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Organizing for the New Year

A new year can be exciting for so many reasons, it’s a fresh chance to start over, to redefine our ambitions and set new goals that somehow seem more attainable because we’re committing to those goals along with millions of others. We declare our intentions with resolutions and getting organized is a popular one!

The top resolutions every year seem to include losing weight/getting in shape, quitting vices and getting organized. One reason so many of us seem to fail at keeping resolutions is that we take on too many. It would be a pretty significant shift in our behaviors if we gave up sweets, cocktails, tardiness and impulse buying in one fell swoop. Focusing on just one of the stumbling blocks you come up against frequently may be a better game plan. Besides, we can commit to a resolution at any point in time during the year; it need not be Jan. 1. We can start anew at the beginning of every month perhaps or carry over the same resolution multiple years in a row. I’ve been maintaining a commitment to keeping my office floor free and clear of any obstructions for three years now.

Take some time to reflect on last year and try to identify what went wrong, what areas of your home and work you would like to improve on. Recommit to resolutions that you weren’t quite able to nail. Here are some organizing and productivity tips you can use at any time of year:

• Breaking down the overall resolution into smaller, doable tasks allows us the opportunity for mini-accomplishments and nothing feels better than succeeding.

• Get realistic. Getting organized is a lot like getting in shape. It doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t disperse years of clutter in a few hours just like you can’t cut out junk food for a day and expect to be vastly healthier. Clutter can accumulate slowly and there’s nothing wrong with picking away at it, a little bit at a time. Fifteen- to 25-minute blocks of decluttering are an ideal time to dig in, maintain focus and then retreat to refresh and regroup. It can be a lot of brain work making decisions, so reward the tasks you’ve completed with a short walk, play time with your pets, a few pages of a current book you’re reading, maybe a quick phone call with a friend or family member.

• Define goals in a very specific way. Instead of “I want to get organized,” try “I want to sort and address my snail mail every single day” or “I always want to know where my car keys are.”

• Map out the area that you are devoted to utilizing in a better manner. Perhaps you want to keep a clear space around your computer keyboard and the “prime real estate” area of your desk. Create a no clutter zone using painter’s tape and as you achieve keeping stuff out of the zone, widen it until you reach your ideal.

• Forming habits can take some time and dedication. It’s easier if you replace an old habit with a new one. For instance, instead of bringing the mail in and just placing any on any flat surface, put it in a dedicated spot that you’ve labeled “incoming mail” or even better, do a quick sort as soon as you enter your home. Labeling can be really helpful if you’re trying to get other members of the household to adapt to new systems.

• Are you hanging on to certain items that were gifts but you don’t actually like, need, want or use them? Once the gift has left the hands of the giver, you should have full rights to do whatever you would like to do with it. Embrace the good intentions and consider donation or re-gifting. I believe that re-gifting is perfectly acceptable; again, once the gift leaves the hands of the giver, they have given up their ownership rights. It also helps to ask yourself if the gift giver would want you to be hanging onto something that made you feel guilty or obliged; probably not.

• Some people excel using visual clues, so you may have more success with posting reminders in the areas you’re working on improving such as “No dishes in the sink overnight please” or “Suzy’s backpack goes here.”

• Taking the time to purge paperwork and files is a great way to create space for the inevitable paper that will come your way throughout the year. Lose old magazines, unnecessary memos and owner manuals to things you no longer own, greeting cards that aren’t keepsakes and archive files that are inactive from your desktop or filing system.

• Don’t forget to organize your schedule to save yourself lots of time all year long. Go through your calendar, whichever version works best for you — paper or digital — and reserve time every month for backing up your computer and decluttering your desktop and office. Mark birthdays, anniversaries, significant events like weddings or reunions and even what month you need to get your car inspected.

• Is this the year you want to handle less paper? Consider signing up for automatic payment with electronic receipts for utilities, rent/mortgage, vehicle payments or insurance premiums. You don’t have to do everything all at once if you’re not sure if paperless is right for you; try one or two accounts first.

May you have a new year full of positive experiences, the gift of simplicity and the ability to embrace your material treasures while letting go of the extraneous stuff.