Show of hands - how many folks out there have some sort of a drawer (maybe several...maybe many drawers?) that you routinely “paw" through to find what you need? Like a bear in Yellowstone going through a careless camper’s trash, you push the layers from side to side, front to back, looking for the elusive AAA battery, the lip balm, maybe a stray stick of gum. You’re so accustomed to this process that you don’t even stop to think how incredibly annoying and time-wasting it is. You don’t stop. to. think. You are engaging in what I’ve dubbed small-scale mindless disorganization.
Larger-scale mindless disorganization might be something like having 60+ sweaters stuffed into a smallish space in the closet, and digging around fruitlessly to find a purple one. You’re not keen on purple, but it’s your son’s school color - they made it into the basketball tournament, and the final game is this evening. Not finding it, you rush out to purchase one. You are mildly irritated, but you don’t factor in the time and cost that this excursion takes away from you. Thinking about what could have been done with the money or the time just doesn’t happen. Someday, when you get around to pulling out all of the sweaters (maybe you're moving to another city?) you find not one, but two purple sweaters at the bottom - one of which still has the tags. They might manage to be taken to charity, or they might just end up in the moving box and go with you to Nashville (where you will still hate purple).
Mindless disorganization doesn’t show itself as readily as countertops covered in the mail or a craft room overflowing with supplies that have no containers. It's the kind of thing that hides and hums in the background of our lives and manifests when we’re looking for that thing we know should exist, but apparently doesn’t (because if we can’t see it, it’s not there). Or when we open a closet, sigh, and just shut the door again. Left untreated, it can result in more mindless behavior. It all sounds kind of discouraging, but what if you simply flipped your awareness around? What if you could reorganize a space, mindfully?
Mindfulness is a thing now, of course. It’s actually always been a thing, but we haven’t all been as, well, mindful of it as in recent years now that it’s a popular subject. Here's a definition I like:
Mindfulness - a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
So go back to your drawer. Maybe make this organizing process a bit of an occasion - light a candle? Diffuse some essential oil? Play some music? You don’t have to be “woo-woo” to set the stage for successful organizing, but why not do something that sets the time apart and puts it in a positive light? After that, following some simple steps can make this a meaningful process:
1. Take a few deep breaths, and take note of where you are and what the atmosphere is like.
2. Accept and acknowledge that you allowed the drawer to get cluttered, but that you are now in control of the situation.
3. Pull out every single item from the drawer. Everything from the spare change, to the mechanical pencils with no lead, to the ponytail holders. Lay everything out where you can easily see it.
4. Calmly think about each item. No judgment, if possible. Does the ruler with a company logo on it mean nothing, or is it from your dad’s old hardware store? Was your dad a cool guy, or maybe not? What happens to you physically when you pull out an old flip phone? What sorts of thoughts cross your mind? All of this may sound a little silly, but objects have energy and some sort of meaning - even if that meaning is “that was a waste,” or “don’t know why I kept that," or "I love seeing that here." Maybe if you take a little time to pay attention to that energy and those feelings, you can develop an awareness that allows you to clear unneeded things more frequently, or arrange wanted things more thought-fully.
5. Make your decisions about what belongs in the drawer. What’s the best purpose for the drawer, and what goes in it to support that purpose?
6. On the more pragmatic side of things - don’t fill the drawer back up to the top. As mentioned above, for many of us if objects can’t be seen they don’t exist. If you feel it’s a waste of space, ask yourself, “What’s a bigger waste? The area that isn’t crammed full, or the stuff on the bottom that never gets seen or used?”
7. Once the drawer has what it needs to succeed, discard or relocate the other items. Arrange the needed items in a way that makes sense for pulling out and putting back.
Take a little time to take in what just happened.
And when you go searching again for the gum, or the key to the safe deposit box, or even an ugly purple sweater, pay attention to how it feels to find it quickly and easily. It may even be a little startling if you’re used to a struggle every time you look for something. That’s something to accept as well, and factor into your next mindful organizing adventure.
What kind of mindless disorganization holds you back? If you give this idea a try, I’d love for you to share what came up for you in the comments.
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?