Getting Motivated to Get Organized

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"Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going." --Jim Rohn

When I get calls from prospective clients who say they want to get organized, I often ask, "What's motivating you to get organized at this time, and what will be possible once you get organized?" I ask these questions because I've found that without a compelling reason, there's little or no motivation to change the habits necessary for lasting results.

My first year in business, I got a call from a woman (I'll call her Kelly) who said that her husband wanted her to get organized. As I walked through their home with her, Kelly told me what her husband wanted me to do. Among other things, he did not like the clutter scattered throughout the house -- stacks of unopened mail, piles of newspapers and magazines, unfolded laundry, and dirty dishes. After listening for a while, I asked, "Who owns the problem here?" With a bewildered look on her face, Kelly responded by telling me that her husband wanted her to "clean things up."

Although Kelly was the one who was primarily responsible for creating the clutter, and she was the one who was asked to do something about it, I came to the conclusion that Kelly's husband was the one who owned the problem. Why? Because he was the one who did not like the clutter, and she was perfectly content with the way things were. She was not the least bit motivated to change any of her personal habits that created the clutter in the first place.

Under the circumstances, I decided not to take Kelly on as a client. Although working with this client could have generated a significant number of paid consulting hours -- as well as fostered a dependency on my ongoing services to keep things organized -- I would have felt out of integrity to work with Kelly when she was not ready to commit to the process. Without her readiness to take ownership of the problem, my working with her would not have helped in the long run. Had she and I de-cluttered and organized their home, I'm convinced it would have reverted back to its original state in a matter of weeks.

Who Owns the Problem?

I'll share a story to illustrate what I mean when I ask "who owns the problem." When our daughter was about four years old, I was the one who took her to day care on my way to work. Every morning I'd ask her to get dressed and be ready to leave the house by a certain time, and I'd give her a 10-minute and a 5-minute warning. And every morning when it was time to go she would not be dressed. My husband and I were taking a parenting class at the time, and I mentioned the problem in class one night. The instructor asked, "Who owns the problem here?" I said, "I do, because I am late for work." He asked me why I was late for work, and I repeated that I was late because our daughter would not get dressed on time. The instructor asked what would happen if I let her own the problem.

The next morning when it was time to leave the house and our daughter was not dressed, I put her in the car in her underwear, strapped her seatbelt on, and put her clothes in a bag on the seat next to her. It was January and it was cold in the car! Guess what? By the time we got to day care she was completely dressed (and with her seatbelt still on)! The next day she was dressed when it was time to go, and it was never an issue again. From that day forward, she was ready when it was time to go. By allowing her to own the problem, she had an investment in finding a solution. She was motivated to get dressed because she was cold and uncomfortable, and because I was no longer willing to own or solve the problem for her.

Experience has taught me that when someone says they want to get organized because someone else wants them to do so, lasting results are not likely. Why? Because without that internal motivation, one is not likely to change the habits necessary to stay organized. If you don't own the problem, you won't have a vested interest in finding a solution. Sometimes fear, shame, or intimidation can generate temporary motivation, but it usually doesn't last.

Inside-Out Organizing

My most successful clients have been those who want to get organized because they see something on the other side of their clutter and disorder -- something they desperately want. Their desire and passion for whatever it is that they want creates the motivation that propels them forward and supports lasting change. Success has nothing to do with the depth of the piles of paper or the length of time one has been disorganized; it has everything to do with having a compelling reason to get and stay organized. I call this "inside-out organizing."

Most people are motivated by one of two things: a desire to either increase pleasure or decrease pain in their lives. That's what inside-out organizing is all about - getting clear about your internal desires...what you want more or less of in your life -- and then working outward to achieve the desired outcome.

In Kelly's case, although she has created the clutter problem, her husband owns it. Until she is ready to own the problem, nothing will change in their household. So how can Kelly become motivated to take ownership of the problem and do something about it? Let's revisit the question, "What's possible for Kelly once she gets organized?" To illustrate how this works, I've made up three scenarios in which Kelly could explore the answer to that question:

1.) Kelly and her husband sit down together and add up the actual costs of the clutter and disorganization -- late payment fees because the bills are not getting opened and paid on time, purchasing duplicate items because they can't find what they need, canceling subscriptions to magazines that do not get read, etc. Then they determine some alternative ways to spend the money they'll save ... perhaps for a vacation they've wanted to take, or for a home improvement Kelly wants that they cannot afford. Motivating factor: Freeing up more disposable income to use for things on the wish list.

2.) Kelly and her husband are both committed to caring for each other in meaningful ways. She recognizes that order is important to her husband and he is important to her. Therefore order becomes important to her for the sake of nurturing their relationship in a way that is meaningful to her husband. Motivating factor: Building a more satisfying relationship with her husband.

3.) Kelly has a hobby that she has not done for years because there's no space in the house to work on it. She has a renewed energy and passion for resurrecting this hobby, and that serves as a motivation to begin de-cluttering their home. Motivating factor: Following a passion of hers and doing something she enjoys.

In each scenario above, Kelly might be motivated to change some habits if it's worth the prize that awaits her on the other side of the clutter.

Being organized is not about how your environment looks, but about creating an environment and a schedule that enables you to work, play, and live exactly as you want to. Stephanie Winston, author of The Organized Executive, reminds us that "a good system expresses the organization of your mind in the environment."

To assess your current level of organization at home, answer the following questions: * Can you find what you need when you need it? * Does your environment express and support who you are and what you value most? * Does your schedule express and support who you are and what you value most?

To assess your current level of organization at work, answer the following questions: * Can you consistently find what you need within a few seconds? * If you work with others, can they quickly find what they need in your office when you're not around? * Does your current system keep you focused on what's most important and remind you of important follow-up? * Does your current paper & information management system work? Do you like it?

If you answered yes to these questions, you are doing just fine, even if your environment doesn't look organized to others.

If you answered no to any of these questions, ask yourself what you would gain if you organized your time and your space around what's most important to you. What opportunities do you miss out on or turn away because of a cluttered schedule, cluttered environment, or a cluttered mind? Visit to find out what disorganization costs you or your company.

Someone once said that "one definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results." If you were to get and stay organized, what different results would be possible? What will getting organized enable you to do that you are not doing now? Once you are clear about the answer to these questions, keep your eye on the prize and you'll have the motivation to succeed!

April is Stress Awareness Month, and the week of April 15th is National Organize Your Files Week. When you are motivated to reduce your stress by making a change in your environment and/or your schedule, I can help you get started. E-mail me at to schedule a complimentary consultation or coaching session.

About the Author

Kathy Paauw, President of Paauwerfully Organized, is a certified business/personal coach & organizing consultant. She works with individuals by helping them declutter their schedules, spaces and minds. Visit her website at to learn how you can Find ANYTHING in 5 Seconds - guaranteed! To subscribe to her free monthly PaauwerTools ezine visit


DoWHATiDO 27.07.2006. 21:36

I need a way to get motivated to clean and get rid of clutter. Any suggestions? I'm very embarrassed to even admit this: I'm a messy person. I have a bedroom full of clutter. I have gotten rid of 10+ boxes of stuff thinking that would help me clean things up...but it didn't work. I need a way to get motivated and organized. Can anyone relate to this? Does anyone have any suggestions on what I can do to get my bedroom clean so I can be happy?

Please only serious answers. I do not want any smart remarks or people to make fun of me because I already realize this is something that can be easily taken care of -- I just don't know what to do.


Admin 27.07.2006. 21:36

First things first: Turn off the computer.
Okay. So I could not resist, but seriously, don't be embarrassed. Even clean-freak Monica on Friends had that closet of shame full of clutter. It's normal.
You're on the right track w/ the 10+ boxes so keep that up. I find it very freeing every time I clear out a closet/drawer and haul some stuff down to the Goodwill.
If it seems overwhelming, just work on the clutter for 20 minutes a day.
As for me, there's nothing like a visit from the in-laws to motivate me to clean. If you have a super organized friend, ask for her help in exchange for drinks, dinner, etc.
And most importantly, stop accumulating more clutter. Before you buy anything, consider where you'll put it. Don't forget the old adage, "A place for everything, and everything in it's place."
Good Luck!
Oh, and I've tried that and was barraged with emails - clutter.


Cara H 15.07.2007. 15:50

Does hypnotism work to get motivated and organized? I recently had a heart attack and since then I can't seem to get motivated to do anything. Health wise I am in good shape since I have gotten out of the hospital, and I can see all the things I need to do, but I just can't get up and do them. Has anyone tried hypnotism to help with motivation, procrastination and can it work? I understand that a person needs to believe in the process before it will work, but I would feel better knowing from someone's personal experience about it. I have tackled my smoking addiction with pills (chantix) but I get overwhelmed when I see all that needs to be done and can't get started. Any comments or experiences would help.

Cara H

Admin 15.07.2007. 15:50

You write like a sensible intelligent person who just isn't very well yet. You need more time to think everything through. Certainly stopping smoking succeeds with hypnotism, and if you try that, the hypnotist will advise you about motivation and drive. You need to feel a lot better first. Good luck!


elizabeth 16.01.2009. 12:50

Cant seem to get motivated to do anything, how do you get yourself to do things? I just cant get motivated to stay organised and buckle down to do the things i need to do, like study and keep the house clean.

How do you all keep up on these things? It seems to me that my house is always a mess and i am constantly cleaning it.


Admin 16.01.2009. 12:50

I'm the same way (except for the constantly cleaning part) and I think it's just a normal personality trait. You don't do things you don't want to do.


[Lindsey] 11.04.2007. 05:26

How can I get organized and stay organized? Ok, I'm starting high school, in the fall, and since it's high school, it's a new begining, and I am looking forward to becoming organized.
The only problem, is that I end up getting unorganized within a few days.
How can I keep my room clean, andn stay organized without being bored with it.
When I do get motivated, I lose interest within an hour.
And tips to staying interested and motivated while cleaning?


Admin 11.04.2007. 05:26

Set your alarm clock to go off in 15 minīs time . See how much you can achieve in this short amount off time , trust me you will be surprised just how much you can do , GO all dirty clothes in a pile next to your door , along with anything else that doeīs not belong. You take them back to their rightful places when you have finished. All clothes to the closet jeanīs jumperīs topīs shirts , and so on folded ,hand them up . all shoes from under the bed all put in their places , Stop. You donīt have to do all in one day 15 minīs here and their . When you finish and think you have had enough for the day, sit down ,put your feet up read a magazine, but if you think you would rather carry on , then set your clock for another 15 minīs . You donīt wonīt to be stuck inside cleaning , when the sun is shining outside, Try with 15, minīs


mojosbaby41472 24.03.2007. 16:53

What is the best way to get motivated to do organizing? No smarta**es please!!!? I keep things picked up but this place always looks a mess so how do you all get motivated to do things like this? I have 3 kids so it's super hard to keep things clean when they drag it out as soon as i pick it up. Its aggravating and i live in an apartment that is so small


Admin 24.03.2007. 16:53

Use baskets and clear storage containers for the toys. The kids should get one container out at a time and put it away before moving on to something else. Also, less in better. Kids with fewer toys a more likely to use their imaginations more. This is a good thing...


simple 12.08.2008. 22:41

How can I get motivated to do the following chores? I have to clean my bedroom - I have a lot of clothes lying around because I hate to fold. I also have several boxes worth of clothes I need to take pictures of to sell online that I have been putting off for over a year and it takes up a lot of space.

I also need to organize my kitchen cabinets. I have stuff I never use mixed with pots and pans I use and it's very stressful. How can I get motivated to do these things?


Admin 12.08.2008. 22:41

Put your favorite music on and crank it up - it'll help motivate you to move :)

Remove the boxes of clothes you want to sell from the room, and put in the hallway. Make your bed. Then use it as a starting point.
Put all of the clothes that need put away on the bed. Grab a bunch of hangars and hang up all shirts and bottoms. Put socks, underwear and jammies in drawers. In the mean time, if things don't fit well or are out of fashion, put them in the hall with the other items for sale. Hang up everything else in the closet - tops on one level/side, bottoms on the other. Keeping things organized will make it much easier in the morning and in the future.

Now organize your laundry room. Get a hangar organizer so you can put clothes on hangars directly out of the dryer - they don't get wrinkled this way too. I have a shower pole inside my laundry room above the washer & dryer - clothes hang to dry there and get organized as I pull them out of the dryer. Once the dryer is empty, grab them and put them in your closet where they belong. Clothes should never make it from the laundry to your room without a direct destination of a drawer or closet.

Underwear, socks & jammies don't need folded but can be - either way, stick them away, each type of item in their own drawers.

Now tackle the hallway boxes. Give yourself 1 week to do it - if it's not done by the end of the week, load them into your car and drive to the local Goodwill or Salvation Army & donate them.

As far as the kitchen goes - pull everything out and put on the floor. Put the items you use back in the cabinet and bring the rest to Goodwill.


Captain 28.07.2008. 05:27

How do I get motivated to exercise? I was a swimmer in high school and would put in about 10 miles a day, but have not done anything since. Now, about a ear later, I am out of shape and need to get motivated to work out everyday. How do I do this? By the way, I cannot afford a personal trainer.


Admin 28.07.2008. 05:27

If you want to get in shape but cannot seem to get motivated, you?re not alone. Whether you?re putting off exercise because you think you don?t have time or because it?s been so long that you think your body is a lost cause, here?s how to get motivated to exercise.

1 Post a picture of your ideal body (keep it realistic to your body type) somewhere that you will see it every day. It could be a picture of an actress, bodybuilder or yourself when you were more active and in the best shape of your life.

Step2 Enroll in a class or join a gym. If you?re paying to exercise, the chances are better that you?ll follow through.

Step3 Organize a group of friends or family members who exercise together every week. If you make a commitment to other people, you?re more likely to follow through. You may also want to start a daily walk routine around the block with one or more of your neighbors.

Step4 Plan exercise activities that are fun and diverse, preferably outdoors with your group of friends or family members. Mix it up from week to week with adventurous activities you can look forward to such as hiking, swimming and canoeing.

Step5 Reward yourself after meeting your exercise goals for the week. Treat yourself to a movie or buy yourself a new pair of shoes (preferably for running). You may even want to make it a group activity rewarding you and your workout partners. Try to choose rewards that are not food-based.
Step6Make sure your exercise goals are realistic. Set them too high and you?re setting yourself up for failure. Start out with smaller goals that you know you can achieve, then work your way up. It?s better to feel great about an accomplishment?no matter its size?than terrible about a big failure.

Tips & Warnings
If after starting an exercise regimen you miss a workout here and there, let it go. Starting is the hardest part, so you?ve already won.

If you don?t see dramatic changes in your body right away, concentrate on the experience of your exercise, not the result. That?s why it?s ideal to choose exercises that are fun and adventurous with family and friends.


Aaron 10.09.2012. 16:53

How to become more organised? When I get home from a tiring day at college, I always throw myself onto the sofa and eat junk food whilst watching The Real House Wives of Orange County or something like that. I never get home and feel motivated to revise or do homework. It's SO unappealing to me. How can I get motivated and organised instead of wasting my afternoons away and then rushing my work in the evenings. Any tips? 10 points.


Admin 10.09.2012. 16:53

Set up a schedule and a place to work that is well lighted, private, quiet, with few distractions. Sit at a table or desk. I have found that study takes twice as long when i am in a recliner.
Include breaks in your schedule. Give yourself little treats when you finish a task. I personally like peppermints. Set a timer for breaks and work periods.
Schedule a break when you get home. Maybe thirty minutes for a snack and perhaps a little stretching exercise. Then get right to it.
If when the timer goes off at the end of a work period, you get a brief break and a reward if you have finished your planned work. No reward if you don't!
For me, 50 minutes of work, 5 minute break works well. But you see what works for you.
Once you have completed a big job, get extra rewards. I like a long hot bath in something nice smelling stuff.
If you have a special tv show that you like, tape it and watch it as a reward. Don't watch junk. And taping programs saves time because you can fast forward through ads or boring parts.


listen and forgive 06.02.2011. 22:37

What is the best way to get motivated to pack when moving to another place? Well, I have health problems and I'm hurting pretty much everyday. Day after day I just don't feel good. And we're getting ready to move at the beginning of next month and I just can't find the motivation to pack. I was just wondering if anyone has any advice on how to get motivated to pack, I hate moving.. I hate packing. And not feeling good every day definitely doesn't help at all. This might be a dumb question but just curious if anyone else has this problem.

listen and forgive

Admin 06.02.2011. 22:37

Maybe getting good sleep the night before will help when its morning, you can eat breakfast and pretend its like your getting ready to go to work.. and then just start by doing dishes, or laundry, that usualy helps me when i need to organize the house.. you could shower to wake up too,,,, And have all the box's you need ready.. and label them the night before if you need to. music can help too


tiffany 23.07.2013. 19:01

How to get motivated to clean my room? I was really motovated but it just looks like SO MUCH work! I need to get motivated again.


Admin 23.07.2013. 19:01

My trick for motivating myself to clean my room is to watch room tours by beauty gurus on YouTube. Strange, I know. But it works! Touring someone else's room that is nicely decorated, clean and organized can motivate me to make my own room that way, and even inspire me to reorganize if I'm in the mood for it. I'll link a few examples!


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