Originally from Matt Baier’s Organizing Works Newsletter, October 2007


Since we don’t become instantly DISorganized, we can’t expect to become instantly organized.  Oh sure, we can shove all our clutter into a closet and give the illusion of control, but to get truly organized and STAY organized a process is required.  As many of you know by now, I believe there is no better process than Julie Morgenstern’s S.P.A.C.E. acronym which is divided into 5 stages: 

1.    Sort

2.    Purge

3.    Assign

4.    Containerize

5.    Equalize

The subject of this newsletter is about a discouraging phenomenon that can happen after each one of these stages:  BACKSLIDING.  Here are six easy tips to prevent backsliding.

1. Boxes not Piles.  To keep your sorted clutter from literally sliding into each other, sort it in labeled boxes.  I favor lidded bankers boxes because they are a good carrying size and they can be stacked between organizing sessions.  Also the lids discourage the casual dropping in of inappropriate candidates.

2. Label for Someone Else.  When I sort into boxes, I may appear to be overly eager with my Sharpie and Post-Its, but it’s for a very good reason:  our memories just aren’t as good as we think.  Also, take the time to label very clearly.  As a rule of thumb, ask yourself if someone else could read your label.  (Most likely someone else WILL need to.)

3. Make Dump and Donate a Priority.  Once you have sorted your clutter into appropriate categories, find the time to go the extra mile.  Get the unwanted stuff out, PRONTO!  The more stuff there is lying around, the more likely the valuable stuff will be lost in the unwanted stuff.  You’ve separated the wheat from the chaff, now give the chaff the boot.  Take a deep sigh of relief and enjoy the progress!

4. Showcase Your Progress.  Now that you’ve gone to the effort of sorting everything, don’t just shove it all into a corner until next time.  Make “next time” something you look forward to by showcasing your progress.  Assign your boxes of “office supplies” and “computer supplies” to your new home office area, bring your box of photos to the family room, bring your box of sports equipment to the garage, and so forth.  Even if you haven’t yet purchased that new computer table you want for your new home office, it’s much easier to pick up where you left off if you can see the right stuff collected in the right place.

5. Don’t Panic.  This applies to all stages, but let’s assume you’ve already sorted, purged, assigned, and containerized appropriately.  It is important that you trust your progress and not revert to old habits.  Consider what Einstein said: “The problems that exist in the world today [including your organizing challenges] cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”  You’ve lugged 6 bags of garbage from your office/guest room, and set up easily accessible trays for your various paper conveniently under your printer.  Why then are you shoving that promotional stress ball and triangular highlighter that you’ll never use into one of these trays?  Free junk just creates free chains.  Break them!

6. Be Patient.  Perhaps you’ve finished the full organizing process and you’re still panicking.  This may well be because you are trying on something new and it is not yet a comfortable fit, like a new pair of shoes.  When we buy a really great pair of new shoes we tend to be pretty patient until they become a comfortable fit.  Getting properly organized is a transformation that requires a significant shift in thinking.  Try a little bit at a time, as with a new pair of shoes.  If you believe that a good organizing system can give back to you as much as you get from a great pair of shoes, then don’t discard it at the first sign of blisters.

Overnight organization cannot follow a lifetime of disorganization.  Getting and staying organized requires a process and that process must be respected as much its outcome, for it to work.  An organized you IS possible.  Backsliding is NOT inevitable.  If you don’t believe me, let me show you how.  You’d do it for a great pair of shoes!