Organization for the Disorganized

Today’s guest post is by my real life friend, Melanie. When she asked me about writing this topic, I didn’t completely get the concept, but I trust Mel and knew that it would be good. It is! I relate to this more than I thought I would, and the suggestions make so much sense! I know, this isn’t a blog about organization per se, but let’s face it… busy mamas need to be organized! Enjoy!


Guest Post by Melanie Dreyer

Messy toys Once I arrived at work on time and my boss asked me if everything was ok.  I quit borrowing books from the library years ago when I realized my money was better spent on buying books than on late fees.  I own a dozen white shirts, at least as many black shirts and I have four dozen cans of tomatoes in my pantry all because I’m too distracted while shopping to remember what I already have.  I like the idea of using coupons but actually remembering to put them in my purse is another thing and if they’ve made it that far I usually forget to take them out upon payment.  My keys now have a visible home where I hang them but before that I would spend up to half and hour looking for where I left them: my jacket pocket – but which jacket? my purse? the counter? the table in the foyer? the diaper bag?

You get the picture.  I have some organizational issues.  Can you relate?  If so “ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life” by Judith Kolberg and Kathleen Nadeau, PH.D may prove to be very helpful.

The title is unfortunate because until recently, when researching some learning difficulties my children have, I would not have identified myself as ADD or thought this book would apply to me.  Attention Deficit Disorder is really a set of symptoms that have an assortment of underlying causes that I won’t get into here.  In my case one of the predominant reasons for my ADD tendencies is that I am right brained.  As a visual learner who thinks in pictures I need to see the big picture in order to get a concept; following sequential steps or learning in increments is difficult for me.  Thus, many of the books on organization out there have proven difficult to follow because they are geared towards to the left-brained thinker and learner – or the more naturally organized person.  Right-Brained Ways to Organize or Organization for the Visual Learner might be better titles.

The book deals with some key issues that I could immediately relate to: the reality that if something is out of sight, it’s out of mind, the need to see the big picture first (macro-focus) and the uncanny ability to get lost in the finite details, (micro-focus).  A spare-room, home-office or garage that has become the household dumping ground can be overwhelming because it is difficult to see beyond the whole mess or cleaning the bathroom, which should take 20 minutes, ends up taking two hours because of over-focusing on cleaning the grout lines with a toothbrush.  Other difficulties are becoming easily distracted, moving from one task to another without finishing any of them and boredom – the need for stimulation in order to engage in a task.

Some of the solutions provided in the book left me wondering why I hadn’t thought of it, they are so simple.  Other solutions are ingenious.  For example, one way to combat “OosOom” (out of sight, out of mind) is to use clear storage bins where the contents can easily be seen.  This helps contain the clutter, while providing the visual cues needed for memory’s sake.  Also, place baskets near the doorway (a classic gathering place for clutter) labelled “In” and “Out”.  One basket is the place to put incoming items; the other is for outbound items.  Outbound items can be moved to a bin in the car, inbound items can be put away when the basket gets full.

Another helpful hint was to use what the authors call a “stubby to-do” list.  They recommend using a bright sticky note and listing your top priorities for the day in large print using verbs such as: bake cake, get groceries, pick-up dry-cleaning, drop off library books.  It is important to list no more than five items otherwise you run the risk of being overwhelmed and to place the list in a place where you will be easily reminded of what needs to be done that day.

The authors suggest using a timer or alarm clock to help combat loosing track of time, especially for activities that can cause you to micro-focus such as surfing the internet.  Analogue clocks are recommended over digital clocks since they provide a visual cue of the time passing.

Other ideas for tackling large organizing tasks like the garage or a child’s bedroom is to get creative: turn the garage into a hardware store or the child’s bedroom into a toy store and organize according to the departments found in those stores.  This can provide motivation to work on these tasks and provide categories for sorting through the overwhelming clutter.

The book addresses key organizational issues in separate sections:  Things, Time, and Paper.  They also provide tips on prioritizing, combating boredom, simplifying, plenty-of-time thinking, night-owl tendencies, skim reading and setting up a support system.  This book has proven invaluable to me and I highly recommend it to anyone who can relate to my organizational struggles or needs some creative ways to help a chronically disorganized family member.

Do you relate to these organizational struggles? What things do you to overcome them?

Melanie Dreyer is a homeschooling mom of four children ages 8, 6, 3 and 21 months and resides in the interior of British Columbia.  She has a blog called “Met With Perfect Pleasure” where she writes about motherhood, biblical womanhood, the Gospel and anything else that interests her.

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  1. Thank you for this post! I just stumbled on this as I was looking for Stephanie’s post about her homemaking binder. I am attempting to make a binder ONE.STEP.AT.A.TIME. After my son went to kindergarten and his teacher told me exhibited a lot of ADHD symptoms I started researching it and realized that I do too. Like you I have always struggled with many of those symptoms, but never would have labeled myself ADD. And neither my son nor I have been actually diagnosed (instead, we went on a whole foods diet, eliminating preservatives and artificial colors/flavors which has helped both of our mental clarity a lot, and put my son in a Montessori and homeschooling this year and he is flourishing) so I can’t say for sure that medically speaking either of us truly have ADD/ADHD. BUT, I laughed at your first paragraph because that describes me to a T. In our first year of marriage, my husband bought me an electronic “Keys FInder”, a special key chain that beeps if you push its button from a finder that we put on our fridge. Now we have a special hook to hang our keys, but I always have a spare just in case I forget to hang them there and can’t find them! Complete inability to deal with paper (bills, mail, notes from school, etc), boredom, distraction, hyper focus, staying up too late, and just a wondering-what-I-should-be-doing-right-now kind of fog is what is the worst for me. That book sounds great and I think I will look into it, I’ve benefitted from other ADD help books as well. I have found that I MUST have a meal plan, and it took forever to get one together, but if I don’t have a meal planned ahead of time we eat cereal for dinner, or my husband cooks something. The problem arises when I don’t get to the store to get the correct items, or I start on dinner too late in the day, etc. So now I am slowly tackling the binder because I find that if I have a plan for the day and a planned time to go grocery shopping and do other needed things then life is better around here. Your post is very helpful because I’m sure there are many other women who suffer with similar things!

  2. I have raised 3 children and worked a “lifetime” outside my home. We built our home within weeks after our wedding and without any indepth planning. Thankfully, it is a somewhat functional, practical design. That was pure luck. After all the wedding planning, followed rapidly by building a home at age 21 and returning to work….let me just say the house was never totally finished. The house stayed clean and organized beyond the first 17 years of our time in the house. Then for a multitude of reasons it was no longer even hardly clean let alone organized. The unfinished basement became my solution. Anytime something was outgrown, or no longer purposeful my solution was “put it in the basement I’ll take care of it later, now get in the car we have to go”. It did not take long for the full sized basement to become full wall to wall and floor to rafters. Then it consumed one side of the 2 car garage, around the perimeter of the other side of the garage and FINALLY crept up the stairs into our living space. I hired a wonderful personal organizer twice to come help me but the job was greater than 2 visits could solve. Not to mention the painful physical exhaustion from working so hard each time she came.
    I no longer have the children to blame for throwing things downstairs. I do still work a full work week and come home exhausted. I have been involved in eldercare of aging parents and in laws. All that remains is my father in law. He is living independently at this time with little help from us. I guess you could say I’m running out of excuses to bring the house back into order. I understand I need help, more help than 2Guys and a Truck! I know it did not get this way in a week. I know I do not want to live the rest of my life this way. I am willing to give up vacations to apply my time toward organizing this house and my life. I know I need help to make that happen AND am so overwhelmed I do no know where to begin. I am a very slow reader so the number of books on organizing your home and life have gone missing in the piles. Our home is is need of a remodel as it is dated, neglected and survived raising 3 active children, but no work can be done until this house is emptied. Where do I begin to get the help we need to realistically make this happen without physically and mentally causing further damage? We need a COMPLETE overhaul. While I delight in the children being grown and independent with their own active lives, I feel a pang of regret at not taking care of this while they were still at home to help.

  3. I totally identify with this–I am also a right brained, visual learner, and very easily distracted. I will definately be checking out this book.

  4. Robin in Washington says:

    Thank you for this post!!! My best friend has been helping me organize my house. She has been a blessing! Maybe now I can learn some of the things that come so naturally to her!

  5. This was such a great post! Organizationally Disfunctional, that would be me. Well, on second thought, I am not dysfunctional (I’m created in His image after all), but how great to find a book like that for those who act and react to situations like me. Will have to check that out……..

  6. Need that book.

  7. Very interesting! Thank you for sharing.

    I finally found a book recently that makes a lot of sense to me, too, and it is SUCH a relief! The books that I found and am working on are “organization from the inside out” and “Time management from the inside out” by Judy Morgenstern.

    It sure is true that different methods apply to different people! I have tried many things but its nice to find something that is working (slowly but surely!)

  8. Totally relate. I have known for many years that I’m “functionally ADD”–I would prob’ly not be diagnosed but am very scattered, can get distracted by a…butterfly, etc. :) So, add in 3 kids and being pregnant and this book might just help me. Even if I can’t remember to get the book, I need to at LEAST do the stubby list. ;)

  9. Another one that totally relates! I’ll be looking for the book, and thanks for the good ideas. Good to know I am not alone :)

  10. This was a great post. I shared some of the ideas with my husband and he really thought they might work in our home. I am interested in getting the book.

  11. WOW. This post made my life make so much more sense!
    I’ll second Laura, any advice on how to apply this to menu planning?
    I think I am going to buy that book (since I also struggle with returning library books!). I really hunger for organization but I have no idea how to really do it. Now I know why!
    Thank you!

  12. This post describes me perfectly! Thankyou so much for the helpful tips. One question, though. How would you apply this to menu planning?