Organizing Philosophy for the Holidays

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The current economy may end up making this year's holidays less stressful, just because we won't be IMG_3134 046

shopping and traveling as much. But if you find yourself feeling stressed by holiday planning and the looming prospect of a new year, keep these in mind:

  • Make lists to prevent tasks from being forgotten in the chaos. Keep the list for next year
  • If list items aren't coming to mind, reflect on past fun holidays and visualize what you want for this year. Make your lists and make it so
  • Do a little bit everyday, starting now
  • The company of friends and family is the most important part
  • You can decide right now to relax and enjoy yourself no matter what happens

Snowman light photo taken by me in San Francisco.

How to be messy and organized

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How to be messy and organized. At the same time. A contrarian view, perhaps. Organizers get sick of having to inform people that being organized and being tidy do not necessarily co-exist. The organized part refers to an underlying system that helps you function. It can be more or less detailed, depending on how much effort you’re willing to put in and what kind of results you need. The tidy part is about looks.

It’s also about how an environment feels to you.

People who are messy on purpose revel in being immersed in their possessions. They are inspired by seeing all the possibilities around them. People who are tidy get distracted when there’s too much visible at once. They need to shut off all those possibilities when they want to focus on getting a particular task done. This is an important distinction.

A common misconception about tidy people is that they are dry, dull and boring.

My view is that they can get overloaded with ideas and plans provoked by what they see around them because they find it hard to ignore. Messy types seem to be able to tune into the inspiration of stuff and then tune out their environments entirely, so they can happily work at a cluttered desk and not even notice what’s next to them.

So the question is: what kind of environment do you prefer to work in? If it’s a messy one you can still have a system, it just may not be apparent to anyone else. How do you keep everything out but still have access to all of it, not endanger self and others by its placement?

  • Plenty of open shelving, with shelves placed as close together as needed
  • Literature holders with lots of cubbies for paper and other things
  • Apothecary cabinets have many small drawers that can be turned into cubbies by removing the drawers
  • Rolling carts with wire drawers that pull out are handy
  • A big table instead of a desk to give you more horizontal space
  • A laptop computer to save desk real estate. Or a flat screen monitor with the CPU on the floor
  • A big bulletin board

How to Optimize Space

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Although I still have websites, the blog is the place where I put my new content. The websites are ridiculously hard to a not-too-computer savvy person like me to edit. The blog, by contrast, is easy as pie (thanks, Typepad!).

However, there’s some valuable content on the sites that people aren’t seeing as much because my traffic is coming here rather than there. So, today I’m sending you to an article I wrote about using your space.

If I rewrote that article today, I would add this bullet point:

  • Use Your Stuff as a Guide. Do you have an inbox on your desk that you never use? Some people don’t use their inboxes because putting things in there is like dropping them into a black hole in space (that’s a whole ‘nother subject). But others don’t use them because they just don’t work. A client of mine uses her desk for all kinds of tasks, only a few of which involve paper. So a standard 8.5 x 11 inch inbox doesn’t work for her. What she really can use is a big colorful basket next to the desk to accomodate stray pieces of clothing, oversize books, a bag of stuff to be returned to the store, a beach ball(!), children’s artwork, etc.

Perfectionism or Death

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What’s the biggest problem with perfectionists? It’s that they don’t know they have a problem!

Perfectionism is a habit that people are proud of, even when it causes them anxiety and trouble. This New York Times article describes how being a perfectionist can lead to mental health problems and even suicide, not to mention garden variety unhappiness and stress.

In the areas of time management and organizing, I see people abandoning or not taking on projects at all because they don’t believe they can do them perfectly. Or spending disproportionate amounts of time on tasks that are very low priority, but capable of being "perfected," while avoiding more important, unperfectable tasks.

The article mentions several aphorisms that perfectionists live by, such as, "Never accept second best." Another one I hear a lot that I disagree with is, "Anything worth doing is worth doing well." Baloney! Plenty of things are worth doing just adequately so you can get on with the really important stuff.

Myths About Being Organized

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When I taught organizing skills at adult school, I devised this matrix to bust some myths about organized people. I did it because I realized that many students, although they’d paid money and were attending the class, had some negative ideas about what being organized means.

I also knew that my students weren’t going to get very far if they thought that the place they were going wasn’t any fun! Or that they couldn’t be themselves; they’d have to become like “those people.”

You can make any task in life into drudgery or into a satisfying and pleasing activity. I can guarantee you that if you think organizing is drudgery, you won’t do it.

What are organized people like?

Myth: Organized People…

Are perfect
Are neat
Like things out of sight
Are obsessive
Are slaves to routine
Are rigid
Memorize everything

Reality: Organized People…

Have systems that work
Know where things are and know their things all have homes
Have things in the most logical place
Perform regular, but minimum, maintenance
Know how to get the systems back up and running when the unexpected happens
Build contingency time into their schedules
Write things down in a place they can easily find them again

What do you want MORE of?

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Okay, money and time are the obvious choices. I want those too. So, if you had those, what would you use them to create more of? Time and money aren’t really worth anything in themselves, right? They’re a means to an end.

I want more clarity (my name suits me!). I want more joy, more consciousness, more awareness, more being in the present. Why? Are those things intrinsically valuable? Keep digging.

I want more meaning and connection and depth because they feed my soul and nurture my heart. I want more of those aha! moments because they expand my grasp and appreciation of being part of something bigger than me.

I answered this question as part of my work with Catherine Caine. I needed to discover what’s at the core of my work, so I can offer it to my clients more clearly. The cool part is that the things I came up with are the things my ideal clients want too! Of course, they do!

Anyone who’s been reading my blog knows that my approach to organizing is about asking questions and finding solutions that really work, regardless of whether the book says not to (any book! Yes, I read instruction manuals but don’t always do what they say.). We do the things that will increase flow, clarity and energy and if that happens to involve dealing with a pile of paper, that’s what we do.

So, tell me; what do you want MORE of? How are you going to get it, starting today?

Magic and Possibilities

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Me floatingHow do I want to feel when I’m doing my work, when I’m at my desk, when I’m in my life everyday? Magic. I want there to be magic.

When I was a kid I loved the book The Secret Garden. I really loved the beginning of the book, when Mary finds that secret door covered by ivy (I just reread that chapter and it gave me a chill down my spine). The magic of finding a hidden door. A door to a forgotten place where no one had been in ten years.

I seek out magic. I create it in my life. Sometimes in little ways, like rearranging my furniture so that everything looks different, but it’s the same. Sometimes in big ways, like when I visited The Lightning Field. Magic for me is about curiosity and exploration and discovery.

I turn things upside down so I can see them fresh. I ask stupid questions that I already know the answer to so I can get a new answer.

Magic erases my expectations, biases, assumptions and “shoulds.” It evokes beginner’s mind. “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” (Shunryu Suzuki).

Where can you get magic today?

Magic photo of me by Ron Nelson

Organization = Self Respect

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I read an excerpt from Sandra Felton's recent book, Organizing for Life, on Amazon today (and I put it at the top of my Amazon list in the left column). I have quite a few of her books and I like all of them. As a reformed "messie," she brings insight and compassion into the problems disorganized people face.

Felton book
Felton's theory is that messy people treat themselves poorly by not being organized. They say they don't want to spend the time and energy to put things in order, but they then relegate themselves to lives full of chaos. She writes: "They are happy to show you how they do without the things other people who recognize their worth and dignity provide for themselves."

Being organized, then, isn't about doing things "right" or living the way others expect you to. It's about respecting yourself enough to create and maintain an attractive and supportive home and life. It's something you do because you are worth it.

I recommend Sandra Felton's books. She has lots of original, clever decluttering tricks, such as the Mount Vernon method for tidying up a room.