Two weekends ago, I had the pleasure of teaming up with a gang of my NAPO* Nashville chapter mates to tackle organizing a huge room of donated items at a local elementary school. The space, a portable behind the main building, needed a little love and order. It was a chapter service project that we committed to donating our time to a few months back. Nine of us, armed with nothing more than Sharpies, plastic bins, trash bags, and label makers, began by standing in the center of the room and surveying the challenge before us.
I don't think our contact at the school had the foggiest notion of what was about to happen.
We defined the categories, mapped out the plan, divided into teams, and went to work. What followed was a flurry of folding, sorting, hauling, building, assembling, moving, labeling, categorizing, trashing — and in less than six hours, we had the place transformed. Aside from our labor and some donated supplies, there was no expense. The results were impressive and deeply appreciated. Working as a group, with our individual strengths and talents, we broke things down to manage what previously seemed unmanageable — organizing in action, in real life.
If I'm being honest, I had a blast. You couldn't have enticed me away from this project even if you had offered me a free spa day on the beach with unlimited supplies of dark chocolate. Just as we put the finishing touches on a school supply cabinet, one of my colleagues came up to me and said, "Isn't this fun?! I love working with a team!" Her enthusiasm was/is contagious, and I agreed - it can be a big boost to work with others on a shared goal. Perhaps it's the extravert in me, but connecting with the people I work with and for is one of the things I love most about my profession.
If you've ever run a road race, you may have experienced an energy from being out with hundreds of other runners. Sometimes it's overt, like when someone encourages you along the way, but often it's very subtle. Maybe it's just knowing you're not out there all alone battling your way to a finish line. When our chapter members worked on the school space, we were all contributing our expertise and ability, and spreading the responsibility definitely made the work progress quickly. But I suspect the success of the project was related to much more than that. None of us had ever worked together before, but we fell right into a groove. More than once, I looked up from arranging pencils and backpacks to see organizers asking one another for feedback, sharing ideas, and even just chatting amiably. We were better together that day.
This positive result is one reason why I think everyone, if they can, should connect with someone in some way on their organizing adventures. I don't necessarily mean professional assistance, although certainly that can make a huge difference. I mean anything from having a friend over to be a body double or help sort, to throwing a full-on organizing party with your family. It may sound nuts to you to put "organizing" and "party" in the same sentence (much the way my concept of an organizing vacation might have seemed odd). But it puts me in mind of barn-raisings or quilting bees or other types of collective efforts to tackle a big, complicated job. It's not just the practical separation of tasks, but the good vibes that can flow between us making something vast and uncomfortable less daunting.
Sometimes clients will say something to me like,
And I'm thinking, YES!! Do that! What if you thought of those customers at Starbucks as being part of your personal productivity team? Your friend as a member of your Organizing Board of Directors? Why not use the knowledge that connection makes a difference to your best advantage?
Teamwork can take many forms, and I'm sure there's some psychological principle out there to explain why the energies of other people spur us on and help us to succeed. For me, it's enough to know that it can work. Who all could be on your organizing team?
p.s. And yes, sometimes the team stuff doesn't always go as smoothly as our service project did. We'll take a look at that in the next post.
*National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals. Here's who worked on the project:
College Hunks Hauling Junk and Moving Nashville
Simple Systemic Spaces
Project Organize 615
Clearing The Way Home
Tailored Living of Nashville
Samantha Pointer Enterprises
Plus wonderful new member Miriam Johnston!
If you have a Facebook profile, do you ever check out the “Memories” section to see what you were up to in the past? I get a kick out of how many times I wrote something years ago about getting myself organized. Those posts went up a long time before I ever stumbled across the professional organizing industry, so it’s some seriously spooky foreshadowing. This morning I had to laugh when this one popped up:
You see, I’ve spent the past week organizing in my own home, and just last night, I was - you guessed it - filing and shredding. I also worked on my closet, my office, part of the garage, and some long-neglected but really functional drawers and cabinets. I caught up on errands that I had chosen to put off for weeks. I even spent time looking over my schedule for the rest of 2019, trimming away some overcommitment and setting better boundaries.
I looked forward to this organizing time for weeks. In fact (and you may think I’m a little cracked), I purposely scheduled it as a sort of mini-vacation. Forget Spring Cleaning, this was all Fall Organizing, despite it hovering around a soul-sucking 97 degrees every day. It was a perfect way for me to recharge - less expensive than the beach, with no sunburn or sand in my shoes.
When I reflected on it, I noticed a few things:
Sure, I got stuck on an item or two, lost myself in quite a few memories, and the ridiculous heat kept me from doing as much outside as I wanted. Occasionally I was tempted to dig into something others might count as more interesting that sorting and arranging. But I knew (intuitively? from years of experience?) how much better I would feel choosing the organizing over Netflix*. I also came across this Facebook Memory, which helped to put it all into a more realistic perspective:
No, I didn't get it all done, but I count the whole week as a win. It also reminded me that this organizing stuff actually is something I’m decent at, which is comforting. Even professionals have their doubts at times, and I’ve spent the better part of two years engaging in some goals that are not so second-nature, not so comfortable. And while discomfort most definitely leads to growth, I was so ready to lay it all down for a while. To push the pause button on all that personal expansion, curl up with the label maker and some donation boxes, and go for some good old self-care. Because improving your organization is an act of taking care of yourself. Think of it like a little metaphorical cucumber face mask for your spaces - clearing out those impurities and leaving a brighter, smoother surface behind.
Sometimes, when you’ve spent a long time trying to work on or figure out something difficult or outside of your comfort zone, it’s nice to come “home.” To come home to an activity that feels like putting on your favorite pair of jeans, or that perfect, soft, hole-y sweatshirt. You may not have the luxury of being able to take a whole week to go through your t-shirt drawers or files from 2004, and you may not find organizing as relaxing an activity as I do. But what if you took even just an hour or two to indulge in organizing something all for yourself? Something that would help you to breathe easier? A clear-out that would make you smile when you finished?
How comfortable would that be?
*For the record, I did check out a fair number of podcasts.
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?