Structure Your Stuff

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Without the help of your parents or your school, you have to build the structures to hold your life together on your own. Here’s some guiding principles when it comes to keeping your environment organized in a way that works for you.

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Topic: Organizing your stuff

Without the help of your parents or your school, you have to build the structures to hold your life together on your own. Here’s some guiding principles when it comes to keeping your environment organized in a way that works for you.

What we can do about it:

1. Have less stuff - but only to the extent that it makes you happy

2. Use a system that allows you to clean up FAST

3. Have ONE happy place that stays clean in the way you want it.

4. Create some kind of prep zone that allows you to get out the door without stress.

5. When making your system, think about what things you want visible, and what you want hidden


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About the Ex-Gifted Podcast:

If you are a former gifted kid who grew up to struggle with basic adulting, then you need the Ex-Gifted podcast.

Host Ren Eliza talks about gifted kid burnout, and the damage that lasts long into adulthood. Damage like battered self esteem, decimated internal motivation, and a continued failure to live up to expectations even while we were placed on pedestals and alienated from our peers.

Ex-Gifted will cover failure, procrastination, imposter syndrome, and chronic anxiety and depression, and a whole lot more.

Each episode also offers suggestions to deal with your executive dysfunction in adulthood so you can rebuild the systems that allowed you to shine so brightly in childhood.

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If you were a gifted kid who needs help just being a functioning adult, then this is the show for you. Welcome Ex-Gifted

Hello hello my friends, this is Ren Eliza. Welcome to the 3-part sequence on systems and structure. I started off with this as one episode then when I realized it was like ten thousand words long thought you might appreciate having it broken down. I noticed last episode that I referenced the show notes a WHOLE LOT so this time, let this be your notice. Anything you want to learn more about, it’s probably already in the show notes. If not, send me an email at ren@exgifted.comand THAT is in the show notes.

Today I want to start off just generally with what systems and structure are and why you need them. Probably a lot of you are hearing this and saying “I don’t need convincing let’s go already” but let’s hold on just a minute for the rest of the class, because I know that a lot of other people probably cringe at words like “structure” “schedule” “organize” and I don’t blame them. For a lot of people, traditional forms of structure can feel suffocating. So right off the bat let’s dispel that notion. You’re creating this structure for yourself, which means you can make it to be as flexible as you need. A few days in you might even find it more freeing to be able to find your keys consistently beside the door instead of spending 10 minutes every morning rushing around the house looking for them. And that’s really what all of this is about. Making shortcuts that free up more of your time and brain space for doing stuff that you truly want to be doing.

Now, some people really do thrive in what looks like total chaos, but here’s a hint friend, that’s not you – at least not right now. You wouldn’t be here listening if you were already thriving.

What’s tricky is that some people did thrive in the chaos when they were younger but once one too many responsibilities or other stressors piled on, they couldn’t hold it together anymore. Kids -for example- are a goddamn sensory nightmare and many people – especially those socialized as girls who often make it to adulthood before being diagnosed with adhd or autism – find the coping skills they’ve relied on all their lives are no longer sufficient after they have kids. Everything comes crashing down at one of the most stressful times in your life. Your old tricks don’t work anymore. What do you do?

And even for people that don’t quite fit that description, still often find routine hard to stick to, if not outright boring. There’s a joke that autistic people function in routine while ADHDers function in chaos, but that’s a huge misconception on both ends. Many autistic people crave routine but their executive dysfunction makes it hard to stick to it, while many people with ADHD flounder in chaos only because they know no other way. And even if you don’t have either of these conditions, I expect you need that structure as well to keep your shit together and that’s why you’re here.

What do I mean by structure? In this context, structure refers to some rules you set for yourself in order to get better organized. It means routines and rewards, schedules and failsafes. When you were a kid, that structure was set externally mostly by your school, and your parents. Deadlines, chores, punishments – love them or hate them these things gave shape to your life, and as an adult, you have to create that shape yourself – the big difference being that you can do it in a way you DON’T hate. Systems, then, are how we build and implement this structure in our lives.

People talk about getting organized and they say it like it means one thing but it obviously doesn’t. Getting organized can have many different meanings, and I suspect that most people when they’re talking about it are not even sure which of the many meanings they’re using, or possibly they mean them all at once, which can be pretty overwhelming.

So what does it mean to be organized? Does it mean to have like a date book with every single activity written down and planned by the hour? Does it mean to have a meticulously laid out home where there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place. Does it mean that you have a purse on you that has every single thing that you might need at all times – the perfect snack box for your kids, a completely filled out first aid kit? What does getting organized mean and which parts of these are important to you? And which parts are not so important? Because the ones that aren’t important, you can just skip. If you’re happy with your house the way it is, you don’t need to get any more organized with that, but you might still want to work on some time management techniques.

And. I hate to say it because I think that everyone should write everything down. But you can be plenty organized without having a planner. You can use a digital calendar with reminders for your events and a note-taking app. And otherwise use time management techniques that don’t even include a planner at all.

So let’s get started on some ways you can make systems to build this structure. And we’re going to start with how to keep your environment organized which means picking up your STUFF.

Here’s the principles to work with when it comes to your stuff:

  1. Have less stuff – but only to the extent that it makes you happy

  2. Use a system that allows you to clean up FAST

  3. Have ONE happy place that stays clean in the way you want it.

  4. Create some kind of prep zone that allows you to get out the door without stress.

  5. When making your system, think about what things you want out visible, and what you want hidden

To expand on these,

  1. Throw stuff out. First off, minimalism is not a moral good. However, the number one surefire easiest way to keep stuff picked up is to just have less stuff. I’m a big supporter of the KonMari method rather than true minimalism, which means that I keep the things that make me happy and that allow me to pursue goals that make me happy. So no, I won’t be throwing out my toothbrush, because it supports my goals which brings me joy. For anyone who isn’t ready to go full minimalist, I absolutely recommend reading the Life-changing magic of tidying up in order to learn exactly how she implements this system. You can probably find it at your library, possibly even as an e-book which is exactly how I read it. But remember, even KonMari is just a guideline. Every step of the way, make the suggestions work for you, not against you.

  2. In the meantime, if you struggle with keeping things tidied, the most important thing is to make a system that allows you to pick up FAST. The most obvious way to do this is to use bins or boxes to pick stuff up, especially with things like kids toys. Just scoop everything into a box and get it off the floor. You don’t even have to sort them first. You can go ahead and vacuum the floor even if everything is not put away into a nice neat little spot. And the room will instantly feel less overwhelming. You can do this with your own things too. Generally, I prefer to have my most commonly used things out where I can see them, but to have other other things put away in order to save space and mental energy.

There’s a tip that I have seen lots of places, but just in case you haven’t seen it, you can leave a laundry basket or some kind of box in each room. So instead of picking up one thing and running around the house to put it where it goes and probably getting distracted before you make it back to the room you were cleaning, put everything that doesn’t live in that room into the box and you can take it where it belongs all at once instead of making 1000 little trips.

And you don’t have to use bins, but work off the principle that things should be as fast and easy to put away as possible. Another trick for that is to store things where you use them, that way you can in order to cut down on the distance needed to put it back.

I have a very, very hard time keeping things tidy. If I can’t clean up in 5 minutes, then it’s probably just not going to get done at all. But I also have that really fun emotional dysregulation where if I can’t put my hand on the thing I want within about 30 seconds that I get frustrated and end up just unable to work on whatever I was going to do at all. But really just being aware of that allows me to let go of some of the stress of organizing. It just means that I needed to build a hybrid system that keeps both of both of those things in mind, which is why I like to have that bin to throw everything in when we’re cleaning up, so that at the end of the day or week or whatever, I can easily just put things away from that one bin.

Your aims will be different – so think over what are the most important things for you when it comes to organizing your environment and feel free to keep in mind that your home space and your work space need not operate the same.

  1. One thing I think is important for everyone is to let go of this weird ideal that everything must be clean all the time or you’re a failure. At the same time, it’s just really nice to have a space where you can go and get away that IS nice and cleaned and tidy in the way that works for you. Not your whole house – one single space. Can be your bedroom or kitchen or even your car. For me it’s my home office. It’s not clean, minimal lines – in fact it looks something like it was decorated by a bunch of intoxicated pixies – but it is exactly what I need when I just want a minute to myself to recharge. Make a space, even if it’s just a corner, to be that for you.

  2. So that’s for home, but what about work?

Well, before that, you have to get to work. Consider a prep zone of some sort to keep things together for when you’re ready to step out the door. Ideally, this is a space near your door (and that’s whatever door you use to leave your house, not necessarily the front door) where you keep the things you need to take with you. This is where you build a space for your keys, wallet, and whatever other things you need with you on a daily basis.

For me, that’s my keys, wallet, phone, and planner. I can’t usually remember these things off the top of my head, but I can quickly remember that there are four things. From that, it’s easy to figure out which four they are.

For you, though, the prep zone necessities will be different. Maybe you need a packed lunch, or an umbrella as part of your regular routine. Think about the things you need every day and build this system around those things.

If you don’t have an actual physical space in your house for this, that’s okay. Your prep zone can be a bag or container instead. A backpack is great because it’s so easy to fill up and grab on your way out the door.

If you constantly find that you’re losing track of your backpack, consider getting a Tile or some other kind of digital tag to hook right on it. If you keep all your stuff in your backpack, then you mostly just need the one tag on your your bag instead of one for your keys, one for your wallet, etc, etc…

After that transition, work and home are actually not all that different. One exception is that if you have kids that they’re not contributing to whatever disaster may be happening at your workspace, which is different than at home.

You still need to have things easy to put away. I use a much smaller basket on or under my desk that I can throw things in throughout the day, and then empty out when I’m done working. This is the only way I can avoid having my desk so cluttered with things that I can’t actually do any work within about 5 minutes of sitting down at it. I have to be able to clear it off in an instant.

And that brings me to number 5: While I like to have my relaxation and living spaces visually decluttered with everything picked up where I can’t see, for functional spaces like the kitchen or my office, it’s important for me to be able to grab the tool or the paper that I need in an instant. So although I still keep things neat, I also want them visible.

You might be different for your workspace, and that’s OK. The question to ask yourself is if a visual organization technique might be useful for you when it comes to getting organized at work. Would it be helpful for you to be able to see whatever office tools you need at the time or the exact files you need?  Or do you need the clear, uncluttered visual space to allow your mind to be uncluttered as well?

Other than that, I just want to make one note on paperwork at work and home as well, so mail, bills, medical and legal paperwork. Papers are still just stuff, but because all papers kinda look and feel the same, they typically need somewhat more detailed organization than putting all important paperwork into one pile. Use something that works for your brain. Maybe everything is sorted by date, or by type of paperwork, or by the person it applies to. But when you’re trying to figure out how to sort, think about what you would do if you came looking for it. And use that as the basis for your sorting system.

And if you’re a tech person of course consider digitizing your paperwork as much as possible. Owner’s manuals can almost all be found online, as well as old bills. Apps like google docs can actually allow you to search within your pdf files, which makes it easier than ever to look up the papers you need.

All that said, the primary rule still applies. Throw away as much as you can as fast as you can. So like if you have a trash can near your door so you can throw away your unneeded mail as soon as it comes in. If not, do your initial sort standing by the recycling bin or shredder and don’t even ever set the junk down in your home.

If any of this has you thinking, check out the website Clutterbug, which has a great quiz to figure out your organization style. She separates things down into visual or hidden organization, and macro or micro organization.  So for my living room I would like hidden macro-organization so that things are easy to clean up and neatly out of sight (not that it’s what I have, because I share a living space and my kids want to be able to see their toys), but for my office I like visual micro-organization so I have an enormous pegboard for the things that I use all the time, my scissors, my pens, where I can put my hands on something just immediately. I am a combination of different organizing style styles and she does acknowledge that people can can be different types. Go check out that website to start getting ideas about how to build an organization system for your stuff because that way you can figure out what kind of system works for you.

So remember these principles to build your own systems when it comes to organizing your stuff.

  1. Have less stuff – but only to the extent that it makes you happy

  2. Use a system that allows you to clean up FAST

  3. Have ONE happy place that stays clean in the way you want it.

  4. Create some kind of prep zone that allows you to get out the door without stress.

  5. When making your system, think about what things you want visible, and what you want hidden

That’s gonna wrap up this segment on creating systems to organize your stuff – remember that these rules don’t apply just at home or work, but anywhere you keep stuff – including in your car, and literally anywhere else. Check out all the links in the show notes, because there’s a lot of good stuff in there this time. Then steel yourself when you return for the next episode because I’m going to be talking about the dreaded topic of time management.


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