All-or-Nothing Organizing

by Tina on August 3, 2010

Have you ever started on an organizing project, pulled everything out into a working space, expended great effort and time going through your items… only to get stopped mid-project (time constraint or other commitments)… have to shove it all back in its original space half organized, get frustrated, and completely lose your interest in continuing the project?

I have a suggestion for you. I know it sounds like it would barely make a dent, but consider whether or not you could pull out one drawer at a time? One shelf at a time? One box from the attic/basement at a time? Think Baby Steps.

Without Baby Steps, you might get caught in All-or-Nothing Thinking. Many of us tend to think about our organizing projects in two categories: (1) All-Thinking: grand, elaborate plans to declutter and organize a spare bedroom in one day – a room that has been a catch-all room for over 10 years, where we can’t even open the door anymore, because there’s so much stuff on the other side; or (2) Nothing-Thinking: no hope of ever making a dent in the same room just described , so we just give up on it.

I struggle with All-or-Nothing-Thinking, too. For years, it kept me from finishing projects of all kinds. I would bite off more than I could chew, get flustered, and abandon the project, thinking “see, I knew this wouldn’t work.”

A good example is my struggle with maintaining my health. In the past, I have been really good at dieting. Numerous times, using a protein-shake only diet (no real food) for 12-16 weeks (this is really unhealthy by the way), I have lost 50-60 pounds each time. Every time, there I was 50 pounds lighter and feeling great! But then, real food was “available” to me again.

Off the diet, I would not limit my food choices almost at all (All-Thinking). On the diet, I limited my food choices too severely (Nothing-Thinking). How could I end the yo-yo dieting?

(I hear many of you saying, well, lady, just eat less and exercise more. But, Michael Thurmond says I can eat more and exercise less! I like that plan better. J)

Though the Nothing-Thinking diet always worked in terms of weight loss, I always went back to my All-Thinking non-diet food plan, which resulted in the weight returning faster and faster each time and adding on more pounds to boot. Conclusion? I am really bad at maintenance.

Or, am I? Maybe I am really bad at dieting, too. Or, maybe there’s a better way altogether. What’s between All-Thinking and Nothing-Thinking?

Baby Steps. Aha!

So, I’m trying something different. Several months ago, I decided I would switch from Diet Coke as my primary liquid refreshment (6-10 cans a day) to water (and an occasional soft drink if I wanted one). I really didn’t like water. Never have. But, slowly, day-by-day, my taste buds changed. I enjoy the water. And now, the Diet Coke tastes funny. And, sugared drinks almost taste like syrup.

Next, I committed to eating a quick breakfast each morning that did not involve the McDonalds drive-thru. J And, after several weeks, I have added oatmeal and ONE protein shake (not total meal replacements) successfully. My metabolism is stoked, and I think more clearly over the course of my morning.

Now, I’m working on exercise. Today is Day 2 of 30 minutes on the treadmill each day. And, as they say, my dogs are barking. (My feet hurt.) But, I feel really good that I am taking another Baby Step – a small, positive motion in the direction of my goal… health.

I plan to keep adding healthy habits. And, months from now, maybe even a year or two from now, I expect to be at a healthy weight, eating healthy foods, getting regular exercise… and I will know how to maintain it. The same Baby Steps behavior that got me there will keep me there. I won’t have to switch from Nothing-Thinking to All-Thinking or vice versa ever again.

Now, the healthy plan above is theoretical stuff to me. It sounds like a good plan. But, I don’t have any personal, long-term experience with its success. But, these Baby Steps principles, when applied to organizing, are absolutely tried-and-true stuff to me. I’ve seen it and done it, over and over again. And, I know it works.

Decluttering and organizing works best the same Baby Steps way. Work in small, bite-sized projects one at a time over time.

Take that spare bedroom. First, you’ll be able to open the door. Then, you’ll be able to see some of the floor. Then, you’ll clear off a dresser. Then, you’ll clear off the bed. Then you’ll be able to see the closet floor. Then you’ll have room in the closet. Then, that room will be finished.

And, you will know that the same Baby Steps behavior that got you there will keep you there. And, you will be successful at maintenance. You can do this.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 (New King James Version)

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 Hello, my name is Tina Bonifacio, and I am a Professional Organizer working with residential and commercial clients in the greater Savannah, Georgia area. For more information, visit Thanks for stopping by. You are welcome back anytime.

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