7 Tips for Staying Truly Organized

It's hard to make a difference when you can't find your keys, and in my lifetime, I have spent a staggering number of hours searching for my keys. There is no doubt that I could have done something much more valuable with that time: written a book, learned a new language, or taught thousands of yoga classes. For some of us, keeping our homes and our belongings organized is like breathing. It is ingrained in our DNA and we hardly have to think about it. But for others of us, it is a herculean task. Impossible! We truly want to stay organized with all of our heart, but our inner chaos sabotages us along the way by throwing shirts on the bed, by burrowing keys into a secret hidden compartment of our jacket, and by dropping files into an important-paper-eating-pile on our desk.

A few weeks ago, a fellow AT reader suggested the book, "It's Hard to Make a Difference When You Can't Find Your Keys" by Marilyn Paul, Ph.D. in the comments of one of my posts. I had to read it immediately. The book is full of brilliant ideas for creating a home (and a life!) that is more organized, relaxed, and calm. Different from the usual fix-it-quick-and-call-it-a-day solution, this thoughtful book suggests ways to adjust your philosophy and your habits, bit-by-bit, in a way that can last long-term. The book weaves together themes of spirituality, self-care, and purpose. Marilyn references a great quote from Care for the Soul by Thomas Moore, "care for our actual houses, then, however humble, is also care of the soul."

Here is what I learned:

1. Observe your habits. Before you try to do any organizing, spend at least one day just watching yourself. Watch how you create little bits of chaos as you go throughout your day. Pay attention to what you do in your house. Where do you put (or not put) things when you are finished using them? Why is my bathroom always a mess? The first step to un-learning bad habits is to notice that they are there.

2. Create a vision and write it down. Why do you want to be more organized? What will it give you? More time? Better relationships? What would it feel like to be on top of everything that needs to get done? What would your organized home look like? When you walk into your pristine abode, how will you feel?

3. Enlist support from specific friends and family. Ask a few friends to hold you accountable for your new organization goals. Call a friend and let them know that at 9:00 am today, you are going to spend twenty minutes organizing your closet. Have them call you back after twenty minutes to see how it is going.

4. Start with small, specific projects. One reason we often fail to be organized is that we set unrealistic goals. "Today I'm going to clean out and organize the entire garage!" Well, if your garage is buried three feet deep in your gremlin-like multiplying collection of posessions you haven't used it in two years (but will! someday! promise!) then it is highly unlikely that you will complete this task. Remember, small and specific: from 9:00 to 9:20 I am going to fill up this bag with old clothes to donate.

5. Overestimate how long each organizing task will take, and time yourself. Instead of vaguely writing "organize bathroom!" on a list every day (and then ignoring it) set yourself up for something that you will actually do. Another reason we give up on being organized is that we make poor estimates of how long something will take. Organize the bathroom: 10 minutes...WRONG! How long will it really take? Two hours? Four hours? If the answer is scary, break the task into small parts and set a specific time to do it. 10:00 - 10:30 → Organize jewelry. Give yourself more time than you need; things always take longer than you think. Set a timer to keep you focused.

6. Get every room back to "ready." Marilyn talks about the simple concept of getting back to "ready." Perhaps when we wake up, our bedroom is at ready. But then we race around, late for work and leave a t-shirt on the floor, skip making the bed, leave a coffee cup on a dresser and the two outfits we decided not to wear crumpled on a chair. Definitely not ready! Spend five or ten minutes getting each room back to "ready" as you leave.

7. Purge, purge, purge. Get rid of everything that you don't love (or don't use.) Haven't used it in a year? Toss. Don't absolutely love it? Toss. When our homes are filled with things we don't love, we create a huge time suck. We spend an incredible amount of time moving these things, cleaning them, re-moving them, and sorting through them to find the things that we do need. As Marilyn says, "As you let go of what you don't need, your true treasures can emerge ... love what you own."

I think that last quote speaks volumes. Love what you own. If you don't love it, then what is it doing there?

Image: Etsy