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?
As I begin to write this one I’m looking out at one of those gray, blah February days - a day perfectly designed to inspire Googling the term “seasonal affective disorder.” A day situated firmly in that netherworld between the bustle of holidays and the first halting attempts of budding spring flowers. A day where New Year’s resolutions seem like kind of a distant and cruel joke.
For many of us it's a least-favorite season, and getting geared up for much of anything just isn’t in our calendars. Yet within the grayness are possibilities…open time for choices and thinking and planning. I don’t think it’s an accident that my business picks up at this time of year. People are often craving change. If you’ve been gazing around your spaces and wondering if you should tackle a closet or two, know that February is perfect for organizing because:
1. It’s relatively quiet. For many people February is not the busiest season. Sure, there’s Valentine’s Day (and I guess there’s that football thing too), but overall schedules are a little clearer and weekends aren’t packed with trips or parties. It’s good to pick a free Saturday and dedicate it to purging paperwork or clearing out outgrown kids’ clothes. Clearing things out often leads to more possibility-thinking, and you’ll be even more prepared to fill your calendar in the spring.
2. Sales - there aren’t many, I mean. The temptation to shop and collect more stuff is diminished because frankly, everything on clearance has been picked over (and who is in the mood to buy spring items yet?). I did note in my research that Broadway tickets go on sale in February, but getting into a show theoretically shouldn’t add any additional clutter to the laundry room or paperwork in the office.
3. It improves the mood. Finishing an organizing project, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is always a boost. So tackling a shelf or two, or just going through the sock drawer and pulling out everything with holes can perk up a space. In turn, it perks up YOU. I spent a little time last week clearing out a section of the garage and just that one area made me feel lighter and more optimistic. I celebrated with a nice midwinter afternoon nap.
So pick a project that seems doable, maybe dust off that label-maker you got for Christmas 2012, and dig in. Or, if you were pondering a BIG change (and need some support and direction), do a little research on professional organizers in your area - this link from the National Association of Professional Organizers on how to find a qualified one is a great place to start: http://www.napo.net/?page=find_howtohire.
When you're done, share your February organizing project with us so we can all get inspired.
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?