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Teamwork a neat way to help the chronically disorganized

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Q: How can I tell if someone is chronically disorganized? Are there some people who just can’t get organized? — Barbara, Walnut Creek

A: The three signs of chronic disorganization are: severe disorganization that persists over a long period of time; an erosion of quality of life due to disorganization; and a history of unsuccessful self-help efforts.

Common traits among most chronically disorganized include:

• Large accumulations of possessions or papers beyond apparent usefulness or pleasure.
• A high degree or discomfort in letting go of things.
• A wide range of interests, unfinished projects and incomplete tasks.
• Reliance on visual cues such as paper piles as reminders to take action.
• A tendency to be easily distracted or to lose concentration.
• A tendency to lose track of time.

I believe everyone’s level of organization can be lifted, given that desire and effort is present. Yet there are some folks who don’t respond to conventional organizing methods.

In “What Every Professional Organizer Needs to Know About Chronic Disorganization,” author Judith Kolberg says, “Being chronically disorganized is an expression of a bad fit between conventional organizing practices and unconventional learners.”

For example, take the idea that organizing is a solitary affair. In fact, the chronically disorganized person can focus better and feel supported when organizing is not done alone. With social organizing, a professional organizer or family member acts a human anchor so that the chronically disorganized feels stabilized. Using other people in the organizing process can raise and maintain a chronically disorganized person’s level of organization like nothing else.

What is the best way to organize photos? — Kristen, San Mateo

A: The best way depends on you. How much time do you want to invest in organizing your photos? How important is the final product? What level of organization are you willing to maintain?

Putting pictures in albums is the most common method of organizing photos, yet it can be an overwhelming proposition for even the heartiest shutterbug. However, it is easiest for others to view your photos when they are in an album, and the photos are better protected. (My kids love to look at photos of their younger years, and that is reason enough to get the photos in albums.)

Many folks opt for albums that have plastic inserts for each photo; the pictures are simply inserted and the job is done before the next roll of film is developed. Buy products that are acid- and lignin-free and therefore won’t damage your photos.
Also consider Creative Memories, whose slogan is “Simple pages, completed albums.” Its products are high-quality and safe for your photos. “Crop till you drop” scrapbooking workshops are available through crafts stores and local consultants. Yet album pages need not be a work of art.

The other system that has become popular is to use photo boxes. Each box holds hundreds of photos, and dividers can be inserted to organize by date or subject. The advantage of this method is time-saving, both in setup and maintaining. The disadvantage is that in order to look at the photos, they must be removed from the box, possibly get out of order, lost or covered with fingerprints. Be sure to spend a little more and buy photo-safe boxes.
If you’re not able to organize your photos right away, label the processing envelope and the backs of photos. This makes your job so much easier later. Discard any out-of-focus or duplicate shots.

Whatever you do, don’t store photos in places such as the garage, attic or basement. These areas are subject to heat and humidity that will seal the fate of your photographs. Better to store photos in temperatures that you find most comfortable.

In the mail
In response to a recent column on travel organizing, Drake from Lafayette has this suggestion:
“Don’t travel with just one credit card, for this reason: Many banks have fraud detection software that is alerted when your card is used multiple times, as it can be while traveling. The bank will call your house, and if you don’t call back within 24 hours, that card will dry-up.”