I want you to close your eyes for a second.
Close your eyes and think about the messiest room in your home. The room that gives you the stress sweats like no other. The room that you’d rather roll around with fire ants than to admit exists in your home.
Now I want you to imagine that it’s organized.
Absolutely, 100% organized.
At Zero. (If you’re not sure what Zero is, check out this link!)
Zero chaos. Zero resentment. Zero anxiety. Zero panic.
Oh, glorious Zero! You’ve finally arrived! Please! PLEASE! I’m down on my knees beseeching you! Never leave me again!
And that right there, ladies and gentlemen, is the third and absolute biggest burning question I get asked on a regular basis.
How in the world, once you’ve GOTTEN organized, do you STAY organized?
How, once you’ve established Zero, do you MAINTAIN Zero?
I mean, you’ve caught the unicorn! You’ve climbed your Everest! For the love of Harry Potter, you’ve defeated He Who Shall Not Be Named!
But how do you keep from…backsliding?
Slipping into old habits.
Falling off the wagon.
What in the world does one do to stay organized long term?
Let’s be honest here for a second.
The thrill is in the chase.
I mean, you’ve made the decision to get organized. You’ve put in the work establishing Zero. You’ve emptied, sorted, decided, and made it cute as all heck. The final result? You’ve Instagrammed and Snap Chatted. Facebooked and Tweeted. You have built your field of dreams- or your pantry- invited everybody and their accountant to check it out, and reveled in the delirium of your newfound lifestyle.
For the first time in your life, you know how many cans of soup, packages of Zatarans, and half-eaten boxes of cereal reside in that majestic pantry! Triumph is yours, my friend!
Nothing terrible. Just the mundane. The every day.
You get busy.
The shine wears off.
And you feel Zero slowly getting buried deeper and deeper under stale bags of Cheetos and half melted Kashi bars.
Once again, you’re helpless. Despondent. Back where you started.
Failure creeps in and weaves itself into your very soul. You find yourself curled into a ball in your formerly fabulous pantry (or closet). Your cheeks, wet with tears. Your nose, filled with snot.
Your heart, once again broken.
You know what?
NOT THIS TIME!!
NOT ON MY WATCH!!!
Don’t get me wrong, maintaining anything pretty much sucks. It’s boring and it never EVER ends. Like we established earlier, the thrill is in the chase. But the glory? The true glory? Well, that’s in the maintenance.
And y’all, maintenance just means regular care or upkeep.
Pretty much, if you maintain something, the object of your maintenance stays in a consistent state of being.
Take, for example, your weight. (Blech.)
Let’s say you weighed 200 pounds. You worked REALLY hard and lost 35 pounds. You currently weigh 165 pounds. In order to maintain your current weight, you’re going to have to consistently do certain things to keep your weight steady at 165 pounds. Things like continuing to eat well and exercise. You cannot slip back into old habits- HELLO SPRAY CHEESE AND NETFLIX- and expect to remain at 165 pounds.
The same is true for living an organized life.
Once you’ve established Zero, there are certain things you’re going to have to do consistently in order to keep your space at or near Zero. Things like, if we’re talking about a pantry, putting newly purchased items in their designated containers and taking a few minutes to straighten up every night after your kids have plundered it. You cannot slip back into old habits and expect your pantry to remain at Zero.
And those old habits? They’re the things that bite you in the butt when life happens. When you get busy. When the shine wears off.
Those old habits are the ones that lead to that miserable feeling of helplessness and despondency. The ones that pave the way for failure, tears, and snot.
Failure to realize the power of old habits is probably the number one reason maintenance of ANY type is so difficult.
See, it’s easy to do something once. When we’re excited about it or motivated by it. It’s easy to make an exception to our normal behavior, but it’s much more difficult to then turn that exception into the new rule.
And in order for maintenance to happen successfully, a new rule has to be established. A new habit has to replace an old one.
How to Create New Habits to Maintain Organization
Blindly shoving groceries into the pantry. Marshmallows are mashed under ginormous cans of green beans. Crystal Light precariously balanced on a teetering cereal box. Half-eaten bags of chips get wedged underneath two-liter bottles of Coke Zero. You take your life in your own hands when you open the door.
Purposefully placing grocery items in the newly established zones of the pantry. All fruits and veggies on the top shelf. All breakfast items on the next. Pasta and rice go into labeled bins on the bottom shelf. Soup mixes and flavor packets live in the two rows of the over the door organizer. Drink mixes live in the third and fourth row. The angels sing when you open the door.
Early morning wardrobe indecision leaves a trail of discarded clothes from the closet to your front door. Shoes are tried on, rejected, and tossed indiscriminately throughout the bedroom. Hangers dangle in haphazard disarray, some seemingly reaching towards crumbled shirts as if inviting them back to hang out. Yesterday’s laundry? In the midst of a Manic Monday-esque morning, it’s been dumped beside and is not indistinguishable from last week’s dirty clothes which are strewn willy-nilly throughout the room. Oh, how you wish it were Sunday.
It’s no crime to try on several outfits in order to choose the perfect one for the day! Discarded clothes are tossed in a cute polka dot hamper labeled “Hang Me Back Up”. Rejected shoes land in a sturdy wicker basket labeled- don’t be shocked- “SHOES” whose soul (Ha Ha sole!) purpose is to hold shoes until you can get them put back on their appropriate shelves.
Empty hangers gently sway to and fro in the empty hanger spot designated for, you got it, empty hangers. Yesterday’s laundry? You had to dump it on your bed to find that white blouse but no worries, you plan to put it away tonight during The Big Bang Theory. And last week’s laundry? Tucked safely away in the designated hamper awaiting tomorrow’s scheduled laundry night.
Three week’s worth of fast food and snack wrappers disappear into your back seat with a nonchalant toss over the shoulder as soon as they’re finished. Empty Starbucks cups and Gatorade bottles litter your floorboard. You’re almost positive you’ve got some Coke cans with branding from the last Olympics down there too. Your boss asks for a ride to pick up her car. Mortification sets in.
Fast food and snack wrappers disappear into your back seat with a nonchalant toss over the shoulder as soon as they’re finished. Empty Starbucks and Gatorade bottles litter your floorboard. No worries though. You make sure to toss all of the trash in your car while you’re getting gas. Sometimes you even grab one of those blue paper towels and wipe down the dash.
See, there isn’t magic to maintenance. (Insert frowny face here.)
Successful maintenance is the culmination of the adoption of new habits, the hard work it takes to break old ones, and at times, going against every natural instinct you have. Keep your eyes peeled for five realizations that, if you buy into them, will go a long way towards making that process a whole lot easier.