Get me organized

I wrote this post ages ago, and all the blog talk about New Years resolutions made me remember I never edited and posted it. One of my resolutions last year was to “become an organizational guru” and guess what? Check! Organizational guru status over here. I got organized and it literally changed my life to an embarrassing degree.

This post begins by necessity with an apology to every roommate I’ve ever had. I am so so sorry that I didn’t learn all this crap before you had to share a living space with me. Hopefully you can at least rest happily assured that I have reformed. Oh, and I guess also a warning that this is going to be really long and likely the most boring thing I’ve ever written, but I can’t help myself from writing it, and maybe it will at least light some fire in you to declutter and such.  So. You’ve been warned.

If you know me, you know that I lose everything and it drives me absolutely crazy. If you’ve lived with me, you know that I am a mess all the time and it doesn’t really bother me (except when I can’t find something).  Well, the binky pushed me over the edge. I was always always always looking for Camryn’s binky (if you know anything about babies addicted to binkies, the situation is generally time sensitive and made stressful by a crying baby) and it was making me loose my mind. So what I did was cut Camryn off the binky cold turkey (which went surprisingly well) and resolved and committed myself to some serious reform. If I couldn’t keep track of my things and keep my space clean in this teeny tiny apartment where we don’t actually have that many things and I have only have 1 child, I don’t even want to think how it will be when I have more children. Or a bigger space. Or more things. Or we live in a home for more than a year and I’m not forced to throw junk out because I’m moving all the time?

I decided that I needed to shape up and get the situation under control or I would have to be committed to the insane asylum by the time I turn 30.

Because I’m dana, I started by reading a couple books on the topic (asked my mother to borrow them in fact, to which she replied “sure you can borrow them. . . .if I can find them.”  To her credit, she did ;)) and finding and browsing organizational blogs, and those things helped a little bit, but really quickly I threw out the books and started intently and consciously doing what has made all the difference for me: I started thinking hard while I cleaned. I started assigning everything a place. I started being really honest and brutal with myself about what I use, don’t use, and what I actually need.

I used to be of the opinion that if someone had a house that was clean all the time, that meant that they must have no life and spend all of their time cleaning (or pay someone else to do it, I guess) I really truly thought that was the only way to it–because with my current system that is the only way I would have been able to keep things clean. I have a lot I want to accomplish in life, many hobbies, a long list of priorities, and making sure my house is clean all the time was not even on the list. I was resigned to the fact that having a clean, organized house required a lot of time that I just wasn’t willing to put into it. But what I’ve actually discovered is that being so disorganized was such a huuuuge drain on my time. I didn’t expect and never thought this would happen, but the reforms I’ve made have made every single thing I do easier and faster and have saved me so much time and effort. I spend the same amount of time, if not less, cleaning these days, and my house is WAY (way way way way) more clean and organized on average than it was on average before. And I rarely can’t find something!!! Hallelujah.

For me it wasn’t about carving out a huge chunk of time to organize, get it done, purge, containerize, and then it will be all better and function easily. I wanted to do that but I didn’t have time. How I did it was by starting to think. During the time I spent cleaning, I would just ask myself a million questions about my stuff and try to solve problems.

Why is this mess here? Where does this item go? Is there any way that I could make this more simple and easy? Can I store this somewhere that it is faster & easier to put away? Does my system here make sense?  Do I even have a system here? Do I need this? Is this item increasingly my quality of life or just taking up space in my apartment?

Wow, that sounds really cheesy. But I just would do that. And I realized that the reason there were always shoes all over the apartment is because the place they “go” is in our room (back of the apt) on the floor of the closet and that’s too far to walk 50 times a day to put shoes away—so I don’t put them away. It’s not because I’m lazy, it’s because it’s too much effort. So I put a bin right by the front door to put our shoes in and now it’s way easier to put them away, so now we always put them away.

I realized that we don’t have a place for the mail to go. We have a filing box to file mail that we need to keep for a while, but we don’t have anywhere to put today’s mail. And yesterdays mail. The bill we will pay in a few days, the coupon from gap, the invitation, the thank you card, the thing we are going to read or deal with or file but not right this second. We didn’t have anywhere designated for it to go, so it made it’s home on the end of our counter and our kitchen table and stuck to the fridge, and in a pile on the desk. And when those piles got overwhelming and I didn’t have time to go through them yet and file the important stuff–it all got stuffed in the junk drawers. I could never find anything when I actually needed it. So I grabbed a lidded box we have that used to hold office paper, set it on an easy-access but not taking up my counter space surface, and now the mail goes in that box. Novel idea right?  Unless it’s junk mail and then I throw it away immediately so that I don’t have to go through it later which is just spending more time on junk that I already looked at once and evaluated as junk, so why not just chuck it the first time instead of setting it on the counter?

I knew that not everything had a place, but was shocked by how many things didn’t. I’d pick different items up all day long and realize this does not have a home in my home.  Instead of shoving it in the junk drawer or a random closet, I would assign it a home. A candle, a battery, sidewalk chalk, a big mug, magazines, the remote control, tanner’s work badge, coloring books, a nice platter, our road atlas, a deck of cards, gift bags, a flashlight, a box of plastic forks. Since we’re always bringing new things into our house, not all of them had a home, so instead of letting them float around mindlessly–I decided where their home was.

I got rid of so many things. So. Many. Socks with holes in them, broken lamps, wedding gifts that I had kept only for sentimental reasons, only to realize I didn’t actually know who we got it from. You guys, HALF of the storage space in our last apartment was taken up by unused wedding gifts that I should have given away 5 moves ago and finally just gave them away. Old makeup. 6 towels because we had 12. 7 rubber spatulas because we had 14. 60 tupperware containers because we always bring leftovers home from the Staples sunday dinners. I got rid of the obvious clothes, then I got rid of the clothes that I don’t like or they don’t fit but I’ve been holding onto only for guilt reasons (i paid for them and should wear them. I could wear them. I might wear them.) then I got rid of the clothes that fit just fine, that I like just fine, but that I never ever wear anyway for who knows what reason. I either started wearing them or got rid of them. I did purging in stages because once wasn’t enough. I’d purge once and then come back 2 weeks later, see things and think “how did this make it through my first purge?” I got rid of things even if it made me feel guilty. I realized that’s the best way to relieve the guilt! Whereas if I keep it, I have to look at this every time I move and feel guilty all over again.

I finished off that giant jar of nuts that’s been taking up way too much space in our cupboard. I threw out that mystery sausage in our freezer. I started using that nice shampoo because what have I been saving it for??? I found out I own 43 tubes of chapstick, half of which aren’t even opened, and that I need to tell my mom to stop putting one in my stocking every year. I realized my old jewelry box was stuffed full of 200 bracelets I didn’t want anymore and one that I wanted to keep. I gave away the scrapbooking supplies/tools that I haven’t touched since i gave up scrapbooking at age 14. I threw out a lot of burned cd’s from high school, and consolidated our cd’s from 1 box, 1 large case, 1 small case, random stack in our car, random floaters in the junk drawers—to. . . one case.

The other thing I’m doing is to change habits. Once I’ve really organized something and made sure that it’s a functional system and there isn’t anything I could do it make it more simple–I start making it a habit to maintain that system. Dishes were a nightmare until I cleaned out my cupboards, assigned everything a place where it was easy to put away, got rid of duplicates or anything I didn’t have room for, and then I became a person that cleans the kitchen and runs the dishwasher every night before I go to bed. I found out it’s relatively easy to keep a clean kitchen clean all day, and nearly impossible to ever get to a clean kitchen if you started with a messy one in the morning. I never ever start making dinner anymore unless my kitchen is already clean–all surfaces empty. Because cooking in a clean kitchen is magic and cooking in a messy kitchen literally takes twice as long.

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Folding sheets and towels is the biggest waste of time, and if you just start that laundry in the morning and put them back on the bed/hang them on the rack before you go to sleep, you just saved yourself the chore of folding and putting them away. Also, folding childrens clothing is pointless. Dump that shiz straight in a basket/drawer and don’t even bother.

I’d look around my apartment after “flash cleaning” you know, like when someone is coming over? And ask myself “why does it still look messy? and slowly, over months, I’d chip away at those random piles that accumulated on desks and in corners and on empty surfaces. And once it was cleared away I wouldn’t ever let myself put something there that didn’t belong. And a p.s. on flash cleaning, I have a new method that works wonders (especially with kids there always seem to be so many little things and toy pieces/crayons kicking around that take forever to sort out and actually put away) When things get to be a huge mess and I just want it clean now, I run around the entire house with a big laundry basket or two throwing everything inside. Then I clean the floors, wipe the surfaces, and my house went from chaos to spotless in 15 minutes!  It might take me forever to put away all the crap from the laundry baskets, but sometimes you just need some instant gratification, right?

Oh, and there was the day the lovely Carly came to give my workspace some professional TLC.  

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So, if you are an organized person you’ve probably hit yourself on the forehead a million times during this post thinking–duh. Who doesn’t know this? How hard can it be? But it was really hard! I know how to clean, and I was always taught to work hard, but I’ve always been more of one to let things go their messy way and then spend hours cleaning at once. I never knew how to maintain a clean space, and people–it’s a skill. A skill that can be learned, I’m living proof! And the most important thing I’ve learned is that cleaning smart is much more important than spending a ton of time. Every single chore I do takes me less time than it used to, and all of that time adds up.

I jumped on that minimalist bandwagon and I am never ever going back. Minimalism deserves it’s own post (or 20), but basically–I’m done owning crap I don’t need. And I’m done trying to keep the stuff I actually need and use organized and accessible while it’s buried in all the junk I never use. This is definitely still a work in progress, and there will always be days or even weeks that this stuff goes out the window and I need to regroup. Hopefully there aren’t too many of you scratching your heads thinking “she’s a lier! I see her place a mess all the time!”–  It’s still a mess sometimes. But there’s a big difference between a surface mess that can be cleaned up in a day, and years worth of crap in unorganized jumbles in your closets, drawers and garages. I don’t have those messes anymore and it feels so so good.

So tell me, are you inspired or bored to tears?!?

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8 thoughts on “Get me organized

  1. Jody Bitton says:

    I loved this post! It really helped me evaluate the things that I could do better with my house. I also love that you don’t fold your toddler’s laundry either. I know so many people that do and it’s such a waste of time especially because Grant loves to pull all his clothes out of his drawer and make a “swimming pool.” Also, wouldn’t that be contradictory to write 20 posts on minimalism ;)?

  2. Alison Alleman says:

    To answer your question…inspired. But oh man, some nights after putting the kids to bed I just CAN’T clean that kitchen. Okay, almost every night it’s like torture. And I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no good “home” for that diaper bag or that stupid pull-up bar… oh, or the mop bucket that sits in the middle of my kitchen that I throw dirty rags in. It won’t fit under my sink! I’m really bad a coming up with a home for things. I’m a work in progress.

  3. Bethany says:

    I’m so inspired Dana. I feel the same way and my mess drives me crazy and seems to take over my life sometimes. I live in a tiny space and cleaning still seems to take SO MUCH TIME. I’m going to reform now. Thanks for the inspiration! Miss you. I’d give a lot to be able to go to the park with you again one of these days.

    • I miss you too Bethany! One of the things I miss most about Provo is being able to walk to the park any and have so many awesome friends to pass the hours with! Good luck with your reforms 🙂

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