids out the door to the pool and no one can find their goggles, and no one ran the towels through the wash, and there's no gas in the car, and you're all late,...doesn't everyone feel the intensity of the situation? Wouldn't it be nice to just gather what you need, walk out the door, and enjoy the afternoon? Having a family meeting about clutter and disorganization can open up lots of possibilities, like talking about responsibility, delegation and time management. It's also possible that some family members would secretly like to have a more organized existence, but they just don't have the skills or tools - so offer to help and give them some direction.
3. Create some zones. Draw some boundaries with regard to the areas of your home that are more or less your territory. Any home, no matter the size, should have some spots where the people who live there can claim a little space. It can be a reading corner, or a desk, or a man cave. Explain (nicely) that certain areas should be kept clutter-free and under control. If you have a spot where you work, and your children have their own spot for homework, there's no need for them to be messing around your desk. If you have a workspace in the garage, there no need for a spouse to come and cover it up with the magazines they can't bring themselves to get rid of. Understand that this agreement works both ways - if they can't mess with your space, you can't tell them how to keep theirs. Sometimes that's hard, but a deal has to be a deal. Common living areas need to be worked out together (see "family meeting" above), and as always, communication is really important.
Certainly these aren't the only possibilities, but I believe the resolution usually lies in the attitude you take towards the problem. You need solid communication, a little compromise and some patience to get some new habits going. Have you recently worked through an organizing issue with a family member? Share what you did in the comments, and we can all learn and benefit...
*This post is not meant to address organizing issues related to true hoarding situations. If you suspect a family member of hoarding, you can find resources to help from the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, http://challengingdisorganization.org/
Sara Skillen - Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Organizer Coach, wife, mom, and serial list-maker. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?