I received a tweeted response the other day that sort of bugged me. Not because I'm not used to the snarkiness and sometimes bitter attitudes of others on the feed, but because it implied something that just gets under my skin a bit. It didn't even look like a response from a legit account - when I clicked the link there were all sorts of misspellings and grammar issues. But what it said was, basically, "...Organize Your Home Shortcuts - The Easy Way."
The Easy Way. Hmmm.
You all may know one of my favorite quotes:
"If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?" - John Wooden
And if I had a dollar for every organizing book I find in a client's home or office with a title like, "50 Super-Easy Ways to Be Organized!!" or "Get Organized Fast!!" I could finally take that trip to Costa Rica. With apologies to anyone who's actually written books like that, I don't ever find that my work with clients is super quick, or involves shortcuts. And if I want to work on my own organizing project here at home, trying to do things quickly just seems like putting a band-aid on a severed artery. I'm always going to have to come back and re-bandage.
How many of us have tried to find a quick, easy way to lose weight? Save more money? Look younger, find a soul-mate, and achieve nirvana all in one weekend?
Quick and easy organizing may work for folks who are already pretty much there (or those who don't have spouses, ex-spouses, children, extended families, pets, jobs, or any major life events whatsoever). But in my world, people have issues. Trauma. Celebration. Deadlines. Stress. It takes time to work through what causes the disorganization and clutter so we can move forward with the right system. I rarely schedule any session under four hours, because like any worthy goal, organizing TAKES TIME. Of course there are solid, quick tips that can help you get further down the path, but those tips won't organize your entire filing system. It didn't take you half an hour to pile 2 feet of paperwork on your desk, so why would it take half an hour to clear and sort it?
You won't find shortcuts with me, but together, we'll find what works.
The last post described the sometimes excruciating process of Evaluating our stuff - the "E" in my L.E.S.S. system. This final post in the series gets to the meat of any organizing project: Sorting and Systematizing. We're on the downhill side now, folks.
If we've Learned what we have, and Evaluated the usefulness or sentimentality of the objects we're organizing, we're ready to move on to creating the categories that are most meaningful to our situations. Yes, we need some of those standard Sorting categories, such as:
But sometimes I find that there are items that defy these categories - things like the Mardi Gras beads we talked about last time, or maybe a vintage record collection (category: local university music department), designer handbags (category: sell on a site like Fashionphile), or old family photos (category: send to the genealogist in the family). If someone has a great reason for creating a new or different grouping, I'm all for it as long as it moves progress on the project...AND we create a clear plan for how the items will reach their final destination.
On the other side of the coin, new categories can actually be a disguise for the Evil Anti-"S": Stalling. Are you thinking up so many different ways to distribute your stuff you won't ever be able to really make good on the promises? If you're saving old books for a niece who lives 500 miles away, are they really ever going to get to her (and are you positive she's going to appreciate them)? Maybe the extra categories are a way to put off the process of letting go, but that's a whole other post. Sort with clear purpose, and Stick to your Sort.
When that last box for Goodwill or the local free shred day has made its way out the door, you can finally relax and look at the space left for Systematizing the stuff you really need to keep. This is part where I love to customize things for clients. Think about how often you need the item, whether you're short or tall (can you reach your most-accessed files in a bottom drawer if you're 6'4"?), and if you need visual clues like color-coding or big labels (I think labels are always a must, really. Not because you don't know what the items are, but because a label encourages you to keep the item in the same spot all the time. In fact, I almost added "Label" as part of the acronym, but L.E.S.S.L. just didn't have the same ring to it).
Think back to what you Learned about yourself in the first part of the project. Are you really going to keep your spices alphabetized all the time, or is that just something you read in a magazine? Will cardboard boxes do the trick for long-term storage, or should you invest in some sturdier bins (Clutter Alert: don't shop for organizational items until you've completed Sort, measured your spaces, and checked to see what you already have. Buying ahead most often results in buying the wrong things, and wasting time and money).
If the system is set up correctly for you, you'll know pretty quickly. You may have to try out more than one System to find the best solution, and that's o.k. I revise some of my systems pretty frequently, because with raising kids and running a business things change a lot. Organizing is a process, not a final destination.
What kinds of sorting categories and systems are working for you? Is L.E.S.S. becoming More in your life?
In the last post we went over my L.E.S.S. System, and determined that learning about our stuff and ourselves is an important first step in an organization project. That step can often be enjoyable, because we usually like to talk about ourselves, and we sometimes discover that things we had misplaced, lost or forgotten are still with us ("Hey, that's where I hid the stocking stuffers from 2007!).
Now we move to the "E", which stands for "Evaluate." It's probably the most critical step, because within this part of the process we uncover the reasons behind why we buy, save, accumulate and put things most anywhere but where they really need to be. For that reason, it can also be the most troubling part of the process for clients. If you've tried to get organized before, you probably know some of the questions you're supposed to ask yourself, such as "Do I use this item?", "Do I love this item?" or "Do I have space for this item?"
Those are good questions to begin the process of determining...Evaluating...whether or not the things we we own are relevant to our lives. But I like to drill down to some other ideas, because we need to know what our clutter really is. Let's go back to our list of office supplies that we Learned about in the desk drawer. And let's take those Mardi Gras beads we found under the five boxes of paper clips. Here's how the questions might go:
Do you use those beads in the office? No (chuckle).
Do you love them? Well, love is kind of strong, but they hold great memories.
How did you get them? An old boyfriend just gave them to me in college.
How do you feel about that? Well, actually, he WAS kind of a jerk and of course I'm happily married to someone else with two children, a dog, and a guinea pig, so...ok, maybe they aren't such great memories.
How did they get here? Well, I think I was running around picking stuff up before my mother-in-law came over and...um...I threw them in the desk drawer.
How long ago was that? Maybe...two years...?
What's the worst thing that could happen if you got rid of them? (long silence) I wouldn't have Mardi Gras beads in my desk drawer anymore?
And does that take away from your work here at the desk? Of course not.
So could you pitch them? What??! And put them in the landfill?!
OK, so what alternatives do we have? My sister has younger kids that would probably use them for dressing up...
If you made a chart of your decision-making results with all of those things in the drawer, carefully thinking through the pros and cons of how everything shakes out, it might begin to look something like this:
Working through these thoughts and feelings can initially wear people out (and maybe bring up some shame, disgust or other difficult feelings), but once they get the hang of the process it moves faster. There is such a thing as decision fatigue, and that's why it's helpful to have another, non-biased person help during this part of organizing. Depending upon the objects, taking a break here and there helps too. It may be much easier to go through the kids' toys from 4 years ago than it is to go through a grandparent's years of saved paperwork, so plan your time and process accordingly.
Next week we tackle Sort (which is really just an extension of Evaluate), and Systematize (which is the best part!). In the meantime, feel free to share some feelings that come up during your Evaluation process - and take some comfort that whether it's skeletons in your closets, or beads in your drawers, we all have some strange things we're hanging onto.
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?