By Janice Russell

Want to delete clutter from your space and schedule? If ‘having a case of clutter’ was a medical disease, you might go to a doctor for a diagnosis and solution for negating the unwanted effects. In reality, dealing with clutter isn’t any different. The American Heritage Dictionary states that diagnose means ‘to analyze the nature or cause of’.1 In order to most effectively remove unwanted clutter, the first steps are to figure out how the clutter happened, what you want the space or schedule to look like, and establish a way to get to the goal.

How did that stuff accumulate in those locations? Here are some suggestions:

• It was the first horizontal surface with space.

• There wasn’t time to put the article in its home.

• It wouldn’t fit into the¦.

• The item doesn’t have a home.

• The paper needs to be processed before it can be filed.

• You want to put the piece with other similar pieces but you can’t remember where they are located.

If your schedule is overstuffed, here are possible causes:

• You said ‘yes’ when you should have said no.

• Some tasks took longer to complete than expected.

• You want each assignment done perfectly.

• Delegating ‘isn’t your bag’.

• You added more jobs than you deleted.

• Procrastination.

You probably have other reasons for the clutter accumulation. Take a little time to think through them. It will save time in the long run because in order to realize organization with lasting results, you have to attack the root of the problem. While we are discussing causes, I need to make a distinction between being disorganized and being chronically disorganized. If someone is disorganized, their space or schedule is “lacking order or methodical arrangement or function.2 Chronic disorganization as defined by Judith Kolberg, founder of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (NSGCD) is the result of the bad fit between people who organize unconventionally and the very conventional organizing methods which exist for them to use. In order to determine whether or not a person has chronic disorganization, they must be able to answer to all three of the following questions:

• Has getting organized been a challenge for you most of your adult life?

• Does being disorganized negatively affect your quality of life in some way every day?

• Have you been unable to sustain organization?

If you are chronically disorganized, you may find that you need the assistance of a professional organizer or another support system in order to begin and maintain organization. For additional information about chronic disorganization including Facts Sheets, please visit the website of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization.

Regardless of the nature of your disorganization, you need to define your ultimate goal. If you want the appearance of neatness, then hiding items out of sight and straightening are your main activities. In the short run, it may feel good; in the long run, the clutter will likely return. My guess is that you would like a functional space in which items are in logical places for easy retrieval. What does this look like to you? Do you prefer an atheistic atmosphere filled with beauty or a more utilitarian environment? How do you want to feel when you are in the room?

The same principles apply when looking at a stuffed schedule. Do you want to spend time with family and friends? What about learning a new skill or working on a favorite hobby? Would you like to travel? Which activities in your schedule support your personal and professional goals? How do you want to feel at the end of the day, week, or month?

After you have defined your organizing goals, it is time to develop a plan. This can be as simple or as complex as needed. For some it might incorporate big picture goals and individual objectives with specific deadlines including consequences and rewards. For others who like greater flexibility, having one or two activities to complete within a month may be more practical. Still others may get excited by creating a collage of what they want a space to look like and draw stars on each section as it is completed.

For more information on setting specific organizing goals, Get Organized This Year! has chapters on setting organizing goals, decluttering techniques, and other practical strategies to kick-off your organizing. Stay tuned because in future months, we will explore other tactics to bring you organization with lasting results.

© 2010 Janice Russell, CPO-CD. North Carolina’s first Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization, Janice Russell, and her firm, Minding Your Matters® Organizing, have built a reputation for helping business and residential clients organize their space, items, documents, and time using the flexible structure principle. Janice’s workshops on topics such as tackling the no time trap, perishing paper piles, and stopping stuff from being overwhelming are dynamic, informative, and practical. Minding Your Matters® is dedicated to helping people achieve organization with lasting results in their personal and professional lives. Janice is highly regarded within her industry. She is a Golden Circle Member of National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) and past president of the North Carolina Chapter of NAPO. Janice is the author of the book “Get Organized This Year!” and two audios: Stop Letting Stuff Overwhelm You and Tackle the No Time Trap. For more information, please visit or call 919-467-7058.