The Joyful Sort Top 5: Organizing Don'ts

Found that you’re hitting a roadblock in your efforts to live a more organized life? Read on to see if any of the Don’ts below are what’s holding you back!

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1. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

“I can’t believe I let it get this bad.” “How did we accumulate so much stuff?” “I’m so embarrassed.” I’ve heard all of these and more during consultations with prospective clients and my response is always the same - it’s okay! Everyone has their stuff, whether it’s physical or emotional or some combination of the two. Life happens. Change is hard. Give yourself some credit for being brave enough to take the first step in a different direction!

You’ll also need room for some grace on the After side of things, too. Half the battle of being organized is keeping up with ongoing maintenance (you can read my recommendations on that here), so it’s important that you’re honest with yourself about what will realistically make that as simple as possible. You may swoon over the color-coded cans of LaCroix in that celebrity pantry that you just Liked, but 1) who drinks that much LaCroix, really? and 2) is that a setup that would be functional and sustainable in your everyday? Maybe you do drink that much LaCroix, but a more practical solution would be to simply designate a single shelf for your bubbly stash instead of the half-open cases you’ve been leaving on your pantry floor. Soak up all the inspiration you want from those beautiful, brightly edited Pinterest and Instagram photos, but also be mindful that progress over perfection in real life is just as great.

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2. Don’t try to eat the elephant.

That saying gets more and more gross the more that I read it, but I promise that it’s applicable here. Instead of coming out swinging and starting with a big project like your garage or your entire kitchen, focus on a smaller area where you’re more likely to see an immediate impact. It could be your junk drawer or even a bathroom or laundry room (both of which are great starting points because -decluttering decisions for the items that typically land there should be relatively cut-and-dry), anywhere that you think will be an easy win. The goal is to build some confidence, motivation, and momentum to eventually work up to those larger problem spots. If you attempt to eat the whole elephant in one sitting, say trying to organize your entire house in a single day or even a single weekend, you’re likely to burn out a few hours in. Start somewhere, but start small.

3. Dont attempt to organize until you’ve decluttered.

Though they’re often lumped together, organizing and decluttering are two different things. Organizing is setting up functional systems and processes to help your life run more smoothly, while decluttering is the removal of items that are no longer serving you. If you attempt to organize without first taking the time to declutter (asking yourself whether you truly need, use, or love a given item), you’ll inevitably just end up shifting weight from one area of your home to another. It’s for this reason that the first thing that I do in any of my in-home sessions is to take everything out of the space in which I’m working. A lot of my clients respond with wide eyes and deep breaths, as they probably wonder what they’ve gotten themselves into, but it’s so important. Literally getting it all out there lets you see what kind of volume you’re truly working with (“I have how many unopened tubes of toothpaste??”) so that you can sort like items into categories and start paring down.

4. Don’t shop without a plan.

Another common mistake is to immediately run out and buy ALL THE THINGS once you’ve decided to organize a space. Bins! Baskets! A little container for your eggs that you never knew you needed, but now surely will never have a successfully organized life without! Trust me, I understand the appeal here - I’ve been known to spend an aimless hour in The Container Store as a form of self-care - but this one is a big ole’ Don’t. For one thing, bins and baskets won’t magically solve an issue of volume/too much stuff, that’s where decluttering comes in. There’s also something to be said for taking the time to prepare so that you’re not having a minor meltdown in the kitchen goods aisle at Target because you don’t know offhand how deep your pantry shelves are. Chances are that if you declutter before you shop, you’ll also uncover some perfectly good containment options that you already have on-hand, saving yourself both time and money.

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5. Don’t hang on to things for “someday” and “just in case”.

Say that you’re in the thick of decluttering, with all of the easy stuff on its way out via the trash/recycling or Donate bin, but find yourself stalling on the Maybe items - things that are in perfectly good shape that just aren’t being used currently or those with some sentimental value attached. What then? This is the hard part for most people, primarily because it’s where real change happens. The easy choice is to just box those items you’re unsure of back up for “someday” or “just in case”, but this is an instance where you’re not really doing yourself any favors by avoiding making a tough call. As Tom Hanks said in A League of Their Own, “The hard is what makes it great.” There may not be any crying in baseball, but there is sometimes crying in decluttering and that’s a-okay. Feel your feelings, remind yourself of your Why, and ask yourself a few questions:

1) Do I need/use/love this? (yes, again…)

2) Have I used this in the last year?

3) How easy would this be to replace if I did find myself needing it in the next few months?

4) If I were to pass this item on to my child/grandchildren/best friend/neighbor, would they see it as a blessing or a burden?

If you’re still hand-wringing over a particular item or items, give yourself one Maybe box, leave it in a visible spot with a marked expiration date (“Donate if not used or passed on by February 1st.”), and move on to something else. Sometimes a little distance makes all the difference.

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Organization is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s changes to daily habits and small wins that add up over time, and making that kind of commitment to yourself is always a major Do in my book.

Happy organizing (and decluttering!), friends!