Dreams and goals are fragile things. In the face of adversity, we tend to quickly abandon them. The Internet is full of inspiring quotes to remind us that tenacity and perseverance are worth the effort. While I wholeheartedly agree, I also acknowledge how difficult it can be to overcome even minor obstacles.
The most powerful approach for conquering any hurdle is to clearly understand why it is obstructive, and then devise a plan to tackle it. Most challenges can be either surmounted or mitigated with a thoughtful strategy.
In working with clients, I’ve come to believe there are three main barriers to having an organized space. Any one of these is a hindrance, while the presence of two or three almost always correlates to a disorderly situation.
TOO MANY BELONGINGS
This one is both easy and difficult to define because it is typically gauged in reference to the size of a space. For example, one person may have a small entry closet that can hold only a few coats, while another has a vast closet that easily accommodates 20 or more. The issue is further complicated by the question of need or use. If you have 20 pairs of high heels, is this too much or simply a reflection of a love of footwear?
Defining the appropriate number of belongings therefore requires answering a series of questions to help define what is needed, what is wanted and how much can be adequately stored. The answers to these questions will vary by individual. Decluttering comes down to prioritizing the space you have to hold the items you both want and need for the life you are currently leading.
If your storage locations (e.g. drawers, closets, surfaces etc.) are full and your belongings are spilling beyond them, the likely cause is that you are keeping too much.
INSUFFICIENT OR INACCESSIBLE STORAGE
One of the most common reasons why people do not put items away is that appropriate storage is nonexistent, insufficient or inconvenient to use. A few examples include:
- Shoes are tossed in a heap because they don’t have a clear home in the entry and it feels like a burden to carry them up to the bedroom closet.
- Decorations from a past holiday are stashed in a nearby bin because it is a hassle to pull down the attic stairs and climb up to put them away.
- Clothing is stacked on a chair or left in a laundry basket because the drawers are stuffed and the clothing doesn’t comfortably fit inside.
- School or work papers are piled on a desk rather than filed either because no appropriate file has been created or the filing is difficult to access.
- Toys are scattered because a child doesn’t know where to put them away, or has difficulty reaching or opening the storage location.
- Supplies are stuck in a corner because the container in which they belong is at the bottom of a stack and it is a bit of a struggle to pull them all out.
- Coats are slung on a chair or dropped on the floor because it “feels too time consuming” to reach into a closet and use a hanger.
- Tools are tossed on a table in a garage or shed either because there is no clear location where the items belong or because it is cold in the garage and the owner doesn’t want to stand out there putting the item back.
- Bathroom supplies are precariously perched across the top of a pedestal sink because there is no structure into which they can be placed and stored.
As you can see, these hurdles can be large or small. Sometimes, we have failed to designate a “home” for our things to live in. Other times, we have a place, but it feels like work to use it. Something as simple as having to remove a lid can be enough of a barrier to keep us from putting an item back in its proper place.
If you find you resist putting items away, take the time to define the reason. If you have no designated storage location, you need to establish one. If the storage location feels difficult to use, you may need a new configuration. Items you rarely need can be stored remotely, while the ones you regularly touch should be easy to reach.
Bear in mind that the three barriers to an organized space overlap. For instance, you may need to declutter in order ensure that you can design adequate storage.
FAILURE TO RESTORE ORDER
In our time-crunched world, few people want to allocate time to restoring order. Properly returning items to their storage locations takes discipline, just like avoiding overeating or pursuing daily exercise. The one thing that organized people do more than disorganized people is put things away. Depending on your stage of life, this can require anywhere from five minutes to multiple hours a day. Few people consider this process “fun,” but it can become part of a routine where the tangible benefits provide adequate motivation for carrying through. Most people benefit by setting aside regular intervals for restoring order each day. Here are a few habits you may want to try:
- Put toiletries away in the morning after you are dressed.
- Wash dishes and run the dishwasher every night. Empty it and put items away every morning.
- Do a “walk through” before bed to put all clothing either back into a drawer, in a closet or into a hamper.
- Go the extra mile to put clothing into drawers once it is folded.
- Clear your desk or work area when you are finished for the day.
- Conduct a “toy tidy” before lunch and before dinner. Restrict what toys come out after dinner so these items can be quickly stored before bed.
Again, the three barriers to an organized space can overlap. In order to reset your space, there must first be a reasonable number of belongings, and a workable storage system for containing them. It is impossible to put an item away if there is no “away” into which it should be placed!
* * * * *
All three of these barriers to an organized space are common byproducts of the modern lifestyle. If you are struggling, don’t be ashamed or embarrassed. Rather, identify which of these barriers you may need to confront, and work on a plan to for success.
Do these three barriers resonate with you? Which one is the most challenging?