Bad Habits to Break

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Image by Walter Knerr from Pixabay

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.


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?

26 thoughts on “Bad Habits to Break”

  1. I love the ways you identified what can perpetuate disorganization and chaos, along with the wonderful suggestions you made for small habit shifts. Asking questions to figure out what’s really going on and then doing something differently is an excellent way to bring about positive change. And when you continue to struggle, reaching out for help is a great idea too. No need to struggle alone. Sometimes it’s a challenge to ask the right questions or figure out a good solution. Having someone to bounce ideas off of can work beautifully.

    1. When I’m stuck, having someone else come in can really help me get fresh perspective. I’m hoping these questions might help to a lightbulb of awareness, and then you can see if you can “DIY” the fix or if you might want to bring in some support!

  2. I totally have been known to stack and try to put things away that way in my kitchen especially with my ever-growing mug collection. So, yes I admit I need to break that habit and do better on that front at the very least. So, thanks for the tip here on that front, truly appreciate it. Oh and on a side note, love your new site design – looks great 🥰
    Janine Huldie recently posted…The Best Campsites for Your Road TripMy Profile

    1. Thanks for the affirmation on the new site, Janine! I know you are fully aware of what goes into a new sight, so thanks for noticing. It was a bit project, but I’m happy with how it came out. 🙂

    1. I’m getting more and more selective as well. I’ve never been a “keeper” but I am just more aware of the weight of my possessions, both physical and mental.

  3. I struggle with all of these problems. Keeping my desk clear is especially hard-so much comes in every day or I have approached a problem but it hasn’t been settled so I wait for an answer. Your suggestions are right on as usual so I’ll try to do better.

    1. Those “pending” items can accumulate, Dianne. Happens to everyone. Having a folder or designated area for all those items that you need to wait on can at least keep them from taking over. Then, review them every other week or every month to minimize the stack.

  4. I totally agree, Seana! It takes mind over muscle memory to change a bad habit. I found that when I am conscious of what I am doing in a new habit, it is easier to remember the habit. Until a habit gets established, I do not realize the positive benefits of my day and life. So, being patient with the process of establishing the new habit is critical.

    1. Totally agree, Sabrina. Being patient with ourselves is critical! Once the good habits are in place, they are such a blessing, so stay calm and keep trying!

  5. I love your new look. It’s so easy to read and the most important information, the solution is highlighted with a different font.
    Habits are easy to form and very hard to break. I really liked what you said about allocating a specific place for an item. A place for everything and everything has its place works wonders. It’s your assurance against misplacing the very things you need.
    Isn’t it unbelievable that we don’t use 80% of what we have? That definitely tells us some thing about how we live.
    I love the new photo of you on the about page. It’s gorgeous.
    Ronni Eisenberg recently posted…How to be More Prepared for Emergencies if Your Child Needs Help QuicklyMy Profile

  6. I see all of these bad habits from time to time in my clients. The hardest to change is the instinct to leave things (the mess from today) as they are until the morning. If I’m working with a client in the afternoon, I will often check in with them in the morning to ask how it felt to go into an office ready to begin the day – rather than having to tidy up from the previous afternoon’s project work. That will sometimes make an impression and start the habit change.

    1. What a great idea to point that benefit out to your client! It is such a treat to come downstairs in the morning to a space that is ordered and ready to go.

  7. I’m tempted to say there are stacks and piles of truth here, but there are really neatly filed categories of truth! You’ve done a great job helping the reader identify the underlying problems and develop new approaches. And, while they’re all true, I think the time management element of “failing to allocate regular time for restoring order” is the key to all of this. If we don’t get closure on the clutter during the day, we run the risk of never getting back to it when faced with the next day’s intensity.
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Protect and Organize Your COVID Vaccination CardMy Profile

    1. That’s totally the truth, Julie. It honestly doesn’t take long to get far enough behind that you lose the confidence and energy to reset the space. I think I spend more time restoring order than most people, but it saves me time in the long run.

  8. “New habit to form -> As much as you can, put things fully away when you are finished using them.” This is the part I want to highlight and underline both for myself and for my organizing clients. Resetting the space isn’t sexy or particularly fun but boy does it save time in the long run! Folding it into an existing routine helps, as does starting fresh with this habit when you’ve decluttered a space and intend to keep it that way.

    Not only do I love your fresh new look on the website and your wonderful head shots, I’m so happy to be able to see all the comments and responses right here on the desktop. Brava!
    Lucy Kelly recently posted…How to give yourself a fighting chance to get the garage decluttered and organizedMy Profile

  9. For me, it’s the consistency problem. Like you said, finding the time to restore the order. Mine is more in fits and bursts. I have a bad habit to break!

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