In my book Organized to Last (2005) I outlined Five Steps to Getting Organized. The first step is absolutely to have a PLAN. You can organize to achieve any goal, but if you don’t know what you want or what you’re trying to accomplish, you’ll lack confidence and direction. Instead of getting organized you’ll get overwhelmed and stuck. Folks who have struggled for years to organize their space and time find that clearly stating intentions makes the process easier, even exciting.
The second step is to PURGE, which many people often dread. But saying no and letting go is less scary once you have a solid plan. Setting intentions about who you want to be and how you want to grow illuminates what things and what activities aren’t supporting those goals, so that the act of saying no and letting go becomes freeing, not painful.
Sorting is the third step of organizing, though truly steps two and three happen in tandem as you look at each item and evaluate it in light of your goals. If the item isn’t supporting your plan, that’s permission to discard (purge). If it does support your plan, then you SORT it based on use. Sorting like-with-like is a familiar and obvious part of organizing, but it is only a middle step! On its own, however, just sorting won’t get you organized. To truly organize, you have to be making decisions, and those decisions start with setting goals and letting go of things that aren’t serving your goals. Don’t neglect steps one and two!
The fourth step to organizing is PLACEMENT. Placement includes how you contain things, what you call the category, and where you put it. Beware of the temptation to buy containers before you start! It is important to know your plan, discard those things that don’t support your plan, and sort what remains BEFORE you decide where to put those things and how to hold them. You will likely find that you don’t have to spend money and may be able to use what you already have.
Once you’ve invested the time and energy to work through steps 1 – 4, don’t stop there! USE your system, and as you use it you’ll be learning ways to make it better. Life changes and therefore your systems need to evolve. There is no such thing as a perfect system, so tweak it, modify it, revise it. Allow your system to be dynamic and change over time, as you do.