Does your stuff have a spot where it ‘belongs’ – the ‘right place’ and, if so, do others in your household agree with that?
I returned a couple of days ago after going out of town with my family. Like many of you, we’ve been staying at home for the past three-plus months. The walls of our house were starting to look WAY too familiar. We really wanted to look at some new walls – or, better yet, no walls – while still being safe. It’s hotter than blazes in North Texas this time of year, which makes outdoor activities pretty miserable. So, we drove west to beautiful Breckenridge, Colorado. For a week, we enjoyed social distancing, hiking, eating outdoors, and sleeping with the windows open in beautiful 60 to 70-degree weather.
To maximize the safety of our getaway, we rented a furnished condo while we were there. As a professional organizer, I spend most of my working hours in other people’s homes or offices. It’s part of my job to look in their closets and open their drawers and cabinets to evaluate their organizational systems. Even in a non-professional capacity, I still notice how people set up their spaces (although I hope it goes without saying that I would NEVER peek inside cabinets uninvited). It’s always fascinating to me to see the many ways that ‘organized’ manifests itself.
Can There Be More Than One ‘Right Place’?
Obviously, in the case of our vacation rental, it was difficult to tell what reflected the homeowners’ preferences vs. how much was the result of a series of guests putting things away after use. Every time I opened a drawer or a cabinet, I found myself looking at what was in there and wondering at the decision process that led to those things ending up in that spot. Most of the time, I could easily follow along but, every once in a while, I found myself really scratching my head.
For instance, on our first morning, I woke up early to 50-degree weather, so I decided to make myself some hot chocolate. I found a saucepan fairly easily in the lower cabinet to the right of the stove. Makes sense, right? Next, I needed a measuring cup and spoon. I had no success finding those in any of the five drawers on either side of the stove. I was also unable to find them in either of the upper cabinets.
However, I did finally locate a measuring cup in a drawer next to the sink on the opposite side of the kitchen. And I found a second measuring cup in a different drawer, and a third in a bowl on top of the refrigerator. I found a set of measuring spoons in yet a different drawer, along with an assortment of unrelated items (e.g. batteries, matches, and instruction manuals for small appliances I never located).
Who Decides What the ‘Right Place’ Is?
I doubt that the homeowners keep their measuring cups in three separate locations by design. So, I pretty easily chalked that up to renters putting them away in the wrong spot. But I started wondering, which spot did the homeowner consider the ‘right place’? That is always an interesting conversation to have with clients, as well as the source of a lot of conflict within households.
In pretty much every house I’ve ever been in – including my own – there are a few things in the kitchen that nobody in the house seems to agree on the ‘right place’ to keep them. For my family, it’s the small metal scissor tongs. They are used to pick up individual food items from a hot pan. So, I always put them away in the drawer immediately to the left of the stove which, to me, feels like the ‘right place’. Except that I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve opened that drawer and not found them there. They’re in the silverware drawer with the serving spoons and forks. Or maybe they’re in the drawer with the grill utensils, or the one where we keep the measuring cups and spoons.
How Important Is the ‘Right Place’?
There are a few situations where the ‘right place’ is critically important – e.g. a surgical suite or emergency room. But, most of the time, it’s a personal preference and it’s often highly subjective. Yet, it can lead to a lot of conflict between people sharing the same household or office space. How do we resolve that? Communication, compromise, and consistency are key.
Talk about the reasons behind why each person thinks their ‘right place’ should be the one. I had a client who adamantly believed that scissors should be in the kitchen junk drawer. Her spouse believed – equally adamantly – that they should be in the office. After discussing their reasons, they learned that each person used the scissors almost exclusively in their ‘right place’. So, both of their positions made perfect sense. Once they understood each other, they purchased a second set of scissors. Household peace for under $5? Priceless.
One of the things I talk about with clients regularly is the importance of considering everyone in the home or office when organizing. On the items where you can’t find agreement, compromise has to be the solution. Who cares the most about this? The office manager responsible for filing the invoices wants them in a letter tray on top of the filing cabinet. That should be given more weight than the accounts payable manager who wants to leave them on his desk. Where possible, try and accommodate the person most affected by the decision.
Finally, once you decide on the ‘right place’, everybody needs to do their best to be consistent in using it. Don’t be passive-aggressive if your first choice wasn’t the final selection. And don’t assume that others are being passive-aggressive either. Gentle reminders and consistency will eventually train everyone to return the item to its ‘right place’.
On our last day of vacation, we received word from the DFW Labrador Retriever Rescue Club that we had been matched with a dog! He’s approximately 12 weeks old so we are going to have our hands full for a while with puppy training. I’ll be taking a break from the blog for the month of July so that I can focus on clients and our new family member (yes, that’s his picture at the top of the blog). Have a great July and I’ll see you back here on August 12th!
“Spring is the time of plans and projects.” – Leo Tolstoy
Spring is the season that motivates so many of us to make changes; to start fresh. Why not make the most of it, go beyond just ‘spring cleaning’, and do something that will bring order to your life all year long?
You probably have a mental list of a dozen or more little projects that you’ve been putting off for a while. Usually, these projects aren’t complicated or hard, but they just haven’t gotten done. Spring is a great time to move them off of your mental list and onto a written to-do list.
Commit to a small amount of time each day – 10 or 15 minutes – and tackle something off of your list. After a few weeks, you will have a lot of check marks and a more ordered space.
Small Spring Possibilities
- One or two drawers in your kitchen – Tackle that one drawer that always gets hung up on the avocado slicer you never use. Or donate those Bob the Builder spoons that your (now college-aged) son ate his Cheerios with.
- A shelf in the linen closet – Pull out all of those old towels and donate them to your local animal shelter or veterinarian’s office. Fold the towels you actually use so that they fit neatly on the shelf.
- Freezer and/or refrigerator – Go thru your condiments. Throw out anything that’s expired. Don’t forget to add it to your shopping list if it’s something you still use.
- Magazine rack – If it’s been in there more than three months, you probably aren’t going to read it at all. Keep only the current issues and remind yourself to actually read them. Recycle the rest or donate them. Schools and childcare centers often take donations of old magazines to use for projects.
Or Think Big
Your mental list probably also includes a couple of bigger projects. If you’d prefer, choose one of those and spend your 10-15 minutes each day making progress on that. You may not get the same immediate sense of satisfaction that comes with finishing a project completely. But, after a few weeks, you’ll have finished something that is likely to have a big impact on your life.
It is important to think of a big project as a series of small projects. That way, you can feel good about completing a little part and motivate yourself to keep going.
Big Spring Possibilities
- Clean out your closet
- Declutter your garage
- Set up a filing system (paper or digital)
- Go thru your photographs (paper or digital)
- Organize your pantry
Whether you choose a big project or a small one, block out 10-15 minutes per day on your calendar. Consider it a ‘Spring Project’ appointment. When the time comes, set a timer and go all out until it rings. Put on a motivational playlist. Mute all of your notifications.
Keep It Going
Hopefully, your steady progress will be enough to keep you motivated. If that falters, try and re-energize yourself.
- Take pictures of the before and after – A picture is worth a thousand words and you will be inspired by how much you accomplished in such a short time.
- Tell someone about what you’re doing – Sharing our projects with friends or family provides us with another source of accountability. And, let’s be honest, it can also give us someone to tell us ‘way to go!’.
- Remember why you started – You had a reason for picking this project. There was a need, a problem, or an opportunity that you saw. Remind yourself.
I’d love to hear about your projects! Comment on this article and let us know what you’re doing. Or, post your pictures on your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts with the hashtag #YourOrderedLife.
Well, January is almost over. Raise your hand if your New Year’s resolution to be more organized is on track.
If your hand is up, way to go! You’re nearly a month into making a big change. Hopefully, you’re already seeing the benefits. Now is a great time to check in with yourself and see how you’re feeling about what you’ve done. Keep doing the things that are working and try something new where they’re not.
If your hand is not up, you are almost certainly not alone. Our lofty January 1 ambitions start running up against the reality of everyday life from January 2 on. If we’re not careful, February 1 can find us demoralized and unmotivated, resigned to just accepting things the way they were pre-resolution.
Let’s Start At the Very Beginning
If you remember, on January 1, we talked about some important aspects of making resolutions. So, let’s revisit those and figure out where things got sideways.
Did you articulate a clear reason for why you wanted to get organized? We typically want to make a change because we are dissatisfied with the way things are. If you aren’t particularly bothered by your life being out of order, you will probably have a hard time being motivated.
Similarly, if you are unhappy with the way things are but haven’t connected that with the need to get organized, your motivation might not be very strong. You need to feel like what you are resolving to do is going to change your life for the better.
Finally, are you sure that the resolution wasn’t driven by someone else’s desire for you to get your life in order? Extrinsic motivation is notoriously ineffective at generating change. This has to be something that you see value in doing, or you’ll find reasons not to do it.
Did you determine what exactly you needed to change to get your life in order? ‘Be more organized’ is a pretty nebulous concept. You’ll have an easier time sticking with this resolution if you set a more specific goal.
Figure out what your most critical area is and focus on that. You can’t go paperless, clean out your garage, style your closet, and organize your pantry all at the same time. Prioritize and refocus.
Do you know what you’re working towards? It’s incredibly difficult to reach a goal if you don’t know what it looks like, or when you’ve arrived. If you haven’t already, picture what that area of your life is going to look like once it’s in order.
Did you give yourself deadlines? Were you realistic regarding the time and attention you would be able to devote to this project? Maybe you bit off more than you could chew, or you wildly underestimated how long this would take. Revisit your plan if you had one, and revise it given what you know now. If you jumped in without a plan, take the time now to create one.
Hopefully, the progress that you have started – or will start – to see will be enough to keep you going. On those days when you need a little something more, here are some key things to keep in mind:
Getting – and being – organized is a learned skill. It’s easier for some, but everybody can get there. And everybody can improve from where they start.
If what you’ve tried didn’t work, it isn’t a failure. It’s a lesson in what does, and doesn’t, work for you. Success is not about finding the “one right solution” (there’s no such thing when it comes to organization). It’s about working with your strengths and sticking with it.
It’s a Journey and a Destination
Don’t think of a resolution as an all or nothing proposition. You are committing to a PROCESS of change. If your kitchen counter is currently buried under two days’ worth of mail and paperwork, it just means that you’re still in the process.
You don’t have to (and can’t) do it all at once. Small steps are still progress. Just like losing ten pounds provides measurable benefits – even if you need to lose 100 – getting one area of your life in order provides a calming, positive impact even if five other areas are still in chaos.
The Best Laid Plans
You have a life, and life does not always cooperate with your plans. If you’ve had unexpected emergencies, illnesses, demands on your time, etc., it’s completely understandable that your resolution might have taken a back seat temporarily.
Mel Robbins has a saying that I’ve always loved – “Giving up on your goal because of one setback is like slashing your other three tires because you got a flat.” Keep up with what you can and, as soon as it’s feasible, recommit to your plan, but be kind to yourself in the meanwhile.
And look forward to the day that your life is in order. You’ll find that it’s a lot easier to roll with the unexpected when your day-to-day is running smoothly.
It Will Get Easier
The more organized you get, the less you have to work at it. In the beginning, it takes a LOT of effort – decluttering, sorting, labeling, remembering to put things away where they belong. But the beauty of any good system is that it eventually starts working for you.
You can do it!
Welcome to the inaugural edition of Ordered Thoughts. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to post to this blog every other Wednesday. So, let’s start by talking about resolutions.
A new year is a time to reflect and reset for most of us. Sometime between the end of the old year and these first few days of the new one, we examine our lives. We go back over the previous twelve months, revisiting our successes and failures; our highs and lows. We think long and hard about where we are vs. where we want to be. Then we make a list of resolutions which, for many of us, will be forgotten or abandoned long before Spring rolls around.
Why Do Resolutions Usually Fail?
Why is that? Because many of us approach resolutions in a way that practically guarantees failure. We have a vague idea of what we’re not happy with, and an even vaguer idea of what we hope to accomplish. We often dive in without any concrete goal, actual plan, or measurable way to evaluate progress and determine success. Then we’re often disappointed to find that just writing ”Lose weight” or “Get organized” on a piece of paper does absolutely nothing to ensure that will happen. Without insight, goals, a plan, and metrics, those extra pounds – or clutter, stress, and chaos – are pretty much guaranteed to remain a part of your life.
Most Common Resolution
Among the Top 5 resolutions (after losing weight, getting in better shape, and improving our health) are getting organized, and reducing stress. We know that never being able to find what we’re looking for, never being able to relax in our home, and feeling anxious all of the time about those things, isn’t fun. It also has a negative impact on our mental, emotional, and physical health – to say nothing of our happiness.
So, if getting organized is on your list of resolutions this year, how do you improve your chances of success?
Consider why you want to get your life in order
What is your motivation? Are you tired of wasting time looking for things? Frustrated that you can’t have people visit your house because it’s a mess? Feeling weighed down by years of accumulated clutter? The clearer you are about why you want to make a change in this area, the better. Motivation for any lasting change has to come from within, so find yours (or pick a different resolution). If you’re only doing it because a boss, spouse, roommate, magazine article, guilty conscience, etc. says you need to, you will find it hard to succeed. If it helps you to write this down, do it.
Determine which areas of your life are out of order
It’s possible that your entire life is a disaster, but that’s probably not the case. So, think long and hard about, specifically, what is making you feel as though your life is out of control. Are you paying late fees on overdue bills that you forget to pay? Have you been constantly scrambling to meet – or worse, missing – deadlines at work? Is getting dinner on the table every night a challenge? Do you miss events or appointments? Do you dread opening your closet? Identify the things that always seem to be falling through the cracks or stressing you out the most. Make a list.
Don’t try to tackle everything all at once. Identify the biggest problem area, and address that first. Look at everything that you previously identified as not working, and ask yourself “How much does this bother me?” For now, don’t worry about whether it should or not. It’s your life, your home, your office, so be honest with yourself. Take that list you made of ‘out of order’ areas and rank them.
Once you identify what isn’t working, think about exactly what isn’t working. That pile of paperwork on your kitchen counter may be your biggest problem area. Is it because you hate how it looks? Do bills and important documents get lost in there? Are you out of space to cook? Those are different problems that will require different solutions to address the core issue.
Understand what you are doing now that is working
Is there any aspect of your ‘out of order’ areas that is working? Think about the areas of your life that are in order, and what you do differently there. Don’t judge your systems! There really aren’t any one-size-fits-all ways of doing things, and the latest, most popular way may not work for you at all. So, don’t worry if you write your grocery list on a scrap of paper while it seems like everyone around you seems to be using a smartphone app. If you leave the store with the groceries you need, then your system is working for you. On the other hand, if you frequently get to the store and don’t have your list with you, or don’t look at it while you’re shopping, then maybe that system isn’t working so well. Think about how you are approaching things right now, and where the breakdown seems to be happening.
How do you want this problem area to look when you’ve achieved your goal? Again, be honest with yourself. If you won’t truly feel successful until you have an aesthetically pleasing, color-coded filing system for all of those papers, then that’s your goal. If you’ll be happy just having that pile off of the counter and on your desk, then that’s your goal.
Make a plan
Do you have the tools that you will need? Do you have the time to tackle this right now? How are you going to get from where you are to where you want to be? This is one of the primary areas where resolutions fall apart. Sometimes that is the result of a genuine lack of knowledge – we don’t always know how to get there. Sometimes it is a result of vague goals – it’s hard to make a plan when you aren’t clear on what you’re doing. If you have trouble making a plan, revisit your goal and make sure it’s clear enough. If lack of knowledge is an issue, it might be a good time to contact a professional for a consultation.
Make a timeline
When do you want to start? How long will this take? If it’s a complicated project, you will probably have to break it down into steps. This is another point at which resolutions tend to fail. We are notoriously bad at estimating time requirements. If you give yourself an hour to do something that is going to take five hours, you’re likely to get discouraged after that first hour. You thought you’d be done and instead you haven’t made much progress at all. If you’ve been realistic and detailed, you have a greater chance of designing a plan that will accurately reflect the time commitment necessary.
Just get started
Once you have your goal, your plan, and your measure of success, the most important thing to do is take that first step.
At the end of the month, we’ll check in and see how things are going. Happy New Year!