Ask the (Zen) Organizer tm

Newspapers, magazines and the airwaves will be filled this month with ways to save this holiday season. In “One Year to an Organized Life,” I devote the lion share of instruction in December to just these issues. In this forum, I\’d like to take a peek at something else that may be on your mind: looking ahead to the New Year. It beckons to us like a blank piece of paper, inviting us to create something fresh, new, nurturing and inventive in place of our current reality.

While it\’s easy to dream about a fresh start, it\’s very often difficult to do the work involved to make the dream a reality. This is why most New Year\’s Resolutions fail: they remain wishes rather than turning into our reality. Let\’s take a look at the concrete steps we can take to change our lives for the better in the New Year. After all, if we don\’t prepare for and consciously create our New Year, it will simply re-create itself as the ‘same old/same old.\’ And that never leads to happiness.
If nothing stood in your way…

One of the central tenets in Zen Organizing is that the whole of any endeavor or project is overwhelming. Success is best achieved if we break a big task down into the small steps that will make it a reality. Let\’s start, therefore, with a list of what you would like to achieve this coming year. Go ahead. Let your mind run wild. List everything. The most common goals include:

  • lose weight
  • start an exercise program
  • stop smoking
  • make/save more money.

What is on your list? Set a timer for 10 minutes and start dreaming.

Are you planning to win or lose?

After you have your list, place numbers next to each item so that you know your high priority items from those that can wait a bit. Not only is a long list overwhelming so is the goal of achieving everything at once. A long list doesn\’t make you a high achiever; it sets you up for failure. You\’ll want to consider each item in turn. Break it down into the steps that will make it a reality. The easiest example of course is losing weight. It isn\’t a magic formula that will enable you to achieve success when you need to lose weight; it\’s a change in eating and adding exercise to your regime. That\’s obvious, right?

One step at a time…

Once you understand the steps whether they are obvious or take some time to figure out, you can set about deciding how to achieve each one in turn. For our example it would be: what diet would work best for you? Is it Jeannie Craig, Weight Watchers, Nutri-system or some other program? And what exercise regime will work best with your personality and time? Do you like running, yoga, Pilates or swimming? The more thorough you are at this phase, the easier it will be to achieve your goals.

But let\’s say you start your list and you are so overwhelmed by the idea of change, you get clutched and have to stop. You aren\’t doomed to continue the ‘same old/same old\’ routine you\’d like to change. You simply have to be kind, gentle and patient with yourself. Think how proud you will be when you achieve your goal.
Push the first domino…

How can you jump-start the process? Create simple habits that move you out of your rut. Psychologists say it takes 21 consecutive days of repeating an action before it becomes a habit. Let\’s look at the three major areas in our lives (home, work and finance) and consider some simple habits that can truly rock our world with permanent, positive change.

Home Habits:

  • Make your bed every day.
  • Hang your towels on the towel bar after a shower or bath rather than tossing them on the floor.
  • Brush and floss your teeth every morning and each evening after dinner or before bed.
  • Don\’t leave dirty dishes in the sink or allow clean ones to languish on the drain board. Put things away!
  • When you start something, complete the action: close cupboard doors and drawers. Need a sweater? Put it away when you no longer need it. You get the idea.

Work Habits:

  • Try and relieve stress with simple actions: drink more water (8 eight oz. glasses a day is ideal); meditate for a mere five minutes to clear your mind or introduce exercise into your regime. Five minutes will get the ball rolling. You can walk to work, do some yoga in your seat or climb the stairs for a few flights. What\’s available to you? If you don\’t exercise at all, start small.
  • Limit your time at the social media sites. Set the timer on your cell phone or watch for 10 minutes. No one really needs to know the nitty-gritty details of your day. Start recording the broad strokes. Do you really care if Aunt Zelda is ‘at the bus stop\’ or your fiancé has just ordered a latte at Starbucks? If the answer is ‘yes,\’ you might consider some new priorities! Social media sites are great and I myself have a presence at Facebook and Twitter. But I am careful not to fritter time away. I use the sites to my advantage. Are you? Or might it be said the sites are using you?
  • Just as you did at home, return items to their proper place. You will be able to file your expense report more easily, for example, if the receipts are always placed in the appropriate folder.

By the way, if you don\’t have a working file system, take some time between Christmas and the New Year to set one up. It\’s an invaluable aid all year long. And if you do have one, don\’t forget it will be in need of a quick tune up as we prepare to move into a New Year.

Finance Habits

  • ALWAYS note your expenses in your check register immediately. Check and debit card expenses can add up. Overdraft fees are a waste of your money.
  • Are you reading all of the magazines, periodicals and newspapers you subscribe to? Or is it time to catch these publications on line? Don\’t forget to recycle these publications when you are done whether that\’s the blue can or your local assisted care living facility or hospital.
  • Keep paper money in denomination order, all facing forward. You\’ll save time whenever you make a purchase by not having to sift through crumpled bills at the bottom of your purse or pocket. This simple action also expresses your respect for your money. Try and live on a weekly allowance: when it\’s gone, it\’s gone. You will tighten the purse strings in short order. Debit cards, credit cards and checks can feel like ‘magical\’ sources of money we either don\’t have or shouldn\’t touch.
  • In conclusion…
    Rome was not built in a day. Neither will you be able to change your life overnight. Small, positive steps forward, however, create tremendous momentum. They also influence those with whom you work and live. Why not be a silent mentor to your family, friends and co-workers this year just by adopting some simple, straight forward positive steps. You\’ll be touching other lives at the exact moment you are busy transforming your own.

    Regina Leeds Author, Teacher, Seminar Leader

    New York City native Regina Leeds has brought order to home and work environments across the United States since 1988 when she started her company, Get Organized! by REGINA. Currently based in Los Angeles, her clientele run the gamut from movie stars to business people and housewives. Regina regularly travels throughout the United States to assist her clients.

    Regina is the author of two books: The Zen of Organizing; Creating Order and Peace in Your Home, Career and Life and Creating a Place Without Losing Your Space: a Couples Guide to Blending Homes, Lives and Clutter.