"I'm smart. I'm motivated. I'm capable. So why is it so hard for me to get organized?"
As they say, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that, I'd be a wealthy woman. Clients, friends, Tip readers, and people I meet when I speak to groups frequently bemoan the challenge of getting or staying organized, and often feel like their inability to tackle organizing projects on their own means there's something wrong with them.
Organizing may not be rocket science, but it's also not something everyone has a natural affinity for, nor is it always (or ever!) a straightforward, simple, unemotional process.
Here are five of the biggest reasons it can be so hard to get and stay organized, along with realistic suggestions for overcoming them.
#1: It's Overwhelming
I often compare getting organized to untangling a ball of yarn or a string of Christmas lights: when you can't even find the end of a strand, it's almost impossible to get things straight again, just as tackling an organizing project can be totally overwhelming if you don't know where to begin or if you try to do too much at once. This sense of overwhelm is the #1 roadblock I hear about.
- The solution: If you feel paralyzed by the magnitude of your organizing project, break it down into very small pieces. Instead of trying to declutter an entire bookcase at once, for example, aim for a shelf (or even just a few feet of shelf) at a time. Don't know where to begin a project? Start with the spot that'll have the most impact and that will provide the biggest dose of relief and accomplishment once it's organized.
As I mentioned in my Tip on working with a buddy, organizing tends to be an activity that, for whatever reason, is much easier to do with someone else. When you try to handle an organizing project on your own, you might feel bored, overwhelmed, distracted, annoyed, depressed, paralyzed, or just downright unmotivated.
- The solution: Enlist someone to support you as you get organized, whether that means a friend or family member working side-by-side with you or a group of like-minded folks who can offer encouragement and guidance by phone, by e-mail, or in person in between organizing sessions.
If you're driven to tears by the thought of spending more than 10 minutes sorting through files or deciding which of the clothes in your closet stay and which go, you're in good company. Many, many people find the process of getting organized to be a complete drag, even if they're enthusiastic about the end result.
- The solution: You may never be thrilled by sorting and weeding or rearranging your file drawers or reorganizing your kitchen cabinets--and that's OK. The trick is to tie these tasks to something you do enjoy to make them a bit more palatable: put on a favorite book on tape to listen to as you tackle your files, for example, or have a friend over for a glass of wine as you sort through your clothes.
Things are far more than things: they're also often memories, intentions, reminders of past events and accomplishments, symbols of things we'd planned to do, and mementos of people, places, and happenings that have shaped our lives. Getting organized very frequently involves revisiting our stuff and the emotions behind it--a process that can be extremely tough.
- The solution: Here again, having a trusted source of support (a friend, family member, professional organizer, or support group) can be invaluable, and can make the difference between being able to work through your emotions and continue with your organizing project or feeling mentally overloaded and giving up. If your emotional issues around your stuff are particularly deep-rooted, it's well worth seeking the help of a counselor or therapist to process what comes up for you.
Finally, in what can be a culmination of the other 4 stumbling blocks, organizing is often just plain tiring, both mentally and physically. Whether you're lifting and moving things as you work or making decision after decision about what to keep and what to part with (or doing all of the above), you may well find that you're well and truly zonked after an hour or two.
- The solution: To use a slightly threadbare metaphor, long-lasting organization is a marathon, not a sprint. It's completely natural to want to make significant progress in a relatively short span of time, but trying to do too much at once can leave you burnt out and exhausted, which can make you want to abandon your organizing efforts altogether. As with avoiding overwhelm, the trick here is to take slow, steady action and to divide your project into reasonable chunks. You may feel like you're making much slower progress, but you'll be far more likely to maintain success over the long term.