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Consumed by chaos? Consider maintenance

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EMERGENCY organizing was what my client “Kate” (not her real name) needed after her home was burglarized. Indeed, the desire to get organized often does come after a crisis; the victim feels a need to exercise some control over her life.

In Kate’s case, the burglary provided two “a-ha” moments: the inability to tell the police officer what was missing – since she didn’t know where things were, such as blank checks.
The second issue was the pile-up of newspapers in the driveway screaming “not home,” making her house an easy target.

Here are examples of things that can throw your life into chaos:

  • Illness: Even a short illness can be devastating, especially if you’re responsible for caring for a child or elderly person.
  • Job change: Have you added another portion to a full plate?
  • A move: Never fully unpacked?
  • Significant loss through death or divorce in your family.
  • Being stranded with car trouble.
  • Even minor life events can upset the organization cart in your life.

Positives disruptive

On the other hand, positive events can cause disruption, too. The birth of child comes to mind, as does marriage with the merging of double stuff and schedules. The end (or beginning) of the school year is usually met with a sigh of relief, and yet poses some organizing issues. Remodeling, vacations, holidays; each can strain organization standards, even though the eventual outcome is positive.

The truth is, life is full of events – some planned, some not – that may cause a slip in our organizing systems. This means that we either need to revamp our maintenance systems because of the change, or play catch up with deferred maintenance.

Any homeowner knows that most maintenance projects don’t get better on their own; in fact, the house with a bad roof may suffer considerable damage if the roof is not repaired or replaced before the rains start.

The same is true with organizing at your home or office. You can skate by for a period of time, doing the minimum. That’s normal in times of change, but eventually the lack of maintenance leaves a wake of chaos that can’t be ignored.

The list of basics

What are the basics for maintaining an organized life? Here is a simplified list of what a reasonably organized person does to make her life work:

  1. Washes dishes daily and empties trash as needed.
  2. Keeps food and supplies on hand.
  3. Washes clothes on a weekly basis.
  4. Organized “enough” at home or the office to be comfortable and productive.
  5. Arrives places on time and keeps up with the workload.
  6. Pays bills on time.
  7. Keeps track of appointments.
  8. Maintains a car, if that’s how you get around.
  9. Takes care of self with adequate nutrition, exercise and rest.

Getting back on track tips:

  • Have a gathering at your house. Even though friends and family come to see you and not the house, the idea that they are coming can spur a whirl of organizing activity.
  • Imagine you’re moving. The thought of packing all that junk and the cost of moving it all can be a powerful force.
  • Make appointments to help you focus such as servicing the car, doctor check-ups to take care of yourself, etc. Find an organizing consultant ( ) to move from crisis to order that is easy to maintain.
  • Let the seasons be your guide. Pattern your life loosely to nature. Summer is a good time to evaluate any clothes not worn last winter. With ample fresh air and sunshine, summer is also good for painting and sprucing up outdoor areas of your space.

The process of maintaining doesn’t sound exciting, but good things happen when you are organized: improved relationships, better control over your finances, better health and a fulfilling life.

No one is instantly organized; disorganization happens over a period of time, and it will take considerable effort to put the puzzle pieces of your life back together. The good news is that once you’re back on track, maintaining can be done in bits and pieces, on a regular basis. To keep chaos away, do a little each day. Begin to think of organizing as a process, one that helps you grow and supports you toward a greater good.