Without exaggeration, I think half the battle in remedying a problem is correctly identifying it.  It’s not as easy as it sounds, and you can’t determine a solution until you really understand what you’re dealing with.   One of my favorite bloggers, Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project, talks about it as well.

I’ve had two situations recently where I was frustrated by systems that weren’t working until I realized that I hadn’t correctly identified the problem.

The first had to do with paper filing: I keep and file all the bills and other financial miscellany we receive for at least one year, just in case I need to go back and reference something.  I had folders for each bill in a small two-drawer filing cabinet.  So the cell phone bill would go in the Verizon folder and the electric bill would go in the National Grid folder and so on.  I hate filing though, so I would procrastinate it because I just didn’t want to spend time doing it everyday.  But then things would pile up and when I finally got around to it, it would take forever, which was even worse.  I thought the problem was just that I didn’t like filing, but I had to dig deeper.  Why didn’t I like filing?  I finally determined that what I really didn’t like was the sorting—going through the pile and sorting each bill into its appropriate folder.  Once I realized that, I had a lightbulb moment: what if I just filed them by month instead of by category?!?  Then I could let them pile up for a month and at the end of the month just stick them all in their own folder!  I could still go back and find something if I needed it but I wouldn’t have to spend time sorting through the pile of bills.  Thus the lovely, decorative wall-hanging monthly file system pictured above was born.  Now not only do I not even have to think about filing the bills, but they add interest to our office space too!

The second situation had to do with laundry.  No one likes doing laundry either (if you do…wanna come over?), especially me.  But it’s not the collecting or washing or drying that I dislike—those things are pretty easy, especially because we have machines to do the hard stuff for us.  It’s the folding and putting away that I can’t stand, and I’ve always hated it.  I used to let baskets of clean laundry sit on my bedroom floor for weeks until I had finally worn all the clothes in there and they were empty again.   It drove my mom crazy.  Sorry, mom.  I would still do that today if I had any extra floor space in my bedroom, but I don’t (and I am unwilling to follow my husband’s example of leaving the baskets in the spare bedroom—that’s right, I’m talking to you!).  I had thought it was the act of folding the clothes and putting them away that I didn’t like, but I realized that, once again, it was the sorting I didn’t like!  I didn’t like going through a big pile and having pants and shirts and socks and having to fold each thing a different way and put them in a different spot.  So now, instead of sorting and washing my laundry based on color (lights vs. darks) I now sort them based on type, or tops vs. bottoms.  This way I have a basket full of pants and I fold them all the same way and put them all in the same spot and don’t have to think about it as much.

When you have an area of clutter or some obstacle to efficiency that’s driving you crazy, take a second to think about what the problem really is.  Is it really that you’re too forgetful or have too much to do, or is it just that you don’t have a good list-making system?  Is it really that you have too much stuff, or is it just that you don’t have appropriate places to store the stuff?  (You probably still do have too much stuff, though.)

Clearly, the conclusion to this story is that I run into problems when I have to think too much!  My standard, go-to solution should always just be whichever one will require me to do the least amount of thinking.  My brain’s not lazy, it just has better things to think about than bills and laundry.  Like cupcakes!  Those are always better than bills and laundry.

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