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The Normal Person’s Guide to New Year’s Resolutions: Getting Organized

Advice from a hoarding therapist, a professional organizer and more

All too often, it feels like our lives are slipping out of our control: Unopened mail piling up, deadlines looming, home a mess. “If I could just get all this trivial day-to-day stuff running smoothly,” we tell ourselves, “All the big stuff would fall into place!” But somehow, this never actually happens, and things continue to spiral.

So what’s the fix? How do we get our shit together when most of us are so bad at it that “getting organized” shows up near the top of every list of popular New Year’s resolutions, year after year? We rifled through the random pile of experts’ telephone numbers scattered across our desks until we found some that could give us useful advice. If this is the year you swear you’re finally, honestly, no-for-reals-this-time, going to get organized, this may be what you need to hear.

Brian Scudamore, founder, 1–800-GOT-JUNK?: To stay organized, I’ve learned to maximize my schedule so I can be my most productive self. For me, using Mondays as “Think Days” and taking Fridays off completely is the ideal formula for a reimagined work week. On Think Days, I don’t go into the office or take meetings: Instead, I spend the day identifying my biggest priorities for the week and month ahead, using a two-step system I’ve developed over the years. This ensures I stay on track for both short- and long-term goals.

The next three days are back-to-back-to-back Focus Days when I’m in the office executing on priorities. Then Friday is my Free Day to do what I love. It’s a chance to get out of my head and stop thinking about work. Ironically, these days are often when I come up with my best ideas! Spending strategic time away from work allows me to operate with precision during the week.

Ashley Moon Stanfield, professional organizer: Staying organized requires consistent mindfulness, from the inside-out, such as being in the habit of putting things in their place, being a conscious consumer and not accumulating more than you have space for or time to put away. As you bring things in, you release things, too. Because our inner world is reflected in our outer space, I’ve begun virtually coaching some clients on a deeper level, helping them commit to their vision and soul purpose and getting out of their own way by releasing any distractions that don’t serve them, their space or their life anymore. From the inside-out: That’s truly what it’s all about!

Blake Thompson, anxiety and hoarding therapist: When we think of people who are chronically unorganized, there’s usually something else going on — typically some form of mental health issue such as ADHD, depression and anxiety.

If you’re suffering from a mental health condition, you probably don’t need to be told that you need to get organized — you know it, and you beat yourself up about it regularly. You also don’t need to be told how to get organized — you know how to do it, you just can’t because you keep getting in your own way. The hard truth is that neither organizational tips nor self-criticism are going to help you break free from this self-defeating cycle.

Sustainable organization will be within reach just as soon as you deal with the underlying issues. Evidence-based psychotherapy is often the most helpful way of addressing such issues, but there are a number of other things you can do to improve your emotional and behavioral symptoms: Eating healthier, exercising more, reconnecting with friends and family members, cutting back on psychoactive substances such as alcohol and getting more or better sleep. All are made much more difficult with these conditions, but to the extent one is able to do them, they can lift us out of that self-defeating cycle and help us get on with other things we’ve been wanting to do for a while — like get organized.

Sue-Meng Lau, director of workplace solutions, Dollar Shave Club: Micromanage yourself as little as possible. Avoid too many subfolders or stacks of physical or virtual piles of paperwork. This way, you can maintain and sustain an acceptable level of organization — shoot too high and the system will fail, and yes, that’s why there’s shit everywhere.

Use colors or graphics as a cue to yourself and your team that immediately implies a specific action or provides an immediate cue to what this information means. I work on multiple projects at the same time and with a wide range of vendors: Email subject headings must be explicit and clean with required action in CAPS. I use color to organize Priority Levels, different color Post-It notes for different action items and I make my team follow suit. The key is be consistent with yourself and your team, and that will allow the team to be super-organized, efficient and seamless.

Take the shortest path from issue to solution and minimize passing the ball from one person to another — you should be able to assign a task/project to the right person in two steps. If you require too many steps, you will for sure set yourself up for being unorganized, super inefficient and always behind the eight ball. Think creatively, know your job well and don’t be afraid to pause, assess and then ask the bigger question of why, to come up with a more organized way of doing things.

Dr. Bren Hudson, life coach and Jungian-trained depth psychologist: From my perspective, the most important aspect of getting organized and setting goals is doing it from our soul mind, rather than our ego mind. In other words, rather than starting within the limitations of physical time, space and resources, why not start with your spiritual goals? Are you focused on getting enlightened in this lifetime? Or will you bypass this spiritual goal for a new house, a new car, a vacation, etc.? It truly comes down to being clear about your spiritual purpose in this lifetime and following through with your goal setting. The time to become self-realized is now, not after the kids are out of school or your retirement vests.

At the end of our lifetime on this Earth, the only thing that matters is the lessons we learned to further our soul’s evolution, because that’s all we take with us from life to life. If, by chance, you missed that memo and focused all your goal setting on accumulating material wealth, then you wasted this lifetime.