Two clients got me thinking recently. One retained me to help her with what she called an “adulting” process. She wanted to finally go through the home and garage and find a place for every little thing as well as get control of paperwork. Another wanted help cleaning out and organizing her bedroom in a condominium she rented with two other people. One was 60 years old and the other 30, which in 1950s years is about 39 and 19. In any decade, an orderly home is a sign of emotional maturity, balance and health.
I know that for myself I feel “grown up” when I stick to my commitments or habit changes—adulting can happen at any age. Even brushing my teeth before bed still makes the little kid in me want to celebrate a win. Making the bed every day and getting to work early three weeks in a row? Pop the non-alcoholic champagne! The receipts are organized and you’re ready for tax time by February 1? You deserve a trophy but you’re mature enough to not accept one because, you know, clutter.
We already know what we need to do to move ourselves forward or keep our lives in order. A Course in Miracles practitioner Marianne Williamson says that if we would employ just 10% of what we know about morality and spiritual practices we would be enlightened masters. Why is it so hard to remember the things we’ve learned that help us feel secure, responsible, abundant, fulfilled and happy? Why are we constantly falling into irresponsible, childish behaviors? What practices can help us with this?
Repetition: When you find a book or a quote or an exercise or a habit that resonates with you and that gives you solid results, keep repeating it. Don’t rush off to look for the next book or habit—really dig in and repeat, repeat, repeat. This very morning, I typed a short quote in a large font, printed it out and posted it in two places I will see it when I need motivation.
Keep it Simple: Distill the learning or habit to its simplest form so that it is memorable and repeatable.
Write it Down: One way to help with all this is to write. Take notes on the topic, journal about your thoughts on it and then distill it to a sentence or two. The physical act of writing, along with the practice of putting something into your own words, will really make the information sink in. Sample journal topic: The act of filing papers can be transcendent if you examine why it makes you feel so good or why you resist it so intensely. What’s behind those feelings?
Share It with Someone Else: Tell your partner or a friend about what you’ve learned or the habit change you’ve made. Enlist them for support if you like, but the act of simply speaking about it helps you retain the knowledge. The more important the information is to you, the more you will want to share it. Pretty soon you will feel very comfortable talking about it, which is a part of expertise.
Hire help: Many people did not have organization modeled or taught to them. Others have such big or busy lives that they become overwhelmed and suddenly things at home or in the office are out of balance and they “can’t see the forest for the trees.” As with the two clients mentioned above, an outside expert can identify the problem areas and untangle things to create an orderly clean slate from which to refocus. Most importantly, an organizer should transfer the learning so that order can be maintained long after they leave.
Refine: After a while, things that we’ve learned leading to our good habits and routines become very personal. We tweak and refine things to make them uniquely ours and, in that way, they really become second nature. An obvious example is our California food and nutritional preferences—it’s a national joke that we are particularly obnoxious with our vegan or gluten free or paleo eating habits. Yet, when something makes you feel and look good, there’s high motivation to stick with it despite irritating your family or your waiter.
Even if your kids or your partner get annoyed with your new organizational habits, don’t worry, they will get used to them if you’re consistent. Order creates a sense of safety—humans thrive in a reasonably structured environment. If you have kids, you’ll be transferring useful adulting skills so that by the time they move out, at what’s now the average age of 27, they’ll have a chance at an organized dwelling of their own.