January is national Get Organized month, or “GO” month for the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO). There are a number of good reasons for this. Getting organized appears in the top ten of new year’s resolution lists year after year. A visit to the magazine rack at your supermarket checkout stand will show you “how to” articles on nearly every cover. But if it were that simple, why do we see them in every January issue?
The purpose of this post is not to give you yet another trite list of actions that will help for a day or two and then leave you to your own devices until next year. Rather, it is to provide you with some basic principles which will assist you to establish practices and habits that will help you through this year and future years. There are no magic wand solutions – if only it were that easy!
Getting organized when you get right down to it revolves around a simple process with three basic principles: decide, commit and succeed. This is a process that will help you with organizing projects as small as a junk drawer or as large as a garage.
Decide. Be deliberate and make a plan. Simply waking up tomorrow morning and starting on the garage without a plan is not likely to end well, though it’s very likely to be frustrating. Set a time to start, and make a plan on what, where, why and how you are going to do it. This starts with focus. What are you going to organize first? For anything larger than a drawer, this involves picking a starting point. You have to start somewhere, organizing your house is going to start with a drawer or a closet. It is also important to plan your time. If it’s a large project that’s going to take multiple hours, break it down into manageable chunks. “I’m going to work on this closet for 30 minutes each day, and have it completed by next Saturday.”
Commit. This is the action phase, and involves four steps. We call them ‘EPIC’ steps to make them easier to remember: edit, purge, identify and contain.
1. Edit. Sort the items in your focus space and make decisions on what stays and what goes. It is extremely important to stay focused and in the space while working this step. As you come across items that don’t belong in the space, set them aside and put them away later. For example, set the hammer you find in your entry closet aside. If you take it out to the garage, you’re wasting precious minutes of your organizing time.
2. Purge. Decide where those items which aren’t staying are going. Establish separate areas for each category: keep, donate, recycle, trash and relocate. These can be in paper bags or plastic bins or whatever works for you. Once this step is complete, follow through as soon as possible and make them go away. The longer they stay around, the more likely they are to end up in another space ‘just for now,’ and you’ll have to go through the whole process all over again.
3. Identify. Decide where those items that are staying are going to ‘live’ in your house. Put items where you’re most likely to use them.
4. Contain. Put the items in their new homes. This could be its place in the room you’re working on, or a different room altogether.
Succeed. This phase involves maintaining your newly organized space, and is rarely addressed in magazine articles. One you have it all sorted and put away, things will magically maintain themselves and you’ll never have to worry about it again, right? If that were true, why did you have to go through it and organize it in the first place? This principle goes beyond the magazine articles and can actually be the most difficult of the three because it usually involves multiple people. It generally involves establishing habits and getting buy-in from family members. A great example would be an entry closet in your house. You can follow all four steps in the commit phase and be thrilled with the results, only to have all of your hard work undone the same day as the rest of the family comes home from school and work!
These principles and steps all sound easy, but they can be very difficult to put into practice. If it were truly that easy, the magazines would be running different articles right now. The simple fact of the matter is that according to NAPO, 85% of Americans struggle with some sort of organization in their lives. It could be the family calendar, a desk, a closet, a craft room gone wild, or an entire house.
For those with severe clutter issues, you might be interested in our Buried in Treasures workshop series. This is a 15 week, step by step workshop and support group to re-establish mastery over your spaces. The facilitator is certified, and all material discussed during the workshop is completely confidential.
Some people will read this article and immediately be able to set out to deal with that space that has been frustrating them with no additional help. If that’s you, fantastic. Go forth and conquer! For those who can’t decide where to start or how to proceed, that’s what professional organizers are for. Call or email today to set up an appointment for a complimentary assessment to see how we can help you with your specific organizing challenges.