Zen Organizing: Understanding the Basics
People ask me if I prefer organizing homes or offices. They are surprised when I tell them there is no difference. The principles remain constant. What changes are the objects I hold in my hands. One day it’s paper for a new file system and the next it’s suits and dresses in a closet. I follow the same Zen organizing guidelines. What are they? Well, there are three steps and two concepts to master. Let’s take a look.
The first concept is simple: ‘The whole of anything is overwhelming.’ There you are ready to tear your office apart. You are so gung ho, your friends and family stand in awe. But then you open the door to your office and the reality hits you. This is overwhelming. You had best put off the work for another day. But wait! All you need to do is break your project into small, manageable increments. You will be building your self esteem and working toward your goal if you decide for example to work on your desk, then tackle the bookcase and chair and end with a look into that scary file cabinet.
When you sit down to work at your desk, it too may feel overwhelming. Guess what? You are going to break this project into parts as well. Perhaps you’ll organize the supply drawers first then move to the surface of the desk and end up creating ‘Action’ files for your file drawer. The path you decide to take isn’t as important as the commitment to working step by step.
The Magic Formula came to me after three years of working one on one with clients. (This is my 21st year!). I realized that every project followed the same three steps. It was magic! What are the steps?
Eliminate: at the start you remove everything you no longer want or will use in this space. This is a very creative endeavor. Eliminating can mean tossing items in the trash, recycling, shredding, returning things to the people from whom they were borrowed or to the proper place they need to reside (coffee cups and glasses of water on the dresser anyone?) et al.
Categorize: while this is the second step, you are actually doing it as you work the first. After all some of your items are going to stay, right? Instead of having related items scattered about, you are going to keep ‘like with like.’ This gives you automatic inventory control. It will also save time when you get ready to purchase your organizing tools. Do you need 100 hangars or 26?
Organize: Here we call your categories to order. A finished project needs to be beautiful to look at, completely functional and be organized using techniques that honor how you think as an individual.
Finally there is another concept to remember: maintenance is a part of life! It applies to your organizing projects as much as it does to your diet and exercise program or to the state of your closet and files. Let me share a secret: you don’t need to expend a lot of extra energy to be organized. You simply harness the energy you have been squandering. For example, it takes as much time to place my keys carefully when I enter my home as it does to toss them wherever they wish to land. However I will save time and emotional energy if I never have to search for then!
If you relate to these ideas, I invite you to read my two most recent books: “One Year to an Organized Life” and “One Year to an Organized Work Life.” This article was adapted from material in these sources.