Monday, May 11, 2009

30-Day Persistence Challenge: Dogged organization

Persistence isn't just about querying. It also applies to those piles surrounding your desk. I've got 'em. You've got 'em. Today, guest blogger June Bell shares how to tackle them a little at a time. Bell is a professional organizer who helps people make the best use of their time, spaces and places. A member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), she’s at junebell (at)

When clients call me for organizing help, they initially assume that I’ll work some fairy godmother-like magic:

A den that’s a jumble of toddler toys, tufts of dog hair and electronics cables will be transformed into a sleek space worthy of a Better Homes & Gardens photo spread. The knee-deep piles of papers ringing their office will assemble themselves in tidy files. The closet door will finally be able to close.

And often, with the client’s help, patience and dedication, I can work that magic. Clients are ecstatic. Me too. One of my favorite aspects of being an organizer is helping usher order and functionality into a family’s life.

My work is done, the client’s problem is solved and we both can move on.

Well, at least I can. The client ‘s task, however, really is only just beginning. If I’ve done my job well, I’ve designed a system tailored to a client’s needs, space and quirks, and I’ve helped her use it and refine it. All she needs to do is follow it.

Easier said than done, of course.

That’s where persistence comes into play. Staying organizing – like marketing a business, keeping weight off or mastering the merengue – demands a steady commitment to staying the course. Just as self-employed people must constantly prospect for new customers and gigs, anyone who wants to remain clutter-free has to be willing to devote time to furthering that aim.

If you can bring to your organizing efforts the same persistence you devote to growing and maintaining your business, you’ll have conquered one of your biggest obstacles.

I’ve found some valuable advice in earlier blog posts here on doing one small thing each day to move you toward your business goals. The same advice applies to remaining organized. What’s one little step you could take to reduce the chaos in your home or keep a clutter-free area that way?

Here are a few ideas you might want to try:
  • Don’t even let it in. Instead of leafing through your mail, plucking out the interesting stuff and stacking up the rest (bills, anyone?) to read “later,” try opening your mail near your recycling bin. I’ve found that as much as 90 percent of what fills my mailbox is paper I don’t want or need. Toss it immediately.
  • Keep your e-mail in-box manageable. What feels right for you? Some people like to limit pending e-mails to 10 or 20 or no more than they can see on a screen. Schedule time to purge old e-mails, and each day, answer, delegate, delete or forward correspondence. Seeing an in-box that isn’t overflowing can give you a mental boost, helping you feel that you’re in control of your time.
  • Stop amassing stuff. More isn’t better. It’s just, well, more. These grim economic times are prodding relentless consumers into realizing that there’s nothing life-enhancing about having a lot of anything (unless it’s love or health, of course).
  • Hold the line. If you buy a new pair of shoes, select a pair in your closet to donate or discard. If you need to be more aggressive, make it two out for every one in.
These small changes can yield big results if you stick with them. With enough persistence, an act that at first feels uncomfortable gradually evolves into a habit.

Maintaining an organizational system, even a small one, becomes part of your priorities, which reflect your values. You’re showing that you value a tranquil, clutter-free space – and you’re willing to dedicate the time, consistently, to keep it that way.

Without this commitment on my clients’ part, even my most innovative ideas and support are useless. Fortunately, those who devote themselves to maintaining the progress we’ve made see terrific results. And those who build on it find themselves fantastically empowered.

Paring the contents of a closet ultimately leads to a functional wardrobe – which means it’s less stressful to get dressed each day. And giving away excess not only felt wildly liberating, one client confided, but it helped some grateful recipients too.

If you’re struggling to stay on top of clutter, don’t fret. Entropy in the universe is apparently always increasing, so why should you expect that your possessions should fall into line? But if you persist, you’ll find that being more organized pays off in all sorts of ways, bringing you the serenity you deserve.

Photo by PburghStever.

1 comment:

Susan Weiner, CFA said...

I like the idea of "Don't let it in."

I try to open my mail by the front door and send some directly into the grocery bag that holds my paper recycling.