This week I'd like to introduce you to my friend, colleague and client, Erin Wells. Erin is the Founder & Senior Productivity Strategist of Chosen Course and the Founder and Owner of Living Peace, LLC. Erin works with high performers including corporate leaders, entrepreneurs, and influencers to improve their productivity, focus, and effectiveness in their work and daily life. She is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School with a Masters of Divinity (M.Div.), and she holds the designation of Certified Professional Organizer (CPO®). In 2014, Erin received her certification as a practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), which provides many additional skills to support habit formation and behavior change which are key elements of productivity.Erin is a super smart entrepreneur who really gets what it takes to make significant change in life. Her team has helped me organize several areas of my home and life and I know this blog post will get you thinking. Please reach out to Erin if you have questions or want to learn more.
Have you ever heard the phrase “What’s happening on the outside reflects what’s happening on the inside?" After over 12 years in the organizing industry I have definitely seen proof of this axiom both in terms of how cluttered spaces can lead to cluttered minds, and how much internal space can be created when the outside world gets cleaned up.
However, a lesser known pattern that I have also witnessed is the dual-life that many people lead in which they are completely organized and meticulous at work, but then at home… well, not so much. I understand this life because in many ways I lived it as a kid.
I first decided to start my professional organizing business when I was 23 and in graduate school. My family was very encouraging and supportive, particularly because I was blessed to have an entrepreneurial mother. However, my mother shared my plan with Clara, the lovely woman who had been our house-cleaner since I was a teenager, and well… Clara laughed for a SOLID 3 minutes.
Clara remembered my bedroom as a teenager which was like many teenage bedrooms: a total disaster area. Clothes and books strewn everywhere; my teenage bedroom was a cluttered mess.
However, what Clara didn’t see was my schoolwork which was always meticulously organized. I had separate notebooks for each subject, a planner that I used religiously, and I always knew where every handout, homework assignment, and research paper could be found.
I recognized the consequences of failing to keep my schoolwork organized, and it mattered enough to me to avoid those consequences. However, I simply didn’t care if there were clothes all over my bedroom, it inconvenienced no one but me (and Clara.) I was living a dual life, just like some of you might be.
I’ve known many clients over the years who would say confidently that they are very organized at work, but at home they just haven’t stayed on top of things. (And I’ve known a few people for whom it was the reverse with a very organized home and a disaster in their office.) Then comes the day when they finally hit their breaking point and realize that the consequences of this imbalance are unpleasant and problematic.
For me, the beginning of that shift occurred when I started college and was living in a quad my freshman year. Four girls in two small rooms forced me to get more organized, even in my personal space. I became the “dorm mom” who everyone came to for the unusual tool because I usually had it and could find it quickly.
Why does this imbalance in organization happen?
Don’t care- We just decide that we don’t care about having part of our life be messy.
Fewer Consequences- In our minds, there aren’t as many consequences to having a disorganized home as there are to being disorganized at work. (Or occasionally, vice versa.)
Sheer exhaustion- We spend so much of our time working, commuting, or taking care of the essentials that we simply have no energy to keep life more organized.
Moving homes- We move and don’t take the time to setup good systems in our new home. So, we just live with the clutter for months and years “making do” and trying to ignore the boxes that still need to be unpacked.
Lack of family support - If you merge households with a new partner who doesn’t have the same standards that you do, then things may gradually devolve for both of you and feel very overwhelming to resolve. (Yes, I have seen clutter end marriages.)
Probably, we could think of a few more. But, the real question is what to do about it. Start by asking yourself: “Is this a problem?”
For some people the answer is no. But, you might pause for just a couple more minutes to examine “What this disorganization is costing me?":
Are you frequently losing track of things and have to make extra shopping runs to by duplicate items?
Are you misplacing bills and getting late fees?
Are your closets so jammed full that you’re wrestling clothes out of them to get dressed every morning?
Are your belongings getting damaged because they are not receiving the proper care or don’t have a “safe” place to live?
How much time are you wasting each morning as you stumble around trying to get ready for work?
You are the only one who knows what this imbalanced disorganization is actually costing you, and you get to decide if it matters enough to you to do something about it.
However, if you do, here’s the good news: if you’re already fairly organized at work that probably means that you already have the skills that could be effectively transferred home. So, you just need a plan to get started.
My best advice:
Don’t try to “get organized” in a weekend. Schedule blocks of organizing time each week 90 minutes-3 hours is ideal. And make caring for your home life a consistent part of your routine rather than a bi-yearly binge event.
Always start by sorting like items together. You will make better decisions about what needs to stay and go if you see that you have 12 pairs of black pants but only wear 3 of them.
Get some support. Ask a non-judgmental friend to become a clutter buddy and help each other out with your organizing projects. It will be more fun and having that support can help you make better decisions. Or if you don’t have an appropriate buddy, then hire a professional organizer. My team works with clients virtually via Skype, or you can find someone local to your area through NAPO.
Focus on making consistent progress. Depending on how cluttered your environment became it might take a little while to dig yourself out of it. As I’ve said to clients, if you’ve been spending 10 years building up this situation, then it will probably take more than 10 days to dig you out of it, and probably more than 10 weeks to establish the new habits that will allow you to maintain your new systems. So, have patience with yourself. Progress, not perfection.
For insights on a few more common organizing pitfalls, click here to request our Living Peace Top Organizing Pitfalls Action Guide.
If you are living a dual-life, then I know for a fact that you can even out the imbalance. Both because I’m living proof, and because you’ve already demonstrated that you have the needed skills. You are just expanding where you’re choosing to apply them. So, good luck and get organizing!