What to do When Your Organizational Systems Fail

For one reason or another, sometimes the very systems that we’ve put into place to keep ourselves in line fall apart. Even my own. Why?

Often it’s that our needs or lifestyle changes. The lists I made on the counter as a stay-at-home mom don’t cut it now that I’m on the go most of the time. Sometimes we change. Technology has really pushed this along. Often I find it’s just that I get numb to doing it the old way. I start to ignore the reminders that once kept me on task.

This is where many lives begin to unravel and the it’s beginning of disorganization for someone who was previously fairly organized. What should be done?

I thought the other day about the original Dr. Atkins and his diet. In his book, he mentioned that if you fall of the wagon, or get tired of the diet at some point, you should switch to another diet– pretty much any other one. Because as much as we would be led to believe that it was the kind of diet that was key, just watching what you being aware and practicing self control is at the center of any program.

Let’s translate that to organizing, which also involves a certain amount of discipline. What happens when your organizational systems stop working for you? You guessed it! Implement new ones.

Find what will work for you now. Do some research, ask a friend what they use, inquire from an organizer to find some new possibilities. This is sure to keep things from getting out of hand, and get you back on track again. After all: new year, new you organizational systems, right? Sounds like you just got permission to blow time on Pinterest! 😉

One Thing Organizers Find in Every House

You’d be surprised…

Long passed away pets, old love letters, and unmentionables, which is why I won’t mention them. Organizers get up close and personal, and we see a lot of things. Pretty much nothing phases us. Unlike a magazine page or Pinterest pin, you actually live in your home and there is evidence of that. We’re all mostly the same and you are totally not being judged in any way.

However, there is something that I come across repeatedly and I want to address it: organizing and/or cleaning supplies. Storage bins and baskets of all sizes, printed out materials about organizing, cleaning liquids of all kinds– often unused or still in packages. One realistic client joked to me as we kept finding these items, “Don’t you love seeing our pitiful attempts at organization?” Again, I don’t judge.

I see these items as a realization that something needed to be done about the mess. However, it also reveals a bigger issue. The thinking that an organizational system or program alone will fix the problem.

For organizational systems to work, there are two other parts that need to be in place.

  1. A reasonable amount of items. You must first edit your clutter. Just buying containers to corral it in new and fancy ways won’t cut it.
  2. Implementation. Let’s face it, these products don’t use themselves. Sometimes you need an organizer to motivate you to tidy up and keep you on track. (Click this to see Why You Need an Organizer!)

My client last night had a binder full with an organizing program she had purchased…we found it underneath the mountain of stuff on her desk. But good for her! She realized she needed help to get the ball rolling and contacted me, and together we had tackled that mess in no time. We recruit professionals of all kinds for their various specialties– maybe an organizer should be your next call!

(PS BONUS! One other thing we always find is a serious overage of pens and pencils. We accept this as a fact of life. I don’t know where they come from exactly but they multiply like bunnies! Don’t worry, everyone has this problem.)

Working with a Professional Organizer: What to Expect

NO we are not afraid of the Skittles that have been buried under your files for 5 years, and no, this is NOT the worst we’ve ever seen.

Organizers recognize that our clients come to us in various states of vulnerability and that it’s difficult to open up your life to someone. Trust that you are in good hands. Let’s take a look at what it’s like to work with an organizer and hopefully this will banish any worry.

To start with: The session usually begins by establishing a way to sort items. This often includes boxes or bags labeled TRASH, DONATE, OTHER ROOM and others depending on your situation. Your professional will help you decide.

The items you’re deciding to keep will start to be grouped together as well. These categories often develop as your organizer starts to see patterns and gets an idea of what you use regularly and how/where you use it. You will be asked several questions pertaining to this as you chat along the way. If you ever used one of those little shape sorters as a kid– you can totally do this!

Expect your organizer to begin to feel like a good friend. Personal, warm, and sometimes overly honest– totally helpful. They’ll keep you on track and maybe remind you to take breaks.

At this point things might look messy: FEAR NOT! Depending on whether your organizer has decided everything needs to be pulled out to get a good look at it or how many little piles of do-dads you have, stuff may be everywhere. Sometimes this feels a little overwhelming to the client. But just like so many things, things often get worse before they can get better. At this point, things are about to wrap up!

(Sometimes this process will take more than one session. If so, things will be tidied enough to make your place livable until next time. If you’re willing, homework might be assigned such as sorting paperwork or other things you can do on your own before your organizer returns.)

Ahhh….now that we’ve edited your belongings, things can be put back in a way that makes sense. Your organizer will ask more questions about what and where things make sense to you in order to come up with a system that is easier to use and maintain. Now that you have less “stuff”, there should be a place for everything. Sometimes organizational items will need to be purchased, but often I find that we free up usable storage bins in the process that can be used in the end.

At this point, many organizers will talk to you about a plan to keep your space tidy or get some dates on your calendar so you’ll remember to revisit the area for maintenance. You might also schedule to work on the next space with your professional.

This is where you’ll feel spectacular! Basically everyone reports feeling great after this process and the science backs it up. You’ve made a clean sweep of the clutter that’s been causing you stress, and now it’s time to enjoy your space again.

Letting it Go- an organizer’s confession

Something has really been bothering me. Getting under my skin. I can’t believe I’ve put up with it this long. It’s a real irritant, and I’m going to take care of it as soon as I finish this post. What is it? Well, I hope you take a good look at the picture below because it’s soon to be gone. Not the picture but the contents.

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See, that pile of stuff has been sitting in my corner for weeks since I’ve set it aside (the blue bin on the bottom is full as well). I went through my belongings, mostly my closet, and had pulled some things for removal. I don’t often keep things for that long, but there were some pieces that could have sold, so I listed them online. Unfortunately, with the current season upon us, not many used things are selling– only new.

And as it sits there day after day, in my apartment which already feels tighter than usual due to the addition of the Christmas tree, it has eaten away at the peace in my subconscious. Honestly, even the picture was so ugly to me that I had to edit it quite a bit. So today, I’m taking it down to the thrift store and I’m also getting rid of some other belongings I’ve pulled from elsewhere. Am I missing out on money I could have made? (This is often an argument we have with ourselves) Although the items seem somewhat valuable to me, I guess not really. Remember, no one has been interested.

Finally, I think about what this is costing me: emotional equity and space. It has to go.

Now my mind will be free to look on the beauty of my holiday decorations and not on piles of junk.

 

How Much is Your Clutter Costing You?

Hint: It’s way too much.

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My second passion besides organization is frugal living. Or maybe it’s my first.

As an organizer, I’m aware of many different kinds of costs associated with clutter, but I began to wonder exactly how much time & money it translates into. I did some digging. It was shocking… I’ll get right to it.

 

Financial Costs

On average, you’re paying about $15 per sq foot of your home per year according to AARP. So, that big bouncy ball from the dollar store that’s been sitting in the corner for 5 years has now cost you $75. Multiply that by everything in your home that’s not regularly used. Woah.

Enter storage units. There are 5 times more storage facilities in the US than there are Starbucks! Let that sink in. According to Forbes, Americans spend more than
$24 BILLION a year for storage. AARP mentioned one widow who rented storage space for three years after she “downsized”. In all she paid over $11,000 to store $1,000 worth of items before paring it down.

A few more:
-late fees for late or unpaid bills you’ve lost
-throwing out food, make-up, and other things that spoil because we couldn’t find them
-REPURCHASING things you know you have but can’t locate

Cost of Time

It’s been reported that over a lifetime, the average person wastes between 1/2 and one year looking for misplaced items.

Additionally, the National Soap and Detergent Association (who knew?!) estimates that decluttering eliminates 40% of all house work. How ’bout that?

Emotional Costs

I can’t say enough here. I’ve experienced:

-Children with ADHD that simply can’t concentrate in their spaces and are overwhelmed
-Spouses who argue and rant about the messes, marriages strained
-Higher stress levels in all family members due to feeling enclosed and lost items

Here is a link to a study that shows how clutter leads to higher cortisol levels and depression rates and lower marital satisfaction. I’ve seen it first hand.

There’s simply a mental angst to spending so much time and money on a home and not being able to move around in it. Lifehack mentions loss of focus and productivity.

 

The Final Verdict?

Many people believe that getting rid of things will be a waste of resources. The truth? It’s costing you more time, money and emotional equity to keep them. Start your organizational journey today!

 

 

How Disorganization Led to My Near Arrest…(a true story)

To begin with, I’d like to defend myself. In this country, we are innocent until proven guilty…

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The fact of the matter is that I’m a busy gal. I’m a single mom, college student, have a bit of a social life, and am a business owner. Not the kind of work where you show up on a regular schedule, do the same old thing, and then go home. No, the kind where you juggle everyone else’s lives simultaneously. So, I have a lot of balls in the air at any given moment. Things were going great without a hitch, until my doctor tinkered with my thyroid hormone dosage (as described here) and I had a hard time regaining equilibrium.

And then one day I received a letter from the government…I was to show up for jury duty at the end of the following month.

Cool! I was just starting a business law class for the summer and had never been called up for jury duty. Should I put it on my calendar? The new phone calendar I had wasn’t as good as the one on my old phone and the reminders weren’t so obvious. No, I’d put the letter on the fridge where I’d be constantly reminded (I don’t really have anything else on it) and surely it was so important that I would remember.

And I did remember!

I thought about my impending duty regularly, especially in law class when my teacher inquired during her lectures whether we had ever been on a jury. I’d say to myself, “I will be towards the end of this month.” …the problem is that time flies, the day came quick, and I had not been keeping track of the current date.

So, as I sat in law class one evening, it dawned on me…I was supposed to have been on the jury THAT MORNING! 

When we were dismissed I flew to the car and called my teenager. As he read the letter out loud to me, I panicked! I had indeed missed jury duty. What would happen to me? It was 8 pm so no government office was open for me to inquire of–I called anyways and got a recording.

I texted my mom who told me they usually come for you immediately. “Come for you?!” “Yes.” I texted a local police officer friend of mine. “They put a warrant out for your arrest,” was the reply. “Stop messing with me,” I said. “This is serious.”
Him: “I am serious. This is so great! I can’t wait to arrest you! Haha!”

I checked the county’s website to see if my number had in fact been called up but I was still in my car and had a hard time navigating it on my phone. I Googled “what happens if you skip jury”, and got the same answer. Sometimes a fine, but usually a bench warrant out for your arrest with up to three days in jail. I knew I’d never survive in prison!

Desperately, I returned to the county site to look for answers…and found them. I stumbled upon a page where it listed all of the juror numbers that had been called up for the week and found my number among those that had been dismissed!!!! Relief came over me in waves. Then I shuddered a little thinking again of how I would not have survived in the slammer. A resolve was made then and there to re-institute a better calendar and reminder system.

And so my dear readers, please learn from my mistake and please remember: organization is not just desirable– it’s a necessity! (If you’d like to avoid a run-in with the law!)

Illness and Disorganization

“…what about a health issue that silently steals your motivation?”

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Many times when I enter a situation, I find a homeowner who is perfectly capable and could have handled their mess on their own along the way. So what happened? Life.

Often, there has been some major life event that has stalled progress and productivity, and it’s not uncommon for it to be health related. Whether it’s a major personal health problem or an issue with a family member, it puts organization on the back burner. But what about a subtle health issue that silently steals your motivation?

Depression would be the most obvious. A person may know what things need to be done, but may simply not have the want-to. And other hormonal imbalances go hand in hand with this as well.

I’ll take myself for an example. A few months ago, I felt on top of the world and my schedule. In fact, a friend called me and inquired how I had been doing recently, and mentioned how busy I had been. “I feel like I’m killin’ it!” was the reply and I proceeded to tell her how excited I was at the fluid motion of my pace. Fast forward a little…

My doctor and I decided to lower my thyroid supplement dose a little and wow, did it take awhile to regain my balance! Until then, I struggled to keep things together and paired with some other life changes…chaos followed. And it led to one hilarious situation in particular which I will save for a future post.

In any case, if you are struggling with your organizational skills, consider whether it may be an underlying health problem– especially if you’ve been organized in the past.

Depression and Disorganization

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There are a plethora of different reasons for disorganization: Personality type, upbringing, a busy schedule…other family members! But all of us traverse thru difficult times in our lives, and at those times, we have the tendency to let things go.

For me, hard times bring a swinging pendulum to my organizational style. There have been times that were so tough, and as I looked around my home, I pledged to pitch anything that wasn’t necessary for life itself in order to simplify things–in order to tame the one thing I felt I still had control of. This is my usual response, but I can’t say it’s the norm for the majority.

Then there are other times when I care less about my usual responsibilities, and things fall to the wayside. After a seemingly short time, the mess starts to get out of hand. This is actually a more typical response, and as organizers, we many times find this to be the case.

Obviously, severe depression requires professional attention, but if your life is in disarray due to the hardships typical of the human condition, there are some things you can do to get yourself back on track.

  • Have realistic expectations- many times, an idealistic mindset can sabotage organizing efforts. If it’s not Pinterest worthy, it’s not good, right? Wrong. You have a lot on your plate, and good enough is going to have to be good enough. Your home simply needs to be functional, and this in fact can decrease your stress overall. Get real and toss out your HGTV ideals right now.
  • Set some small goals for yourself- not only do you need realistic expectations regarding your home, but you need to give your mind a break as well.  If times are hard, there’s only so much you can mentally handle. The evening before or the morning of, make a short list of three things that need accomplished that seem doable for you that day. As you tick off those boxes you’ll feel quite accomplished and things will get more orderly every day- life will start to feel possible again.
  • Record what you’ve tackled- similar to the last tip although the opposite, you can instead make a list at the end of the day of what you’ve actually done. You’ll feel great when you see how well you’re actually surviving thru a difficult time and have encouragement for the following day.
  • Enlist a friend or professional organizer- I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: we all have issues, and sometimes we need to recruit help. I have my own trials that I struggle with, and although they may be different from the next person’s, when I can’t handle things on my own, I get help. Plumbers are for pipes, mechanics are for cars, organizers are for messes! At the very least, rope in a friend who has mad tidying skills and make a day of it! Love, after all, is one of the best cures in this world.