Over the past two weeks, I’ve shared with you two of my favorite bits of organizing-related advice: allow into your life only things you use, need, love, or find beautiful; and keep things close to where you use them. This week’s tip is a reminder of something we often forget.
Organization doesn’t require perfection
All too often, the word “organized” makes us think of an image from the pages of a magazine: a perfectly arranged kitchen countertop, perhaps, where everything is perfectly in order, a single perfect orchid is the only decoration, and there’s no sign that the space is used for anything ever, much less for a potentially messy pursuit like food preparation. Are there homes that actually look like that and that are indeed well organized? Sure. (Are there also homes that look like that but have drawers, closets, and cabinets crammed full of stuff so that visible surfaces can remain clear? You bet.)
But as I tell my clients again and again, being organized doesn’t mean living or working in a space that’s Spartan, perpetually clean, and free of the stuff of everyday life. I think it does mean taking control over clutter, being able to find what you need when you need it, and having more space and time for the people, things, and activities that are most important to you.
Putting this tip into action
This week, work on moving away from the perfection trap and moving toward your own personal definition of “organized” that’s realistic, achievable, and effective.
- Read any and all home magazines skeptically. I love home magazines as much as the next person (and possibly more), but whenever I read one, I challenge myself to remember that the photos and articles it contains are more useful as idea generators than they are as strict guidelines. By all means, read whatever home magazines interest you, and use them as a source of inspiration to make improvements to your living space. Keep in mind, though, that unless you have a team of professional designers, stylists, cleaners, interior decorators, and shoppers, your home probably won’t look like the ones you see on the pages of Real Simple or Martha Stewart Living.
- Define organization for yourself. If organization doesn’t mean perfection, what does it mean? By and large, that’s up to you. Take some time to create your own definition. Start by thinking about an aspect of your home, office, or schedule that feels disorganized. What doesn’t work about it? What does that disorganization make it hard (or impossible) for you to do? What would you be able to do if that disorganization were no longer an issue? On the basis of your answers to these questions, start to define what it would mean for you to be organized. Perhaps you’d never again have to spend time looking for your keys and purse because they’d always be in the same spot. Perhaps the tasks that take up half the day each Saturday would be done in smaller chunks throughout the week. Maybe you’d look forward to getting dressed in the morning because it would be easy to find the clothes you wanted to wear in your closet and dresser.
- Resist the urge to compare yourself with others. The inclination to want to compare our spaces to other spaces we admire is a natural one. Perhaps you have a friend, neighbor, or family member whose living room always seems to be in perfect order, while yours always seems to be scattered with toys, movies, shoes, and other bits and pieces of life. Before you get down on yourself or your space, do a reality check: does the person you’re comparing yourself with have similar life circumstances and responsibilities? Does he or she have someone who helps keep the house in order? Is the space in question similar to yours in terms of size, function, and things stored there? Does your own space, despite the occasional clutter, function well and generally seem organized? Be wary of comparing two spaces and situations that may in fact be quite different. Remember, too, that organization looks different for different people, so what’s “organized” according to your definition might not be according to someone else’s.
When you let go of the belief that being organized means having perfectly neat and orderly spaces, you may well find it easier to work on whatever organizational project is in front of you. (After all, trying to get started on a project for which the end result is perfection is pretty daunting.) Spend some time defining what organization looks like and feels like for you, rather than accepting someone else’s definition; I bet you’ll be more motivated to get organized—and to stay that way.