It's Hard to Make a Difference When You Can't Find Your Keys : The Seven-Step Path to Becoming Truly Organized
By Marilyn Paul, Ph.D.
Recently, Melissa, one of my clients, told me, "I don't like being disorganized. I waste a lot of time looking for things. I hate the way my apartment looks. I miss appointments because I forget to write things down. I'm looking for an exciting, responsible job, and I know I need to change. But when I have free time, I don't like to spend any of it cleaning, or putting things away. I want to visit friends, go to the movies, have some fun."
Melissa has summed up a core dilemma around getting organized. She wants to get organized, but she doesn't want to spend any time doing it. She wants the results, but isn't ready to change herself to get them. So far, she has managed to escape most of the pain of her disorganization. Melissa is known by her colleagues to be a little scattered, but she is delightful, and her forgetfulness is easily forgiven. She hasn't lost a promotion or a life partner because of her disorganization. Without a good, strong reason to change, Melissa won't. She doesn't think that it is worth the effort, and, right now, she doesn't pay a high-enough price. What Melissa has not yet recognized is that a few well-chosen organizing habits can actually save her time and energy, reduce her stress, and help her find and flourish in the job of her dreams.
By contrast, Ruth, a single mother and a high school teacher, is well aware of the price that she pays for being disorganized, both at home with her children and at work with her colleagues. Ruth's life has become painful to her. Her habit of overbooking herself and running late has led to a chronic feeling of being squeezed. Her indecisiveness has led to taking on more than she can handle. She feels pressure almost all of the time. She can see clearly that organizing would bring her more of what she wants in life. She is ready to change so that she can do more of what is really important to her with less of that frenzied feeling.
Most disorganized people have no interest in being organized for its own sake. Why get organized if you don't enjoy the process or value the result? You probably don't want to get organized just to be tidy or punctual (even the words might evoke distaste) When you create order not for the sake of order alone, but to manifest something that is deeply important to you, you get the fuel for change.
A strong, meaningful purpose for organizing will be the motivation and pivot point around which your organizing will take place. When you forget why you ever started getting organized, when you want to give up, you'll draw on your purpose and that will give you direction and energy. Organizing is hard work-it entails a change of mind, heart, and action. Like other worthy endeavors that demand a lot from you, it requires determination, commitment, and grit. If you set out to build a business, be a good athlete, or learn another language, you would prepare yourself with a clear intent. You have to do the same thing for getting organized.
Finding things when you want them, feeling less stress, living in a pleasant place, keeping agreements, experiencing fewer family fights, keeping your desk clear: as good as these reasons are, they won't sustain you when the going gets rough. You can probe your good reasons for getting organized to reveal your purpose. For each good reason, you ask a question: Why do I want that? Why do I want to find things more easily? So that I can have a greater sense of readiness for action, for example. Why do I want to feel less stress? So that I can experience greater health, energy, and well-being, so that I can enjoy my life. Why do I want to keep agreements? So that people sec me as reliable and trustworthy.
As you build on your reasons to develop a strong purpose, you start to see that organizing can help you bring more desirable qualities into your life:
The confidence of finding things when you need them
The reliability of showing up when you say you will
The beauty of living in a place that is aesthetically pleasing
The creativity of working in a supportive atmosphere
The responsibility of meeting deadlines
The integrity of knowing that your word is good
The calm of knowing that you can count on yourself
Take a moment to write down a few qualities that describe what you are longing for. Ask yourself what qualities you want to express in your life. Would you like to be serene under pressure? Would you like more self-confidence? Would you like more open-heartedness? Your list might include: self-esteem, security, relaxation, peace of mind, more energy, freedom, creativity, access to knowledge, reliability, serenity, clarity, focus, beauty, perspective, or spaciousness.
Another way to discover your purpose for organizing is to think of something that you would really like to do or to be in life and you can't do it because you are disorganized. For instance, if you truly want to take leadership in your community, develop a strong, intimate relationship, create a loving family, or be known as a trustworthy healer-but you can't do those things because you are unreliable, chaotic, chronically late, messy, or break your promises-then you have a strong purpose for getting organized. Purpose is about who and how you want to be. Your purpose for organizing will support your life purpose. Your life purpose is often about something beyond yourself, or bigger than yourself; it is about your contribution. While you don't need to know your life purpose to get value from this book, you may discover it in the process of clearing up your mess.
Ask yourself why you want to get organized. What is your disorganization preventing you from having or experiencing in your life? Think for a moment about why you picked up this book: what do you hope to gain from getting organized?
At first, Ruth answered the question about her purpose with her good reasons: "I want to get organized so that I can find things. My mess is my stumbling block, I just spend too much time looking for my keys." And, later, she began to realize: "As I get organized, I can start to be more of the person that I want to be, loving, strong, a good teacher and very present for my family. I can do more of what I care about doing."
It took Melissa a little longer to find a compelling purpose. After considering her lack of professional focus, she said, "I want to get organized so that I can stop feeling so confused. I don't really know what is most important to me." And as she explored this question more fully, she said, "I am ready to experience more dignity and listen to my inner guidance for my purpose in life. I think I am ready to take on more leadership in my community, but when I am running around so much, I don't trust myself to follow through on things."