Over the past few weeks, Iíve written about a few of my favorite organizing theories and how you can put them into practice. This week, I want to share a guideline thatís as applicable to organizing as it is to many other positive changes we make in our lives.
Organizing is an ongoing habit, not a one-time event
Iíve seen a number of people compare organization to weight loss, and there are indeed similarities between the two: both can have benefits far beyond what you see on the surface, both require support from others, and both involve a fair amount of discipline. But the most telling similarity, I think, is that, like weight loss, organization isnít something that happens once and then remains forever; staying organized requires developing new systems, habits, and attitudes.
Itís because of this that so many people find it more difficult to stay organized than to create a more orderly life or space in the first place. But when you prepare yourself for success by building in the habits that support and maintain organization, youíll find that it doesnít take a giant effort to keep up the work youíve already done.
Putting this tip into action
This week, make sure your organizing goals are realistic, achievable, productive, and bound to stick over the long term.
- Take time to plan before you jump in. If you try to start a healthy new eating plan while your kitchen is still full of chips, cookies, soda, and ice cream, chances are youíll find it much more difficult to eat the foods that will nourish you without unnecessary calories. On the other hand, if you take the time to clear the junk from your kitchen, plan healthy meals, and shop for the right foods, youíll be much more likely to set yourself up for success.
The same is true of getting organized: rather than pulling everything out of your closet (or your desk, or your garage) and trying to weed through it and bring perfect order to the space, step back and do some planning. What is it about the space that doesnít work or feels frustrating? How would you like the space to be? What steps can you take to get the space from what itís like now to what youíd like it to be?
- Think small and manageable. Once you have a plan, break the tasks within it down into reasonable chunks. For example, instead of trying to weed all of your clothes in one afternoon, choose one type (shirts, pants, etc.) to start with. Youíll be much less likely to burn out, and more likely to maintain the progress you make.
- Build habits into the organization you do. Organizing involves not just sorting and weeding, moving things around, and finding the right containers and storage; a significant part of the process is establishing new habits to make sure you donít undo the progress youíve made. Back to our closet example for a moment: in addition to weeding the clothes you donít need or want, put everything back in the closet in an order that makes sense to you, and brought in some containers to help corral things that otherwise wouldnít have homes, itís crucial to develop some maintenance habits. For example, youíll want to be sure you put things back where they belong when youíre done with them; youíll also want to avoid buying clothes you donít truly need, especially if you donít have room for them. These habits will allow you to keep up the progress youíve made.
- Donít give up entirely if you fall off the wagon. Finally, donít ask yourself to be organizationally perfect every single day. Just as an eating and exercise plan designed for realistic long-term weight loss allows for occasional slip-ups (like an extra slice of cake at a party, or a few days without exercise while youíre on vacation), so must any realistic organizing plan involve a certain degree of slack. Perhaps you donít open your mail for several days running, and find yourself with a hefty stack on the kitchen table by the end of the week. Or maybe youíre too tired at the end of the day to want to hang up and re-fold the clothes you take off before bed.
Donít give up and assume youíll never be able to stay organized; rather, allow yourself some flexibility. Earmark 30 minutes on the weekend to deal with the mail. Make a deal with yourself that youíll put away your clothes in the morning, when your energy level will be higher. Build organization into your life rather than trying to build your life around organization.
The initial thrill of seeing order emerge from disorder is a great feeling, but remember that organization isnít just a one-time event. By establishing some solid, realistic organizational habits, youíll increase the chances of successfully maintaining the progress you make.