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31 Words to Create an Organized Life
Simple Strategies and Expert Advice to Win the Battle against Chaos and Clutter A Simple Guide to Create Habits that Last
By Marcia Zina Mager
Inner Ocean PublishingCopyright © 2006 Marcia Zina Mager
All rights reserved.
Getting Clearer on Who You Are and What You Really Want
"If you're not sure where you're going, you'll probably end up somewhere else." — Anonymous
Before you throw away a single piece of clutter, you need to realize that getting organized is an inside job. It's a job that requires facing our inner clutter even before we face the piles of magazines and shelves of knickknacks. We need to understand why being organized is truly important to us and to the people around us, and how it can impact our everyday life. In order to do so, we have to get to know ourselves better. And that's what this section is all about — how to focus more clearly on who you are and what really matters to you. You'll get in touch with your life dreams, vividly imagine those dreams and desires coming true, acknowledge the uncomfortable feelings that rise up when you try to bring more order into your home, learn how to work with your unique personality, and discover what really motivates and pleases you — all of these are foundational steps that lay the groundwork for creating a more organized life.
Comprehending the Consequences of Disorganization
Did you know that Americans waste millions of hours every day looking for misplaced or lost items such as keys, mail, eyeglasses, receipts, and other mundane stuff? And the average business executive wastes weeks every year searching for lost documents in messy files and desks?
When we're not searching for our stuff, we're buying it. According to the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), we never even use 80 percent of the things we purchase! Yet cleaning experts suggest that if we simply reduced the amount of clutter surrounding us, a whopping 40 percent of our housework would be completely eliminated. And most of us feel overwhelmed from too little time and too much to do.
Okay, so we're messy, we're disorganized, and we mismanage time. In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter?
Absolutely, insist organizational and time management experts. The word "clutter" actually comes from the verb "to clot." Feng shui consultant Kathleen Thurston explains, "It's like having clogged arteries. The heart of the home gets choked. Our life intentions get obscured in a sea of random clutter."
And mismanaging our schedules is no different, adds organizational expert Don Aslett: "Wasting time means less quality time to spend with your family, your friends, and yourself."
In other words, clutter and disorganization — whether it's in our closet or on our calendar — rob us of the harmony and happiness we and our loved ones deserve. Clutter leaves us feeling tired, says Thurston, and keeps us stuck in the past, "creating mental patterns of procrastination, and feelings of overwhelm. It restricts and confuses our possibilities." Disorganization makes us feel busier and more pressured than we actually are.
"Time is life," points out time management expert Harold Taylor: "To get the most out of life, we must manage time well." Simply put, we're mortal. The time we spend with family and friends is not unlimited. Do we want to waste it because of bad habits, poor management, and disorganization?
The negative impact of being disorganized isn't limited to missed appointments or misplaced keys. Not knowing where to put things, not understanding how to plan our time, and not being able to meet our goals can contribute to depression, anxiety, anger, low self-esteem, failed careers, unhappy families, divorce, and even death. In fact, according to the Institute of Medicine, tens of thousands of people die every year, due in part to confused, mismanaged, and disorganized medical data and information.
But, hey, if death and illness don't inspire us to tackle those messy files, what about the cost in cold, hard cash? According to NAPO, more than one-fifth of us pay our bills late because we can't find the necessary paperwork, and 20 percent of our annual income is spent on "crisis purchases" — duplicates of papers, misplaced items, rush shipping costs, credit card finance charges, and impulsive shopping for things we don't actually need.
When we don't know how to manage our time and balance our lives, we become victims of a new social phenomenon called "job spill." Job spill means that instead of taking a racy novel to our timeshare in Maui, we take our cell phone and laptop. And since the majority of all our medical expenses are directly stress related, it's no surprise that job stress costs U.S. businesses billions of dollars annually.
So getting organized can make a tangible difference in the quality of our lives. It's liberating and empowering, reduces stress, and frees us to spend more time enjoying the people and things that are important to us.
But don't panic. I'm not saying you need to color code every pair of socks in your sock drawer or account for every second of your day. There are degrees of organization, and ultimately you get to decide how organized or spontaneous you want to be. This is about enhancing your life, not enslaving it. Give these simple techniques and strategies a try and then see how you feel afterwards. You might be delightfully surprised! And if you don't want this book to end up as another piece of clutter collecting dust in your bookcase, it's time to get started.
Think of a recent situation in your life in which being disorganized negatively impacted the quality of your life, your loved ones, or something else important to you. Then get a sheet of paper and write the following questions at the top: How would my life be improved if I became more organized? How would my relationships be enhanced if I managed my time better? What is my disorganization costing me in terms of time, money, appreciation from others, and self-respect? What's been holding me back from making the effort to change? Why is it important to me now to try something different? What will it take for me to commit to this process?
Write down your answers as honestly as possible. This is for you and only you. There's no need to judge or criticize yourself; just explore and see what you uncover. Understanding and self-awareness is the first step to change.
Uncovering Your Dreams and Desires
Suzanne was fed up with her apartment and her life. For years, she'd been living with tattered used furniture and piles of stuff everywhere. Entering the living room made her feel awful. She was single, not by choice, and battling clutter and chaos everywhere. So one night, after a pity-me-party for one, she grabbed her journal and began writing furiously. Where did she really want to go with her life? What were her deepest dreams and desires? What kind of person did she want to be? What kind of life did she truly want to have? What was preventing her from creating it? Her writing unleashed a powerful burst of I'm-not-gonna-take-it-anymore energy, and she began to clean up her act. Piles of unopened mail, faded receipts, half-knitted sweaters, and unread books were sorted, tossed, or filed away. The Salvation Army happily carted off her mismatched furniture while a brand-new elegant couch and love seat found their way into her home. Slowly, her surroundings became more serene and welcoming. Then, one day when she least expected it, the man of her dreams knocked on her front door. (It was the UPS driver who was delivering her new closet organizing system.) No longer embarrassed about her home, she invited him in for a cup of coffee. And they've been snuggled happily on her new couch ever since.
The moral of this true story? There's a direct connection, as strange as it seems, between getting organized and getting what you want. "Set goals and start cleaning," insists consultant Michelle Passoff, author of Lighten Up! Free Yourself from Clutter, "What does organizing your closet have to do with living your dreams? Suspend your disbelief and see what happens."
Organizing "is a critical ingredient to success," says Passoff. And not the success of winning the Martha Stewart Neatnik Award–success in terms of gaining more fulfillment in your life.
Feng shui consultant Kathleen Thurston suggests that when it comes to organizing any area of your life, intention is key, "In the process of decluttering and organizing, the background for everything is our intention." But she's not just talking about our intention to have a perfectly ordered pantry. Instead, both Thurston and Passoff encourage us to clarify our broadest life intentions — to acknowledge everything we deeply desire in our hearts. You need to know what's meaningful to you before you decide where you want to be headed. These experts believe that if we clarify our life intentions and then begin what appears to be the unrelated, mundane task of reorganizing our bookcases and calendars, something extraordinary may occur.
How does clearing a path through your mess lead to your dreams? "There's a practical synchronicity," asserts Passoff. "If you're wanting a new job and begin cleaning the clutter off your desk and reorganizing your files, you may stumble across a business card of someone who ends up offering you a new career." So whether you believe there's magic operating here or not, "just suspend disbelief," says Passoff, "and you'll impact all areas of your life." Besides, she adds, "it's more fun to organize the way I say to than to do it so you can get the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval."
With a pad or journal, spend time writing about what you really want in your life. Look at all the major areas, such as personal growth, home, finances, time, relationships, career, health, and spirituality. First briefly describe your current situation in each area and clarify anything that doesn't feel good about it. For example, "I don't have enough time for traveling," "My house is so messy I don't feel like I can relax in it," or "I'm bored at my job." The clearer you are about what you don't want, the easier it will be to clarify what you do want. Then begin describing what you really want in each area, remembering to describe how you'd feel once you achieved these goals. Be as specific and detailed as you want. And don't be afraid to dream big.
To complement this process, create a Fulfillment Box using any kind of small jar or container. Write down on slips of paper the specific things you desire, such as finding your soul mate, losing weight, having more time to play, writing that novel, traveling to Italy, having orderly kitchen cabinets, enjoying a beautiful office, or having a greater sense of peacefulness in your home. Then drop each wish into the container. As you read this book and begin to organize your life, use the Fulfillment Box to enhance your progress. Whenever it feels right, pull out a slip of paper, say a prayer (or any words that inspire you) and burn the paper. You can even bury the ashes in the earth as a symbol of new growth. This can become an ongoing ritual that reminds you of your intentions and also gently inspires you to keep letting go.
Harnessing the Power of Imagination
Napoleon Hill, one of America's most famous motivational authors, said, "God has given us control over one thing in our lives — our thoughts"
But what does that have to do with a messy closet?
Turns out, everything. What Hill really means is that whatever we accomplish (or don't accomplish) in our lives begins with our mind. All successful action, he says, always begins first as a thought or idea. So in our quest to become more organized, we must actually begin by envisioning.
Take Bertha, for example. She had just moved into a new house and her home office was piled high with dozens of unpacked boxes. Every time she looked at those boxes, she felt completely overwhelmed. The task of unpacking them was daunting. Day after day, she kept putting it off. Soon she began feeling really bad about herself. Things rapidly spiraled downhill from there.
One day, a wise friend suggested to Bertha that she imagine the room already organized. At first Bertha thought the suggestion was ridiculous. But she respected her friend so she tried it anyway. "Imagine the boxes unpacked," her friend said. "Imagine everything in your office already in its place. Do this for a few days. Don't try to unpack. Just sit on your porch with a glass of lemonade and imagine." So Bertha decided to give it a try. (It had to be better than tackling all those boxes.) Every day she'd sit outside on her porch with a tall glass of lemonade, close her eyes, and envision her office already in perfect order, every single thing in its place. To her surprise, the exercise was easy. And it felt good. Then the strangest thing happened. By the end of the week, she became so excited by her vision that she started to unpack. The hours flew by. The task flowed naturally. And it turned out to be fun, because rather than thinking the whole time of how she didn't want her office to look, she was inspired by the vision of how she did want it to be.
When it comes to organizing any area in our life, the first thing we need to do is envision, in our mind's eye, what we want. If it's an organized closet, we need to imagine opening the door to that closet and gasping with relief at how incredibly ordered and beautiful it looks. Envision freshly painted walls, beautiful brass hooks, and colorful boxes with lids, all clearly labeled and neatly lined up on shelf after shelf. We also need to feel how wonderful that imaginary scenario is. Feeling is a key part of envisioning.
Remember: Organization does not begin with long, frantically scribbled to-do lists on yellow legal pads. It begins with relaxing and using your imagination to create a clear, joyful vision of what you want in your life.
Light a candle, close your eyes, and spend five minutes imagining what your new, organized, clutter-free life looks or feels like. Don't worry if you can't visualize it in perfect detail, just make sure to really feel the happiness, relief, accomplishment, and ease you'll get from being more organized. Let this exercise be easy and relaxing, completely without strain. Some people see things in their mind's eye while others receive more of a feeling sense in their bodies. Try this envisioning exercise for five minutes each day this month, and see what it inspires.
Examining the Areas That Need Help
Tom's office was a mess. When he looked at it, all he saw was massive amounts of disorganization. He didn't have a clue what to do. "It's a wreck," he told his colleague Margaret. "I'm hopeless." Margaret laughed and offered to help. She walked slowly around his office, studying specific areas: his crowded one-drawer file cabinet and his messy bookshelves spilling over with books, magazines, and manuals. Then she stopped by the large picture window. "What works in this office," she began, "is that you have a really nice space with a great window that gives you lots of light. And you've got plenty of room in here." Tom felt instantly relieved. "But what's not working," she added, "is that you need a larger file cabinet. Buy at least a two-drawer, maybe even a four-drawer. This way you can expand." Then she pointed to his bookshelf. "Too many books and magazines crowded onto too little shelf space," she said. "That's why it doesn't work. Either dump some publications or get a larger bookcase. Then you won't have any trouble being neat." Tom looked at her in amazement. "How did you do that?" he asked. "I thought this place was a total disaster." Margaret smiled. "I just focused on specifics. When you do that, you can always find a solution."
Once you've clarified and envisioned the life you want, you can begin to assess your situation to start determining what you will need to do to get there. You'll want to make sure your assessments are specific. A general statement like, "My house is a total pigsty," just amplifies feelings of overwhelm and shame. Instead, try to zero in on one concrete problem at a time and brainstorm how to fix it. For example: "I have a small bathroom, with only one shelf and medicine cabinet, but I have tons of half-used hair products, expired prescriptions, and other rarely used items piled everywhere."
Excerpted from 31 Words to Create an Organized Life by Marcia Zina Mager. Copyright © 2006 Marcia Zina Mager. Excerpted by permission of Inner Ocean Publishing.
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