Organizing Failure: #1 Mistake

by Ivory Soap on 07/24/2012

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You’ve cleaned the closets, the pantry, and set out a gorgeous workout schedule and meal plan.  And it all works…for three days.  Then it all falls apart and you’re back to your old habits.  What happened?

Some would say that it takes two weeks to start a new habit.  Just gut it out.  As a lifelong, right brain organization system killer who has become a well-oiled organizing machine, I can tell you: gutting it out ain’t it.  It does take two weeks to start a new habit, but that’s not the problem with getting organized.

The Principle

When learning to do something new, isolate the skill.

Learning two things at once overwhelms and frustrates us.  Don’t learn to dance the same week you’re getting used to that new prosthetic leg.  The same applies to organizing.  Unfortunately, we do this to ourselves without even realizing it.

#1 Organizing Mistake:  Organizing the life you WANT, not the life you HAVE.

Organizing is its own new habit.  Unfortunately, we use it to force ourselves to start a bunch of other new habits.  That’s beautiful, to start new good habits, but not WHILE you’re starting the organizing habit.  Organize the life you have!  After six weeks or so, start another new habit.

Daisy has a great way of putting this. Be Your Own Butler.  Imagine you are your own butler and you’ve been cooking and shopping for you for YEARS.  What would be in the house?   Do you always throw your towel in the same spot?  Change clothes in the same place?  Have two glasses of wine every night?  Often skip breakfast need snacks later in the day?  That’s what you organize first.

What It Looks Like

Meal Planning:  If you only eat together twice a week, accept it, plan for it.  If you end up making hot dogs for the kids and ordering pizza twice a week, accept it, plan for it.  You can change habits later.  Planning is the new habit.  Plan to be who you’ve been for YEARS.

Chores:  Do you only deep clean when Mom is coming?  Chart out her visits and plan all those chores right before she comes.  Do you only mop when there’s visible dirt? Accept it, plan for it, change it later if you like.

Time Management:  Do you always sit and watch TV with the kids at night before bed?  Schedule it in and go ahead and pick what you want off Netflix for the week, or whatever you usually do.  Do you tend to do laundry on a certain no-more-panties schedule?  Count your panties and schedule it. Change it later.

How to Successfully Organize Yourself

  • Pick one area of your life to organize.  I started with meals.
  • Don’t plan things you don’t usually make or don’t usually do.
  • Do this for a few weeks so that you can get the hang of accepting who you are.  It’s not easy to look at your life honestly and do it on purpose.  It hurts a little.  It will take a few weeks to stop lying to yourself about your real life in this area.
  • You’ll know you’re kidding yourself if you keep not cooking what you’ve planned or if you keep not doing what was on your day planner.
  • Schedule in what you ACTUALLY ate/did the next week.  Did you plan a homecooked meal after dance and karate but just picked up fast food because you were tired?  Did you skip working out for your favorite TV show?  Plan for it next week.
  • Once you have a routine you actually obey and have firmly established your organizing habit in this area, then change one thing, or move to the next area of your life.


{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Denise July 24, 2012 at 4:50 am

Love it, thanks!

Jayne July 24, 2012 at 5:17 am

Great post! Except who you are, finally!

Paula July 24, 2012 at 6:16 am

Love this.

Portia McCracken July 24, 2012 at 8:07 am

Deanna, you are truly brilliant! I’ve read dozens of organizing tips and none of them–NONE OF THEM–make as much sense as this. I might even be able to succeed at it, if I follow your lead.

I thank you, my closets thank you, my spare rooms thank you, my attic stairs thank you, my routine (or lack thereof) thanks you.

Ivory Soap July 24, 2012 at 9:52 am

Awww, thank y’all. And Portia, I’m glowing. GLOWING.

leah hynson July 24, 2012 at 2:54 pm

That is like the most honest instructions I’ve ever had! Its like men are from mars, women from venus brilliantly eye opening. I can do this.

Kate July 25, 2012 at 8:33 am

Organization is the bane of my existence…I’ve been doing all the wrong things for years! This is brilliant. Thank you so much!

Laura July 25, 2012 at 9:42 am

Very encouraging and gracious

Joanne July 27, 2012 at 4:56 pm

So true! You’ve definitely articulated why those seriously intended ideas we have often come to nothing.

Lynn Crowder Maust September 12, 2012 at 9:09 pm

It’s accept who you are…not except….I am an English freak….sorry!

Lisa October 5, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Love this, funny and true. makes so much sence.

Jenn October 12, 2012 at 6:38 am

This is incredible! So blunt, lol. When I was younger, this is what I needed to hear and I bet it took me 15 years of trying to get it together before I finally figured out that “organizing” is impossible if you don’t just accept who and what you are. The next step was admitting that not every system works for every person! Thanks for a great article!

Kitchen Witch Skyfae July 9, 2013 at 11:29 pm

I love this little article. I’ve had no problems getting organized, it’s staying organized that has always been the problem.

One of which for me is the dining room table – it is the dumping ground for many a folk I think who piles just keep getting bigger then you say ‘seriously, it’s just going to get messy again, why bother cleaning it off’

Anna December 10, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Very sound advice.

anonymous July 18, 2014 at 7:42 pm

This might actually work for me!

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