In this blog, I’ve harvested some of the keys to lasting order that you will need to transition from a constant struggle against chaos into a lifestyle of collected, intentional living.
People always ask me: It’s fine to GET organized, but how do I STAY organized?!
Well, this month we are celebrating 20 years of helping people sustainably “restore order” to their lives! And over these last two decades I’ve observed what works and what doesn’t work to resolve disorganization. I’ve learned the psychology behind the root causes of disorder. I’ve collected a treasure trove of wisdom in the trenches.
These 5 keys to lasting order include powerful mindsets and practices. They’re not lightweight “tips and tricks” or “organizing hacks”. (Most people have tried those and were disillusioned with the results!).
If you can take on these new ways of thinking and living, you will be on your way to SUSTAINABLE change. You’ll feel better about organizing once you see it correctly, your efforts will no longer fizzle out, and you’ll finally get traction!
Embrace holistic order
From the beginning of my career I was plunged into people’s homes and businesses; right into the middle of their life “movie.” I saw that disorganization was a symptom of lots of other things – relationships, habits, and how time is invested.
Disorganization is a symptom of lots of other things – relationships, habits, and how time is invested.
In other words, the backlog had a CAUSE and it has an IMPACT as well. DISorganization was happening in many areas of life and affecting the WHOLE person. It was both symptomatic and causative.
In my profession, I have concluded that TRUE ORDER is holistic. Just like in good healthcare we cannot just treat the acute symptom; we must find and treat the systemic causes, it’s the same with organizing. We must zoom out and look at the whole life of a person with ongoing disorganization. We must ask a lot of questions: “How did we get here?” “What else is going on?”
Instead of seeing disorganization as a failure of that person, we must acknowledge and address the pressures of their life, their health, their work life, their inner world because order is holistic. Many times it’s actually our thoughts and our blind spots and mental pathways that are causing our inability to mobilize and get organized.
“Restoring Order” is both an external and internal work. (In fact, who cares if your environment gets organized if your inner world remains chaotic? The environment will likely not remain orderly for long if the inner world isn’t addressed.)
Similarly, if an out-of-control work life, or fear of not-having-enough is driving you, then you will likely struggle to keep order at home because you are serving the bigger, more acute perceived emergency in your life.
And, most importantly, if your heart, soul and mind are struggling to keep up, that inner reality will creep into your external world. So, there’s a need to restore our spirits as well as we aim to create lasting order.
Understand organizing as a means to an end
Organizing is more than decluttering your counters or setting up a filing system. It’s more than activities and even more than makeovers. We haven’t “arrived” even if we whip our homes into a perfected vision of magazine-worthy beauty.
The truth is: organizing is a MEANS to an END; it’s not an end in itself. Organizing itself not the destination; it’s the SPACE it creates in your life to focus on what truly matters.
Pictured here is a massive kitchen makeover we did for one of our clients. It was an epic effort. It took 9 people 9 hours, totaling 81 hours of work. The counters were piled high with no room to prepare food. Every square inch of cabinet and drawer space was burgeoning with stuff. The pantry goods were flowing onto the floor.
The homeowners were buried little by little and felt stuck and unable to activate the things that really mattered to them. They loved hosting groups, mentoring young people, and preparing and sharing meals and caring for others. But all that stopped when the kitchen started disappearing under the mess.
This couple’s kitchen organization project cleared the way for restoring daily use, enjoying family meals, hosting groups and enjoying fellowship. What a beautiful case study showcasing that “restoring order” is about so much more than the proper allocation of stuff-to-space: it’s a life changing process.
“Restoring order” is about so much more than the proper allocation of stuff-to-space: it’s a life changing process.
As we organize as a means to make room for our priorities, we are far more likely to keep up the newly organized space and systems. Now that our environment is serving us (instead of us serving IT!) we have a huge incentive to KEEP it organized. Because if we let it slide back into chaos, we lose the ability to enjoy the things we hold most dear.
Commit to a lifestyle
Getting organized isn’t just “tidying up” – it requires establishing processes and systems. We then use those simple processes and systems to MAINTAIN our busy lives so we can keep focused on what matters most. Our life systems – from paper management systems that keep tasks and bills on track, to household chores, to laundry, to dishes, to wardrobe – actually serve US as we steward our homes.
We all know that getting these systems in place and setting our rooms back in order takes time and energy. And once it is “done;” it isn’t really “done”!! In five minutes, the space can devolve again, just through daily use! This means that it’s not only the ACT of getting organized that is the answer but the HABIT of keeping it up that is just as important.
Living a lifestyle of order is an ongoing commitment.
But we must remember: anything in life that is worth having (like an ordered life) requires our input and upkeep.
Having a connected marriage, being an engaged parent or grand-parent – these are dearly-held priorities that require ongoing inputs. Living an ordered life is a worthy value that merits our ongoing attention.
Creating habits is an adjunct to the organizing process. When our Order Restorers set up new paper management systems for a client, for instance, we always talk with them about how to absorb these new systems into their daily lives.
We add time to their calendar to maintain the systems. We discuss how the family can be involved in maintenance. We check in with them as they are launching the new system to ensure they’re using it and tweaking it to fit their needs. Habit-forming is just as important as systems-establishment to create long-term success!
Disorganization can cause isolation. Many disorganized people stop doing the things they love because of the surrounding chaos. They become isolated, mentally beating themselves up for the encroaching mess. Even in the workplace, disorganization and overwhelm can lead to isolation as workers shovel in their lunch at their desks, working longer hours to try to “keep up.” Their black hole of a work space discourages others from entering in, or handing off work, concerned it will be absorbed into the vortex of clutter.
Yet, separation from people ironically is not only an OUTCOME of disorganization; it often is a CAUSE as well! Strained relationships and our skewed priorities to value people often have caused us to lose hope or momentum in keeping up our home and work life. We over or under commit ourselves to others when we are disorganized.
Also, the skill and habit of organization are also taught and modeled in the home. If we didn’t have good role models growing up equipping us to create an ordered life, we likely won’t be able to manifest it as an adult.
So, disorganization is a social problem. It has both social CAUSES and OUTCOMES.
This, my friends, is the GOOD NEWS! The disorganization we navigated into through social means we can navigate out of through social means. We can use community to “restore order!”
This is where hiring a professional organizer can be life changing. Having another person who has your best interest in mind, who is there to support you and advocate for you, and who is ready work side-by-side with you, is a refreshing change for most people. Loneliness and overwhelm dissolves little by little as we are cared for by someone else.
Even if you can’t hire a professional, a friend or family member who withholds judgment and shows up on your behalf can be the difference it takes to get your space and life into order.
Make that first step towards your organizing challenge today by simply reaching out to someone to join you in your organizing journey. Personal connection and support will be the sustaining force to help you get through your challenges and begin to practice order.
In 20 years of organizing people’s lives, I’ve found that the only folks who get AND STAY organized are the ones who take total responsibility for their messes and their lives:
- They are willing to discover the causes of chaos – and evict them!
- They’re ready to do the hard work and stick to it.
- After the initial overhaul, they’re willing to learn and practice new habits.
Life Reclaimists are “responsibilitarians”! They are willing to step up to the plate and keep batting until they improve their average! They don’t give up. They understand that the daily wins (the innings) add up to the game win. So they do the small things – like running and emptying the dishwasher every morning – to keep up the pleasant environment of the family kitchen.
If you want to achieve lasting order in your life, you’ll have to re-engage with your power to TAKE CHARGE of your life and CREATE what you want to see happen. In my own life, I became tired of my own excuses (especially in the health arena) and finally took charge of my own habits and success as a Health Reclaimist. I stopped deferring responsibility to the doctors or experts and I became the expert in me. I took the reins back.
It doesn’t even matter if anyone else in your family or workplace or circle of friends is getting organized with you…you can take charge and make the changes you need to support your own life!
If you want to achieve lasting order in your life, you’ll have to re-engage with your power to TAKE CHARGE of your life and CREATE what you want to see happen.
As you step into a life of holistic order, as you embrace organizing as a means to an end, and a begin a new lifestyle of order, and as you embrace community and responsibility, you need to know: you are not alone!
We – a community of Life Reclaimists – are here to support you along your journey. To equip you and encourage you and to hold you up when needed!
I hope you’ll join us in determining to create and sustain true and lasting order…it’s a life-upgrading investment that you’ll never regret!
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