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A New Approach If You’re Chronically Disorganized and Wondering What to Do About It

Contributed by: Jill McKean


People often feel frustrated when they can’t get organized. They buy storage bins, a new planner, or get a closet redesign. They get started and then just can’t keep going. Often they have struggled to get organized for a long time and self-help efforts have failed.

When disorganization becomes chronic then it undermines a person’s quality of life. This can show up as missed appointments, wasted time looking for lost items, and trouble focusing on work or projects to get things done. It can be frustrating, but there are ways to make life easier with more satisfactory results.

Traditional methods may not work: Traditional methods routinely organize things into categories. In this case, information will be stored by what it is called or how it is known. This may not be the best way to sort and store things for chronically disorganized people.

Those who struggle with getting organized often just see things in a different way. Following those natural patterns can help. For example, you might see things contextually based on the meaning that surrounds the information or item rather than seeing things broken down into categories.

Holistic approach: Unconventional methods which are organic to your feelings and creative pursuits rather than your thinking work better. Using themes can give meaning to organizing. For example, it might be easier to organize around activities, like “the coffee center” or “the dressing department” or “copy area”. You can start by creating an area so that all the things you need for that activity are together. If it’s “the coffee or tea center”, put all those items on the same shelf or in a basket near the stove or sink where you will be making a cup of tea or coffee.

Reframe it: The empty-nester is often overloaded with things no longer used or enjoyed, like toys and children’s books filling the basement. You want to pare down, but just can’t get motivated to do it. If you switch the emotional connection from the past – raising your own children – to the future and meeting the needs of kids without toys or books you can fulfill your own need to do something worthy and help those in need.

Challenge of Collections: Often, we find ourselves with collections of things sometimes without intending to be a collector. It can be as simple as collecting shells at the beach, but grows into a collection year by year. Or, you may have been a collector earlier in life of a special character or object, like frogs, but the word never got out to family and friends, so now you have a collection of dozens of frogs in different sizes and shapes filling your shelves and often going unnoticed. What to do?

When the collection no longer holds value for you or your space is limited, “playing favorites” can help. Start by picking your favorites until you can get it down to just three. Three is a great number and can easily be displayed together on a shelf to enjoy. Then you can donate the rest of the collection or possibly sell them on eBay.

Time Tips: Over commitment and a state of “rushness” are common in today’s culture and can lead to missed appointments, arriving late or just not “being present” even when you’re there.

Some ways to address over-commitment are to take a pause when a request is made to consider before you commit or to drop two activities before taking on a new one. To better manage feeling rushed, try scheduling “in-between” times. By adding some transition time, you have time to wrap up your thoughts about the prior activity and prepare thought for the next activity. Effectively using transition time can help slow you down from a frenetic pace to a more natural human pace and add enjoyment to your life and activities.

If you’re chronically disorganized consider these approaches and see if they give you new insight that can help you get better organized and live a more fulfilled life.

Jill McKean helps busy people pare down & simplify and improve their time management, so they can enjoy life more. She helps clients get organized both on-site and by phone coaching. Jill is a member of NAPO and NSGCD.

To learn more about how Jill helps people get organized, go to

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Posted on February 02, 2009