You Asked: Where Do I Begin?

January is generally the month to get organized, and many people are on a quest this year to do just that.  Although I share a lot about the projects I take on, both big and small, sometimes I gloss over the thought process of getting started and just provide a brief introduction.  But it is a question I receive every. single. day.  And the question comes in many different forms:  How do you suggest getting started?  Where does one begin?  I have so much to organize, it is overwhelming!  How do I determine what to work on?  How do I know what to get rid of?

After writing about organizing for four years now, I have come to realize that every person is different when it comes to organizing.  For some it is easy to be ruthless, others have a hard time letting go.  Some can knock out a closet or room in a day or two; others take weeks, even months.  Some think it is fun to sift and sort: others would rather chew their own arm off than tackle a messy drawer.  So knowing that no two people, two homes or two situations are the same, there really may be no right answer to this question.  So just know, I am no professional and I do not have the key to turn organizing into Disneyland, but I can share a little of how I work through those feelings and questions personally.

I organize in two ways and it always comes down to the magnitude of the situation.  First, the quick easy way.

I get frustrated.  Those frustrations turn me into a "go getter" and I take on that problem right then and there.

A lot of the smaller projects I do and share come on in an instant, with very little pre-planning or thought process.  Typically it is something that slowed me down or caused me to turn red hot.  I make a decision in that moment to do something about it so it doesn't happen again.  This could be something like sifting through our entryway drawer or not being able to find a lid for a container in our food storage cabinet.

Without a second to over-think things, that drawer would be emptied on the kitchen table and I would start to sort, purge and put things back.  Some of you may be surprised at how often my organizing projects start out that way, but I would say about 70-80%.  I dig deep into that frustration and just get things done.  Typically these projects take me less than 15 minutes, unless I decide to turn it into a craft party, and then I move on with my day.  I don't do this every day, I don't worry if I have the time, I don't make a checklist or put it on my to-do list.  If I decide that I need storage while working on it, I still go through the steps of cleaning it out, purging and putting things back the best I can, and add the type of storage I need to my shopping list to grab next time I make a trip to town.  My first tip is to not over-complicate it.  In the words of Nike, "Just Do It!"

Tip number two, turn it into a hobby.  OK, so when you are filling out your resume or Facebook profile, and it asks you to list your hobbies, I am guessing that "organizing" won't make the cut.  But think about the things that do make the cut and do what you can to apply those tasks that you enjoy, to organizing.  For me, I seek the thrill of the orderly after effect, but I have also make it fun by integrating a lot of what I love into every project I do.  I love photography, I love to blog, I love to decorate and I love to paint and craft.  So instead of looking at an organizing task as daunting, I find a way to make it exciting.  I take photos of the before and after process.  I write about it.  I paint the inside of a closet or craft a pretty label.  I cover cereal boxes with paper or boxes with fabric.  Sometimes I have so much fun with everything else that I am doing, that I don't even realize that I am organizing.  There is no way it could possibly be that much fun could it?

Once I have taken the time to make something pretty or put a little effort into DIY'ing storage, I am more ruthless about what makes the cut going back into the space.  It makes it easier to let go of the things causing junk build-up and clutter, and only keeping the things I truly love and need.

You may not have the same hobbies that I do, but do you love to read?  Listen to your favorite book on tape while you sift through your t-shirt drawer.  Do you love to watch old movies?  Put on a marathon and sort through your paper piles.  Not every hobby can be turned into an organizing fest... If I could figure out how to integrate video games into organizing projects, we would get twice as much done around here.  But hopefully you can find a way to integrate something you enjoy into the process.

Tip number three is to find inspiration.  It is everywhere!  I can't begin to tell you how much motivation I find to tackle my own projects after I read a good magazine, browse a few blogs or Pinterest, or even after I visit a friend's home.  Even watching movies, I find myself more interested in the home interiors than the movie itself.  And before the movie is over, I am probably knee deep in a project.  Someone please tell me I am not the only one who does this.  Hello?


Not the impulsive type?  Do you have the need to plan every last aspect of a project?  Do you feel like your need to organize goes beyond quick daily fixes?  The next way to get started is for the "planners".  Time to get out your notebook.

But first, a little brutal honesty.  If you are looking to get your life and daily routine organized, it will not happen overnight.   It will not happen in a week.  Or even a month.  It is continuously on going.  Life changes, people change, routines change.  And when those things change, so do the way your systems work.  You won't get your solutions right the first time, every time.  Give something a whirl, evaluate it for a while, and revisit it.  It is OK; it happens to us all, even the professionals.  I don't want you to get started and instantly become frustrated when things are not moving as fast as you hoped, or when things don't work exactly as you planned.    What works for me, may not work for you.  It is important to go into things with a very open mind, a flexible attitude, and an understanding that it is OK to take your time.

So where to begin?  I always recommend to take a notepad and carry it with you for one sun-up to sun-down day.  Select a weekday that best reflects your routine and throughout the day, jot down notes.  Write down everything that you love about your day and is already working really well, as well as everything that slows you down and causes you to become frustrated.  Maybe you have your morning routine down because you plan ahead in the evenings, but have paper piles on your counter that don't allow you to get your bills paid on time.  Maybe your kids are constantly looking for their mittens in the morning before getting on the bus, but you always have dinner planned.  It is just as important to focus and high-five yourself for the things you are doing right, as it is to acknowledge and plan for the things that are causing hiccups.

Prioritize.  Once you have your list, take time to rank each item in the "needs improvement" category.  Think about what is costing you the most in the departments of time, money and sanity.

Example:  Not having a meal plan may be costing you money on your grocery bill.  Not being able to find a bill and pay it on time may cause a late fee, thus costing you more money.  Not having a hat & mitten basket by the door may cost you time searching for outerwear in the morning.  Not being able to use your kitchen counters to cook meals because they are too cluttered or find clothes to wear because they are all in a dirty pile in the laundry room, may cost you your sanity.

By ranking the items with a 1 being most important and 10 being least, you can quickly see where it is most beneficial to start and place your immediate efforts.  Ignore the storage room, ignore the playroom, ignore under the bed.  Those items come later.  Focus first on the important day-to-day routine items.  Once you have a better grip on your day, you can then focus on the other spaces.

Set a goal!  Once you know the first area you plan on tackling, take that pad of paper back out and write down a few things.
  1. The name of the project.
  2. A realistic completion date for the project.
  3. A quick summary of WHY the project is important {this step is very crucial in keeping you motivated}.  Simple keywords work great such as "More time with my kids", "Less stressful mornings", "Money savings".
  4. Any resources you need to complete the project.  Think of things such as time, care for the kids, potential storage needs.
  5. Reward.  Whether it is the same item that is behind the WHY of the project, or something special you have been saving up for or a date night with your hubby.  Select something to strive towards and to reward yourself for your awesomeness.
Sounds to me like you want a free printable?  Well sure then!

{click HERE to download your free Organizing Worksheet printable}

Now back to the same slogan from earlier, "Just Do It!"

You have done all you can.  You have assessed, you have made your list and you have prioritized.  You have even filled out your worksheet to pinned it up on your fridge as a daily reminder of your goal.  Now all that is left is digging in.  Feel free to revert back to the first few tips about getting frustrated, finding inspiration and turning it into a hobby.

The rest really is all about the heart of the project:
  1. Empty the contents of the drawer, closet or space.  I always love to start with a fresh, clean slate and perspective.
  2. Sort the contents into piles.  Place things back where they make the most sense.  Only keep things that belong in the space you are focusing on.  Give yourself a bin for Keep, Donate & Toss.
  3. Purge.  It is time to say goodbye to clutter and start simplifying and living with less.  You must be ruthless.  Question every item you touch.  "When did I use it last?  Do I really need this?  Is this something that I could be OK without?  Is there a sentimental reason why I am keeping this and if so, can I take a photo or scan it in without holding on to the physical piece?  Is the item torn or broken?  Will I ever really fix it if it is?"  Remember, the more you have to store, the more storage you need.  And storage can be expensive whether it comes in the form of an entire room or a single drawer divider.  And these things you are sorting, ultimately cost time and money.  Time sifting through more things.  Time cleaning and maintaining more things.  Money storing those things.  Money re-purchasing things we already have.  If all else fails, focus on the good feeling deep inside that you have when you hand over a bin of items to donate.  Nothing compares to giving back.
  4. Store it!  Time to take note of what remains and create or purchase proper storage.  Make sure to take measurements and think about ways to prevent the problem from arising again in the future.  The goal is to create simple systems which are easy to maintain, not to be perfect.  
  5. Celebrate.  You are done and it is time to claim that reward!  And hopefully feel inspired and motivated to tackle that next item on your list head on!  It is OK to find yourself opening that drawer or gazing endlessly at the project you have just completed.  I catch myself doing that all of the time.  It is thrilling and rewarding and invigorating to see your hard work in action!

So although the answer is not a simple one word response, hopefully this helps a bit!  Again, figure out what drives you and play off of that.  It really is different for everyone, but in the end, the goal is the same.  Taking the time to get organized ultimately will save you time, money and sanity in the end.  It is one of the biggest returns on investment, so cheers to a happy and organized 2014!

Carrie Bradshaw closet image found here.

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