By Christine Kane
www.christinekane.com

It drives me crazy when I’m reading a book on, say, organizing, and the author writes “Okay, you’ve done Steps 1 & 2 — now you’re ready to move on to the next step!” I wanna talk back at the book, “No I haven’t! I’m still sitting here reading your book!”

But this is a blog. And my shoulder has been injured so you’ve had a few days with Components 1 &2. So here’s me being a motivational author…

So you’ve done Components 1 &2! Now, let’s move on to Component #3!!
It doesn’t work like that. Clearing out crap, depending on how much of it you have, can take a while. I worked with a Life Coach, and we had to break this whole process down into steps and to-dos over days and weeks. Over time, all the people at Goodwill got to know me by name. Take your time. Or don’t. But know that there may be moments when you’ll just want to weep at how overwhelmed you feel.

Component #3 — Everything you have needs a home — a place where it goes.

For your average business mind (or your average 1, if you’re into the enneagram) this component is a given. When I first read about it, it felt like someone gave me the Holy Grail. And I read about it in Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern, my most recommended book on organizing.

This book is basic. Julie Morgenstern used to be an actress. She has a creative brain. She gets how challenging it is for creative brains to function in the world of order and organization. So, she teaches how to think about your stuff/your office/your life with simplicity and clarity.

She calls it the “Kindergarten Model of Organization.” In a Kindergarten classroom, there are zones for activities. There’s a Reading Zone with a bookcase and a rocking chair. There’s an Art Zone with paints and brushes and crayons, etc. And at the end of the day, all the kids know exactly where to put things back.

And that was the problem with my non-system — I didn’t know where to put things. Nothing had a home. So, it went into the “junk drawer.” Or onto the desk. Or a shelf. Or the floor in a “to-do” pile.

After I had cleared away my clutter, I started to look at everything in my world with the question in mind: “Where does this belong? What is its purpose? Are there other things it goes with?” Similarly, I asked of each space, “What is the purpose here? What goes in here?” My morning pages became a lot about my office and its purpose and its primary activities at that time. I was learning how to think about things, rather than just let them just appear or happen to me.

So, here’s a tiny example: My house has very little storage space. That has required lots of thinking on my part. I had to use the top shelf of the pantry for things we needed to have around, but weren’t used everyday. I created seven plastic bins with labels on them. (I’m very into labels now.) One is “Batteries.” One is “Owners Manuals.” (That one is huge.) And because someone in my house refuses to throw away anything that ever plugged into anything else, there’s a bin labeled “Extension Chords and Random Cables.” (If the label had more room, it would say “Extension Chords and Random Cables That Haven’t Been Used Since 1983.”) Another is “String, Wire & Tape.” You get the idea. It may sound insignificant, but this is the kind of stuff that needs a home — even if you are lucky enough to have closet space.

A bigger example is my office. My office is no longer in my home. In it, I have three giant IKEA wardrobes, so that everything is out of sight. One wardrobe is “All Things CD Sales Related” (No, I didn’t make a label.) — both in-house distribution and traveling sales. This includes a few boxes of each CD, all the t-shirts, all of the travel display stuff. Another wardrobe is “All Things Office Related.” This one has the business checkbook, the contract files, the tax stuff — and the file cabinet sits in there too. (These are very big wardrobes.) The last one is all just extra supplies and the “postal zone.” (My office generates all of my website sales.) Each shelf is ordered according to categories too. It makes the office efficient and easy to function in. (easy in which to function?)

A note about creating zones: You want the zones to be bigger categories to catch a lot of different items in groupings. I had an office person who created a new folder for each random email that she wanted out of the In Box. So, instead of mailboxes entitled “Booking – Requests” or “Publicity – Interviews” with lots of emails in them, there was a mailbox called “Guy who wants Christine to Play in TX” or “Dance Magazine Interview.” As a consequence, there were about 400 folders to search through to figure out how to find a single email. Yea, everything had a “home,” but she was the only one who knew the directions to it!

Once you get how the idea applies to your own situation, you can apply it to anything. My file cabinet, for instance, was the first place that this work really gave me noticeable relief.

Component #4: Allow These Ideas to Teach You About Other Areas of Your Life

As I’ve come to value order in my environment, I also recognize how these concepts work in other areas — my thoughts, my time, my activities. After I spent time on these components, I felt free. I could breathe. My mind wasn’t occupied by the little fears that I lost a bill, or that I had forgotten where I put a receipt. That space was palpable.

The William Morris quote I referenced in Part One (“Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful and believe to be beautiful.”) advises a discerning way of living in the world. What happens when you apply it to relationships, clothing you find on sale, requests of your time? As Life Coach Cheryl Richardson says, “If it’s not an Absolute Yes, it’s a No.” As a result of using this mindset, I add less things to my schedule, I create an order to my day, I am surrounded by supportive friends whom I cherish, and I know when I’m pushing myself too hard or doing something out of guilt or fear or some other equally distracting mindset. I’m also quick to step away from drama or finger-pointing.

The verb here is “Allow.” And that’s the key. The direction this takes will be specific to you. Just stay open and aware.

Component #5: Make Lots of Mistakes. (Or�Ķ”Perfectionism Sucks.”)

One of the reasons I love order is that it challenges me. It’s a process. Ideas like “Clearing Clutter” and “Find a Home for Everything” sound so appealing because they sound like an event. You do it. Boom! It’s done. We all seem to love things like that. But then we get mystified because life keeps changing, and more crap keeps coming in the door, and we buy another shirt we realize later that we don’t like and guilt sets in, and we find ourselves back in the same pattern again. None of these components are about reaching a “Phew! Glad THAT’S all over with!” point. It’s not all over with. If you are someone who collects clutter, then you’ll probably have to keep dealing with that side of yourself once you realize you like space and order. When you have a few bad days in a row, you’ll get out of bed one morning and sigh and put things where they belong. And probably once a year, you’ll have to do a major re-assessment. And it gets easier, and you can learn to laugh at your little inner drama queen and her tantrums.

The most compelling reason I can think of to do anything is to learn about your own stuff in the process. Writing songs, performing, having my own business — more than anything else — have changed who I am and made me stronger and more aware. No matter what happens in the external world, these things can’t be taken away. This is what happens during this process. You get to see where your little dark holes like to take you.

So, just start. And if you do something that doesn’t work, then do something different. There are no big deals in this.

Component #6: There is no Component #6.

See? I created clutter. I made more Components than I needed so that I would appear more knowledgeable. You can toss this one into recycling.

4 COMMENTS ADD A COMMENT
  • thinking S

    monique, check the web for a freecycle group in your area. there are people who use all kinds of things. I have a friend who makes beautiful mosaics from broken dishes. Altered books are all the rage.

    As to the clothes, cut cotton items into convenient rag sizes and use instead of paper towels. Sometimes I reuse mine, but if something is really disgusting, I just throw it away. After all, I’ve already gotten way more use out of it than most people. (I probably bought it at the Goodwill to begin with!)

    S

  • Monique Lusse

    Just discovered your blog thru 37days. Thanks for your honesty and candor! I’ve just moved and did pass on a bunch of stuff (clothes, books, appliances) but have discovered that I packed alot of crap that now sits behind the closed doors of a big closet! Argh!

    About clutter…do you have suggestions on what to do with crap that is not in good enough condition to resell at the Goodwill (clothes that I’ve worn down to the nubs, still usabel but not sellable chipped plates, books that have been water stained, you get the idea).

    Fifty years ago there used to be the ragman who came around the neighborhood and collected crap and refurbished or sold it. In other words, kept it out of the landfill. Any ideas on how to keep crap out of the landfill?

    All the best to you in 2008!