Ask the Organizer, Volume 4

Each week, Regina Leeds, leader of the Get Organized Community Challenge®, will be answering the most popular questions that she didn't have time to answer in her weekly chat.

Question: Why is dealing with paper so scary?

Regina: If you think back to the first part of this challenge, you will remember that most of our participants had a lot of resistance to dealing with the concept of time. We decided that time was a commodity like money or food. It could be squandered or used wisely. It could not be hoarded and used another day. Dealing with time shows us exactly how we are living our lives. This can be tremendously frightening until you realize that you either run and hide or take responsibility for running your own personal show.

Guess what? The papers in your office are the silent witnesses in your life. Dealing with them and taking responsibility for them will reveal many things not the least of which may include:

  • how you spend your money
  • how you use your time
  • your true interests are and/or what you are avoiding.

Question: How can you say that?

Regina: Let’s take a look at a stack of papers that may be sitting on your desk, kitchen counter or dining room table right now. I’m going to bet I would find cash receipts and credit card statements. As I collect these, I would be able to see exactly how you spend your money. Since money can be used like a comfort drug, many people want to avoid this dose of reality at all costs.

If I find a disproportionate number of expenditures, I’m going to know that a great deal of your time is spent shopping. What are the stated Life Goals you have for yourself? Would we discover that instead of taking the steps to achieve them, you are shopping? I had a client once who spent the dark days after her husband of 30 years left her for another woman, compulsively shopping. She sat in her darkened bedroom, ate and watched TV. I would never have known this except her office revealed a huge amount of QVC receipts.

Perhaps you would tell me in a face to face meeting how much you want to go back to school and get your degree. In going through your office, however, I would notice that you do not have a single college catalogue! I might, however, find information about other pursuits. Again, we’d make files for all this info and I might gently suggest you follow what your heart and not your mind are telling you to embrace.



Question: Is avoidance the only reason I’m afraid to deal with papers?

Regina: No! We can go right back to our old stand-by: no one ever taught you the skill of office organization. The material posted this week is actually a primer. The chapter on the office in The Zen of Organizing is one of the longest and comes chock full of useful tidbits. This is a big area to master and can be conquered just like the closet or the bathroom: one item at a time preferably over 5 hour work blocks.

Question: Are there any questions left over from last week’s chat?

Regina: Yes. One of the ladies wanted to know why the hidden areas of her home were organized but the areas everyone could see were in chaos. As some of you know, in Zen I write about my mother being the exact opposite: our home looked like Martha Stewart lived with us until you opened a closet door or peered into a drawer or cupboard.

My mother’s situation was easy to diagnose. She was a depression era baby who grew up possessed by what other people would think of her. Her sole motivation in keeping our house organized was surviving the judgement of others. I keep my home in order because it nurtures me. I truly don’t care what other people think about me!

So, we could get into a complex mental game here and wonder why someone’s inner world is organized while the outer is in chaos. I have a better idea! Lots of my clients tell me the same thing and when I look into their 'inner world', I don’t think it's organized! It's in order by comparison with the chaos on display but it isn't truly organized!

There are wonderful, inexpensive things you can purchase to bring drawers into true order. At closet and bathroom stores, for example, you can pick up:

  • Drawer liner so that the contents of all of your drawers won’t get re-arranged every time you open and close them.
  • Small containers that will fit into a drawer and help you keep like items together. There are plastic versions as well as wooden ones depending on your budget. You know that cutlery tray you use for silverware? Well, small containers in a bathroom, kitchen or office drawer will create the same kind of order.
  • Lingerie and sock drawers are traditionally a jumble unless you pick up dividers for these items. Stores like Bed Bath & Beyond, Linens 'n'Things and Hold Everything can become your personal toy store! Can’t leave the house? Call the 800 numbers for these stores and for catalogues like Lillian Vernon’s Neat Ideas, Solutions or The Container Store.

Question: In addition to your web site and Amazon, where else can I purchase the Zen of Organizing?

Regina: Your local bookstore can call the publisher and request a copy. This information is available to ALL bookstores. If they tell you they can’t do this for you, they are being lazy!

If you live in the Los Angeles area, I will be doing a book signing at Portrait of a Bookstore Saturday, February 17th at 1 p.m. It's a delightful, picturesque bookstore and coffeehouse in Valley Village in the San Fernando Valley. You can e-mail me for the address and phone number. I’m still looking for that group photo!

Question: If I'm feeling discouraged for any reason, should I give up and wait for the Challenge to be run again?

Regina: Let me tell you a story, OK?

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I had a wonderful yoga teacher. I've spoken about her before because she was truly inspirational. At the end of the last class (it was a series of 10), she said: "Some of you will walk out of here and decide not to take any more classes. Once you have been introduced to yoga, however, you never forget! So, maybe ten years from now, when you’re living in St. Louis, you’ll wake up one day and say: 'Gosh, I think I’ll take another yoga class!'"

I feel the same way about this Challenge. It may not be time for you to take charge of your physical environment. Perhaps you are in the process of healing your body? Or perhaps you are mourning the death of someone dear and need to deal with your grief and depression? Whatever the reason, remember this: all things truly happen when the time is right. The seed has been planted. Your time to flower is written on your soul. The call will come.

See last week's edition of Ask the Organizer

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