Everyone needs some easy ways to organize their lives. We know we feel better when things are organized but if you struggle with executive functioning, you might not even know where to start.
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Why do you struggle with organization?
For many people, organization is often the last thing on their minds because they don’t consider it a priority. However, if you struggle with executive functioning, your lack of organization stands out because you can never find the things you need. Proper (and I do use that term very loosely) organization of your home and workspace can give you a number of benefits in addition to increasing your efficiency, stress-relief, and even self-care.
Getting organized is one thing, but actually staying organized in the long-term is something else entirely. What often happens is that you feel really motivated to organize everything in your life. You buy tons of bins and baskets, label everything, and attempt to declutter closets and cabinets. You hope this will lead to having a wonderfully organized home, office, and even car.
But keeping up with it becomes a struggle. You start to get lazy or distracted. Then, you forget to put things back where they go or you buy new items that don’t have a designated place. You stop using the bins or you don’t have a system for decluttering.
This often comes from a lack of routine or using a system that doesn’t suit you. Things are more likely to fall apart if you have a system that doesn't fit your personality. It will be harder to build habits for staying organized, and you'll give up. But don’t worry, you can create some super simple habits that help everything stay organized.
When I mentioned proper organization, I meant one that makes sense to you. That way, you'll continue to utilize it. I’m not going to tell you exactly how to do it, although I will offer suggestions. You need to break the task into manageable pieces and find your process for each area.
Here are some simple ways to start organizing different areas of your life.
Keep Your Mail Sorted
A good place to start with organization is to figure out a system for sorting your mail. Mail tends to be one of the most cluttered and chaotic areas of the home. If you have stacks of unopened mail, junk mail, and magazines littered on your table, countertops, and entryway, then you know this is a good one to start with.
This is something I have personally struggled with most of my life. I’ve tried a number of organization systems. While I have something sort of in place, it’s still far from perfect. I have a bin on my kitchen counter. It’s a desk divider that I got from Staples. There’s a big slot in the back and 3 smaller slots in the front. I put checks to deposit in the center slot in front because I need to record the payments for bookkeeping. Things I need to return to and do something with I put in the back slot. Every month or two, I clean it out.
See? Far from perfect. While checks don’t get misplaced, bills and other paperwork often gets forgotten about. I tell you this to show that there are things we all struggle with.
The first thing I suggest for most of my clients is that they go paperless whenever possible. I know for some people, paperless is scary because they think they’ll be more likely to forget to pay something. That’s what autopay is for. You can also set reminders to take care of those things. It’s all about the routines you set up for yourself.
However, even if you go paperless when possible, there’s still going to be mail. There’s no escaping it. And if you have teenagers, wait until you see the deluge of paper mail from colleges. It’s never ending.
The good news is, organizing your mail and creating a system for going through it is one of the easiest things you can do when organizing your life. All you need is a designated place for your mail. Then sort between different types of mail, like bills and invoices, magazines, letters, personal mail, and anything else you receive. Even if it’s just one pretty basket that you plop everything into. It’s better than having it scattered all over.
Always keep your mail in this designated area no matter what, and teach your family to use it as well. Finally, you must have a system for dealing with it on a regular basis (preferably weekly). This is when you open the mail and either file it away or shred it.
Use a Meal Plan Every Week
There are some questions we all dread to hear: “What’s for dinner?” and “What’s there to eat?” top the list.
Another area of your life you might find is a little disorganized is with your meal planning and grocery shopping. Not having a plan makes hearing these questions even harder. Having a meal plan has many benefits. In addition to not having to grocery shop more than once a week, you'll also save money and eat healthier meals.
For me, it was a life saver. I really don’t like to cook. I’m a decent cook, and I love to bake. (I bake when I’m stressed out). But cooking is something I have to do to survive. There’s no real joy in it for me. That said, I will often experiment with new recipes to find something to add to my repertoire.
Meal planning is a lot easier than you might think. Years ago, when I switched jobs and had deadlines for my editor, I knew I needed some kind of plan to handle dinner. I got 2 small white boards and stuck them to the wall in my dining room. When we repainted the walls, I got bigger magnets and stuck them to my fridge, and I like them even better there. One is a blank calendar and the other is plain white.
I fill in the dates for the calendar. This is useful for a number of things – it’s not only a menu board so the whole family knows what’s to eat each night, there’s also enough space for my kids to put their work schedules so I know when people will be around for dinner. The blank white board is the grocery list.
I’ve always had my kids involved in creating the menu and the grocery list. They all know if there’s something they want/need, it better be on the list before I go shopping. Kids offer suggestions for what they want for dinner for the week and I’ll make sure I have the ingredients for those dinners. They also make note of what they want for lunches.
Then I think about my work week and plan dinners accordingly. For example, on Wednesdays, I am often teaching, so it’s usually an easy dinner, like pasta. On days that I have more time, I can do something that requires more effort.
The other thing I added to the front of the fridge is a master list of meals. It’s a simple list of all of the things I cook on a regular basis. When we’re at a loss for what to have for dinner, we can look at the list for ideas.
It’s important to place your meal plan somewhere visible in the kitchen not only so you know what you are preparing each day, but also so your family can see what’s coming up.
Stop Shopping the Sales
While it is great to save money on items you really need right then, people often shop sales and end up with things they never even use or want. Don’t shop sales just because you can save a little money, including those big annual sales. It isn’t worth it if you don’t have a use for these items, and more importantly, a place for them in your home.
Every time you buy something new and bring it home, you have to find a place for it in order to stay organized. This is often when organization methods go out the window, because suddenly you run out of room and the systems you used before no longer work for your space.
Figure Out Your Preferred Organization System
This is one of the most important things you can do to organize your life. Everyone has a different system for what they want to be more organized in their life and home, and what tools they will use. One person might have a weekly session where they organize a different area of their home, while the next person prefers to have a home binder with printables they use to organize every single part of their life.
You might be great at keeping your living room and kitchen organized, but your basement or garage is a bit of a mess. This is why you need to personalize the system to you and your own life.
Create a Master To-Do List
A master to-do list is a type of to-do list that includes everything in your life you want or need to get done. It’s kind of like the ultimate brain dump. Instead of being specifically about daily or weekly tasks, specific goals, or a category, it includes absolutely everything. Creating such a list can sometimes feel overwhelming because when you look at it, you can feel like you’ll never get it all done. If a huge list raises anxiety, make smaller ones by category.
The great thing about having a master to-do list is that it keeps all those lists you have bouncing around in your head all the time in one place. Use the list to remember things you need to buy, errands you have to run, or home projects you need to get done.
There are many ways to organize a master to-do list, from using categories, to turning it into its own binder. You can also have one giant list and then highlight to color code similar tasks and ideas. You can create a spreadsheet with different tabs if you prefer a digital format. Folder in a file cabinet or tray can also work. The ideas are endless. Look for the one that feels right to you.
Write Everything Down
Get into the habit of writing things down whenever you think of them. Whether it is something that goes on your master to-do list, or a new routine you want to try out, this can be really helpful for life organization. Blank pages in your planner can be really useful for this.
For example, when you sign up for a new site and choose a password, write it down so you can add it to your password manager or printable later. Always keep a notebook handy so that whenever you think of something you want to get done, you can add it to a task or to-do list. If you are in your garage, and see how cluttered your holiday decoration boxes are, make a note that you want to organize them one day soon.
A Designated Place for Everything
When it comes to organizing your life, particularly your home, you need to have a designated place for everything. Otherwise, you'll never be completely organized. But you will have a lot of junk drawers and baskets that hold random items.
Although you do this when you start the process of organizing your home, you don’t see the significance of it until you’re trying to stay organized. When you have a designated place for items in your home, you start associating that item with where it belongs. It becomes second nature to instantly put it away right after using it.
When you see a pair of scissors on the counter after opening mail, you instantly think it should go back in the drawer where the scissors are always placed, because they look weird sitting on the counter. This is why this is so important.
Another benefit of everything having its own home is that you discover items that you no longer need. If they don’t have a place, they probably get moved around a lot. If you keep tucking these things away, you probably don’t use them or need them. That is how you know it’s time to get rid of it.
It doesn’t happen overnight, but it helps so much with staying organized. Like all routines and habits, it’s a process. The more you do it, the more habitual it becomes. This, of course, leads into the next tip.
Always Put Items Away When You’re Done Using Them
Start a new habit of putting items away after you have used them, whether it is a pen and notepad you were writing something down on, dumbbells during a workout, or going through your skincare routine in your bathroom. Once everything has a place, get in the habit of putting it back. It takes only a few extra seconds and allows your home to stay clean and orderly at all times.
This is one of those things that needs to be a family affair. You need to get the kids into the habit of doing this as well. Otherwise, you’ll be running around cleaning up after them or you get used to the clutter. That does not help with their executive functioning or life skills.
Be Consistent with Decluttering
Decluttering will likely occur more than actual organization. Organizing different areas of your home and life, usually refers to setting up system the first time. Then, you just have to maintain it. However, decluttering is something you have to do repeatedly and regularly, otherwise things become chaotic and disorganized very easily.
For the most part, keeping things organized is not as tricky and keeping out clutter. Clutter happens over time just from living in your home. It is more common in the areas of your home where you and family spend the most time, like your entryway, living and family room, kitchen, and bedrooms.
Think about the junk drawer at home. We all have at least one. I bet when you first moved in to your home, you had a purpose for that drawer. You had a plan for what you wanted to put in there. You had some pens and notepads, a few small tools, maybe some scissors and batteries. But it eventually became a catch-all for everything, and because you didn’t keep up with cleaning it out, it became overly cluttered. There may be days when it doesn’t even close right.
This likely happens in different areas of your home, unless you are decluttering in your regular cleaning routine.
Create Daily, Weekly, and Monthly Routines for Organizing and Decluttering
When it comes to decluttering and organizing your home, you need to create a routine and schedule. If you want to be a more organized person and stay that way, you need to have habits and routines that allow you to do just that. Otherwise, you will likely try organize your entire home over one weekend because you’ve become overwhelmed by the chaos. Then, you don’t do it again until everything is out of hand and cluttered again. This is not something you can just wing, because it’s not a priority unless you make it one. This system is not good for your mental health. It’s an anxiety-inducing spiral.
A better system is to treat it like routine cleaning. Think about how you can fit in organizing and decluttering tasks into your schedule, depending if it’s every day, every week, or just once a month. You add decluttering to your regular routine, whether that is daily or weekly. You can also schedule in sessions of organizing and maintenance.
Make a list of the things that need to be done daily, weekly, or monthly. Then you plan them out in your planner or calendar.
The good news is, once you create organizational systems in your home, it is much easier to just maintain. Creating a schedule that suits you will also help with maintenance, so consider how you like to work:
15-Minute Declutter Sprints
Some people work better focusing on decluttering and organizing just a little bit every day, instead of an hour or so over the weekend. If you struggle with cleaning and decluttering because of time, then the speed cleaning method is what you need. If this sounds like you, give yourself about 15 minutes a day to declutter and put items back where they go.
A 15-minute time limit enables you to focus on just this one task without procrastinating or being distracted by other things. With only 15 minutes to get everything done, you're motivated to do it during that short period of time.
Places to use the 15-minute sprint:
- picking up toys in your kids’ bedrooms
- organizing your entryway or mud room
- choosing a small area of your home that often gets cluttered
- a quick cleaning project
You can also do this several times a day, instead of trying to fit in an hour cleaning session all at once.
Using a Block Schedule
If you are less of a sprinter and more of a marathoner, then you want a block schedule. A block schedule is what will help you to organize your time more effectively. With a block schedule, you choose certain tasks that will be done at specific times of the day.
Your “blocks” of time can be any amount of time that fits within your schedule, whether you work in 1, 2, or 3-hour blocks. They will also change throughout the day, so you might have a 30-minute block for one task, and a 2-hour block for another task.
Don’t Forget About Digital Organizing
When you think about organizing your life, your home tends to be the most common focus, which is completely normal. But it is not just about physical items in your living space that require organization. You should also be decluttering and organizing your digital files, email accounts, photos, and anything else on your computer or digital devices. But we’ll save this for another day.