Thursday, June 25, 2009

Getting organized without alienating your loved ones in the process

Organizing your space can be a daunting task when you’re tackling it on your own, and sometimes it feels as though the process can be made that much more challenging when your loved one gets involved. The loved one might be the spouse with whom you live so you’re required to figure out a way to share the space, or the loved one might be a friend or family member who has generously offered to lend a hand. In any of these situations, it’s important to take a deep breath and remember that you want to preserve these relationships long after the last bit of organizing is done.

When working with your spouse or significant other in your shared living space, remember that you both have a vested interest in the end result though you may approach the process from two very different angles. Cut the other person a little slack if he gets antsy when discussing ways to pare down his themed tie collection, or when the two of you have opposite approaches to naming and ordering your shared electronic files. The key is compromise. Give a little here and there and you will both feel as though your work together was successful.
Here’s a process suggestion:

1. When sorting through a stack of items and deciding whether or not to keep them, the first person works alone sorting into piles of KEEP FOR SURE, MAYBE KEEP, AND TOSS.

2. Subsequently, the second person goes through the stack again, also alone, re-sorting into his own three piles.

3. Review this second sort together and implement what you’ve decided. This allows both of you to feel as though you had your say in the process without the kind of friction that can sometimes occur when you’re working through it live. Each of you will get to see what the other has chosen, and hopefully you will feel as though you have come to a consensus decision.
Helping a friend presents its own special set of challenges. Whether you have been asked to help or you’ve offered your assistance, the key here is to remember is that you are on his turf operating under his rules. You may have your own -- and very good, you think -- ideas about how a project should be done. Perhaps you’re helping a friend pack up boxes in preparation for a move, or helping to install a closet system in the guest room. It’s great to offer a helpful suggestion or two along the way but in the end this is his deal.
Here’s a process suggestion:

1. In the case of the closet installation, understand what needs to be accomplished and what time you have to accomplish it in. If the goal is to get the closet installed and fully functional, either commit to being there until it’s done or make it clear that you have two hours to devote to the project but then need to be on your way.

2. Take direction well. If your pal asks to you go and fetch the drill: fetch.

3. Be patient. Recognize that he may not be a drill master, but unless he asks for your help let him figure it out on his own. And in the meantime, don’t drop on his head the shelf that he’s trying to screw down.
Projects on which parents and children work together can be the most challenging to tackle because of the years of shared history and existing relationship dynamics. Whether you are a parent teaching your child how to keep his room reasonably tidy, or an adult child helping your parents downsize from their house into a retirement community, the key thing to remember is that this important relationship is primary, and whatever you’re trying to accomplish is secondary.Here’s a process suggestion:

1. Have a very clear understanding of what the goals of the project are. I recently worked with my mom to put on a yard sale. She determined that the primary goal was to divest herself of things she no longer needed in order to lighten the load once she decided to move from the house she is in now, without worrying about how much money was raised.

2. Talk through the process. Mom and I sketched out a timeline of when we would price and move items, how we would advertise, and what were our individual to-do’s in the weeks and days before the sale.

3. Be kind. Recognize that you’re under stress and one or the other of you (hopefully not at the same time!) may buckle. It’s just temporary, though, and remember that you’ll get through this challenge and come out on the other side.
What are some general tips that are helpful in all of these situations?

  • Have plenty of snacks available, and drink lots of water. There is nothing worse than a food- and water-deprived cranky partner when you’re trying to get a project done.

  • Take regular breaks. For example, 15-minute breaks every hour and a half if you’re working on a day-long project. This will help you clear your head and stave off any snarky commentary.

  • Agree to the no-guilt “cry uncle” option. If you’ve done what you can do for the day, or for the project, agree that communicating this will induce no guilt on your part or hard feelings on theirs.

  • Celebrate your success. Recognize that you’ve just put in a whole lot of hard work -- whether it’s two hours on a closet or two days preparing for a yard sale -- and give each other a big pat on the back.
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