Organized. The word alone can make you feel inadequate. But the reason it’s so intimidating isn’t because it’s hard; more likely, it’s because we don’t understand what it really means, says Andrea Brundage, founder of Simple Organized Solutions, an Arizona-based professional organizing firm.
“Being organized is more than papers filed neatly in nicely labeled folders; it’s about intentional living,” she says. “People have different tolerances for stuff in their space, and finding the happy medium is critical for finding peace. Vow to become more organized, not necessarily perfectly organized.”
That includes letting go of the myths that surround organization. Here are nine misconceptions that might be keeping you from enjoying a better life:
There is no one-size-fits-all way to be organized, says New York-based professional organizer Alison Kero. “The key is to live within your space knowing what you own, where to find it, and create systems that work effectively for you so you function well within your living environment,” she says. “How much stuff you keep in it and how pristine you keep it, is entirely up to you. Perfection gets in your way and prevents most people from even trying.”
“There is no perfect, so let go of that expectation right away,” adds Brundage. “We are all works in progress.”
While the act of setting up systems is a one-time project, keeping the space in the same pristine condition needs changes in your daily routines, says Jasmine Hobbs of the professional cleaning service London Cleaning Team.
“Think of it as a process of reorganizing your lifestyle, rather than just organizing some space,” she says.
The process of getting organized is actually easy, says New York-based professional organizer Felice Cohen. “If you know the difference between a shirt and a pair of pants, you’re halfway there,” she says. The steps simply revolve around sorting like items and finding them a home.
Kero agrees, and says easy systems will help you keep everything in place. “Does this mean I don’t find occasional pockets of clutter? No, but when I do and it’s reached my boundary of how much clutter I tolerate within my home, I immediately deal with it,” she says. “I spend all of five minutes picking up a few items and returning them to where they belong.”
Not so, says Cohen. You just need to take the time to do it. She suggests setting a timer for 30 minutes, and giving yourself permission to stop when it goes off. If you want to keep going, set the timer again. “This takes the pressure of trying to get it all done at once,” she says.
Organization is a teachable skill, adds Brundage. “Some may have a propensity to being organized, but just like learning math, we can learn to be more organized,” she says.
Although containers can help you keep your things organized, buying them before you start the actual organizing process will only add to your clutter, says professional organizer Katherine Trezise, coauthor of My Journey to an Organized Life. She suggests beginning by selecting a room or area and removing any items that don’t support the functions of the room.
“Of the remaining items, evaluate one category at a time and set rules for which ones you will and will not keep,” she says. “Now you will be able to buy appropriate storage containers for them if you need them.”
“All the systems in the Container Store will not keep someone organized,” says Brundage. “Systems must be wrapped in new habits of organized living, or else they fail.”
Like it or not, clients and colleagues make assumptions about your professionalism and efficiency by looking at your office, says Melissa Gratias, a psychologist who specializes in productivity. “Additionally, files and paperwork left in plain sight is a violation of some privacy regulations,” she says. A better approach is to be decisive.
“When you handle a file or a piece of paper, decide whether this is something you need to file, add to your to-do list, or shred,” she says. “Set aside the last 15 minutes of the day to clear off your desk, and your office will stay organized.”
“If you were to begin a painting, would you find yourself being more creative with a used canvas or a new one?” asks Kero. “Disorganization is like the used canvas. There is too much there already for your creativity to be used effectively or to its fullest.”
A disorganized space introduces distractions and takes away too much time looking for needed items, adds Kero. “Why waste valuable time and energy on chaos that won’t contribute to your success?” she asks. “Imagine what creativity you could create if you had a clean canvas and a well organized space.”
Unless you are in the witness protection program, anyone can find out your name and address with a quick Internet search, says Trezise. “Holding onto papers with no more personal information than a name and address and waiting for that elusive day when you’ll have time to shred them only contributes to clutter,” she says.
Instead, station a recycling bin next to where you open your mail, and immediately toss junk mail and other unwanted papers. Save your shredder’s motor by using it for those papers containing information that someone could really use to impersonate you, such as papers with your signature, account numbers, social security number, date of birth, maiden name, and mother’s maiden name, she says.
“The ego gets in the way because it doesn’t like change–even the good-for-you kind,” says Kero. “It tells you that you can’t stay organized, that getting organized is hard and boring, and that it won’t help you.”
When this happens, Kero suggest telling yourself you’re worth it. “You can get organized and all it means today is that maybe you spend 10 minutes organizing your desk,” she says. “Organizing isn’t about all or nothing. It’s about doing a little bit today so that tomorrow is a little easier for you.”