One of the first words out of my client’s or potential client’s mouths when we first speak is the following: “I just don’t know where to start.”
Over and over again I hear it and over and over again I think: “If only you realized how easy it can be!”
Of course, I also let them know this verbally but it doesn’t always sink in right away. There’s a common notion that a person has to hear something at least three times in order to remember it but I also think it applies to “getting” it. We may hear our personal trainer say “abs get made in the kitchen” but until we hear it a few times, we’ll keep crunching away and eating crap and wondering why we don’t have a six pack. Our brains are wired to be a bit stubborn and resist change but if we truly want a change in our lifestyle, we must embrace a different mindset and change our habits.
So, today we’re going to address the easiest and fastest way to figure out “where to start”. Before we do, let’s get out the way all the seemingly innocent ways we sabotage ourselves into thinking we just can’t do it. I’m not going to tell you you’re lazy. I know plenty of disorganized people who aren’t lazy at all! From work to kids to general life, there never seems to be enough hours in the day. Of course, there are those who have extra time on their hands and choose to watch mindless TV while ignoring the massive pile of laundry to be folded. Is that laziness? Possibly. Or it could be part of a larger issue such as depression or lack of motivation. SO many factors come into play when it comes to disorganization which is why I treat each one of my clients differently and personally. Let’s look at some of the most common excuses I’ve come across and see if they resonate with you:
The mess has gotten so large, you just know it’s going take hours or days (or weeks!) and you just don’t have that kind of time right now.
You want to put aside time soon to sort through the stuff but, in the meantime, you keep adding to the piles figuring you’ll get to it later but...later never comes.
Your spouse or kids or roommates are the messy ones so you nag them to clean up, which they never do, and now you start to get messy too because you figure if you can’t beat em, join em.
A loved one has passed away and you inherited their things. You know you need to go through it but it’s still too painful so the stuff sits in your house or storage space, creating clutter.
You know you need to purge and get organized but you also know neither are your strong points and if you try it alone, you might not be successful at it.
All of these scenarios are totally fixable. Will the fixes be fast and easy? Not necessarily but they also will probably be faster and easier than you would think. Let’s break them down:
1) The mess has gotten so large, you just know it’s going take hours or days (or weeks!) and you just don’t have that kind of time right now.
The mess may be so large that it could potentially take weeks to clean it out and get it organized. It could also take a lot shorter than that if you put your mind to it. If your lifestyle is so fast paced and lacking free time, we need to break the project up in pieces. As an example, let’s take your closet. You’ve got a shit ton of clothes and shoes and bags and oh my word, just how are you going to go through them all?! Welllll, Rome wasn’t built in a day, right? Just like the items in your closet didn’t arrive overnight. You accumulated all of the stuff over years, even decades, of shopping and being given gifts. So be a little easy on yourself and not try to get it all done in one afternoon. Instead, break it down by type. The first day that you have an hour to spare, take every pair of jeans (or dress tops or t shirts or boots, it doesn’t matter really) and throw them on your bed. Try each pair on in front of the mirror, with an honest friend there to help if need be, and decide what fits, what doesn’t, what you like, what you don’t, what is still wearable, what is not. Always have three to four piles: keep, toss, donate/sell.
Now if the clutter is so bad that you can’t find every pair of jeans you own, that’s OK. The order isn’t going to go into effect until you go through the whole space. Keep the donate/sell bags off to the side (toss can go out after each session) and add to it if you find more items along the way. Once you start the process by breaking it up into type, you might become addicted and move faster than you anticipated. If it helps, create a list of each type you need to go through to reach your goal and see how fast you can cross each one off. Once the whole closet has been purged, the keepers will be able to fit in much easier and the feeling of a clean closet will hopefully motivate you to move onto the next area of the house.
2) You want to put aside time soon to sort through the stuff but, in the meantime, you keep adding to the piles figuring you’ll get to it later but...later never comes.
This is exactly how piles of clutter get worse. I’ve done it myself so I know first hand. I get a bunch of mail on a day that I’m super busy so I throw it down and say I’ll get to it later. Then the next day comes, more mail gets thrown in a pile because I’m outta my head that day too. Next thing you know, the pile is crazy overwhelming. Recently, I spent about three hours going through that pile and reorganizing my filing cabinet. Any mail that I was getting (credit card statements for instance) that could be paperless, I took the time out to stop what I was doing while I had it in my hand, sign online, and sign up for paperless statements. Any junk mail I was getting that I didn’t want, I stopped what I was doing while I had it in my hand, made a call to the number on the letter, and got myself off the list. Did I want to be doing something - anything - else than this on a Saturday night? Hell yeah! But I could have avoided it if I addressed the mail little by little as it came in and kept my filing system up a bit better.
Even if you can’t get to the whole pile today, don’t just throw more stuff into it assuming you’ll get to it all one day. This way, at least the the pile isn’t getting any bigger. And who knows? If you stop to go through today’s mail, you might see how good it feels and start on yesterday’s pile. And then the day before’s and so on. Small steps, baby, that’s the KEY.
3) Your spouse or kids or roommates are the messy ones so you nag them to clean up, which they never do, and now you start to get messy too because you figure if you can’t beat em, join em.
I think we all have lived enough to know that nagging anyone for anything gets you nowhere. Except maybe on their bad side. I get it, you’re organized and they’re not and it’s super frustrating. All you want is a clean, smoothly running household and your husband leaves a trail of dirty socks around like a scene out of Hansel and Gretel. Leading by example should be the best route here but, let’s face it, people are dense and sometimes don’t notice anything until they’re told point blank. It may be a good idea to have a little family or roommate meeting and express how the mess makes YOU feel, without making the culprits feel like there’s something wrong with them. Ultimately, there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with them! People choose to live how they want to live but if you’re all under one roof, there has to be compromise. If your 15 year old is an absolute slob, let them be in their room. Throw a bottle of Febreeze in there and shut the door, not your problem. But when they start dragging that mess around the rest of the house, that’s when you have to address it. If they’re open to cleaning up, a little bribery never hurts. Tell them you’ll buy they’re favorite video game or take them out for their favorite meal (I’m not only pro non material gifts, also non material bribes) once they’re done. Another trick I’ve found super helpful for kids? Yell over at Alexa to set a timer and see how fast they can get through the pile in front of them. They think it’s a game and will actually try to beat the clock!
Whatever you do, don't lose your sense of order by throwing in the towel and joining them in the mess. This will only make you resentful in the long run and it's not true to who you are. Stay you, always!
4) A loved one has passed away and you inherited their things. You know you need to go through it but it’s still too painful so the stuff sits in your house or storage space, creating clutter.
Not going to sugarcoat it, this is a real tough one. I see it all too often and it’s never an easy situation but it’s a situation that needs to be dealt with nonetheless. The first step is to make sure you’re ready and you have as much support and help as you can get your hands on (if you’re in it alone, you can always call me!). If you’re not mentally or emotionally ready to address their things, do not start this project unless it’s absolutely necessary (you need to vacate a space, use it for someone/thing else). Once you’re ready, use the same process as you would for your stuff and break it down into smaller steps. Set yourself a timer and go through a pile at a time. Decide what you want to keep and if you can use it and what can go. Do you have all of their clothes? Pick your favorite piece or two and donate the rest to those less fortunate. An aunt of mine took my grandmother’s wedding dress and created shadow boxes with a piece of it for each of the granddaughters. Not only is it beautiful, it’s a way for each of us to have a piece of her without one person having the pressure on them to store the whole dress. If they collected art or comic books or anything that could be a value (but that you don’t need to keep), find an appraiser that someone you know has used and trusts and sell the items. If you’re not looking to make a profit off of your loved one’s things, donate the money you collect to a charity that was close to their heart.
Whatever you do and however you go about it, think of it this way: would that person want to see you stressed out and crowded in your own home because you feel obligated to keep their things? I’m no medium but something tells me certainly not. They’d want you to be happy and not feel guilty about holding on to the things that don’t serve you. If a few pieces bring you happiness and peace when you see them, KEEP THEM! But for the items that don’t, do what you can to remove them from your home when you’re ready.
5) You know you need to purge and get organized but you also know neither are your strong points and if you try it alone, you might not be successful at it.
Oh hi, this is where I come in! No one is 110% good at everything and that’s totally ok! If we were, a lot of people would be out of jobs. I can’t change my own oil so I go to my dad, the mechanic. I’m terrible with math - only subject I ever failed in school - so I have a financial advisor and an accountant. Hiring help is the smart thing to do if you’re unsure of how to go about a project but want it done the right way. And, I mean, who wants it done the wrong way, like hello? How many times have you heard of guys trying to DIY the plumbing in their house, flooding it, and having to call in a pro to fix it (costing definitely more time and most likely money in the process). Hiring an organizer is the same concept if you want to create order to your space but order isn’t your strong point. I’m completely encouraging when I have friends or family ask me for advice and want to do it themselves. I’ll give them as many tips and tricks as I can and sometimes they rock it, sometimes I get the call to come in and help. Either way I’m proud of them for taking the first step in wanting to be organized! You know yourself and your lifestyle the best so you would be the best person to know what works for you. Sometimes though, when you’re too close to the situation, you need an unbiased party to come in and help you see what works and how you can maintain it.
Remember, whatever steps you take to get organized are the correct steps. Wanting to be organized and make the changes necessary is the first mental step. Once you take that one, take whatever physical action to make it possible. Small steps and being easy on yourself (about your limitations, emotions, etc.) are the key to not being overwhelmed. And, if you really feel stuck, feel free to send me an email/text/smoke signal and we'll attack the project together! Or you could always channel Bradley Cooper (sans the illegal, fictional drug of course) and roll your sleeves up, start on the dishes, and see where it takes you...