man in pink dress shirt angrily holding phone

Use your complaints to get organized. Wishes can come true!

Thinking ahead is at the heart of organizing and it’s a skill that can be developed and enhanced no matter how scatter-brained you naturally are.

You’ve been waiting all day for a callback from your doctor/the IRS/the person who said they wanted to buy your ten totes of old baby clothes. When does it finally happen? When you’re out driving a few quick errands, of course. Not to worry, pull over in the library parking lot and talk. Shame you won’t remember any of the details since there’s nothing to write on or with in the car.

The solution lies within the problem, grasshopper

The trick is to notice each time there’s a situation that could be improved or eased by doing something ahead of time. Don’t just complain about it, analyze it. So it’s grumble, grumble, grumble, I wanted to take notes and I couldn’t. The question to ask yourself is, “What can I do so this doesn’t happen again?”

Every time something goes disastrously – or slightly – wrong, finish this sentence: “I wish I had ____________ .” In this case it’s, “I wish I had something to write on.” If you had the pad of paper but nothing to write with, it would be, “I wish I had something to write with.”

Don’t just burst out of the car when you get back and grumble about how you couldn’t take notes. Complaints without action are just annoying to everyone. Find a pad of paper and a couple of pens and put them in the car.

Now anytime you want to pull over and take notes on a conversation, you don’t have to root around for stray gum wrappers and try to write on them with a Chapstick. Points for ingenuity, though.

READ MORE >>> How to declutter and organize

If you can’t find a pad of paper or a pen in your house, I can help.

by Lucy Kelly


  1. I love this. Last year, I wrote a post about having to recognize that there’s a problem and assume that there IS a solution. Yours comes from the opposite perspective, recognizing that there’s a problem, but learning not to bitch and moan but to do the obvious thing (if there is an obvious thing) and solve it. Together, our two posts could conquer the world! 🙂

    And the Chapstick thing cracked me up!

  2. I love your sentence about complaints without action. Back when I was a public school teacher I had a principal who said, “Bring me any problem you have, any time of day, of any size…but don’t come without at least two potential solutions you’ve considered.” I really took that to heart and even if my solutions weren’t the easiest or most appropriate, at least I had a starting point to work from. Great, concise advice in this post!

    1. Oh, I just love that! My kids used to do that to me too, I wish I’d had that phrase to hand then. If someone takes ownership of the problem with a solution, no matter how off the wall, it’s so much easier to work with them to find a way out.

  3. YESSSS! Your title cuts to the chase and captures something I’ve been thinking about. Now I don’t have to write about it, unless to add a whole list of examples. Thanks, Lucy!

  4. I really resonate with how thinking ahead is a key part of being organized. I think looking into the future and thinking through scenarios is something I realize I do that many others do not. I think of it as “trouble shooting before the trouble.” As you say, avoiding a repeat of the irksome circumstance comes down to being mindful of what we can do now to make it better next time. Capturing that thought in the moment, and then following through when we can, makes this happen. I really enjoyed that you noticed and talked about this important aspect of organizing!

    1. You’re right, many people don’t think ahead. And there are many who could get better at it if they practiced 🙂 It feels so overwhelming to always be behind the curve. Taking a small win by pinning down what tripped you up this time and setting it up for success next time is super encouraging. This is a teachable/learnable skill!

  5. What a great twist, Lucy. I am going to use this with my clients (and my children!). Doing something about the things that are within your control to do better feels really good. Thank you for this fabulous twist!