When my people make the decision to clear their living space, to finally GET ORGANIZED, they tend to hit many obstacles. The first is not knowing where to start. (Answer: It doesn't matter, because you'll eventually do it all). Another common problem is how to remove the excess stuff from the house, because a lot of my people either don't drive or have trouble moving heavy objects. One of the biggest issues is simply not having any free space to sort stuff. Gradually, every available flat surface has already been cluttered, and new places have been created, such as on top of the books in a shelf, in windowsills, or on top of the toilet tank. Some people get so creative that they even start storing things in the oven or the bathtub. My lovely, creative, brilliant clients are expert at devising new hidey-holes for their stuff. What they are not quite so good at is maintaining at least one space that they would never dare to take over.
They bogart. They commandeer. They claim. They mark territory. They start putting their stuff in space that properly belongs to other people, Because of Reasons. There's always a Reason why I get to keep my stuff in my child's closet, or entire bedroom. There's always a Reason why I get to create fire hazards in the hallways and staircases. There's always a Reason why I get to stack my stuff up in household common areas, while others do not. The reason is that I dare. I dare to do it. I'm audacious, clever, devious, and a little selfish. Spacehog! Great band, not such a great philosophy.
What we need is to create a temporary sorting space where we Dare Not leave anything there for later.
Not the bed. It's almost a guarantee that at bedtime, you'll be tired and overwhelmed and just shift it all onto the floor or some other place of incompletion. Plenty of my people sleep on a thin strip that's left over after piles take over most of the mattress. Sometimes even amongst food crumbs, like a hamster cage. Respect yourself more than that and give yourself the whole bed. When you start sleeping better, it will be that much easier to make decisions and reclaim your home.
Not the dining table. That was buried long ago. I've only ever had one single client who kept his dining table clear, because he had friends come over at least one night a week. Don't use your dining table for sorting unless you, too, would die of embarrassment if your friends see it that way.
Not the coffee table. Those are also universal clutter magnets. I don't even have one; I have an ottoman, because we are grown-ups and we can decide to put our feet up if we want to.
Not the kitchen counter. They're never the right height, for one thing. Why people put papers in an area deliberately designed for water, soap, and food splatters, I'll never know.
Not the desk. Most people use their desks as auxiliary filing cabinets. Most people also find it much too isolating, stifling, boring, and lonely to truly work at a desk. Desks are usually nothing more than inefficient storage mechanisms.
Not the floor. Most of us aren't all too sure we can get down there and then get back up again. Many of us don't have enough available floor space anyway, and that's part of the problem. We're going to sort it, we're going to look at it and freak out, we're going to postpone decisions again, and it's all going to get shifted elsewhere into a new configuration.
Not the yard. One would think that people would bring their valued possessions indoors before seeing them ruined by the elements, but one would think wrong. People will stack things in the yard and leave them in the rain, when they absolutely insisted on packing them and hauling them to a new home. We spend good money on this stuff. There are a couple of homes in my neighborhood with tarps covering stacks of stuff left outside, as there have been in every neighborhood where I've ever lived.
Where, O where, is a space that I absolutely never will leave cluttered? What line would I never dare to cross? What space is so solemnly official or off-limits that no excuse could ever possibly lead me to leave my stuff there?
I used to do my bills at the post office. I would open my post office box, often standing in line to get a thick sheaf from behind the counter, because I didn't go often enough and my box was full of catalogs and magazines. Then I would go to one of the countertops, pull my checkbook and stamps out of my purse, and pay whatever bills were in the stack. I would seal and stamp the envelopes and mail them, right then and there. I would recycle the outer envelopes and any brochures or inserts I didn't want, which was all of them. Then I could take my magazines and go home. I'd never dare to leave my mail on a post office countertop.
I used to fill out other types of paperwork at my desk at work. If I had something that needed to get done, I would put it in my backpack or purse. When my lunch break rolled around, I would get my pen out, because I kept a clear separation in my mind between 'mine' and 'theirs.' I wouldn't use a work pen on personal business, because I regarded it like stealing. I would, however, freely use my desktop. That doesn't get used up. I would also never dare to leave my personal papers out at work, where any coworker could walk by and look at them. I liked having a clear desk at work and I wanted to keep it that way, no matter what my home desk looked like.
I often work at a coffee shop, although I don't drink coffee. I'm a jasmine green tea gal. The bistro tables are so small that there's no way to spread out too much. There's also so much traffic that I know I can't stay too long. When I'm done at the coffee shop, I usually walk over to the public library for an hour or two. That's another place where I dare not leave any of my stuff spread out, because it's not going to be there long if I get up and walk away.
These are all places where a stack of papers or mail can be sorted. What about other stuff, though? What about the clothes and the dishes and the decorations and the housewares and the memorabilia and the photos and the keepsakes?
The most effective way is to take things directly from their temporary resting places to their permanent homes. No interim stopping points. No staging areas. No decision-postponement stations. No "got stuck, felt overwhelmed, and dumped it on Future Me" areas. Leave it right where it is until the very moment it gets "sorted" for the final time.
Directly into a donation bag that is then immediately carried out to a vehicle or to the front porch for pickup.
Directly into the recycle bin.
Directly into a bag labeled SHRED.
Directly onto the shelf where it belongs, with the other books or magazines.
Directly into the drawer where there is enough room for it.
Directly into the file folder in the filing cabinet where it is appropriately labeled.
Directly onto a hanger on a closet rod.
Directly into a labeled bin, box, or tub with others of its kind.
Directly into the hands of a helpful friend. Every maximalist person has a minimalist friend who would leap at the chance to help to unclutter a space.
There are two elements to sorting stuff. DECISION and ACTION. We get stuck in the action stage when we haven't yet made the decisions. We can make decisions from a comfortable, relaxing area, such as lounging around on the couch, or from an active position, such as walking around the neighborhood. How do we make decisions when we don't have a historic track record of really making many? We can write about the situation. We can talk about it with friends and acquaintances, taking in multiple viewpoints. We can do a web search and read articles about it. We can do image searches and look at inspiring versions of the very uninspiring rooms in which we live out our days. We can roll dice or flip coins. What we do have to do, though, is to make movement happen. One way or another, it's time to change, because if nothing changes, then nothing changes, and nothing changes.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.