Four Organizing Traps – and How to Avoid Them

Have you started an organizing project with the best of intentions, only to lose steam before the project is done? Does your beautifully organized space deteriorate into its previous state more quickly than you’d like to admit? Or do you never really get going at all, and wonder why it’s so difficult to get started? Over the years of working with clients to get their homes and offices organized, I’ve encountered four common mental traps that can derail even the most well-intentioned of organizing projects.

I don’t have time to get organized!

This is the lament I hear often from the overwhelmed and overworked. They are well aware of the fact that getting organized requires an investment of time, and have decided that they can’t spare any to get things under control. What they don’t realize is that being disorganized costs them time and money on a regular basis. Taking the time to get your spaces organized can be difficult in the short term. However, being able to find what you want when you need it, and functioning more efficiently in your space pays off in the long term. It saves time and money, but more importantly allows you to operate at your full capacity, reducing your stress, and making it possible for you to focus on whatever is most important in your life – work, family, or leisure.

I’m getting organized – let’s go shopping! 

Piles of designer baskets, plastic bins with the labels still attached, the latest organizing gadgets, and enough office supplies to open their own office supply store piled in the corner, filling closets and taking up space. That’s often the scene when I arrive at my clients’ homes or offices. For many, running out to the store to buy organizing supplies seems to be the obvious first step in any organizing project. However, often those supplies end up just creating more clutter. Until you make the effort to sort through what you have and to decide what stays and what goes, you will have no idea where, or how the stuff that remains will be stored. You won’t know what kind and how many containers you need. Many times, my clients have found that they already have plenty of organizing supplies that they can use or re-purpose without purchasing anything new. There is no bin, folder, drawer organizer, shelf unit or cabinet that will get you organized. The solution lies in the process, not in the product.

It has to be perfect!

Are you a perfectionist? Does everything have to be done to exacting standards – all labels perfectly aligned, all folders in a specific color, all containers matching your decor to designer standards? If you can’t do it perfectly, it’s not worth doing, right? So the project never gets finished because you can’t bring yourself to follow through. It’s never good enough, so why bother trying? And the clutter builds, you spend your time spinning your wheels because you can’t find what you need, your frustration climbs, and you’re still wasting time, money, and fighting stress. As a reformed perfectionist, I have a mantra that I’d like you to repeat when you find yourself sinking into the mire of perfectionism: “Done is better than perfect.” Half-finished organizing projects will not gain you more time or relieve your stress. In fact, they may cause you more stress, because having half-finished stuff hanging over your head will just make you feel worse. Perfectly printed labels on empty file folders sitting in an unused filing cabinet next to a desk piled high with papers won’t help you find anything any time soon. Scribble the file names on the folder, sort through the paperwork, get it into the files and into the cabinet. Someday you will have time to print out those perfect labels. But if someday never comes, at least you can function efficiently and get stuff done in the meantime!

“I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence I can reach for;
perfection is God’s business.” (Michael J. Fox)

Once it’s all done, I’m all done. 

So, you’ve managed to get all the way through your organizing project. Your papers are filed, your countertops are clear, your closet is full of only the stuff that fits and looks good. It’s been a challenging journey, but you made it through, and things are hunky dory. You’re saving time, making more money, spending more time with your family, pursuing that long-awaited hobby. With a giant sigh of relief and a pat on the back, you pick up the pattern of your life again. But slowly, inexorably, over the course of a few weeks or months, your spaces begin to clutter up, it gets harder to find stuff, and you begin to spin your wheels again. Before you know it, you’re back where you started, or perhaps in even worse shape than when you began. Why? Because organized spaces don’t maintain themselves. There are plenty of great systems to implement that will help you get organized. There are no magic systems. Getting organized is great, taking action on a large-scale basis. Staying organized is a different matter. It requires changing habits, making little decisions and taking small actions on a daily basis. Five minutes a day going through the mail, instead of plopping it down unread on the counter. Or five minutes hanging up those clothes in your newly organized closet. Ten minutes putting things back in their homes at the end of the day, whether it’s on your desk, or in your family room. Fifteen minutes every week filing away those papers that need to be saved. An hour a month checking through spaces to pinpoint stuff that you don’t use or don’t need anymore and getting them out of the house for donation, or to recycling, or the trash. Maintenance is the key to long-term organization, and it doesn’t take hours. It takes just a few minutes each day. Every day.

Don’t get trapped by thinking that lack of time keeps you from being organized. There is no perfect gadget, no magic system that will do it. And perfection is not only unrealistic, it’s exhausting. Make small decisions and take small actions on a daily basis, and you will reap the benefits that being organized can bring.

Lisa Griffith

About The Author

Lisa Griffith is a speaker and consultant who provides services, both on-site and virtually, to help busy professionals organize their offices, systems and calendars. In addition to business and home office organizing, productivity and time management coaching, she provides workshops & seminars for business and community groups.