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1. 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 mysterioustalent. 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...