Organizing Your Life as a Means to Self-Discovery
by Sunny Schlenger

A Is the way you're spending your time and energy the way you want to be spending it? Are you connecting to the "stuff" of life in a manner that energizes and empowers you, and enables you to live life to the fullest? Too often, our attempts at organization work backwards. We buy a day planner and bring it home, set it down on the table, and wait for it to organize us. Or we purchase a book, place it on the shelf, and prepare to somehow become better organized through osmosis. It's a decent effort but ultimately not very practical.

If you want to be organized throughout your entire life, you need to look at organizing not as something separate from yourself, but rather as a tool to discover who you are at each stage in the process.For instance, when organizing, it's hard to determine where something should go if you don't yet know whether it should go anywhere at all. The decisions you make about your belongings are actually decisions you're making about yourself and what you value - what you're allowing to consume the minutes and hours, square feet, and square yardage of your home.

If your time or space is primarily taken up with items that don't support you in who you are today, your spirit may feel stifled and dusty. It's important to remember that you are a combination of the person you were, the person you are today, and the person you aspire to be in the future. Nothing is as constant as change, and few of us are exactly the people we were five years ago. Our environment and activities should be growing with us, but because of time constraints, work, and family demands, we often don't devote the time we should to staying current with our needs.

Look around you and evaluate what you see. Because everything is an extension of you, the things scattered around on table tops or piled in stacks are making a statement. This is not about neatness, by the way. Messiness primarily indicates postponed decisions. So what statement is your stuff making about you? What are you keeping and why? As with everything else in your life, the stuff you save should be contributing to your well-being, not distracting you from it. I've found that when you can connect with whatever supports, encourages, or inspires you, what previously has been a very mundane chore becomes a means of discovery and growth.

That's not to say that digging through years of backlogged magazines, for example, is inherently thrilling. But if you whittle the collection down to a manageable size and set aside a small amount of time to page through the interesting ones, you might be able to rediscover the part of you that is excited by the idea of trying out a gourmet recipe, planting some vegetables, visiting a local gym, or joining a book club. Or, in cleaning out old file drawers, you might unearth ideas for craft projects, family trips, or new hobbies worth investigating.

You might pull out folders full of phone numbers and addresses that you'd forgotten you had, which might enabled you to revive old relationships. One person I know discovered pages and pages of printed cartoons and jokes and funny stories that she was able to share with a relative who needed cheering up. Junk drawers, old binders, closet shelves, and ancient Rolodexes can contain hidden treasures, if you're inclined to think along those lines. It all depends on the attitude with which you approach the job of going through them.

You don't want to tackle too much at a time, and you have to be careful not to get caught up in self-recrimination if your pack-rat behavior seems to have gotten out of hand. Just view the task as an archeological excavation and see what turns up. An added benefit is that you can get rid of what you no longer have use for, which frees up all sorts of space for the things you want to surround yourself with today. But the biggest bang for the buck is the surge of energy that comes from putting things in their proper place. You will be able to see the direct link between taking the time to plow through things and putting them where they're supposed to go, and accomplishing what is important to you at each juncture in your life. You'll see that organizing is more than an end in itself; it's a means of discovering who you are and who you can be.

Sunny Schlenger is the author of the new book, "Organizing for the Spirit: Making the Details of Your Life Meaningful and Manageable" (Jossey Bass/J. Wiley; 2004; $14.95). She also wrote the best-selling "How to be Organized In Spite of Yourself" (Penguin-Putnam; 1999; $6.95). For more information on her books and workshops, please visit: