The One Thing You Must Do to Be Organized

Have you have ever driven by an abandoned building? If you have, you know that it doesn’t take long for a space to fall apart. To keep an area in good working order requires regular maintenance. When it comes to organizing, this largely consists of putting belongings back where they belong. While the idea of a magic fairy coming behind us and putting things away is appealing, the reality is that we must rise to this responsibility if we want to be organized. 

Here is why:

Spaces naturally move from ordered to disordered. If you ever took physics, you may remember the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This law observes that all closed systems tend toward entropy. [A simple way to think about entropy is as a measure of disorder.] While this law isn’t directly about organizing, I think it certainly applies. The “normal” progression for any space seems to be from order to chaos, sometimes in a matter of minutes!

The law further states that reversing this ever-increasing tendency toward disorder requires the input of energy.

The input of energy…there it is. Being organized requires an input of energy.

Admittedly, decluttering and establishing systems requires energy. I spend most of my time with clients facilitating these two steps. Nonetheless, to enjoy ongoing order requires the less flashy and perhaps tedious commitment to regularly putting things away.

When my children were little, I frequently repeated the mantra, “Put one thing away before you take out another.” In fact, I said it so often that I believe they eventually tuned me out. I understand! Taking things out can feel more fun than putting things back. When we pull things out we are moving toward something. We have a sense of anticipation and the possibility of accomplishment. For example:
Deciding what to wear on an outing Beginning work on a project Planning an upcoming event Cooking a soon-to-be-enjoyed meal Heading out on an excursion Getting ready for a competition Preparing to play a game
In contrast, restoring items to their proper “homes” is associated with the ending of activities:
Washing and putting away the dishes when dinner is finished Hanging up clothes in the closet after a night out Putting tools back in their various storage locations after completing the project Filing paperwork that has been managed Replacing pieces into the box when the game is over Hanging up sports equipment after practice Carrying supplies back upstairs that were brought down to the kitchen table for use Unpacking items that were tucked away in bin when friends came for a visit Returning shoes to the closet after they have been worn
Much of the time, the excitement of looking ahead has passed and we are left with the need to reset the scene for the future. Restoring order can feel like drudgery, and we often face this task at a time of day when we are depleted. The temptation to simply drop, stash, pile, stack or otherwise dump is powerful.

Unfortunately, the need to regularly restore order is relentless. To date, items are not yet walking themselves back to their resting places and putting themselves away. Someone must repeatedly put things back, and unless you have a personal maid, this person will have to be you.

The good news is, resetting does not need to be an unpleasant process. There are things you can do to improve the way you experience this important discipline.

1. Change your mindset.

We believe what we tell ourselves, so change your inner dialogue. When you feel tempted to complain, “I have to clean up,” switch your vocabulary and say, “Time to get ready for tomorrow.” This restores a future mindset that can be motivating. You aren’t simply completing a past experience, but instead are creating an inviting and productive environment for what is coming next.

2. Work with your biorhythm.

If you are exhausted by the end of the day and can barely get the kids into bed, don’t choose this time to face the task of restoring order. Instead, harness alternative windows when you have the time and energy to complete the task. Maybe you set aside the first 15 minutes after the children are off to school in the morning. Perhaps you and the family do a sweep every day before lunch or dinner. You could even tackle one room of the house each day of the week and not worry about it on the other days. The key is to establish routines to which you (and others in your space) faithfully adhere.

3. Cultivate a positive atmosphere.

The good news is, putting things away is a relatively brainless task. As a result, you can curate a background atmosphere that you find enjoyable. Turn on your favorite music, listen to an audiobook, light a scented candle, track steps on your Fitbit, wear your most comfortable slippers, chew your favorite gum, etc. Add an element of pleasure to the process to which you look forward.

4. Prioritize “ease of use” in your storage systems.

If you have to pull a box out from beneath a stack, and then remove a lid, and then struggle to fit items inside, you will avoid putting these contents away. The easier it is to use, the more likely you are to use it. Minimize the need to open, lift, transfer, move, climb, or otherwise exert effort. Focus on systems that are “drop easy,” or as easy as opening a drawer and dropping something inside.

5. Communicate the plan.

Often we want people in our space to put things away, but fail to provide sufficient information on how this should be done. The familiar line, “Go clean up your room” can result in a child simply pushing things out of sight. Whenever we have an expectation, we need to be as clear as possible about the what, where, when and how.
Have a family meeting to clarify what is expected of each person Review storage locations with all users, and label as much as possible Invest time to make sure everyone is “trained” on what needs to be done Agree to consequences for failure to put things away, and then stick with them.
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Do you procrastinate restoring order in your space? How often do you put things away?
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