Getting Organized

Getting Organized

Mary Astadourian (Professional Organizer) gives expert video advice on: Why is it so hard to get organized?; How do I know if I am disorganized?; What are the different styles of organization? and more...

Why is it so hard to get organized?

I think the biggest reason that it's so hard to get organized is that people get overwhelmed by the task that's at hand. Everybody's busy, people put things off, things start to pile up and then the attitude starts to come in of "this is just too much, I can't handle it, I can't do it so I'm not going to do anything about it." And usually by the time a professional organizer comes in, that sense of feeling overwhelmed is so great that the hopelessness and helplessness comes in.

What are the different styles of organization?

Everybody has got their own way of doing things. One of the best examples I like to use is that there are people who like to pile things up. Somebody who is more anal retentive may come in and say you're extremely unorganized, because there are big piles sitting on your desk. Those piles can be organized piles and that's okay. The key is to know yourself and to know what your abilities are. If you have an understanding of that, then you can create an organizational system for yourself that takes that into account. So, you can have piles. You just need to limit them and know that you can't let them get past a certain point, because then it does start to become unorganized. It's really about getting a sense of what works for you and what you're going to respond to.

What are the costs of being disorganized?

There are monetary costs to being disorganized. They can run from late fees you have to pay because you've forgotten to pay a bill or missed things, fees that you pay for missed appointments that you forgot about because you didn't write them down, or you wrote them down but you can't find the piece of paper you wrote them on. Another monetary cost to being disorganized is buying things multiple times. I see this all the time too. You forget you have something, you go out, you buy it again and when you finally sit down to clean out a drawer, or clean out a cabinet, suddenly you discover that you've got ten of the same thing. But I think that the biggest cost to being disorganized is time. Time is our most valuable commodity that we have today. And everyone, no matter what job or lifestyle they may have, we're all looking to have more time. And when you're disorganized you lose time in so many ways. You lose time because you're busy trying to look for things you can't find, you're trying to retrace your steps, you're trying to fix things or undo things that you've done, and it really becomes about trying to capture some of that lost time. And when you're disorganized, that's basically what you lose. You lose time.

What are the benefits of being organized?

Well, the biggest benefit you have to being organized is that you now have time that you are not losing by having to find things and fix things, and redo things. As a result of that you get peace of mind. And I think that peace of mind is so important. I mean, how great is it to not be worried about whether you have forgotten something, and not be worried about: did you forget that you have an appointment today; Did you forget to send in a bill; Did you forget to get something done that you have to get done? Or, not worrying about where you have put something, or if you forgot something. These things really can weigh on people. So, when you're organized it's just the sense of lightness and the freedom that comes to you because of that.

Will getting organized cost money?

Getting organized can cost money. I think it really depends on how you want it to look. Nowadays there are so many different options with containers, baskets and boxes that organization almost becomes part of your home decor. But it doesn't have to cost money, as there are shortcuts and other options that you can take. I think the most important thing, whenever you are starting to get organized, is to really figure out what budget you have in mind and work within that, because there are a lot of options, which is what's so great.

Can getting organized help me save money?

Absolutely, getting organized can save you money on a lot of different levels. The biggest of which is that you're not buying things 80,000,000 times. I can't tell you how many clients I've worked with who were organizing their closet and they find out that they've already got seven, white lace camisoles and they just went out and bought another one. And most of the time things still have tags on them because somehow they got put into that closet and forgotten. There's a lot of, out of sight, out of mind, when it comes to organizing. And most people will forget that they have something if they can't see it or if it's not some place that's not properly marked. You see this also in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in basically every room of your house, there is a lot of buying multiple items because you just don't know that it's there. So that's a big cost saving.

Is there a secret to getting organized?

I think the idea of assessing and purging is very key to organizing anything because you want to look at everything that you've got, no matter what it is, look at everything, asses, "What is it", "Do I need it", "How is it going to work with what it is that I am trying to accomplish?" and then purge all the pieces, all the things, that you don't need, that you don't want, that you're not going to use. Get rid of them and then put everything back in place. It's so important to have that assessment process and that purging. Those elements are just so key because without them it's very hard to organize anything. If you're just going to take everything out and just put it all back together to look all nice and pretty, that's nice, but basically it's just looking nice and pretty, it's not assistance that you're putting in, you're just retooling everything. Assessing and purging helps in creating that system. I think anything you want to organize, you always have to asses and you always have to purge. Now you may decide that there is nothing that you can purge, but you have to look at things, keeping in mind the possibility of purging. It works with closets, it works with food in your kitchen, with bathroom items, papers. I can't honestly think about anything that it doesn't work with because, again, you want to organize something, you need to look at what it is. You need to figure out if you need it. What is it for? Then you have to get rid of the pieces that you don't need and then you need to put it back together.

What is the most important area of my home to organize?

The most important area of your home is generally the one that you spend the most time in. I tend to think that that's the bedroom, and I encourage my clients to organize their bedrooms first. The bedroom is really key for a couple of reasons. The first, because it is the room that you spend a lot of time in, and so it's good to get a sense of order in it. More importantly because it's the room that you wake up in, and the first thing that you see when you wake up in the morning. If it's chaos and clutter, its just going to set a tone to the rest of your day, but if you wake up and you're in this environment and it's organized and it's nice and you know where everything is, not only do you feel better but it also will inspire you to bring that order into the rest of your life. The bedroom is really key in everyone's home.

What's the secret to making my closets work for me?

A lot of times, people just think of closets as closets. They don't really think of them as a space, or as a separate individual space that exists in your home. I like to think of closets, really, as little rooms. Something that I always tell people that they might want to do, is when you're emptying out your closet because you're about to re-organize it, take a look at the closet itself. Maybe it needs a fresh coat of paint. Nothing makes something look more clean, fresh and new than a coat of paint. So maybe you want to do that. Maybe you need to actually put a light in your closet or put a better light in your closet so that you can see the things in it better. It is always nice to give your closet a little bit of a touch up and just make it look better. Then, when you are putting things back in, you've created a new environment, actually, for your items to go in. A lot of times too, there are a lot of closets in your home that are forgotten. There is always that coat closet that really is more like the junk closet. It has got coats in it but it has also got a whole lot of other things. Take a look at these closets and see how can you better utilize that space. Hang the coats but maybe on the floor of the closet, instead of stacking old gift boxes or whatever else you might have down there, and put some containers in there to hold things that you just don't have any other space for but just to make it a look a little tidier and cleaner. There are just all kinds of little things like that, that you can do that can turn a closet that just looks like a mess into something a lot more manageable and cleaner.

What area of my home can I organize the most quickly?

I think that's a tricky question because it just depends on your home and what you do in your home and what you use, but I would say that, in general, I tell people that your desk is something that you can organize quickly, and will also give you a really good sense of accomplishment. It's a small space, it's usually do-able, it's usually filled with a lot of things that you don't even need, so you're able to purge and get rid of a lot of stuff, and it's just a nice area to start because it also, again, will just give you a really good sense of accomplishment. You can do it in less than a day, because a lot of other spaces, like a garage or a closet, sometimes some of these spaces take a while to organize because they're going to require you going out and buying things, and cleaning it out, and figuring out where you're going to put everything else. But a desk is pretty self-contained. It's either going to go back in the desk, or pretty much it's going to get thrown out. So it's a good place to start.

What's the typical time frame for organizing a 'space'?

Time frames shift based on how bad is the space. If we're talking about a closet that's just crammed full of stuff, and just emptying it out is going to take a half a day, then, you know, it is going to take awhile. But generally, unless it's a really big space, I would say you have to give yourself a day. That gives you some time too, to be able to walk away sometimes, which I think is important and come back to it, because sometimes we're so overwhelmed by just everything we've just discovered that's been sitting in this space that we need to walk away from it for an hour or so and just sort of clear our head and then come back to it with some fresh eyes.

Will staying organized take a lot of time and effort?

I always tell my clients that it take three things to stay organized; a commitment, a set amount of time and effort on their part. It really does take those three things. The amount of time does not have to be great. I believe that you can stay organized. Once you're organized, you can stay organized, if you use 15 minutes a day. There's a way that you can make that happen, but you have to be committed to doing it. It has to be part of your routine, the same way that brushing your teeth would be. Otherwise, what will happen is you'll say, "Oh, I'm not going to do it today, I'll do it tomorrow." "Tomorrow, maybe I'll do it the next day". Before you know it, you've got five or six hours worth of stuff that you've put off. We're back to feeling overwhelmed, which is what we're trying to avoid by being organized.

What can I do daily to get and stay organized?

Opening your mail and putting it in the places that it belongs. One of the key things I find is that people will just throw mail somewhere. If it's on a desk, if it's on an entryway table, if it's on the dining room table; somewhere, they have a place. It just starts piling up, and they tell themselves they're going to go through it later. Well, right if when you walk through the door, just sort your mail. Maybe you have a space in your entryway and you've got three little baskets: one is for magazines, one is for bills, and one is for other mail you're going to look at. If you just even sort that out, that takes you thirty seconds at the most, you've saved yourself a lot of time on the back end because now when you have a minute, you can read your magazines. You're not digging through and trying to find something or thinking to yourself, "Oh my God! That's just too big of a pile. I can't deal with it right now." So, that's one thing. Picking one drawer a night that you're going to tackle. Putting your clothes away at the end of the day. It's tiny little things that you can do that actually will end up saving time, and this is the thing that I really try to get people to understand, is that you think you're saving time by not doing something, but what you're really doing is you're spending time by not doing it because, somewhere down the road, it's going to take you two, three, four times as much time to fix what you just did. Take three, four minutes a night and go through your calendar for the next day. Make sure you that know what you have going on, make a list of people you have to call or certain things that you might have to do. Again, this ends up saving you time because you're not scambling to try to fix something later on.

Can an organizational system be customized for me and my lifestyle?

I think all organizational systems need to be customized, because, let's face it, a generic system is not specific to your needs. The whole idea of having an organizational system is that it's something that works for you, and therefore it has to fit you and your lifestyle. The first thing is to look around your environment and ask yourself what do you see? When I go to a client's home for the first time, I'm looking at everything. I'm trying to see what I can learn about them, from what I see around me. Are they pilers? Are they people who like to keep things in piles? Are things shoved in corners? Do they not like to have anything on surfaces, but everything is shoved inside drawers? I open drawers. I look at everything. I tell people “There are no secrets here.” I'm going to open every closet, and every drawer. I'm doing this so I can learn about them. And based on what I can see, then I know I can develop an organizational system that fits them. And that's what you can do at home too. So if you are someone who likes to have piles, you now know that you have to create a system that incorporates those piles in your life. If you are someone that doesn't want to have anything on surfaces, then you've got to figure out a way to make your drawers work better for you so that you don't have to put anything on top of your cabinets or on top of your desk or dresser. So, you've got to really look around and observe what you see and make use of that information.

What does it mean to put something in 'storage'?

The idea of storage is very tricky, because for the most part, out of sight, out of mind. And so if you're storing something, you want to make sure you're something that you really don't need, because chances are, you're going to forget about it completely. So, I always tell people to ask themselves, "Am I going to need this in the next six months?" If the answer is yes, then you're not storing it. Generally, what people store are things like old tax papers, old clothes that they don't want to get rid of, any kind of memorabilia, things that you just can't part with but you don't ever use. And sometimes you store seasonal things, like holiday decorations, or ski clothes, or summer clothes, depending of where you live. So those things are all right to store, but really, you want to make sure that you're putting things in storage that you really don't want to use any time soon, because it's a hassle to get them out of storage.

What are some unexpected spaces that I can use for storage?

There are alot of little spaces you can storage things in your home environment. Under your bed, on top of the furniture and high up in a cabinet. The key to used these spaces is to find the right thing to put there.