Monday, May 4, 2009

Overcoming Emotional Roadblocks to Getting Organized

When you look around your living and work space, are you happy with what you see? If you're reading this today, the answer is probably no.

What is it about your space that makes you unhappy? For some, it's the constant clutter that seems to hang around everywhere. For others, it's the inability to find what they are looking for or the lack of space to add something new.

For many of us, the reasons we haven't been able to overcome the issues that make us unhappy with our space are as numerous as the reasons we're unhappy in the first place.

This entry will examine emotional roadblocks to getting organized and give you some solutions to overcoming them.

Feeling Overwhelmed
Even the most motivated of us can lose our eagerness to get organized when faced with an overstuffed closet or a packed garage. How do you get started on a project that seems like it might never end?

1. Break a large project into smaller projects. If you can't stand the idea of cleaning out and organizing an entire desk, then don't do it. Pick a drawer, then only clean and organize that drawer. When you have time you can move on to another drawer or to a small section of the desk surface. If you come across something in one section of the desk that belongs in another, then go ahead and drop it in there. Eventually you will make it through every area of the desk, and the items will make it to their proper places. This same strategy can work in any number of areas. If you're working on a closet, choose one shelf. If you're working on a garage, choose one small area.

After cleaning up one area you will get a sense of accomplishment and feel motivated to keep going. This is a good technique not just for getting organized but for any large project.

2. Set time limits or a schedule. If the project you are working on cannot easily be divided into smaller sections, then consider setting a time limit for how long you will work on it. Use a timer -- even the one on your microwave -- if you have to do so. Knowing that you are only going to work at clearing an area for 10, 20, or 30 minutes keeps you from being stressed about the amount of work. If you are able, work the time limits into a schedule. Perhaps you can work on your project for 20 minutes after your kids are in bed every night until you are done. Maybe you can work on your project for an hour every Sunday afternoon. Remember, don't be too hard on yourself if you can't make your scheduled time. Just like you would do with a project at work, reschedule for another time.

3. Buddy up. Working with a friend is a good way to get started or keep motivated while working on a project. Make sure the friend you choose is one who will help you stay on task while still being able to carry on a conversation. If you would like to spend more time with your older children, they can act as your buddy. It's easy to make a game out of getting organized when working with a group of children or adults: If someone has gotten off track in the clearing out process, any other member of the group can call out "focus". Once a person has been called out for being off track three times they have to do something silly agreed on before the start of the game. This keeps the clearing out fun and keeps you on track.

4. Throw it out. Can you remember the last time you opened that kitchen junk drawer? If the answer is no, a good alternative to sorting is to pull that drawer out and pour everything into a trash can headed to the curb. Chances are, if you haven't used it in the past few months it's not something you need. If you don't think you're capable of doing this, then ask someone else to do it for you. What teenager wouldn't like a quick $5 to take everything out of a drawer and straight to the trash. If you didn't know it was in there, it's not going to bother you that it is now gone. Imagine how nice it will feel to have a completely empty drawer in less than five minutes, a completely empty cabinet in ten minutes, or a completely empty closet in twenty minutes.

Sentimental Attachment
Another large roadblock in the quest to getting organized is the struggle to let go of items that have sentimental value. Be honest, do you still have toys from when you were a child, your favorite t-shirt from high school, or your first son's baby clothes stuffed in attics, closets and drawers around the house? So do many people. But if you want to reclaim your space it's time to employ some new tactics.

1. Find a replacement. The first step in this tactic is to decide why you kept the object in the first place. This sounds easy, but it isn't. Because most of the time you have kept the item as a representation of a fond memory, you've stopped looking at the item as an everyday object. That high school t-shirt isn't a t-shirt any longer, it has become your first road trip with your friends.

You must figure out what the item represents to you. Once you have decided the significance of the item, then look around you for a replacement you already have. Do you have a photo album of that trip or a cassette tape that you listened to? If so, decide which one you would rather keep and toss out the others. You'll still have all of the memories triggered by seeing one of the objects taking up far less space.

2. Give it away. So many times people hold on to something they don't really care for because it belonged to a deceased family member. These "family heirlooms" take up a lot of space you could be filling with items that reflect your personality and style, but you feel so guilty at the thought of throwing them out. What are your plans for that item if you are no longer around to appreciate it? More often than not you have decided to pass it on to another family member. Why wait? If you want to give grandmother's end table to your granddaughter, do it now. Think of the enjoyment you will feel being able to see how much she appreciates it. If you don't have a specific person in mind for certain items, just start asking family members. Who knows which of your nieces might like to have that serving platter Great Aunt Ida used to serve the Thanksgiving turkey on or which of your children would love to have the toys they played with as toddlers? The items will have a new home with a caring family member, and you will have your space back and be guilt free. It's a win-win situation.

3. Display it. If you simply can't part with something, considering displaying it in some way. From shadowboxes and scrapbooks with your high school mementos to a quilt made from your children's baby clothes, the possibilities are endless. You'll be able to see the item everyday and reclaim your storage space at the same time. Browse craft magazines and websites for ideas or drop by a local framing shop. You would be amazed at what can be framed or recycled into something new.

4. Give guilt the boot. Sometimes the sentimental attachment to an item isn't yours. The person who gave you the item might have expressed an attachment to the item when they gave it to you, and now you feel stuck with it out of guilt. There are two good options to overcoming this roadblock. If you no longer want the item or never wanted it in the first place, contact the giver and ask if they would like to have it back. Let them know that you no longer need the item and that if they do not want you to return it you will be giving it away. You might find out very quickly just how strong that sentimental attachment really is! If this type of conversation does not appeal to you, an alternative to this is simply to get rid of the item if it is not something that the giver will notice is missing.

Clutter is not something that happens overnight, and in most cases it is not something that can be tackled overnight. Getting started is a big step but one that produces many rewards at the end. Hopefully you can employ some or all of these strategies to take the first step in reclaiming your space. However, if you find that you still require assistance in your de-cluttering efforts, seek a professional organizer in your area who can give you as little or as much support as you need to achieve your goal of a clutter-free home.

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