I have a standard question that I’ve always asked towards the end of initial conversations with potential clients:
“What’s a system or space that’s working well for you right now?”
What follows is a long pause. A really long pause. Then, often (actually, almost always), a response of:
“Absolutely nothing. I can’t think of a single thing.”
I ask the question for several reasons. One, we’ve just talked through a litany of everything that’s going wrong - clutter on the counters or floors, overflowing mail piles, constant lateness, never finishing projects, feeling overwhelmed - they did contact me for help, after all. It’s great to talk all of those challenges out and clear the air, but having a question that stumps people for a moment or two puts things back in neutral before shifting gears.
I tell people that if we can find one or two things, no matter how small, that work well, we can learn from them. If someone describes to me that they like how a particular room feels or how the colors affect them, that’s useful information to build upon. How might we recreate that feeling? If they always manage to find their keys because they have a hook for them right next to the back door, then that is a successful system. Where else can we find ways to locate items ideally?
But mostly, being an irritatingly optimistic and positive person, I’m always drawn to find that one single, little, happy tidbit in someone’s life. It’s a breeze to figure out what’s wrong…so what’s right? It’s startling when people realize that even in the craziest of environments and schedules, there are cracks of order that open up if we take time to look for them.
You may have heard of negativity bias - the tendency for our brains to focus and ruminate on everything that isn’t working or feels threatening. It’s harder work for our minds to think through every situation or event that isn’t ideal, and so we tend to remember more about them. Experts say that evolutionarily speaking, we are created this way by design so that we are better able to survive. Perpetually gazing around the cave with rose-colored glasses might result in underestimating - or even completely missing - that saber-toothed tiger lurking at the entrance.
I have to admit that even with my glass-half-full mentality, I often overlook things that make my own life flow more easily. I decided to make an effort to look for solid systems in my world - not just in my home but in the things I encounter every day. Here’s a sample:
This is a system my son and I came up with to help us all remember little tasks that get dropped (and sure, I forget tasks sometimes) - putting a reminder sticky note on the coffee maker where I'll see it first thing. Since letter-writing isn’t as much of a thing these days, I will often forget to grab stamps even if the task is on my list. But I will always remember coffee. With this arrangement, stamps got purchased, and the thank you notes got mailed.
I had to bring refreshments for a meeting I was in charge of recently. I knew there would be no coffee maker, so I ordered some to pick up ahead of time from the local breakfast place. No joke, I was kind of dreading picking it up because I figured I’d have to grab a bunch of cream, sugar, etc. (which I personally don’t ever use) and balance all of it awkwardly to get it to the car, probably dropping or spilling something along the way. I’ll do just about anything to avoid making more than one trip for something, and I found myself debating whether or not the coffee was even worth it (!). There’s that negative thinking coming right into play. But I pushed through, and check out what was waiting for me: these excellent little coffee jug saddlebags full of cups and accessories. No issues carrying it all, and having what everyone wanted or needed. I totally geeked out (and also got the inspiration for this post).
And finally. Yes, the picture below is in Target - not an advertisement, just an observation. How many times have you walked right past it without paying attention? People sometimes don’t believe me when I tell them they can drop off old cell phones and printer ink cartridges at Target, and they actually have an impressive corporate sustainability program. But even beyond that - look at those bins, people! Bright, contrasting primary colors, lettering and symbols that are clear and easy to see, and usually located right where you walk in or out. I’ve been known to pull purchased items out of the plastic bag and walk it straight over to the bag recycling bin. Every little bit helps, right?
What are the themes we’re seeing here? Convenience, ease of use, intuitive processes, matching up things that work together. Where else can you find order you’ve never noticed before, and what does it tell you?
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?