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how to organize

When I had my twins (who are now twelve years old), I scaled back from full-time management consulting to part-time. I was used to commuting to an office for twelve-hour workdays, wearing power suits and heels. So it was a big transition for me. I loved being a mom and enjoyed meeting other parents, but often enough I’d find myself getting a little antsy on playdates. I’d look around for something to do, and I’d end up organizing the toys and straightening the shelves.

You can quickly gain a reputation for yourself by doing that. So when a friend of mine heard of someone who needed help setting up a home office, she suggested that he hire me. And no, she didn’t ask me first. Bless her, though, that first referral quickly multiplied into more, and before long I had a business that I love.

My clients (almost all of them moms) call me in when they’ve tried to organize things themselves but they’ve given up because they don’t know where to begin. I visit all of my clients personally. I sit down with them at their computers and go through their emails, and I press the delete button—over and over and over again. I tell them what to keep, what to toss, what to file. I get down on the floor in their playrooms and up on a stepladder in their closets, and I don’t hesitate to grab the Clorox wipes and clean the shelves of accumulated layers of dust. It’s not glamorous work—even in the most glamorous homes—but it’s tremendously satisfying. In a few short hours, I can transform a front hall closet in a way that enables every member of the household to get out of the home on time in the morning—and if that isn’t an improvement to quality of life, I don’t know what is.

The Ten Commandments of Organizing

Let’s set a few ground rules that apply to any home, no matter the size. Consider these my Ten Commandments of Organizing:

  1. Do the thing that is most distasteful to you first. We already know how this wisdom applies to homework and paying the bills, and it works for organizing as well. If your desk makes you ill every time you look at it, then clean your desk. If you tackle the thing you hate first, your anxiety level will drop exponentially, and your quality of life will soar.
     
  2. Routines work. Do it the same way every time. Put your purse in the same place, your phone in the same pocket within your purse, and charge your phone next to your purse in the same place every night. It’s the foolproof way of never again misplacing anything.
     
  3. Freebies are not your friends. As far as I’m concerned, there are almost no freebies that are useful. Unless it’s a free sample of a product that you already use, then anything you get for free is something that you wouldn’t have bought yourself. Therefore, it’s unlikely to be something that you will ever use, and it will inevitably take up space in your home until the day when you get around to throwing it in the trash. This rule goes for free tote bags, gifts with purchase, water bottles, mugs, and T?shirts. Do you really want to walk around town advertising the merits of your bank?
     
  4. Beware of junk mail. Did you ask for the catalog that just arrived? No. So why would you give it a precious spot on your coffee table or in your entryway? And if you did ask for that catalog, then stop doing that, please! There is nothing in a catalog that you can’t find online, and catalogs encourage less thoughtful, less intentional shopping. Catalogs are lose-loselose. They take up space, they’re bad for the environment, and they encourage unnecessary spending. In short, catalogs are the enemy. The same thing goes for all other varieties of junk mail (credit card solicitations, etc.). Directly into the recycling they go.
  5. Store like with like, and designate a place for everything. I can’t tell you how many homes have batteries in multiple places, lightbulbs tucked away in various drawers, drawing pads in multiple rooms—you get the idea. Keep lightbulbs with lightbulbs so that when a light goes out, you know exactly where to look for a replacement bulb (and you know when you need to buy more). Having multiple storage locations is a recipe for frustration and breeds a chaotic environment.

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