All Organizing Tasks are Not Equal

When people think of getting organized they assume that it’s all equally painful. Not true. There are different levels of pain. Today I will describe three different organizing situations that call for different amounts of energy.

1. The Backlog

Most people hire me when they get tired of the backlog. Maybe it’s in their garage, attic, or basement. These are prime areas for piles of stuff from the past that they don’t know what to do with or are not ready to face alone. A backlog requires time and muscle because there’s usually lots of it. It also requires courage for making decisions on those things that represent mistakes, mistreatment at the hands of others, or even contain memories of happy times, which are difficult if that person’s life is now less happy. All of these make a backlog feel monumental.

2. New System Setup

Some people hire me because the are frustrated with a process. For example, getting their children off to school in the morning is hectic or their kitchen feels like it is set up in an inefficient way. Here there may be a small backlog or group of extraneous stuff, but the main problem is not having a process for the activity that matches their way of thinking or lifestyle. Their previous processes failed from being too complicated or involving too much willpower. Setting up a new system requires a fresh set of eyes and some good listening skills in order to match the right system to the individual needing it.

3. System Upkeep

Even the most well-designed system requires maintenance. For people with a low tolerance for the mundane, this may be the hardest step. The morning routine will not work if the kids haven’t placed their backpacks in the agreed upon spot. Appointments will be missed if not entered into a paper or electronic calendar right away. Any good plan for a system includes steps to cultivate the new habits. Ideally, the system will be so easy that it won’t require much effort. However, some effort is required in order to not end up with a backlog. Then the cycle starts again.

These three organizing tasks are very different in what they require of a person. People beginning with a backlog–which is most people who hire me–will move through all three tasks. The most effort will be expended to get through the backlog. Matching a system to the individual is crucial to future success. Then upkeep on the system means a different set of daily actions. These daily actions must be identified and focused on until they feel automatic. This happens when an individual uses an accountability partner or reaches out for support to share the onus of tasks. For example, the children learn to place their backpacks away rather than Mom having to do it.

Why differentiate organizing tasks? Because if you know what challenge you face, you can be prepared with the energy, tools, and resources (including other people) that you need for that task. Being ready for the challenge empowers you to move through it and find the success that before was only a wish.

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Kate Varness is a Certified Professional Organizer specializing in Chronic Disorganization.