The Chaotic Computer
You don't want to spend an hour looking for a scone recipe—or your résumé—because you're searching through all the stuff on your desktop. If you can't see the pretty picture on your computer screen because it's full of icons for documents, downloads, and photos, start making folders. Color-code them: The folder for your financial documents can be green, the one for your job search can be blue. Like goes with like—all your résumés in one folder, all photos in another. Label each one clearly. Then put all your folders in "My Documents," a master folder that you have whether you're on a Mac or a PC.
You can save e-mail correspondence, but discard the one that says, "Great, see you at 12 on Thursday!" and save the one with information about what you discussed.
By the way, if you're constantly responding to e-mail, you're being pulled away from the things that you need or want to do. Try checking it hourly.
The (Shudder) Basement or Garage
Where do you start? With the bad, scary corner. First, get rid of unsalvageables. If the basement flooded and a whole bunch of stuff got waterlogged, these are no longer your possessions; they're a mildewfest. Just say goodbye.
Once you've gotten rid of the garbage, start grouping similar items, which makes it easy to see what there's too much of and what's broken. Tackle one category at a time—the holiday decorations, the seasonal clothing, the journals you've been keeping for years. If you have enough room, spread everything out to take stock of it all.
When everything has been sorted, prune: Is this important enough to save? Is it useful? Discard what isn't.
Next, containerize what's left, but don't buy storage bins until you have an understanding of what you're putting into them. It doesn't serve you to come home with two 40-gallon tubs if what you need is 19 shoe boxes. I'm all about clear plastic storage; sure, you can label boxes, but why not be able to see the contents immediately? And if you also use your basement as a play space for your kids or to entertain, get rolling shelves that can be moved to one side of the room and perhaps even covered with drapes.
At the end of this project, you'll have accomplished three goals: There will be less stuff, what's left will be in order, and everything will be in containers that work with your space. Being organized isn't about getting rid of everything you own or trying to become a different person; it's about living the way you want to live, but better. There are enough things in the world that you can't control—but you can bring some order into your home and your life.