I admit, math has never been my biggest strength. Yes I struggled with fractions (I’m still not sure how to multiply them) and it’s truly a miracle that my 8th grade Algebra teacher, Mr. Simonton, didn’t retire from teaching after having me in his class. I’m not even kidding. Poor sweet man did NOT deserve that.
Fast forward to adulthood and I began to realize and appreciate the value of math in everyday life and in my work. As a passionate cook and baker, I constantly use math to reduce and expand recipes.
As a Certified Professional Organizer®, every time I make a scale drawing floor plan of a home office, I use math. Every time I measure a closet to create a fabulous new design, I use math. Every basement or garage shelving and storage system I design requires math. Heck, space planning requires the ability to think in three dimensions so now we’re talking CUBIC feet and inches. So yes, I suppose I’ve made friends with math after all this time. Have you?
Have you ever heard the expression, “Tryin’ to put ten pounds of stuff into a five-pound bag”? The meaning is clear and its essence is really just about math. You simply can’t FIT ten pounds of stuff into a bag that only holds five pounds of stuff. It’s not your fault, it’s just the reality of the situation.
The spaces where you live and work are nothing more than huge containers. Just like that five-pound capacity bag, your home and work containers hold a certain volume and no more. If you’re like many people, your math isn’t working, because you have more stuff than you have space for and the bad news is that you can’t outsmart math.
Here are some of the most common excuses people give for their math problems:
1. My house / office is too small.
2. My wife / husband / kids / dog bring in too much stuff.
3. I might need those dishes / clothes / tools / papers someday.
4. I don’t have time to get organized.
5. But I love all my stuff.
Here are the answers to those five excuses:
1. You think your house is too small? Your house will never be big enough if you don’t change your mindset and your habits. Clutter expands to fill the space available. The more space you have available, the more clutter you’ll have. I promise you, having more space is not the answer.
2. You think someone else in your life brings in too much stuff? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. Regardless, be an example. Teach them another way. Simple systems such as putting incoming mail into a basket every day, or hanging action items under a refrigerator magnet are quick and easy to teach and provide big value.
3. You think you might need it someday. Sure, you might. But you also might not. And if you haven’t used that thing in a long time, or you forgot you had it, the odds are good you won’t need it someday. So why not err on the side that gives you less clutter, more space, freedom and room to move?
4. You think you don’t have time to get organized? Right now, you have all the time you’ll ever have. There is no secret stash of time lurking in your life just waiting to be pulled out at the right moment. Today is all you have. You can make time to do anything that’s important to you. But will you?
5. You love all your stuff? News flash! Math is cold-blooded. Math doesn’t care how much you “love” your stuff. Your stuff doesn’t care how much you love your stuff, and furthermore you can be sure your stuff doesn’t love you back. If you’re out of room, you’re out of room!
Before you catch yourself muttering one of the excuses I just rattled off, stop and set a clock or a timer and work for ONLY fifteen minutes on an organizing or de-cluttering project. Once your timer rings, walk away. If you feel compelled to keep working, reset the timer to fifteen minutes and do a second round.
Keep working in small increments and give yourself permission to stop whenever you want. It’s a process not an event. Before you know it, your home and work spaces will be back in balance, there won’t be “stuff overflow” and most importantly you’ll feel strong and powerful in your life again.
"I believe life is a series of near misses. A lot of what we ascribe to luck is not luck at all. It's seizing the day and accepting responsibility for your future. It's seeing what other people don't see. And pursuing that vision."
Chairman and CEO of Starbucks
Since I don't have a father to honor on this day, I'd like to honor my dear friend, Dan, who is one of the best fathers I know.
A Dad's work is important. He teaches his sons how to be men and his daughters how a man treats a woman. To Dan and all you hard-working Dads who do so much to provide for your family, Happy Fathers' Day!
Living in Atlanta for the past (gulp) seventeen years, I've heard "It's not the heat that gets ya... it's the humidity!" How does that relate to organizing your life?
It doesn't really, but it makes me think about how many people believe that one aspect of disorganization is making them ineffective, unproductive and miserable, when, like the humidty, it's actually something else. Maybe you've even had these thoughts yourself.You think if you just had the right tools, you'd be more organized. But despite new file cabinets, shelves, sorters, containers, boxes, and all sorts of other organizing tools, you're still disorganized.
You think maybe it's your time management that makes you disorganized.So you buy a new calendar or you sign up for a workshop. Yet still you're disorganized.
You think if you just had more space, you'd be organized. So you buy a bigger desk, a bigger house or get a bigger office. Yet still you're disorganized.
You think it's your stuff's fault. If you could just declutter, you'd be organized. You spend long arduous hours decluttering, sorting, culling and donating. Good for you!! Yet you're still disorganized.
This is beginning to sound like a children's book isn't it? Well just as children's books always have a lesson to teach, this has a lesson as well. Chaos is like a pie...there are many pieces and they all connect. When you address one piece it helps the other pieces improve on their own, but there is no magic quick fix for chaos. Creating a real long term fix involves evaluating and fixing EACH PIECE to make as much overall improvement as you can.
You must address your time management and priorities which means evaluating what you're saying yes to.
You must address your space and storage potential to maximize what you have.
You must address the amount of STUUUUUUFF you have in your life, how it got there, and how you can keep it from accumulating again.
You must address your lifestyle, the pace of your life and whether it's working for you.
And you must address your attitude, habits and behaviors, because until you can change your attitude, you can't change your habits and the behaviors that caused the situation in the first place.
Remember that today is the result of your past thoughts, beliefs and actions. If you want to change tomorrow's results you have to change your thoughts, beliefs and actions today.
"Remember, all the answers you need are inside of you; you only have to become quiet enough to hear them."
"With one kind gesture you can change a life. One person at a time you can change the world."
Author, Speaker and Radio Show Host
"Extend to each person, no matter how trivial the contact, all the care and kindness and understanding and love that you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again."
"Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, or worn. It is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude."
Denis Waitley Author and Speaker
I know you're an honest person. Aren't we all? No matter how honest you are with others, I'm willing to bet you lie to yourself on a regular basis. Some of those lies get in the way of your health, your financial success and yes, your organizing success. Here are five of them you might recognize.
“I’m too busy.”
It’s easy to believe that you’re too busy to tackle the organizing projects in your life. The truth is you can’t afford to have that attitude because you’ll never get control of the things that hold you back. You are busy. We all are. But human beings naturally find time for the things that are most important. If organizing the chaotic parts of your life is important, try putting something else on the back burner temporarily.
“I’ll get to that later.”
How many times have you walked past a dirty dish, a pair of shoes or a stack of mail and thought, “I’ll deal with that later?” The truth is later never comes. Those little moments of procrastination add up and can become an overwhelming burden. To boost your feeling of “I’ve got my act together” begin a new habit. Instead of telling yourself that you’ll deal with it later, just DO it right then and you’ll always be caught up.
“I don’t have to write that down, I’ll remember it.”
Hahahahaha! That’s a good one! I tell myself that same thing every night as I’m falling asleep and yet another great idea pops into my head. But I’ve learned that if I don’t write it down, I will not remember it in the morning. Whether it’s an ideas, appointment, phone call or face-to-face meeting, relying on your memory is a mistake waiting to happen. Enter everything into your calendar to free your brain for more important tasks such as problem solving, creativity or just being in the moment during conversation.
“I saved this because…”
Imagine this… you’re cleaning out your desk / bedroom / office / kitchen for the umpteenth time and you can’t figure out why it never gets finished. As you pick up each item, you tell yourself its story. You remember where you got it, who gave it to you, the role it used to play in your life. Then you set it aside and move to the next item or piece of paper, doing the same thing each time. Thinking about your items isn’t helpful. However, using those stories to lead you to an actionable decision IS helpful.
“This will just take a minute.”
Squirrel! Shiny! Look a bunny! Whether you’re in the middle of an organizing project or writing a proposal, interrupting your focus with small tasks that will “just take a minute” is sure to derail you. One second you’re responding to an email and next thing you know it’s an hour later and time for your lunch meeting. To stay focused, use a timer or try the AntiProcrastinator to help keep you on track.
Since I moved to Atlanta seventeen years ago, I've heard the phrase, "It's not the heat, it's the humidity" a lot. You might think it's the summer heat that makes you miserable because it's the most obvious culprit, when in reality it's the humidity that's the problem. With spring coming, the phrase got me thinking about how so many people believe their disorganization and chaos is caused by one thing, but so many times -- most times, in fact -- it's something else.They think if they just had the right tools, they could be more organized. So they purchase file cabinets, shelves, sorters, containers, boxes, and all sorts of other organizing tools. Yet still they're disorganized.
They think it's their time management that makes them disorganized. So they buy a calendar or they take a seminar. Yet still they're disorganized.
They think if they just had more space, they'd be organized. So they buy a bigger desk, a bigger house or get a bigger office. Yet still they're disorganized.
This is beginning to sound like a children's book
Just as children's books always have a lesson to teach, this story has a lesson as well. Chaos is like a pie...there are many pieces that all connect and buying the tools is only half the equation. The other half is you.
You must address your default attitude, habits and behaviors and THEN the tools you spent your hard-earned money on will begin working for you. Until you pay attention to your habits and behaviors that caused the situation in the first place, you're powerless to change them.
Remember that today is the result of your past thoughts, beliefs and actions. If you want to change tomorrow's results you have to change your thoughts, beliefs and actions today.
"Learn from the past, set vivid, detailed goals for the future, and live in the only moment of time of which you have any control: now."
Author and Speaker
Know Where to Start
One of the hardest parts about getting rid of clutter is knowing where to begin. Typically you'll want to start with storage areas such as closets, drawers and cabinets. De-cluttering your storage areas first such as cabinets, closets and drawers. This gives you an opportunity to re-vamp the spaces themselves with organizing products such as shelves, hooks, dividers or containers, and opens up space for the things you end up keeping after your declutter project.
Once you have determined a good starting point, move the items in that space into a separate staging area if you can. This will allow you easily see everything that you are dealing with. Begin sorting through these items, putting them into piles. Group like items with like such as toys, books, invoices, receipts or clothing. You can also group items that are differnet from each other but used for the same task such as shipping supplies, pet items, or personal care products. Also, set aside things that no longer serve you, so you can move them out of your life.
Enlist Some Help
If the project feels daunting, don’t try to tackle it alone. Decluttering can be stressful, but it is easier with the help of a supportive friend or family member. The key word is "supportive" here. Don't choose your mother if you two tend to argue over the smallest things. If you want professional guidance, assistance and non-judgmental support, look to The National Association of Professional Organizers. On the right side of the NAPO home page you'll find it easy to search for a Professional Organizer in your area simply by entering your ZIP code.
Let Things Go
If you really struggle getting rid of things, decide what you'd like to achieve from the process. For example, if your goal is paying off a debt or loan, you may feel more motivated to sell items you'd normally keep. Check the terms and conditions of your loans to ensure they allow for early payment or partial repayment in a lump sum.
If you'd like to make some extra cash, try selling your things on Ebay or locally on Craigslist. If you aren't concerned about recouping money for your things, donate to your favorite charity, Freecycle group or thrift shop. When you donate items you'll feel great about creating a win-win. You get them out of your life and at the same time, others benefit from them.
Organize Your Important Documents
Keeping important documents safe and organized is essential. If you've ever misplaced your tax return you know how stressful it can be so it pays to keep all your important papers together in a safe place. There are certain papers I recommend my clients keep long term such as loan terms and payoff papers, contracts, passports, medical screenings and procedures, marriage and divorce papers and of course tax returns. Sort the documents into folders and store them in a fire safe or locking file cabinet away from all the rest of your filing so you always know where they are at a moment's notice.
Reducing clutter and staying organized takes a bit of focus and a little time to set your systems up the way you want them. Once you're set up, weekly maintenance to put things right should be plenty enough to keep you humming right along! What are your best and favorite ideas for staying on top of day to day organizing?
"Regardless of how you feel inside, always try to look like a winner. Even if you are behind, a sustained look of control and confidence can give you a mental edge that results in victory."
1. Get it out of your head. Parents typically juggle like superheroes, and with so much going on it's tempting to want to rely on your memory for ideas, projects, grocery lists and to-do items. Don't do it! When your brain has a bunch of items, tasks, projects, and ideas it's trying to remember, it continues to send them to you over and over again repetitively to ensure you don't forget. This constant chatter is crazy-making and prevents you from being fully present. Quiet the chatter by capturing those scraps of information into a simple system -- one you TRUST -- so your brain can let them go and be free to focus on whatever you're doing in the moment. Whether it's a Moleskine notebook, an app such as Remember The Milk, Everote, Notability or just a plain old yellow lined tablet, choose ONE place to consistely capture information fragments so you can refer to them later.
2. Shop smarter. If you're a busy parent, you don't have the luxury of wasting time and if you're running to the grocery store several times a week, wasting time is exactly what you're doing. Meal planning isn't difficult but it often falls to the bottom of the priorities list, which means families frequently resort to dining out, take-out, or convenience foods. Save money and eat healthier by choosing weekly what you'd like your family to eat for the next seven days and shopping (ideally) only once a week. For extra savings, check out CouponMom before you go to see which items are on sale that week before you plan your meals.
3. Say no more often. You may have already figured out that saying yes to everything is unsustainable, and if so, good for you! If you're still on the denial wagon, trying to be everything from schoolroom mom to Scout leader to playdate organizer and your child is in more activities than Taylor Swift has boyfriends, listen up. By spreading yourself and your kids too thin, you all end up exhausted, cranky and stressed out. And worse, you teach your kids these negative time management habits too. Good time management consists of first, really grasping the very limited nature of discretionary time, then allocating that time carefully and only using it in ways that support your high values. Choose the things and people you say yes to carefully, bearing in mind that your health, your sanity and your quality of life matter more than the amount of things you can cram into a week.
4. Be good to yourself. It's hard to be good for anyone else if you're completely depleted. So to keep your sanity and maintain your status as Most Favored Parent, you must take a little time to focus on what YOU need. Whether that means sneaking in a nap, going to bed a little early, or sleeping a little late, getting enough rest is crucial. Besides sleep, your social time to reconnect with those you love is important too! You and your partner have to stay engaged with one another to keep your family healthy and spending time with friends now and again keeps your family connected to others. Schedule date nights, as well as girls (or boys) nights out to make sure the ties that bind stay strong.
5. Outsource. My grandmother had five kids and never even learned to drive, yet she ran her house like a drill seargent and all five of her kids turned out to be successful, hard-working, and productive citizens. Today's modern world presents many more time challenges, options, and directions to be pulled than in my grandmother's day. In 2013, you may have to figure out what you can realistically outsource to someone else. Is it cleaning? Cooking? Carpool? Lawn work? Eyeball your budget and remember that your money is a renewable resource, whereas your time and energy aren't.
"I am grateful for all of my problems. After each one was overcome, I became stronger and more able to meet those that were still to come. I grew in all my difficulties."