Getting and staying organized to spark joy

“Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.” — James Clear

Imagine this: you just got a ticket on your way home from work for having expired tags on your car. You could have sworn you put them in your glove box so you could put them on when you had a minute. But they’re nowhere to be found. Your next stop is the pile of mail and school papers on the kitchen counter. Nope, not there either. Then you search your desk to see if they got mixed in with the bills. No luck. Finally you concede that you’re going to have to get replacement tags tomorrow, a huge inconvenience, as you’ll have to take PTO to go to the DMV.

Now imagine the opposite scenario. You got your new tags in the mail on Monday after work. Instead of putting them down to deal with at some nebulous later time, you immediately go put them on your car. It only takes two minutes to do, and you’re set for the next year. Look at all the time, energy, and stress those two minutes saved you!

a police car parked behind another car
Getting pulled over is no fun, no matter what country you’re in

Being organized can be one of the best things you can do for your mental health. When you don’t have to run around like a chicken with its head cut off, trying desperately to find the papers, clothes, shoes, bills, or other of life’s memorabilia, your stress levels will decrease. That in turn reduces your anxiety to manageable levels.

A place for everything, and everything in its place

If you want to get organized, you need to have a home for everything you own. No more piles of paper on top of your dresser. No more clothes draped over that chair in your bedroom — or worse, on the treadmill. No more skin care, makeup, and hair products covering your bathroom counter.

You may have to buy some stuff to create a home for everything. I use a combination of shelves and plastic drawers to keep my shit together. I use a combination of stacking shelves, baskets, boxes, drawers, and a horizontal organizer for papers and projects.

You don’t have to stick with boring office supplies to keep things organized. I use mini flower pots in cobalt blue to hold pens and pencils, Chinese takeout boxes for fine-tip markers, and an iridescent pink vase for my other markers. A hot pink storage ottoman holds extra blankets. Boxes hold my underwear, bras, and socks on top of the bookcase in my closet.

If you get it out, put it away

Now that you have a place for everything, you can keep everything in its place. You can pick up your can of hairspray from the lazy susan in the corner of your bathroom counter, and after you’re done using it, put it right back in that space, instead of leaving it on the countertop. It takes an infinitesimal amount more effort to put it back where it belongs. Just a teeny, tiny bit more thought. A smidgen more muscle use.

You can teach your kids this concept, too — even when they’re little. Toddlers and preschoolers love to help; you can foster and nurture that desire, and channel it to actual help. Teach them that when they’re done playing with a toy, it’s time to put that toy away before they get out another toy. Exceptions can be made for tea parties or other play that involves more than one single toy.

Grab my chore list for kids by age to help you teach your kids to help more as they grow.

a boy walking a buffalo
I’m not sure where “herding buffalo” would go on the chore list…

Write things down

While my memory is improving day by day, I often have the functional memory of a grapefruit. I have to write EVERYTHING down if I want to have a snowball’s chance in hell of remembering anything from one minute to the next, much less hours or days later.

While I use 5-subject notebooks to write my everything down in, you can certainly use something smaller. A pocket-size notebook would certainly suffice. Or you could keep a journal in your purse to make note of ideas that arise while you’re out and about. You could also use a day planner to write down appointments and take notes.

Keep a grocery list. Do a brain dump. Note ideas for projects at work. Write your plans for the day. Use a six most important things to do list. Plan your meals for the week. Put down any ideas about any topic that you want to be able to find later.

Make schedules and set deadlines

For any project you’re working on, you want to make a schedule and set deadlines to get it done. Don’t just set a due date and forget about it until you see it on your calendar two days from now. Break it down into smaller deliverables and put “do” dates on your calendar for when you’re going to get that step done.

For example, I’m writing a book. Obviously, I can’t just put “write a book” on my calendar one day and expect to have it done. I have to break it down into chapters, outline the chapters, and work on one segment of the outline at a time. Then I have to schedule blocks of time to work on those segments on my calendar, and keep those appointments like I would if I was meeting with a big muckity-muck about a project I wanted to do for them.

One of my Messages From the Wall says, “Every time you say you will do something and end up not doing it, you are committing a sin to yourself.” — Chinmai Swami. To me, that’s the worst sin to commit: a sin to yourself. If you don’t have personal integrity with yourself, you’re nowhere. You’re nobody. You’re nothing.

Keep (and buy) only what you need

Go all Marie Kondo on your possessions. Ask yourself for every item you own: Does it spark joy? If not, get rid of it. Donate it to Goodwill or your local women’s shelter. You may find you have more than one of the same thing. Pots, pans, kitchen utensils, collectibles, kids’ toys, you can find duplicates anywhere. I recently realized I have three of the exact same hot pink t-shirt. Two of them are going to the local shelter.

Avoid bargains for the sake of being bargains. If you don’t need 20 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, and don’t have the space in your freezer to portion it out and freeze it, it doesn’t matter that it’s on sale for 99¢ a pound. It would go to waste in your fridge. The same goes for bedding, linens, clothes, shoes, you name it.

Getting organized will save you hours upon hours, energy upon energy, and stress upon stress. Keeping your stress level low will add hours or even years to your life. And staying organized will spark joy in your longer, healthier life.






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