Monday, January 16, 2012

Preparing to Get Organized

Yesterday morning at this time, I was getting ready to go run the P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll half marathon. There's a lot to think about as you slog through 13.1 miles and lots of obstacles to dodge, like slower runners, discarded clothing, Bott's Dots lane markers, spit and Gu packets (just in case they aren't empty). But throughout the course, there were enthusiastic race crew members holding up witty, insightful signs to keep us motivated to run. With the positive reinforcement reminding me that I trained hard to be in the race, I got to thinking about how much like a marathon it must feel like to get and stay organized.

While I put in miles and miles of extra running over the past three months in order to train for yesterday's race, organizing comes naturally to me. During the race I was thinking about how intense the run is and how those feelings are the same for my clients. Where organizing takes no effort for me at all, it definitely is intense for most of my clients.

After the race yesterday, I cleaned bookshelves with my daughter. I watched my organizing brain kick right into gear, arranging books by theme, removing books I no longer wanted, placing the keepers in ascending or descending order of size and arranging travel souvenirs and decor items in between to enhance the visual flow of the arrangement. But that's not the same for someone who looks at a shelf overflowing with books. So how do you get started at being better organized?

I saw one of my former clients last week. She told me how she had been keeping her sewing room organized, just the way it looked after we finished organizing it last fall, she said. She went on to say that she finished five quilts in time for Christmas 2011 because she found quilt tops she hadn't completed and because it is so easy now to find all of her sorted fabrics. She and I got her space in order in 8, whirlwind days because she was prepared and motivated to get organized.

One the other end of the spectrum, I have a potential client who has rescheduled twice and whom I actually haven't met yet. But we have talked a lot about his stuff and his organizing challenges on the phone. For him, getting organized still looks like a marathon. He is overwhelmed by his stuff. He doesn't know where to start. It's a good move that he reached out to me for help, but he hasn't committed yet to getting started. He's afraid. Afraid of what, I may never know, even if I work with him. But that's a completely separate topic on the psychoanalysis of clutter.

When organizing doesn't come naturally, getting started isn't easy, and the road is long. It is a marathon. But training for a big organizing project doesn't have to be overwhelming.

7 Tips for How to Begin to Get Organized
1. Stop and stare at your stuff. Don't do anything with it yet. Just look at each item and consider what you want to do with it. Do you want to keep it or not? Jot your ideas down and start making a list of your decisions.

2. Think about what matters to you this very moment. Often we hold on to things longer than they matter to us. They are no longer relevant or useful. Be realistic about who you are today, what you like and what kinds of items are useful to you. This exercise can get you focused to make decisions about what stays and what goes.

3. Imagine life without the stuff. How does this make you feel? Anxious? Relieved? If you feel anxious about letting go of everything, you probably need more time. But if you envision yourself coping just fine without even some of the stuff, you are ready to get organized.

4. Ask a friend for their opinion. Knowing you and being as truthful as possible, your friend might be able to help you see the forest for the trees. Have them share with you their thoughts on how your space could be better organized. Let their ideas rumble around in your head to see what resonates with you.

5. Envision the end result. What do you want your organized space to look like? Once you have this vision, it becomes easier to make decisions about which things stay and where you put them. Don't compromise on your vision. Be strong and make it reality.

6. Set aside time to get organized. Block your calendar to have a whole morning or a whole afternoon of organizing time. Be selfish, not letting anything else come in the way of your appointment with yourself. Use the time to sort through a groups of items, one group at a time.

7. Start small. Sort through one very small area, like a shelf or a drawer. Don't get distracted. Focus on getting that area organized. Deal with the stuff you removed or that didn't belong next time.

Thinking you're going to run a race without training is definitely overwhelming and probably ill-advised. Instead, train yourself to ease into it. Think in new ways about your stuff so that you pace yourself to handle all of it, little by little. Run hard because you trained to be there.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How I Organized Decades-Worth of Christmas Ornaments

As my life seems to have become busier in the last few years, I feel like I am taking more and more shortcuts when the holiday season comes around. This year was no exception. I didn't make fudge for the neighbors. I bought colleague gifts instead of making them. (My daughter and I made granola last year.) I cross-listed gift ideas with stores so that we shopped for more items at fewer stores. We shortened the annual Christmas letter into a poem. I paid for Shutterfly to print mailing addresses onto Christmas card envelopes. Was I less anxious this year? Definitely!

I often get organizing ideas from having to create solutions to my clients' specific challenges. In all my years of organizing, though, I have never had a client ask me to organize their holiday decorations. In fact, I have only ever had two clients who have more Christmas decorations than I do. That fact is directly attributable to my mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law. Yikes.

That means that I was left once again to my own great-organizational-idea devices in 2010 when I resolved to spend the end of my holiday vacation streamlining my holiday decorations. When I made the mental commitment, I anticipated spending a day or two sorting through boxes of Christmas decor to find items to give away. The reality is that I own more decorations than I have space to display them. More importantly, I own more decorations than I have the patience to take out and put back each year. Inevitably, I end up taking out some subset of holiday decor. Just the favorites. The not-so-favorites would now leave the house.

As I set about sorting through the entire collection of holiday items, I found I wasn't weeding out nearly enough decorations to give away. That was when it hit me like a ton of bricks (a.k.a. an aha! moment) that I really liked most of the decor I had acquired over the years, but I didn't use it all each year because a lot of it is redundant. I have multiples of this and that, tablecloths, wreaths, stockings, light strands and the like. Fortunate to have enough storage space in my home to keep the decor collection intact, I switched my plan (every organizer will tell you that you need a plan before you can begin sorting) to grouping my holiday decorations by theme.

I really got into my groove as I grouped my decor into themed sets so that my multiples weren't redundant anymore. I ended up with an olde world theme, a candy/toys theme, a white Christmas theme, a retro (pink/turquoise/lime green) theme and a rustic theme, plus two boxes of "Every Year" decor, like the tree skirt, scented candles and stair rail garlands. I was jazzed. I boxed up each theme separately (same boxes, different combinations of stuff) and stowed them away, back under the stairs for 2011.

Right after Thanksgiving 2011, we pulled out the white Christmas-themed box and the two "Every Year" boxes. No overwhelm. No guilt for not displaying absolutely-everything-Christmas-themed-my-mother-in-law-ever-gave-me. Christmas 2011, in contrast to prior years, was orderly, manageable and peaceful. But I had one last, unfinished task from 2010. I had grouped the Christmas tree ornaments by theme and had bagged them up in separate Ziploc bags, but I had not put them in any kind of protective container. Thankfully, this oversight had not weighed heavily on my mind throughout 2011, because I was quite literally surprised to come across this rogue cardboard box full of Ziplocked (that's a verb, right?) groups of themed ornaments.

Now I come back to the beginning of this post's story and tie it into the final organizing solution. One of the stores on the short list of consolidated shopping destinations was Home Depot. It was there that I stopped short in front of a shelf of tantalizingly displayed Snapware Stack-N-Store 3-layer organizer boxes. (Keep in mind that professional organizers are necessarily tantalized by storage boxes.) I had found my solution for organizing my ornaments. I gleefully bought two boxes and skipped all the way home to fill up all 6 layers with ornaments by theme.

Christmas ornaments organized by theme in layers in plastic Snapware Stack-N-Store ornament container boxesI quickly snapped this photo so that I could share this story with you, but forgive me for not having labeled the layers yet. (Yes, I routinely recommend my clients add a Brother P-touch label machine to their Christmas lists.) Next year, I'll be taking out just the rustic- and country-themed ornaments to complement the fabulous felt ornaments I snapped up for less than a dollar in after-Christmas clearance bins. I can't wait for next year's theme to come out from under the stairs.

I hope your 2012 is off to the same orderly, manageable and peaceful start. Keep tidy, every day.