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ABC's of Organizing

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GETTING ORGANIZED as easy as ABC? Yeah, right. It’s true that some will find it easier to get and stay organized than others, but it largely takes effort and consistent action.

In honor of back to school, here are 26 organizing principles that can help you stay afloat as you careen between meetings, floods of paper and your busy schedule.

Accessibility: Make your most frequently used things the easiest to access; between shoulder and knee height.

Bundle up: Use a bundle or batch approach to accomplish repetitive tasks such as errands, bill paying, food prep and mending.

Containerize: Keep items grouped by category and separated in containers to help with retrieval, cleanup and maintenance. A container also establishes a limit to how much you save in a given category, and it provides an opportunity to show your style in the type of container you use.

Deadline: It’s not a dirty word! A deadline can propel you forward to getting things done. Set your own deadlines and be true to yourself in meeting them.

Enlist help: When you need to get organized, having another person present for moral support and a second opinion can be quite helpful. Before I worked with a pair of teenage sisters, they helped each other sort in short blocks of time, going back and forth between their rooms.

Focus: Staying focused is imperative to successful organizing. Decide on the areas or changes you wish to tackle, and then concentrate on one area at a time. Dedicate your energy to one room until you finish.

Get started: Where you start is not as important as that you start. Start where you will see a noticeable difference. You will notice a flow, and momentum will build.

Home: Establish a home or resting spot for your belongings, and return items to their home after use. Put an end to homelessness in your habitation.

Identify: Remember when you were in kindergarten (or your child was) and everything was labeled so you knew where to find it? Identifying with labels helps overcome the problem of not being able to use your things because you can’t find them.

Just say no: Being disorganized can result from having too much to do. You may need to say no to something(s) in order to return to an ordered life.

Keep: Save what you use. If you need a lock for the gym, keep it in your gym bag in the car. If your kids like to do homework in the kitchen, keep study supplies such as paper and dictionary in that room.

List: Making a to-do list can relieve anxiety over “what am I forgetting?” Your list lets you download your brain and provide direction for what needs to be done. If you tend to lose lists, try a notebook. You may like keeping your list on the computer and printing it when you need it for errands.

Maintain: There is not much in our lives that doesn’t need regular attendance to keep running optimally. Stephen Covey calls it “sharpening the saw.” When we defer maintenance, it’s usually a lot harder to accomplish things and get back on track (harder to saw wood). Avoid buying things that need lots of maintenance.

No more excuses: Everyone has reasons for their disorganization: “I was never taught, I come from a long line of pack rats, I grew up in a poor family, I had a debilitating illness, I moved, I work a night job,” etc. It’s fine and dandy to recognize how chaos came into your life, but excuses will take you only so far. At some point, you must say, “The buck stops here” and take responsibility for your life.

Out with the old: Stop saving “just in case.” There is no good reason to take valuable space storing defunct electronics you will not use again.

Purge: Regularly purge closets, drawers, cupboards, and the garage.

Quality vs. quantity: After sorting through your closet, you may discover you have five black skirts. Go for the best one that you have worn in the last year.

Receipts: Make a spot for these — even a shoebox! Save them until tax time and evaluate then whether you need them to support your tax return or for proof of purchase for warranty or returns.

Save: Keep what you use or love and recycle or donate the rest.

Timer: Set a fixed amount of time for completing a task or project. Use a kitchen timer, the one on your watch, or cell phone. When the timer signals the end, you can evaluate your progress and energy level. You may find you are ready to tackle more.

Under: Look down under things for storage space. Under the couch is where I store the dining room table leaves. Under-bed storage boxes can be used to hold out-of-season clothes, shoes, anything you don’t use often.

Visualize: Get a picture in your mind of what you would like your space to look like, then consider vertical storage with hooks, shelves and over-the-door racks.

Weed: Regularly weed through your storage areas. Just as weeds can take over and ruin a garden, clutter can be the demise of your home if not eradicated.

X: Follow the eXample of the most organized person you know, adapting as needed. Ask for her advice on your most pressing organizing issues. Try out the advice and see how it works for you.

Year: Keep goals for the year in a prominent place. Your goals help you decide what’s important. This means you will make decisions on how to spend your time that reflect your goals, and store and keep what you value.

Zones: Organize your rooms according to the activities that take place there. In the room where you watch television, you’ll want to have the TV guide, remote, video or DVDs.