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« What Makes It So Hard to Let Go? | What Is Your Next Step and Why Is It Important? »
Tuesday
Mar292016

How to Figure Out Where to Start Organizing

The most frequently asked question by my organizing clients is,

“Where should we start?”

It’s a great question for figuring out the next step. The first step was deciding that getting organized was a priority. Now that you’re ready to begin the organizing process, you’re unsure about where to begin. I’ll share some ideas that my clients have found useful.

If you take away nothing else, remember . . . there is no wrong place to start.

To figure out where-to-start, ask more questions.


Are you organizing single, confined areas like closets and drawers?

  • If so, have you cleared time in your schedule to complete an entire single project?
  • Or, will you need multiple time blocks to complete one single area?
  • Base your where-to-start decision on the time component and scheduling the time you need to complete a single area.

 

Are you organizing multiple areas, as in many rooms or every room in your home?

Time and scheduling are also part of these multi-phased projects. In addition, choosing where-to-start requires asking additional questions because there are so many options. Again, remember that there is no wrong place to start.

Here are some questions consider:

  • Which room would be most helpful to organize first?
  • Is it the area you spend the most time in?
  • Is it the room that’s easiest to organize because it’s almost done?
  • Is it the room that’s causing you the most angst?
  • Is it the room you know exactly what to do, but just need the time to do it?
  • Is it the area that will have the biggest, positive effect on your daily living?
  • Is it the one that you feel like organizing today?
  • Is it the area that you the have mental and physical energy to work on today?

Some spaces are more emotionally draining than others. Papers for instance take a lot longer to process and decision-fatigue can set in quickly. Clothing closets and drawers are usually faster and results are realized more easily. Of course this varies by person. Some of you many love organizing papers and detest closet organizing.

 

Once you’re in a room, more where-to-start questions arise. They include:

  • Do you want to edit the floor first so you can more easily move around?
  • Do you want to edit the surfaces (counters, chairs, shelves) first to more quickly notice the visual change?
  • Do you want to edit the closets and drawers first to make space for things that don't have any place to be stored?
  • Do you want to work in a zigzag pattern or move methodically from one end of the room to the other?
  • Do you want to edit the biggest, bulkiest items first to make more space?
  • Do you want to remove the items to discard first?

Guess what? You know what I’m going to say, right? There is no wrong place to start.

The questions are useful so that you can define your parameters and figure out where to begin. The great part is that there are no wrong answers.

I’ve given you a few questions to get your started. What other questions do you find useful for figuring out where to start organizing? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Come join our conversation!

 

 

 

 

 

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Reader Comments (16)

GREAT questions, all of which need answers. Where will you stage items you've decided to donate or sell? What items do you struggle more to make decisions about? Do you have an event or situation pressuring you to make progress in one area? The better you define a project, the greater the odds of success!

March 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSeana Turner

There really is no wrong place to start, just starting is a major step for a lot of people. You covered it in your questions, but I also ask the questions " which area is causing you the most angst?" that is where we usually start. It is different with each client, but that is usually where we start.

March 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJill Robson

Thanks so much for jumping right in and getting the party started. You two are awesome!

@Seana- What great additions to the list of questions! Love them...especially the one about an event or situation that might influence a starting place...like an upcoming renovation, party, or move. Excellent!

@Jill- Oh, yes! The "angst" question is great too. I find with that one, it depends where I am in the organizing process with a client. If we're just beginning to work together, often we need to start with a more neutral zone to build up to being emotionally ready to tackle the more challenging areas. But everyone is different. And as you reiterated, there's no wrong place to start.

March 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Samuels

These are wonderful questions and I completely agree that there's no wrong place to start. I usually ask 'what's causing the most pain?' or 'what will cause the biggest relief?' Some of my clients really take some time to think about where they want to start. Others have decided before I get to their home.

March 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDiane Quintana

@Diane- Those are two fantastic questions! I love your phrasing. I also like your point that sometimes clients know exactly where they want to start and are ready to go. Other times they find a question-asking discussion beneficial to figure out where to begin. As long as we remain flexible, we can work with them in a way that is most effective based on taking in all the input.

March 29, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I love all the questions. They are very helpful. My clients love when I ask questions. It helps them to think about what they really want, not just jump into action on the first thing that pops into their mind.

For me, whatever area frustrates me the most is where I start. When I am frustrated, it gives me the motivation to make a change.

Thanks for sharing.

March 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSabrina Quairoli

@Sabrina- Glad you're enjoying the questions. You're right that questions are a great way to help our clients think about the why before they begin the what. It sounds like for your personal projects you prefer to get through the most frustrating areas first. I find it fascinating how we all chose different approaches depending on a variety of factors. Thanks so much for joining in.

March 29, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Great post on the "next" of organizing. It's often about starting - anywhere - just starting. Any baby step is a great next, whether it's a time baby step like 15 minutes or a space baby step like a junk drawer.

I especially Iike your conclusion that there is no wrong way to start or wrong place to start.

March 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Delap

@Ellen- Those baby steps are great for getting us going. But I see even with baby steps that sometimes we're still unsure which direction to go. The good news, as you said, is there is no wrong way, direction, or choice. We begin and build off the small successes to continue.

By the way...you did a great job hosting the NAPO class tonight about media interviews. Joan Stewart did a fabulous job and gave so many great tips. It was a bonus too to hear your voice. Really wonderful!

March 29, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

What a comprehensive list of questions - this will be helpful to both professional and DIY organizers!

April 3, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Barclay

This is excellent advice for DIY-ers! (to whom I provide resources)

The people who hire me usually need my direction and would get overwhelmed if I actually asked them ALL the questions, but of course I keep them all in mind. If it dovetails with their goals, I like to start with an area where we can show lots of progress in the first session (say, a garage with lots of empty boxes that need to be broken down). But if I hear them say they are dreading a particular room, closet, or pile, I will often say, cheerily, "Let's start there!" That's because I want us to get past the thing that has been holding them back emotionally and show them it's not so bad after all (because I'm certainly not afraid of it, and am there to help them).

Also, sometimes there are logistics involved. Say the house is too crowded to move things around in...rather than the room they say is a problem for them, I might suggest we start with another room (or garage) because we need to "edit the biggest, bulkiest items first to make more space" and create a staging/storage area.

An organizing project is always a balance between what the client wants and what I think they need. If it's a multi-session project, I will show up and give them a choice, "What do you want to work on today? If nothing in particular is bugging you, I know what's next on our Action Plan."

April 3, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterHazel Thornton

@Janet- Glad you like the list of questions. I also love the additional ones that have been offered in the comments. Lots of great ways to think about next.

@Hazel- You raise a good point about the volume of questions and how too many can be overwhelming. I've noticed that sometimes just one key question is enough for my clients to discover their answer. Other times, more questions are needed…digging a bit deeper. This by no means is a one size fits all or black and white process. It's quite fluid, creative and collaborative.

April 4, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Great questions posed by you and your commenters. It is the most frequently asked question for my clients too. I usually take a tour with them to see, hear and feel what is the spot to start our work. For most of my clients in our first session I like to ask what's easy to start. When it is easy, together we see, hear and feel that our organizing success is within reach. Sometimes starting with the easy stuff makes the most impact. That impact is hope.

April 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Delap

@Ellen- Thank you for mentioning the point that you "take a tour" with your clients to experience their responses to the various areas. I do that too. It's helps to be in a space, talk about it, look at it, and then get a sense of how the client feels about it. So if they're having a challenge figuring out where to begin, knowing how they're reacting to the different spaces can provide a good clue. Your pattern for starting in the "easy" places first sounds similar to Hazel's way of working. I like that approach if it works for the client. We keep the process fluid and flexible.

April 5, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Thanks for this article, Linda, on where to start. A client asked this very question recently and, as I am a financial organizer only, I wasn't sure what to advise when it comes to a whole house/downsizing project. I will share your thoughts with her! I always enjoy your blog.

June 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Caccavo

@Karen- Great to "hear" your voice! I'm so happy to know that this post will be useful for your client that is downsizing...or as we often like to say, "rightsizing." Thank you too for your positive feedback. Look forward to seeing you soon!

June 11, 2016 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

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