In 2011, I started going through a book called One Year to an Organized Life. I got through it earlier this year (yes, I realize it’s 2015), and here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way:
1.) If you want to have an organized life in one year, do not have kids that year. Kids are cute little balls of chaos that bounce into every nook and cranny of your life.
2.) Spend time planning. Even if you feel like you don’t have time – make time. I’m super nerdy, so I enjoy planning. But even if I didn’t enjoy it, I would do it anyway. If I didn’t, my life would feel even more chaotic than it does now, and that’s hard to imagine. I know you may think that it’s a little sad that I spend my Friday nights planning, but my husband is at work, so what could be better than hanging out with a glass of wine and multiple calendars? I plan everything from my wardrobe, to my schedule for cleaning the house, to my weekly menu.
3.) The food planning is the most time-consuming but also the most important. When I plan a good weekly menu, I spend less money, eat better, enjoy eating more and don’t do silly things like skip a meal because I don’t feel like going out and don’t have food in the house (and then get really grouchy and mean, and turn into Danny Trejo until I have a snickers bar.) Planning creates a force of it’s own. Even if I don’t feel like preparing a meal that day, if I bought the ingredients and typed it on my calendar, I will likely do it and feel good about that decision afterwards.
4.) Put things in containers, especially if you have kids. You can throw things in without much effort, and they can too, and afterwards you feel orderly. Have one for books, one for blocks, one for blankets, etc. Your kids will figure out where everything goes by the time they’re two. Your spouse, on the other hand, may never figure it out. That’s OK though. They will know that stuff goes in containers, not on the floor. And this may keep you from dragging your body out of bed one morning, tripping on a LEGO, and fracturing some minuscule but essential bone in your foot and not being able to walk for six weeks.
5.) Have a file system. I know you don’t feel like it, because it takes a lot of effort at the beginni ng. But if you don’t have a system for organizing papers, the paper pile may turn into a monster that will peel off your skin and slurp up the puddle that remains. Fear the paper monster. Create the file system.
6.) Maintain. So you organized your kitchen, and cleaned out everything from the fridge and counters to the insides of your cupboards. Then, roughly two weeks later, it looks like the paper monster sucked up all the food and dishes in the room and spewed them out all over the floor, sink and counters. I’m still working on this one. But when I do get something done, I try to put it on the schedule to do again in a reasonable amount of time, to avoid this problem. It’s usually much easier to maintain order than to completely do-over.
7.) Just make a decision. I don’t know how you become more decisive, but I do know that a more decisive life is a more organized life. That party invitation when you already have 3 other things going on? Just say no. That project you wanted to work on for the last 3 months? Break it down into small steps, put each step on your calendar, or decide it’s not worth doing and get it off your to-do list. That ugly chair your Aunt Mildred dropped off on your doorstep? Give it to Goodwill. Which brings me to my next point…
8.) Get rid of stuff. I like to keep a lot of things. But if it’s more than a few large plastic tubs in the basement, I get rid of it. I have had lots of clutter in my life, mainly because I didn’t feel like making decisions about what to do with it. Now it is either in said plastic tubs, at Goodwill, or re-purposed and useful.
9.) Simplify your schedule and your goals. I struggle with having too many goals at the same time, and packing too many things into a day. If you want to actually keep up, prioritize what you need to do and let the rest go. The book suggests doing things like putting your clothes in color coded order in your closet and buying all matching hangers. This is supposed to help keep your mind zen. For me, this feels like an unnecessary complication. I’d rather just shut my closet door, and keep things simple (a.k.a. off the floor of my bedroom).
10.) Accept imperfection. The reality is sometimes plans fail, life gets messy, we get sick and/or tired, and sometimes we get behind for no very clear reason at all. It’s important to give yourself grace and learn to live with a little bit of chaos. Not everything is in our control, and the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can enjoy doing what we want with the things we can control.