I spent the first week of January gutting my home office.
I wish I could say it’s only the 2nd or 3rd time I’ve ever needed to do so.
This longing to get myself organized once-and-for-all has been a life-long HSP struggle for me.
It dates all the way back to childhood, when my mother (who was born organized) would glance into my bedroom and declare, “Cheri, just looking at your room, I feel messy!”
Over the years, I’ve lost count of …
- … the number of times I’ve tried to get my act together — and remember where I put it.
- … how many organizational systems I’ve purchased, set up, and abandoned.
- … all incomplete projects that have gotten buried under layers of other incomplete projects.
With each passing year, I lost ever more hope of ever changing.
If anything was going to work for me, wouldn’t it have worked by now?
A New Approach: “Design Thinking“
But then, two years ago, our landlord surprised us with a complete kitchen renovation.
“Gutted” took on all new meaning as they stripped everything out in less than an hour.
When the new kitchen was done, my son Jonathon — who I’ve dubbed “Mathematician in the Kitchen” for his amazing baking and cooking skills — offered to take charge of setting the kitchen back up again.
During the weeks our new cupboards and appliances were being installed, he’d been using “design thinking” to mentally plan brand new workflows for our various kitchen spaces.
Since I am entirely non-visual and non-spatial, I was thrilled.
“Boss me around, Son!” I told him.
But Jonathon did far more than just tell me where to put things.
He explained the thinking — the why — behind his organizational plan:
- independent work stations … so everyone in the kitchen has plenty of elbow room at all times
- stove-related implements stored within easy reach of … the stove (!)
- nothing stacked or nested so that everything can be quickly grabbed out of a cupboard (vs. wrestled or dropped)
At first, I was skeptical. Ours is not a large kitchen.
But back when we’d moved everything out of the kitchen prior to the start of the remodel, we had decluttered thoroughly.
- My reasoning: “I don’t want to go to the trouble of storing anything we’re not sure we’re going to keep!”
- Jonathon’s reasoning: “I don’t want to move anything we don’t use back in when it’s all over!”
So as I started to fill our new drawers and cupboards according to Jonathon’s “design thinking” plan, I was delighted to find how much space we actually had.
Then came the most important part of Jonathon’s plan:
“And now we experiment to see what works and what doesn’t work.”
This was such a foreign concept, I had to ask him to explain what he meant.
“We won’t know if this plan will work until we’ve tested it out for a few weeks. Whatever works, we’ll keep doing. Whatever doesn’t work, we’ll adjust.”
You mean it’s okay to go through an experimenting phase when you set up a new organizational system?
- As in … weeks of trial and error and adjusting and trying again?
- As in … organizational systems don’t just magically work perfectly on their own?
- As in … the reason I’ve failed at every single system I’ve tried is not because I am a failure, but because I didn’t know how to experiment and iterate?
It took us several months — and many quick problem-solving discussions — to make all the tweaks to our kitchen systems.
And now they work flawlessly.
Learning to Experiment
So during the first week of January, I took this same approach to my home office.
I removed everything I wasn’t going to need in 2024, which required some much-needed decluttering:
- Binders full of ideas so old there’s no life left in them
- All the feedback from the Overwhelmed manuscript development team (the book was published in 2017!)
- The office chair that served me well for 10 years but was shedding bits of black fake leather all over the floor and was stuck in the lowest possible position
I evicted several pieces of furniture that had gotten shoved into my home office, making the room feel small and crowded.
I moved all my bookshelves into more efficient positions and went to Home Depot to have extra shelves cut.
Knowing that as a Highly Sensitive Person I need time to reflect upon and pray-cess changes, I worked steadily …
… and slowly.
Because I took an HSP-honoring “no pressure” approach, the entire process was far less overwhelming than any home organization project I’ve attempted in the past.
Instead of rushing to try to “get this over with” or “get fully organized” I kept pausing to ask curious questions about my own work flow.
- When I’m at my desk, what do I need close-at-hand?
- How can I make my repeated routines as smooth and non-frustrating as possible?
- Where are the glitches in my current systems?
And I committed to experimenting with my new organizational system and work flow — for months to come.
For example I’ve found a new chair that I think could be wonderful for reading and writing. As a bonus, it pulls out into a guest bed.
But instead of buying it, I’ve laid down a 40” x 40” square of paper on my home office floor and stacked storage bins on it to simulate the bulk of the chair.
I’ve been living with it for almost a month now, to see if I’m willing to lose that much floor space to a fixed piece of furniture … or if I’d rather have it available for a pop-up table when I’m doing a project that requires me to really spread out.
Thus far, the jury is still out.
And that’s 100% okay.
When it comes to the organizational “system” that will work for your HSP brain, your HSP body, and your HSP space, here’s what I’ve discovered:
You don’t have to automatically know.
- You can take your time.
- You can experiment.
- You can use trial-and-error.
You can learn as you go.