How to Stay Organized when Everything is a Mess

This month we’re focusing on answering questions about organizing! Last week I wrote about what virtual organizing is, as it’s not a well-known topic. This week, I’ll be addressing another less-talked-about issue. 

Here’s one of the questions I received. 

“I have a chronic illness that fluctuates a lot. I wake up never knowing what kind of day I’m going to have. Is it going to be painful? Am I going to be fatigued? Am I gonna be totally fine?

I want to have an organized life, but it doesn’t seem possible for me given my illness. How am I supposed to get organized and stay organized when I can’t plan more than a few hours ahead?”

What a question! And what a great opportunity to talk about what organizing is all about.

I get the feeling that when I say “an organized life,” what some hear is “a perfect life.” That’s not quite right. Everyone goes through rough patches. Everyone encounters interruptions! No matter how organized you are, there will always be something that doesn’t go to plan. And that’s okay. 

Being an organized person isn’t about being a perfect person who has it all under control. It’s about being adaptable, and learning strategies for managing the tough times when they come. So what do you do when it all falls apart? 


What the heck is virtual organizing?

When I offer a client virtual organizing, they usually ask, “Well, what is virtual organizing?”.

The Zoom explosion that happened during the pandemic has certainly normalized virtual services. But what’s it like to organize virtually? After all, isn’t the whole point of hiring an organizer that they’ll move your stuff around for you? 

Not quite! 

What Virtual Organizing Is

Physically rearranging objects is only part of the organizing equation. If I came over while you had a spa day and organized everything for you, your home would certainly be neat … until the clutter came back. And so, the other half of the equation: learning HOW to organize. 

At Organize to Excel, our goal is to give you the knowledge and tools you need to get organized and stay organized. Virtual organizing is a distilled version of that! Whether we focus on your closet, your digital files, or your office, during virtual organizing, we work with you to:

  • facilitate decision-making,
  • offer expert opinions, and
  • bust through stumbling blocks.

In the same way a virtual personal trainer doesn’t need to be with you to pass on their knowledge, virtual organizers help develop strategies and create accountability. 

So what’s it like to work with a virtual organizer? I had a session with Kristin the other day–here’s how it went! 

**All information shared was okayed by Kristin, including images!

Before Organizing

Kristin and I hopped on a Zoom call at the appointment time and said hello. She was excited to work on decluttering her computer desk. Before we started, though, I asked some questions to help define what “organized” meant for her desk. I also asked how she’d like to use the space going forward. 

Kristin said her desk felt like it was too small to hold everything she needed for work. I normally advocate that it’s okay to not have everything at hand. It’s good to get up and move around the house! But Kristin shared that she has a disability that limits the amount of time she can spend on her feet. That’s what “organized” meant to her in that space: storing items efficiently so that she could stay seated while working. 

During Organizing 

I had her step back and stream a little video so I could see what we were working with. As we looked at the desk together, a pattern emerged. Going through the items on her desk, we realized that she had three of the same kind of stress toy! Here’s where the decision-making work started. By grouping items together, we were able to see where she had duplicates, and then decide if the duplicates were necessary. Kristin decided she only needed one stress toy at her desk, and that she could place the other two around the house in other areas where she might need them. More desk space! 

We also discovered that she had a lot of personal care items at her desk, like chapstick, eye drops, and hair clips. This made sense for her, but they were all scattered loose on the desktop. We used a bowl that was already there to contain them and claim even more space back. 

A number of items didn’t belong at the desk, so I had her make a “go-back bucket” to temporarily store them. After our session, she could pick it up and distribute things where they made more sense. Some things she decided didn’t belong in her home at all. Those that could be donated or recycled were set into separate piles, and the rest went into the trash. 

Kristin’s desk was already looking better! Once we had decided what to keep, we strategized about the best way to store everything. I noticed that she wasn’t taking advantage of vertical space as well as she could, so I offered some ideas for how she might change things up. 

Kristin’s desk had a scanner, printer, and milk-crate-turned-storage-box spread across it. After Kristin tried a few iterations, we found a great solution. “Never in my life did I think to put my printer inside that milk crate,” she said. But she did and it worked! Instead of taking up precious horizontal space, her scanner, printer, and storage container stacked vertically. As a bonus, she realized that by stacking the printer and scanner, she wouldn’t have to reach off to the side anymore when she wanted to print–a movement that, over time, was painful for her. 

After Organizing

Kristin was so pleased at the end of our session! By finding out what being organized meant to her, and using my expert knowledge to coach (and cheerlead) her along, we transformed her work area for the better. 

I hope this clarifies what virtual organizing is about! If you have any questions or would like to schedule a virtual session, click the banner below to discuss details!

Give us a call!

3 Tips for Organizing Your Messy Desktop

Why organize your desktop? Having a neat computer desktop is the “clean your bed” of digital organizing. It’s the first thing you see when your computer wakes up, and it sets the tone for the day. If your desktop is cluttered with shortcuts and covered in files, the tone it sets is “stress,” which we at Organize to Excel are not fans of.

Here are my top 3 tips for keeping your desktop clutter free AND stress free.

Tip #1. Remove Unnecessary Shortcuts

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When downloading new software, there’s usually a check box in the installation process that says, “Create Desktop Shortcut.” It’s often checked by default, and it’s easy to miss.

Now, creating a desktop shortcut is fine—IF you’re going to use a program frequently. In most cases, though, it’s better to go without. There are so many ways to open an app that don’t take up real estate on your desktop! You can do a Spotlight search on Mac, or for Windows just type the name of the program in the search bar on the bottom left of the screen.

You can even choose to automatically open applications you know you’ll need when the computer starts up.

Note that this is good to check out on a routine basis. Some programs will open on startup by default, even though you might not need them. Check your computer’s list of startup apps and de-select any that aren’t necessary. Your computer will be faster to wake up!

Check the description below for the links to show you how to access the programs that run on your computer’s start up.


Practical Tips for Organizing Your Software

We’ve talked about files, but what about organizing software? Don’t let your apps run wild, they need structure, too! Here are my methods for keeping your software easy to find, use, and keep track of.


Do them! Keeping your software up to date is important for three reasons:

  1. Security: Software companies are always on the lookout for new ways to break their programs, and then change to make their systems less vulnerable. Security updates are extremely common, and updating on time means you’re as safe as possible.
  2. Features: The latest stuff is always cooler, right? Don’t miss out on upgraded or more user-friendly features.
  3. Complying with regulations: Just like with safety, software companies are on the lookout for new laws or policy changes that affect how their programs function. If you work in the healthcare industry, and your software isn’t up to date on the latest HIPAA regulations, you could be in some serious trouble!

Keep a Master List

If your computer goes kaput, the last thing you want to have to do is rebuild it from nothing. It’s the same when you purchase a new computer. Trying to remember what software your old computer had installed is brain-frying! This is where a master list comes in handy.


My Essential Tools for Managing Digital Files

I love certain things for organizing physical items: clear stackable bins, shelving, and labels are tools that apply in just about every situation! It’s the same with digital organizing. There are some simply-must-have tools for digital organizing that I recommend anyone use to keep their computer neat and tidy.

A Password Manager

I can’t remember all of my passwords, can you? Making secure passwords requires capital letters, numbers, special characters, and sometimes a double-authentication PIN, too. And the amount of passwords we need—one for every site—means that trying to remember them is not only exhausting, it’s basically impossible. And what about when it’s time to update the password? A sticky note just can’t take care of it like it used to.


Top 4 Tips for Organizing Digital Files

When I covered paper filing in the past, one of my top tips was, “The best way to keep track of paperwork is to make sure it never arrives in the first place!” But what about digital organizing?

Go digital when you can. Not only does it reduce paperwork that takes up physical space in your home, it reduces paper usage in general. Good stuff! At Organize to Excel, we aim to eliminate waste and help the environment wherever possible.

If (when!) you follow my advice about paperwork, you’ll end up with more digital files than paper ones. But if you don’t have a filing system in place on your computer, you’re just swapping paper clutter for digital clutter.

Here are my top 4 tips for digital organizing, keeping your computer files as neat and tidy as your physical ones.

1. Mimic Real Life

Would you throw your mail on the floor as soon as you brought it in the house? Do  you file everything as “Important”? If you do, give us a call and we can help you straighten that out!

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It doesn’t make sense to do these things, because all you’d get is a big pile of mail on your floor, and tons of time wasted spent searching for that one bill you kinda remember being in this pile…or is it this pile? Eek!

Physical clutter is more obvious than digital clutter because it’s in the way when you try to eat dinner at the table, or a tripping hazard in your hallway. And, you have to physically go through items one at a time. But digital clutter is real, and it’s costing you time and money you don’t need to spend.

Imagine your computer is a tiny filing cabinet. It needs labels, folders, and subfolders. It needs an internal logic, so the folders and subfolders are useful. If you think about digital files like they’re paper, it only makes sense to put them in some sort of order.