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.
Be honest with me. Are you stalling on a big (or even medium-sized, or small) organizing project? Whether it’s because the stuff has been neglected for so long it just seems too huge, or because uncovering and making decisions about items feels humiliating or painful, or because you think it will be downright boring, the potentially organized can find many ways to “put it off by piling it on.” But this month, with its many opportunities for clearing out the old, unloved, and obsolete, I thought I'd share some insights for getting started down the simplified path.
When I’m going through the steps of a project with someone, I use a basic system each time, customizing it for that person’s particular lifestyle, space and goals. I’ve tried a few times to get that system from my head down to paper in an original way that everyone can follow, but it wasn’t until this past weekend it sort of crystallized for me. LESS. As in, L.E.S.S. As in:
L - Learn
E - Evaluate
S - Sort/categorize
S - Systematize
Let’s just take “L” for today: Learn. We just do not know what all we have until we purposely take steps to find out. We also often do not know how we work best with the items and information around us. So for example, “L" is about learning what exactly is in your desk drawer - it’s not just “office supplies”, but rather:
And so on. “Wow,” you're thinking, “it’s just like you’re really here.” I have been here...many times. We negate the volume of stuff by calling the whole drawer “office supplies.” Be honest again...until you checked you did NOT know you had 5 boxes of paper clips. The point here is that we really can’t know at all how to begin clearing and purging until we know exactly what all hides in the space. We have to learn (or in some cases, remind ourselves) what we have, and come to grips with it, before we can progress.
Learning is also about knowing ourselves. Most of us have an intuition that we regularly ignore. Maybe deep down we know we work better when the surfaces are clear. Or, maybe we need to experiment with leaving things visible so we can remember them. Try sitting in a cluttered space and really looking around. Take an empty paper towel tube and “telescope” it around the room - what do you notice? Think back to a time when the space was clearer, or maybe even empty. What sorts of things happened along the way in life that resulted in the current hot mess? It’s more common than not that when I’m first talking with a client and I ask them how long the space has felt uncomfortable to them, there is a dawning of realization that it all started when __________ (the baby came, I lost my job, my business exploded, we moved Mom to assisted living, etc.). Knowing how it all started helps.
So knowledge is power, right? Here’s a challenge for you: pick a space you need to organize and find out what all is in it. Make a list, and put a star next to the things you had forgotten, or that surprised you, or that (sigh) still have shrink wrap or tags on them. If you’re feeling especially motivated, I would love it if you'd share your list insights with us in the comments. In the next post we’ll take my “office supplies” list above and move on to “E” - for Evaluate - and that’s when the fun really begins.
"Many of us feel stress and get overwhelmed not because we're taking on too much, but because we're taking on too little of what really strengthens us." - Marcus Buckingham
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?