No. of Recommendations: 188
Parts I – V are here – they are also LONG.

Part I: I owe HOW much?! :
Part II: Budgeting in real life:
Part III: LBYMs as a friend:
Part IV: Getting those rates lowered:
Part V: Getting back in the kitchen again:

Organization is an interesting thing; sometimes I think it goes right against human nature altogether. There are a few souls in this world who were born organized. If you were, just go ahead and hit that old 'next thread' button. This is for the rest of us.

We know who we are. We're the people who stand in the middle of our dwellings, knee deep in newspapers, shoes and socks we've kicked off our feet with the thought that we're going to put them away later, with our hands on our hips yelping, “Where the heck are my glasses?” (Answer: on top of your head, naturally). We couldn't find a paperclip to save our lives, and if you think we can keep track of coupons you're just kidding yourself. Our bills, junk mail, ad circulars, letters from Aunt Marge and assorted things we ought to read regarding our 401k plan are all tossed into a single pile to deal with 'later.' (How about 'never'? does 'never' work for you?)

Bills are paid late. We only show up to social / business events if somebody calls to remind us about it right beforehand. Coworkers have been known to jump out of high windows rather than be put on a team with us. Projects, personal or business, are always over budget and late finishing. We have no idea what our official or unofficial task list for the day should be. We have a lot of dreams and aspirations, but lack even the most fundamental tools for getting to them.

We are perpetually overdrawn, under resourced, confused, befuddled, and tired. We have no time for anything we'd like to do, and so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of catch-up that we tell ourselves that probably the best solution would be a lit match and a fast pair of feet.

That's me, six years ago. Now, I just want to make sure nobody gets the idea that I'm some kind of paragon of organized virtue here: BWA-hahahaha! <snicker, snort> No. Oh my, no, I'd say that I'm still a work in progress. In terms of how far I've come, I'm made it from San Francisco to Paris – but I still haven't hit the moon yet, and that's where I'm aiming.

But if there is one thing, one single thing, that I can say helped / is still helping me the most in overcoming our debt issues, it is getting organized. Getting organized about our finances has saved me money by avoiding fees – no more late payments, no more overdrawing saved me a lot of money and earned me better interest rates. Getting organized about my shopping saved me money in the supermarket, stopping the deadly cycle of repeatedly buying things because I couldn't remember whether or not I already had it. Getting organized in my house has stopped the wastage of both time and resources, cutting through the clutter so that I can get on with what I really want to be doing. Getting organized at work has gotten me promotion after promotion; not to mention all the lives saved since people quit jumping out those windows upon hearing, “We've put you on the Johnston project team with Tamarian…”

Best of all, getting organized with my time has saved me some life. There's a quote from Benjamin Franklin that stares at me from the front of my organizer: “Does thou love life? Then squander not time, for that's the stuff life is made of.”

Just so. Your time is the coin of your life – and brother, that coin is far more dear than any number of pieces of paper with dead presidents stamped on them. It's precious, it can't be stored up in any bank, and you can't play 'make up' with it later if you cash it out too soon. Don't squander it – leverage it.

Getting more organization in your life can help you do just that: leverage your time so that, like your money, you are spending more of it where you want, rather than frittering it away here and there and everywhere and WHERE the heck did summer GO, anyway?

Organizing is as much as mind-set as LBYMs is. And much the same way, there are all different levels to it. You can take it to the compulsive level, where you label your sock drawer and go into hysterics if a 'brown' sock migrates over and contaminates the 'tan' section. Or, you can grab a box to throw your mail in (instead of the current 'wherever it lands on the counter' method), and call it quits.

Personally, I fall somewhere well below the compulsive (my own sock drawer really proves that) (hey, I figure having one drawer where all the socks go is good enough, and if they are in matching pairs in there it's a bonus), but definitely above the average person level in terms of my organizing obsession. I have sections in my closet for pants, shirts, dresses and suits – but I don't flip out if my husband sticks a dress in amongst my shirts (shoot, I'm just grateful he put the laundry away, are ya kidding?!). I have file folders for our bills and whatnot, but the fattest one of the bunch is the 'miscellaneous' folder, 'cause I'm not going to start a whole new folder for a one-time thing.

You get the idea? Organize to your level of comfort, then – stop. There is no need for you to get so compulsive that your entire life now revolves around your organizing tools; that kind of defeats the purpose. The goal is to free yourself up, not burden yourself down.

There's a theory I read once (don't recall where) about feeding toddlers (no, no, wait for it, it IS relevant). It said to make sure you always give the child a small portion of food – smaller than you think s/he will want. The reason stated was that a small child can be easily overwhelmed by sheer volume of food – you hand them a Big Mac the size of their whole head and they'll flip out and refuse to even touch it rather than, say, nibble a few bites and then call it quits the way a mature, responsible adult should but seldom does.

I think this is what happens to a lot of us when we're confronted by a house (or life) that is wildly out of control in the Clutter Department. We look at the sheer volume of work that needs to get done and we freak. “Holy Mother of Pearl, I can't possibly…I mean, REALLY…I mean…<sputter sputter> surely there's some kind of government AID for stuff like this…! Aw heckwithit, I don't need this, I'm going out! (Or, 'let's just move', another popular way to get out of cleaning up after ourselves.)

Let's break it down into smaller pieces. One Thing At A Time. One room, one shelf, one habit at a time. I started off with the way I handled the mail. In the beginning, I would get the mail whenever the spirit moved me and dump it where I saw a clear space to deal with, you know, later. The clear space might be on the kitchen counter, the hutch, the glovebox of my car, under the seat of the DH's Civic – I'm sure nobody else out there has ever had this kind of problem, right? And then the next month, I get a nasty-gram from PG&E saying I haven't paid their bill and the credit card is gleefully tacking on another $35 late payment charge and I'm digging through a month's accumulation of supermarket ad circulars, bills and whatnot trying to find evidence that I did, too! pay that bill.

I decided to try making a new habit. Instead of picking up the mail any old time, I made it a kind of ritual – I would get the mail on my way into the apartment. I would hesitate for a moment by the trash / recycling bins and sort through it. All the junk got dumped right into the appropriate bin and only the stuff I wanted came into the apartment with me. Right there, the clutter element was reduced significantly. Then, I'd take a minute and semi-deal with it. Open the bills, glance at them for anything shocking, then put them into a little file I call 'pending.' It gets everything together in one place, so that come Bill Day I'm not scrambling around trying to find everything, but doesn't require me to deal with it Right Immeidately Now – because obviously, I never have time Right Immediately Now. But when I am ready to do it, I know right where everything is.

You know what one of the number one obstacles to organized living is? (This is where I get to display my amazing grasp of the totally obvious!) Disorganization (duh). Clutter. 'Noise.' Yer stuff getting in the way of yer other stuff. But again, the sheer volume of it can really derail your efforts. I mean, you sit there and look at an entire dwelling that is so incredibly disorganized that you couldn't find a clean pair or underwear or a working pen if someone threatened you, how do you even get started??

One room at a time. One area at a time. Hard, huh? I mean, half the problem is, the stuff that ought to be over THERE is over HERE and the other stuff that ought to be HERE is THERE and…this syndrome leads to the following comedy of errors:

I'm in the front room of the old apartment. What belongs in there is, say, our VCR tapes, books, CDs, the remote for the TV, the pillows that go on the sofa and that's about it. And let's say I find stuff like eight pairs of shoes, twelve pairs of used socks (ewwww!), a box of laundry soap, a few crusty old plates of ex-dinner (EWWWWWW!) and a bank statement. No remote (the remote has legs, I swear it does! There can be no other explanation for its ability to wander off the way it does…). Bold of heart, I plunge right on in to tackle the problem!

<grumble grumble shoes>…you know, that black pump of mine could really use some polish, where DID we put that shoe shine kit? Oh, there it is, under that stack of magazines in the bedroom closet, hey, is that the Time Life Annual Great People Awards edition? <flip read flip read flip read> Now, what was I doing in here? Oh yes, organizing. I'm going to put all the BROWN shoe polish on the left side and all the BLACK polish on the right side…

<six hours later>

Oh man, who left these socks here? <trudge to the overflowing hamper> That reminds me, I was going to do the laundry, oh drat, I'm out of laundry detergent, I'll just run out to the store…

<twelve hours later>

Geesh, I already had laundry detergent, who knew, hahaha…

<and so it goes>

The very first time I (successfully) cleaned up our act, I went literally room by room, never leaving the room I was in until it was finished.

Try it this way: Pick up the 'this don't belong here' offenders and place them just outside the room you're working on. DO NOT attempt to put them where they really go at this point! Clean the room. Put the CDs et al back on the shelves. Vacuum, dust. Done. Good for you! (I personally vote for a little break between each milestone, nice cup of something and your feet up for a few. Aaaaaaah. Feel fresher? Amped? Ready to kick some butt and take some names?! Awright, let's move on.)

NOW: Pick up the stuff and migrate it toward where it belongs. Even at this point, you're not necessarily putting things away – just migrate them ever closer to where they actually should live. Next stop in this example: the linen closet. Put away the laundry soap. Take out anything that belongs somewhere else and add it to the migratory herd. Organize the shelves. Gather Lost Tribes up to your bosom and move on. If something belongs in a room you just finished, take it into your hand, reach as far as you can toward where it belongs, and set it there. Right in the way, where you won't miss it. You'll get it on your way back.

Put the shoes in the bedroom closet. Put the socks in the hamper. Put stuff that doesn't belong in there outside the room, to migrate back as you go.

You see the magic here? As you finish each room and begin sweeping back toward where you began the process, it becomes easier to put things where they really go. Fewer distractions are happening, fewer things to suck your will to go on. When I find a CD on the floor in the bedroom, I set it outside the bedroom door so that when I drift my way back to the front room in the final backwards sweep, I can put it right where it goes, on the shelf – I don't have nine hundred other pieces of garbage to distract me from the task at hand, viz., the putting away of the CD.

And a word here about the organization of your stuff: it's important. It's important to have like things in like places. For example, storing your kitchen supplies in the garage, bedroom closet, under the kitchen sink and the trunk of your car? Begging to have nine boxes of dish soap and no sponges to use it with. Having a shelf that is dedicated to, well, 'cramming huge Costco-sized boxes of stuff in a no-holds-barred, anything-goes method'? You're going to end up with three cases of Top Ramen and no paper towels. Organize it. Put the paper products roughly together. Put the canned goods roughly together, soups together, fruits together, vegetables together. Why? Because then you aren't having to go to twelve different places to put together one meal. You aren't standing there while your pack is howling their hunger in the background staring at a hopeless jumble of cans saying, “Are we out of peas already?!” while a twelve-pack of them is lurking there snickering at you behind the Progresso soup.

OK, so, now you've cleaned and you've organized. All your cans are neatly lined up on the shelves, labels out, sorted by type and arranged together. Now, how do you keep things that way? Ah, trickier. The trick I use, because I am both lazy and hate a cluttered house: I take one room or area per day, breaking my entire house up into small little pieces over five days. Why five? Because I like to keep my weekends as free as possible for other stuff, like sitting around watching my kids wreak utter havoc in the playroom, family gatherings and so forth and so on. I don't want to be saying, “Aw, gee, I'd love to come to Aunt Gertrude's birthday, but I just have so much laundry to do!” (any more than I want to try to get 'just one more day' one more time out any of those clothes). I set aside weekends for the 'spring cleaning' like stuff, usually right around the time we change the seasonal decorations. Yes, we have seasonal decorations! And, I'm usually together enough to get them put out before the season is over!

I try to make sure my 'daily filth elimination' routines take absolutely no more than half an hour if I do them with religious zeal (fifteen minutes if I do the 'quickie' version). Why? Because I'm tired, dammit! By the time I come dragging in at night, I'm bushed. I am just SO not in the mood to deal with 'it', whatever 'it' is. You could tell me, “Hey, I've got two tickets to see Rush live in concert tonight with special backstage passes to meet the band afterward!” and I'd just give you my patented “you've GOT to be kidding me, I'm not budging from this chair!” look. (Well, I might be able to find a little energy…maybe…)

In addition, there are some sub-routines that go on. Habits that help keep the clutter from happening in the first place: I pick it up the mail on my way into the house, dropping about 80% of it straight into the recycle bin, running 15% through the shredder and putting the other 5% into the pending folder. Total time: maybe two minutes if I include the walk to the mailbox and pausing to holler howdy at the neighbor. Habits to make sure I don't forget That One Thing I really wanted to do tonight: Open up my planner and take a quick check of the old task list while I'm stripping off my electronics and dropping them into various recharging / syncing devices. Nod sagely at the planner while murmuring, “Um hm, uh huh, yeah…” Less than a minute total. Habits to keep me from shouting cuss words about dry cleaning + kids + cooking: Right after ditching the electronics, head upstairs, change into more kid-proof clothes. Dress shoes and socks have also now been prevented to taking up semi-permanent residence in the playroom, and my work clothes have been protected from the apparently unavoidable stains, splatters and boogers my kids incur.

At all times, I use my 'migration' technique. I could make a whole career out of trotting up and down the stairs with one thing or another that got left behind by one or another of my tribe – consolidate the trips, and make your life a bit easier.

Reading this kind of gives the impression that I'm constantly on the move. And in a way, I am. I always have my task list to remind me of the stuff I wanted to get done today, in the unlikely event I find myself sitting there staring at the ceiling and asking, 'Now, what else was there for me to do today?'

But I actually have way more time for me now than I did before I started doing this kind of thing. And better, I have greatly improved peace of mind. When I stay up on this stuff, my house is (reasonably) clean, I can tell at a glance if we're running low on dish soap or paper towels, dinner is getting made and we all have clean socks and underwear. It's being done efficiently, which means it takes less time than the 'shoot from the hip and hope for the best' method, which in turn means I have more time for stuff like writing little essays on getting organized, contract proposals and figuring out how to get the funny little dots and lines I see on the paper to come out of the guitar as music.

My life is very busy, and seldom stops. But it is also very rich, and remarkably peaceful considering how little time I spend sitting on my butt staring at the wall. I get an awful lot done, at home and at work, and in an order that satisfies me – not constantly running from fire to fire, but being able to take a higher-level look at things and say, this is more important to me, and that can wait a bit. I don't miss many deadlines, other people can generally rely on my ability to finish what I say I can finish, and I can still find time to scan through the annual reports of companies I'm thinking about adding to our happy portfolio family.

All because I got a little more systematic about Life.

NEXT: Luck – genetic, synthetic, or randomly generated?

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