Posts Tagged ‘space organizing’

A Bad Case Of Indecision

You know what “waffling” is. It begins when you decide to get rid of that old waffle iron you never use. As you put it in the donation bag, you think to yourself, “But what if someone wants waffles?” You take it back out. Then you think, “That's silly. No one has wanted waffles in more than 5 years.” You stick it back in the bag. “I could start making waffles again.” It comes out. “I hate making waffles.” It goes back in. This continues for another 15 minutes until you go to the dark side with, “But I might need it someday.” You put the waffle iron back in the cabinet, to collect dust for another 5 years. Why do you do this? It's not because you are an evil and indecisive person. You simply lack a solid set of criteria for determining an item's worth. No longer!

The key to trimming down the clutter is being honest with yourself about what purpose that item serves in your life. If you can't conjure up at least one plausible scenario requiring the use of that green shag toilet-seat cover or dot-matrix printer from 1988, you may want to ask yourself if it is worth hanging on to. Try to provide solid answers to each of these questions:    

  • Why would I need it? (try to come up with one occasion when you would need that particular item again — what would have to happen in your life for it to be useful, relevant, and valuable to you)
  • Where would I need it? (if the item in question is only useful up north and you now live in Miami — or only useful in a corporate environment and you're now self-employed, why keep it?)
  • What would I need it for? (what purpose does this item serve? are you still involved with that activity? no reason to keep letterhead from an old job or tap shoes if you gave up dancing)
  • Who would ask me for it? (people seem to hang onto stuff because they are afraid someone will ask them for it someday — if it's the IRS or the police, keep it — if not, think twice)
  • When would I need it? (okay, you might need it “someday” — but when is will that day arrive? 3 months or 35 years from now? is it worth hanging onto that long?)

The Past Is Future

Ifyou haven't touched something in years, chances are thatyou're not going to use it anytime soon. Clothes and sporting goodsseem to be some of the worst offenders! It's natural for people to havea hard time letting go of the past. And if an old outfit or a bowlingball really means that much to you, put it away with yourkeepsakes. Just don't take upvaluable space in your active storage areas with items you don't use. Behonest and realistic about this one! At what point will the aforementioned green shagtoilet-seat cover be crucial to your survival? If you can picture aspecific, concrete instance when you will need it in the foreseeablefuture, then by all means keep it. “I might need it someday” isn't agood enough rationale.

What Is The Worst Thing That Would Happen If You Got Rid Of It?

When my clients are anxious about discarding an item, they are reallysaying, “I'm afraid of what might happen if I got rid of it.” This issimply fear of the unknown — uncertainty about the consequences oftheir actions. So I ask my clients to let their apprehensions run wild,and to imagine the absolute worst-case scenario. Will the world end if you toss outthat ring binder you haven't used since college? Probably not. Thisknowledge helps dissipate the fear and makes letting go a little easier.

So let's say you do get rid of something, and then decide thatyou need it 6 months later (my mother claims this always happens toher, as a justification for postponing cleaning out!) This isn't alwaysa problem. Ask yourself what would be required for you to replace thislost treasure. If we are talking about an expensive or hard-to-finditem, you are certainly justified in thinking twice before tossing it.But if it's just an old butter dish or an extra stapler, it's not such a big deal. You have to consider cost versus benefit — it may cost you more (intime, space, energy, or money) to keep the item than to replace it ifand when you ever need it.

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!

Quit With The Excuses Already!

It's fine to keep things that you don't use everyday — I don't believe in the “you haven't touched it in a year, it's out of here” rule. But I don't want you convincing yourself to keep an item that gives you no real benefit and is just taking up space! After you've been doing it for a long time, holding onto clutter becomes a habit — and habits (especially bad ones) are hard to break! It's easy to continue justifying  your failure to clean out  the excess and unused with a variety of different excuses. “It was expensive.” “It was a gift.” “I've had it since I was a child.” “I don't just want to throw it away.” “I might fit into a size 6 again.” “But what if it comes back in style?” Yeah — right. I'm here to respond to each of these rationalizations with a bit of cold, hard reason — hopefully allowing you to see that you can let at least a few things go and you'll be none the worse off for it! Wink

  • is it beautiful, useful, or loved? (artist William Morrison developed the most effective way to determine if an item truly serves a purpose — ask yourself if the object is “beautiful, useful, or loved” — I teach this phrase to my clients like a mantra, repeated over and over and over (actually, they get a bit sick of it after awhile!) — all of your most treasured belongings seem to fit into one of these three categories — and if an object isn't beautiful, useful, or loved, then why are you keeping it?)
  • but it was expensive! (you may say that you are keeping an item because you spent a lot of money on it, and you can't stand to see it go to waste — I hate to burst your bubble, but if you aren't using it now, isn't it still going to waste? — keeping something simply because it was costly is not a good enough reason — these objects are nothing but high-price reminders of purchasing mistakes you made in the past — better to let it go and move on, and perhaps you can sell it to recoup some of the expense)
  • I might be able to wear it again (does keeping a garment that is too small encourage you to lose weight or fill you with shame because you still haven't reached your goal?  — we already heap enough guilt onto our heads every day without creating additional pressures — isn't it healthier to focus on feeling better about your appearance now? — why not take your old wardrobe to a consignment shop, then spend your profits on clothes that fit and make you feel attractive just as you are?)
  • get off the guilt trip (another rationalization that I hear fairly regularly is, “Aunt Mildred gave that to me, she would be so disappointed/hurt/angry if I got rid of it.” — I can only respond by asking, “Who runs your life? You or your Aunt Mildred?” — the idea of keeping something that you have no use for, just so you candrag it out when your relatives visit, seems a bit dishonest — and I firmly believe that once you receive a gift, that item is yours to do with as you see fit, even if you choose to discard it — we place too much importance on “stuff” as it is, without creating an unnecessary sense of obligation)
  • I've had it a long time (not to be rude, but so what? if it has no sentimental or historical value, I'm not convinced that longevity is the best reason to hang onto something you don't really care for anymore or use — your lifestyle and interests change over the years, and it's entirely natural for some of your belongings are going to become obsolete — they've had a good life, but now it's time to let them go and focus your energies on your current interests)
  • I don't just want to throw it away (clutter is not an either/or proposition — you have many other options besides just throwing an unwanted item away — find a local charity that will accept a donation, sell the thing on Craigslist or at a yard sale, give it to a friend or family member who could put that item to use — if it's still in functional order, you can always find someone who would love to have it and give it a second lease on life)

If you are still having a hard time letting go of your clutter, youmight try an alternative approach. Judith Kolberg, former head of the NationalStudy Group on Chronic Disorganization, suggests that you treat yourbelongings as “friends, acquaintances, and strangers.” Friends arethose items that you like having around — ones that really meansomething to you. Acquaintances are objects that come into your life,stay for a short time, are enjoyed, and then leave again. And strangers are easilydiscarded — you have no strong feelings of devotion toward theseitems. This method works particularly well for people who have powerfulemotional attachments to their belongings.

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!

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!