Sunday, December 31, 2006

Getting Organized

Most Americans ring in the New Year with a list of resolutions that will guide their lives, they hope, to health, happiness and prosperity. “Getting organized” is frequently on the list – in fact, it is among the top ten resolutions in this country. What typically happens though is hardly happy. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it healthy.

Armed with determination and a truck full of organizing tools, people tear into their mightiest piles of clutter. A few days later they feel frustrated, tired and defeated. Instead of one pile of clutter there are many piles of clutter, a stack of expensive organizing tools, and the pervasive fear that perhaps they “cannot” get organized.

Maybe this has happened to you.

If you have ever told yourself that you will never be organized – stop it! Telling yourself that you cannot do something limits your growth and happiness; it is downright unhealthy.

Asked to imagine “organization”, people often conjure up images of neatly divided drawers, tidy baskets of toys, or closets arranged with specialized nooks. Really, organization is more about routines than storage. These routines must be developed and learned. Ideally they provide us with a framework for pursuing our life’s endeavors efficiently and creatively.

Creatively? Yes, creativity is important. Because we perceive differently, think differently, and live differently, creative approaches to organization are needed that respect our individuality. There isn’t one way to be organized because there isn’t one way to live. Likewise, organization supports creatively. Don’t believe me? The world-renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp wrote an entire book on creativity and organization: The Creative Habit: Learn It And Use It For Life.

There are several good resources for learning about organization. The book Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern is a wonderful place to start, and I consider it a “must-read” book. Organizing for the Creative Person by Dorothy Lehmkuhl and Dolores Cotter Lamping, C.S.W. focuses on those individuals who excel in creative pursuits but feel trapped by chronic disorganization. One of my favorite online resources is And of course, a professional organizer can help you quickly and effectively develop systems and routines that address your clutter in an individualized fashion.

As with any new skill: start small. Give yourself opportunities to learn and realize that learning takes time. Patience is an essential part of the formula for success. May your New Year be blessed with success.

Monday, December 04, 2006

What Does Your Car Say About You?

In her book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, Karen Kingston, states “The state of most people’s cars is a real giveaway as to their state of clutterdom.” From my experience as an organizer I must agree. Often my clients who are dealing with epic battles of clutter in their home continue the battles in their cars. Considering how much time Americans spend in their cars, that is a lot of time spent stewing in clutter. If you find yourself apologizing for the state of your car when giving someone a ride, clutter is rudely infringing on your life. Clutter steals your energy, and it can actually lower your self-esteem. The antidote is obvious: declutter your car and give yourself a fresh environment in which to commute.
Decluttering a car is fairly simple compared to decluttering a home. Cars are small so the quantity of clutter is limited. The range of items in a car is typically fairly small since our activities in the car are somewhat limited. Because car decluttering takes relatively little effort, the quick results can provide excellent motivation for the next decluttering project.
Empty the car of all of the items that belong elsewhere. Use a basket or a bag to collect the items, but don’t put them away until the basket is full or you are finished. Then take your car to your favorite car wash and dispose of any trash in your car. Give the interior a good vacuuming, and then head for the wash. Wipe down the inside of the glass with a lint-free rag and glass cleaner, and wipe down the vinyl or leather with an appropriate, gentle cleanser. Personally, I like baby wipes because they are safe enough for a baby’s skin but they really pick up a lot of dirt – and the smell is lovely.
Consider replacing the carpet mats with new rubber mats from the automotive shop. Rubber mats withstand slushy feet so much better than the carpet mats, plus a rubber mat can be used to kneel on should you need to change a tire in the snow. Automotive shops also sell terrific upholstery cleansers made just for cars. I have had great luck with these cleansers; especially when my son decided to see what would happen when you open a shaken-up can of cola in the car. It was not pretty.
Now that the car is clean, use a little preventative maintenance to keep it that way. One rule that helps my family is the “what goes in, must come out” rule. If you bring it into the car, take it out of the car. Remind your children when you get home to bring in their items. A post-note on the steering wheel is a gentle reminder if your memory needs a little boost. In a month or so, the “what goes in must come out” rule will be habit.
Take advantage of the trash bins next to the gas pumps: when you fuel your car, empty any trash from your car. By the way, in this cold weather it is especially important to keep the fuel tank at least half-full at all times. You won’t panic about emptying the tank should you get caught in a traffic jam, and you’re less likely to get ice in the fuel lines. While you are at it check the tire pressure and windshield wiper fluid levels too. It’s pretty scary to get sprayed with a muddy, slushy mess only to discover that you’re out of windshield wiper fluid.
Assign the car-cleaning task to a day of the week. Done routinely, it takes little time to wash and vacuum. Never again will you have to apologize to a passenger about the state of your car. A little decluttering and a few routines and you reap the good feelings that come from driving a clean car.