Chances are good that getting organized was on your list of New Year's resolutions.
Congratulations. At least you were organized enough to make a list.
Now, let's make sure you keep that promise to yourself.
Over the years, I've been fortunate enough to interview and learn from some of the best organizers in the business, and I've picked up some useful tips and tricks along the way. I'm sharing some of my favorites in the hope they'll help you organize your way to a more serene 2012.
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■ Organizing is about changing behavior, not buying stuff.
Stores seduce us this time of year with displays of bins and drawer dividers and file boxes, but resist the urge to buy them in the misguided opinion they'll make you organized. They won't, at least not by themselves. To get organized, you need to create a system and stick to it.
Instead of rushing to the store in the first flush of organizing fever, spend some time getting rid of what you don't need and figuring out how you're going to use and store the rest. Once you know exactly what you have and what you need, you can buy or make organizing tools that support your system and fit your space.
■ Mom was right: A place for everything, and everything in its place.
Clutter results from indecision, and indecision results from not having thought through how to handle the stuff that's an inevitable part of our lives. If you create a place for the bills and the scissors and your committee's meeting minutes, you're more likely to put them where they belong instead of leaving them lying around. Then, when you need them, you'll be able to find them.
■ Organized does not mean neat and tidy.
I got this little gem from Chris Perrow of Perrow Systems in Stow, Ohio, and I found it freeing. Organization, she says, is simply being able to find what you want when you want it.
It's OK if your receipts are jumbled in a shoebox instead of arranged neatly in folders, or your rolls of gift-wrapping ribbon are kept in a plastic bin instead of being threaded onto a hanging rod and grouped by color. As long as you can find what you need quickly and without a lot of effort, you're organized.
■ Keep a family binder. This suggestion came from organizing guru Deniece Schofield, known for making organization simple and achievable.
Schofield recommends getting a three-ring binder to keep all the papers your family needs — sports schedules, school calendars and committee rosters. Use dividers to sort the papers into categories, and consider investing in a box of plastic sheet protectors to hold the papers so you don't have to drag out the paper punch every time you want to add something to the binder. I even bought a few business-card sleeves to hold the cards of the contractors and service providers my family uses, and that alone has saved me untold time and aggravation.
■ If you use a desktop file system to organize the papers you use often, choose one that holds the file folders vertically rather than horizontally. You'd be surprised how much more likely you are to put papers into their proper place if you can just drop them into the top of a folder rather than taking out the folder, opening it and putting it back.
■ Over-the-door shoe organizers aren't just for shoes. I have one in my coat closet, and I store all our hats, gloves and scarves in its pockets. I've also seen them used for scarves and belts, and the kind with see-through plastic pockets are great for small toys, sewing accessories, craft supplies, hardware and similar items.
■ Know the difference between needs and wants. That advice, from author and organizer Jennifer Lovins, might just be the most important tip I've learned.
Whenever you see something you're tempted to buy, ask yourself whether you really need it. If the answer is no, think twice about how badly you really want it. That thing is probably going to become clutter, and clutter just makes our lives more stressful.
Who needs that?