For just a moment, close your eyes and remember the last time you organized a space in your home. Perhaps it was your spring closet clean out, or maybe it was tackling that stack on the kitchen counter (for the 32nd time this year.) Whatever the project, I’d be willing to bet the end result was the same: when you finished your project, you felt really, really good.
In my mind, there isn’t much that compares to the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that comes when you check an organizing project off your to-do list. You may even find yourself making excuses to walk by (or into) your newly organized space—just so you can admire your results. (You’ve done that before, too, right?)
It is this phase of the organizing process—the project phase—that we think of when setting out to get more organized. It is this phase that gets all the credit for being the solution to our organizing dilemmas. If you have a space in your home that is less organized (or more cluttered) than you’d like, you probably think it’s time to repeat the organizing project phase one more time. Sort the items in the space. Group like items together. Get rid of the unloved and unused stuff. And ultimately, carve out homes and storage solutions for the items that remain.
This endless cycle of get organized–create clutter–get organized can leave even the best intentioned person disillusioned, feeling that true clutter control is nothing more than an elusive pipe dream. But true clutter control—and true organization—is attainable. It starts by re-framing the finish line.
In many ways the project phase—that moment when you step back and admire the fruits of your organizing labor—is just the beginning of the organizing process. It is what comes next—the habits phase—that is the true secret to clutter control.
Yep, that’s the secret: clutter control is attainable when you identify and address the habits that are keeping you on the “uncomfortable” side of your clutter comfort zone.
It’s the habit of keeping the suitcase sitting in the corner for weeks—even though unpacking it the day you get home will take no more time than unpacking it weeks later when you just can’t live without your favorite jeans any longer (and you can’t stand tripping over the suitcase one more day). True clutter control is creating the habit to open your mail every day, or at least often enough that going through the pile doesn’t overwhelm you or cause important business to be left undone. True clutter control happens when you consistently put things away when you’re finished with them. It happens when you recognize that if you have the time to take it out and use it—then it’s very likely you also have the time to pick it up and put it away when you’re done.
If you’re with me this far, then you’re probably wondering but how? How do I go about creating new habits? I’m glad you asked. Here are five ideas to get you started:
Acknowledge that habits are the key ingredient to staying organized.
If you have clutter, you must first recognize that your habits are playing a role. Once you recognize that habits are the missing link to clutter-free living, the next step is to identify which specific habits are causing your clutter. Do you plop your keys and purse on the kitchen counter, even though there’s a hook five steps away? Do you let laundry pile up for weeks, when you know it’d be easier (and less clutter) to tackle it a load a day? Make a list of some of your clutter habits.
Pick one habit to change.
Once you identify your clutter habits, pick a replacement habit. For example, instead of letting your mail sit for a week (or two), decide to handle it every single day. Start small by choosing just one habit, and make it one you feel confident you can change.
It’s often easier to feel accountable when you know someone else is watching, than it is to hold your own feet to the fire. Embrace this fact by enlisting the support of an accountability buddy or group that will support you, help you overcome obstacles, and cheer you on as you create your new habit.
Create a list of compelling reasons to change.
I have found that the easiest new habits to create are the ones I’m most passionate about. And the ones I’m most passionate about are the ones with compelling benefits—really good reasons to change. If you haven’t yet connected to the benefits of clutter-free living, create a list. What benefits will you realize when your home is less cluttered? Will you be more relaxed? Have more time to spend with your family? Will it reduce the strain on your relationships? Will you be more at ease when someone knocks at the door unannounced? Create your list. Define your compelling reasons for living with less clutter.
Decide up front to stay the course.
There are mixed reviews as to how long it will take to create your new habit—some say it takes a minimum of twenty-one days, while other experts say it can take upwards of sixty days to create one new habit. Decide that it doesn’t matter. Decide that regardless of how long it takes for you and regardless of how many times you slip up and forget about your new habit, it just doesn’t matter. A bump in the road isn’t the end of the road. It’s just one more step on the journey to your new habit.