How to Overcome Chronic Disorganization

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You've battled a chaotic house, office and desk all your adult life. Bills
go unpaid because you've misplaced them, trash piles up and you're
wearing your last pair of clean socks. Regardless of your best efforts
and unflagging desire to overcome the clutter, nothing seems to work.
Take heart. The following strategies may get you on the way to overcoming
chronic disorganization.

General tips

  • Identify the reasons why you are terminally disorganized. Do you have ADD or ADHD? If so, this is a clinical disorder that can be treated. See also 268 Organize Home Systems for ADD.

  • Take it one step at a time. Before you can mop or vacuum the floor, you need to pick up the toys, clothes and shoes. Reward yourself for each tiny task, and you'll be inspired to keep going.

  • Learn to let go of unrealistic expectations. Your home or office may not win any cleanliness awards, but having a system that works for you will make the difference.

Pair up

  • Hire a pro if even thinking about the task ahead overwhelms you. See 5 Hire a Professional Organizer.

  • Hire a weekly cleaning service to help you keep your home clean. See 64 Get Ready for the Housecleaner.

  • Ask a friend or relative to be your "organizing buddy." It will greatly increase your chances for success. Pick someone you trust and who can be totally honest, because he or she will be a hands-on partner every step of the way. Your buddy will help you overcome your reluctance to part with objects, haul your discard pile to the curb and help you figure out what to do with the remainder. Together, read 1 Get Organized for details on downsizing.

Clothes and objects

  • Clear a table or an area of the floor to use as a sorting stage. Define sections for the following categories: keep, give away or sell, fix, and discard.

  • Stand at a distance from your stuff and have your buddy be the one to pick up each item for you. This will make it easier for you to determine what to do with it.

  • Instruct your buddy to put each item in the appropriate pile.

  • Go through the keep pile and distill it further. Make sure everything that stays has a home in your house.

  • Donate designated items to charity, and set up a yard sale or eBay.com account to sell the rest (see 12 Get Rid of What You Don't Want). Ask your buddy to put the discard items in the trash if you can't bear to do it.

Pare down

  • Define an in/out ratio that will help you keep your clutter under control. For example, if you bring an item into your environment, get rid of two items. Your clutter will decrease dramatically.

  • Keep the lid on clutter by scheduling regular maintenance sessions with your organizing buddy.

Tips & Warnings

  • Tackle one room at a time. Each effort you make is a step in the right direction.
  • Contact the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (nsgcd.org) for tips and referrals to professional organizers.
  • Clutterless Recovery Groups (clutterless.org) has a bulletin board for people seeking clutter buddies.
  • Read 184 Conquer Your Paper Piles and 185 Create a Flawless Filing System. When filing papers, pick up each document and mutter (yes, mutter!) the first sentence that comes to mind. Have your buddy write that sentence on the folder and place the document inside. Examples are "Things I've Been Putting Off," "Stuff I Can Never Find," "The Good Old Days" and "When I Win the Lottery."
  • Or, organize your folders around emotionally oriented subject areas. For example, keep folders containing packing and travel checklists, travel insurance, and passport together in a drawer labeled "Stuff for Traveling."

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