Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tips on Organizing

This time of the year seems to be the season of organizing. Maybe it's the new year, starting from clean slate thing or part of many people's resolutions, but everywhere you look, there are tips on how to get and stay organized.

I have to say, in our household it's a constant work in progress. Between my husband's free-flowing job schedule, D1's teenagehood and D2's toddlerhood, and my swirly brain (and oh, let's not forget the cat, who does not add much, but still contributes to the clutter) we've got our work cut out for us.

In any case, I would like to share my own tips for keeping on top of things.

* What it really comes down to is motivation.
I mean, we all know she should keep things tidy, and when we finally buckle down to clean up, it's usually not as bad as we thought it would be, but somehow, it's always tough to stay on track.
That's because staying organized does not seem as fun to most people as (insert favorite leisure activity). So, what you need to do is to find ways to get that motivation going.

* Have a game plan.
In fact, have several. I keep a list of projects that need to get tackled, from "sort the email inbox" to "clean up studio" to "trim the plants". Then, whenever I have some (often unexpected) free time, I triangulate between how much time, energy, and desire to tackle a particular project I have, then go to town. Because sometimes you'd rather do one thing over the other, and that's ok. As long as there are enough different tasks, you will never get into the panic-ed mode of "OMG, I have half an hour, and that's too short to clean the bathroom/office/whatever."

* Don't aim for huge accomplishments.
The gratification, if you finish, is great, but when you are low on motivation, you need a much quicker payoff, which is why smallish tasks are great to get you rolling. Put up the takeout menus. Sort the dishtowels. The little dents in the mass of projects will make you happier and more likely to get things done.

* It's ok to get sidetracked.
Priorities are good, but sometimes it's ok to sort the utensil drawer instead of doing the dishes. I found that having a particular chore to do can drag your down, and banging out a small (that's the key word here) side project can really boost your motivation to get more things done and to feel better about yourself.

* Gang things up.
If your house is larger than 2 rooms, keep a couple of baskets in strategic points for things that need to be put away or up. I have a basket at the bottom of the stairs for things that need to go upstairs. I pile all the little things that need to migrate up in it, and then make one run upstairs instead of carrying many things on many trips. (And then, when I finished emptying the basket, I'll run through the upstairs looking for things that need to get brought back downstairs.)
It really saves on time and brain space. Pile all incoming papers into an inbox, then sort the whole thing at once (though, it makes sense to keep urgent things separately and deal with them immediately).

* Break tasks into smaller parts.
I mean, like, REALLY break them up.
If I have to sort laundry, I might put on my list, "Take laundry out. Sort laundry. Bring clothes to D1. Bring clothes to H. Put my clothes away." So, now, when I'm done, I get to cross off not one but five things off my list, and it can really get my morale up. Human brains are not very sophisticated when it comes to analyzing - they get just as satisfied if you cross off "open closet door" as if you cross off "sort the entire wardrobe". So, it pays off to feed your brain little victories, because, as your work progresses, more "success" messages get lodged in your brain, sending little happy vibes through your mind and motivating you for more stuff.

* Which leads me to another tip - make To-Do lists.
But make them smart.
I tend to break my lists down into "Must Do", "Should Do" and "Want to Do" sections. This helps prioritize (for example, if you just had one list, paying that electricity bill might get lost between "check DesignSponge" and "catch up on Dexter"). It also can be very gratifying to see things crossed off and helps with fooling our brains into getting happy at seeing things accomplished. This is also helpful when the task does not have a visible result, or not a big visible result, such as organizing your bill payment schedule.

* Another tip in the same vein is to take a bit of time to strategize.
 It pays to line up several chores that have overlapping locations or tasks. For example, if I know that I need to take the laundry upstairs, but also the upstairs bathroom mirror needs cleaning, I will bring the cleaner and paper towels with the laundry, which is just more efficient. I may postpone doing bills if I know I can gang up my online bill paying with checking D1's grades (online). That way, I'm only sitting down at the computer once. The key here is not to combine too many tasks, or you will get overwhelmed. Or, if I am already vacuuming the living room, I may just trudge with it to the kitchen and vacuum the special cat chair cushion (that gets furried up).

* Try not to reward yourself with food, because you don't want to send a bad message to your brain when one day you organize your closet only to discover that you're all out of your "reward" chocolate. It will be harder to motivate yourself the next time, so it's best not even go there. But if you do decide to go with snacky rewards, do it immediately after finishing a big task, because otherwise your brain "won't remember" the cause-and-effect of the reward, which is really the reason you would choose to do it in the first place.

* Make the organized area pretty.
If it looks really good when clean, it will be extra motivation for you to keep it that way.  You may be more motivated to sort laundry in advance if you have a cute laundry separating system set up.
 Alternatively, if you are not very aesthetically-minded, make the organized area super easy to navigate - basically, give yourself a small extra reason to keep things organized.

* Don't be afraid to buck convention.
If your CD collection (I know, who has these anymore?) makes sense to you to organize by artist, go for it. If, however, you are more likely to go for moods or genres, then organize it that way! If your cooking spices make more sense to you to organize by typical dish use (like, basil and oregano together, or all peppers together), then do it! There is no convention, group things by what makes sense to you.

Well, hopefully, some of these tips will work for you, and you will be on your way to creating a neat and tidy haven of a home!

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