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Organizing Chaos: Declutter Your Life


Introduction

I have been into organising for many years now. I strongly believe that it is vital for us to sort out our lives by first organising our belongings. I think that the most important thing in ones life is Peace of Mind which comes from general clarity. In my opinion, the first step in moving towards that is to take out clutter from your house and life. We will be talking about different forms of clutter in order to completely eliminate it from our lives. I strongly believe that everything should be designated a proper place in the house and so it should be put exactly there. I know every person is different and has his own ways. I admit that I have been quite untidy in my past too, but if this can be the source of inspiration or change in a few of us, the purpose of this post will be fulfilled. I had written my first organising post in 2012 which had a great response. So I took out more time and decided to break it down in to pieces to make it easy to read and follow. This is the first part of this exciting series. I hope you will like this and look forward to reading the rest of the parts.

 

I was never a neat freak; in fact there were times when my room was full of clutter. I can’t believe the girl who used to let the room become really messy before she made any effort to do it up was me. I did keep my diaries,book shelves and my memory box organised, but I mostly let the disorder in my room spread up till the verge of explosion before I started my next detailed clean. That in some cases took days of hard work. There was never such a big pressure on me cleaning up except the regular shouting from my mother which I was immune to. We always had maids who were paid for doing up our rooms. Also, the size of the rooms was so big that even if I threw stuff all around, I could always walk over or past it to reach the toilet. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case when I moved abroad.

Reasons you should organise

The major transformation in me took place when I moved to England in 2008. I think that was basically due to the following main reasons:

 

1. Space Issues

As soon as I entered my first room in Coventry, I was struck by the sheer size of the cupboard and room. I literally had to give away half my stuff for charity just after I landed as I couldn’t figure out how to fit it all in. Then arrived the English winter and I had to buy many coats and winter clothes. It was hard to adjust to the fact that I had to have a proper gear because of extreme weather conditions and yet it had to be kept in the little space that I had. I had no choice, there was no other way; one had to get organized.

2. Worth of money

I was in a situation where I had no choice but to work. For the first time in my life, I went out of my comfort zone and actually started earning for a living. Once I started paying the rent, bills and buying groceries, I actually realized how difficult it is to earn and save up. When even buying basic clothes became a luxury, I became conscious of how much I had been taking for granted when Papa and Mama were taking care of all this all our lives.  Initially I did door-to-door sales for two companies at the same time, which meant hours of walking in extreme weather conditions with heavy magazines and delivering products to strangers houses. It was all commission based and there was no fixed income. After about 8 months of that, I got a job in London that paid per hour. And in order to get that £5.80 per hour, I had to be running the whole day, carry heavy delivery boxes and be on my toes at all kinds of odd timings.
On days when my body was all aches and pains and I didn’t think I could move an inch, I was made to do 12 hour consecutive shifts and then reaching home at around 1 am when I had to cook and clean. In some days a week, I had to wake up at 6.30 for an early shift the very next morning. I was at work weekdays and weekends, and once I had a fulltime job (45 hours a week) and had a second job on weekends to make the ends meet. Being sick was never an option, I had to be at work, in any case. That’s when I realized that money is not easy to earn and losing or not taking care of my belongings felt like throwing all that hard earned money down the drain. Also, no point of buying new clothes if one can’t find them exactly when we need them the most. Earning money per hour also made me learn the lesson that ‘time is money’. We can’t afford to spend hours only trying to find our belongings as that’s expensive for us too. There is also a cost of inconvenience when you look for something which you can’t find.

3. Image

I have lived in East London houses where even the washrooms had to be shared. We all have experienced that sharing a house (or your life) with someone is not a big issue as long as the cleaning habits are similar. On the contrary it is actually the biggest nightmare sharing a place with people who give a damn about your hygiene or the need to keep things in order.
In a house where people from 6 different nationalities lived, the way we behaved was reflective of where we came from. When each others names sound so alien to remember, our country of origin becomes our main source of identity. And our behavior and habits are reflective of the country we’ve come from.
So when we show negative behavior, not only do we belittle ourselves, we also misrepresent our country, religion, society and culture. I felt this responsibility to make sure I represent Pakistan and Islam in a clean and unsoiled manner.

4. Gratitude

Unfortunately, there are people in this world whose living habits are worse than animals. Sharing a house for over 3 years made me realize the importance of how lucky we are to be able to have the freedom to keep our toilets, kitchens, and the rest of our houses clean; without other housemates mucking up all your back breaking hard work.
I can never forget my hours of cleaning their filth in the fridge, toilets, cellar, counters and kitchen sinks after coming home from a 10 hour shift from work. And then the misery of finding more dirt there all over again the very next morning. Once I was really disturbed by this so after cleaning up, I made some labels and taped them around the house: ‘Please wash your dishes, please wipe the counters once you’re done and please pull the flush’. Next time when I came out of my room, I saw that some of the housemates had actually torn all the labels like a wild cat and thrown them all around as they continued their chaotic lifestyle.

Rats/mice on floors and couches, sewage water collection in cellar, disgusting toilets, housemates fighting and stabbing each other, my utensils and cutlery being stolen and thrown on floor were issues that I had to deal with on an every day basis for roughly two years. The memory of that actually makes me appreciate my liberty to be in charge of my environment a million times more. I thank Allah for that experience also as it has made me become who I am today. And I am really happy I realized how important it is to be given the liberty to be able to live in a clean and dirt-free environment. So I cherish that a lot  more than someone who has never experienced this.

5. Consideration For Others

Sharing a house teaches one a lot of important lessons in life. If one housemate disregards the unsaid rules of the house, his actions are actually saying ‘I don’t care a damn about all the others I am living with’. Because of a few housemates leaving the back door open, all the others had to face the consequences of having rats,mice and flies in our kitchen. Some housemates who used to party on weekends in our lounge with loud music, chat and drink caused me inconvenience as I had to start working early morning on weekends also. Of course I couldn’t sleep.
Similarly, I knew that if I used the kitchen and left the garbage bag full without taking it out, I caused inconvenience to the next person who needs to use the bin. This idea made me realise that I don’t want to be the kind of a person who opens the door for one’s own self and shuts it on the face of someone who was following me.
I also learned that when one is sharing a toilet with other people, we can’t just hang our clothes behind the door or leave our stuff lying around. If that was the case then each person sharing it would have the right to hang equal amount of clothes behind the door which of course then makes it hard to even find the door knob.
I had learned that I had to fold the sweater properly and  nicely tuck my shoes in the proper place as soon as I took them off. It did take a while and some self talk for the change to take place fully.

How my retail work experience changed me

My first retail experience started from JD Sports (the biggest sports chain in the UK) at Oxford Street London. Being a sports girl all my life, I was actually excited to work for this company. I served in the Textiles and Footwear floor most of the time. My excitement for the job was soon gone as I realised that most of my days at work were spent folding shirts, trousers, or labelling sale tickets.
There were days when my entire 9 hour shift was spent folding t-shirts (200 shirts a day) while assisting customers. I pitied myself at times thinking what’s the point of having a Master’s degree in Business Administration when all I’m doing is folding clothes and putting shoes in order. That’s when I changed my point of view. I knew I wasn’t going to be in retail for too long so might as well learn whatever I can during this time.
Retail industry is all about making the products look good. In order to do that, most of the employees are busy organizing stuff, labeling and doing standards. ‘Standards’ is the most commonly term used in Retail. It is basically putting all the displayed items in the specified order on the shop floor. Standards are carried out to give an image of perfection to the potential customer. The goal is to make it all look appealing to the eyes. If a line of shirts is hanging, all the shirt sleeves have to be manually creased, the hangers have to be in particular direction, each hanger has to have its proper size cube on it, there has to be the specified gap between the shirts, the sizes of all shirts are to be in order and the first two and the last shirt always have to have a labeled ticket. If a shirt is even slightly dirty or is damaged, it can never be displayed. JD Sports had special folding frames and tables which were meant to fold the shirts according to standards. Each folded line had to have all displayed colors and its size stickers on them which had to be stuck at exactly the correct place. We did not have any margin for error as our folded shirts were measured by the manager to make sure we were doing our jobs properly.

 

If anyone didn’t adhere to the strict standards, he/she was fired on the spot. Then when I got promoted and had to manage the Liverpool Street Branch on my own, I had to train all my staff to do proper standards. My experience of working in Retail taught me some of the most valuable lessons in life which I could never learn on my own or with all the Masters Degrees in the world. I realised if I can spend so much time in making the shop floor look perfect and appealing to the eyes, why can’t I make my room and my cupboards look that way for me? Since I had become a master of folding, hanging, it only came naturally to me and I started doing it without any effort or time. Of course I didn’t do up my cupboards according to the shop floor standards (as I’m not crazy) but I made sure everything was easier for me to access. In the little time that I had at home I used the techniques learned at work and I could feel the difference it was making in me. I started becoming a happier person.

Excuses we make and how to counter them

I do agree that while you are developing this habit, it takes a few weeks of reminding yourself to get back on track. Sometimes it feels like a hassle and we love to come up with excuses why we can’t put things back in their place right now. Following are our most common excuses:

1. No time for it

Firstly, we tell ourselves ‘I don’t have time for this right now’. That’s how it keeps pilling up. Honestly it doesn’t take more than 30 seconds to fold and put something in its proper place. This saves unimaginable amount of time that you would normally spend in looking for your belongings.

2. I am exhausted

The second most common excuse why we don’t tidy up our rooms is that ‘I am exhausted now’. Research shows that no matter how tired you think you are, putting in only a few minutes in a physical activity will do you no harm. In fact, on the contrary, a bit of physical exercise is always good for our body which is so used to sitting in the slouching position (while we watch TV or are busy on our iOS or Android). So basically we only make this excuse when we’re being lazy.

3. I can’t afford buying organisers

The third excuse may be that ‘I can’t afford organisers required to systemise’. My answer to that would be that we do not have to spend anything on organising our house. Yes there are shops in London like Laura Ashley and Cath Kidston from where you’ll get really expensive tie hangers or kitchen roll accessories but in my opinion that’s completely unnecessary.
Almost all the organising boxes/bags that I use have been either bought from Poundland/Primark or they are containers from Morrisons /Sainsbury’s grocery store. I have used baskets in which I bought mushrooms and boxes in which I bought carrots, as perfect drawer organisers. I also use chocolate, perfume or watch boxes from my house which don’t cost a penny. I will be sharing pictures of these with you in the upcoming parts so you get an idea.
So, sorry folks but our excuses of being too tired , too busy, or can’t afford to be organised are invalid. We either have to look for a new excuse or start acting up.

What you get from organising

What I have learned over the years is that it is totally worth it. There is a tremendous sense of happiness the moment you enter your home after holiday or work tired, and finding everything in its proper place.
On the other hand, imagine you’re rushing out to your friends place and really want to wear your purple scarf that you specially bought to match this dress. Now in this rush, you’re desperately trying to look for it in your cupboards and in the process literally throwing everything out in frustration wondering where the hell has it gone? Not only does this scenario upset you, it disturbs all those who are around you who see what a mess you have put yourself in.
I do agree with the principle ‘Less is More’. Remove anything which can be eradicated. I was surprised to see my mom’s German friend Birgit’s house. She literally had only curtains, some books, a mosquito net and a bed in her bedroom. Although I don’t recommend that, but being clutter-free surely gave her a sense of happiness and inner peace. ‘Less Is More’ is also true in other aspects of our lives. I was never very fond of people who talk less. But now through experiences, I’ve learned that its better to stay quiet or say less rather than to say whatever comes to your mind and cause hurt to others. Now I am really fond of all those around me who control their tongue or filter thoughts before uttering them.
I understand why mama always asked me to make my bed first thing in the morning, take out just 10 minutes a day to put things in their place. My grandparents have been an amazing example. If you ask them where cotton wool is, they will tell you exactly which drawer, which side, and in which pouch it is nicely placed in. I never understood why they kept everything exactly in its proper place the moment they finished using it, even if it required getting out of a cozy bed or climbing up the stairs in intense heat. But now I do.

Conclusion

This was just a little introduction on how I began changing my habits and sorting it all out. This was the end of Part 1. In the upcoming posts, I will be sharing personal tips and ideas on how to organise different aspects of your life. The subject organisation is so vast that it wouldn’t be possible to touch all facets but I’ll try to start from one end and lets see how far we can go. In the coming posts, I will be discussing:
  • Finance & Asset Management
  • Legal documents
  • Paperwork & Books
  • Cupboard & Drawer
  • Kitchen & Store
  • Accessories
  • Cell phone, Laptop & DVDs
  • Handbag
  • Cosmetics
  • Car
  • Toilet
  • Personal Hygiene
  • Travel Kits
Thanks for reading. Hope you have a nice day. If you liked this post, share it with your friends. Stay tuned for the upcoming parts.
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Nadiya Najib

Nadiya Najib