by Susan Caplan McCarthy
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One thing that I like doing more that decluttering and organizing is writing. And, writing about decluttering and organizing? Well, that’s fun! (No, that isn’t said in a sarcastic tone, just in case you were wondering.)
When I’m organizing with someone, I can help one person at a time. Doing a presentation? I’ve talked with six to sixty people … and I’m often frustrated that I come up with better answers to questions that were asked by the audience while driving home.
If I forget something while writing I can go back and add in the information. Or, I can use my epiphany of, “Oh, I forgot …” to write another article, or book. And, in a book, I can talk to many more people than I could while giving a presentation.
My new eBook, Conquer the Mess Your Way: Your Guide to Making Decluttering Work for You, focuses on different decluttering techniques. One of the things I’ve noticed while writing articles for A Less Cluttered Life these past two years is that I’ve never stuck with teaching a single system for decluttering.
Why not? Because I don’t think there’s one best way to declutter.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Do you spend your day doing one thing after another, crossing items off your to-do list, only to find yourself crawling into bed and wondering what you actually got done?
I was laying in bed, night after night, with my brain spinning, wondering how I could be so busy and yet feel unproductive. It felt that no matter what I did, I should have done something else.
I was busily unproductive.
The Danger of the To-Do List
A big problem with to-do lists is that all those tasks jumble together. You look at the list (that probably has more than three tasks listed, otherwise you wouldn’t have bothered to write it down) and decide to do those tasks that look like they’ll be the easiest to do.
Easiest to do probably doesn’t mean the most important to do.
Chances are that you added tasks to your list when you thought about them and then you didn’t review what had to be done, and in what order, before jumping in with the goal of crossing things off the list.
Also, your to-do list probably doesn’t include everything you have to and want to do, which means that you can’t really look at your list and decide what are the most productive things you should do.
Build a Better To-Do List
In his classic book on productivity, Getting Things Done, David Allen has you get a grasp of everything you need to do by – listing everything you need to do in an activity he calls a brain dump.
By “everything,” he means everything, from brief phone calls to larger multi-step projects. Don’t worry about the order you list things as you add it all to your list using pen and paper or typing it into a word document.
Sort Your To-Do List
You know how when organizing you want to sort similar items together, so you have a better sense of what you have? Well, you want to do that with the tasks on your to-do list as well.
At this point you want to group similar activities as you rewrite your list. You’ll be creating several lists labeled, for example, “errands,” “phone calls,” “appointments,” “home,” “kids,” “work,” “vacation,” etc.
Are there specific due dates associated with any of these tasks? List them.
When you think of something else that you need to get done, list it on the appropriate to-do list.
Review Your To-Do List
If you’ve ever made a to-do list and then set it to the side, you’re losing the second most important aspect of the to-do list (the first being, write it all down) – review your list.
Now, you may be used to reviewing your daily to-do list, but that’s usually filled with the tasks you want to do right away, ignoring the long-term and ‘maybe’ projects on your list. Once a day (or once a week, depending on how often you plan what you want to do), review those sorted-by-theme to-do lists.
You want to ask the Getting Things Done question – What’s my next action? – for each thing you have listed that isn’t itself the action. “Schedule a physical” is only a next action if you know your doctor’s phone number. If “schedule a physical” really means that you need to find a doctor, then your next action may be asking friends and family if they’d recommend their doctor.
It’s those next actions that get transferred onto your daily to-do list because it’s clear what you’re going to do.
Do the Important Stuff
If every day you accomplish nothing more than the tasks that get you through the day (and likely must be repeated the next day or next week), you’ll feel that dissatisfied sense of being busily unproductive.
You also want to identify one-to-three larger projects that involve multiple steps – declutter your house, write a memoir, plan a vacation, etc. When you work on a next-action related to a goal, you’ll feel a greater sense of accomplishment. Yes, that project might require 30 or 100 hours to complete and working on it for a few minutes a day might not feel like a big deal, but all those next steps carry you to your destination.
It’s working toward the things that are important and meaningful to you that leaves you with a sense of accomplishment when you climb into bed each night.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
You don’t become organized by decluttering a room – or even your entire house. You don’t become organized by cleaning your closet in January, sorting through your papers in March, and watching the clutter creep back until you motivate yourself to do more decluttering during fall cleaning.
Becoming organized is a process, and like most processes, there is no finish line. Instead, your consistent effort helps you see yourself as organized. Your actions support this identity.
Creating the identity of an organized person is about small, seemingly insignificant actions that reflect the behaviors of an organized person. Now, there’s no single definition of an organized person. One person may define organized as a near-empty kitchen counter while someone else who cooks a lot feels more organized when they have their blender and food processor on the counter, ready for use.
Pick a Habit
To become the type of person you want to become won’t happen overnight. Small actions repeated until they become automatic will help you in the process of becoming organized.
Please share this article on social media to help inspire others you know who are struggling to get organized. Thank you!
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
I’d like you to look at decluttering and organizing a bit differently.
Grab a pen and paper (or sit with a blank word processing document) and list what it means to be organized.
Now, review your list. Is it filled with end results – clear kitchen counters, an organized closet, neat desk, toys put away?
But, what does an organized person do to keep things neat and clutter-free?
If you’re thinking, well, they cleared the kitchen counter and filed the papers on their desk, you’re getting warmer.
What specific actions cleared the kitchen counter? They
Notice that all these how-to tasks need to be repeated. Every time the blender gets used it will need to be put away. The dishtowel needs to be hung each time it’s used. It’s this maintenance, the habit of keeping stuff organized, that’s more difficult and more important than the initial decluttering.
This is nowhere near as exciting as, say, posting before and after pictures of your kitchen or garage on social media.
However, cleaning out the coat closet won’t make a lasting difference if you don’t hang up your coat.
So, what does it mean to be organized? It means that you can maintain the order you’ve created without a lot of fuss or effort. It means that you know why it’s important to hang up your coat so that you don’t argue with yourself or give yourself an excuse to skip this habit. (“You’ve had another tough day and it doesn’t matter if you toss your jacket over the back of this chair again.”)
So, You Want to Become Organized
Look at the list I asked you to write. You’ve noted actions that an organized person would take.
Select one small action that you want to do daily (sort the mail, hang up your coat, remove the receipts and spare change that gathers in your purse). Decide when you’ll do this (either a specific time – 7:30 p.m. – or after a task that you already do daily – you walk in the house and take off your coat).
You’ll have to remind yourself to do this for a few days and then you can add another small action (ideally one that flows with this series of actions - after hanging your coat, you immediately sort the mail into recycling or an inbox).
Instead of focusing on setting goals that last for a moment (an organized closet, a clear dining room table), consider that habits support your larger decluttering and organizing efforts and its these actions that will help you to become an organized person.
Coming in July 2019 – the free 7-day e-course Distraction-free Decluttering. Sign up for emails to be the first to receive this e-course.
Susan Caplan McCarthy
I'm a professional organizer-coach with 26 years' experience as a teacher. I believe that an organized home isn't your destination but a step on the path toward the life you want to create. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; and speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.