No, The First Step of Organizing is Not “Go Shopping”

Very often when we get the urge to organize, we start first with the urge to go and get more stuff!  “I need better containers!  New hangers!  Different bookshelves!  Cool new coat hooks, boxes, office supplies…”  well, the list goes on and on.  Lots of people go out and buy more stuff before they start actually organizing.
I understand this compulsion, friends.  I do.    Why do we want to shop first?
  • When faced with a cluttered space, of course it is more fun to think about the shiny new things in our “finished” space than to start with the hard choices, the heavy boxes, the dirty stuff!
  • Buying new things can lead to tangible improvement, something we can touch and point to and say “Look at how much better this space is now that we have xxxxx (fill in the blank).”
  • We may not know how to tackle our project, but we certainly know how to purchase things, either in a store or on-line.
  • If we already have clutter, it’s possible that “let’s go buy something new” is our usual response to a problem.
I recently worked with a lovely client in her laundry room. As we got started, she mentioned some great product ideas for shelving units and wall hooks for cleaning supplies, and I was all set to google those ideas on my phone, too, because Yes! That sounds waaaaaayyy more fun than tackling a pile of laundry!  HOWEVER… that is not how Organizing works.
 Here’s something to remember:  almost every organizing project requires at least some purging, some “letting go” of stuff.
The right organizing solution is almost never “Let’s bring more things into the space before we part with stuff!”
Instead:
  • Commit to the hard work, with a clear vision of how awesome your space will be when it’s organized!
  • Sort what you have.  Make decisions about what you want to keep and what needs to go away.  Actually bag up and get rid of the “go away” stuff.  Then figure out how to store what you have kept.  THEN you may want to shop.  However…
  • WAIT!! Get used to your newly organized space and stuff before you purchase something else!
  • Shop in your own stuff first – it’s very likely that you have what you need already.  As we organize, we may come across unused containers that we can re-purpose for our current project.   Or there are containers elsewhere in the house we can use.
  • Do your research, so you don’t end up contributing to your clutter.  Invest in good quality items, only as many as you need.  Keep receipts so that you can return items that don’t work in your space.
  • Do NOT buy new things that take up more space than the discarded items, or you will end up back in the same cluttered space you started in.
  • Look around your own space, or talk to friends and family before you spend the money!
  • If you like to shop, save the shopping as a perk for getting the hard work of sorting and purging done.
  • Keep a list of items you want to purchase or obtain.  Take the list with you when you shop, and stick with it!

 

So, let me be the little voice in your ear, your Jiminy Cricket encouraging you to do the right thing.   Do NOT shop first!  Do the hard work, then decide if you need to bring more stuff in to corral your stuff!

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Truth Bombs About Socks

I worked with a new client this morning.  She is awesome.  All my clients are awesome. 

This client, whom I will refer to as Client (all names are changed to protect the innocent), and I worked on her tween daughter’s room.  Client sorted her daughter’s  clothes into “keep” and “donate” piles while I worked on the physical space in the room.

As is often the case, the topic of Socks came up. And I capitalized “Socks” because Socks are a big issue.  More specifically, the topic of the big pile / basket / bag of unmatched, unloved and slightly scary Socks came up.

Come on, you know the basket.  The one that lurks in shadows, ready to take on more cast offs, silently judging you and draining your mental energy day in and day out?  Yes, that one.

Let me share with you some truths that I shared with Client this morning:

  • Some of us judge ourselves far more harshly than we deserve.
  • Just because friends don’t talk about this on Facebook doesn’t mean that others aren’t fighting the same struggle. You are not alone. Lots of people have too many Socks (and other things).
  • MORE IMPORTANTLY,
    • Possession of all these Socks does not make you a bad, lazy or crazy person.
    • Possession of all these Socks causes negative self-talk as we choose yet again to go about our day of Family and Work and Volunteering and finally Bed (all very important things!!) instead of dealing with those cursed Socks (not nearly as important).
    • You are awesome, and the quality of your character is not determined by a basket of Socks.

And, for your peace of mind, if you want to conquer Sock Mountain, try these:

  • Wash the Socks.  Check under beds and couches, and wash them all.  One nasty soccer sock really can ruin the whole basket.
  • Once clean, collect them all.  Yes, All.  Check the sock drawers for rogue lone rangers.
  • Enlist Aid.  All of these Socks are not yours (probably). This project will go more quickly with more hands.
  • At least try.  Some clients have suggested chucking all the Socks and starting over, but this is terribly wasteful and we won’t learn anything from that strategy.
  • Change your location.  If the laundry room is not well lit or cheerful, move the basket to your bedroom or the kitchen counter, or somewhere else that will inspire and motivate you.
  • Line the unmatched Socks up by size and dominant color, to make matching them up easier.
  • Luckily, these days, especially in the world of tween girls, unmatched Socks are cool and fun!
  • Set a lower limit and an upper limit.  Many times a session with my clients, I will ask “How much is enough?” and “How many is too many?”  For example, set your Enough for 30 (or some other number) pairs. Pick your favorite 30 and pair them up.  Now you can look at little more critically at the leftovers.
  • Recognize that those Socks, at least some of them, ended up in the basket for a reason, and may no longer be needed and useful.
  • Set a timer.  We can do anything, even if we don’t like to, for a short period of time.  Watching a show? Great.  Grab the basket, dump it out, and get to it until the buzzer rings.  Then put away the matched Socks, and donate the rest.

So, be nice to yourself this week about your Socks and anything else, be honest with others, and spend a little time and tackle this common problem!

Put Stuff Away Before You Take Anything Else Out

Have you ever noticed?  When we are excited about an upcoming adventure / event / road trip, our first reaction is to jump in and start pulling things out to get ready.

Perhaps we are packing for a trip.  We’re leaving in the morning, so we run to the closet or dresser drawers, and start pulling out clothes and piling them on top of a potentially already cluttered dresser or bed.

Sometimes, we have a project for work that must be done right away, and we spread it out on top of the projects already on our desk or work space.

Maybe we’re famished and we need to start dinner, so we pull things out of the fridge to the already crowded counter and then wonder why cooking is such a hassle.

AHHHHH!!! Let me suggest a better way:

  • STOP!
  • Put your stuff away before you start pulling more things out.
  • Just 5 or 10 minutes of clearing out and cleaning up will help you find focus and clarity and a clear work space!
  • As you tidy up, craft your packing list or project plan in your mind.   Then, when your mind and space are de-cluttered, jump in to action!

Let’s go back to packing for that trip.  Take 5 minutes and hang up that pile of stuff on the dresser or bedpost (you know, THAT pile).  Locate and put away your clean laundry, pulling out items you want to take along with you.  Then pull out your suitcase or satchel and get packing!

Need to pack up more orders for shipment?  Finish the ones from yesterday and load them in the van.  THEN… start on the new ones.  A clear work space is always going to make the job go more smoothly!

Back to that new project for work?  Take the 5 minutes to clear up the old project, so the two don’t get mixed up.

Friends coming for dinner, and you just got home with all the groceries? Before you turn on the oven or open one package, take 5 minutes and put your groceries away, setting aside the supplies you need to make dinner on a tray or cookie sheet, and wipe clean the counter.  Just those few moments of putting away and getting ready will make your meal prep a lot easier!

I always encourage action instead of inaction, but we should also be taking the RIGHT action. So, clear and clean up before you leap in and give your next actions some thought.  Then go ahead and jump!

Your Stuff Needs an AWAY.

We all have stuff.  Stuff we need, stuff we use, stuff we love*.  Stuff.

(*if anyone can tell me who crafted the ‘Need, Use, Love’ criteria, I would love to know!)

Sometimes we have stuff we don’t need or use or love, and then our Stuff turns into Clutter.

 

Perhaps you have Stuff that you do need and use, but it is scattered around the house.  In the way, on surfaces, in bags, on top of other things. In this case, your Stuff becomes visual clutter.  We know we need to keep it, but it still drives us crazy.


Your Stuff needs an AWAY.
Once we determine what Stuff is needed and useful, we need to establish an AWAY, a spot or maybe multiple spots in our house for our Stuff to live.
Then we need to create and maintain the habit of actually putting our Stuff AWAY.
We put our Stuff AWAY…
  • to take good care of our Stuff so we don’t have to buy our Stuff again;
  • so we can find our Stuff again when we need it; and
  • to give our eyes a break and our homes a breath of clean and fresh air.
Ideas to consider:
  • If you have look around your home and notice piles of Stuff, we first ask – is that Stuff or Clutter?  If it’s Stuff, it needs an AWAY.  If it’s Clutter it needs to be purged.
  • We need to establish an AWAY for our Stuff that is convenient to where we use our Stuff. Obviously, we keep cooking and food items in the kitchen.  But we can be more specific, as in, keeping the coffee cups in the cabinet above the coffee maker which is also right next to the sink.
  • We also need to establish an AWAY that is convenient for the other related Stuff that goes with our Stuff.  So, in the coffee analogy, I might also keep the cream and sugar near the coffee maker and mugs, and the travel mugs nearby, too.
  • An AWAY for our stuff helps us decide about quantity.  For example: to me, one large dresser drawer full of t-shirts is a reasonable amount.  So, when I put my clean laundry AWAY and the drawer is too full (perhaps a recent shopping trip?), the boundaries of the drawer remind me of a reasonable t-shirt collection size, and I purge a few.
  • When we have a reliable AWAY and habit around putting our Stuff AWAY, we can check the AWAY location to determine if we need to buy more of our Stuff.  Again, using the coffee analogy, when the KCup holder (the AWAY) is empty, I know it is time to buy more KCups.  Imagine if I randomly stashed KCups all over the kitchen.  I wouldn’t know what I have, nor would I use it very well when I needed it.
  • Consider this idea from the other direction – If your stuff doesn’t have a home – an AWAY – it’s likely clutter.
Make the habit to put your Stuff AWAY.  Once a day, a couple times a week?  Put your Stuff Away, and enjoy the clutter-free space.  A clear space signals to your brain that you’re done, that work is complete, that the room is clean, etc.  A clear space can be both calming and energizing!
To sum up:
  • Decide what is Stuff and what is Clutter;
  • establish an AWAY for your Stuff;
  • establish good habits around putting your Stuff AWAY,
  • so you can take good care of your Stuff and enjoy a less cluttered home .
Have a great week!