Getting Motivated to Get Organized
"Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps
you going." --Jim Rohn
When I get calls from prospective clients who say they want
to get organized, I often ask, "What's motivating you to get
organized at this time, and what will be possible once you
get organized?" I ask these questions because I've found
that without a compelling reason, there's little or no
motivation to change the habits necessary for lasting
My first year in business, I got a call from a woman (I'll
call her Kelly) who said that her husband wanted her to get
organized. As I walked through their home with her, Kelly
told me what her husband wanted me to do. Among other
things, he did not like the clutter scattered throughout the
house -- stacks of unopened mail, piles of newspapers and
magazines, unfolded laundry, and dirty dishes. After
listening for a while, I asked, "Who owns the problem here?"
With a bewildered look on her face, Kelly responded by
telling me that her husband wanted her to "clean things up."
Although Kelly was the one who was primarily responsible for
creating the clutter, and she was the one who was asked to
do something about it, I came to the conclusion that Kelly's
husband was the one who owned the problem. Why? Because he
was the one who did not like the clutter, and she was
perfectly content with the way things were. She was not the
least bit motivated to change any of her personal habits
that created the clutter in the first place.
Under the circumstances, I decided not to take Kelly on as a
client. Although working with this client could have
generated a significant number of paid consulting hours --
as well as fostered a dependency on my ongoing services to
keep things organized -- I would have felt out of integrity
to work with Kelly when she was not ready to commit to the
process. Without her readiness to take ownership of the
problem, my working with her would not have helped in the
long run. Had she and I de-cluttered and organized their
home, I'm convinced it would have reverted back to its
original state in a matter of weeks.
Who Owns the Problem?
I'll share a story to illustrate what I mean when I ask "who
owns the problem." When our daughter was about four years
old, I was the one who took her to day care on my way to
work. Every morning I'd ask her to get dressed and be ready
to leave the house by a certain time, and I'd give her a
10-minute and a 5-minute warning. And every morning when it
was time to go she would not be dressed. My husband and I
were taking a parenting class at the time, and I mentioned
the problem in class one night. The instructor asked, "Who
owns the problem here?" I said, "I do, because I am late
for work." He asked me why I was late for work, and I
repeated that I was late because our daughter would not get
dressed on time. The instructor asked what would happen if
I let her own the problem.
The next morning when it was time to leave the house and our
daughter was not dressed, I put her in the car in her
underwear, strapped her seatbelt on, and put her clothes in
a bag on the seat next to her. It was January and it was
cold in the car! Guess what? By the time we got to day
care she was completely dressed (and with her seatbelt still
on)! The next day she was dressed when it was time to go,
and it was never an issue again. From that day forward, she
was ready when it was time to go. By allowing her to own
the problem, she had an investment in finding a solution.
She was motivated to get dressed because she was cold and
uncomfortable, and because I was no longer willing to own or
solve the problem for her.
Experience has taught me that when someone says they want to
get organized because someone else wants them to do so,
lasting results are not likely. Why? Because without that
internal motivation, one is not likely to change the habits
necessary to stay organized. If you don't own the problem,
you won't have a vested interest in finding a solution.
Sometimes fear, shame, or intimidation can generate
temporary motivation, but it usually doesn't last.
My most successful clients have been those who want to get
organized because they see something on the other side of
their clutter and disorder -- something they desperately
want. Their desire and passion for whatever it is that
they want creates the motivation that propels them forward
and supports lasting change. Success has nothing to do with
the depth of the piles of paper or the length of time one
has been disorganized; it has everything to do with having a
compelling reason to get and stay organized. I call this
Most people are motivated by one of two things: a desire to
either increase pleasure or decrease pain in their lives.
That's what inside-out organizing is all about 'getting
clear about your internal desires...what you want more or
less of in your life -- and then working outward to achieve
the desired outcome.
In Kelly's case, although she has created the clutter
problem, her husband owns it. Until she is ready to own the
problem, nothing will change in their household. So how can
Kelly become motivated to take ownership of the problem and
do something about it? Let's revisit the question, "What's
possible for Kelly once she gets organized?" To illustrate
how this works, I've made up three scenarios in which Kelly
could explore the answer to that question:
1. Kelly and her husband sit down together and add up the
actual costs of the clutter and disorganization -- late
payment fees because the bills are not getting opened and
paid on time, purchasing duplicate items because they can't
find what they need, canceling subscriptions to magazines
that do not get read, etc. Then they determine some
alternative ways to spend the money they'll save... perhaps
for a vacation they've wanted to take, or for a home
improvement Kelly wants that they cannot afford. Motivating
factor: Freeing up more disposable income to use for things
on the wish list.
2. Kelly and her husband are both committed to caring for
each other in meaningful ways. She recognizes that order is
important to her husband and he is important to her.
Therefore order becomes important to her for the sake of
nurturing their relationship in a way that is meaningful to
her husband. Motivating factor: Building a more satisfying
relationship with her husband.
3. Kelly has a hobby that she has not done for years because
there's no space in the house to work on it. She has a
renewed energy and passion for resurrecting this hobby, and
that serves as a motivation to begin de-cluttering their
home. Motivating factor: Following a passion of hers and
doing something she enjoys.
In each scenario above, Kelly might be motivated to change
some habits if it's worth the prize that awaits her on the
other side of the clutter.
Being organized is not about how your environment looks, but
about creating an environment and a schedule that enables
you to work, play, and live exactly as you want to.
Stephanie Winston, author of The Organized Executive,
reminds us that "a good system expresses the organization of
your mind in the environment."
To assess your current level of organization at home, answer
the following questions:
* Can you find what you need when you need it?
* Does your environment express and support who you are and
what you value most?
* Does your schedule express and support who you are and
what you value most?
To assess your current level of organization at work, answer
the following questions:
* Can you consistently find what you need within a few
* If you work with others, can they quickly find what they
need in your office when you're not around?
* Does your current system keep you focused on what's most
important and remind you of important follow-up?
* Does your current paper & information management system
work? Do you like it?
If you answered yes to these questions, you are doing just
fine, even if your environment doesn't look organized to
If you answered no to any of these questions, ask yourself
what you would gain if you organized your time and your
space around what's most important to you. What
opportunities do you miss out on or turn away because of a
cluttered schedule, cluttered environment, or a cluttered
Someone once said that "one definition of insanity is to
keep doing the same thing and expecting different results."
If you were to get and stay organized, what different
results would be possible? What will getting organized
enable you to do that you are not doing now? Once you are
clear about the answer to these questions, keep your eye on
the prize and you'll have the motivation to succeed!
April is Stress Awareness Month, and the week of April 15th
is National Organize Your Files Week. When you are
motivated to reduce your stress by making a change in your
environment and/or your schedule, I can help you get
started. E-mail me at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a
complimentary consultation or coaching session.
About the Author
Kathy Paauw, President of Paauwerfully Organized, is a
certified business/personal coach & organizing consultant.
She works with individuals by helping them declutter
their schedules, spaces and minds. Visit her website at
http://orgcoach.net to learn how you can Find ANYTHING
in 5 Seconds 'guaranteed! To subscribe to her free monthly
PaauwerTools ezine visit http://orgcoach.net/newsletter/
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