Sometimes when you’re not paying close enough attention, life can creep in on you from all sides. You bring home some junk from your mom’s house and are suddenly surrounded by stacks of out-in-the-open crap scattered everywhere. You forget to open the mail for a week, you agree to a few extracurricular projects at work — then before you know it, you’re knee-deep in clutter, behind on everything, and feeling so overwhelmed that you don’t know what to do!
If you find yourself with too much stuff (and not enough of it that you actually care about), too much paper (and not enough file cabinet space), too many responsibilities (and not enough free time) — it’s time to ask for help. The trick is to recognize the “danger signs” before everything spins completely out of control.
you have to move a pile to sit down (has junk taken over your active live/work spaces? — I’ve seen clients who ate out every meal ‘cuz their stoves were buried under stacks of mail, who never bathed ‘cuz their showers served as “storage,” and who slept in chairs ‘cuz their beds were was covered with stuff — if this is you, it’s time to evict your clutter and reclaim your life!)
you own a pair of scissors, but you can never find it (having trouble locating things when you need them is a gigantic flashing neon sign of chronic disorder — staying organized requires a logical/set/assigned home for each and every thing you own — ask yourself where you would look for those scissors when it comes time to cut — isn’t that where they should be stored?)
it takes at least 3 tries to get out of the house each AM (how many times have you left home sans your bag? — then your keys? — then your lunch? — this form of Alzheimer’s is curable with a little planning — the night before, store everything you’re taking with you on a “launching pad” near the door — with a sticky note reminder to retrieve your sandwich from the fridge!)
you pay even one late/interest fee a month (with a system in place for dealing with financial paperwork, there’s no reason to incur penalties — designate a file rack where you line up liability notices in “pay-by” order, with due dates written on each envelope — then, block off regular weekly/fortnightly/monthly time in your calendar for bill-paying and reconciliation)
you regularly request an extension on your returns (does it take you until October 15th to get your IRS paperwork together? — set up a file box for tax documents, one folder for each type of account statement and receipts broken into basic categories — file any new ones as soon as you get them, then hand the whole mess over to your CPA at the end of the year)
you’ve never seen the bottom of your in-box (if you’re surrounded by mounds of paper, it’s prolly ‘cuz you’re not setting aside time each week for processing — life’s a lot easier if you sort through the new stuff daily, make a decision about the next step you need to take to clear each item up, store it in a folder for that type of to-do, then empty those folders once a week)
your workday ends hours after everyone else’s (do you regularly stay at the office late to make up for a less-than-productive 9-to-5? — drop-in visitors, office clutter, surfing the web — make a list of all those efficiency-suckers that interrupt/distract from your work, and start tackling these time wasters one-by-one so you can go home on time every night of the week!)
you’ve forgotten what your desk looks like, under all the paper (folks pile instead of file when they’ve never known what a customized-to-suit-their-personal-preferences paper storage system feels like — documents should be grouped into logical clusters of information that make sense to YOUR brain — if your files don’t meet this criteria, it might be time to revamp!)
you’re always running someone else’s errands (are you overloaded with more responsibilities than you can handle, or have you learned how to tell people “no?” — “no” isn’t a bad word — it actually demonstrates a great deal of respect, by showing that you understand your own limits — if you want to regain control over your life, it’s time to start protecting your borders!)
your life feels seriously out of control (are you haunted by a nagging voice in the back of your head? — that vague sense of overwhelm can be even worse than a stack of mail or pile of junk — the first step toward curbing these anxieties is taking the first step — putting a dent in the mess will remove a humungous weight from your shoulders, motivating you to dig in deeper)
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Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream. Learn more at and RamonaCreel.com.
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