Thursday, September 15, 2011

Puzzles and patterns

I've been working on a puzzle. It's a 1000 piece panoramic puzzle of the Louvre museum, and as I've gone through the steps to complete it, it has occurred to me how very much putting together a puzzle has in common with organizing. Perhaps that's why I enjoy puzzles so much.

The first step I always take is to separate the edges from the rest of the pieces and assemble the outside edge of the picture. This is usually the easiest way to get started, as the edges are easily recognizable and it gives you a feeling of accomplishment to get the border complete. In organizing, sometimes going after low hanging fruit (maybe purging all those old newspapers and magazines or socks with holes in them) is the best way to start, so you can get your energy up and be ready to tackle the big picture.

Next, I generally spend some time sorting the pieces, putting broad categories of pieces together in individual boxes, such as all the sky pieces, all the browns, all the pieces that look like they belong to a certain building. I find sorting to be an immensely comforting task. I like finding patterns in objects and deciding how best to group them. With a puzzle, this is enacted at a very basic, soothing level. Because you can't look at any one piece too closely, you have to make quick judgements about color or pattern.

At the 2011 NAPO National Conference, Julie Morgenstern gave one of the keynote speeches. She said at one point that what differentiates organizers from other people is our ability to see patterns where others cannot. I think that is a key trait that organizers possess, and it is a valuable tool in so many situations.

Assembling a puzzle is often as much trial and error than anything else. When trying to find organizing solutions that work, trial and error is a well-used method. We also break down organizing projects into managable chunks, rather than trying to solve everything at once. A puzzle can only be put together one piece at a time. I'm going to stop with the analogy, as I think I've made my point. Plus, I have the rest of the sky to finish!

Lelah Baker-Rabe is a Los Angeles-based professional organizer. To discuss your organizing needs, call her at 818.269.6671 or email Sign up for Lelah's News, a once-monthly newsletter.

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