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Don’t beat yourself up if your clutter piles come back — try this instead

by respaced on March 5, 2012

I can tell you first-hand that there is a kind of “high” that comes with finally getting a space in your house organized. All that hard work sorting and purging pays off in a big way when we get to stand back and survey all the clear space we created. We feel a sense of relief, hope and excitement as we imagine the possibilities of our newly organized space.

But that feeling wears off after a few weeks or a few months when the more monotonous work of keeping that space organized settles in. This is a dangerous time for most of us, because it is the time we are most likely to backslide. Backsliding is when people stop utilizing new habits to keep their space organized and instead start falling back on old, bad habits that created the initial chaos in their home.

Why do we backslide? Because it can be hard to break old habits and to stick to new ones. Have you ever moved your trash can to a different part of your room? You might recall how, for a long time after you moved the trash can, you kept throwing trash in the corner where it used to stand. It’s hard to get used to change. It takes a lot of time and patience with the process AND with ourselves.

It’s very common to backslide, and it’s difficult not to feel guilty and a sense of failure when we start to see the clutter piles come back. However, I encourage you to see backsliding as the priceless opportunity that it is. When we backslide, it gives us the chance to take an analytical look at ourselves to figure out the precise point at which we start to stumble. Instead of silently cursing ourselves, we can walk backwards through our actions step-by-step to discover the exact trigger that caused our organization goals to derail.

For example, maybe you have finally gotten your clothes closet organized. You have pared down what you owned to the essentials, assigned a home to each item and purchased some key products that will best store each item. But after a couple of months, you notice that the clothes pile on your bedroom floor is starting to grow again. You are not putting things back in the closet in their proper spot. You are backsliding.

At this point, many people will throw up their hands in failure and decide that they will never be organized, so why bother trying.  But instead of giving up, try approaching this problem as a mystery to be solved. Be the detective of your own life. Trace your steps backward starting from the point that you throw the clothes on the floor. By doing this, you might discover that the reason you throw them on the floor is because you are too tired each night to take the time to hang them up in the closet. The problem is solved by changing into your pajamas an hour before you go to bed when you still have the energy to put your clothes away. Bam! Mystery solved, backsliding ended. You are now back on track.

Backsliding doesn’t have to signal failure. Never does it mean that you are lazy or a slob. Instead, it can be a sign that you haven’t fully uncovered all the reasons for your disorganization in the first place. It can also be a sign that you simply need more time and more practice to make the new habits stick. If you are having a hard time remembering to implement your new habits, check back here on Friday when I will blog about some tried-and-true strategies for making those habits stick.

If you find that you cannot figure out why the backsliding is happening, seek out the advice of a professional organizer, life coach or therapist. Sometimes you need an outside perspective to shed some light on your behavior.But whatever you try, don’t give up on yourself. Everyone deserves to live an organized life. That includes you.

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