3 Reasons It’s Hard to Stay Organized

It can feel so good to get something organized. Whether it is a whole room or just a drawer, most people love the feeling of looking inside a drawer where there is order and purpose and not too much stuff. Why then is it so hard to maintain an organized space? Why doesn’t the feeling of joy motivate us to do what it takes to keep it organized? It all comes down to these three reasons:

1. Things change. Our kids get older and the toys that were organized are no longer used and there are different toys to get organized. We go to the grocery store and the things we bring home are not the same shape and size as the things we had previously organized in the pantry. Our time commitments change, and on any given day we are too busy to do more than toss something into a once-organized drawer. Solution: Change your thinking. When things in life change and you have different items to organize in the same old space, embrace the positive aspects of the change. There are good things ahead, so tweak the system you had before. If you had a good system it should be fairly easy to modify it to meet your current needs.

2. We crave completion. We want that sense that we put in the time and effort for a good cause and it is now done…finished…Phew! And now we can move on to the next challenge. If we have to keep going back to maintain a place we already organized it feels like it wasn’t worth the effort. Why bother if it is just going to get disorganized again? Solution: We all know that life is a journey, not a destination. So is organizing. Enjoy the time maintaining with some music or quiet reflection. Be aware that keeping a space organized really takes a lot less time than it did to get it organized.

3. We love novelty. Organizing a closet the first time is fun. We start with the creative planning part, deciding what stays and what goes, figure out what goes where, and dream about how great it will be to have a closet worthy of a magazine photo. We get rid of clothes we haven’t worn in a long time, hang items by season and color, line up our shoes, and maybe even get to shop for an organizing product to make the closet work better. We are activating the pleasure center in our brain. Sadly, the novelty fades when it comes to maintaining that closet. Somehow, the maintained closet pales in comparison with the newly organized closet. Solution: Focus on the joy, even if it is not as great as it was before. Engage your brain’s pleasure centers by making up games to play while keeping something organized. Race against the clock, find 5 things that don’t belong, or see if you can figure out a creative way to repurpose something to help you stay organized.

Staying organized can be hard, but there are ways to do it. How do you do it?


7 Reasons to Hire An Organizer

We don’t hesitate to hire someone to fix a leaky faucet, help sell a house, or teach us to play an instrument. But there are other common tasks that still seem to carry a stigma when you don’t do them yourself. How do you feel about people who don’t do their own grocery shopping, laundry, or organizing? If you can’t de-clutter or organize your own stuff, does that make you stupid or lazy or filthy rich? If you are disorganized does it mean there is something wrong with you? If I can’t change the oil in my car, does it mean I am flawed? Of course it doesn’t!

Personally, I think everyone should weigh time, money, and enjoyment factors to determine which chores they do themselves and which they hire someone else to help. Here are 5 reasons hiring an organizer might not be such a bad thing.

1. The organizer has no attachment to your stuff, making it easier to help you make decisions about what stays and what goes. Breaking through the indecision will move you forward in less time.

2. No one is good at everything. I am not mechanically inclined, and if I had not married someone who is, I would have to pay a lot more people to do things for me. An organizer can simply help you get a project done, or teach you organizing skills you can use on your next project,

3. Working with an organizer saves you time and frustration. I could probably learn how to change the oil in my car, but I don’t want to invest my time in that. I recognize how long it would take me to learn the skill and how frustrated I am likely to become. For me, it is worth it to pay someone to do it, do it right, and do it quickly. Even if you are skilled at organizing, working side by side with an organizer gets the job done in less time than it would take you alone.

4. Hiring an organizer means you have scheduled the time to work on organizing, making it far more likely to happen with someone counting on you to be there. And if you thrive on an accountability system, you can ask for homework to do in between sessions.

5. Because you pay for the service, you devote your attention and energy to the task at hand. You won’t pay to have an organizer at your house and then spend time watching TV or talking about your favorite recipes because you are paying for the organizer’s time.

6. An organizer can help you get unstuck. You may want to maximize closet space but not know how, or want to donate an item but not sure where, or set up a process for incoming paper but you are paralyzed by uncertainty. An organizer brings the expertise of creating efficiencies, the knowledge of resources you can use, and a variety of tools to help you get more organized.

7. Hiring an organizer might actually save you money. Being organized means no late fees, an end to buying things you already own but can’t find, throwing out expired food less often, and sometimes even finding un-cashed checks!

Recognize your strengths. Accept your weaknesses. Remember that there was a time not too long ago when hiring someone to clean your house seemed like an invitation for people to judge how you spent your time and money. How long will it be before hiring an organizer to help move, downsize, set up paper and electronic information management systems, or organize a room will be commonplace?

Dogs Aren’t the Only Ones Who Hate Mail Carriers

If it were “allowed”, would you too chase away the mail carrier by barking and growling? Would you sacrifice the possibility of receiving checks and beautiful cards if it meant you would never again have to deal with the mail? You are not alone. In fact you might be surprised to know how many of my clients struggle with the mail. I have seen coping strategies that include leaving it in the mailbox until nothing else will fit, going to the mailbox every day and only pulling out the interesting pieces, putting all the mail in a bag or box and putting it in the closet, and leaving it all in the car. The interesting thing about these strategies is that none of them involve throwing out, recycling, or shredding. None make an attempt to reduce the amount of mail that comes in. Fortunately, most of my clients have already established electronic bill paying so there are not financial consequences to their disdain for and avoidance of the mail.

Why would some people choose barking and growling at the postal workers to keep the mail away? It’s fear – fear of making the wrong decision about what should be done with the mail. Can the junk mail  be recycled or does it have to get shredded or thrown out? The retirement fund constantly sends prospectuses and notices of privacy practices, so they must be important, right? Am I the only one who doesn’t understand all the numbers other than the part that says what I used to have and what I have now? And the coupons! Am I going to go to that store or restaurant before the coupon expires?

Imagine being afraid of making the wrong choice and not knowing if there will be dire consequences. It’s paralyzing. Now imagine that the thing igniting your fear happens every day…except Sundays and national holidays.

What can you do if you are a person who cringes at the sound of the mail truck?

  • Recognize your fear. Don’t try to be less afraid, and don’t berate yourself for it. Just notice it.
  • Establish some guidelines you will follow. For example, shred anything with your social security number or account numbers; recycle anything addressed to “neighbor’ or “resident”; and keep anything tax related.
  • Realize that even if you discard something you shouldn’t have, the consequences are not usually dire. Unpaid bills generate second notices, and you can request a copy of many other documents.
  • Establish a home for papers you need to keep long-term. Scan and save an electronic copy or establish a filing system.

If these step are too challenging for the level of your fear and avoidance, ask for help. Sometimes having another person review your decisions for a while can make it easier. Seek out professional help if the anxiety is debilitating, and consult experts in record retention guidelines. Take steps to reduce incoming mail by getting important information sent to you electronically and getting your name off junk mail and catalogue mailing lists. If all else fails, ask a friend to mail you cards or notes of encouragement and compassion. It might just have the same effect as a mail carrier giving the barking, growling dog a bone.

Is Black Friday Sabotaging Your Organizing Efforts?

Black Friday! Cyber Monday! Get this whatever before it’s gone. You will never see a deal like this again! Do you feel the sense of urgency and adrenalin rush? That can feel good. That good feeling, the shopper’s high, is challenging for some people to resist and it can lead to financial and clutter troubles. If you are trying to de-clutter or downsize, you don’t need the temptations that is offered at this time of year to add more.

So how do you manage to get through what has become the shopping season? Here are some tips to help you:

  • Keep your goal in mind. Does shopping really fit into that goal?
  • Know that “Black Friday” is also “Buy-Nothing” day. You can choose which you support
  • Avoid all things shopping-related: ads on t.v. and in print, stores, email offers, and people talking about their deals
  • Explore other things you enjoy – time with friends and family, games, walking, etc.
  • Consider whether you need more things, have a place to store them, want to maintain them, and have no other goals for your money
  • Think about some of the negatives associated with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, like crowds or the ease of losing self-control
  • Remember that most good deals come again

What other things keep you from letting Black Friday Sabotage your organizing efforts?


Let’s divert a little from the subject of cognitive distortions to a coping strategy that Hurricane Sandy has me thinking about. After talking to family in Connecticut and hearing debates on the radio about whether the New York City Marathon should be held so soon after the storm I have thinking about denial. First there is the denial so many people had that a disaster like this could happen to them. How many of us do not have a family disaster plan, safety kit, and grab and go box with important information and documents?

ESPN broadcaster Colin Cowherd of all people alluded to denial on his radio show today. Regarding the marathon he commented something like “people deal with grief in different ways”. Denial is seen secondly in a way we cope with grief and tragedy. Denial has a way of making other people angry, but it serves a very important purpose. Denial protects us from experiencing the full force of our emotions. It is a primitive coping strategy, but it will work for a lot of us who are lucky enough to escape disaster. Some might argue that having the marathon would allow those runners, workers, volunteers, and spectators a chance to escape the realities of what happened. They could use some denial time to begin to cope with their emotions. I am not arguing that the marathon should or should not have been held; I can see both sides of the discussion and I am glad I did not have to make the decision.

Denial can also be seen in the professional organizing industry. People often ask how someone who hoards can live like that, and my first answer is ‘denial”. Can you imagine if you didn’t employ denial as a coping strategy and you were able to truly see, feel, hear, and smell, the situation in which you were living? And to know that you played a large role in creating that environment? Challenging people to work their way out of hoarding environments can be met with resistance and anger because the challenge goes head-on into the denial.

So how do you help someone change their hoarding behaviors when they are in denial? I think you start by finding small opportunities, by opening the door a crack rather than breaking it down. Sometimes people can recognize a need to increase their own safety or gain a little counter space to prepare a meal. If you can respect their boundaries and just help clear a path or counter, you might get another chance later to open the door a little more. You can share your worries about their safety that come from a place of caring and not frustration and control.

Helping someone dig out of a hoarding situation is likely to be a long and emotional journey. When someone uses denial as a coping mechanism they need time to learn to experience their emotions without getting overwhelmed by them. Whether the denial is about a risk, loss, or a living environment, it serves a protective purpose. If you are stuck in denial, see if you can open the door a little to ask for some help to find another coping tool that might be more effective. If you see others stuck in denial, offer your compassion and understanding. Remember that people deal with grief and pain in different ways.

What Do Cognitive Distortions Have To Do With Clutter?

Isn’t it fascinating the way the human brain works? I love trying to understand the way people think and how they get from point A to point Z in their brains; it’s like driving a car from one place to another. Most of the time people’s brains drive them safely to their distinations. Sometimes, however, cognitive distortions, or thinking errors, drive people into a ditch.

Cognitive distortions are faulty, irrational ways of thinking, and many are frequently demonstrated by people who need to de-clutter and even more so by people who hoard. The one I hear most often in coversations with my clients is black-and-white thinking. Examples include:

  • Thinking that it is a failure if they didn’t de-clutter the whole house
  • Believing they must not really care about the environment because they did not recycle every piece of paper
  • Not being able to let something go because they cannot find the perfect charity

We all display this and other cognitive distortions from time to time. The problem arises when we believe these un-helpful thoughts are true and we cannot move ourselves from them. I have a great bumper sticker from Northern Sun Enterprises that reads “Don’t Believe Everything You Think”.

So what can you do if you frequently drive into the black-and-white thinking ditch?

Step 1: Just notice it. Monitor your thinking and catch yourself thinking in this polarized fashion. Don’t judge yourself for it, just be aware that you are thinking that way.

Step 2: Try to discover if there were factors led to faulty thinking. Were you tired, hungry, or already upset about something else?

Step 3: What was the result? Did you end up content and closer to your goal? Or more likely, did you end up angry, sad, or anxious?

Step 4: Fight to stay out of the ditch! Challenge black-and-white thinking with rational and more helpful thinking. Ask yourself questions to see if your thinking is accurate. For the examples above:

  • Are you really a failure if you only got part of the house de-cluttered? In order to not be a failure (never mind successful) do you have to do everything 100%? Would you judge your friends by the same standard?
  • Can you care about the environment and not recycle? Are there other ways to show you care? Is recycling most things better than recycling none?
  • Who benefits by your generous donations if they never leave your house? Is it better to get donations to a charity that is good enough or to no charity at all?

What other questions do you ask yourself to help your thoughts stay on the road? Do you agree with the bumper sticker “Don’t Believe Everything You Think”?


References: Beck, A.T. (1976). Cognitive therapies and emotional disorders. New York: New American Library.
Burns, D.D. (1989). The feeling good handbook: Using the new mood therapy in everyday life. New York: William Morrow.



Tip: Procrastination Pt 2

Procrastination II  January 2012

Last month we started the subject of procrastination. This month we will devise some strategies to handle the Feelngs/mood causes:

1. If the task is unpleasant – play music, use a pleasing scent to fill your work area, make up some games that involve steps of the task, plan something fun for when you are done

2. If you feel overwhelmed – break the task down into smaller parts, recall times when you have completed other tasks even when they seemed overwhelming initially, stay focused on the vision of what to achieve

3. If you are not in the mood – ask yourself if you need to be in the mood to start the task, work for 10 minutes and see if you can get past the mood and if not, stop for a while

4. If you don’t want the responsibility – determine if you fear failure, delegate when possible

5. If you fear success – figure out what you fear about success, do small things that move you closer to succes and ses how you feel

6. If you “thrive” on the adrenalin rush caused by waiting until the last minute – try exercising and then begin the task, plan a (safe) alternative adrenaline rush as a reward if you finish the task early

Next month and we will tackle some strategies to address the causes related to thoughts and cognitions.