When the dog's leash is in the drawer with your hairbrush, when you pull out the vacuum and three suitcases fall on your head, when you have 15 jackets but only wear two, when the space under your sink looks like the recycle bin and under your bed looks like the Dumpster behind Walmart, when your wallet needs a rubber band, you have Legos in your pantry and your property tax bill is in the tool chest, honey, you need to get your, uhh, stuff together.
This reality might have even occurred to you around New Year's. Getting organized is second only to losing weight on Americans' list of resolutions for 2014. However, by now, one month in, a third of resolution makers will be reso-losers. Eventually, more than 90 percent will fail.
“People fail with their resolutions because they go too deep, try to do too much, and are too vague,” said my friend and America's favorite professional organizer Peter Walsh, whom I called after stumbling on his “31 Days 2 Get Organized,” challenge, which is on his Facebook page.
“Which is exactly why I don't make any,” I said. “Why commit to something that will just make me feel bad about myself?”
But as I review his challenge, which consists of spending just 10 minutes a day, every day, tackling one area of your home — your nightstand, your coats, your glassware — I see that success just may be in reach.
I also think of what else losing weight and getting organized have in common: Both are best accomplished through many small sustainable changes.
“Small steps — consistently applied — yield huge results,” said Walsh.
“This is hard for me,” I said. “I approach everything kamikaze style or not at all.” Then it occurs to me that maybe that's why I don't succeed. I then shut up and listen.
“Just 10 minutes a day. In one week, you've invested an hour or more and you'll see significant results,” said Walsh, who added, “Hey, if 10 minutes turns into 15 or 20, I won't complain. That's the guerrilla nature of this.”
Walsh has posted a daily one-minute video for every day of the challenge. That leaves nine minutes to tackle the area. Go!
As Walsh and I speak, I open my desk drawer. It's a jumble of old bank receipts, a page of 33-cent stamps, ticket stubs to a U2 concert, dead batteries, a monkey wrench, an empty airline bottle of Bloody Mary mix, an expired passport and spools of adding machine tape for a machine I don't even own. Who did this? There is only one answer.
“So,” I challenged the challenger, “say in 31 days, you restore order, will it last?”
Walsh's answer reminded me of another principle getting organized and losing weight share.
Those who succeed at losing weight and keeping it off substitute the word “lifestyle” for the word “diet.” Likewise, those who finally get organized and clutter free must substitute the word “now” for “later.”
“If you eliminate that one word from your vocabulary — I'll clean that later; I'll fold that later; I'll deal with that mail later — constant order will be yours,” Walsh promised. “Decisions delayed is the definition of clutter.”
By now, I've dumped everything out of my desk drawer. I'm going in.
Though Walsh designed the 31-day challenge to start Jan. 1, Feb. 1, or any date, will work. Start the countdown now. Not later.
• Pick one drawer. It can be in the kitchen, bedroom or office. Empty it. Toss what you don't need and reorganize it, putting back in only what belongs, and like with like.
• Get under one sink. Pull everything out. Wipe it down, then consolidate duplicates, put back only what goes there. Try putting all cleaning supplies in one plastic caddie. Make the space sparkling, decluttered and organized.
• Make a donation basket. Get a laundry basket. Then go around the house and pick seven things to put in it to donate. Keep the basket by the door you use to leave the house, and get in the habit of tossing items in there that others may appreciate, but that you don't need, use or love.
Wrangle your recipes. I think I'm organized, but here's a weak spot. I have a little notebook crammed with food-stained folded pieces of papers bearing recipes that I've gathered over the years — the way a storm gathers clouds. It's a disorganized mess. Scan and digitally file them, said Walsh, then let them go. Or better, but more painful, toss them and make a pact with yourself that all recipes from now on will be digitized.
• Tackle the lower third. This is my favorite. Go into your closet, kitchen, office, or anywhere you have stacks of shirts, towels, papers or platters. Then pull out the lower third and get rid of it.
“It sounds drastic,” said Walsh, “but once people think about this, they slap themselves up the side of their head. Of course! We tend to use or wear the same items over and over again. And they stay on the top of the pile. The lower third, we seldom or never use. That third is not so hard to tackle.”
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through www.marnijameson.com.