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Maintaining Order

I recently met with a client who is chronically disorganized. The Institute for Challenging Disorganization defines ‘chronic disorganization’ as someone who has 1) struggled with organization challenges their entire life; 2) has repeatedly attempted different solutions without success; and 3) whose life has been negatively impacted by disorganization.

I told this client that I would really enjoy organizing the entire house, reducing all the clutter, finding homes for everything, and getting it super tidy! What a fun job that would be! That said, regardless of finding the best solutions for every room in the home - it would still take effort by the client to maintain the system.

Ideally the system is so simple that putting things away is almost as easy as not putting something away, but 99% of the time, it will still require some, however minor, effort. We can create a great system for efficiently processing mail, but the envelops still need to be opened and the junk mail still needs to be put in the recycling bin. If a person has been letting things accumulate for a few weeks before processing the mail, learning to do it every day will take effort.

Starting a new habit can be challenging, even if it is just a tiny habit. When you come home from a long day, and you’re tired, but already late for something else, it is hard to find the extra physical and psychological bandwidth to do something out of the ordinary. Most of us would decide to start tomorrow.

An important part of being organized is successfully motivating yourself to build new habits that are crucial to maintaining the order that you thrive on.

When trying to build new habits it can be helpful to use reminders. Maybe a bright green post-it note with the word “MAIL” on it will remind you to sort mail before doing anything else. If that doesn’t work, I would get a bigger note, or put it in a more obvious space. I worked with an 11-year old with ADHD who created large signs to hang from the overhead lamp chain in her room. There was no way she couldn’t notice the reminders when she entered her room.

It can also be helpful to have a reminder of why you want to have this new habit. If being more organized will give you time to do something you really like, put an image of that activity on the wall – or on your screen saver or desktop. That works as a constant reminder of why this effort is so important to you.

Lastly, reward yourself for doing it! If you do something three days in a row, allow yourself to indulge in something (watch a movie, buy a book, eat a tasty treat). If you stick to the new task every day for a week - do something else to celebrate. It is also great if your family or friends can be on board and share your success. I made a deal with my son that if he practiced his trumpet every day I would do a plank challenge! This motivates both of us to do something that we know we should do, but really don’t want to. When we are finished, we both feel good about our accomplishment.

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