How Organizing Compares To Dieting

No surprise that after a season of over-indulgence, two of the most common New Year’s Resolutions are: 1. to lose weight and 2. to get organized this year!

As a Professional Organizer, and as someone who has always watched her weight, I have noticed that the two objectives have a lot in common. So I thought maybe one can tackle both goals by applying similar strategies.

We all know that you can lose weight by taking the “fast & furious” approach. If you cut down your diet to liquids, carrots & celery and run a couple miles every day, in two weeks you’re bound to see some results. Likewise if you take the time to throw out half the clutter in a room, re-arrange the items that are left, put up shelves with bins or whatever you need to contain your possessions, you will have an organized room, even if the rest of your house is a disaster. We’ve all seen it on TV. And I think we can all imagine what happens after the dramatic make over. Visit those people or those rooms in a few months, and they’re right back where they started. So what strategies can help you sustaining the long-sought-after goals of being in shape and organized? I came up with five common principals that seem to be the key to success in these areas:

  1. You have to set realistic goals – Deciding what you want is half the battle. Are you shooting for an ideal weight or size? Or do you want your whole house organized? In each case, it didn’t take a month to get to this position so it’s going to take a long time to get out of these positions. It’s best to set interim goals that are realistic and measurable so you feel motivated to keep up with the progress however slow it might feel. For example, “I am going to hang all my clothes in my closet and whatever doesn’t fit, I will donate.” Or, “I will stop eating fast food for the next three months.” Achieve these little goals that will help you work towards the big goal by the end of the year. Don’t expect to lose 20 pounds in a month for that high school reunion. And don’t expect to have your whole house organized in a weekend. You’ll just set yourself up for failure.
  2. Daily routines will help you maintain – All the new shiny equipment in the world can’t help you if you don’t have healthy routines. I’ve seen it many times. Someone buys a new weight bench thinking, “This will help me get in shape.” Someone else buys a desk or closet “organizer” and thinks, “this will help me get organized.” Wrong. Only you can get yourself in shape and only you can get yourself organized. The equipment can help you, sure, but first you have to decide what you want and how you’re going to get there. Then buying the appropriate equipment will make sense. We’ve all heard the basic routines of dieting: eat healthy foods and exercise every day. For staying organized I recommend straightening daily, cleaning weekly and cleaning out certain areas on a seasonal basis. It’s also good to involve your family or whoever you live with so you’re not trying to do either resolution alone.
  3. Only put in what you will use – The more you shop, the more you have to organize. And the more you eat, the more you have to exercise. It’s a pretty basic concept. If you don’t put it in, you won’t have to take it out! In other words be particular about what you eat and what you buy. Both should be useful and should make you feel great. Other than that your just stuffing yourself and in the end you will not feel good about yourself or your environment.
  4. In all things, balance – As with the crash dieting you can’t be too extreme. You have to have a balanced diet just as you have to have a balanced life in order to be organized. The best example of a balanced schedule is one that is color coded. You can do this with many applications, including Google calendars. If you designate a color for work, exercise, family time, education, etc. you can see how balanced or not your weekly & monthly schedules are. Just as a healthy plate is full of color, so is a healthy schedule. And if there is no room in your schedule or no room on your plate – your simply doing or eating too much! So trim it down to reasonable portions.
  5. Reward yourself appropriately for reaching your goal. You can’t go out for a huge meal to reward yourself for losing weight. Just like you can’t go shopping to fill up a closet that you just pared down. Remember, “All things in moderation.” Reward yourself with a new dress or suit for getting to your ideal weight. And reward yourself with one decorative piece for organizing a room in your house. And that’s it. Don’t over-indulge or the cycle starts all over again!


What I Learned about Organizing from Children’s Television

To all those mommies out there who think your brain is going to mush from watching too much kiddie TV, I submit this idea. I have learned a few life-long organizing concepts from children’s television shows. Now, I’m showing my age by mentioning these shows but the lessons are timeless and I still impart these ideas to my clients today.

  1. On Blue’s Clues, Steve had his thinking chair. I now have a big chair and ottoman in my living room where I love to sit and read and yes, do my creative thinking! It’s been a long-time dream of mine to have my own “big chair” and I was only able to do this a few years ago when we redecorated my living room.  Before that, my chair was the glider rocker in my bedroom where I nursed and rocked my three children as infants. Not exactly “me” time. I believe every mom should have a little quiet space with a nice chair, a side table and a lamp. Go to this oasis when you need some time to think. And don’t forget to take advantage of it to keep up with your reading, to meditate or just to space out for 15 minutes before the kids come through the door in the afternoon. The Thinking Chair – what a concept for time management and keeping up with your reading pile!
  2. On The Big Comfy Couch they had the 10 second tidy. Ok, maybe it takes more than 10 seconds, but a quick tidy up around your house is a great idea first thing in the morning, after the kids have gone off to school or right before everyone goes to bed in the evening. To accomplish this you can use my favorite tool – the step basket.  I recommend straightening up the main floor of the house in the evening and the bedrooms in the morning. Use the basket to move things from room to room, floor to floor. You can even leave items in the basket if you are doing a quick tidy-up before company comes over.  Unlike the girl on Big Comfy Couch, I don’t recommend shoving things in the sofa cushions. The 10 minute tidy is a chance to get things back to normal.
  3. Sesame Street had a catchy song, “One of these things is not like the other…” I often say this to my clients when we find something that is totally out of place in their house. For instance, food or dishes in the office or tools in a linen closet. It’s a fun way of identifying categories. And all good organizers will recommend keeping like things together.  Yes, that is a bit subjective but some things are just obvious.  I also recommend limiting the number of categories in a closet to three. Any more than that and things tend to get out of hand.  You can limit the categories in a room by identifying the function of the room first. Again, stick to three functions and the stuff in that room should serve its purpose.  The next time you are trying to organize a shelf, closet or room trying categorizing first. If one of these things is not like the others – move it to the right place.
  4. Mr. Rogers had a routine. I love routines. They bring comfort, help you remember and keep you on task. He would come in the front door every morning; change into a comfy sweater and sneakers while singing his song.  So predictable, but strangely calming. He would do his show and then sing his ending song, put on the jacket and dress shoes and head on out the door. So I learned from him that it’s good to have a routine for transition times. I know this is valuable for my kids too. However, we do ours without the song – maybe this would help?! Usually it’s me reminding them to brush their teeth, make their beds and grab their lunches in the morning. After school they wash their hands, have a snack and unload the school papers. A simple routine when you come home from work can also help parents flip that switch in their brains from working person to parent. Take the 10-15 minutes each morning and evening, find your routine and see if you’re as relaxed as Fred Roger’s was in his neighborhood.
  5. Ernie & Bert had a tough time with moving around their stuff.  One segment I remember involves Ernie asking Bert to try a pot on his head. When he asks why, Ernie goes on to explain that he broke the cookie jar. So he put the cookies in the sugar bowl, consequently the sugar went into the flower…you get the idea. Finally he puts the goldfish in Bert’s cowboy hat so that’s why Bert needs to try on the pot!  A silly example but believe me, I’ve seen people do this. They find a bag or container and say, “Oh, I can put my X in there.” So they end up with lots of things in containers and bags, but nothing really organized. Instead I recommend grouping items together in categories, then paring the category down to what you really use, then find the right container. Moving items around does not solve the problem of clutter and it can leave you with ridiculous consequences like a pot for a hat!
  6. Finally I learned that music can make any task bearable. I use it when I ask my family to help clean out the garage twice a year. We use it when we’re decorating the house for Christmas. And I find my clients sometimes need upbeat music to keep our momentum going or soothing background music to calm their nerves. Yes, as Barney, Sesame Street, and the Wiggles demonstrate on a daily basis, life is better when set to music. Try it as you clean out your file for tax time!

If you want to check out the Ernie & Bert video, here it is: