Organizing from the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Organizing Your Home, Your Office, and Your Life

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Overview

Julie Morgenstern, founder and owner of the professional organizing firm TASK MASTERS helps people who want to get organized and companies who want to do more in less time.

Since 1989, Julie and her staff have organized the cluttered homes, offices and schedules of thousands, including such clients as American Express, Reuben H. Donnelly, Bear Stearns, Prudential Securities, Merrill Lynch and Chase Manhattan Bank.

As a speaker, media expert, ...

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Overview

Julie Morgenstern, founder and owner of the professional organizing firm TASK MASTERS helps people who want to get organized and companies who want to do more in less time.

Since 1989, Julie and her staff have organized the cluttered homes, offices and schedules of thousands, including such clients as American Express, Reuben H. Donnelly, Bear Stearns, Prudential Securities, Merrill Lynch and Chase Manhattan Bank.

As a speaker, media expert, and corporate spokesperson, Julie is known for her warm, articulate style and sense of humor. She has been a guest on many TV and radio shows, including The Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, United In-Flight News, ABC World News Now, NY-1 News and Lifetime TV's - Our Home.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed by clutter and chaos will welcome this clear, easy-to-follow guide to organizing a room, home or office--a companion to Morgenstern's bestselling paperback (Owl, 1998). Professional organizer Morgenstern warmly reassures listeners that organizing is a skill that can be learned and that any mess can be tamed. Most people make the mistake of simply diving in, which Morgenstern compares to driving cross-country without a map. Her strategy: first figure out your goals and how your space can best help you achieve them; determine what obstacles are holding you back (e.g., a subconscious psychological need to hang on to clutter); divide the space into "zones" of activity (a kitchen contains a cooking zone, a dish-washing zone, etc.); and organize the space so that all the supplies for each activity are stored in the appropriate zone. The tape offers quizzes to help listeners define their obstacles, and, as one would expect, the quizzes are well organized and audio friendly. Even better, listeners can grasp the author's solutions immediately--without having to refer back and forth to different parts of the tape or use a pencil and paper (problems often encountered with audio self-help books). Morgenstern's sense of humor and colorful examples of real-life client case studies make this tape as entertaining as it is helpful. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
As the creator of Task Masters, a full-service organizing company, Morgenstern has helped hundreds of clients overcome their failed attempts at managing their lives. She gives ways to overcome psychological obstacles that prevent us from maintaining an organization system and explains a plan called SPACE (sort, purge, assign a home, containerize, equalize). Covering the workplace and each room of the home, she provides sample time lines of how long the process will take and offers tips on what to toss and what storage products to use. A list of product catalogs is provided, as well as a section on how to organize time. A good book for public libraries.
Paul B. Brown
The book is helpful and extremely practical.
Inc. Magazine
From the Publisher
Praise for Julie Morgenstern:

"If I had had Julie Morgenstern's tips on how to organize my workload and prioritize my days, balancing my growing business and family life would have been much easier."

-Lilian Vernon, Chairman and CEO, Lilian Vernon Corporation, on Organizing from the Inside Out

"Julie's tips on organizing really work. She transformed my office from a 'disaster area' to a livable, functioning workplace. I can actually find things now!"

-Spencer Christian, Good Morning America

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743517775
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
  • Publication date: 10/1/2000
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Abridged, 2 cassettes, 2 hrs.
  • Product dimensions: 7.10 (w) x 4.54 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Meet the Author

Julie Morgenstern, founder and owner of the professional organizing firm TASK MASTERS helps people who want to get organized and companies who want to do more in less time.

Since 1989, Julie and her staff have organized the cluttered homes, offices and schedules of thousands, including such clients as American Express, Reuben H. Donnelly, Bear Stearns, Prudential Securities, Merrill Lynch and Chase Manhattan Bank.

As a speaker, media expert, and corporate spokesperson, Julie is known for her warm, articulate style and sense of humor. She has been a guest on many TV and radio shows, including The Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, United In-Flight News, ABC World News Now, NY-1 News and Lifetime TV's - Our Home.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


A New Way of Looking at Organizing


If I asked you to describe an organized space, what would you say? From most people, I hear things like "neat and tidy," "spare," "minimalistic," and "boring."

    But an organized space has nothing to do with these traits. There are people whose homes and offices appear neat as a pin on the surface. Yet, inside their desk drawers and kitchen cabinets, there is no real system, and things are terribly out of control. By contrast, there are many people who live or work in a physical mess, yet feel very comfortable in this environment and can always put their hands on whatever they need in a second. Could they be considered organized? Absolutely.

    Being organized has less to do with the way an environment looks than how effectively it functions. If a person can find what they need when they need it, feels unencumbered in achieving his or her goals, and is happy in his or her space, then that person is well organized.

    I'd like to propose a new definition of organization: "Organizing is the process by which we create environments that enable us to live, work, and relax exactly as we want to. When we are organized, our homes, offices, and schedules reflect and encourage who we are, what we want, and where we are going."


MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT ORGANIZING


Misconceptions affect the way you think about any process, poisoning your attitude toward it and eroding even your best efforts to succeed by convincing you before you startthat you're bound to fail.

    Here are some of the most common beliefs about organizing, and the debunking facts that will change your thinking.


Misconception: Organizing is a mysterious talent. Some lucky people are born with it, while others, like you, are left to suffer.
Fact: Organizing is a skill. In fact, it's a remarkably simple skill that anyone can learn. How do I know? Because I was once a notoriously disorganized person myself. In fact, everyone who "knew me when" is amazed at the irony of how I make my living today. Two summers ago, I went to my twenty-fifth summer camp reunion. Naturally, as we all got caught up on what everyone was doing with their lives, I spoke with pride about my work. Since professional organizing is such an unusual field, all of my old friends found the concept absolutely fascinating. One brave soul, dear, sweet Martin G., put his arm around me, discreetly pulled me off to the side, and whispered politely, "Uh, Julie ... I don't remember you ever being particularly organized."
From the day I was born until I had my own child, I lived in a constant state of disorder. I was a classic right-brained creative type, always living in chaos, operating out of piles, spending half my days searching for misplaced papers, lost phone numbers, and missing car keys. I'd permanently lost everything from little stuff to big stuff: passports, birth certificates, cameras, jewelry, shoes, and clothing. I'd lost things that belonged to other people. I once spent four hours searching for a friend's car in the parking lot at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, because I hadn't paid any attention to where I had left it.
I was one of those people who lived "in the moment": spontaneous and charming, but never planning more than one minute into the future. As a result, I was always scrambling at the last minute, and frequently didn't get things done on time, either because I forgot I had to do them or because I couldn't find whatever I needed to get the task done.
My day of reckoning came when I had a baby. When Jessi was three weeks old, I decided it'd be a beautiful day to take her for a walk by the waterfront. When she got up from a nap, my husband went to get the car and I went to get the baby. Suddenly I realized, hey, I should probably take along a few supplies. What did I need? Let's see, diapers, a blanket ... Oh, yes, a bottle of water, and maybe a toy or two. I started running around the house, gathering items. Every time I thought I was ready, I'd think of something else to bring. The Snugli, a sweater, and how about a tape to listen to in the car on the way? By the time I was packed up, more than two hours had passed and Jessi had fallen back asleep. I realized at that moment that if I didn't get my act together, my child would never see the light of day.
I decided to organize the diaper bag. Dumping out all the items I had gathered for our outing, I began by grouping all the supplies into categories that made sense to me: things to keep her warm with in one group (blanket, change of clothes, sweater); things to feed her with in another group (water bottle, pacifier); things to change her with in another (diapers, wipes, powder); and finally things to entertain her with (toys, a tape for the car).
Then I assigned each category of items a particular section of the bag, so that I could quickly get my hands on items when I needed them and know at a glance if anything was missing. I ended by tucking an inventory of all the supplies into a special pocket in the bag as well, as a tool to make restocking the bag easy. What a victory! From that day forward I was in control, packed and ready to go at the drop of a dime, confident that I had everything I needed at my fingertips.
That diaper bag was the first thing I ever successfully organized. And though it sounds small, it was truly the beginning of my path to organization. After that, I tackled other areas of my house, my drawers, my closets, papers, and so on, always using the same basic approach I used to organize that diaper bag. The rest, as they say, is history. I had happily discovered that organizing is a very straightforward skill, learnable even by the likes of someone as once hopelessly disorganized as me.


Misconception: Getting organized is an overwhelming, hopeless chore.
Fact: No matter what you're organizing, no matter how daunting the task or how huge the backlog, getting organized boils down to the same very simple, predictable process. Once mastered, you will discover organizing to be an incredibly cleansing and empowering process—an exhilarating way of freeing yourself up and maintaining a steady life course in a complex world. You'll even consider it fun because it produces a gratifying sense of clarity, focus, and accomplishment.
Consider this reaction from newly organized speaker Connie Lagan:


Cleaning out the clutter has magically, maybe even miraculously, released creative energy within me. The first evening after I completed my own business spring cleaning, I sat in my office chair and stared. I could not believe how energizing it was to see "white space." My eyes had places to rest and my spirit had found a home once again in the place where I spend most of my waking hours.


Misconception: It's impossible to stay organized.
Fact: Organizing is sustainable, if your system is built around the way you think and designed to grow and adapt with you as your life and work change. It is when your system is a poor fit for you that maintenance is a difficult chore. In addition, like eating well and staying fit, organizing is a way of life that requires monitoring and ongoing effort until it becomes satisfyingly ingrained. Instructions on how to maintain your system are an integral part of the organizing process presented in this book.


Misconception: Organizing is a nonproductive use of time. People in my workshops often say to me, "I want to get organized, I try to get organized, but I always feel like I should be doing more important things with my time—calling on customers, attending meetings, going to seminars, writing proposals, spending time with family and friends, relaxing, even catching up on my sleep."
Fact: Life today moves more rapidly than it did fifty years ago and will continue accelerating in the years ahead, presenting us with more opportunities and ever-greater demands on our time and ability to make choices. In an environment like this, those who are organized will thrive. Those who are disorganized will feel overwhelmed, unsure of which way to turn, and flounder. You can no longer afford not to be organized. Organizing has become a survival skill for the twenty-first century, and Organizing from the Inside Out is your handbook for getting there.


ORGANIZING FROM THE OUTSIDE IN


My years as a professional organizer and my own background of disorganization have taught me that most of us approach organizing from the wrong direction. When we are ready to get organized, it is usually because we have reached the breaking point; the clutter is driving us crazy and we want instant relief. Due to the accumulated stress of being disorganized, our knee-jerk reaction is to attack first, ask questions later—to just dive in and do whatever we can to gain control quickly.

    We don't spend any time analyzing the situation, and typically we do very little planning—basically putting the cart before the horse. We search madly outside ourselves for the answers to our predicament and grasp wildly at anything we think will "save" us from it. See if any of the following behaviors strike you as familiar:


    · You go shopping for containers to get your clutter problem under control without having measured, counted, or examined what and how much you have to store.

    · You go on impulsive purging sprees, ruthlessly getting rid of as much as you can to create a spare existence, then discover too late that you tossed out something that was important to you.

    · You "adopt" organizing tips from friends, magazines, and books with no thought as to whether they mesh with your personality or fit your situation and needs.

    · You tackle the bits and pieces of your organizing problem without ever looking at the big picture.

    · You grab on to mantras like "reduce your possessions 50 percent," or "touch every piece of paper only once," or "if you haven't used it in two years, get rid of it," in the hope that they will change your life forever.

    This leap-before-you-look approach is what I call organizing from the outside in. It fails to look at the big picture before seeking quick solutions, grabbing at all kinds of random tips and techniques. Don't get me wrong: using the clever tips, smart techniques, and snazzy containers on the market is a critical part of the organizing process, but there are several steps you need to go through first in order to know which ones are right for you.

    At best, this piecemeal approach creates an incomplete patchwork organizing system, leaving you with lots of holes. After buying a new container or implementing a new tip, you are excited by the novelty and experience a moment of hope, but this feeling soon wears off when the reality sinks in that information and objects are still falling through the cracks.

    At worst, organizing from the outside in leads to selecting all the wrong systems, ones that just won't work for you. You try to force yourself to use them, but the effort is too great; after a few weeks you give up, watch the mess return, and consider yourself organizationally hopeless.

    Organizing from the outside in fails time after time because it doesn't take into account how you think, relate to the world, pace yourself, like to operate, or your sense of visuals—the total picture of yourself that your organizing system should ultimately reflect.


ORGANIZING FROM THE INSIDE OUT


Organizing from the inside out means creating a system based on your specific personality, needs, and goals. It focuses on defining who you are and what is important to you as a person so that your system can be designed to reflect that.

    Successful organizing forces you to look at the big picture, not one small section of the frame, so that the system you design will be complete. It is a nurturing process that helps you focus on discovering what is important to you and making it more accessible, rather than haranguing you to throw out as much as you can and organizing what's left over.

    Organizing from the inside out means taking a good look at the obstacles that are holding you back from being organized so you can identify and remove them once and for all.

    It means mastering strategies to speed up and simplify the organizing process, so you are sure to reach the finish line, not quit halfway there.

    And it means organizing before buying any fancy new storage units or snazzy containers, so that your purchases will have meaning and be a perfect match for your particular needs.

    Organizing from the inside out feels counterintuitive. It's not natural to stop and reflect when disorganization is at its peak. The impulse is to just dive in and attack. But if you invest a little time doing some thinking and analysis first, you will be able to zero in on just the right solution for you.

    I once had a client named Carol. At first glance, she was an amazingly accomplished woman. She headed a high-profile arts organization and managed a staff of seven. She'd circulate at cocktail parties attended by important donors and celebrities, winning over one after another with perfect poise and confidence. She was dynamic, charming, and articulate. In the spotlight, she was brilliant, but behind the scenes her professional life was out of control.

    Buried under an avalanche of letters, faxes, and e-mail from all those she had charmed, Carol was surrounded by a mountain of unanswered correspondence. With her very hectic and public schedule, she rarely made time to go through the mail, and often it went unopened for months. Grants were lost and opportunities to work with important artists went to other institutions.

    Carol tried endless solutions to get and keep herself on track. All of them seemed quite logical: having her secretary open all the mail for her and type a summary sheet of the day's correspondence; sorting the mall into folders marked Extremely Urgent, Very Important, Important—Can Walt, and Less Important—FYI; holding calls for a half hour every morning to go through the mail. Unfortunately, none of these "solutions" worked because the problem was being approached from the outside in.

    When Carol called me, I began by talking to her about how she felt about her mail, and why she thought she wasn't taking care of it the way she should. I mentioned that she seemed to be at her best face-to-face. She agreed, telling me that she thrived on human interaction, ideas, and problem solving. She found dealing with written communication painfully boring and isolating. Carol clearly needed a new system for dealing with correspondence—one that appealed to her personality, style, and need for human contact.

    I began by encouraging Carol to make a mental shift: to begin viewing those mountains of letters, faxes, and e-mail messages not as paper but as real people who had come into her office with problems they needed her to solve.

    I then suggested that she change the name of the time she spent dealing with correspondence from "the mail hour" to "the decision hour." This simple name change had an immediate impact on her because it sparked her love of ideas and action.

    Finally, to counteract her feeling of isolation, I suggested her secretary stay with her as she worked through the day's correspondence. Carol could dictate replies, bounce ideas off her secretary, and have the kind of give-and-take that made her excited to be working.

    Carol's relationship to correspondence changed completely. What had been a chore became energizing and gratifying, all because she had become organized from the inside out.


Easy as 1-2-3


Organizing from the inside out is a method that accommodates your personality, needs, situation, and goals rather than forces you to change. By following these three straightforward but very important steps you will be able to meet any of life's organizing challenges and achieve lasting success:


Analyze: Step back to take stock of your current situation by defining where you are, where you are going, what's holding you back, and why it's important to get there.
Strategize: Create a plan of action for the physical transformation of your space, including a realistic schedule for making it happen.
Attack: Methodically dive in to the clutter, sorting and arranging items to reflect the way you think, making sure you see visible, dramatic results as you work.


    Equipped with your new view of organizing, you are about to embark on a great adventure that will lead you to enjoying the freedom of organized living forever. Throughout, I will be your guide, coach, and sounding board, providing you with ideas and examples of other people's systems to help stimulate your own thinking.

    Now let's get to it.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Most Important Organizing Book You'll Ever Read 3
Part 1 Laying the Foundation
1. A New Way of Looking at Organizing 9
2. What's Holding You Back? 16
Part 2 Secrets of a Professional Organizer
3. Analyze: Taking Stock 39
4. Strategize: Creating a Plan of Action 47
5. Attack: Getting the Job Done 59
Part 3 Applying What You've Learned
How to Use This Section 71
6. Traditional Offices and Filing Systems 73
7. Home-Based Businesses 90
8. Cubicle Workstations 102
9. Mobile Offices 110
10. Household Information Centers 122
11. Attics, Basements, and Garages 136
12. Bathrooms 149
13. Bedrooms 158
14. Closets 166
15. Kids' Rooms 179
16. Kitchens 190
17. Living Rooms 201
Part 4 Tackling Time and Technology
18. Conquering the Clock 213
19. Taming Technology 228
Appendix A Resources for Organizing Products 241
Appendix B Suggested Further Reading 243
Acknowledgments 245
Index 249
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First Chapter

A New Way of Looking at Organizing

If I asked you to describe an organized space, what would you say? From most people, I hear things like "neat and tidy," "spare," "minimalistic," and "boring." But an organized space has nothing to do with these traits. There are people whose homes and offices appear neat as a pin on the surface. Yet, inside their desk drawers and kitchen cabinets, there is no real system, and things are terribly out of control. By contrast, there are many people who live or work in a physical mess, yet feel very comfortable in this environment and can always put their hands on whatever they need in a second. Could they be considered organized? Absolutely.

Being organized has less to do with the way an environment looks than how effectively it functions. If a person can find what they need when they need it, feels unencumbered in achieving his or her goals, and is happy in his or her space, then that person is well organized.

I'd like to propose a new definition of organization: "Organizing is the process by which we create environments that enable us to live, work, and relax exactly as we want to. When we are organized, our homes, offices, and schedules reflect and encourage who we are, what we want, and where we are going."

MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT ORGANIZING

Misconceptions affect the way you think about any process, poisoning your attitude toward it and eroding even your best efforts to succeed by convincing you before you start that you're bound to fail.

Here are some of the most common beliefs about organizing, and the debunking facts that will change your thinking.

Misconception: Organizing is a mysterious talent. Some lucky people are born with it, while others, like you, are left to suffer.

Fact: Organizing is a skill. In fact, it's a remarkably simple skill that anyone can learn. How do I know? Because I was once a notoriously disorganized person myself. In fact, everyone who "knew me when" is amazed at the irony of how I make my living today. Two summers ago, I went to my twenty-fifth summer camp reunion. Naturally, as we all got caught up on what everyone was doing with their lives, I spoke with pride about my work. Since professional organizing is such an unusual field, all of my old friends found the concept absolutely fascinating. One brave soul, dear, sweet Martin G., put his arm around me, discreetly pulled me off to the side, and whispered politely, "Uh, Julie ... I don't remember you ever being particularly organized."

From the day I was born until I had my own child, I lived in a constant state of disorder. I was a classic right-brained creative type, always living in chaos, operating out of piles, spending half my days searching for misplaced papers, lost phone numbers, and missing car keys. I'd permanently lost everything from little stuff to big stuff: passports, birth certificates, cameras, jewelry, shoes, and clothing. I'd lost things that belonged to other people. I once spent four hours searching for a friend's car in the parking lot at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, because I hadn't paid any attention to where I had left it.

I was one of those people who lived "in the moment": spontaneous and charming, but never planning more than one minute into the future. As a result, I was always scrambling at the last minute, and frequently didn't get things done on time, either because I forgot I had to do them or because I couldn't find whatever I needed to get the task done.

My day of reckoning came when I had a baby. When Jessi was three weeks old, I decided it'd be a beautiful day to take her for a walk by the waterfront. When she got up from a nap, my husband went to get the car and I went to get the baby. Suddenly I realized, hey, I should probably take along a few supplies. What did I need? Let's see, diapers, a blanket ... Oh, yes, a bottle of water, and maybe a toy or two. I started running around the house, gathering items. Every time I thought I was ready, I'd think of something else to bring. The Snugli, a sweater, and how about a tape to listen to in the car on the way? By the time I was packed up, more than two hours had passed and Jessi had fallen back asleep. I realized at that moment that if I didn't get my act together, my child would never see the light of day.

I decided to organize the diaper bag. Dumping out all the items I had gathered for our outing, I began by grouping all the supplies into categories that made sense to me: things to keep her warm with in one group (blanket, change of clothes, sweater); things to feed her with in another group (water bottle, pacifier); things to change her with in another (diapers, wipes, powder); and finally things to entertain her with (toys, a tape for the car). Then I assigned each category of items a particular section of the bag, so that I could quickly get my hands on items when I needed them and know at a glance if anything was missing. I ended by tucking an inventory of all the supplies into a special pocket in the bag as well, as a tool to make restocking the bag easy. What a victory! From that day forward I was in control, packed and ready to go at the drop of a dime, confident that I had everything I needed at my fingertips.

That diaper bag was the first thing I ever successfully organized. And though it sounds small, it was truly the beginning of my path to organization. After that, I tackled other areas of my house, my drawers, my closets, papers, and so on, always using the same basic approach I used to organize that diaper bag. The rest, as they say, is history. I had happily discovered that organizing is a very straightforward skill, learnable even by the likes of someone as once hopelessly disorganized as me.

Misconception: Getting organized is an overwhelming, hopeless chore.

Fact: No matter what you're organizing, no matter how daunting the task or how huge the backlog, getting organized boils down to the same very simple, predictable process. Once mastered, you will discover organizing to be an incredibly cleansing and empowering process--an exhilarating way of freeing yourself up and maintaining a steady life course in a complex world. You'll even consider it fun because it produces a gratifying sense of clarity, focus, and accomplishment.

Consider this reaction from newly organized speaker Connie Lagan:

Cleaning out the clutter has magically, maybe even miraculously, released creative energy within me. The first evening after I completed my own business spring cleaning, I sat in my office chair and stared. I could not believe how energizing it was to see "white space." My eyes had places to rest and my spirit had found a home once again in the place where I spend most of my waking hours.

Misconception: It's impossible to stay organized.

Fact: Organizing is sustainable, if your system is built around the way you think and designed to grow and adapt with you as your life and work change. It is when your system is a poor fit for you that maintenance is a difficult chore. In addition, like eating well and staying fit, organizing is a way of life that requires monitoring and ongoing effort until it becomes satisfyingly ingrained. Instructions on how to maintain your system are an integral part of the organizing process presented in this book.

Misconception: Organizing is a nonproductive use of time. People in my workshops often say to me, "I want to get organized, I try to get organized, but I always feel like I should be doing more important things with my time--calling on customers, attending meetings, going to seminars, writing proposals, spending time with family and friends, relaxing, even catching up on my sleep."

Fact: Life today moves more rapidly than it did fifty years ago and will continue accelerating in the years ahead, presenting us with more opportunities and ever-greater demands on our time and ability to make choices. In an environment like this, those who are organized will thrive. Those who are disorganized will feel overwhelmed, unsure of which way to turn, and flounder. You can no longer afford not to be organized. Organizing has become a survival skill for the twenty-first century, and Organizing from the Inside Out is your handbook for getting there.

ORGANIZING FROM THE OUTSIDE IN

My years as a professional organizer and my own background of disorganization have taught me that most of us approach organizing from the wrong direction. When we are ready to get organized, it is usually because we have reached the breaking point; the clutter is driving us crazy and we want instant relief. Due to the accumulated stress of being disorganized, our knee-jerk reaction is to attack first, ask questions later--to just dive in and do whatever we can to gain control quickly.

We don't spend any time analyzing the situation, and typically we do very little planning--basically putting the cart before the horse. We search madly outside ourselves for the answers to our predicament and grasp wildly at anything we think will "save" us from it. See if any of the following behaviors strike you as familiar:

This leap-before-you-look approach is what I call organizing from the outside in. It fails to look at the big picture before seeking quick solutions, grabbing at all kinds of random tips and techniques. Don't get me wrong: using the clever tips, smart techniques, and snazzy containers on the market is a critical part of the organizing process, but there are several steps you need to go through first in order to know which ones are right for you.

At best, this piecemeal approach creates an incomplete patchwork organizing system, leaving you with lots of holes. After buying a new container or implementing a new tip, you are excited by the novelty and experience a moment of hope, but this feeling soon wears off when the reality sinks in that information and objects are still falling through the cracks. At worst, organizing from the outside in leads to selecting all the wrong systems, ones that just won't work for you. You try to force yourself to use them, but the effort is too great; after a few weeks you give up, watch the mess return, and consider yourself organizationally hopeless.

Organizing from the outside in fails time after time because it doesn't take into account how you think, relate to the world, pace yourself, like to operate, or your sense of visuals--the total picture of yourself that your organizing system should ultimately reflect.

ORGANIZING FROM THE INSIDE OUT

Organizing from the inside out means creating a system based on your specific personality, needs, and goals. It focuses on defining who you are and what is important to you as a person so that your system can be designed to reflect that.

Successful organizing forces you to look at the big picture, not one small section of the frame, so that the system you design will be complete. It is a nurturing process that helps you focus on discovering what is important to you and making it more accessible, rather than haranguing you to throw out as much as you can and organizing what's left over. Organizing from the inside out means taking a good look at the obstacles that are holding you back from being organized so you can identify and remove them once and for all. It means mastering strategies to speed up and simplify the organizing process, so you are sure to reach the finish line, not quit halfway there.

And it means organizing before buying any fancy new Storage units or snazzy containers, so that your purchases will have meaning and be a perfect match for your particular needs.

Organizing from the inside out feels counterintuitive. It's not natural to stop and reflect when disorganization is at its peak. The impulse is to just dive in and attack. But if you invest a little time doing some thinking and analysis first, you will be able to zero in on just the right solution for you.

I once had a client named Carol. At first glance, she was an amazingly accomplished woman. She headed a high-profile arts organization and managed a staff of seven. She'd circulate at cocktail parties attended by important donors and celebrities, winning over one after another with perfect poise and confidence. She was dynamic, charming, and articulate. In the spotlight, she was brilliant, but behind the scenes her professional life was out of control.

Buried under an avalanche of letters, faxes, and e-mail from all those she had charmed, Carol was surrounded by a mountain of unanswered correspondence. With her very hectic and public schedule, she rarely made time to go through the mail, and often it went unopened for months. Grants were lost and opportunities to work with important artists went to other institutions.

Carol tried endless solutions to get and keep herself on track. All of them seemed quite logical: having her secretary open all the mail for her and type a summary sheet of the day's correspondence; sorting the mail into folders marked Extremely Urgent, Very Important, Important--Can Wait, and Less Important--FYI; holding calls for a half hour every morning to go through the mail. Unfortunately, none of these "solutions" worked because the problem was being approached from the outside in.

When Carol called me, I began by talking to her about how she felt about her mail, and why she thought she wasn't taking care of it the way she should. I mentioned that she seemed to be at her best face-to-face. She agreed, telling me that she thrived on human interaction, ideas, and problem solving. She found dealing with written communication painfully boring and isolating. Carol clearly needed a new system for dealing with correspondence--one that appealed to her personality, style, and need for human contact. I began by encouraging Carol to make a mental shift: to begin viewing those mountains of letters, faxes, and e-mail messages not as paper but as real people who had come into her office with problems they needed her to solve.

I then suggested that she change the name of the time she spent dealing with correspondence from "the mail hour" to "the decision hour." This simple name change had an immediate impact on her because it sparked her love of ideas and action. Finally, to counteract her feeling of isolation, I suggested her secretary stay with her as she worked through the day's correspondence. Carol could dictate replies, bounce ideas off her secretary, and have the kind of give-and-take that made her excited to be working.

Carol's relationship to correspondence changed completely. What had been a chore became energizing and gratifying, all because she had become organized from the inside out.

Easy as 1-2-3

Organizing from the inside out is a method that accommodates your personality, needs, situation, and goals rather than forces you to change. By following these three straightforward but very important steps you will be able to meet any of life's organizing challenges and achieve lasting success:

Analyze: Step back to take stock of your current situation by defining where you are, where you are going, what's holding you back, and why it's important to get there.

Strategize: Create a plan of action for the physical transformation of your space, including a realistic schedule for making it happen.

Attack: Methodically dive in to the clutter, sorting and arranging items to reflect the way you think, making sure you see visible, dramatic results as you work.

Equipped with your new view of organizing, you are about to embark on a great adventure that will lead you to enjoying the freedom of organized living forever. Throughout, I will be your guide, coach, and sounding board, providing you with ideas and examples of other people's systems to help stimulate your own thinking. Now let's get to it.

Copyright © 1998 Julie Morgenstern

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 43 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 43 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Why am I such a packrat??

    I have a tendency to keep far too much, and as you can imagine my house gets very cluttered. When I saw this book, I flipped through and found someone who has been there, and pushed through to the other side -- finally being organized. In the first section, she takes the reader through some principles of organization and necessary steps that she has found to work, and also writes about some of the reasons people keep too much. I felt like I was reading about myself! The second section breaks down specific parts of the house, and suggestions/strategies for each of them. After reading the book, I'm going back to the beginning to put the principles into practice. I highly recommend this to anyone trying to organize their home -- whether it's a closet or the whole thing, there is help for you in here!

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 23, 2012

    Still useful after over 10 years. Keeps me encouraged and effec

    Still useful after over 10 years. Keeps me encouraged and effective

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2010

    Best Organization Book I've Read

    The author teaches how to organize around your own personality instead of trying to retrain you to live differently.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2004

    Everybody should read this book!

    If you even think that you want to get organized, this is the book for you. It's easy to read, easy to understand, and easy to put into practice. No matter what your current level of organizational skill, you will find something helpful in this book.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2004

    Going back to Kindergarten

    The general concepts that were laid out in this book were very easy to understand and made getting organized fun! An analogy she used was the Kindergarten classroom. If you are looking for paint, brushes or smocks, you would go to the art center. The same is true for your home. If you primarily watch movies in the living rooom, that should be the place you find your movies. My husband and I have absolutely loved this book. This is the first time I've ever seen him excited about going into Pier 1 to find organizational baskets and furniture.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 14, 2012

    Fantastic!

    A whole new way to approach organization. I started with my refrigerator. It's clean, organized, everything has it's place and best of all my family puts everything in it's place! I went from there to an overload bathroom closet. What a difference!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2002

    Great Starter

    I read this book cover-cover, and it gave me a few guidelines. One that was new to me was to buy storage AFTER you decide how you were to organize. That still is tough for me. I agree with the poster who said that this is most helpful for office workers. I'm a teacher, so I was able to adapt some of the stuff, but even then, it's really for the person who sits at her desk during the day!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2002

    Free at last!!!

    I'm a chronic packrat. I'm the kind that keeps a soda can as a prop souvenir from a college play. Well my hubby and I are gonna try for a family this year, and I wanted to start setting a good example. Morgernstern's organizing techniques are so easy to follow, and helped me 'let go' of stuff I no longer 'needed'. I figured lots of people could use clothes, kitchenware, etc. that was just collecting dust and space. For example, I used to set bakeware on the sofa to make more room for countertop space! Now along with my kitchen, I've got extra room for my gym and home office. Another great tip is calling a charity to pick up your items and writing it off as tax deductible. I've never felt this liberated since I traded corporate pantyhose for bunny slippers!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2002

    Great book, but not written for the younger crowd

    I have a pretty busy schedule at the age of 19. I work full time at a computer company and go to school full time. This book is intended more for the crowd that is a bit older and a bit more involved in office type of deals, as well as to people who have younger kids. I was looking more for time management more than for organizational type of things. Do not get me wrong though, she did an great job at what she wrote about, I will be using some of her tips in the book. I do see now that she has a time management book that I will be looking at to see how it works. One thing that I liked a lot about the book was that you can read it very fast. It goes by super quick, mostly because it is like she is talking to you. I would recommend this book to anymore that is looking to organize their lives.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2001

    Confidence Booster !!!!

    The books itself tackles from our psychological bearing to objects down to the emotional clinging of what has been. The author did not just push me to change asap but understand where i am coming from. I have never felt better about myself now that i understand that my being messy is something i can change. She made sure that all rooms has been touch. Julie gave some specific instruction that made it easier for me to follow thru. I have cried for feeling so helpless about my being disorganize but now i take it easy and just do the SPACE method whenever i slipped to being messy again....which seldom happens. The book helped me to really start my way to feeling confident about my surrounding and myself...my reminder is taped on the doors and walls which she said will be my constant advisor to help thru my organisational attacks. The book now has been my anchor for my new organized... clean...and neat home...as well as my redeemed self-confidence. One thing only.... if they will revised it, i hope they will print out larger letters and eye-friendly spacings and photos.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2001

    Don't Miss the on-Line Course that BN has on this!

    I've been taking the BNU class based on this book and the experience has been very positive. The author is excellent in explaining the importance of setting up systems that will work for you and your particular setting to achieve your own goals based on your own values and what is important to you. She approaches organizing as a skill that can be learned, and proceeds to teach how to do it in a very clear and down to earth manner. The free on line course is easy to follow and is faithful to the text and the philosophy outlined therein. It provides a little extra structure and the message boards are filled with like minded people who are on the same path. I'd higly recommend this as one of the best overall self help vehicles I've encountered in a long time. Highly recomend!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2000

    This book CHANGED my life!

    My husband bought this book after watching Oprah. He was so impressed and soon had me excited about organizing our house and office. I have never been the most organized person and thought I was doomed to be that way forever. This books gives relief and states that organization is a 'learned skill' not something you are born with - although some are better than others. Julie M. is great about helping you analyze your own style and helps you take that into account. My husband and I have now organized his home office, the kitchen and our bedroom. It takes us about 15 minutes to pick up things now. It's amazing. People in my office now want this book and I would encourage anyone - even the most unorganized to get this book ,read it , and apply it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2000

    This Book Is Saving My Sanity!

    I have read many, many books to help me organize my home office. Since purchasing this book, I have put all the others away. The recommendations are helping me make much better decisions about why I am organizing each room, and how to do it. What I like the best is, each organizing task has the approximate amount of time it will take to complete. It has provided me with realistic timelines of how much time I will need to get organized. I now schedule my home and office time according to the room, the plan, the tasks to be completed, and feel better about reaching my goals. For the first time, I don't feel guilty if I do not finish an organizing chore, because I know in advance how much time it should take. I am doing one room at a time, and my family has recently noticed the improvement. This is a great book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 5, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Organizing from the Inside Out is the ¿cheat sheet¿ of organizin

    Organizing from the Inside Out is the “cheat sheet” of organizing books. It is PACKED with Ms. Morgenstern’s insights. She offers everything from estimates about how long typical projects will take, to her observations concerning common emotional obstacles people encounter in their efforts to get organized. She is generous when providing techniques to get structured, and points to many resources for further help. This is an excellent book to read after you’ve read foundational books like Cindy Glovinsky’s “Making Peace with the Things in Your Life.” Read the foundations, read Organizing from the Inside Out, then keep Organizing from the Inside Out to thumb through whenever you are stuck. It will get you thinking again. Lauren Williams, Casual Uncluttering LLC, Woodinville, WA, USA

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2013

    tfay69

    i do this for a living my peoples!!!!!

    star insrallatians
    trishypoo

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2001

    Motivational

    Great motivator, and have organized and given to charity alot of unnecessary items. Have taken a room at a time. Feel better, and feel confident, energized when walking into a room. And has reminded me of wants versus needs, saving money.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2001

    Foolproof

    This is the first time I have read so much information on the topic of organizing. I am very happy so far with what I have learned in the book 'Organizing from the Inside Out' This book will change the way I do things in the future.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2001

    Gain more time for yourself by spending less time searching for your stuff...

    A clear guide that helped me understand why me previous organinzing efforts did not help. The story about her spending a weekend 'organizing' her room as a teen, only to have it turn out three times as messy was hilarious. I bought this book with a new baby on the way, and thanks Julie Morgenstern, my diaper bag is always packed and ready to go!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2001

    Easy organizing for anyone

    This book is an organizing book that covers a new way of looking at the task of organizing effectively without blaming the person behind the lack of organization. This book asserts that people who don't organize just never learned how to organize, through no fault of their own - after all, it's not a skill that's taught in school. It gets down to work helping you figure out an organizing system that will work for you, not a system based on cookie-cutter filing concepts or special storage units.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2000

    Buy it!

    I love this book! It gives a great new aproach organizing your life. It so much faster and easier following Julie's organizing plan. The book is fun to read and really modivational. After I read it, I gave the book to my teen daughter. Her room (which looked like a tornado went though) was cleaned 2 1/2 hours after she finished reading the book!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 43 Customer Reviews

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