Organization for the Chronically Unorganized

I’m going to come out and say it: I grew up messy. 

The messier my room was the easier I could find things – no matter how counter-productive that may seem – and it resulted in me not really carrying about keeping things ‘in their place’, or really knowing what that place was supposed to be.

Sure I dreamed of spotless houses in my future, but I didn’t really acknowledge that I needed to do something to change – just get a bigger house and things will have a place then….right?

Growing Up

My first real taste of organization came when I had the opportunity to attend a live-in boarding school for the last two years of high school (11th and 12th grade – right before college/uni for those outside of the US).  Not only did I have a roommate, but the couple-hour drive from my house meant I had to pack smart and only bring what I really needed.

Over the years, though, I slowly accumulated more and more until I made the slightly stupid decision to move from a two-bed-two-bath apartment into a studio-like apartment with a loft…on the third floor of a building…with no elevators…and no closets…

Let me tell you, seeing all of the things I had collected over our years together (my og roommate was now my fiancée) was mind-blowing to the point of anxiety on my part.

I knew I liked to hang on to items because they could be useful in the future but I didn’t really realize just how much I had convinced myself to keep until there wasn’t anyplace to hide things away.  To top it off, it also gave me anxiety to think about getting rid of my things – no matter how panicked I felt among them, I just could not envision life without them. My brain associated the items around me with memories, which made me feel like I was throwing away those moments if I got rid of them.

This culminated in me admitting myself to the ER because of heart-attack symptoms. Thankfully it wasn’t, I found out it was an intense panic attack and was given an anti-anxiety medication and found myself back amongst my things at home once again.

Dr. Google shouldn’t be your lifeline but….

I finally turned to the internet — often not the smartest decision but cheaper than a therapist — scouring forums and youtube to try and find organization tips that I could actually convince myself to stick to – they never really worked in the past.

I don’t remember the exact rabbit-hole I stumbled through on youtube but I found myself staring in morbid fascination at a “Hoarders” episode A&E had uploaded to the video-sharing site. 

>>> for those that don’t know, “Hoarders” is where family/friends can nominate an individual suffering from hoarding in the hopes of getting them connected with a therapist and cleaning expert that, over the course of a few days, attempt to get through to the individual as well as get their place cleaned up and habitable again (they also help them get continuing support for after the filming to make sure they benefit the most from the experience) <<<

Bless auto-play, I sat there quietly watching for hours as people fought tooth and nail to keep trivial items when their health, relationships, and even houses were falling apart around them due to the amount of stuff that they had accumulated.

It was honestly a punch in the gut and a breath of fresh air all at once:

  • It made sense
  • It made me realize I wasn’t alone
  • It made me realize that a lot of organization tips and tricks wouldn’t work for me, because I’d need to approach things differently in order to find my comfort zone alongside my hoarding tendencies.

So I started small. 

I donated a grocery bag of clothes that didn’t fit me anymore.

I donated a bag of random items that were great in a dorm room but weren’t really needed now that we were living in an apartment and I had a job (like my shower caddie, soooooo many back-up pencils and empty notebooks) and pitched items that I had been keeping just in case (notes I took from classes I didn’t really care about and dead pens -why I had so many dead pens, I still don’t know).

I bought some containers to organize back-up items that I used regularly (soaps, candles, cleaning supplies and the like) and slowly grouped similar items together to see if I really needed multiples of other things.

I adopted the mentality of ‘one in, one out’ for my wardrobe after I had managed to trim it down a bit to keep from going overboard again, focusing more on lasting fashion instead of fast-fashion.

I also have the “don’t leave a room empty-handed” mentality – it’s my favorite one.  Say you were leaving the bedroom to head to the living room to watch a movie.  Before leaving the room, you glance around and see an empty glass on the nightstand that should go in the dishwasher.  Grab it, go put it in the dishwasher, and then sit down to watch your movie.  The little things really add up if you wait but doing it one piece at a time really helps me keep from feeling overwhelmed.

That studio apartment, and the realization that came with it, occurred two years ago.

If I’m honest, I still struggle.

I have a goal to clean something daily, which varies.

I focus a lot on self-care to manage my anxiety alongside my medication.

Things now have a general place around our house, which is fantastic and mind-blowing when I think of where I came from.

I must remind myself to clean – it’s still not second nature.  I don’t know if it ever will be.  Sometimes I even bribe myself: IF you clean, THEN you can watch a youtube video (this often works).

I hoard in different ways now – my desk can get so messy without me really seeing it, I have purses filled with stuff that sit off to the side because I can’t convince myself to clean them up, yet my entire folded wardrobe has the “Marie Kondo” touch and I take the extra time to fold each and every item when I put them away (except my socks, they just get looped together with their matching pair).

Welcome to 2020

For mental health, I have ups and downs with my anxiety and my ability to keeping my hoarding-side in check. Some weeks I’m on top of every little thing and others find me staring at multiple piles that seem to have sprung up overnight.

The difference is, now I know this is normal for me.  This is my thing I have to focus on, my thing I need to keep in check.

And it’s totally do-able, which is something my anxiety didn’t want me to believe.

Still doesn’t want me to believe on the bad days.

But I give it a cheery middle finger and clean up a cup, or a letter, or a charging cord, something to remind myself that baby steps are still steps in the right direction.

Plus it helps to imaging Carrie Fisher smiling down at me and joining in on the middle-finger salute.

It’s the little things, right?

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