Feeling Underwater

Drowning in ClutterEver walk into your home/office, take a look around and say to yourself, How in the world did things get so out of control? MANY people find themselves in this situation, often for one of three very common reasons.

This can be either a traumatic experience (e.g. illness, death of a family member, job loss) or a joyful event (e.g. wedding, relocation, new job). When we encounter situations like these, we naturally shift into “cope” mode. In “cope” mode, we don’t have the time to sit and ponder optimal storage solutions, or to reflect on the most efficient way to accomplish a task. Instead, we are typically just trying to survive the day! Bottles of medicine for an ailing parent get piled up on the kitchen counter; belongings get stashed in the nearest cabinet so we can get the moving boxes out of the hallway; personal files get dumped out as we frantically search for important documents. The resulting patterns frequently aren’t the most efficient. At one point or another, everyone encounters these life events.

These others include spouses, children, coworkers, parents, and pets. This can be a very frustrating situation. We work hard to clear out a room, organize a closet, or establish a paper management system, but then it gets quickly undone because we don’t have buy-in or cooperation from the other people in the space. To be honest, there are limitations on the extent to which we can force others to fold into our systems. Pets can be trained and children can be taught (some more easily than others), but spouses and co-workers often have their own ideas of how things should be done. Sometimes the best we can do is negotiate “zones” (areas we call our own and can keep as we wish), and then let the other spaces go.

If this is you, don’t take this as a condemnation! Maybe organizing just isn’t your thing: you would rather hang at the party and leave the dishes for tomorrow; you want a home where “kids can be kids”. In many aspects of life, these qualities are serving you well.

Or maybe you want to be organized, but you just don’t know how. You weren’t reared with any instruction in this area, and you wonder where to start, how to go about setting up a system, or what you need to buy and where to get it?

*   *   *   *   *

For many individuals, the source of the problem may be a combination of all three. For example, you moved 5 years ago but still have stuff in boxes, and your Mom is sick, and you’ve needed to take on a part-time job, and at night you are just too tired to run around and clean up after the kids.

The good news is: retaking control is easier than you think. It’s all a matter of starting small (e.g. with a drawer), and then maintaining the space you’ve organized. Talk with coworkers and family members about your goals, and see if they are willing to support you.

If you need help, there are a variety of resources available:

-            Read blogs like this one for ideas
-            Follow organizers like The Seana Method on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter
-            Hire an organizer or get an organized friend to help

Sometimes just having someone showing up at the door to tackle the space is enough to keep you from procrastinating (much like a personal trainer or workout friend.) The important thing is to not throw in the towel… these situations can be fixed!

How have you been knocked off your game? What tools have helped you regain control?


Managing Expectations

Expectations are funny things. They tell us how something should be, should look, or should work out. Sometimes, we have no/few expectations, and an experience brings us unanticipated satisfaction. No problem here! But frequently, we set our expectations unrealistically high, leaving us (or someone else) feeling disappointed and demotivated.

Simply being aware of the power of expectations – and the need to manage them – can be very useful. This is especially true when we are trying something new. We need to feel the freedom to fail, not have all the answers, and move slowly. If you want to make a change or explore a new opportunity, remember these tips:

Managing Expectations

Be realistic.
The promise of rewarding results is what gives us the energy to move forward. But we shouldn’t expect too much progress, too quickly. Progress is incredibly motivating, but falling short has the reverse effect.

PRACTICAL APPLICATION: Be careful to set small, achievable objectives rather than one giant long-term goal.

Don’t pretend to have knowledge you lack.
Often we profess knowledge or competence in an area because we feel this is required. But bravado can quickly turn to despair if it leads to being in over our head. Better to fess up to now knowing Excel than to claim expertise, only to be expected to run a complicated spreadsheet on day one.

PRACTICAL APPLICATION: Be open about your limitations and willing to do whatever is necessary to overcome them.

Overestimate the time you will need.
We tend to estimate time assuming all aspects of a project will go perfectly. Unfortunately, this rarely happens. You may think you can finish the report by the end of the day, until you get a call from school telling you to come and pick up your feverish child.

PRACTICAL APPLICATION: Build in time for the unexpected when defining your timeframe.

Be clear about what you promise to deliver.
Sometimes we get in trouble because we aren’t specific about what we will (and won’t) do. Saying “I’ll help with that event” is too broad. Will you… recruit volunteers? order supplies? manage the financials?

PRACTICAL APPLICATION: Be very specific with yourself and others when describing what you will accomplish.

Ask for help.
Often we overestimate our own abilities, expecting ourselves to be competent in areas where we simply are not. Just because someone else can do something, doesn’t mean we “ought to” be able to.  Remember, if you are trying something you’ve been avoiding, it is probably because you don’t feel capable. A little money invested wisely (e.g. in a class, for technical expertise, etc.) can save a lot of time and headache.

PRACTICAL APPLICATION: Bring in a specialist who can help you get started and be available if you need help along the way.

 *     *     *     *     *

The expectations we carry set the bar for how we will define success. The lower our expectations, the greater chance we have of being pleasantly surprised.

What experiences have you had of exceeding or falling short of expectations?


Common Organizing Mistakes

The time has come: you are finally ready to dig in and get organized. Good for you – you can do this! However, there are a couple of mistakes that many people make when trying to organize a space. If you want to have a positive experience, avoid these pitfalls:

Wrong Way to Organize

Buying bins, boxes, dividers, etc. can be fun; no one loves a trip to the Container Store more than I do! But it is impossible to know what tools you need to purchase until you have done the hard work of examining, culling and ordering your stuff. In fact, getting organized often requires no supplies at all. So begin with clearing the clutter, making donations, establishing order, and then – if you need supplies – do the shopping.

Many times we try to rearrange items rather than truly organizing them. To organize, you have to…

  1. look at everything you own,
  2. get rid of what you aren’t using, and
  3. design a system that will accommodate what you use in a way that is easy to access.

For instance, if you have a mudroom with so many shoes that you can barely walk, simply tidying the shoes won’t solve the problem. You need to get rid of some shoes, relocate out-of-season shoes to the bedroom, and then consider how to best store the remainder in your space.

An organizational system will only work if the items you store match the size of the container you store them in. For example, many people use large bins or toy boxes in playrooms. While these seem easy – because you can just toss items inside – they often result in a hodgepodge of toys getting mixed together, with the tiny pieces falling to the bottom.  Instead, store small objects in small containers, sub-divide large shelves with bins or dividers, and put drawer organizers (or smaller boxes) into drawers.

We all have a limited amount of storage space that is easily accessible… our “prime real estate.” This space should be treated like royalty, and reserved for those items we need on a daily basis. If we want to keep an item for a possible future need, that’s fine… but don’t store it on the most convenient shelf of a kitchen cabinet. Move it to a closet, under a bed, or to the attic/basement.

The single best way to ensure that you (and others) maintain an organizational system is to label storage locations. Whether you use a labeler, sticker, piece of masking tape, or a printed label covered with packing tape, a label reminds everyone of what belongs where. For small children, a label can be a picture instead of a word. Labels can go on a container, the edge of a shelf, or a wall.

It is always wise to leave a little “growing space” when you are organizing. Otherwise, your setup is vulnerable to becoming obsolete. For example, if you completely fill a drawer with spices, what will you do when you bring home a new spice? It will end up getting shoved somewhere else, and the drawer will no longer work. Make sure you always have space to add a bit more, or another variety, or a different color. This will extend the longevity of your system.

Many times we do the hard work of deciding what to donate, and then leave bags/piles in our garage or entry. This not only clogs the space, but often causes us to second guess our decisions. Once you make the decision to donate, get the items out of your house ASAP.

Few projects are as satisfying getting organized, but disappointing results can be de-motivating. What errors have you made, and how did you overcome them?