What’s the Problem? (Part 1)

You know that you have an organization problem in your home or office. But what you might not know is that you also have another problem: you haven’t articulated your true problem or, in your haste, you misdiagnose it.

When you look around your home or office, do you experience the following thoughts and feelings?: overwhelm, chaos, giving up hope, don’t know where to begin, don’t have the time, embarrassed, afraid of judgement, hard on yourself, disgust, at a loss, “if only …”

These reactions are the beeping red lights, the warning sirens, the cold splash of water on a just woken face. They are strong and often defeatist. But they aren’t the problem statements best associated with your organizing challenge. Experiencing these reactions may be reflective of a multitude of problems. The activity of articulating the true and deeper problems may be more complex and frustrating than looking at what you call clutter. It’s easier to shut the closet door instead. 

But this time you won’t. 

Parsing out the true problem(s) and root causes is your next step so let’s take a closer look.

What are the internal problems? The nonphysical things about you and your lifestyle that are problematic, from which the feelings perpetrated by looking at your mess stemmed from? These may be casualties of personality traits and life choices that you either embrace or desire to improve? For example, feeling more busy than you really are because you don’t manage your time and schedule well.

What are the external problems? The more physical pieces of your home that have either separately or intertwined with the internal struggles caused your home or office or basement to irk you to no end? For example, choosing to live a much bigger space then you actually need (and then filling it with stuff) because you thought it would make you happy. Don’t forget about the day-to-day processes: bills payment, time spent trying to find an overdue library book, email management, meal planning and preparation. These activities relate to living a simple life even though they have less of a physical manifestation.

Review your list. Does it seem too long? It’s not. Does it seem in impossible? It’s not. Is it cutting? Let go of the pain as a reward for doing the tough work. You’ve begun the process of defining your problems. They’re likely similar to what you thought your problems are but perhaps with a deeper level of insight and a couple surprises. 

If the list says: “I’m disorganized” than dig deeper and try again. The problem may be that you are too tired at the end of the day to put things away. It may be that you have plenty of time to put things away, you just don’t know where to put them. The problem may also be that you could organize but you have too much stuff that you give up. Or it might be that you have a poor memory but no system to get your home and life administration in order. 

If the word should found it’s way into your problem statements, use it as an indicator that your problems aren’t clearly defined. A should is focused on an “other” and their problem, a cultural influence, a guilt. Be wary of should’s.

Why all this focus on articulating problems when you have a decent idea of what they are? You just need to get rid of some stuff and organize, right? Your time spent and strategies chosen will be far less efficient and less accurate if you take that approach. You can always buy a one size fits all tee-shirt. It may be better than no tee-shirt at all but getting the right size is way better. So let’s take a little extra time now to save you time and frustration in the future.

With well-defined problems, which are really just questions looking for answers, we can devise more appropriate and specific solutions. My next post will focus on how to find these solutions.