Getting a space or a project organized and thoughtfully arranged is a major accomplishment. There is an elation that comes with viewing the transformation, feeling the clarity and new utility and functionality. For some of my clients, it’s almost like a high (and one personal reason I love to organize - it’s certainly cheaper and healthier than other kinds of buzzes).
Have you ever felt that high when you step back and survey a finished organizing project? Unfortunately after a few days, maybe weeks if you’re lucky, something will happen to set things off-kilter. It might be one small bag of stuff from the car that gets dumped on a countertop and never emptied. It might be someone else (or several someone elses) coming into the space and not leaving it the way they found it. It can be a small as just not feeling the laundry folding, or as big as a death in the family. Whatever it is, it will happen. Like discovering that your big crush routinely talks with their mouth full, you will come down from that original euphoria into the reality of modern, distracting, unpredictable life.
So what now? Do you give up and give in to every surface being piled high from now until the day your grown children place the dumpsters outside your home? Sounds harsh, but this scene does not have to be the end of the story. Let’s assume your organizing system is set up to match your style and strengths. If your strategy involves simply boxing/bagging everything up and hiding it, it's probably not playing to those strengths (and that’s a whole other post). But if you’ve taken the time to think through the way you need to function, it should be a matter of the small, regular effort required to get back into the groove. For me, those small efforts usually involve rituals.
True story: we have a bar counter in our kitchen that gets disorganized. The effects of that disorganization fall into other areas of our family existence. Mail gets dumped, keys are scattered, small purchases collect, and then people start calling out, “Have you seen my _________ (sunglasses, debit card, new hat, permission slip…)?" So when those calls become more frequent, I take a few quiet moments to set things straight again. All of these items do have homes, and they are close by. I don’t necessarily take on this ritual by myself - other items belong to other people who are well aware of their correct homes. If there’s a collection of things that I don’t have jurisdiction over, they are stacked together and put to the side - generally, they disappear a little while later. It is very calming and centering for me to get all of the small things back where they belong.
A ritual requires you to slow down just a bit, take the more mindful, thoughtful approach. It is a repeatable series of actions taken in a prescribed order, with perhaps a bit of symbolism or anchoring activity to set it apart from being completely mundane. The anchor could be a cup of tea, music, open windows, or a special time of day or year for the organizing activity.
Other examples of organizing rituals might include:
* Setting aside a “10-minute tidy” right before bedtime with your kids - 10 minutes of picking up whatever is out that shouldn’t be (parents too!), that becomes a natural part of the winding-down process. We used to sing that ridiculous clean-up song our kids learned in preschool, but hey - it worked.
* Culling, rearranging, and setting straight items in the pantry before getting ready to bake holiday treats - lighting a candle in the kitchen while you work.
* Taking a rainy Saturday afternoon with your teenager (maybe let them pick some music?) to go through the clothing that no longer suits, and then making the trip to donate it. How about a drive-through for a shake or latte after?
You may already have a ceremony of sorts for cleaning out your briefcase, or the trunk of your car, or the refrigerator. If not, what could you devise that would anchor you to the experience, and lower the frustration or self-judgment you might feel because the space got out of whack? Creating an organizing ritual could be just what's needed to keep your maintenance approachable, and on track.
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?