5 Realistic Organization Tips from a Notoriously Disorganized Person


So all my neatnik freelancing friends are writing blog posts about keeping organized and clutter free. I love you guys, really, I do, but for some of us it’s not so simple. We have made many attempts at organizing our lives and it just doesn’t happen. While we’re not ready for a guest spot on Hoarders, we’re never going to be Martha Stewart, either.

I’ve never been a neat person. Mind you, I don’t live like a slob, but my mother still shakes her head as she remembers my room.

I’m not embarrassed of the way I live. Our home is always ready to receive company as long as everyone stays out of the office, and I do take time to tidy up each day. However, when I worked in the real world I was the office worker with stacks of papers on her desk and post it notes every where.

You know the type.

Mind you, my disorganization isn’t so bad that I can’t function. I don’t lose key bits of information or forget to pay my bills on time. I just sometimes find myself lost among paper and sticky notes.  No one would ever accuse me of having everything in its place.

So why am I offering organizational tips, when I clearly have issues? Because I’m being realistic. I’m speaking to the people who would love to have a neat as a pin lifetyle, but will settle for having clean work surface. My tips for organization aren’t so much about being neat as they are about comfortably managing life or business. It’s being able to work without the clutter getting the best of you.

I’ll say this, when things are too much of a mess I can’t think properly. I can’t focus because I’m distracted. Here are my ways to keep disorganization from being distracting and making the most of your writing time.

1. Baskets and bins don’t Work for disorganized people

Organization experts will tell you the secrets to a clutter free life are to have lots of baskets and bins. Ummm….no. I have the baskets and they’re ever so pretty with their canvas liners and fancy bows, but they don’t necessarily guarantee a clutter free life. There are large baskets for papers and smaller baskets for business cards and pens. The problem is, the baskets become more work after a while. The experts will tell you these baskets and bins will make life simpler and less cluttered. The truth is, after a month or so, the baskets become one more thing to clean out.

Oh sure, my intentions are honorable. For the first week or two I actually make a conscious effort to put stuff where it belongs. Eventually, it becomes too much trouble to sort my things into individual baskets. Instead, it’s easier to put items in the closest, handiest basket. The business card holder? Also filled with bouncy balls, hair clips and and flash drives. The bigger all purpose bins? All purpose is a good term for them because they end up holding anything that falls on the floor.

Baskets don’t make your life easier. Less stuff does.

2. Throw that stuff away…you know you’re never going to use it again

Here is my most important organization tip for you. This is the only one that counts, folks.

Throw everything away.

If you don’t use it, if you have no use for it, if it’s just collecting dust, it’s clutter. Throw it away. You don’t have to waste it, you can recycle, freecycle or donate to charity, just get it out of the house if it has no purpose. If they’re papers that are used on both sides, shred them. If it’s an item that is broken or torn, face reality. You know you’re never going to fix it. It’s been sitting there a year and no one’s made a move to make repairs. Throw it away.

I know it’s painful. Trust me, I know. When I had to toss out my old flannel shirt with the torn armpits and missing pocket I was sad. And it was extremely difficult to throw away the broken computer mouse and the cracked CD cases.  I wept for about a week but now I’m at peace with my decision.

3. Reminders rock

So here’s the thing. When you have lots of papers and stuff lying around, the important things get buried. Your options are to clean everything and neatly hang or file the important stuff, or you can leave it all in big piles and create reminders so you don’t lose anything important or miss deadlines or appointments.

I’ll even share a secret – having stuff to remind you to do stuff makes everyone think you’re organized and on the ball even when you really aren’t. When I show up on time to a client meeting or school event no one says, “That Deb Ng is a disorganized person.” No, they say, “Wow, that Deb Ng is always so organized and on the ball because she always shows up at recitals early enough to land the good seats.” Meanwhile, an hour earlier I was in the process of typing up a blog post when my Outlook dinged to tell me to get my butt to school. No one ever has to know.

4. Keep your desk clean

If you’re distracted by clutter, you just have to keep it in a place where it’s not going to get in your way. Chaos can ensue all around you, just keep it off your desk. You can buy all those pretty, pretty baskets and bins to make everyone think you’re organized and stack your stuff in there, or you can get a bunch of shelves. In any event, the cleaner your desk, the cleaner, or, rather, the less cluttered your mind.

5. Unplug your printer

Finally, I’m going to tell you the problem isn’t you. All your issues with clutter and organization aren’t your fault. It’s the darn printer. If you didn’t have a printer you wouldn’t be printing out ten copies of your work to proof all the time. If it wasn’t for your printer you wouldn’t be printing out jokes or news articles to share with your family and friends. If it wasn’t for your printer you wouldn’t be printing pictures and puzzles and coloring pages. Unplug that puppy. Keep it off for 30 days and see if  it hasn’t made your life better. I ran out of ink 3 months ago and haven’t replaced it.  It’s going to have to happen eventually, but until then, I’m enjoying a paperless office. See how it works for you.

Do you have any realistic organizational tips you’d like to share? How do you stay organized?






12 responses
  1. Debbie Hildreth Avatar

    Great post. I find filing cabinets to be the best thing ever for putting a finger on documents quickly, and they help keep the desktop clean. I totally agree with you about throwing things away. If I don’t use something within 6 months, it’s outa here. And having an idle printer is good: Go paperless, I say, as much as possible.

  2. Kate Avatar

    I’m with you about the baskets, they’re very pretty but completely useless for people like me (and you apparently lol).

    My tip is download the Lightning calendar extension for Thunderbird, add deadlines, appointments etc. then set it to pop up and remind you of whatever you need to do. Having my email and schedule in one place has made a huge difference to my productivity.
    .-= Kate´s last blog ..A Movie Music Memories Meme – With added alliteration =-.

  3. Stephenie Avatar

    Every time I get up from my chair (to use the bathroom, get a drink, troll for sugar) I put 12 things away. It could be the paper pile next to me, the laundry, dishes, sorting coupons, etc.

    Just 12 things doesn’t take long, and since I have a small bladder, I almost cleaned off my super cluttered table today.

  4. Dawn Herring Avatar

    I have made it a point not to print out anything unless it’s absolutely essential. Makes for harder revising sometimes since I can’t bring a word document into another room if I don’t print it…but alas, less paper, less clutter. (I do get to those documents eventually, especially if I have them on a to do list!)

    Throw away…now you’re talking. How about the delete button?? 😉

    Thanks for a good post!
    Dawn Herring
    JournalWriter Freelance

  5. Jessie Haynes / JHaynesWriter Avatar

    Deb, I had so much to say that I blogged about in my organizing blog, Which Planner:http://whichplanner.com/2010/02/25/what-i-have-to-say-to-you-disorganized-people/. Looking forward to your input on my input.

  6. Monica Nastase Avatar
    Monica Nastase

    Hi Deb, thank you for your very useful posts. I’ve been reading them for a while now! I’m a newbie at blogging, currently trying to start one.

    My problem is not so much with the clutter and disorganization on my desk, but… in my head (disorganization, that is)! I have so many thoughts and ideas, all coming at once, that I cannot keep up with them and I end up losing many, frustrated that I cannot concentrate on one at a time. How do you get your ideas to stay in line?

    Thank you!

    1. Amber In Albuquerque Avatar

      I’m not Deb, but I have the same problem. I don’t like using post-its or other slips of paper to keep track of ideas because they just end up stashed in notebooks or in baskets or some other place that needs to be cleaned out every few months.

      I’ve found that a combination of a ‘cloud’ calendar program with to do lists and a ‘cloud’ office application (e.g., Office Live) work great. For example, in Windows Live Calendar I set up a color-coded calendar for each of my two blogs. When I get an idea for a blog post, I put it on the to do list for that calendar, with or without a due date attached. Then, I use the cloud office application to type notes or the outline. Using the ‘cloud’ apps allows me to get the idea recorded virtually as soon as I have it and to access the information from any computer (or a smartphone if you use one). There’s almost always one wired computer on in our house and I type way faster than I write (and I can go back and actually READ what I’ve typed).

      I just started doing this about two months ago and I’ve found that by keeping a calendar (with all of my ‘stuff’, not just writing) on the cloud I am constantly faced with my reminders (keeps me moving), I have access when I need it, and I don’t have a bunch of slips of paper floating around. I don’t use a smartphone, so I do occasionally end up scribbling something in the car when I’m waiting to pick my kids up from school, but I type that as soon as I get home and toss the paper.

      So far, so good! I’m getting much more accomplished and not losing good ideas and words.

      1. Naomi Hamm Avatar
        Naomi Hamm

        thanks loads this is great advice. Although I would suggest to keep the printer in case you lose important documents. Better to be safe, huh. Yeah toss what’s not need out and what may work for you probably won’t do for others.

        tag everything, tag tag………

  7. Melanie Garrett Avatar

    Great post, all made so much sense, right up until the terrifying ending. Unplug my printer?!?! Just thinking about it brought me out in a sweat…but maybe that’s because I can secretly see you have a point. But still. Unplug my printer?!?

    1. Diana Avatar

      I felt the same way! Hahaha

  8. Melinda Evaul Avatar

    Forget the clutter and do the work. I know what goes in each pile. Well, most of them anyway. I’m the only one who uses the desk, so why bothter?

    Actually, your tips are helpful. I have a file cabinet and try to use it. Problem is, many of the files land on the desk and stay there. Keeping work in folders helps. Even if I have a stack of them on the desk, at least individual snippets can go in the right folder.

    Forget the printer. Ink costs too much. I organize by folders on my computer and on my flash drive. It’s only a few clicks away.

  9. Imogen Avatar

    My solution was pretty drastic. Get rid of everything I own, except for a laptop and one bag, grab my beautiful daughter and go vagabonding around Europe.

    Now, I’m forced to stay clutter-free, as I have to carry everything I own! I keep all electronic files (in a folder labeled ‘Messy Desk Drawer’), never print anything (too much hassle to go to a net cafe or the library to use the printer) and have a cheap notebook beside me for totally disorganised – but incredibly helpful – doodles, notes-during-Skype-calls, and ideas. I’ll never be a neat worker… I like to call it creative brilliance!
    .-= Imogen´s last blog ..Pet Peeves of Freelance Job Ads =-.

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