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Gracefully Falling off the Organizing Wagon (and Getting Back on)

I got a phone call recently from a client I hadn't spoken with in a few months. She reported that there's a lot happening in her life, both professionally and personally, and that, as a result, she felt like she'd let some of her organizing habits slip.

She told me that the spaces in her house that she'd finally been able to clear as a result of our work together were now feeling cluttered again, and she was clearly frustrated by the sense that she was backsliding precariously. She said it seemed like she had forgotten the habits she'd worked so hard on developing in her work with me: keeping surfaces clear, putting things away when she was done with them, finishing projects she started, and so on. Overall, she said, it felt like her house was out of control.

We talked for a good while, and I reminded her that organizing is an ongoing process. I heard her frustration at the fact that she's been working on getting her home organized for several years, and I encouraged her to remember that it had taken many, many more years for her to become disorganized in the first place.

My client and I arranged a time to meet, and she said she was looking forward to creating an action plan to get back on track and re-establish the organizing habits that had slipped away from her over the past few months. She mentioned a few possible starting points for the work we'd do together and mentioned some areas that were especially frustrating. I confirmed the date and time of our appointment, then told her that I had some advice that might sound counterintuitive: I encouraged her not to do a single organizing task for the next week.

She laughed and said yes, that did sound like it went a bit against logic. But then I told her my reasoning: if you can spend the next week down in the frustration, anger, sadness, and other emotional muck that disorganization causes, you'll remember why you've worked so hard to get organized, will be able to see the benefits from a fresh perspective, and may just find it that much easier to get back on the organizing wagon.

She thought about this for a minute and said she could see the sense in that approach. She was also glad I didn't assign her any organizing homework to do prior to our meeting because it would give her the time and energy to focus on other areas of her life that were calling out for attention. Before we hung up, she breathed what sounded like a sigh of relief and said that, since she didn't have to worry about decluttering or project planning before we met, she might well take the time to paint a watercolor, an activity she loves but doesn't often get to do. I told her I'd look forward to seeing her painting next week.

If, like my client, you find yourself falling back into disorganization, don't beat yourself up and rush to get organized again in one fell swoop. Rather, take some time to wallow in the muck of disorder, to regroup, and to recommit to getting organized. Knowing why disorganization brings you down is a great way of finding the motivation you'll need to pull yourself back up.

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