Week 1: Uncover the Roots of Chaos

You may be surprised at how deep the roots of your clutter may go. My clients are often shocked that I ask questions about their childhood homes or what their homes looked like before the children arrived. In addition, I find that most of my clients are ashamed of the condition of their homes. But here are some basic truths you need to consider before you really get to work on organizing your home:

  • None of us has ever been taught how to get organized. I hope you will be relieved to learn that getting organized is a teachable skill.
  • Perhaps a health challenge robs you of the vital energy needed to complete an organizing task with speed and grace. (Some examples that come to mind are chronic fatigue syndrome, attention deficit disorder and depression.) Learning to manage the physical challenge of getting and staying organized is the first order of business.
  • An isolated experience or perhaps an extended condition from your past could make getting organized more difficult for you than for other people you know. Recently, for example, one of my clients actually asked me if she was wasting her time. Her brother told her they were born without the "organizing gene"! Here we will examine your life as a whole through the journal assignments.

Let's Get Started
In the best of all possible worlds, you will be able to sit down immediately and work on the exercises I have prepared for you. Realistically, some of you may run into time constraints. You may be facing deadlines at work or have sick children at home. Please do these when you know the time is right.

If you have no time because there is fear in the pit of your stomach, take heart. The first series of exercises will open the door to freedom from fear. No one can keep you a prisoner of chaos except you. This Challenge is not about creating an organized closet or buying a day planner. It is a call to personal freedom and spiritual fulfillment.

Before you start weekly exercises and journal questions, you'll need to learn how to create three new habits so you can achieve your goals. Many members on the Get Organized message board refer to this process as their "3 daily habits" or their "daily habit journey." **If you have taken the challenge before, feel free to go ahead to the Week One Exercises and Journal entries. (Though it might be a good idea to refresh yourself on the concept.) If you are NEW to the challenge and are eager to organize your home (as we all are!), I promise you that jumping ahead will only confuse you.

Did you feel a burst of energy when you signed the Community Challenge® commitment contract? Do you hope that this is the time you get organized and stay that way forever? Whether you have whispers of chaos in certain areas of your home or a huge storm of chaos blowing throughout your residence, take heart. You can absolutely, without fail change your life and the way you live. All you have to do is take one step at a time. But before you take even that first step, there are three principles you should embrace.

One: You need to make up your mind to enjoy this journey. You didn't create your mess in one afternoon, and I promise it will take more than one afternoon to establish something better in its place.

Two: It's important to understand that it takes 21 consecutive days of repeating an action before it becomes a habit. What does this have to do with getting organized? The creation of simple, positive good habits will plant our feet firmly in the right direction of creating an environment we can be proud of.

Three: Before you jump into the idea of organizing your entire house, you need to set small goals. I want you to stop and think about this concept. What does a baby do when it first starts to walk? It takes baby steps. The same process must happen for you.

My favorite candidates are:

  • Make your bed every morning
  • Never leave dirty dishes in the sink
  • Put your clean dishes away
  • Place your keys in the same spot every time you enter your home or office
  • Take the garbage out daily
  • Hang your clothes in the closet every night

Feel like those objectives are too minor to make an impact on your life? I understand completely. You are afraid you will lose your momentum. You want to clean the closet! You are concerned that family members and co-workers will be watching for those big changes you promised. Perhaps you have a deadline in mind -- your mother-in-law is coming for a visit in two weeks and you want to show her more than just journal entries and that you are putting your keys in the same place!

When the Get Organized Community Challenge® first ran in January 2001, many of the ladies were up in arms at the idea of taking on such small projects. They did not want to begin the process of change with such seemingly passive activities. Just go look ask the GO Girls what they think about that now! I understand your fears, but before you tackle the big projects, you need to build a strong base.

When you walk into a room with an unmade bed, how does it make you feel? It makes me feel tired and sloppy. How does the drama of lost keys affect you? I know I always wonder how I could be so stupid. In truth we're just human beings. These small things, however, are the battlefield on which we fight the daily war against low self-esteem, fear of success and fear of failure.

If you follow these guidelines, and start with the small tasks, you are going to have changed the way your home feels by the time we get up on our feet to create the perfect closet. That's what these simple actions do!

If you say: "For the next 21 days, I will work on my office," you will have missed the boat. If you say: "For the next 21 days, I am going to open my mail the minute I pick it up and toss what I don't need," you'll have a habit established. Do you see the difference? Once the small habits are established, then I promise, you'll be able to move onto the big tasks of cleaning the closet, organizing your filing cabinets, etc.

I ask you to pick three actions and repeat them for 21 consecutive days. Don't add any more tasks until those actions are a part of the very fabric of your every day life. For those of you who have never been organized, and have no idea what being organized looks like or feels like, take heart. A bed that is made, a sink free of dirty dishes and a house without overflowing garbage in every room are the bricks that form the foundation for an organized life! And, amongst these scattered bricks, we need to find rewards. Why not take a minute to decide which three habits you wish to create.

Start by pulling out a calendar. The calendar could be expensive leather bound book with a compartment for your Palm Pilot. Or it could be the free calendar you got in January. The point is to start keeping track of your time. Be sure you have adequate space to note commitments.

Pick one goal (e.g., hang up keys) and write the number "1" in red on your start date in your calendar. Count 21 days ahead and write the number "21" on the designated day. When you get to day 21, and have hung up your keys for three weeks straight (or what ever task you chose), you get to celebrate with a special reward! Why not make a list of some things you consider a reward for a task well done? My list would have things like this:

  • Have a latte at the local coffee house
  • Go to a movie or rent one
  • Purchase a new plant
  • Take a drive to the country
  • Relax with a bubble bath

Over the next six weeks, you will have nothing to lose but your chaos and everything to gain. As the saying goes, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." I invite you to take that step today.

Take no more than five minutes for each question. Use your Zen Organizing Journal. Be open to discovery. Don't be surprised to hear yourself exclaim, "I had no idea that's why I do that!"

Please answer the following questions in your journal:

  1. My childhood home was very...
    (Here I am looking for a detailed description. For example, my mother kept a spotless, pile-free, clutter-free home. Her chaos was hidden behind closet doors and in drawers.)
  2. How many environments have you lived in? Describe them.
    (Are you away from home for the first time living in a dorm? Did you just get married? Are you an empty-nester? See how different the various environments of your life have been. Were you always a neat freak, for example, until your children were born? Have you been influenced by your spouse?)
  3. The last time I tried to get organized...
    (Write here about the experience. Were you successful and simply unable to maintain it? Were your family members and coworkers supportive? What did you like about the change?)
  4. Maintaining an organized environment is hard/easy for me because...
    (How do you relate to your environment? What motivates you? What prevents you from living in a calm world? Is it something inside you or someone else sharing the space?)

Those of you who are familiar with other iVillage challenges may note that when you tried to stop smoking, lose weight or start exercising, similar requests were made of you to examine your life in a broader context than just your eating or smoking habits. All of your iVillage teachers come from the same place: the desire to offer you tools to heal whatever ails your soul. Chaos, extra weight, bad health habits and so on are merely manifestations. Heal one area and the others automatically reap a benefit.

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