Organizing Pitfalls #9: Not Getting Support or Buy-in from Others

The blithe, carefree days when you lived alone have passed, and no matter how much you love your partner, your kids, or even your roommates. there’s no question that they are part of the disorganization challenges in your home. I’ve heard quite a few clients over the years bemoan the Sisyphean task of trying to organize a home when no one else seems to care or help. It truly can feel like rolling a large boulder uphill only to have it repeatedly roll back down again.

This issue creates several unfortunate outcomes: 

* Frustration with feeling like you’re the only one who is making any effort
* Arguments over who’s responsible for the mess
* A Martyr complex
* Hopelessness

However, there are several ways to navigate these shoals with a higher chance of victory (or at least fewer hard feelings and words.)

Start with Yourself- Find Your Zorro Circle

Did you ever see The Mask of Zorro with Antonio Bandaras & Anthony Hopkins? When Zorro begins his training Diego draws a circle on the ground and until he has mastered his technique in that small area, he’s not permitted to move beyond it. The idea is to focus on mastering himself first before he learns to interact with and fight others. Organizing can be the same. If we focus on what we do have control over, then we gain mastery over the skills of organizing before we try to influence the behavior of others around us. (Note: full credit for the Zorro Circle concept in this context goes to Shawn Achor in his excellent book The Happiness Advantage. If you haven’t read it, then pick it up.) 

In a similar vein, one of the most successful strategies that I have seen in my years of organizing is to step back from focusing on getting the shared spaces organized, and make your primary focus organizing any space or stuff that’s yours. Whether that’s your bedroom, your bathroom, or just a small desk in the corner of the kitchen, take that one area in hand and show yourself what your vision of organized would look like. 

Start by making it your aim to keep this one area clutter free, and share that goal with your family so that they can see your accomplishment without having to necessarily be part of it.

Share your Why & Create a Shared Vision

Frequently when we start asking others to help get organized we miss the step of explaining why this matters to us or why it’s suddenly important now, when it hasn’t been before. This is especially true if you’re dealing with older children, teenagers, or adults.

Maintaining organization in a share space requires multiple people to make minor shifts in their daily habits, and in order to get on board with making such an effort they need two elements first: 
1) To understand why it matters to you, and (preferably) to identify for themselves why it would be worthwhile or beneficial for them. 
2) A shared vision of what “organized” means: What would the space look like when it’s done? What’s an acceptable level of clutter and what’s too much? 

What I know for a fact, after over a decade in this industry, is that everyone has a different vision of what “organized” means for them.
For instance, some people are delighted when their underwear and socks end up in the right drawer of the bureau after laundry day rather than sitting jumbled with other clean clothes in the hamper bin. Other people have small bins inside the drawer and want to make sure that the underwear and socks end up each in their appropriate bin even if they’re a little jumbled. For yet other people simply landing in the bin isn’t enough. It also needs to be folded in a specific way. Or perhaps even folded in a specific way, then organized by color. Do you get what I mean? Everyone has a different vision of organized.

So, when you’re talking with your loved ones, don’t assume that they automatically share your vision what what “organized” means. You need to get specific. An example: The kitchen table has only the salt & pepper shaker on it, but nothing else. Or the counters have been cleared and wiped down by the end of the day, but it’s ok if they get a bit covered during the day as part of normal usage. Backpacks need to end up on their assigned hooks in the closet vs. just landing anywhere in the closet vs. the hallway nearby. 

Remember this part of the conversation needs to be collaborative in order to find a solution that works for everyone. My husband and I had a similar conversation recently when he pointed out that I frequently will leave a bunch of lights on all over the house. He generally turns off the light as soon as he leaves the room. As a compromise, we agreed that while it wasn’t realistic from my perspective to constantly be turning lights on and off all day as I move from one space to another (since I work from home), instead I would create a habit of checking with myself about whether I’m done for now in a specific space and more frequently turn the lights off when I knew I was done and moving on. I would also check the whole house before I leave to turn everything off. We found an acceptable middle ground for both of us. 

Identify their Zorro Circle

Expecting that one conversation will immediately change habits for 4 people throughout the whole house is probably unrealistic. So, rather than trying to change everything at once, help each of your loved ones identify their own Zorro circle. (You might even start by watching the movie together- if age appropriate :).) What is one VERY SMALL area that they can each be responsible for organizing and maintaining (perhaps with some initial help from you or from a professional organizer- hooray for neutral third parties!). Perhaps it’s a space on the kids’ bedroom floor, or a closet, or the top of a desk? With kids you could even use a hula-hoop to define the initial circle. 

Then, you might create a method to track each person’s success like a blank calendar or tracking spreadsheet and turn it into a game. Who can have the most checks next to their name for days their circle is clear this week or this month? Who can get the longest streak? Brian and I use an app together called Chorma, and we’ve started tracking our points over time. You could even build in a system of rewards. The person who has the most checks or points this week gets to choose where we’re going out to eat on Friday :). 

The goal is to encourage and support your loved ones in building more effective habits, and for many people these may be habits they’ve never had or needed before. Therefore, your role is to become the coach and cheerleader helping to celebrate success and problem-solve obstacles collaboratively. And you might need to embody qualities of the Buddha of Understanding and Compassion for a while around these topics. 

Remember progress, not perfection, is the key. 

What’s next for you? 

In reflecting on what you’ve tried previously with your loved ones, what is your next step to implement any of these suggestions in your family? Feel free to leave a comment below and state your intention clearly both for yourself and so our community can cheer you on. 

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