Do these sound familiar?
- Do you sometimes buy a new item because you can’t find where you may have put the old item?
- Does it take you a long time to look for something important?
- Do you agonize over what to keep and what to throw away?
- Does your disorganized life make you feel like you will never get ahead?
- Are you embarrassed to invite guests to your home because of all the clutter?
- Have you stopped cooking your favorite dishes because your kitchen feels crowded and cluttered?
- Are your lovely things buried beneath piles of papers or clothes?
People who seek help getting organized might be facing a temporary setback when they usually have no difficulties with organizing. This is what organizers call “situationally disorganized”.
A divorce, illness or death in the family, or even a happy event like a marriage or the birth of a child, can throw you into an organizational tailspin. When these life events happen, the organizing systems that have been working well for years may no longer be effective. A professional organizer can help the situationally disorganized develop new systems that reflect current reality.
Disorganization is not just about an excess of paper, too much to do, and piles of clutter taking over your home — it’s caused by a combination of thoughts and actions that cause you to sabotage your own best efforts at creating order. You wish that your desk were clear — but you’ve learned to dread receiving bad news in the mail, so you ignore your in-box until the stack is three feet high. You would like to invite friends to dinner — but you’ve allowed a decade’s worth of unfinished scrapbooking to overwhelm both you and the dining room table, leaving no time for fun and no room for socializing. You really do try to be on time for appointments — but you have a tendency to get distracted trying to just get “one last thing done” before you head out the door.
What’s the secret to righting these wrongs? Making you aware of where the behavior is coming from. Disorganized habits are there for a reason — and if you want them to go away, you have to understand how you’re benefiting from those behaviors. Granted, some of the benefits may seem counter-intuitive at first. For example, you might be a chronic procrastinator when it comes to bill-paying because you’re scared of facing your spending habits, of what that end-of-the-month bottom line will be. Well if you’re so worried about money, why on earth would you intentionally rack up late fees and interest charges? Sure, setting up a system that allowed you to pay your bills on time and working on a budget that kept you from overspending in the first place would do you more good in the long-run — but the instant feeling of relief at being able to walk away and ignore the problem is more immediately gratifying. The benefit you get from this is akin to the very temporary pleasure an over-eater derives from that clandestine slice of pie — it’s a fleeting guilty pleasure that just ends up compounding your problems.
So what’s the key to replacing these “less-than-constructive” habits with more positive ones? Start by taking a look around you and identifying common patterns — “I’m always running late for class” or “the kids never put their toys away” or “I can’t seem to get caught up on my reports for work.” Then for each pattern, identify the hidden benefit, even if it sounds sort of crazy — “I get to put off dealing with that obnoxious professor who always picks on me” or “not making the kids clean up after themselves avoids an argument” or “when I always look busy I seem more valuable to the company and they can’t lay me off.”
On the flip-side, describe at least one way (if not more) that this situation causes you stress or frustration, an example of how this behavior is actually making things worse — “the professor gets angry when I’m late and he picks on me even more” or “I’m not avoiding an argument when I end up yelling at the kids anyway after tripping over their toys” or “spending all my time ‘catching up’ is keeping me from going after that promotion I want.” Just sit with those for a while and let them sink in. You don’t have to change anything yet. Just recognize that doing things differently would ultimately make life better — that the very small and transitory “benefit” you get from disorganization is nothing compared to the joys you would experience if you got things in order!