Wednesday, February 02, 2005



One thing that chronically disorganized people need to embrace is this:

If ordinary ways of organizing worked for you, you wouldn't be chronically disorganized. You'd go to Organized Living, or Target, or Office Max. You'd buy some file folders and some containers. You'd toss out your excess and put the remainder in the storage you'd bought. The system would be no big deal. You might find it a little boring to file, but you wouldn't have a big issue with filing as a means of recordkeeping and organization, per se. It would make sense to you, you'd see the payoff, and you'd do it.

Not so for clutters and the chronically disorganized. Some of us need our stuff out where we can see it. Some pile rather than file. Some of us come up with complex systems that seem like a great idea but that aren't sustainable. (Wait, is Green 4B taxes, or mutual funds? Is Yellow 5A Vet bills?) Some of us don't think it's worth it to spend a sunny day sorting through old papers. Some (most) of us have underlying emotional and past history reasons why we clutter.

Take it from me:

Don't create a big organizing system all at once. It's more sustainable to figure out a system for where to put the bills when they come in than to color code the whole home office. Pick one thing, change it, and stick to it as much as possible for a month. (Remember: It takes 30 days to create a habit.)

If you miss the Organizational Bus for a couple of days, no worries. Buy another ticket and hop back on.

If changing a couple things a month doesn't seem like enough to you, think of how much time and energy you'll save if you always knew where your keys were and if you paid your bills every month on time. Those are only two things, yet the impact they can have on your everyday life is great.

So, what one or two things are you going to change? Feel free to post them in the comments if you would like.

Work organically. No, I'm not talking about using paper made from recycled banana peels and vegetable pigment ink, but hey, if you can do that, too, more power to you.

Figure out what little task always trips you up. Maybe it's not having an updated address or phone book and always having to scramble for a number. Perhaps it's that you write things on scraps of paper, and then can't find the correct folder to put them in.

Now, figure out what might work for you. If you could take care of this problem easily, how would you do it? Is there something organizational that's fairly simple for you, that you already do in another area of your life? For example, is your desk a total pit, but your recipes are seriously organized? If so, could you extend that system to those little pieces of paper fluttering around your office? Grab out a pen and paper and describe what you could do.

A concrete example:

I was always writing down books to read, movies to see, venues to rent for events, places to go camping and the like. I have a file folder for each of these, but they were often not readily available, even though I tried to keep them nearbly. This meant stacks of little papers patiently waited to be filed...

I also didn't like putting the wee scraps away, because really, what good is a list of books to read if you have to go un-archive it every time you head out to the library or bookstore? What a pain. At one point, I ended up making "temporary" file folders for them. Bad idea: I then had two or three folders for each thing.

I tend to jot down these gems of information at my desk, or when I'm out and about. So the papers ended up on my desk or in my back pocket or backpack.

One day, while I was doing something else, I realized that there's no real reason they need to be in a file. I keep a journal, and I tape in all kinds of weird little souvenirs: movie ticket stubs, flyers from events I attended,sketches etc. I do this automatically, without much ado. Grab ticket, grab journal, grab tape. Stick in. Done. Why couldn't I do that with my tiny papers?

So, I got out a binder--I liked the idea of being able to add and remove pages as needed--and I taped in all my little scraps: movies on one page, books on the next. I popped in another couple sheets for rental venues for the events I plan. Voila, a system was born. The binder sits on my desk. When a piece of info that I want to keep crosses my desk, I write it in there. If I'm out and I end up with a pocket of little treasures, I tape them in at my earliest convenience. Sure, someday I might alphabetize them or type them into some kind of computer database, you know, after I get done cross-indexing my underwear.

For now, having my list of books all in one place is good enough.

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