The Three Stages of Getting Organized

The Three Stages of Getting Organized

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Years ago, I was burning the candle at both ends. You know what I’m talking about working 8-5 at a job that wasn’t all that fulfilling (although I liked the people there, and still do) as well as volunteering for a start-up project (with my husband) and spending most of our free time there. I was exhausted, and about to find out what sleep deprivation was really all about — we were going to be parents. But, that’s another story.

I came home on maternity leave and was sitting in my living room. I looked up as I leaned my head back to rest and saw my ceiling fan and there was a ridiculous amount of dust on it. This bothered me. A LOT. Why? Who knows. People swore I was “nesting.” Okay, maybe.

I not only cleaned that fan, but then I took off around the house. That’s where my life began to change, under the microscope of sorting through almost everything I owned.

Through my experience, I’ve learned that there are three main stages to getting organized.

Getting Organized, Level One:

Going through nearly everything you have in your possession has a very interesting effect on your mind. You start by asking yourself things like: Why do I have this? What possessed me to buy this? Is this really valuable? Whoa, that is one interesting shade of green . . . and the list goes on.

This is what I call Level One. This is where you get rid of stuff that you really don’t use, but couldn’t seem to part with because you simply hadn’t stopped to ask yourself “Do I use it, and do I love it?” The answer for this level comes easily once you do it.

Getting Organized, Level Two:

This is when you stop and think about the “Do I use it and love it?” question even more. Normally if you are doing this yourself (as I did), you have more storage space after Level One, and you have been assigning new homes for things. But, you are still feeling like you still have too much “stuff.”

Many things that made it past level 1 are useful and you have needed them at some point. Some of them are outdated but may have cost a fair amount of money when you bought them. The cost of something can really inhibit parting with it, and answering the “use it/love it” question requires more thought.

This is the level where things that were given to you by a family member or friend (who is no longer in your life) are called into question. You can wrestle with some really potent guilt at this stage, whether it’s self-imposed or from someone else. Ask yourself some hard questions: Do I really need this? Can I find this elsewhere? Are the memories associated with this important to me?

Does the person I’m “saving” this for really want it? Am I ok with letting it go to someone who can use it more regularly than I do?

This was a gift, but is it really something I need in my life? The answers sometimes won’t come overnight, and the process can sometimes be tearful.

If you’re having problems parting with items, I suggest trying to put them in a “holding box.” This is a box that you’re not going to run out and donate immediately, but let it sit for a few months or even a year or two. If at any point you’re like, no, I actually do want that item and I shouldn’t have gotten rid of it, you can always go take it out of the box. However, in my experience, I don’t end up going back to it and can eventually add the whole box to my next donation trip without feeling any guilt or attachment.

Getting Organized, Level Three:

This is the tough stuff. Honestly, I don’t say that lightly. For me, the room where this came into play was my Home Office. At the time, it was where our important family paperwork, resources, and general “life leftovers” were kept. Some people call this the “dumping room.” It was where the paperwork of life resides and comes to die. Typical things that came up here:

  • Unfinished commitments
  • Incomplete projects
  • Memorabilia of things (and people) I didn’t want to remember
  • Learning and reference materials that weren’t applicable anymore
  • Learning “tools” that promised a lot and lead to nowhere
  • Paths I had chosen that didn’t lead much of anywhere

This level prompted me to change how I thought about my life. Why? This room represented much of who I was, and some of it wasn’t pretty.

It’s interesting what had congregated in this room. One theme kept repeating itself here: “What was my role in this, do I like where it led, and what are my beliefs about it still valid?” This wasn’t easy – not by a long shot. This process challenged me to take a hard look at my life and the beliefs I held about living it – past and present.

Some might call this an “existential crisis” or a “coming of age” moment. For me, it sparked a seriously dark two years of tears, anger, confusion, and depression. I also discovered who I was, who I wanted to be, and how I had to reframe my mind no matter what other (well-intentioned) people said.

So, why should you care?

Here’s my point: you can change your life by sorting through your stuff. “Organization can change your life” isn’t some flippant saying. For me, it started in my home office. For you, it might start with a photo album or a T-shirt. Organizing and simplifying your life is so much more than sorting things, it’s about re-discovering yourself.

Things represent so much of who we are. Sorting through your stuff can change your life if you let it. The first step is to start.

What room could change your life? Share with me in the comments below!