Do This One Thing to Defeat Disorganization Forever


Some people are just born to be organized.

Labeling and categorizing comes naturally. Itineraries and schedules are seen as welcomed tools. These are the people that can easily lay their hands on a shopping receipt, the water bill, or the warranty on the refrigerator at a moment's notice.

I admire these people. I even envy them at times. But I am not one of them… not even close.

It's not that I don't appreciate the benefits of a good system… I do. But my brain just doesn't work that way. As counter-productive as it might be, I am innately disorganized to my core. And I have been that way for as long as I can remember.

Which is why I knew I had to write this post.

See, it's easy for an organized person to tell you how to bring order into your life. Throw stuff away, they counsel. And do one thing at a time.

But for those of you — like me — who have trouble with those concepts, this kind of advice simply won't work. I do throw things away for instance, but one look at my closet or my garage and you'll know it's not nearly enough. And I'd love to focus on just one thing at a time, if only my mind (and my attention span) would cooperate.

So, if you and I have this in common, if you too struggle with inherent disorganization in a relatively organized world, then this post is for you.

Do this one thing, and defeat your disorganization for good.

Build Your Own System

I spent years trying to work within the commonly accepted model. File important papers alphabetically for example, and if you haven't used something in a year, toss it out. A place for everything and everything in its place.

But those rules simply didn't work for me and the more I tried to adhere to that kind of structure, the more overwhelmed I began to feel.

I have spiral notebooks full of story ideas that are older than a year, but toss them out? I think not. I also have the megaphone from my cheerleading days — decades old, I might add — and certainly not anything I'll be using anytime soon. Does it have "a place?" No. It's bulky and dented and dusty and it doesn't really "fit" anywhere. Is it something I really need to keep? You betcha.

Filing things alphabetically isn't a "bad" idea per se, but let's be honest. Asking me to set up (and follow through with) said filing system is like asking me to stash my socks in those cute, individual cubbies they make for dresser drawers. It's a nice thought, but it's probably not going to happen.

So, I've created a system that works for me instead, and you can too.

Here's how you do it.

Find Your Flow

We all have a preferred way of doing things and finding yours is the key to building your system. So, look around and see what makes sense to you.

What items do you most need to find on a regular basis? What items are you most likely to misplace? Do you frequently write down phone numbers or passwords or other important information on envelopes or scraps of paper?

I do, and then would have to spend hours trying to find the right "scrap" when I needed that information again. To remedy that, I keep a steno pad handy at all times to record those little tidbits of data. It's not a "pretty" way to organize that information, but I haven't had to hunt down an old sticky note in ages.

Find Your Place(s)

And all those spirals containing my writing? They're in a box that sits underneath my desk. I know where it is, it's easily accessible, and I can take from it or add to it whenever I need. I do the same with receipts I want to keep and all our various warranties go straight into a drawer in the kitchen the moment they enter our house.

Warranties also share space with our chargers, but it's a deep drawer so it works fine and again, both of these item now have a "place" that I can work with, even if it's not the most logical arrangement.

My socks also make it to a drawer, but that's about as much as I can promise. Sometimes, they're matched, sometimes they're not, but they're all in the same place and that's good enough for me.

The point is to create a system that works the way you work and addresses the areas you struggle with the most.

Remember, the whole point of being organized is ultimately to make life easier. You want to find things when you need them, without having to launch an all-day search and rescue. And contrary to popular opinion, there's more than one way to achieve that goal.

Building your own system allows you to create your own version of "order," even if that version still looks chaotic to your more traditionally organized counterparts.

What About Clutter?

Will this get rid of all the clutter?

It depends on how deep your clutter runs. The reason that disorganized people find themselves surrounded by clutter is that we haven't yet decided what to do with all that stuff.

I have tons of craft supplies for instance, and at some point in my life, I've had specific plans for each and every one. If I can comfortably say that I'm no longer interested in doing a particular project, it's easy to get rid of the supplies in question.

But that's not always the case.

So, I compromised. I keep the supplies not being used in a plastic tub in the back of my closet. The supplies I use frequently are kept in a smaller tub that slides underneath my bed.

Is it a perfect solution? It's perfect for me!

Building your own system may not permanently clear out all the clutter, but it at least organizes the "stuff" together, so that you can focus on how to store it. And that makes it easier to find the things you use without weeding through the things you don't.

So. Does this mean I won't have to throw things away?

You'll still eventually have to "spring clean" and clear things out, especially when you need to make space for the new "stuff" you need to store.

You can however, use this model to give yourself more time to come to that decision by making your potential junk less of a nuisance while you assess your options and remember, there's more than one way to "get rid" of something.

Maybe you can find a way to upcycle the item into something you'll actually use. Maybe a friend or relative will mention they're looking for that very thing, allowing you to say, "Hey, I just happen to have one you can use!"

You can also donate the items, sell them on eBay or Craigslist, host a garage sale, or in some instances, wrap them up and give them as gifts (use common sense with that last one). (See also: Do This One Thing to Defeat Clutter Forever)

What About Non-Stuff Clutter?

That sounds great, but what about organizing the non-tangible aspects of my life?

So, you're starting to see your physical environment take a more organized shape, but still you're struggling with things like appointments, reminders, bills, and due dates?

The same basic approach still applies.

I don't work well with day planners for example, but I do love lists and as luck would have it, my cell phone has a simple notes app that keeps those lists forever at my fingertips.

I have a running grocery list that gets updated any time I notice we're out of something, a list of clothing sizes (should I want to shop for the family), and another list for thoughts and ideas that that come to me when I'm out and about and my spirals aren't within reach.

Birthdays, anniversaries, appointments, bill dates, and trash days are easily managed with the generic reminder app, but if you want something fancier, there are plenty of ready-made apps to help keep you on track as well. (See also: The 10 Best Productivity Apps for Really Busy People Like You)

The key to success here is to write it down (or type it in) when you think of it. Don't assume you'll remember later, because you won't.

Where to Start?

Okay, but one last question… where do I start?

My organized friends would tell you to pick an area, be it a room or one of those non-tangible aspects, organize it and then move to the next area. Focus on one thing at a time.

And that's not bad advice. It just may not be the best advice for you.

My recommendation is to pick the areas that need your attention the most. After all, restoring order to your kitchen cabinets might give you a sense of accomplishment, but it will be short-lived if your electricity is turned off because you forgot to pay the bill.

So, start with your most immediate concerns, then work your way out from there. And don't be afraid to think outside the box because chances are, that's where you'll find the best solutions to defeating your disorganization for good.

Have you defeated disorganization? What worked for you?

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Guest's picture

I love steno pads. The best organizational tools I have. I have bought all kinds of calendars, notebooks, schedulers, printed to do lists, and nothing works like a steno pad.