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Friday, July 11, 2008

Getting Organizationally Fit

We’ve noticed a lot of comparisons lately between organizing and dieting. Many of these comparisons are apt. Like dieting, organizing is a good way to get rid of unwanted pounds (of clutter) and inches (of paperwork piled on your desk). Being well-organized has proven mental and physical health benefits. And, similar to a weight loss regimen, a solid plan for getting organized is far more likely to be successful when we have the support of our spouse, kids and co-workers.

As with a diet and exercise program, there is no shortage of “expert” advice on how to lose clutter without even trying, or how to be totally organized in 30 minutes or less. While it may sound tempting, the truth is, truly getting and staying organized requires changing deeply ingrained habits and committing to long term maintenance.

Here are some common organizing pitfalls, along with some tips from See Jane Work on how to keep them from sabotaging your success.

Fad Organizing
You just read an article in your favorite women’s magazine about how to be completely organized in a week and you can’t wait to get started.

On Day One you get up at 5am to alphabetize your pantry. On Day Two you put eight years worth of photos into albums…in perfect chronological order. Day Three is toys and games day, so you wait for the kids to go to school before you ransack their rooms tossing anything that isn’t in the original shrink-wrap. On Day Four you purge your file cabinet throwing away any receipt more than a month old. By Day Five you’re feeling a little light-headed but you go through your closet and decide that last season’s wardrobe will be this season’s charitable donation. On Day Six with half the contents of your home sitting on the curb waiting for the rescue mission truck to pick-up you beam at your achievement. That is until Day Seven when you go to look for your pearl earrings and realize you left them in the pocket of the corduroy blazer you just gave to charity.

In short, this type of extreme organizing is about as rational and sustainable as a diet consisting entirely of grapefruit and dry toast.

How to Avoid It
According to the so-called organizational mavens, we’ll all feel much better when we have less “stuff”. While there is certainly merit to getting rid of useless items, there is a fine line between useless and not-often-used…like, for example, your turkey baster. Sure you could save a few inches of drawer space by only keeping the things that you use everyday, but how practical is it to go buy a new turkey baster every November? By taking a more moderate approach you can implement organizing systems that will produce lasting results.

  • Apply the “Something In, Something Out” rule to most purchases. In other words, if you buy a new toaster, don’t keep the old one “just in case.” (What are the odds you’ll have a true emergency that could have been averted by a second toaster?)

  • Don’t buy more hangers. If you add something new to your wardrobe, donate the oldest or least often worn garment in the closet. (But make sure you check the pockets first.)

  • Designate one kitchen drawer for infrequently used items. Keep the nut-cracker, lobster forks, and that “hilarious” talking bottle opener your father-in-law gave you together in one drawer so that you don’t have to dig through a bunch of random utensils every time you need the salad tongs.
  • Keep receipts, appraisals and insurance info together in a binder so that in the event of a loss you’ll be able to find your insurance company’s toll-free number and the necessary documentation. The Valuables Kit has sections for jewelry, furnishings, art and more.

While lightening your load is generally a good thing, don’t force yourself to give up things you love. A well-organized life should make you feel empowered, not deprived.

Yo-Yo Organizing
After weeks of emptying closets and drawers, cleaning out the garage and diligently filing, shredding or tossing every piece of paper that enters the house, you’ve grown a tad complacent. “It won’t really matter if I just sort through that stack of mail on Monday,” you rationalize, or “I’ll just put this box of old toys in the garage for a couple of weeks until I can get to the thrift store.” Before you know it, you can’t see the top of your desk and you’re back to parking your car in the driveway.

How to Avoid It
Stop the vicious cycle of order and disorder by establishing routines for staying organized that work with your lifestyle.

  • Sort your mail over the recycling bin so that junk mail never gets to your desk.

  • Have bills sent via e-mail and pay them online. The Open Sesame Password Reminder Log can help you keep websites and passwords handy.

  • Put letter trays on your desk to neatly sort and hold paperwork that needs to be dealt with, just not right this minute.

  • Keep the phone number to a local charity that picks up donations in your planner so that a busy schedule doesn’t get in the way of your organizing efforts.

By making maintaining order in your home and office part of your regular routine, you’ll eliminate frustrating highs and lows. But keep in mind that staying organized requires vigilance. You’re simply not going to get it done once and then never have to think about it again.

Binge and Purge Organizing
You’ve had it up to here with piles of paperwork, shelves out of order, and lost books, toys and homework assignments. Determined to regain control, you go on a storage container spree, voraciously buying all the baskets, boxes and bins you can find. But when you get home, you realize that the cute little drawer organizer with all its tiny compartments serves mainly to take up more space in your drawer, and those deep plastic bins that can hold everything make it nearly impossible to find anything.

How to Avoid It
The secret here is to purge first. Before you buy so much as a file folder you must first decide what actually needs storing and what should really just be tossed.

  • Keep an eye out for household items that are redundant or obsolete. (When was the last time you used a popcorn maker?)

  • When cleaning out closets and drawers, be pragmatic. If you can’t get into those pre-pregnancy jeans right now donate them. (You can reward yourself with a new pair once you’ve dropped the baby weight.)

  • Think it through before you renew. If your coffee table looks like it should be in the dentist’s waiting room you’re probably subscribing to more magazines than you can really read in a month.

  • When you get to the garage, look for anything that has a layer of dust over it. (That whole ‘biking to work’ thing sounded good, but since you live in Seattle you’d need scuba gear to pull it off.)

Once you’ve done a complete physical inventory, you can go ahead and buy a few necessary storage items. Storage Boxes from Hable Construction are durable, easy to carry, and best of all they fold flat when they’re not being used, and See Jane Work Basics Magazine Files will keep your periodicals from piling up.

Remember when setting organizational goals it is important to have realistic objectives. Like those impossibly thin models in fashion magazines, the impossibly tidy rooms featured in decorating magazines have been professionally styled, lit, photographed and then touched up by an editor to eliminate any unsightly wrinkles in the bed linens or blemishes on the moldings. Your desired outcome should be continuous improvement…not unattainable perfection.

If one of our ideas or products works for you, or if you have a solution you’d like to share, please let us know at