Do you try and try to get organized but can’t seem to get there? Do you spend hours clearing off your desk or kitchen counter, and within a couple of days it is right back the way it was before? One of the most discouraging and demotivating experiences is backsliding. Typically, when I see this happening, it is because there are some habits in place that are undermining long-term change. Consistency is a wonderful thing, but only when the behaviors are good. In order to live an organized life, it may be necessary to break a behavior pattern that is undermining your success. Here are a few habits that might be getting you into trouble. Breaking these, and replacing them with these new ones, will help you reap a long-term benefit from your next organizing project.
HABITS TO BREAK AND START
Keeping too much
Perhaps the most common bad habit is holding onto everything we accumulate. As much as 80% of the items we keep we never reuse. Do you doubt this? Consider the articles you’ve ripped out and never read again, or the books you’ve read the first chapter of and to which you never returned. How about the clothing you have kept “in case you lose 10 lbs” or the box of holiday greeting cards you’ve saved to re-read but never have? As a rule, we are much better at bringing items into our space than we are at moving them out. If you tend to keep ordering, buying, and otherwise accumulating, but never review and remove, you will – at some point – become overwhelmed.
New habit to form -> Before putting an item into a bin, cabinet, closet, drawer, or shelf, be honest about your likelihood of using it in the future.
If the odds are low, move it to a donate box.
Making it difficult to put things away
If it is hard to put something away, we probably won’t. Any storage location that is high up, is under other objects, requires heavy lifting, necessitates crawling on hands and knees, or is otherwise difficult to access is one that doesn’t get used. Sometimes the simple act of having to remove a box’s lid is enough of a deterrent to keep us from putting an item away. I’ve also noticed that a lack of a trash can nearby can be an issue… anyone else have clothing tags on the shelves in their closet?
Of course, we need to use the spaces we have, and not all of them are easy to get to. However, we should strive to make regularly needed items as easy to put away as they are to take out.
New habit to form -> Thoughtfully consider the items you have lying about and ask yourself why you haven’t put them back.
Is it because doing so requires a Herculean effort? If so, find a new space, add a new storage container, or remove whatever hurdle is keeping you from using the system you have
Stacking and Hiding
In an effort to make spaces look “tidy,” we often pile items on top of each other or scoop them into a bin or drawer to get them out of sight. This is a bad idea. In essence, stacking and piling means we are hiding some items underneath others. We lose track of what is in the pile or at the bottom of the container because we can’t see it, and therefore have no way to identify it.
The result of this habit is we end up wasting time digging and searching when we need to find a particular item. For example, it may seem smart to just toss items into a junk drawer, but consider how much time you waste when you need to find the scissors or tape. Likewise, it takes a while to sort through a stack of mixed papers trying to find the one you require. Furthermore, we often forget what is in the pile or container, and then end up wasting time (and maybe money) trying to replace the missing piece.
New habit to form -> Put things in a very specific place, rather than mixed into a pile or container.
In drawers, always use dividers for like items (these can be as simple as small cardboard boxes!) Paperwork is always better filed than piled. If you need to keep some papers on your desktop, store them in a vertical stacker or in labeled folders in a magazine file.
Failing to allocate regular time for restoring order
It is tempting at the end of the day to just crash and “deal with it in the morning.” The problem is, the next day typically requires us to hit the ground running with no time for putting items away. Many people think that putting items away takes too much time, but the reality is that organizing won’t take less time if you defer this activity to another day. In fact, because it takes time simply to disentangle mixed pieces, it will probably take two or three times as long to restore order if you do so only once a week.
Cultivating the habit of frequently restoring order is a gift you give to yourself. You will feel more in control and will ironically end up spending less time “organizing.” In addition, by regularly resetting your space, you will never get a colossal mess, and the task will never reach that “overwhelming” stage.
New habit to form -> As much as you can, put things fully away when you are finished using them.
Then, allocate 15-30 minutes each day to put remaining things away. You can do this before bed or at whatever time of you day you can do this consistently. [Note: if you are facing a colossal mess now, you have a different issue. Consider hiring a professional organizer to get a system in place.]
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Breaking bad habits is hard, but they can often be pushed out of the way by creating new ones. Whether it be getting rid of stuff, creating easy-access storage, setting up filing or allocating daily time to restore order, a new routine will bring lasting results to your space.
Do you have any bad habits that need replacing?