Imagine yourself climbing a hill. A steep hill. At the top of the hill is everything you’ve ever wanted…happy and loving relationships…. a sense of peace and well being…time to enjoy the things you truly love to do…an organized home that nurtures you, recharges you.
Now, imagine that this hill is made of glass. And you’re wearing socks. And cotton gloves. Everything you want is in sight, and sometimes, when you try really hard, it’s even within your reach. And yet, you never make it to the top of the hill, constantly sliding back down the slippery slope.
Whew. Frustrating isn’t it? And if you’re like so many, getting organized can feel this way. You just about make it to the top of the hill when, whoosh! back to the bottom you slide. So let’s get that thought out of your head, and imagine there’s a rope hanging from the top of the hill…someone has thrown you a life line. You grab the rope, pull yourself up, and climb Mt. Organization once and for all! Now imagine yourself at the top of the hill…enjoying life, your home organized, your heart filled with contentment and joy. Ah, that’s better.
Luckily for you there is no hill of glass that you must climb in your socks to create the organized and happy life you crave. But there are organizational slippery slopes, and if you’re not careful, the habits that create these slippery slopes will move you away from your organizing goals, much like a hill of glass. But not to worry, slippery slopes can be avoided. Here’s how.
Understand what a slippery slope is.
An organizational slippery slope is a habit that, when done in excess, almost certainly leads to overwhelm and frustration (quite like that vision you just had of yourself climbing a glass hill donning socks and cotton gloves.) The trouble with these habits is that there’s no easy way to know when the proverbial line has been crossed. It’s hard to know when you’ve gone too far and created a slippery slope that’s difficult to scale on your own. Here are the most common slippery slopes:
Slippery slope #1: striving for perfection.
This is a particularly tricky slippery slope…because it seems like such a good idea. Many of us have been programmed from an early age to do things perfectly. “Practice makes perfect!” And “if you’re going to do something, do it right,” has been uttered by many a well meaning parent. And it doesn’t stop there. All around us are images of perfection. Magazines are loaded with pictures of perfectly organized spaces, like closets, where not only is every garment precisely spaced and hanging on wooden hangers, but all the clothing in the closet matches! Beautiful? Sure. Attainable? Not for most. And if so, at what cost?
Striving for perfection is also tricky because it spawns other organizational slippery slopes, things like procrastinating on important tasks because you’re afraid they won’t get done well enough, to not handling your filing or bill paying (at all) until you can develop the perfect system.
Perfection is a slippery slope because it is unattainable. Very few things (if any) are actually perfect. To get back on solid ground, you must want something different. Strive for progress not perfection. Decide here and now your goal is to do things better and do them done. Paying bills using an imperfect system is better than not paying them at all. Replace those old messages about perfection with a new mantra: “If you’re going to do something, do it done!” (Or try this one: “practice makes progress.”)
Organizational slippery slope #2: using a bag or box as temporary storage for items you’ve “decluttered.”
If you have even one plastic bag or cardboard box stuffed with dissimilar items from a past de-cluttering binge, guess what? You’re on a slippery slope. Here’s why.
It’s likely you stashed these items in the bag or box with good intentions of “getting to it later.” Right? Well, that’s where things start to get slippery. If you can’t answer specifically when you’ll be dealing with the items in the box, you’re on a slippery slope. If you weren’t motivated to handle the items in the box when you had a concrete deadline (people coming to your home!) will you be more likely to deal with these items after they’ve aged for a few days, weeks or months? I’ve seen enough dusty bags and boxes filled to the brim in the spirit of de-cluttering to know the answer is “no.”
To get on solid ground, de-clutter when you de-clutter. Stuffing items into a box is camouflaging your clutter…not truly de-cluttering. Instead of using a box as temporary storage, grab a box and use it to transport items back to where they really belong. Deal with the two minute to-do’s. Schedule any to-do’s that will take longer than two minutes in your planner or task management system. Decide to decide…if you aren’t going to use the craft store, pizza place or linen superstore coupon in the next week, throw it away! In short, de-clutter now instead stuffing it in a box and saving it for later.
Organizational slippery slope #3: storing items on the floor.
Storing items on the floor is a slippery slope because floors are big! There is no limit to this strategy aside from the four walls of the room whose floor has fallen victim to this strategy. So what starts out as a small pile in the corner can easily (and in very little time) creep into a mound of stuff that covers the entire floor.
To get back on solid ground, set storage limits. Store items on shelves or in cabinets or in your closets—where they can live comfortably and safely. Shelves, cabinets and closets have built in limits. Only so much fits! When these storage areas get too full, you’ll be prompted to take action and create space by letting go of some belongings. Remember, if you’re putting something on the floor, how important can it really be to you?
Organizational slippery slope #4: using flat surfaces to form piles.
This is especially slippery when you’re using the pile to remind you to do something. Using flat surfaces to pile things…mail, invitations, sports schedules, forms to return to school, project materials…is very much like storing things on the floor. It’s a slippery slope because there are plenty of flat surfaces in your home. There aren’t clear limits. Establish a limit by adding an in-box or basket to corral your items. And then, empty the in-box regularly, preferably on a daily basis. Dealing with things as soon as they come into your home will avoid creating a slippery slope!
A Quick Action Plan for Dealing with Slippery Slopes
Regardless of where you are on the slope, it is possible to climb back up and conquer the hill. Here’s how.
1. Recognize the habits that aren’t serving you.
Here’s how you can tell if a habit isn’t serving you: it makes you feel bad. You feel stress over the stuff in the box. You’re anxious about the cluttered floor, counter top or table. You’d rather have a tooth pulled, then let someone see “the room!” Once you are aware of the habits that aren’t serving you, take action.
2. Dig out.
Go through those boxes and put away, throw away or donate the items you no longer need. Create space if you need it by getting rid of things that no longer fit—your home or your life. Get started on that project you’ve been stalling on out of the temptation to do it perfectly. Commit to doing it done. You can do this! And you’ll be so glad you did!
3. Commit to a new habit.
Once you’ve cleared out and overcome perfection inertia, replace your slippery slope habits with new ones that keep you on solid ground.
4. Seek help if you need it.
If you recognize that you’re engaging in some non-productive slippery slope habits, and yet, the thought of digging out is overwhelming, get some help. Call on your spouse…a close friend…me. Sometimes it’s as simple as talking the project through with someone, so you can build a plan and structure around your organizing goals. Don’t spend another day struggling to get up that slippery slope!
Remember, the best way to avoid slipping over the edge is to never get near it. Stop striving for perfection. Quit de-cluttering by temporarily storing items in boxes or bags you’ll get to “someday.” Make a pact now to stop using flat surfaces like floors or countertops for storage. Set limits, create new, healthy habits and in to time you’ll find yourself standing firmly (and happily) on solid ground.