A place for everything and everything in its place — or so the saying goes. I’ll admit, when it comes to organizing my stuff, my issue comes with NOT having a place for everything. And when that happens — I’m stuck. I really get frozen.
But that’s not where I want to be. I WANT a place for everything! And I want what belongs there to be in that place.
I get a tremendous amount of peace from being in a well-organized space. When I’m in a messy room or if my office area is cluttered, so are my thoughts.
So a while back (more than 10 years ago), I invested in Julie Morgenstern’s book “Organizing from the Inside Out.” And when it comes to organizing, it has become my BIBLE.
An organizing overview — plus necessary specifics
When I bought the book, I wasn’t completely ignorant of Julie and her method of organizing — thanks to Oprah Winfrey, who regularly had Julie as a guest on her show. But most of Julie’s advice didn’t register strongly with me until I actually bought her book.
What I like most about the book is two-fold: I like how well Julie breaks down her method, and I also like how she applies it in very specific ways, room by room.
The book first introduces you to organizing, as well as to why you might be having trouble with that. I’ve always been a fan of getting down to the root of any problem, so doing that first means a lot for me, personally. Better to solve the root of the problem then only its symptoms, I say!
Next, Julie tackles the specifics, room by room — and beyond, to things like accessories and photographs.
Now, before I start to organize a room, I always read and review her book first before I jump in, and refresh myself with the method and its steps. It gives me the knowledge to do organize as efficiently as possible.
A systematic method to organization
Don’t get me wrong — organizing can still be a lot of work, and it still takes time. Julie’s book isn’t the magic wand that makes those things go away. However, one thing I learned when I started to apply her system is that it takes less work and less time than you might have thought.
Organizing can appear to be very overwhelming, but I think that’s purely an impression. When you apply Julie’s method of systematically reviewing and then either removing or finding a home for each item, it breaks down a lot of that overwhelm. In fact, she has you estimate the amount of time it will take you to “attack,” as she says, your clutter. Accurate or not, at least with this time estimate, you are up against something concrete, and not just an abstract thought on your head.
Organizing broken down into five simple steps
That “attack” is broken down into five simple steps: 1) sorting, 2) purging, 3) assigning a home for the item(s), 4) containerizing, and 5) equalizing. “Equalize” is Julie’s term for maintenance — and I’ll admit that I still have trouble with that. I don’t blame the author — she discusses fully after ever section how to maintain the area. I just neglect that part on my own. I suppose it’s not as “exciting” and interesting as the overall project itself. But that’s a big mistake on my part, as it requires me to revisit big organization projects again and again, as time goes by. I will say in my defense… I’m getting better at maintaining the spaces of my home in my old age. I also have older children now who don’t make quite the mess they used to make, and that’s playing out in this home’s favor too. And of course… there’s less space now. I’ve always found it easier, for the obvious reasons, to keep a smaller place clean (and I have an easier time decorating small spaces, too).
My other personal problem — beyond not having “homes” for my stuff and failing at maintenance — is being able to let go. First, let me make it clear: I’m no hoarder. When I was younger, my mother used to praise my ability to look at a letter when it arrived, analyze it, and if it was worthless, throw it out. She was comparing me to my father, who she said had a much harder time with that.
Ironically, I now am dealing with a lot of letters — a big box full of letters — that my father sent his family when he was stationed overseas during World War II and never could part with. Now his daughter suddenly isn’t so great at throwing away letters either. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them, but I have to make a decision soon. There’s just no room for them in our downsized home (and right now, they are sitting in a big banker box in my bedroom).
Again, Julie doesn’t leave a stone underturned. She not only discusses the problem of “letting go,” she devotes a whole chapter on “what’s holding you back.” In it, she talks about the various reasons, including psychological ones, that contribute to clutter. Hence the title of her book, “Organizing from the Inside Out.” You have to deal with what’s going on inside of you before you deal with what’s outside of you — because, essentially, the outside is a reflection of the inside.
Yep. I’m still working on that. I might always be. But at least I’m not ignoring the inside.
So much clutter, so little time
I also do wish there were more hours in the day. In my life, there’s so much going on, that I have to prioritize big time. Sometimes organizing and decluttering make the list of things to do for a day. Sometimes they don’t. During vacations, when I’ve thought I could devote myself completely to decluttering my house for up to a week, there’s always that something that becomes the bigger priority.
I suppose there is a question that always has to be answered, as life is very, very short: How important is doing this particular task at this particular time? Sometimes, it’s just a fact that time is better spent with others, doing enjoyable things, as that moment is all too fleeting. I think that was one of the lessons Jesus was trying to teach Martha when she was cleaning, while her sister Mary (much to Martha’s chagrin) was instead spending time with Jesus. He wasn’t always going to be around. The mess could wait.
But, eventually, I do get to these messes — thank God! My sanity really needs for that to happen. And I’m glad to have my organizing bible to refer to, when that time arrives.
I also like doing things systematically — very step by step. It helps me stay on track. It helps me get things done. I reach my goal! So I really appreciate that Julia’s book is set up as such. It helps me reach my goal to keep my home better organized and less cluttered. I can pick a room to work on, select a date on my calendar to tackle it — and then when the day comes, I can start and maybe even finish organizing that room. It’s so satisfying, I can’t even tell you!
A realistic and doable organization system
One area I applied this system to that made an incredible difference in my life was my garage. After downsizing from my dream house (you can read about it HERE), a lot of my belongings ended up in the new garage. I couldn’t use the garage for its purpose — to store the cars. That was very frustrating.
In my area, not having the cars parked in the garage can be a real problem. I live in the north. We get winter. It snows. A LOT. And I decided… No. I was NOT going to be parking our cars out on the driveway and in the snow that winter.
I applied Julie’s five steps to the garage. It took several weekends — over several months. It took most of the fall season, if I remember correctly. But I managed to do it! Nearly by myself, too. (I did enlist my son for some help with moving heavier things.)
In the end, I got BOTH of our family’s two cars into the garage — less than 24 hours before the first snow of the season. Phew!
Here what it looked like before the clean up:
Here is the garage after I finished:
And here’s ONE car in the garage… with enough room for my daughter to pull her car in when she got home from work that evening.
I was quite proud of myself. Now, I’ll admit… there’s still more I’d like to do in there, and there’s definitely more stuff to get rid of as well. But the truth is, without Julie’s system, I don’t think I would have known how to even start. Best of all, I achieved my goal of using the garage as it was intended, by getting both cars in there before the first snowfall! She’s got a section, by the way, just about garages.