Winnie the Pooh (aka A.A. Milne) once said "One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries." Luckily for Pooh, the Hundred Acre Wood was a pretty idyllic, albeit adventurous, place to live and didn't have much pressure & stress. I doubt that misplacing something other than honey in his disorderly world lead to the discovery of panic.
1) Keep it fun! Turn some energetic music on; invite a good friend over who can laugh with you as you make funny discoveries & support you through the process; and, have snacks and beverages close by to keep your energy up.
2) Set aside time. Your space did not get disorganized overnight and the process won't reverse itself overnight either. Set realistic deadlines to prevent the project from dragging on, and schedule blocks of time to work on it (more than you think you will need).
3) Don't spread yourself thin. Concentrate on one area at a time until it is complete - choose one room, start in one corner of that room and work your way around. Don't move on until each section of the room has been sorted out. Instead of working hard all day, bouncing around from place to place, and feeling discouraged because it seems as though you haven't made a dent, you will be able to see & appreciate what you have accomplished.
4) Place like items together. As you sort, gather all of your office supplies in one place, all of your files in one place, all of your hobby items in one place, etc. I like to use empty boxes to gather things until the space is clear and I'm ready to put them away in their new home. Think of this as a large filing system. Hint: This is a great time to have a pad of post its & a sharpie marker to label your sorting containers.
5) Trash, Shred, Donate, Recycle. In keeping with the last tip, when you start organizing a room, label boxes & bags for these as well. I like to use boxes & line them with a trash bag so it stays open & can be carried away when full. If you have things that need to be recycled in different locations (example: used ink / toner cartridges & old cell phones), use separate containers from the very beginning and avoid wasting time double sorting (paper bags are great for these).
6) Don't waste energy putting away one thing at a time. This also goes hand in hand with number 2. If you are organizing your home office and you find items that belong in the kitchen, bathroom or to another person, don't keep going back and forth carrying a dish here, a bottle of medicine there, and delivering a file elsewhere. Use paper bags or baskets to gather the items together according to destination. Deliver them all at one time & save the time & energy you would have used to get more done in the space you've chosen.
7) When in doubt, throw it out! If you haven't used it, much less seen it, in 6 months or a year, don't know what it is or does, then it is time to let it go. If it's broken & you've held onto it for a while, planning to get it fixed, set a deadline for yourself - get it fixed by then or toss it. If you don't like it, love it, or have a good use for it (before 'maybe' or 'eventually' comes around), then let it go.
8) Keep clearing your visual space. Discouragement (and therefore a desire to quit) when organizing a space stems from the visual progress, or lack thereof. If you've sorted for what seems like hours and all you see is piles and no clear space, clear the space visually before you give up. Take the trash out, move any empty boxes into the hallway, gather any piles that are not contained in boxes & contain them, etc.
9) Don't be afraid to spread out. In keeping with number 6, don't be afraid to use the hallway or an adjacent room temporarily so you have space to move around in the room you are concentrating on. The trick to this one is setting a time limit on how long it can remain in the other room.
10) Sorting does not mean endless drudgery. When you run across stacks of papers or small items that need to be sorted, but perhaps don’t need your full concentration while doing so, set them aside. Then, pick a TV show or movie that you have seen before (so you don't have to fully concentrate on that either) or music, and sit in comfort on the sofa and sort away.
Don't Give Up! Even without the help of a professional organizer, you CAN get your home / office organized, enjoy increased productivity, reduce stress, and look forward to living / working in that space again.
If you have questions or comments or would like to learn more about working with a professional organizer, please leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.