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Is it organizing, or is it churning?

Tips from Ask the Experts’ Elizabeth Tawney Gross

SignpostAre you organizing or churning? The definition of churning is to agitate with continued movement. If you’re churning cream the result is butter. If you’re trying to get organized, agitation results in a bigger mess. When you organize you make decisions and put things in an assigned location. When you do what Professional Organizers call churning, you move things around, but don’t make decisions about whether to keep them or where they should be stored.

The biggest reason that people churn is because they don’t want to make a decision. I have watched clients move papers from one pile to another, back in the original pile, and then to another pile. The thing they never did is make a decision about what to do with the papers. At the end of their sorting they are left with a more disorganized mess than when they started.

Churning also results when you try to tackle too large an organizing project. You pull out an entire closet or file cabinet and then get overwhelmed with the decision-making process. This is called decision fatigue, and often leads to the inability to make any decisions. Instead of making decisions, which should probably include getting rid of some things, you move stuff around and put it all back.

Lack of time to complete an organizing project often creates a churning side effect. Once again, you try to tackle too much and are left with piles. To get things cleaned up quickly, because you ran out of time, you stack the piles up to work on at another time. In the meantime, you need something and have to hunt through the piles which messes them up. If the piles stay any length of time you stack more things on the pile. You end up having to go through all of it again. The end result is more disorganization than when you began the project.

How do you avoid churning? First, only take on a small number of things at a time. This will help you make decisions quickly, which will increase your confidence in your decision-making ability. Always allow plenty of time at the end of the sorting to put things away in their assigned “homes.”

A physical method to stop churning is to pick up an item and not let it go until you have made a decision about whether to keep it, and where it will live. You will get very tired holding the broken lamp and be forced to make a decision. Putting something down “just for now” is not allowed, a decision must be made. This will be a slow process, but it will make sure that you make a decision on each item and don’t churn. As you get used to making decisions you will be able to speed up, and organizing will go faster. Decision making is a skill that can be learned.

Copyright© 2015 Elizabeth Tawney Gross, Organizing For Everyday, LLC