A Quick Guide to Become Organized

Medical Post
Helping Hand Column, March 10, 2009

Use these tips to save time and achieve calmness

I recently hosted a meeting of the Ottawa branch of the Federation of Medical Women of Canada at my home. Despite the -39° C temperatures, there was a great turnout as we all welcomed the opportunity to enjoy each other’s warm company.

The guest speaker was a professional organizer. She spoke about how many professionals feel life is busier than ever, that it seems there are never enough hours in a day, and that time is wasted looking for items. We can all benefit from taking back control and reducing the clutter in our lives. It is not about appearing neat and tidy; rather the goal is to be able to function well within that environment.

The path to clutter
It is interesting to consider why we let things become cluttered and disorganized. We thought back to a time when we actually felt in control—surprisingly, for many of us, it was during our first year away from home at university. This is when we had only a few possessions, had a limited space to manage them in and lived alone. Thus, it follows that we become increasingly disorganized as we gain more things, have more space to put them in, and have other people who live there.

The extra work and responsibilities we have gained over the years do not easily offer us the time to become organized. As well, we are responsible people; we could not possibly get rid of something we may need in the future . . . so it accumulates. Growing up with parents who were immigrants or lived through the Depression makes it even harder to throw out something that is still usable.

It is helpful to understand why being organized is not easy, and nice to know we are not alone.

The SPACE methodology (Sort, Purge, Assign, Containerize, Equalize) is a good tool for becoming organized:

  • Sort. The initial goal is to sort and group similar items in broad categories, so you can first see what and how much you have.
  • Purge. Decide whether to toss it, give it away, sell it, put elsewhere or keep it. Ask “Do I love it, use it, gain energy when I see it?” If not, it is clutter and can be removed. A great tip was to keep a photo as a reminder of items we keep for purely sentimental reasons.
  • Assign a home. Decide exactly where the item will be placed, and ensure the location is accessible and safe and easy to return to.
  • Containerize. Once you know what you are keeping, put it in a container to limit it, and allow easy retrieval and cleanup.
  • Equalize. Maintain this with regular evaluation and periodic tune-ups.

Here are 10 tips to organization from OrganizeMe101.com:

  1. Think before you buy. Do I need the item? Do I love it? Where will I store it? Is it worth storing and maintaining?
  2. Store things close to where you will use them.
  3. Store things conveniently. If it is too much work to put away, it won’t get put away.
  4. Use four sorting boxes as you tidy: put away, give away, sell, throw away.
  5. Do a “clutter patrol” of your living areas nightly, and put things back in place.
  6. Eliminate regularly; don’t let clutter build up.
  7. Try putting away a few decorative accessories; you may still like the look.
  8. Find people or agencies to donate to, and use them often.
  9. Have a “maybe some day” bin—put an item here first if you can’t throw it out, and date it. If you haven’t used it in six months, maybe you can live without it.
  10. Limit the number of horizontal surfaces in a room; they are magnets for clutter.

None of us manages this perfectly, but it can be easier than it feels at times. Similar to weight loss, instead of “yo-yo” organizing, being organized requires an internal attitude adjustment and ongoing maintenance. Yet, the reward of calmness that comes with achieving a better level of organization and feeling more in control is worth the effort.

Mamta Gautam is an Ottawa psychiatrist who specializes in treating physician patients. If you have a question you would like addressed in this column, please contact Dr. Gautam at mgautam@rogers.com. Please include “Helping Hand” in the subject line. All inquiries will be confidential. Your questions will not be replied to, but may be selected to be answered in this column, which is intended to be educational, not therapeutic.