A Life Reorganized
In early 2015, as I recovered from a brain injury, I also faced the disappointments of turning 40 and feeling that my life was not where I wanted it to be.
Some women nurse that pain with plastic surgery or a new designer handbag. During a 4-month hiatus from the online world, I hatched a plan to “reorganize” my life. I decided I would sell my apartment. I made a plan to expand the scope of my business so that I could work from anywhere, which would enable me to travel more and avoid harsh NYC winters.
“Reorganize” sounds like a nice term. Of course, if you’ve ever organized or reorganized anything — whether a closet or a company — you know that reorganization can be a messy and difficult process. Life reorganization is no different.
Whether you’re reorganizing or reinventing your career, a company, or your home, certain principles apply. Here are 7 things to know about organizing anything:
(1) The Process is Messy and Hard
Here is the basic process to organizing anything:
Step 1: Take Inventory.
You start by pulling everything out and taking inventory of what you have. This is the messy part: all of the contents of your closet in the middle of the room.
If you’re organizing your life, you’ve got to “empty out” all the bits and pieces of your past and look at what you’re still holding on to. This type of personal excavation is messy and difficult.
Step 2: Eliminate.
Next, you must go through and eliminate what no longer serves you. This can be hard both emotionally and mentally because it requires a lot of decisions and releasing. Decisions require a lot of cognitive energy. Releasing is a heavy emotional drain.
Whether you’re getting rid of old stuff, letting go of employees, or ending relationships or projects, the decisions about what stays and what goes, and the subsequent release of those things that you’re discarding, takes a toll. It’s intense emotional work, and you can expect that energy drain to cause fatigue.
Step 3: Organize.
Finally, you take stock of what remains and determine the best way to arrange it so that it will be functional for you to use it going forward. This requires a lot of awareness of how you work and operate, and this is where things can break down.
Here’s an example: I once worked with an organizer who put all of my “gifts to give” inside a cabinet. But for me, “out of sight” is “out of mind.” Those gifts never made it to their recipients. I learned that I need to put things like that where I can see them (or, even better, send them immediately to their intended recipients).
When it comes to reorganizing your life, you need similar awareness of what environments and conditions work best for how you prefer to work and live. For example, if you hate cold weather, it probably doesn’t make sense to move to a cold climate.
(2) Organizing Requires a Values Assessment
Decluttering and organization force us to assess our values and priorities.
Are the things you have in your closet or your life here because you truly want them? Or are you holding onto something because of some emotional reason, such as:
- someone gave it to you and you don’t want to hurt them by letting go of it;
- you think you need it to be accepted or approved by others;
- it reminds you of something or someone from your past that you hesitate to release.
Whether you’re tackling a cabinet or your career, the declutter and reorganization process requires you to answer some tough questions:
- What’s really important to you?
- What do you really need to feel good in your life?
- What brings you meaning and joy?
(3) You’ll Discover Things You Thought You Lost or Forgot You Had
It’s not all hardship and heartache. What inevitably happens when you reorganize your closet is that you find things you forgot you had or that you thought you lost. That necklace that would have been perfect with the dress you wore to your friend’s wedding last year. Your favorite pair of jeans from college. The vintage handbag you thought you gave away.
This happens with a life reorganization too. Except the “things” you find aren’t things. They are traits, emotions, qualities, or skills. Parts of yourself that may have been dormant for a long time.
Courage. Resilience. Determination. Bravery. Resourcefulness. Creativity.
Discovering these things is one of the most rewarding parts of the process.
(4) You’ll Discover You Have More Capacity Than You Thought
The quickest way to get more space in your home is to declutter and reorganize. When you declutter your possessions, you discover that your closets aren’t small at all — there is plenty of space for all that you truly need. You may not need that bigger apartment after all.
A life declutter illuminates the same truth: you have capacity to hold in your life all that you truly want to hold. You can free up a lot of space in your schedule by eliminating:
- commitments that no longer serve your values and mission
- tasks that you don’t need to do
- your need to control every aspect of a situation
- friendships with people who drag down your energy
It’s amazing what you can find space for when you are willing to let go of things that don’t serve you.
(5) You’ll Build Crucial Life-Skill Muscles
Reorganizing a home and a life is a workout for crucial life skill muscles: Decisions. Releasing. Detachment. Values clarifications. Priorities. Trust (what if I need it again?). It also forces us to ask for and receive help (see #7), which are also important life skills.
(6) It’s a Constant Process
First, let’s clarify the difference between decluttering and organizing.
You don’t necessarily need to do them together, although you’ll get the best results if you declutter before you organize.
Decluttering creates space for things, but decluttering alone is typically insufficient. It tackles the situation at a static moment in time. The moment you bring something new into the container, you are back to building clutter. Consider your inbox: you spend time to get to “inbox zero” only to receive email again in 5 minutes. Unless you stop all incoming email (which is unrealistic) you will quickly face the problem again, unless you create a system.
Organization is about creating the system to create space for things. As new things come into the container (your home, your life, your inbox) you know where they go and you put them there.
When done well, organizing can be a longer-term solution to the declutter problem.
The Trap to Avoid
Where many people fail with organization is that they think that once they create the system they can run it on autopilot. That’s a mistake. For the system to continue to work, you must constantly attend to it: evaluate how it’s working, whether you need to tweak it, and what needs to change.
If you stay vigilant with your system, you can implement small tweaks over time to keep the system functional. If you neglect it, you will soon find yourself facing a big declutter project.
This is true across the board in life: closets, home, inbox, relationships, business. Every system needs constant attention and continuous improvement.
(7) You Can’t Do It Alone
For years, I’ve helped friends and clients declutter and organize. In fact, before I decided to go into the real estate business I considered becoming a personal organizer. Organizing is like solving a puzzle, which is one of my best skills, and something that I love to do.
When it comes to my personal life, however, I’m not that great at decluttering. I need to have support from another person.
Before I put my apartment on the market last year, I hired a professional organizer to help me declutter my apartment. Some people close to me asked me: do you really need to pay someone to help you with that?
My answer was: YES!!
Release the Shame
There was a time that I felt shame about this. I had a feeling of “I should be able to do this for myself. I do this for other people.”
But here’s the truth: We are all this way — it’s hard to do for ourselves what we can do for others. Even if you don’t need the help, you will benefit from an external person who can challenge your assumptions and attachments and help you let go.
Also, I know that certain types of decluttering and organizing drain my energy. I need someone who can keep me engaged through it.
If you feel shame about needing help, remember that this is why professional organizers, coaches and consultants are in business. If people didn’t need help, these industries wouldn’t be growing exponentially.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We all need help.
Remember that one of the skills we build in decluttering the skill of releasing things. Consider releasing your shame around asking for support to be the first item on your list of things to release.
I’d love to hear what parallels you have found between organizing different areas of your life and business. Please share in the comments!