Life Experiment #2: Creating Order

“Order is everything,” my friend Melissa once remarked, more than two decades ago.

When an offhand comment sticks in your mind, there’s likely a very good reason why, and in this case, that reason is readily apparent everywhere I look.

I am living in chaos.

It is a fertile, vibrant chaos, to be sure—fascinating books, scribbled notes, Christmas decorations, piles of colorful clothes, fliers for events I’d like to attend, bowls of local apples and onions, recipes I’d like to make. At times, I view the mess as akin to compost—materials that make my days both richer and more nourishing.

But mostly it’s a way better metaphor than it is a way of life. It’s frustrating, and it’s time-consuming, and sometimes it’s even expensive. (This morning, I searched for some books about organization that I’d picked up years ago. Tellingly, I couldn’t find them.)

Which is why February’s Life Experiment will be about Creating Order.

As some of you may recall, I’ve dubbed 2012 my Year of Experiments. Each month, I’m embarking on a new set of activities around a particular theme. At the end of each month, I’ll give some thought to how my life has shifted and share the results.

In particular, I’m interested in how activities that are apparently unrelated affect and inform each other. Here, I think of the old saying “Trust in God and clean house.” (Not to be confused with another old saying: “Trust in God and keep your powder dry.”) How will bringing order to my living space change my life in other ways? Stay tuned for the answer.

Or better yet, join me! Make February your month of creating order—or pick a Life Experiment of your own and watch to see how things change.

As a reminder, here are my suggested guidelines for Life Experiments. (I described these in more detail in a previous post.):

1.  Select process goals, not outcome goals

2. Select activities that are directly related to your larger goals

3. Pick activities that are satisfying (and even fun) in themselves.

And now, here it is, my personal Life Experiment #2: Every day I will take one or more specific and quantifiable actions aimed at creating order at home. (Examples: I will take 10 articles of clothing to Goodwill. I will spend an hour sorting through office papers.)

I’ll keep myself accountable by tracking the actions I take each day. (In case you’re wondering, an update on January’s Life Experiment is shortly forthcoming.)


Order, organization, neatness—these are not qualities that come naturally to me. I will never be that person who, as happiness maven Gretchen Rubin once did, explains my compatibility with a mate in terms of a shared affinity for order, (“He’ll  say ‘Let’s take 20 minutes and tidy up,’” Rubin told the New York Times, in describing her husband.)

I do, however, think that I can do better.  Maybe a lot better.  I plan to give it a shot.

Copyright © Amy Gutman. All rights reserved.

8 thoughts on “Life Experiment #2: Creating Order

  1. Ah – I love your experiment. It’s a good one. I am one of those naturally organized people. It’s either from my DNA or astrology constitution or the influence of my amazing Martha Stewart Living – June Cleaver mom. (Thanks Mom!) Mom taught me early on via her example that you can pick up and go do more fun things when all your stuff is neat, tidy, fixed, and clean. Getting cleaned, organized and decluttered is not a one time project, it’s an ongong habit. Every part of your life can work on an efficient system that’s easy to maintain whether it’s your sock drawer, your bins of toys in the garage, or your office papers and filing system. If you’re lucky you can make great headway when you move. What I mean by that is if you have time before your next move to do major clean out declutter purging and think about the most efficient system for something in your new space you can take care of it in the move. This is often not the case, like me, I had to move suddenly from a sprawling two bedroom apartment to renting a bedroom in a friends home with a little storage space in the basement. A year later I moved into my own small apartment with storage in the basement. The moves were not organized. I literally threw stuff in boxes and they sat in the basement of my new place for three years. The past two years along with my evolving work life and many pockets of time between jobs and interviews and activities I started cracking away at my home organization project. It was a deep overhaul of my whole life. I had to reflect on what was important to me and what I wanted to nurture in my life moving forward. I had to think about the use of my space and the best way to store stuff for both beauty and accessibility. I experimented. Each little thing took time but I chipped away at it little by little, week by week, month by month. There is an archway between my kitchen and LR with ledges that would hold shelves. After three years I finally measured, went to Home Depot and had the nice guys there cut me some wood for them. I took them out back and sanded the pieces of wood – Voila! that took a whole weekend. One approach that really worked for me was investing in about $300 worth of various rubbermaid plactic bins from Target. I broke everything down in to categories and then started chipping away at the categories. Cookbooks and recipes went into their own bins, photography stuff had it’s own collection of bins, crafts had bins, outdoor toys like my swim fins, basketball, etc… had a bin or two, etc… Every other weekend I would focus on a category. First was my file cabinet and office paper system. Had to get that handled. I developed a system that worked for me. everyone and every space is different. I really put thought into it given my small space and I really do function like the books and magazines tell you – mail comes in, I touch it once, it goes in it’s place immediately, it takes 30 seconds and it’s done. I simply don’t create piles, period, end of story. From there I worked my way out to all other projects and areas. This Christmas I was DONE. Every bin from the basement was purged or integrated. Zero clutter in my home now. At the drop of a hat I can grab anything from a craft project to my ski’s and run out the door for fun without a moments hesitation about bills in a pile, etc… It’s an incredible feeling. My next move will be a breeze. Empty bins in the basement await. I have nothing that is broken lying around to be fixed. If I don’t fix it and I find it lying around for more than 3 months it gets pitched. I keep a good will bin in my closet at all times. I’m constantly dropping stuff in it, and I keep a big bin in the basement for regifting. In fact, my regift bin was so stocked this christmas from the past two years of purging and organizing that I spent zero money on holiday gifts. ZERO – and given I’m job searching and low on funds it was very cool. In Plan B Nation when so many work life and personal life things can change quickly and be disappointing having my personal space be the most beautiful clean organized efficient decluttered that it could be on my budget provided a huge mood boost and confidence boost. It was well worth the effort. Most people who are working full time or overtime and have a family to manage don’t ever have time to take on little declutter and organization projects so when you’re job searching it’s one of the best investments of those little extra pockets of time.

    Also, I took a leadership course years ago and we had to do all these unconventional exercises on taking personal responsibility for out ENTIRE lives kind of exercises. Before we were even considered for a leadership role we had to be personally accountable for getting out lives in order. We had one week to get our entire lives organized from attic to basement no joke. Because we worked on teams and had the resources to delegate and helping hands to accomplish the task we were able to do it – and then we could soar into our community service creativity projects. You’d be amazing the kind of ideas that move through you when you don’t have your home admin hanging over your head. I have to say that it’s served me well in my own transition now. I had an interview for my dream job last Friday. I was able to pull together musical instruments, craft projects, books, a beautiful outfit, and pretty bags to transport without a trip to the basement. My car was clean and clutter free, my hot thermos was right there along with my lunch containers to pack a meal for the road. Complex prep was a breeze. A year ago it would have been a nightmare.

    I am personally passionate about this aspect of life and am proud to tout it as a huge strength. Bring me your toughest organization issues and I’ll be happy to be a resource if I have time to write or call.

    Thank you for all your Plan B blog posts Amy. I resonate with just about every single one and feel like I’m living a parallel version. The cooking for oneself post and the one about how Plan B Nation can have a very disruptive impact on ones personal social life really helped me. I thought I was crazy. Now I’m more compassionate with myself and have stepped up my self care. I’m also pacing myself with my social life. I need more self care these days but as things shift I’ll have more time for friends and travel.

    Keep on writing – it’s definitely your thing!!!

    • This is so inspiring, Catherine! Having been in your home, I know first-hand what a lovely nurturing space it is. A number of the things you said especially resonated with me: The idea of order being an ongoing habit, anticipation of a move (I’m probably moving again late spring, though not far), and the idea that organizing your home can be viewed as (and in fact requires) an overhaul of your life. Thanks so much for taking the time to share all of this–and I’ll hope to have you cheering me on as I take my first baby steps in this direction. Will also look forward to doing the same for you on the blogging front. xx

  2. Last spring, when asked by an acquaintance (one who had never been to my house) what I was going to do if not working, I replied that I’d been busy cleaning out closets and organizing my house. Her response: “So what are you going to do at the end of the month when you’re done with that?” I was both amused and horrified that she would now envisioned my house as an candidate for “Hoarders”. 9 months later, I’m still slowly working on it, but about once a week I get a goofy smile on my face when I realize that all of the tupperware doesn’t fall out of the cabinet when I open it. And it’s been that way since last April. Much as I love being able to find things when I need to, it takes constant work to keep your house organized and much more energy than I care to devote to it. Still, it is better than it was and I have 2 rooms — rooms that I don’t allow to get cluttered — that bring me comfort and peace when I am in them.

    Love this idea of one focused “experiment” each month. A one month timeframe seems achievable. For me, someone who works best at keeping focused in sprints, rather than marathons, it’s a time frame that isn’t going to wear me down with a feeling that I have to keep at it forever if it doesn’t work.

    • Thanks, Anne–& yes, I can do something for 30 days that I couldn’t (at least today) imagine doing for months or years. I like your idea of having the two uncluttered rooms–definitely two more such rooms than I have today!

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