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If you have tried and failed to get organized in the past, please read this

by respaced on January 9, 2012

How often have you hit the January sales at places like the Container Store and bought a bunch of products, determined that THIS time you would get and stay organized? How many times have you promised yourself you would get your home organized once and for all, only to find the clutter has creeped back in seemingly overnight?

First of all, please know that you are not alone. It is very common to try many times to get organized without success. Similar to how it may take many times to quit smoking or to lose weight, getting organized is often achieved only after many attempts.

Getting organized is difficult, because so often we focus on making changes to our space (eg. buying more containers, rearranging the living room) when what we really need to do is make changes to our thoughts and behaviors. If we can change our thoughts, then we can change our behaviors. If we can change our behaviors, then we can change our outcomes.

Here are some examples of thoughts, behaviors and the outcomes they create that keep us disorganized:

1. Thought: “I should save this old margarine container, because it might be useful to store something some day.”

Behavior: You save all of your old margarine containers.

Outcome: You end up with no room to store useful things in your cupboards, because they are too full of things you are afraid to throw out. You might end up leaving the useful things out on the counter because there is no room in the cupboards. Now you have no counter space either.

2. Thought: “I will leave this sweater out on the table to remind me to return it to the store.”

Behavior: You leave the sweater out on the table, along with other visual reminders of errands you need to run.

Outcome: Your table looks cluttered because of the reminders you have left there. This makes it difficult for everyone to eat at the table at the same time. Furthermore, the visual reminders don’t work, so you reap the consequences of neglecting to do important things.

3. Thought: “I’m too tired to put my clothes away after I get dressed for bed, so I’m just going to leave them in a pile on the floor.”

Behavior: You heap your clothes in a pile on the floor every night before bed.

Outcome: Your bedroom looks messy. You don’t feel relaxed in a messy bedroom; you feel stressed and frustrated instead. Sometimes you even feel embarrassed. And you don’t always have certain clothes clean and ready to wear when you need them.

If we become scientists of ourselves, we can ask ourselves, what is the current condition that is bothering me? Then we can analyze what pattern of thoughts and behaviors got us there. Sometimes we can figure this out on our own. Other times we need a trusted friend, a professional organizer or a counselor to help us figure it out.

The key is to Know Our Thoughts and Behaviors. Only then can we start down the path of getting organized once and for all.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa January 10, 2012 at 4:34 am

Just found your blog recently and I must say I love your ideas and tips. By far the most practical organizing, decluttering help I’ve found. The only negative thing for me is that the blog is hard to read – the font is too small and especially when paired with the green color, I have a hard time reading it!! But again, I really like the information you are sharing and will continue to check out your blog regularly!

thanks,
Lisa

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respaced January 11, 2012 at 12:03 am

Lisa, THANK YOU so much for your honesty! I just asked my Facebook readers if they too thought the print was too small, and they all said yes! So I will be fixing that really soon. And it wouldn’t have occurred to me to think about the font size if you hadn’t spoken up. I really appreciate the feedback. Take care.

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Jasmine January 11, 2012 at 4:44 am

I agree that the font size is too small, so please fix it whenever you can. 🙂

In the mean time, I press Ctrl-+ (or Cmd-+ for Mac-users) to increase the font size in my browser (Firefox). For others running into the same problem, here or anywhere else, I suggest you do the same.

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respaced January 11, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Thanks for the feedback, Jasmine. I will definitely get the font size fixed right away. And thanks for the tip for increasing the font size using shortcut keys. Hopefully, I can work with my web designer today on making the font bigger!

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Emily @ Make It Happen Mama January 12, 2012 at 4:09 am

A wonderful post, as usual! I love how you break everything down into behavioral analysis, MaryJo 🙂

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respaced January 12, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Thanks, Emily! It’s an area I’m so fascinated in, because I believe it holds the key to making meaningful change in our lives once and for all. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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laura k January 17, 2012 at 4:35 pm

I struggle with the empty container hoarding problem. I recently got rid of a bunch of old take-out containers that I use for lunches and freezing food. For some reason, this weekend I went on a soup-making binge, but now I don’t have enough containers to store it all. Sigh…my hoarding instinct is now reinforced.

The good news is that I won’t have to cook for a while!

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respaced January 17, 2012 at 5:07 pm

That is always great news when you don’t have to cook for a while (I personally loathe cooking.) Will your family actually eat all of that soup or do you find that you eat it for a few days, then get tired of it and end up forgetting that you still have containers of it in the back of your freezer? This may indicate that you don’t need to make as much soup. Also, I don’t recommend that people use old plastic containers to store their leftovers. Those old containers, such as margarine and cottage cheese containers, can melt in the microwave. Furthermore, they release carcinogens when they are heated in the microwave or dishwasher. Perhaps buy some good, ol’ Tupperwear instead? It’s good to have leftover containers — I have about 10 myself. The trick is to limit how many you own. Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

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laura k January 17, 2012 at 7:59 pm

It’s just me (well, and the cat, but she doesn’t really like soup!), so I make what I want and, yes, I’ll eventually eat it all. The convenience of not having to cook and the money savings always outweigh having to eat the same thing for days on end — at least for me. I often cook on the weekend and end up eating the same thing for lunch (and sometimes dinner) all week.

I did not realize that Tupperwear is okay for the microwave. (Google is my friend!) I have some older pieces (bigger ones from the 70s or 80s maybe) but mainly use Rubbermaid and Oxo containers for my lunches. I’ll have to remember to use the take-out containers only at home for defrosting enough so I can dump the frozen soup into a pot for reheating on the stove. Thanks for the info!

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