There are three signs that tip me off, the notifications that the time for fall organizing has arrived. 1. The special aisle of back-to-school supplies; 2. That first breath of cool air showing that the summer heat has broken; 3. The knowledge that THE HOLIDAYS ARE COMING. Getting Organized in September is naturally the thing to do.
Back in the bad old days, everyone focused on spring cleaning because it was too disgusting not to. All winter, heating with coal would leave black dust on everything. You had to wash your actual walls. As soon as the outside temperature got warm enough, everyone would open all the windows, drag the furniture out, beat the rugs, wash the curtains, and wipe down every surface. Imagine everything you own being covered with a film of filth. Ugh. This is one of the many ways in which 21st century life is so much easier.
What most of us have to deal with are simply:
If you have kids (or pets), then there’s also the issue of
[If you don’t have kids, go ahead and skip the next three paragraphs].
If you do have children, back-to-school time is a good marker of a transition in age, size, and activities. Time to go over their clothes, school supplies, books, toys, and maybe even the decorations in their room.
It’s best to start by explaining the concept that things come and go. We use things for a while, and then we can give them away to make room for different things. Our old clothes don’t fit anymore, so we put them in a bag and take them away, and then smaller kids can have a chance to wear them. We don’t play with our baby toys anymore, and so we trade them for big kid toys. Otherwise there wouldn’t be any room! In my experience, children are expert at letting go of stuff they don’t need. Parents *actively train them* to hang on to stuff, to attach emotional significance to things they genuinely didn’t care about. Worse, parents inevitably refuse to let their children get rid of stuff they didn’t want, forcing them to feel guilty for wanting to discard things that were only ever important to the parents and other adults in their life.
It’s unfair to lecture and punish a child for “not cleaning your room” on the one hand, and then refuse to let the child have control over their own possessions and living space. If you want to force them to keep things and live in a guilt museum, then YOU clean their room.
For the rest of us, how much easier it must seem to only have to organize our own stuff! How much easier it is to organize when it’s just adults. How much easier when there are no children’s bedrooms, when nothing needs to be explained or taught to a young person.
What needs to get organized? What does Get Organized even mean, anyway?
This depends on the individual. Most people are disorganized in at least one area, even if they don’t think they are, because that’s the default state when we’re trying to avoid or ignore something important. Mail, finances, writing a will, going to the dentist, car maintenance, finding a new job, sleep schedule, cleaning out the fridge, fitness, electronics, sorting papers and setting up a filing system - any and all of these areas may be chronically disorganized for one person or another.
Getting Organized means having a strategy for your life and setting up your personal environment to support your plans. That’s all.
You’re spending your time doing what you need and want to do. You can get where you need to be a little early each time. You know where all your stuff is. Boom, done.
If you’re a castaway on a deserted island, you’re probably spending all your time looking for fresh water and food, avoiding sunburn, and signaling passing ships. You probably know where your pile of coconuts is. In a survival situation, surely you’re finally Organized at last?
If you’re a modern person living a comfortable life, you’re probably not organized, although there may be coconut products involved. Your car is probably full of clutter and wrappers, you probably have drifts of papers scattered around, your closet is ready to pop, and you probably have shopping bags sitting around with stuff that never got unloaded. It’s just a function of living with all the material objects that are produced in our cultural moment.
You can do the first half of Getting Organized with just a sheet of paper and a pencil. Maybe you can even do it during the process of drinking one beverage of your choice.
To-do lists are more or less useless when they are nothing more than an outlet for mood repair. Making the list is not the same as getting anything done. In fact it’s probably a better idea for most people to do a two-minute task first rather than writing a list. Having a block of time for Getting Things Done, even when those things are unspecified, is better because there’s always something to do. Every day, there are going to be chores of some kind, whether that’s taking out the trash, folding laundry, or handling mail. Doing a little every day means that eventually, you don’t even need a to-do list; you just know what to do, and you do it.
Getting Organized is exactly like Paying Off Debt or Losing Weight in that sense. These are time-limited, finite projects. Eventually they’re done, and you never have to do them again.
If you start at the beginning of September, and you work on one area at a time, a little each day, you can be done before the winter holidays begin. What does “done” mean to you? For me, it would mean being able to host a family meal for Thanksgiving and feeling proud of how pretty everything looks. It always means looking around on New Year’s Eve at a glittering home, and feeling like I have a fresh start on the morning of New Year’s Day. There are four months between now and the New Year, and that’s plenty of time for even the most neglected home to start feeling more like it serves and suits you.
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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.