Posts Tagged ‘cleaning out’

Make The Time

A system is only as good as the time you devote to using it. For example, setting up files for organizing your incoming paperwork into action categories is a great way to keep to-do's under control. However, if you simply plop the mail on your desk each day without opening or sorting it, you've defeated the whole purpose of your system. And if you're good about adding paper to those folders but never seem to subtract any back out, you may actually find yourself in a worse position than before you started!

An organizing system is like a pet — it needs regular care and feeding to survive. Some systems (like sorting the mail or tidying up your desk) require daily attention, while others (like paying bills or shopping for groceries) might need to happen weekly or monthly. Whatever the time frame, setting aside a regular block into your calendar for acting on that system will help turn a “technique” into a habit.

Staying organized may be as simple as reminding yourself to leave your keys and briefcase by the front door when you come home, or stopping work 10 minutes early so you have time to put away your supplies at the end of the day. Of course, larger systems will require more time — an hour once a week for filing, another hour each month for bookkeeping. Figure out what it takes to stay on top of your “stuff” and be prepared to commit the time if you want to see lasting results.

Keep Things Lean And Mean

“Clutter creep” is the most deadly foe of any organizing system. This silent killer sneaks in slowly over time — and you don't realize that your files or closet or schedule have become overloaded until it's too late! The key to avoiding clutter creep is giving your systems a regular purging BEFORE they start to need it.

But this doesn't mean that every spare minute of your life has to be spent on “preemptive organizing.” You don't need to devote all your evenings and weekends to cleaning out — simply time your efforts to coincide with a logical “trigger” activity (go through your closets at the change of season, clear out your filing when you do your taxes, etc.) Even a quick once-over, removing anything that is clearly outdated, unnecessary, and unused will keep things in check.

It's also important that you occasionally review and revise your way of doing things. A system that works for you today is not guaranteed to serve you as well this same time next year. Things change, the center does not hold, and you find yourself with different priorities as time goes by. It's folly to keep plugging away with an obsolete system that isn't meeting your needs — staying organized means recognizing when an about-face is in order! The signs are unmistakeable — processes that once seemed easy are now difficult and cumbersome, you're missing deadlines, and things are falling through the cracks. Don't get frustrated and give up, saying, “See, I knew I couldn't stay organized!” Step back, take a breath, and calmly re-evaluate the situation. Ask yourself what isn't working for you anymore and why. More importantly, try to determine exactly what needs to change for this system to suit you better. Your answer will guide you toward the right tweaks and adjustments. 

Group Like With Like

Try singing the Sesame Street song “which of these things is not like the other?” as you organize your storage spaces. Do you see anything that is clearly out of place — a drill in your pantry or shoes in your file drawer? You might laugh, but I've seen some crazy things in my clients' homes — and it it usually due to the fact that they just shoved something into a storage space to get it out of  sight, without any thought to whether that item actually belonged there or not!

Sort your belongings into piles according to their purpose (grooming, sports, office supplies, etc.) or the location where they should be stored. Don't be too nit-picky at first. You can start with a broad sort (everything that goes into the garage) and then break it all into more specific categories (gardening, car repair, sports, holiday, etc.) later on. Then as you store each category, keep similar items (including accessories) together — the travel alarm with your luggage, pots and pans in the same cabinet, and ink cartridges near the printer.

However, you also need to be sure that your choice of a storage space makes sense — that you haven't chosen just any old arbitrary drawer or cabinet that has a little extra room available. Have you ever visited a Montessori preschool? Every crayon and building block has a set home, items are stored nearest the point where that activity occurs, containers are labeled and color coded, and kids know exactly where to go to find the toy they want. But as adults, we randomly stick things in the first available space, and then complain later when we can't find them. Each time you assign an item to a storage area, ask yourself WHY you are stashing it there. Because it's close to where you will use it? It will be easy to see or reach? That's the first place you would think to look for it? Make sure you always have a good reason for storing an item in a certain spot.

Storage That Will Grow With You

If you put a child in a room full of toys, he will eventually choose a few favorites to focus on and ignore the rest. Grownups are the same way — we only use 20% of our belongings 80% of the time. You have that one outfit you wear to death, the same dishes you pull out for every meal, and a few books that you read again and again — the rest go untouched. When setting up your storage, give preference to these “favorites” and see if you can't weed out some of the 80% that's just taking up space.

You also have to recognize that your “favorites” today won't be the same “favorites” that you have in 5 or 10 or 20 years. Do you know why children's furniture is modular? Because a grade-schooler doesn't have the same kind of “stuff” as he did when he was toddler! But adults often set up a storage system once and think that it is “finished.” As your lifestyle and interests change, your storage must evolve to match. It's good to review and re-evaluate your spaces every year (during your annual clean-out and purge) to see if they still meet your needs. If your space just aren't working for you as well as before, it may be time to tweak your system.You can apply these rules to any storage space — at home or at work. And once you do, you'll find yourself at the top of a very organized graduating class!

Sweeping Away The  Past

Stop and think about how much your physical environment affects your mental state and sense of well-being. Living in a messy home makes you feel as though you've put on an extra 10 pounds. Being surrounded by dirt and piles of clutter drains your energy. When your living space is out of whack, it changes your whole outlook — you feel stuck, irritable, just not happy with the world. And it doesn't take much for the mess to accumulate — I know from personal experience that a month or two of chaos will take its toll on even an organized person's home!

But when your home is clean, clutter-free, and organized, it feels as though a weight has been lifted from your shoulders. You have room to move, to think, to enjoy life. Suddenly, you re-discover the motivation to tackle other projects — starting an exercise program, looking for a new job, going back to school, writing the great American novel. It's amazing what just tidying up your home can help you accomplish! I firmly believe that everyone should plan at least two good top-to-bottom cleanings a year — whether you live in a mini-mansion, a condo, or an RV!

“Cleansing rituals” are common amongst native cultures as a way of releasing the old and making space for the new. These usually involve some sort of change in your physical environment, as well as a recognition of the attendant change in mental state — each action is paired with an affirmation of something that you're grateful for or something that you would like to welcome into your life. The shifting seasons signal an opportunity bring about a change in your energy, as well as your living space. Spring and fall are natural times in the cycle of the year for a cleansing — a breath of fresh air either before or after a long period of dormancy. I invite you to join me in my fall cleaning:

  • pull out any clothes that no longer fit and donate them to a local shelter — then take a moment to appreciate your body just as it is, in whatever form it takes — ask for health and strength in the coming months, and commit to getting in a little exercise every day
  • clean out the paraphernalia from any old hobbies that no longer excite you to donate or sell — take a moment to be grateful that you live in a society that allows you to participate in so many diverse activities — then pick just one of your many interests to focus on in the coming months, and commit to spending time on it each week
  • go through every room of your home, every storage space, and pull out any item that isn't beautiful, useful, or loved to donate or sell — take a moment to be thankful that you live in a society that allows such material abundance, and also be grateful for the fact that someone else will get a chance to use and love these things from your life — commit to cleaning one thing out every time you bring something new into your home from now on
  • go through your to-do list of “unfinished projects” and determine which ones are still important to you — give yourself permission to cross the others off, letting them go without worry or care, recognizing that you can't waste your limited time and energy on trivial or unimportant matters — then commit to a deadline for completing each remaining task
  • open the windows and let the fresh air flow through your home — take a moment to appreciate the beauty of nature — commit to getting outside at least once every week to enjoy the world around you
  • give your house a good scrubbing from top to bottom (including windows, floors, tub, toilet, dusting, mopping, you name it) — include all those “home maintenance” tasks that you've been putting off (like cleaning the gutters or checking the seals on the windows) — then take a moment to be grateful for this wonderful home and the people in it — commit to doing something every day that makes your home feel wonderful (fresh flowers, burning scented candles, a special place-setting at dinner, etc.)

Have A Plan Of Attack

Begin working in the area that is the biggest thorn in your side — the part of your home or office that causes you the most agony. Even if every area of your life feels cluttered, it's not hard to pinpoint your MOST frustrating organizing challenge. When you find yourself saying, day after day, “Man, I wish I could get my (bedroom, desk, storage closet whatever) straightened out. This mess is driving me crazy!” — you know that's where you want to begin. Where is your greatest pain?

As you dig in, you're guaranteed to notice a few other spots that could use some organizing help too — that's fine. Create a list of the areas you want to work on, in order of priority. Be sure to include a deadline for completing each project. This will help you focus on the big picture as you work your way through your home or office. It's much easier to stay on track if you have a specific timetable within which to work. Crossing tasks off of your “to-do list” as you finish them also reminds you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel!  Don't feel overwhelmed — you will get to all of your problem areas, in due time.

One Baby Step After Another

It's tempting to want to organize everything at the same time, but that's a surefire way to sabotage your efforts. Instead, start by tackling just one small area at a time — a drawer, a cabinet, a shelf, a closet. Don't attempt to clean out the whole place at once. If you overdo it, chances are you will become frustrated and give up on the entire project. Set aside some time each week to work on a different area — once you get started, you'll be surprised at how quickly the job goes.

Do your best to move systematically, finishing one area before you begin another. There is nothing more draining than finding yourself surrounded by a bunch of half-finished projects — and it's even harder to find things if you have only organized part of your closet or cleaned out half of your filing system, while the other half is still a wreck.

Once you discover your own particular organizing style, you'll really be able to make some progress. Some people work best if they empty an entire storage area before organizing it. Others find that too overwhelming, and choose to tackle their clutter one item at a time. You need to decide for yourself which of these methods suits your personality best. But there is no “right” way — only what's right for you.  Remember, there are as many different ways to organize as there are people on the planet!

Call In The Troops

Don't be afraid to enlist a little help. If you can recruit some organizing “assistants” — do it! This is a big job, and it will go a lot faster if you aren't all by your lonesome. Consider drafting your friends, family members, or co-workers — put on some music, serve them pizza, and turn cleaning out into a party. Who said organizing has to be a chore?

You might even consider hiring a Professional Organizer to help you out — sometimes it's good to have someone around who has no vested interest your “stuff” and can offer expert advice when you get stuck. Just be judicious about who you bring on board. If you what you need most is an objective opinion, your nosy mother-in-law may not be the best choice!

Organizing is hard work — and it's going to take a minute. So don't get frustrated with yourself if you can't tackle every pile of clutter in one weekend! And don't drive yourself until you drop — cleaning out does not have to be painful. Just go at your own pace and cut yourself some slack if you aren't moving forward as quickly as you had hoped.  Most importantly, be sure to reward yourself every time you finish a particularly challenging task — even adults need “gold stars” (or a cappuccino or a movie or a soak in the tub) every now and then!

A Faster Way To Get It All Done

Most people's days are so filled to overflowing with responsibilities, that there's is almost no way to get it all done in the hours available. Some things (like work and school and appointments) eat up big chunks of your day, and you have little control over when or how they happen. Others can be squeezed in whenever you've got a few free minutes here or there. The trick to successful time management is making effective and productive use of “micro-moments” — little chunks of time scattered throughout your day, in-between the other bigger commitments. Instead of watching TV, why not get something meaningful accomplished? Any time you can cross a to-do off your list during one of these normally “wasted” periods of time, you're one step ahead of the game.
  • wrap and mail a gift you've been meaning to send off
  • pay the bills that have been sitting on the counter waiting for your attention
  • clean out a cabinet or a drawer that's been driving you up the wall
  • repair a ripped hem
  • respond to a couple of emails or return a few phone calls
  • set out your clothes for the next day
  • make tomorrow's lunch today
  • sew a missing button
  • tackle a small home “fix-it” project (tighten a screw, hang a picture, etc.)
  • do the dishes and wipe down the counters
  • run the vacuum or sweep the floor
  • throw a load of laundry in the washer or dryer
  • put away a pile of clutter that's been staring you in the face for too long
  • clean out your purse, briefcase, or backpack
  • read that magazine article or book you haven't had time for
  • schedule an appointment you've been putting off
  • sort through your incoming mail, separating to-do's from trash
  • reorganize your CDs or DVDs in categorical / alphabetical order
  • gather up outdated magazines and newspapers to put in the recycling

See how easy that was? Wink