February 21, 2008


One Year to an Organized Life: From Your Closets to Your Finances, the Week-by-Week Guide to Getting Completely Organized for Good. By Regina Leeds. Da Capo. $16.95.

      If reading the lengthy title hasn’t worn you out, the sheer energy that permeates Rebecca Leeds’ get-organized book may. Leeds is so organized that she even organizes organization: she has broken down tasks into a full year of do-its, and takes readers week by week through highly targeted specifics. One gets the feeling that she could have broken things down to a day-by-day regimen if she had wanted to write a longer book.

      For people who have difficulty getting started at organizing, Leeds’ high level of enthusiasm may be off-putting. But if you’re really looking for a step-by-step guide to getting yourself, your house, your finances and other aspects of your life in order, Leeds can be a great tutor – if you have the patience to follow what she says, week after week and month after month. That’s a very big “if,” because people who are that willing to approach the task of organizing themselves systematically may not be tremendously disorganized in the first place. You have to be comfortable with the concept of being organized, and you have to be sufficiently organized to follow through on everything Leeds suggests, in order to get the full benefit of this book. For many chronically disorganized people, this will not be easy; it may be impossible.

      If you do decide to try things the Leeds way, you’ll find here a well-laid-out set of prescriptions on handling what must seem like the overwhelming task of putting things (and your life) in order. The book opens, sensibly enough, with January, subtitled “Understanding Time Management; Working on the Kitchen.” Here is where Leeds introduces her “habit of the month,” explaining that it takes 21 consecutive days for a new behavior to become ingrained, and offering readers choices of new (good) habits to pick up. Then she gets into week-by-week activities. Week Four of January, for example, is “Whip Your Kitchen into Shape,” which means sorting tools and gadgets, dividing the kitchen into activity zones, figuring out how to use counter space, and more. Leeds estimates that this will take five to seven hours – not a lot of time to spend in a full week, but (and this is a flaw in Leeds’ approach) an apparently long time that may well make people throw up their hands and say they just don’t have that much time to spare or to spend. In fact, the “time required” element of the book is one of its least useful features, since Leeds often says the time varies or will depend on exactly what a person wants or needs to do.

      Leeds gets considerable credit, on the other hand, for coming up with such headings as “Kitchen Black Holes” and showing what to do with the junk drawer, under-the-sink space and more. And her end-of-each-month summaries, showing what you have accomplished if you have followed her approach each week, then adding an affirmation and sometimes a “Bonus Tip,” will be real pick-me-ups for people with the dedication to stick with this program. The real difficulty with One Year to an Organized Life, though, is in what happens if you “fall off the wagon.” What if you are sick for several days, take a week’s vacation, need to care for an ill child or parent, or have some other reason for being unable to follow the program? Then the careful layout of Leeds’ book becomes a disadvantage, making you feel you have “fallen behind” in your organizing – which may lead to giving up the whole process as beyond you. Leeds’ entry in the get-organized book field is attractive for its specificity and guidance, but will only be appropriate for people who remain physically disorganized but are already mentally organized enough to follow the plan – and make adjustments as needed when life’s inevitable unexpected events occur.

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