If you're disorganised, unhappy with your clutter and the time wasted looking for things, and ready to get things in order, come along as we take a tour through the bestselling organisation book: Organising From The Inside Out.
You've got lots of stuff, you've got limited time, and those two factors conspire against you to turn your home, car, and office into a pit of disorganization. Today we're taking a look at tips from Julie Morgenstern's best-selling book Organising From The Inside Out. Let's get our spaces in order.
Organisation, as Morgenstern frames it, is not about having a picture perfect Home and Garden ready house—although you might get one in the process—it's about living and working in a space that reflects your values and houses your things so that you can work happily and effectively.
Why You're Disorganised
The biggest obstacle anyone has to overcome when dealing with a perennial problem—like shedding unwanted weight, learning to say no, or getting organised—is themselves. Photo by Tallkev.
Much like Neil Fiore's The Now Habit (a book we've previously reviewed), a significant portion of Organising From The Inside Out focuses on not the raw mechanics of organisation but on the physical and psychological aspects of disorganisation that are holding you back. Those include:
Technical Errors: Technical errors are physical glitches in your organisation system. If you want to clear off your desk every day, for example, but there really isn't anywhere to clear the stuff to—no file cabinet, no off-desk storage—then you'll never clear it off. If you have more stuff than you have storage space to store it, no amount of will power will change the physical laws of the universe.
External Realities: Size up the reality of your situation. How much time do you realistically have outside of work and personal commitments? If you've been stuck on the "I'm going to get this mess cleaned up this weekend!" rollercoaster for awhile, you'll need to focus on more schedule-friendly organisation sessions.
Psychological Obstacles: Morgenstern outlines how people fall victim to their own disorganisation through personal beliefs. Some people associate clutter with creativity. Some people feel secure when they have lots of stuff around them. Some people even let perfectionism cripple them, insisting that they'll get their home or office organized when they finally have the right amount of time and tools to make it happen. Photo by Basheer Tome.
Organising From The Inside Out is packed with examples from Morgenstern's career as a personal organiser covering the above situations and more. If you're struggling with any of the issues outlined above, especially the psychological motivations behind hanging onto clutter and chaos, you'll find the first 50 pages of the book especially interesting.
Analysing Your Current Situation
Once you've taken stock of the issues impeding your push towards a more organised life, it's time to take stock of what works, what doesn't, and what you need from a personal organisation and workflow system. Photo by jonathanb1989.
What's Working? Just because you've got a mess on your hands doesn't mean everything in your workflow is garbage. What tools, storage areas and time savers actually help you during your day?
What's Not Working? Write down all the things that aren't working in your home or office. What frustrates you? What do you have trouble finding? If you can never find your car keys and mobile phone, for example, setting up a landing strip or a charging station would really help.
What Items Are Most Essential? Morgenstern is very hands-on when it comes to dealing with clutter, and one of her more interesting suggestions involves getting a packet of Post-It style flags and sticking one on every item you use in your office. Over the course of a month you flag everything you use and, simultaneously, keep a log of all the things you can't find and waste time looking for. This exercise will show you what items are really important to you and need to be well organised and accessible. Photo by James Lee.
Why Do You Want To Get Organised? What motivates you to get organised? Do you want to find things more easily? Stop being late all the time for events? Be seen as reliable by your boss? Get to work stress free? Write all the reasons down on your legal pad.
What's Causing The Problem? This is an extension of the original exercises in the "why you're disorganised" section of the book we summarized above. List all the things that are preventing you from getting organised. Whatever the cause, however unrelated it might seem on the surface, write it down. You're tired all the time? Maybe you need to evaluate your sleep schedule-and reboot it to get the rest you deserve. Chasing a project list that the whole department couldn't finish in a year? Maybe you need to overhaul your project list so it doesn't crush your soul and clear out your to-do list.
Create An Action Plan For Banishing Clutter
You've identified the sources of your clutter, the motivation for getting uncluttered, and all the works-great and not-so-great widgets in your workflow. Now it's time to start getting organised. Photo by Mark Holloway.
Setting Up Stations: Morgenstern's secret weapon against disorganisation is to organize her client's homes, offices, and auxiliary spaces using the same techniques kindergarten teachers use. In a kindergarten classroom materials are segregated by activity. There are stations for everything from practicing writing to modelling with clay to having snacks.
This is the same model you want to embrace when it comes to organising your spaces. Start the process by making a list of the zones you need-mail sorting zone, laundry zone, study zone-and all the things that need to be in that zone.
Map Out Your Spaces: It's likely your current spaces are poorly set up. Once you've determine the different zones you need for your workflow, get out the legal pad again. Sketch out the space you want to organise. Start grouping things by activity instead of by where they were shoved when you originally put them away. Photo by Tim Herrick.
Give Honest Time Estimates: Real organisation and cleaning takes time. Hell, it takes enough time just to shove everything out of sight before company comes, we don't need to pretend that getting organised happen any faster. If you've got a serious mess on your hands, estimate no less than 2-3 days to clean each room (1-2 if it's moderately organized already). You're not going to clean your whole house in a weekend-it took way longer for a weekend to trash it after all-and it'll just demoralise you to set unrealistic timetables.
Attack And Organise With S.P.A.C.E.
You've analyzed your clutter, made notes on what kind of zones you need in your kindergarten-style station system, and you've estimated the time it's going to take. Now what? Now you attack the problem with Morgenstern's S.P.A.C.E. method. <(If this sounds familiar, it's because we covered it on Lifehacker last year.) em>Photo by Nicki Varkevisser.
Sort: Sorting is the stage most people get totally bogged down in so it's best to start this process when you're well rested and ready for the challenge. It's critical not to get sucked into the zig-zag organisation trap. Get out some boxes or laundry baskets and label them, then place lost items in them. If you have something that goes to the garage, don't take it there now, instead just put it in the laundry basket labelled "Garage".
Purge: Once you've sorted through it it's time to start getting rid of it. It's time to get rid of the duplicate, broken and unused stuff.. Focus on the benefits of getting rid of stuff (like having more space and less to clean) to motivate you to toss, sell or donate.
Assign A Home: You've got a list of zones now and everything should have a zone. Pick a consistent and useful location for every item. Umbrellas are only used outside and go by doors, staplers are used at desks and should be in easy reach, infrequently used peripherals can go under monitor stands, and so on.
Containerise: Use containers to capture items that would otherwise clutter up surfaces. Whether you're picking simple boxes for an office closet or leather boxes to organise and accent your office décor, pick containers that are sturdy and easy to move. If it's not easy to move and open it won't get used.
Equalise: No matter how well you've organised things initially it will all fall apart if you make no adjustments. Morgenstern likens it to starting your car, locking your arms straight, and driving without making any adjustments. No matter how straight the course when you start driving eventually you'll run into something and get in a wreck. Set up dates on the calendar, say every month when you first get started, to evaluate your whole system and decide if it's working or needs some serious tweaking. Roles, jobs, and needs change; what works just fine for you right now might not work so well in a year.
Although it seems like we surely must have reviewed the entire book in the preceding article, the skill building section of the book only takes us about a fifth of the way through the book. The bulk of the book is spent discussing extremely detailed tips and tricks on organising everything from your office files to your deep winter storage and everything in between. Even if you're sure you've got an organisation routine down pat, you'll likely find more than a few tips and trick you've never thought of in the later sections of Organising From The Inside Out.
Julie Morgenstern is a professional organizer and the best selling author of several organisation books including Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Life, Never Check Email in the Morning, and Time Management from the Inside Out.