Have you been hit with a life event – good or bad – that has left you feeling out of control and overwhelmed? It happens to all of us, and there are things you can do today to start restoring order to the chaos.
First, assess the impact the life event has had. Things like new babies, accidents, unexpected illnesses, and relocations storm into our lives and knock us over. They bring with them a significant quantity of new “stuff” (e.g. bottles, diapers, medications, insurance forms, moving boxes). They also bring a sizeable list of new tasks (e.g. feedings, doctor visits, phone company visits). The first step you can take to reclaim order in your life is to acknowledge, and quantify, the impact the change has had. This can be accomplished by:
- Making a list of all the new physical objects you need to find a home for;
- Making a list of all the new tasks you need to perform;
- Identifying any changes you have had to your space (e.g. extra bedroom in the new house, or 3 new drawers in a nursery dresser)
You may say “but I don’t have time to do this.” The harsh reality is that you must. You will never be able to establish a new system if you don’t have a big picture view of what needs to be organized. But relax, these lists don’t have to be completed at one sitting. You can simply begin the lists and leave them where you can easily add to them as new items come to mind (either on pieces of paper, or electronically).
Once you feel you have a good idea of what needs to be managed, you are ready to design solutions. Begin with the “easy hits”: these are tasks or items that you can quickly find a “home” for. For example, if you are bottle feeding a new baby, you need to find a space in the kitchen where bottles will live (including space for them to air dry.) You will also need to designate a spot in your pantry for formula and a place to keep the brushes used for cleaning bottles. Likewise, you will need to schedule shopping for formula, and if you mix the formula yourself, you need to decide when you will do this each day.
Or for another example, let’s say you’ve just moved into a new house. Making the best use of your new space will require you to find homes for all of your belongings. It is tempting to rush the unpacking process just to get the boxes off of the floor, but be careful: decisions you make in the first few weeks will impact you for as long as you live in the house.
Be intentional about establishing order in the most efficient way possible, even if it takes a bit longer. Consider investing in shelving, hooks and/or a well-planned closet system (the smaller the closet, the more important this is.) Be sure to label all your containers & shelves so that the whole family can quickly adjust to the new environment.
Similarly, you will need to plan on your schedule when you will tackle the many tasks which accompany relocation, such as sending out change of address cards, meeting with painters/electricians/cable suppliers, and finding new doctors/dentists/hairdressers/etc.
One general rule of thumb is that the shorter the duration of the life event, the more chaos you can allow. In other words, if a child breaks a leg and you temporarily have crutches, medicine, and a few insurance forms around, this is ok because you will eventually be able to eliminate these items from your setting.
However, if an ailing parent moves in, you may need to designate a new “permanent home” just for Mom’s medicines, as well as storage areas for a walker/wheelchair, and files for her paperwork.
The most important aspect of recovering from a life event is to remind yourself that it will take time. This isn’t a time for self-recrimination, but for slow and steady chipping away at the tidal wave of responsibilities you are facing. Reward yourself for every step along the way, and don’t be afraid to call in a professional organizer if you feel yourself drowning.
Coming up: How to tame the lure of acquisition.
Seana Turner is a professional organizer.