After 4 years of professionally organizing clients I have noticed 3 distinct stages of life and 3 stages of organization.
I go into great detail about each phase and stage of organization in my podcast.
Stages of Life
There really is no denying that in different decades of your life your organizational needs and the demands on your time are different.
And while the exact age ranges may vary from person to person the following three stages of life are generally fairly accurate.
After you graduate from high school and move out into the big world lots of things happen and you start to acquire your own identity and life.
You acquire houses, husbands, children, careers, and all of the pieces and parts that go along with those people.
In this phase of life organization is all about creating new systems for all the new things that are coming into your life. And while some decluttering and purging does happen, more often you're looking for solutions to store items that are not currently being used, in case they are needed for additional children, a bigger house, etc.
As a mom in my late 20s and early 30s, I really needed to organize most of the rooms in my house every three months. It was very time-consuming, but also very fun. I had lots of energy, lots of ideas, and lots of stuff!
It is also during this stage of life where often your children are not really helpful in your organizational efforts.
Which is why I focus on the home office, laundry room, kitchen, and master closet when organizing a client that is in their 20s or 30s. Children rarely disrupt the order in those areas.
Somewhere around the age of 40 a switch flips in your mind and you suddenly have a different perspective that you didn't have in your 20s and 30s.
The woman in her 40s to early 50s usually has middle school, high school and college age children. It is also during this time that she often will return to the workforce either part-time, full-time, or from home.
Unfortunately, this is also the time of life where a woman usually needs to start caring for her parents, take care of a friend who has become gravely ill, or may go through a divorce. The needs of both her children and her parents on her time ushers her into the sandwich generation.
The woman 40 to 55 has a great sense of perspective, and wealth of knowledge. What she does not have is time. Everyone needs her, and she wants to help everyone who is close to her.
The organizational challenge for the woman 40 to 55 is to create systems and order in her home so that she has as much time available to her as possible to help and serve others.
55+ Downsizing & Legacy Focus
Somewhere in the mid 50s when her last child leaves for college, a woman will enter the third organizational stage of life. In this phase of life, the woman is focused on downsizing the house she is currently in, determining what items she wants to save and preserve for future generations, and what her legacy will be.
It is in these years that she is of most service to the community, can offer wisdom to future generations, and has a perspective that life is shorter then she realized it ever could be.
Women in this phase of life often focus on organizing their photos, memorabilia, children's prized possessions that were left in their attic's, basements and bedrooms.
She is also actively engaged in her children's lives. She's able to do with her grandchildren things that she did not have the time to do when she was in the survival phase of life.
Stages of Organization
Just like there are three distinct stages of life I see a woman go through, there are also three distinct stages of organization that any one woman can land in.
Stage 1: Complete Overwhelm
If you were in this phase of organization, you probably don't need me to expound any further.
- You don't know where to begin.
- It seems pointless to even start.
- The project is going to take so long that you can't even see when it will be completed.
- You listen to a podcast, read a blog post, or watch a TV episode about getting organized and are super excited until you turn around and look at your own organizational challenge. Suddenly you are frozen in place.
In this stage of organization it is helpful to only think about two things.
#1 What is trash?
Collect everything that you can find that is trash and throw it away.
#2 What do you no longer want and love and are free to donate?
Collect everything that is donate-able and drive it straight to Goodwill.
Honestly, when you were in an overwhelmed state, you can go through the whole 100 Day Home Organization Program just throwing away trash, and continuing to fill bags full of items to donate.
Because I hate to break it to you, but you cannot organize an overwhelming amount of clutter. Your only choice is to get rid of some things in order to get a more organized, calm and peaceful living space.
Stage 2: Systems & Organization.
In this phase of organization there are still things that need to be donated and occasionally trash in the areas that you go to organize. However, the difference is that you can actually see places that need to be organized; you're not completely overwhelmed as soon as you walk in the space.
While the task may still be daunting, if you start in one corner of the room you can work your way around to the other corner in a matter of hours, days or at least within one week.
In this phase of organization the key is to find one area, inside the room that you're going to organize, to tackle first. Once you have success there we're going to the next area.
This is why I divide organizing the kitchen into several weeks. One week for drawers, one week for cabinets, one week for the kitchen counter, etc.
Tackling all the drawers in your kitchen is much more doable than saying you're going to "organize the entire kitchen".
Keep your challenges manageable. Work within the amount of time you have available to you. Keep focusing on the areas that you have already organized and don't look at how much is left to be done.
Stage 3: Refining Your Systems & Maintaining.
I'm going to be honest here, I did not get to this level of organization until the third year that I did my own 100 Day Home Organization Program. And I am a professional organizer!
Organization is not a destination it is a journey. We are never going to be "completely organized."
But every day that you do even one thing to maintain or create more organization in your life, the closer you are moving to living a more organized life every day.
In this phase of organization, you may choose to invest in some cute magazine type organization products that are just pure fun. Or very decorative.
It is also in this stage of organization that you were able to organize the entire kitchen in a matter of hours. The storage room that used to take you a week to organize will now be able to be organized in a matter of hours.
While the need to maintain your home and continue to organize it does not go away, the amount of time, effort, and resources necessary to do so diminishes greatly.
So, what about you?
Were you able to identify with a particular Stage of life or organization? Let me know in the comments the stage you most identify with.