One day about two years ago, I decided to find out how much the clutter in my office was costing me. The answer amazed me. After a few days working with a professional organizer, I immediately increased my monthly income by about 50%. And if you can imagine anything better than that – my stress level dropped to almost nothing. What I learned about organizing has made a huge impact in my business and my life. Here are five things I learned about the value and process of organizing that were key to achieving such amazing results:
1. Organizing, weeding, and taking care of open issues are distinctly separate activities. Try to do them at the same time, and you run into trouble.
If you’ve ever hired a housecleaning service, you may have noticed how quickly they get the job done. This is because all they do is clean. They don’t get distracted picking up clutter, or fixing broken things, or deciding if something should go to Goodwill.
The problem with organizing our own stuff is that everything we own requires a decision or reminds us of something we intended to do. So, instead of “getting through the box”, we spend our time taking care of what we find in the box. This approach takes a lot of time – it’s common to end up with the box still full hours later. Working this way is frustrating and overwhelming.
The professional organizer sees things differently. She sorts through an entire box in 20 minutes, easily. She has no emotional attachment to the items in the box – to her they are simply objects with a use, size, shape, and category attached to them. Her job is to get them into piles and find homes for them. All the things that need to be taken care of get put in a “take care of” pile and can be addressed once the organizing part of the job is done.
2. Everything has a home, absolutely everything.
You can’t put something away if you don’t know where it goes. If you look at a pile of clutter, in most cases it exists because 80% of the contents either don’t have a home, or the home is not easily accessible. Anything that will reside in your space, even temporarily, needs a home. This includes keys, borrowed books, business cards, thank you notes, and single sheets of paper with scribbled notes on them.
The “home” is specifically designed around ease of use. It’s located where the item is most often used, and it has a container or hook that fits. The containers and hooks are critical. They make it easy to retrieve items and easy to put them back where they belong. They also reduce the chance of items getting in the way of each other.
The biggest benefit of assigning homes to everything is that a mess that used to take three hours to clean only takes ten minutes. Why? Because you grab the stuff and put it where it belongs. You don’t even have to think. I thought that when my office got organized, I would have to file a few minutes every day to keep everything looking perfect. What I found is that even if I let my filing stack up for an entire month, I could get caught up on it in less than 20 minutes. What a relief!
3. Create decision criteria, so you know immediately what to keep and what to throw away.
If you don’t decide what to keep and what to throw away you have a lot of items taking up space that don’t have homes (because you aren’t sure you’ll keep them) and aren’t in the trash (because you haven’t decided to let them go).
Here’s where my organizer really helped me. She gave me a simple over-riding guideline and asked really good questions whenever I was confused. It went something like this:
The over-riding guideline: You only keep something if you use it regularly, or you love it.
Then, every time I wasn’t sure about something, she would ask me a series of great questions:
a. What situation are you keeping it for?
b. How often does that situation occur?
c. What will you do if that situation occurs and you don’t have it?
Inevitably we would find a lot of things I was keeping because they were “too good” to throw away. Now all these items get donated to places where they will be used.
Once I had created my rules, everything went much more quickly. I would “weed” first, by throwing out or donating everything that didn’t fall into the “keep” criteria. Then once I got to the organizing, it was simply a matter of sorting and finding homes for everything that was left.
4. I wouldn’t have done it myself.
If I pay close attention, this is what happens when I organize alone: I get frustrated because it’s taking too long; I get bored because it’s not interesting work; I get distracted because I think of other important “revenue producing” activities I should be focusing on; I get angry when I discover something I intended to do that fell through the cracks; I stop and try to solve problems as I uncover them. All these negative thoughts and emotions drain my energy and pull me away from the task at hand.
With my organizer the experience is quite different: She sorts quickly and easily because she has no emotional connection to my stuff. As issues come up, we discuss them, and because she has lots of experience with similar situations, decisions come quickly. There is a sense of teamwork, forward movement, and the relief of having someone experienced to lean on who will insure that the project continues to move forward, even when I’m lagging behind.
5. The return on investment is enormous.
For me it was several thousand dollars. It started with about four extra hours per week. On top of that I had a more powerful presence that came from knowing I had everything under control. I was more prepared when I gave presentations, I had a better follow up system, I put more thought into my writing, because I was more relaxed about taking the time to think. That translated into more powerful personal interactions, which translated into more business. My monthly revenue immediately increased by about 50% after the initial organizing effort, and never dipped back.
It’s been about two years now since my first experience with an organizer. Since then I’ve continued to use an organizer periodically, to replace systems as they become obsolete, or to save me if I’ve let things go for more than a few months. Even though it’s a smaller, more intense effort, I consistently experience more confidence, more time, and increased business in the weeks following the visit.