10 tips to get organized


Published: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 11:51 p.m.
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McClatchy Newspapers
Getting organized - at home or in the office - is one of the top 5 New Year's resolutions people make. And often the hardest part is deciding where to begin.
Here are 10 suggestions to break through barriers to tackling clutter problems from Gainesville professional organizer Linda Richards, owner of Organize and More.
  • 1. "A timer is your best friend."
    Simply getting started with any organizing project - whether it is paper piles, a cluttered closet or a time management issue - can be the hardest part for many people. Try this simple solution: Set a timer for 5 to 15 minutes to get yourself started on any project you've been procrastinating. Anyone can do anything for 5 minutes. Stop when the timer stops. Then it's up to you if you'd like to re-set the timer or quit until the next timed "session."
    Timers are also useful to remind you to stop a hobby or a computer game that you love and remind you to do important must-do items on your calendar. My sister, Ann, an avid genealogist, sets her timer for one hour when starting her genealogy research. If she didn't, she says she'd stay glued to her computer all day and night and get nothing else done.
  • "Everything in your life needs a 'home.' "
    Whether it is time to exercise, a spot for your reading glasses or a storage area for your child's toys, everything in your life needs a defined 'home' to live in. Most disorganization is based on simply not knowing where to put/find/do something. Think about how a store organizes thousands of items. They have a home for each item in a well-defined area. Do the same in your home or office. Consider labeling those areas so all in the family know what belongs where.
  • 3. "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten."
    If you realize that you've had the same New Year's resolution to begin exercising for the last decade and still haven't done it, maybe it is time to either try a new approach or adjust your goal. Many set a goal without thinking through how they will accomplish it and two weeks later, the goal falls by the wayside. Making a detailed plan that includes a specific time of day to exercise and what to do when you go out of town, etc., can help with that. Also, share your goal with a close friend and ask them to call or e-mail you regularly to see how you are doing and to offer encouragement. Or find an online support group or a personal coach or trainer.
    Finally, many goals are unrealistic. If you're currently a couch potato yet would like to become a runner, consider starting to walk for a mile, then walk/run a mile, etc. before deciding Jan. 1 you want to run a marathon in March.
  • 4. "The first step to organizing is not buying organizing containers!"
    People frequently ask me, when starting a large organizing project, what organizing containers they should buy to get organized. They don't want to start organizing until they've gone shopping and are surprised when I say not to buy anything until the end. Purge first, then see what items are left and if necessary, buy containers at the end of the process. Ninety-nine percent of my clients find they have so much empty space after the purging process that they don't need to buy a single new bin or basket and instead can use their newly empty shelves or filing cabinets with ease.
  • 5. "Knowledge is power."
    Is your business filing cabinet overflowing and piles of paper all over the floor? Chances are you are keeping many papers because you simply don't know what you need to keep for taxes and other legal purposes. Contact your lawyer, CPA or records retention specialist to find out specifically what you need to keep and for how long. If they can mail you a brochure with that information, put it in a clear sheet protector and tape it to the front of your filing cabinet. Once you have the knowledge of what you legally need to store, you can purge the rest. Ask for guidance about how to safely discard those old papers (shredding, etc.)
  • 6. "Choose a charity to donate to before you start purging large cluttered areas."
    I've seen many pack rat clients suddenly become very motivated to purge once they felt good about the charity or needy family they have chosen to donate to. This particularly helps those who are emotionally attached to their clutter, such as piles of wedding gifts given to them 40 years ago that are still in the original box. Another item I see frequently gobbling up large amounts of space is old computers. People don't know what to do with them. (A couple of suggestions for old working computers: The Dignity Project, 371-6792; Santa Fe Community College Displaced Homemakers program, 395-5047)
  • 7. "The tip of the iceberg and trade talents."
    People generally only use the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the multitude of items in their home or office and once they move the mountain of clutter out from underneath, their home or office can begin to function quite well. Some can't face that mountain alone because it seems so overwhelming, so they do nothing. If that is the case, invite a close, non-judgmental friend over to give emotional support while you work on de-cluttering and in return for their time, offer to share one of your talents with them, for example, helping them install computer software if they are intimidated by computers and you are a computer nerd.
  • 8. "The principle of 'good enough.' "
    Many are surprised when I tell them that perfectionism is one of the key causes of clutter and disorganization. Many of my clients don't file documents because they want to first set up the perfect filing system. Years go by with their paper piles proliferating, as they wait to someday design a perfectly organized system. I tell them to instead make things "good enough" by setting up a very basic filing system now and later they can color code folders or add computer printed filing labels to their heart's content but first, make things usable.
  • 9. "Maintenance and rewards."
    Two missing pieces to typical disorganization dilemmas are a maintenance schedule and rewards. Maintenance is a key part to the staying-organized puzzle. Set up easy-to-remember maintenance schedules, for example, every March sort through and organize the last year's tax related papers. Write it in your calendar yearly. That makes doing taxes in April a snap. Then plan a reward for accomplishing that, such as taking yourself out to dinner and a movie on April 14, when others are madly scrambling around trying to get ready for the April 15 tax deadline.
  • 10. "Ask questions aloud."
    When looking at a dining room table covered with clutter, I tell my clients to ask themselves questions aloud that begin with why. "Why is the dining room table covered with papers?" Answer: "Because I don't like working in my home office so I take my laptop and papers to the dining room instead." "Why don't I like working at my office desk?" Answer: "Because it's too dark there and the desk chair is uncomfortable." Then I suggest they get better lighting, buy a more comfortable chair and so forth. This solves two problems: the dining room table can be used to eat on and the home office functions as it should.
    Talking aloud frequently helps people think better and discover the root causes to cluttered areas. Once root causes are found, solutions can be put into place to solve them. Sometimes very simple solutions solve extremely disorganized/cluttered areas.
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