Welcome to National Get Organized Month 2008! If, as you look around your home or office, you find yourself trying to manage the incoming tidal wave of stuff from the holiday season or the residual stuff from the entire year and are muttering, “I need to get organized,” you have come to the right place.
Debunking the “Get Organized” Myth
“I need to get organized.” Sometimes we say it with a sigh, sometimes with a scream. Whenever I use that phrase, I feel absolutely overwhelmed because of the underlying message, which is that there are several aspects of my life and environment that feel like they’re spinning out of control, and I want them all fixed. TODAY. My subconscious conversation on speaker phone after I say “I need to get organized” goes a little something like “If I can just get to Target to get some containers, I ought to be able to have the play room, storage room and home office put together by the time the kids get home from school and still have time (and energy) to help with homework, spend quality time with my kids and have a hot meal on the table by six.” Ha! There are few other phrases that propel perfectly smart, sane women into guilt-induced insanity faster than “I need to get organized.”
Now take a deep breath and get ready for this: there is NO SUCH THING as being perfectly organized all of the time! It’s a myth! We move from order to chaos and back to order, so the idea of effective organization is to shorten the time we spend in the chaos stage of the cycle, which, I dare say, is sometimes lengthened by our enthusiastic attempts at “getting organized.” The good news is that you can create highly organized, highly functional spaces and schedules without killing yourself by changing the way you approach the process of organizing itself.
See It. Map It. Do It.© and S.T.A.C.K.S.©
Marla Dee, owner of Clear & SIMPLE™, Inc., has developed the Clear & SIMPLE™ Systems© of organizing: See It. Map It. Do It.© and S.T.A.C.K.S.© These systems are more than a compilation of helpful hints; they outline proven steps you can apply to a full spectrum of organizing projects. Kris Pond-Burtis, an accomplished speaker and professional organizer, asked this question during a seminar I attended: “Would it be OK if things got easier?” Get ready to make organizing easier and a whole lot more fun because as you utilize these systems, your organizing experience will be absolutely transformed! If you have ever felt frustrated because you’ve thought you should just know how to organize, ask yourself when in your life someone actually taught you how to organize. Never? Well, let’s change that!
What is your natural inclination when you decide to do an organizing project? Most people see the piles, dive in and start throwing stuff away so that what’s left will either fit into existing containers or into the containers they just bought earlier in the day—usually those really big Rubbermaid totes that fit just about everything. This first step in the organizing process requires a shift at the most vital part of the process: the beginning.
How would it be to sit down in a comfortable spot and consider for just a moment which spaces or activities require your most immediate attention? When you See It, that’s what you do. I want to emphasize that this step doesn’t require a lot of time; you can complete it in less than ten minutes. Notwithstanding its simplicity, this step is necessary and powerful because it not only requires a seeing of your physical space but also a seeing of what has caused your chaos. See It allows you to address root causes in addition to their symptoms. You can See It in a number of ways:
- Write the story your clutter tells.
- Draw the story your clutter tells.
- Take pictures of the space you want to organize. (I recommend taking pictures regardless of other See It methods. You will be amazed at your before and after photos!)
You can also ask yourself some questions:
- What’s working?
- What’s not?
- Where am I stuck?
- What do I want to accomplish?
When you take time to actually see your space, one of your first reactions may be, “Who has been living in my house?” While the chaos you see is often not an accurate reflection of who you are generally, the picture will likely be an accurate reflection of what is going on in your life at the moment. As Marla Dee says, “To actually see one’s current situation, environment or patterns requires a willingness to be accountable for the ‘picture’ that shows up. The environment is simply a reflection of where we are in our life. The chaos was created by us and the decisions we did or didn’t make. As long as we don’t take the time to really see our situation, we can stay in comfortable denial.” If it’s time for you to get out of comfortable denial, take courage and read on!
After you have taken time to see your space and get a better handle on whatever chaos exists and why it does, you get to bring your observations into a concrete form by making a map. What does it mean to map? You can use the word “map” as an acronym for “make a plan.” That’s all mapping is: making a plan. For many of us, when we think of creating a map we think of making lists. If you cringe at the prospect of list-making, there are, quite fortunately, several additional ways to Map It. When you make your map, choose a method that suits your personality so that this step is FUN! Some ways you can Map It are to—
- Make a mind map (search “mind map” on Google for great images, instructions and software).
- Create a chart.
- Write your vision for your space.
- Draw a picture of your vision.
- Make a collage.
For example, if you are mapping your home office, your vision map might be “I want my office to support my creativity, productivity and financial security.” I have experienced first-hand the enormous benefits of taking time to consider the components of a project and my vision for a space as well as the resulting frustration from just diving in without a good map. I am a firm believer in joyful creation, and I know that having a good map of your project can make all the difference between having fun and having a meltdown.
Regardless of how you create your map, create one! Most people say they don’t take time to See It and Map It because it takes too long. I promise that taking time for these steps fulfills the purpose of any great system which is to Save You Stress Time Energy and Money.
Finally! It’s time to actually DO some organizing! The following system I’m going to share with you might sound too good to be true—too easy. Let me assure you that notwithstanding its simplicity, it works! These are the same steps I and my colleagues at Clear & SIMPLE™ as well as other Clear & SIMPLE™ Certified professional organizers around the country use with our clients; you can remember them with the acronym S.T.A.C.K.S.© They were developed by Marla Dee and have helped thousands of professional organizers and clients over the course of years to bring clarity to space, time, paper and life. As you follow the Clear & SIMPLE™ Systems© of See It. Map It. Do It.© and S.T.A.C.K.S.©, you will gain greater confidence in your ability to organize and you might even LIKE it. No kidding! Follow the steps outlined below IN ORDER so that doing your organizing projects is simple and easy!
Sort: All organizing projects, from kitchens to garages, start with a sort. When you sort, place like items together. MAKE NO DECISIONS as to whether or not you will keep something. Let me say that one more time: MAKE NO DECISIONS. Just sort! Unless you come across wads of chewed gum or other obvious garbage, you don’t have to decide what to keep or throw away at this point. The benefit of beginning with a sort is that you will be able to see exactly what you have. To make this step easy and effective, you will need the following supplies:
- Banker’s boxes to contain your piles (available at office supply stores)
- Super sticky Post-its to label each box
- A black Sharpie marker
Every time you come across a new category, place the items in a banker’s box and label with a Post-it. When you complete your sort, you can place the lids on the boxes and stack them against a wall to await the next step: Toss.
Toss: This step is the one we most often associate with organizing: getting rid of stuff! During this step, you get to decide what to keep, donate or throw away. Go through each of your boxes ONE AT A TIME. For each item, ask yourself—
- Does this support me in my life today?
- Do I love it?
- Do I need it?
- Do I have room for it?
If the answers to these questions are no, let it go! As you release things that no longer serve you, you will create a home that contains only the things that you truly use and love. The “T” in Toss is also the “T” in trust. Trust that as you let go, you will create room for new things to come into your life. Prepare for some magic!
Because this step tends to be the most emotionally draining, make sure you do the Toss at your high energy time of day. Don’t try to make decisions when you’re sick or tired!
Assign: Find the best homes for your remaining possessions according to their use. Doing this is easier if you divide your home into activity/usage zones. To illustrate the idea of zoning, think of a kindergarten classroom where each area of the room has a designated function: there’s a reading zone, a craft zone, a painting zone, a quiet zone, and so on. As your create zones within your home, try to work within your current practices. For example, if you always put your mail on the kitchen counter when you bring it in, create your incoming paper/mail zone in that area. By working with your current habits as much as possible, you will more likely maintain your zones. You may have to create some new organizing habits, but make it as easy on yourself as possible!
After you have created zones, you then get to decide where items will go within the zones. To use the kitchen as an example, you might have a dish and dishwashing zone in your kitchen, and you will decide where to put the plates, the bowls, the glasses, the silverware, etc. I’d like to issue a specific Assign challenge: seriously consider leaving televisions and high activity items out of the bedroom, particularly your child’s bedroom, so it can be a place to connect and rest without the influence of the outside world.
Contain: Choose the best containers for your favorite or often used items. Containers should reflect your personality as well as be practical for the items they contain. For example, don’t place chemicals in baskets, even if the baskets look great. They won’t for long! Remember to measure, measure, measure! Measure your piles, shelves and drawers and record dimensions so container shopping is easy!
Another great containing tip is to make sure you leave open space. In any container, try to leave about 25% of the container empty to accommodate growth. There are few things more frustrating than organizing an area, getting it gorgeous and then having to rearrange the whole thing because there’s no more room in your containers. If you’re looking for some great containing ideas, visit thecontainerstore.com.
Keep It Up: Remember that organizing is a process. You will likely have to revisit your space and systems periodically to ward off the accumulation of clutter. An easy way to make this step effective is to label. Have you ever asked someone else in your family to put something away and gotten the blank stare that says, “I don’t know where AWAY is?” Labeling ensures that everyone knows where things go. That way, you’re not always the one who has to put things away! What a concept!
Keep It Up applies to time and routines as well as space. Use weekly check-ins with your family or partner to discuss current needs and set aside a time each week to restore your home.
Simplify: Always leave open space in your home and your calendar. Trust having less and be willing to let go. Only bring into your space the things that you love, that support you, that you have room for and that you can honestly afford. Following this practice will help you feel free and abundant!
Is that great? There are the steps to organizing! I hope you feel a sense of empowerment and relief at knowing that you can apply these same steps to every organizing project you undertake, whether it’s paper or time or space. Now off you go! Use these steps on a small project to begin with so you have a chance to practice the system on a project that’s totally manageable. You might start with your purse or your briefcase or a desk drawer. Then choose a medium-sized project (2–4 hours). Then move to a large project (4 hours or more). And let it be enough for this WHOLE YEAR. If you’re so inspired after your first three projects that you want to do more, God speed. If not, you’re three steps ahead of where you started! Good for you!
Happy New Year and Happy Organizing!
Additional Resources and Recommended Reading
www.clearsimple.com At this web site, you can join a mailing list to receive a quarterly e-zine that contains organizing tips, featured products and organizing events and trainings.
Dee, Marla. Get Organized the Clear & SIMPLE™ Way. This 8-CD audiobook is an inspiring presentation of Marla Dee’s Clear & SIMPLE™ Systems© and practical guidance on applying these systems to paper, space and time. If you are ready to make organizing your life incredibly fun and simple, Marla’s CD set will teach you where to start, what to do and how to keep it up. Order at www.Amazon.com or www.clearsimple.com.
Morgenstern, Julie. Organizing from the Inside Out. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2004. This New York Times Best-Seller offers workable solutions for a variety of organizing projects. Referred to as the House Whisperer, Julie Morgenstern is one of the best-known and most accomplished professional organizers in the business. Order at www.Amazon.com or purchase at local booksellers.
Waddill, Kathy. The Organizing Sourcebook. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001. Another of my favorites, the Organizing Sourcebook outlines the Nine Strategies of Reasonably Organized People and includes numerous real-life scenarios that illustrate how to apply them. This is a really fun read. Order at www.Amazon.com or purchase at local booksellers.
Kelly Pratt is a Clear & SIMPLE™ Certified professional organizer on the Clear & SIMPLE™ team in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Clear & SIMPLE™ Systems© of See It. Map It. Do It.© and S.T.A.C.K.S.© are copyrighted and are the sole property of Clear & SIMPLE™, Inc. This material may not be reproduced or distributed without express written consent. All rights reserved.