After my apartment was flooded, I had numerous long-term houseguests, and I had experienced a major upheaval in my life, frankly, my house and my life were completely upended and disorganized. I was forced to apologize for the disorder to everyone who came over. I had been trying to work with KaiZen before, but finally I decided to go about it systematically and really work at it on a continual daily basis. Well, you won't believe what happened next!
My Experience with KaiZen
Can daily tiny improvements really make a difference in your life?
Clutter, papers, disorganization everywhere
When my apartment was flooded and I had to move out (with everything I owned) while it was being repaired, and then move back in, that was bad enough. On top of that, I had two unexpected long-term houseguests who left a mess behind them that took me months to recover from, and several people with whom I was working on projects decided to go in a different direction. That left me with so much unfinished stuff that I was completely overwhelmed and ready to give up.
Then I decided to give KaiZen a real try. KaiZen is a Japanese term meaning "continuous improvement." While ordinarily the term is applied to business, I decided that I would try to apply its principles to my business and my living space. On the theory that I use or mess up fewer than twenty items per day on average, I decided to clean, put away, or organize twenty items per day.
For the first few weeks, I could see hardly any change at all (and yes, my apartment was that messy). I patiently and doggedly filed papers, scanned business cards, put old financial statements in the shred bin, filed away spice packets, hung up clothing, put away odd things, and much more. Some days I did a little more than twenty things, some days I did a lot more, but I never did less.
But after four weeks, in what seemed like a miracle, one day my dining room table was clear of papers and odd stuff. A few days later, half of my kitchen was clean and neat, and most of my bathroom was gleaming. I was so shocked I even texted pictures to a few of my friends who had seen the previous disorderliness.
And then I started to feel overwhelmed. My bedroom and office (and half my kitchen) were still a wreck. I experienced a slump that left me wanting to stay permanently in bed with the covers over my head. And why? Honestly, the changes were starting to be so dramatic that I had trouble dealing with the shock.
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If I started to feel overwhelmed with the rate of change, I moved on to a different room for a while. In ten weeks I had cleared out more than twenty boxes of stuff (without all the drama and emotional purging that you see on the television shows). I kept everything I wanted to keep, and even happily accepted a few presents from a friend who was also organizing her office and apartment.
In addition, I had another goal, which is to organize for the life I want, not necessarily the life I have now. This meant rethinking a lot of things and a lot of imagining what kind of life I want to have, but in the end I kept a lot of stuff I hadn't touched for years, with the goal of using at least 50% of everything I kept and hadn't touched within a year of getting the organizing done.
Of course, I started to rethink how I used storage and space as I did my reorganization, and I found new ways to store spices, table linens, and many other things. And I had to have help for a few things: I am five feet tall, and live in a space with nine-foot ceilings. And yes, I still have a lot more to go: transferring DVDs to hard drives, and many other tasks. But I can rest secure in the fact that in organizing just twenty items a day, eventually I will be done and happy with my space and my life!
And in my work . . .
I had literally thousands of database entries to construct and record for my business, but I made it a goal to enter 100 per week. I had originally quit at 1750, but by pressing on, I am now well over three thousand entries, and almost halfway through my current stack of data at ten weeks.
And Another Set of Disruptions . . .
After three months of hard work, I had to quit because several people in my family had illnesses and needed care. Everything was completely stalled out. But when the crises were over, I started again with my twenty items per day. And it's still working.
Some days I can put away twenty paper clips and that's all I have energy for that day. Some days I can do more. Right now I'm looking at an empty shelf in the closet, an empty shelf on a bookcase, an enormous pile of empty boxes, and an almost-cleaned-off passthrough. Yes, everything is still a mess, and yes, I end up reorganizing things I've already organized several times, and yes, I still have a long way to go. But I've found things I forgot about or had lost, I can see the differences in my space, and I have to believe that eventually, after handling/organizing 600 things a month, I will one day be done!
And the Moral of the Story Is . . .
Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it's not an oncoming train. By picking a small task each day and sticking to it, you can make significant progress even on enormous tasks in just a few months.
If you take my goal of accomplishing twenty small things each day, that is six hundred tasks per month. That's seventy-two hundred tasks per year, and you have to admit, as you look around you, that that would make a big difference in your life a year from now!