First Steps to Organization

Organization may seem like an odd topic for the holidays, but if organization is your nemesis, Christmas has got to come with a twinge of dread, ‘cuz in a few short weeks, a whole wad of new stuffs will need to find a parking place inside your home. That’s enough to make even the most organized person put the hate on the holidays! On top of the obvious, it seems like a lot of the advice dealing with organization comes loaded with a ton of GUILT from sanctimonious do-gooders who really don’t have a clue as to the how and why of a real person’s life These people live in the rarefied air of  huge houses with staff, no kids or pets or husbands/wives to negotiate, and money to buy all the latest and most fabulous organizational cabinetry. This post is not for them! This is for the average person with a run-of-the-mill complicated life. The goal of this post of to simply get you started on the path to organization, to give you some ideas on how to view your stuff differently,and to edge a little bit closer to a living environment that supports you and brings you peace and joy.

First thing you need to know right-off-the-bat: Yes, I am naturally pretty organized, but my office often looks like a Texas tornado slammed through my file cabinets. In other words, I am NOT perfect, and make no claims to be. This brings me to the first and most important point- if you are working full-time and have children and a spouse to navigate, you are going to be chronically short on TIME. And let’s face it, getting and staying organized takes time. When the “idea” of getting organized runs head-long into ferrying kids to soccer practice, managing homework assignments while trying to make dinner (never mind a healthy dinner), and attempting a couple loads of laundry so munchkins have clean underwear for school tomorrow, organization is going to lose every single time.  Quit feeling guilty. If you are successfully feeding, clothing, and ferrying, while working full-time, you are already a success!

Yeah...if only, right?
Yeah…if only, right?

So what about those model mothers with gorgeous homes and well-behaved children who get ALL their homework done without a nightly tussle? THEY HAVE HELP. Repeat, they do not do this all by themselves. Even Martha-freaking-Stewart has a huge staff of people who work their fannies off to make her couple of minutes look glorious. A few years ago I worked on a book that featured DIY ideas for home decor. The homes we redid for the book looked terrific, but here’s the dirty little secret. Yes, we made the nifty projects featured in the book, but it was the professional stylists who made the “magic.” They came armed with vans (Yes, VANS) full of accessories and STAFF. They would swoop into a room and work their magic, while we merely stood by and watched in awe. What you didn’t see was the huge pile of STUFF crammed into the far side of the room. You didn’t see the wool blankets that went under tablecloths to make them look more luxurious,  or the extra lighting hiding behind the potted plants to make the shot look warmer and more inviting, or that the “perfect” painting or vase that pulled the room together, didn’t belong to our homeowner, but was the property of the stylists! There were a dozen people working feverishly to pull together one single photo shoot together. A DOZEN PEOPLE. STAFF. Unless you have staff, stop comparing and quit beating up on yourself. And if you do have staff, please go away. 😉

The next thing to remember is that rich folks have “acres of storage.” I will never forget when I first heard that expression. I looked around at my (lower) middle-class life and realized “acres of storage” was not a realistic luxury. Period. I had a finite amount of space and what seemed like an infinite amount of stuff. Something had to go, actually, a LOT of somethings had to go. Obviously, the goal became to pare down what I owned so it actually fit into what I had.

So where does the average person start? Contrary to what you may have heard, the best place to start is where you want to end up at.


One of the biggest challenges with going through mountains of stuff are the mountains of decisions associated with each item. Every single thing in your home (and purse, office, car, life) comes with a decision- Do I keep this? Donate it? Give it away? Or throw it away? If I keep it, where and how do I store it? If you have a LOT of stuff, that’s an overwhelming number of decisions! NO WONDER you want to quit before you even start! One little trick to coping with this task, it to take a tip from dieters. According to behavioral psychologists, it is infinitely easier to diet by focusing on what you CAN eat, and not what you can’t. Can’t eat doughnuts for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Focus on how good the fresh fruit, eggs and toast with jam is going to be instead. So instead of looking at The Pile, focus on what your end game is going to look like. Write up a description: The coffee table in the living room is clear, except for three coffee table books. The floor is clear of everything except dog toys. The rugs are vacuumed. The kitchen counters are clear except for the espresso machine and coffee grinder. Whatever YOU want your house to look like, picture it in your mind and write it down. That becomes the tool you are going to use to measure all your choices around the stuff. The choices then shift from “Is there something important in this pile of newspapers?”, to “How important is this stack of old newspapers compared to having clear kitchen counters? And, can I reasonably find the information in some other manner, like the internet, at a later date?” BOOM. All the newspapers hit the recycling. What about that old prom dress? How important is this dress compared to being able to hang up all my work clothes and have access to them every morning?” BOOM. Dress goes to Goodwill or another charity. Does even thinking about this make you feel anxious? It’s okay! Let yourself feel the anxiety, be nice to yourself,  and remind yourself that hundreds of thousands of folks throw away/recycle their newspapers (extra coats, old prom dresses, ancient medical records) every day and nothing bad has happened to them. There will always be more. You can ALWAYS get more. Really.

You don’t have to do this process perfectly. In fact, there is no perfect. Throw away the idea that every single item you sort through has to have a “perfect” choice. So what’s the worst that can happen if you give away a coat you later wish you had kept? You get to go buy a new one! Woot! What happens if you accidentally throw away a medical record you should have kept? Call and ask for a new one. Don’t make the decision-making process for each item you have to sort into a bigger deal that it really is. It’s Just Stuff. It can ALL be replaced. But what if you are on the low-end of the economic scale and you worry you won’t be able to get another “thing”? Well, I have lived there a good chunk of my life and I can tell you with 100% certainty that YOU WILL ALWAYS have access to stuff and more stuff. Garage sales, Freecycle, Goodwill, you name it. (Sometime I’ll tell you about finding my perfect work pants at Goodwill at half-price, brand new, exact size, and I was dead broke.) If you want it, it will come. Criss-cross applesauce.

If you find it difficult to part with enough of your stuff to get to your “end game” kitchen, living room or bedroom closet, a couple things to consider:

Every single item you own takes up space inside your brain- How/where do I store it? Do I keep the instructions or throw it away? How do I take care of it? Every. Single. Item. Holy crap, if you have a lot of stuff, that is a LOT of energy going to inanimate objects 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week. Getting rid of ANY amount of stuff is going to make you feel lighter, freer, less crowded inside your head. Don Aslett, a cleaning guru, offered an excellent piece of advice: Only own one of anything, because then you will always know where it is. If you have five, you’ll be always thinking you’ll be able to locate one somewhere….but you won’t be able to find any of them! <Mind Blown!> One comb. One brush. One travel mug. One umbrella. I have tried this and it works.

Make each item in your life EARN the right to take up space. If real estate is precious, then each item has to be worthy to live at your house! It doesn’t have to be functional, but it does have to be worthy to YOU. If you have a LOT of the same thing and you are having trouble deciding which one is best, try picking one (or two max), and box up the remainder….but don’t give them away yet. Instead, move the box into the garage or another “holding” space and test out your picks. Maybe after a few weeks you’ll find you like a different one better. You can switch them out and keep trying until you find your favorite…..THEN give the box away. Or maybe you’ll find you never even missed all the other options and don’t even care what you packed away. Either way, it’s okay to make decisions in stages.

Last point….this doesn’t have to all be done in one day. Do what you can where you are a little bit at a time. So please, don’t cringe when you get yet another bathrobe for Christmas this year. I’ll tackle the actual “how to/nuts and bolts” of organizing in another post. Meanwhile, be nice to yourself, bust out the eggnog (or Baileys…or both), and have yourself a merry little Christmas! Peace!

Organizing isn't a piece of cake. After all  that hard work, you've earned a piece of pie! Minimum!
Organizing isn’t a piece of cake. After all that hard work, you’ve earned a piece of pie! Minimum!









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