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It Won't Stay Organized By Itself

The only way to keep your space organized without effort is to never, ever enter that room again. However, if you're like me, then you want to actually use the room and your possessions. So what do you need to keep the organization you've established?

— A Maintenance Habit —

Maintenance is more than just putting things away. It also includes evaluating why the item didn't make it back to its home location immediately after use.

  • Is the item's home too far from where you use it? — move the home. Sometimes a step away is too far. Move the home as close to where you use it (or routinely leave it). Examples: your keys, phone, and wallet should have a home either close to where you enter or where you drop them. Looking around my living room, I just realized that we put our laptops on the TV console instead of in our offices. So rather than fight the inevitable, I'll clear out the cubby hole below, which is storing unimportant items that can either be relocated or let go, and now our laptops and tablets have a home that should be easy to maintain.

  • Is putting the item back too complicated? — simplify the system or process. If the designated home is at the bottom of a stack of other items, you're less likely to make the effort to put it back because you now have to move other items just to get it back home. Even a box with a lid may be too much for your maintenance habit. Instead of lifting the lid and putting the item in, you may be more likely to just put it on top for now. There it remains to attract other stuff awaiting your attention. The solution is first to only have what you use regularly. Store the less-used items in the Cold Zone. Second, limit the number of items stacked, lids, or other things that prevent you putting the item back in one step. Finally, use additional tools to "stack" without stacking. A kitchen shelf organizer or sturdy magazine holders laying on their side can offer you individual homes that stack but easy access to maintain your organization. The tools shown link to Amazon but similar ones should be available at your local stores.

  • Is putting it back or maintaining the space actually someone else's responsibility? — find out why the system, the space, or the tools aren't working for them. Before you jump in and do it yourself or get frustrated and yell, help them evaluate why it's not working for them. Maybe the system you've set up doesn't make sense to them so there's no buy-in with the maintenance process. Maybe the designated home is in a poor location for them. Ask them where they think a good place to store the item is. And "them" is anyone who is not you — spouse, partners, children, family, employees, assistants, friends. Helping them evaluate the maintenance process helps build their organizing muscle and lightens your load.

You'll need to make maintenance a habit. Since a habit is something that is done routinely without thinking about it, a habit may take time and effort to build.

As a kid, closing the cabinet doors seemed an impossible habit to achieve. But as an adult it's instinctive now. Maybe the habit was cemented when I moved to my own home or maybe the taller I got, the more obvious the cabinet doors became. However, I still struggle with clearing my desk each night, since I think I'll get back to that project tomorrow.

Identify what actions you need to take to maintain your organization and focus on creating habits. Connecting a motto or chant to go with it can provide motivation and focus while you're building the habit. For example:

  • put it back where you got it

  • just do it now

  • clear the decks

  • it only takes a minute

  • or something much more creative 😊

You will also need to set aside time to do the maintenance. Consider committing to 15 minutes a day to clear your desk, tidy the living room, or put away your clothes. You could create a weekly event with all members of the household working in their spaces. An hour of maintenance followed by fun family time is a great habit to build. Even monthly maintenance time will be effective in keeping the clutter at bay.

  • Set a timer to assure yourself that it won't take forever

  • Make it a game to see if you can do more but in less time

  • If you don't believe 15 minutes will do any good, try it for 2 weeks, then let me know how it went.

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