Technically, there are more than three organization mistakes that most of us make. But, I’ve distilled them down to the three biggest. These organization mistakes are the ones that once you understand what they are and how to avoid them (using simple strategies), organizing your entire world becomes instantly easier.

I’ll start with the grande dame of organization mistakes because if it’s the only one you have time to ingest, then you’ll leave here better prepared for anything that comes your way. But, if you read all three, you’ll finally figure out how to get and stay organized.

Mistake #1 Organizing things without leaving enough space for change

Change happens. It’s the one thing you can count on in life. Yet, none of us plan for it when we organize. Not leaving space is the main reason things don’t stay organized. Organizers constantly tell you to declutter because guess what happens when you declutter … you create space.

For example, as an organizer, I spend a lot of time looking at perfect images of organized pantries, coat closets, filing cabinets or garages on Instagram. I jokingly refer to these as “ pantry porn”. I think my favorite images are those fridges that are rainbow, color-coded perfections with every square inch taken up by yogurts and fruit side by side, lined up like military regiments. But after marveling, my second thought is always, “Where do they put their leftovers without ruining everything?”

Simple Strategy: By all means, make the pantry porn of your dreams a reality in your kitchen. But remember, your perfect fridge will be fleeting unless you keep open space in the fridge and on the door for new and unexpected foods to make their way in there. When I say space, I mean quite a lot of space, like a shelf’s worth of space. This goes for every square inch of your house.

Mistake #2: Thinking Organization Is about perfection

Organization is not about perfection.t’s about finding things when you need them. Retrieval. The trick to being truly organized is to know how your brain is wired. Figure out your organizing personality type (take our quiz here to find out) and set-up systems that work with your natural tendencies.

It takes less energy when a system supports your innate habits. When you’re right handed, you can learn to write with your left hand. But, it’s easier to use your right hand and you’re more inclined to want to write when it’s easier.

For example, let’s say that you have ten piles of paper in your office. Let’s also say your spouse or roommate can’t stand them and harangues you about the need to organize your mess. He or she tells you to file things away. It probably does look messy but the question isn’t, “Does is look messy?”, it’s “Can you find things when you need them without stressing out?” If your answer to the latter is “Yes” then it doesn’t really matter what your answer is to the former. You’re organized.

Filing things away is a bad idea for any natural piler (Organics and Smarts). The reason? You’ll likely forget where quite a few things are and ironically, by definition, be disorganized even though things look perfect.

Simple strategy: Put structure around your organized mess. Get transparent bins and label them for each paper pile category and ensure you have enough surface area to properly house them, i.e., bookshelves, cabinet shelves, a console table. This piling method eliminates the “messy” look and keeps critics at bay.

Mistake #3: Trying to Conquer your weaknesses

You don’t have to fundamentally alter what you do or who you are to be organized. Accept yourself (warts & all) and then put structures in place to better support the real you. I’m not saying nobody can change, it’s just that it’s a lot harder to change than to embrace reality.

For example, I forget events and appointments unless I write them down in my agenda and also put them in my digital calendar with reminders. This sounds absurdly duplicative but it isn’t. If I don’t do it this way then I miss appointments and meetings which is incredibly counter productive to my long-term success.

Simple Strategy: Whenever you screw up, don’t yell at yourself. Instead, ask yourself what system you could put in place to prevent another screw up. The answer to that question is the support you need to put in place. Make sure it’s one that’s easy to implement, i.e., this year I instituted a new rule, “Never agree to an appointment while talking on the phone in the car. Ask the person to email me the appointment and I’ll confirm then.” Done and done. 

Try seeing which of these organization mistakes you make in your life. Realizing you make them means you’re halfway toward ending them. Space, Retrieval, Acceptance. Make that those three words you mantra this winter and find yourself organized before spring.

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