The truly productive and organized person has to get comfortable with the fact that organizing is never really completed because life keeps happening. My goal as an organizer is not to get my clients to a place of Architectural Digest or Design Within Reach catalog perfection; when everything is too perfect, not only are guests afraid to get comfortable lest they “mess up” something, the owner often resists starting new projects, even things like cooking a meal, because they don’t want to disturb the order. The point of being organized is not that everything is always perfect, but that when life gets messy you can roll with it, even enjoy it—a craft project for example—because you have confidence you can pull it all back together fairly effortlessly when the project is complete.

I often tell my most disorganized and cluttered clients that organizing is like peeling an onion; if there have been years of accumulated clutter, the organization of it happens layer by layer. Typically, we process one layer and then the client lives with the new level of order for a period of time—from a few weeks to a few years even—before we continue on to the next layer.

If you have been extremely disorganized to the point that you can’t find a matching pair of socks in the morning, just organizing the clothing and bedroom will create a new level of order that needs to be maintained and integrated before moving on to other parts of the home or life. For example, organized closets and dresser drawers might showcase the fact that the laundry room is completely dysfunctional, making it difficult to neatly fold or hang clean clothes and put them away. The disorganization in the laundry room would be another layer that needs to be peeled away to make the closet organizing maintenance easier and even improved.

An organized laundry room might make it obvious that the linen closet needs an overhaul or that certain parts of the kitchen could be relieved of some clutter, such as vases or overflow of the ubiquitous seldom used items like a Kitchen Aid mixer, because there is now some gorgeous empty space in the laundry room cupboards.

Or perhaps you found a lot of tools in the laundry room that really belong in the garage, and that takes you to getting the garage layer of disorganization and clutter peeled away.

Although I feel it is important to at least get an overview of the entire home, including garage and off-site storage units, when organizing, it is important to let each group of changes gel a bit. It’s like personal habits: it’s much more difficult to try to change many habits at once. Get used to maintaining an orderly kitchen and feel out what doesn’t quite work so that you can think about how some of the other spaces in the house help or hinder the new organizing systems.

Even when you complete organizing the whole house, time will bring up other layers like the movement of the continental plates pushes up new layers of soil and archeological finds. When you’ve been organized for a period of time, you may decide to get to those projects that seemed to daunting or not a priority, like organizing the family photographs.

Just because you discover that you have a new layer of disorganization to peel away, don’t despair. Being able to see that new layer and being able to discern how to refine your systems just means that you are really getting into an organizing groove and are at a new level of order and productivity. Enjoy the process.