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.