111: How to Organize Anything (Without Stress) | Tanya Dalton Skip to the content
February 26, 2019   |   Episode #:

111: How to Organize Anything (Without Stress)

In This Episode:

Today, our focus is figuring out how to organize ALL the “stuff” in our lives, why it’s important to organize, and how clutter can actually affect our mental health and even our happiness. I’ll share some strategies to help you organize your home and I’ll share one of my very favorite techniques called the Mount Vernon Method. All the ideas I’m sharing today will help you tackle any project around the house and allow you to get organized.

Show Transcript:

The Big Idea

Less clutter, less stress

Questions I Answer

  • How can I organize my house?
  • What’s the best strategy for organizing?
  • How can I declutter without the guilt?
  • What steps do I need to take to organize myself?

Actions to Take

  • Watch this week’s TanyaTV video on how to organize your kitchen.

Key Topics in the Show

  • The connection between clutter and your health, productivity, and emotional wellbeing

  • How you can get more organized with the Mount Vernon Method

  • Getting rid of your guilt while you clear out the clutter

  • 4 steps to getting your project organized without all the stres

Show Transcript

Welcome to season nine of Productivity Paradox with Tanya Dalton, a podcast  focused on using productivity, not just to do more, but to achieve what’s most  important to you. Join Tanya has she kicks off the New Year with a special season  titled, New Year True You. To get her free checklist, Five Minutes To Peak Productivity, simply go to  inkWELLpress.com/podcast. And now here’s your host Tanya Dalton.  

Hello. Hello everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya  Dalton, and this is Episode 111: How to Organize Just About Anything. Today’s episode  has been brought to you by FreshBooks. If you’re searching for a fast and easy way to  make customized business invoices, check out FreshBooks, a cloud based accounting  software that makes invoicing very easy to do. Right now, FreshBook’s offering a free  30 day unrestricted trial for my listeners. I’ll share some details about that a little later  in the episode.  

But today, our focus is about figuring out how to organize the stuff in our lives.  We all have a lot of stuff if we’re being honest, we’re going to talk about why it’s  important to organize and how clutter can actually affect our mental health and even  our happiness. I’ll share some strategies to help you organize your home and I’ll share  one of my very favorite techniques called the Mount Vernon Method. All the ideas I’m  sharing today will help you when you’re trying to tackle any project around the  house, and help you get organized.  

Why do we want to organize? Okay, I get it, you don’t want to end up on an  episode of Hoarders. It’s a pretty good reason. But I wanted to share with you there  are actually some really legitimate and really important reasons why everyone should  make an effort to keep life feeling a little more organized.  

There have been some amazing studies that have made connections between  clutter in our health, our productivity, in our emotional wellbeing. Some of these may  really surprise you. There were so many, I decided just to pick my five favorites and  touch on them really quickly. The first connection is clutter and procrastination.  Joseph Ferrari, a psychology professor at DePaul University in Chicago has done so  many studies around the causes of clutter and the impact on emotional well-being.  One of his studies found a notable correlation between clutter problems and  procrastination.  

I know from the emails I get from you guys and the comments, procrastination  is something that a lot of us are affected by it. It’s interesting to note it could be  some of that clutter in your life that’s helping foster that. The second connection is  between clutter and stress. I don’t think that’s a really big surprise to anyone. But in  the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a study found that women who  perceive themselves as having a messy or a cluttered home actually had a  

©Productivity Paradox Page 1 of 7

physiological response to the perception of chaos. These women had increased levels  of cortisol, which is our stress hormone throughout the day. They would begin their  day stressed and remain stressed all day long.  

The third connection is clutter and happiness. Catherine Roster and her  colleagues at the University of New Mexico examined how clutter compromised a  person’s perception of their satisfaction with life. They found that the more clutter,  the more participants expressed feelings of dissatisfaction. So, clutter was negatively  related to their sense of home. I found that really interesting. But even more  surprising is this fourth connection, which is clutter and over eating. In an Australian  U.S. study, they concluded that people actually consume more snacks and sweets  when the environment they’re in is chaotic or feels unorganized.  

In the study, participants ate twice as many cookies in some instances than  those who are in a less cluttered location. I found that fascinating. This fifth one too is  really interesting because they found a connection between clutter and memory.  Some studies like the one proposed by Lynn Hasher of the University of Toronto  suspect that mental clutter could be the cause of age related memory loss. The  theory is that if you’re not able to get through your mental clutter or the material  clogging up your neural networks, you’ll be less efficient and possibly slower at  processing information. Fascinating, right?  

I found these studies to be really surprising. I only touched on these five  different ways. But there were numerous other studies that I found that were related  to the negative impact that clutter has on our lives. So I feel like now we have more  than enough reasons to try to create a little more structure and some order in your  life.  

So, let’s talk about ways that you can get more organized. I want to talk to you  about the Mount Vernon Method. You may have heard me mentioned this before in  podcasts or blogs, and I’m a really big fan of using the Mount Vernon Method when it  comes to tackling any big project that I’m attempting to organize. Now, super  organizer, Sandra Felton was the first person I ever heard use this strategy. Basically,  the Mount Vernon Method helps you break down the big task of organizing into nice  bite sized bits. You know I like that, right? She named this method after the cleaning  technique that’s used at George Washington’s estate.  

Just to give you an idea of what it is in a nutshell, the idea is that you start at  the front door of your house and you move in a clockwise direction around the room.  Organizing the first room, or the first piece of furniture you come to. After you finish  working on that one little area, you move on to the next area, and so on so you can  work in these little 15 minute or 30 minute chunks. And then it starts to accumulate  and build up.  

I like this technique because it takes what is normally a very daunting project  and it breaks it down into chunks that are more manageable. You know I like breaking  down projects into bite size pieces, right? Whether you have 30 minutes or two hours  in your day, you work on one area until you’ve conquered it, and then you move on to  the next area, and then you move on to the next until you’ve made your way all  

©Productivity Paradox Page 2 of 7

around the whole room, and then you move to the next room. And then eventually  get to the whole house or the whole bookshelf or the whole closet or whatever it is.  

The idea is you pick up where you left off the next time you come back to the  project. If you work for 15 minutes every night on a project, you get as far as you can,  and then you pick up the next time exactly where you left off. You keep chipping  away at the project until you complete it. To me that’s so much more manageable  instead of doing that old technique where you drag everything out to the middle of  the room, and then you think to yourself, oh my gosh, this is such a big project. I  really love this because it feels so manageable and so achievable. So, how do we  apply this Mount Vernon technique? Well, I want to talk about that in just a second.  But first I want to share just a quick word from today’s sponsor.  

Today’s episode has been brought to you by FreshBooks, a cloud based  accounting and invoicing software that can help you create professional, customized  invoices to send the clients with just a few easy clicks. You can send branded invoices  

straight from the FreshBooks mobile app in just a few minutes. So, it’s really, really  effective. Plus, your clients can pay directly from the invoice, which means you get  paid faster. It doesn’t really get any simpler than that. So, join the millions of people  who are using FreshBooks and you can try it for free for 30 days. Just go to  freshbooks.com/paradox, and then in the box that says how did you hear about us?  Type in Productivity Paradox. It really is that easy?  

I want to talk about how do we get started? How do we organize and feel a  little bit better about our spaces? Well, before I dive too far into the nitty gritty of  how to organize just about anything, I want to give you a quick little pep talk. I want  to talk quickly about purging stuff, because I know this is one of the hardest parts of  organizing. Look, the reality is most of us have an innate need to save things. We feel  bad throwing things out, especially if it’s not broken. How can you throw away a  perfectly good coffee pot, right? But if you found that coffee pot in the very back  corner of the very top shelf on the kitchen cabinet that’s above your fridge, and it  hasn’t been pulled out in forever, because you’ve got that new single serve coffee  machine for your birthday six months ago. What are you holding on to this old one  for? Maybe making dusty lattes? Come on, we have to be realistic. If you haven’t used  it in six months or more, chances are you’re not going to ever use it. After all, you had  to get out the step stool to even find it, hiding back there behind the dust bunnies,  and some random cupcake wrappers and some other things we won’t even get into.  You’re not really going to ever want to pull it out at a moment’s notice.  

So, let’s think about letting that go. But I get it. It’s even harder when  something is brand new and never been used. Ah, the guilt. We have a hard time with  these things because we tend to place value on items that are already in our  possession. It’s the endowment effect that we talked about back in Episode 16. We  often place more value than what they’re actually worth, simply because we don’t  want to have to buy a new one. Or because of the what if syndrome that we use to  rationalize why we’re keeping things we don’t really need. What if my hair dryer goes  out? Really? Do you really need to keep that hair dryer you got back in college? You  have a newer one, and this one’s just a spare. But just in case my other one goes out  and I have a backup excuse is one that we all use. But by the way, if your other one  goes out, and you pull up the one from college that you’ve been holding on to, you’re  

©Productivity Paradox Page 3 of 7

going to plug it in and realize it’s so wimpy and old, it’s going to take you longer to  dry your hair with it, and really just running to Target to go buy a replacement one.  So, let it go.  

We have to get out of this apocalyptic mentality where we think what if the  world shuts down tomorrow and I can’t get a replacement? I might need that. I have  to keep it just in case. But really, it’s costing you more in real estate in this space it’s  taking up, and in emotional costs than you really realize. Here’s the thing, you don’t  have to throw it away. Stop thinking about the fact that you’re throwing it away. I  want you to flip the script for yourself. Matter of fact, I want to share with you the  trick that I use when I get caught up in the endowment effect and end up holding on  to things that I don’t really need. I choose a charity, something close to my heart, a  cause I care deeply about. And then I think about that charity every time I sort  through a drawer or a cabinet.  

You see, charitable organizations can either use the items I no longer want, or  they can sell them to make money that helps further their mission, a mission by the  way that I care about too. That’s why I really take the time to choose what charity I’m  going to be donating to. It means I’m helping put money into the hands of an  organization that’s doing something that I consider worthwhile. That makes it so  much easier. But I also think about the woman, the woman who shops at that thrift  store that the organization runs. I think about her working hard all day long. And then  she heads to the secondhand shop where she’s moving slowly through the racks of  clothing, hoping to find something that might fit, and there she spots my perfectly  good, new with tags shirt that I never wore, and her day has just been brightened. I  just made someone else’s day simply by going through our closets.  

We have the power to brighten someone else’s day. Get rid of the dusty  coffeemaker, the sweater you swore you would wear but never did and get rid of the  guilt while you clear out the clutter. In my opinion, thinking of others is the biggest  secret to helping you organize your home. Choose a cause you care about, think  about who is going to be receiving these items that you don’t really love and put  those items in the hands of people who will enjoy them and people who will  appreciate them. That is a pretty good feeling.  

Hopefully, thinking of it in those terms helps you let go of some of these items  and makes that a little bit easier task for you. Okay, let’s dig into the process. I want  to give you four steps to get your project organized without all the stress. Step  number one, prep. Sounds easy, right? Plan your attack. Where do you want to start?  What do you want to accomplish? As I mentioned with the Mount Vernon technique,  she likes to have you started the front door, but you don’t have to start at the front  door. Maybe you want to get your family involved if it’s a home project. Maybe you  get everyone else’s opinion on what’s the most frustrating or the cluttered area of the  home and consider starting with this shared family space so everybody else will  appreciate the improvements being made and they’ll all be able to contribute. Then  you just figure out how to divide up the tasks based off of what needs to be done.  

Then I like to make sure that I have reserved blocks of time to work on the  project. I put it on the calendar, or your family calendar if this is a team project.  Remember by using that Mount Vernon technique, we’re not talking about even  

©Productivity Paradox Page 4 of 7

clearing a whole day. It can be 15 minute 30 minute chunks, maybe a two hour chunk  if it’s on a Saturday, but carve out that space for yourself. And then I usually  encourage people to take some before photos so everyone can see the progress and  the transformation that’s taken place at the end of the project. This really helps with  those breadcrumbs we’re always talking about. It feels good to see how far we’ve  come.  

When it’s time to start the project, get into the zone. Turn off any visual  distractions like text messages or TV, set a timer, maybe put on some music or your  favorite podcast. I have one I could suggest if you like, or even listen to an audiobook.  Use that as a little bit of extra energy to get you going. And then you’re ready for  step number two, sort. As you start to dive into any project, I like to recommend  getting out three bags or buckets or boxes or whatever you want to help you sort  and group things together. You’re going to label these three containers to help you  sort and edit items.  

Bin number one is called keep. Now, these are the items obviously you want to  keep. Pretty self-explanatory, right? Maybe it doesn’t belong where you found it and  you’ll need to put it back where it belongs. But these are items you want to hold on  to. Don’t forget to assign a home for every item that you do want to keep. If you find  a kitchen item in your mud room, probably not where it goes and needs to be  returned to its proper place.  

The second bin is labeled trash. These are items that are broken or not usable.  No need to hold on to these items if they’re not working. We don’t want to donate  something that’s not working, either. Toss them and move on. Do keep in mind, many  items can be recycled. The third bin is labeled, donate. This is where you put items  that are still in working condition, they’re not broken and would maybe be better  served if they are in another home instead of collecting dust in your cabinet. So, keep  that in mind. We just talked a little bit about that idea of choosing a charity, that  helps to make this little bin fill up a lot faster, in my opinion.  

The third step is to purge. Remember, purging doesn’t mean you have to throw  things in the trash. It could mean you also find a new home for the items that aren’t  broken, or that you have multiples of. That’s a big one to think about. Do you really  need four black long sleeve knit shirts, or could you pare it down to one or two.  Maybe someone else could use one. During this purge phase, I recommend using  bags or boxes that are opaque so you can’t see through them. What you don’t want  to have happen is that you see those items inside, and then you’re tempted to change  your mind and put it … Maybe I’ll just change it to the keep bin.  

You get a container that is not transparent, and then you’re not as tempted.  Out of sight, out of mind. So, put it in there and walk away. No peeking. In general, if  it’s something in good condition, but you haven’t used it or seen it in the last six  months to a year, it should probably go to someone else. The fourth step is to  organize. As you sort through the items that you want to keep, be sure to use labels  to help you group things together and find a home for them. You can use containers  or bins if you have them, but you can also recycle cardboard boxes or other  containers for organizing items in drawers or cabinets.  

©Productivity Paradox Page 5 of 7

I find that people get really caught up in this organizing step, because they  want things to look perfect. Really, it’s okay to use old boxes. It’s okay to use bowls  from your kitchen to organize things. I have several Pinterest boards with all sorts of  great ideas on how to organize on a budget, or even how to make DIY containers to  declutter without breaking the bank. I would really encourage you to take a peek  there to see some of my favorite ways to organize. But while you’re in this organizing  phase, I want you to think categorically about how things can be grouped together.  For example, in my kitchen, I have a morning section where I have coffee cups in the  cabinets, the coffee pot and a few other accessories like sugar and Agave nectar and  that kind of stuff. I also have other morning related items like the lunch boxes for  getting lunches ready, and things for the kids to bring to school. I also have a baking  area in my kitchen where most of my baking pieces are. My utensils, my cake pans.  

When things are grouped together logically it makes life easier and more  effective so you aren’t wasting time searching for things that are all over the place.  Think about that as you organize. But I don’t want anyone to think that your home  needs to look like the pages out of the Container Store catalog. That’s not really  livable. Life is not that organized. Let’s be honest, that’s a little overly regimented for  most of us. I think you can agree, if you look at that Container Store magazine, it  looks beautiful. I love flipping through that magazine. But it’s also not realistic. Have  you ever noticed that in the closet, they have like four things hanging? If you look in  the pictures of the pantry, every item in there has orange in it, that’s because they’re  using a visual trick to make things look even more organized. I don’t know about you,  but I have a lot of food in my pantry that is not orange. Let’s make life livable. Let’s  live a little less cluttered and live happier, that doesn’t mean that we have to be overly  organized. We don’t want to be so regimented.  

What we’re looking for is living a life that feels less cluttered. Because those  studies I talked about show that it will decrease stress, it will lower procrastination. All  those benefits that make you better, that make you a happier person as you continue  to work on finding that true you that we’re talking about all season long.  

Now, this week, I do have a new Tanya TV episode, where I am going to show  how I organize my kitchen. That way you can see a lot of what we talked about here  applied to real life. I’ll give you some peeks into some of the cabinets and the drawers  in my own kitchen. Just go to inkWELLpress.com/YouTube to watch.  

Next week’s episode is all about finding financial freedom. So, organizing our  finances, we feel a little bit happier with how we’re budgeting and spending our  money. I want to close out our show with my listener thank you. Just to remind you,  each week I want to read out a review that someone has left, an email they’ve sent  me or an Instagram comment they might have made or posted. This week’s comes  from Leanne L, who wrote me a note where she said, “I’ve been thrilled to be a part  of your journey and I owe you a huge thank you for lighting a fire under me to start  chasing my someday.” Leanne, your note really made my day. So, please send my  team an email with your address and I will hand write you a thank you note, because  it means that much to me.  

All right, until next time, have a beautiful and productive week.