My first job out of grad school, after months of nannying and working as a personal assistant, was organizing people’s things, in their homes and in their offices. Within minutes of meeting a client, I would be in their walk-in closet asking them to explain why holding onto five boxes of neckties they never wore was so important. Friends would tell me constantly, “I need to hire you!” and “That’s just what I need!” I had stumbled upon a secret niche of bank deposit slips from the ‘80s and hoarded cassette tapes, it seemed. With a master’s degree in a new city where master’s degrees were a dime-a dozen, I was pleased to discover this long-buried skill was lucrative. Everyone wants to be more organized – whether it’s so they can feel calm in their own space, in their own mind, with their sense of who they are – everyone wants to feel a sense of order, efficiency, and beauty in their lives.
I first would have my clients ask themselves “Why do I want to be organized?” Because, on the one hand, we all know life is precious and we want to pack as much joy and fun and love into it as possible. This carpe diem can be facilitated by an intentional schedule, a bit of a routine and a structure for meeting those goals. On the other hand, as an over-stimulated and overworked society, we feel the pressure to compete with our peers to be the most organized. Some see it as a mark of success, and, like every other aspect of our lives, we can fall into the trap of trying to control and conquer our schedules and spaces. We feel time is against us, as our enemy – when, in fact time is the ultimate reality and essence of our beautiful lives. If we can train ourselves to see time as our friend, and truly self-care in a holistic way, our goals become clear and organization becomes – no longer a way to compete or control – but, rather, a conduit for peace and joy.
People often asked me if my home is perfectly organized. The answer is hell no! My husband’s idea of organization is the pile of clothes beside his bed. Having immaculately clean and organized drawers, cabinets and closets is definitely not my thing. Like with most things in life, I ask myself, why would I want to suffer? It’s more about doing the bare minimum organization in order to waste the least amount of time finding things. I reorganize and maintain different areas of the house throughout the year, but I am not about to spend an entire Saturday going through every single piece of clothing (sorry, Marie Kondo). This is partly because Jon and I keep the things we own edited down to what will fit in our 1 bedroom apartment, and partly because I rarely get a free weekend. I invest my time and energy in the things that matter to me – we all do. For me, organization is not about perfection. It’s about knowing where things are so I don’t have to waste time looking for them. I’m a very impatient person (something I’m trying to work on this year) seeking to maximize every drop of possibility out of every day – if I spend 5 minutes looking for my keys, a cog somewhere in the machine isn’t operating properly. I prefer a place for everything and everything in its place. And it’s worth it for me to spend 5-10 minutes when I get home from work tidying up in order to maintain that.
Beyond being able to find things easily, I like the freedom to invite friends over at the drop of a hat to make dinner, play music or games, see where the night takes us. I have had to let go of the dream of having a spotless house to welcome guests into, because I would never socialize in my home if that were my standard. Besides, the point is the company and conversation.
If you’ve read this far, and you’re asking yourself “What is a professional organizer and how much do I have to pay someone to organize my life and how soon can they get here?!”, first ask yourself, “Why do I want to get organized?” Is it to enjoy your solo time at home, and be inspired to cook more? Is it to throw a party, or not feel ashamed to bring a date back to your avalanche of vintage clothing? Or maybe it’s to develop a more cohesive routine, so you’re not always running so late or feeling so frazzled? The irony is the people who need organization and time management the most are the people who have limited time or mental space to 1) come up with a plan, 2) implement it initially and 3) maintain and stick to it. To set yourself up for success, make sure you have clearly defined goals in mind.
Next, shift your definition of what being organized means to you. Is it possible to change your perception from seeing getting rid of things to gaining and creating more space and light and air? Is it possible to see cutting out time-wasters, not as sacrificing your precious little “me-time”, but as maximizing that time to be as healthy and self-serving as possible? Time and space are locked in at the amount we have – we all have 24 hours in a day, and the amount of space we live in. But if we can increase our energy and awareness by maximizing our time and space, it’s almost as though we are creating more of each.
Finally, cut yourself some slack and make sure you leave yourself time to decompress. Relaxation is very different from packing your free-time with fun activities. Unwinding at the end of day is essential for everyone, and time must be allotted for this. To make your time management dreams sustainable, you must treat this task as sacred and honor it. If it helps to carve out an end-of-the-day routine to stick to, do that. My lavender essential oil in a diffuser works wonders to shift my mind to power-down mode.
Living life as a perfectly ordered routine 24 hours a day isn’t practical (or fun). Sprinkling in plenty of flexibility both in schedule and when it comes to maintaining your space is part of living a balanced life. Remember that you have the power to live the organized life you choose. Setting your intention will speak it into existence and keep your focus on what truly matters to you. Self-care is not about perfection, it’s a constant practice that requires a continual recalling of its purpose.