Tango Foxtrot Organizing

The other day, a potential client came to me with a problem. She was following the advice that many, including myself, give: take it one small area at a time. She would clear one area. As she'd moved on to the second area, the first area would fall apart. As you can imagine, she was quite frustrated.

I realized that while it's a great piece of advice that we all give, we're not necessarily teaching you how to connect and maintain the first areas while moving on to others.

Drats! Sorry about that.

I also realized while talking with this person about her frustration and struggle, that this situation is a lot like my days as a dance teacher.

When a new student would come in, they may want to only learn Tango, Salsa or Foxtrot. They say that they'll pick up other dances once they've mastered the first one. However, that is the exact opposite of how you should learn. Say I teach a person Foxtrot to the point that they're comfortable. Then we move on to Tango, working only Tango until their comfortable. When we try to revisit Foxtrot, they'll have forgotten. However, because the basic mechanics of the two dances are similar, learning Foxtrot and Tango at the same time is easy and preferable.

In much the same way, we cannot neglect area 1 while moving on to area 2. The basic mechanics never change - sort, purge and put back. However in area 1, you'll only be putting back while in area 2 you're sorting and purging. When area 2 is complete, it will go into "put back" mode while area 3 is sorted and purged.

Another example. Years ago, I was working with an older couple. The kitchen was the husband's domain, but being a depression era child he never threw anything away. Sometimes this was an issue as he held on to things that shouldn't be eaten or reused.

Organizing the kitchen had to be a stealth attack. Every day I came over, I would only work on a single cabinet at a time. The first day was cabinet #1 - sort, purge, put back. The next day, I'd put back anything moved from cabinet #1 and then hit the neighboring cabinet with a sort, purge and put back. The next day, I'd put things back in order in cabinets #1 and #2, then move on to sorting, purging and organizing cabinet #3. Continuing on in this manner until the entire kitchen was complete.

Take a lot of time? Sure. Tedious? Yeah. But it's what works and if you're looking at large clutter situations, it helps ingrain the habits necessary for someone to get and stay organized.

As my clients hear me say all the time, staying organizing is a living, breathing thing. You have to create the daily habit to maintain all your hard work of sorting, purging and putting back. Practice at it daily and soon enough, practice makes permanent.

(A saying that every single one of my dance students heard all. the. time.)