Archive for the ‘Chronic Disorganization’ Category

Protect your home from the space thief

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Is the stuff in your home stealing your space? If so, you are living with a space-thief.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the average cost per square foot of space is upwards of $250. That means if you have a clutter, your space thief is doing a thriving business!

Everyone has some degree of attachment to their possessions; An old desk belonging to your great grandmother; A collection of figurines, each one representing a different travel experience you took with with your mother, now gone; Photo albums of your childhood, your ancestors and now your own children and grandchildren.

I am not suggesting, whatsoever, that you let go of the things that give meaning to your life. But consider this: What if those meaningful items are stored in your basement, garage or attic, amidst the debris of old moldy boxes, sporting gear you haven’t used since 1987, and a shelf full of rusted, empty paint cans?

If you’ve maxed out your storage in the living areas of your home with stuff you don’t even care about, you are living with a thief, a space-thief. The space-thief is stealing your space, by replacing it with clutter, you don’t want or need. 

It’s time to take back your home from the space-thief!

I’ve come to appreciate the term “curate” instead of declutter. It implies something less negative, less demeaning about the things we keep.

The word curate, comes from the latin word cur meaning “care.” A Curate, according to it’s original meaning, was a member of the clergy who took care of the parish. Later, the term curator came to mean one who was charged with the care of something, such as an exhibit, museum or collection.

Approach every clutter issue as an opportunity to be a curator for your own home or office.  In organizing terms, think of your home as you might think of a museum or art gallery. The value of your home’s contents isn’t defined solely by its market value.  There is also value when you can use and enjoy what you own.

A museum or gallery has storage areas to preserve, protect or restore items, typically not open to the public, but it’s the galleries, exhibitions and public spaces that are enjoyed and worth seeing. If your home is more of a storage area than a place to enjoy, you’ve been robbed – by the space-thief.

Here are some ways you can approach your home as a curator and protect yourself from the space-thief in your home:

  1. Sort and categorize items according to type or theme and then decide which are the ones that best fit the theme, spark joy or hold meaning for you now. I once had a client who loved vintage kitchen tools. She had a great collection of vintage egg beaters. Instead of having them stored in a box, she eliminated the duplicates, let go of those not worth repairing and then kept her favorites. The result was a whimsical display that made her vintage kitchen not just functional but a fun place to cook!
  2. Consider a “bequest” of things you no longer value yourself to others you know (or don’t) for the joy of giving. Offer unwanted items to a specific individual by a specific date. Don’t just put it in a “gift” bin. If they pass or don’t meet your deadline, you can opt to donate it to someone else or to charity. Just don’t let it stay too long once you’ve decided to let it go. Doing so, is like giving it away to the clutter-thief.
  3. Choose which items you want to share with your family, friends or simply enjoy yourself and determine the best home and way to display them. If it’s worth keeping, it’s worth using, sharing or enjoying. If it’s surplus – then decide where you will store your “surplus” but know that keeping too much surplus, just in case, is also the same as giving it to a space-thief.
  4. Beware of counterfeit items you thought had value to you, because you’ve kept them, and realize they are actually just stealing space from your home (or office). An old client had kept a valuable desk belonging to her ex-husband. She never liked it and now she was forced to see it every day, which only brought up unpleasant memories. Even when something has market value, if it is stealing space and joy from you, it is not worth keeping. She sold it and used the money to buy herself a desk she could truly call her own.
  5. Take time or get help to contain, display and safeguard your contents for their safety and protection as well as for your own. If your valuables are buried in a pile of clutter on the floor, not only are they at risk of damage but one false step and you could be out of commission yourself.

 

When saying no means yes

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My client, Barbara (not her real name) is kind, generous and very, very busy.plate-spinner

Her calendar is packed full of appointments, events and meetings. Her cell phone rings, buzzes and beeps almost constantly with notifications that go unanswered. Her unopened emails go on for pages. Her enormous home is tidy, beautifully decorated and as warm as she is but every inch of her storage – closets, cabinets, cupboards, drawers –  are packed full. There isn’t an inch to spare.

Barbara is like the juggler who can keep ten plates spinning simultaneously at the top of ten poles without dropping them because each of them are equally important.

But when you treat everything in your life as equally important, spinning those 10 plates for days, weeks, months or even years (not just minutes) because you believe or behave as if everything is equally important, eventually one of two things happen. One or more of the plates break or you do.

It can be a quick break or a slow one but even the juggler knows when it’s time to stop.

When Barbara said to me recently that she’d turned down a number of invitations because she realized they weren’t worth her time, I felt a sense of relief for her because she was discovering that saying no meant she was finally saying yes… to herself. I also knew she had finally started to see the cost of making everything in her life equally important.

For every task, project, meeting, coffee date, or invitation you receive, before you do it, take it on or schedule it, before you say yes, ask yourself these 3 questions: 

1) Is it important to me?

Is this your priority or someone else’s?  Say yes to you before you say yes to someone else. If  you are the kind of person that likes to be helping others but find yourself doing so at your own expense, it’s okay to say, “thank you for thinking of me but I just don’t have the time right now.”

2) If I don’t do this will it cost me?

What would happen if you didn’t do it? If you’re not sure whether to take something on, imagine not doing it. You don’t want to end up spending a little effort on lot of things instead of a lot of effort on what’s truly important.

3) Is it worth my time?

Only you can answer this question. If it saves you from stress and doesn’t cost you something to say no, then say no. You’ll only be saying yes to what’s really worth your time.

The bottom line is don’t hold on to stuff, projects, even old beliefs about yourself when they are no longer useful to you. Be willing to be brave. Be willing to make hard choices for the bigger rewards. Make room in your life for what matters most!

 

Confronting our monsters

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At 8:00 this morning, I had my own private celebration. It took place in my head.

An hour earlier I was driving and thinking about how terrifying it must be for some of my clients to do the one thing that scares them the most; To finally confront what’s kept them from moving forward in their lives because they feel overwhelmed and stuck and it’s showing up as piles of papers, boxes and who knows what else, on their desks, on the floor, in their drawers, everywhere.

I was thinking about what it means to do the one thing that scares you the most and to have the courage to do it anyway because you know you have to. Because you know not doing so will have far greater consequences.

For people who are chronically disorganized, the consequence of not facing their fears can be enormous.  For some it’s a loss of control over their lives. For others, it’s isolation. I know people who have lost their children, their spouses and their very security because of their inability to face their fears head on.  I also know people who have shown great courage and have discovered the meaning of making room in their lives.

My fears are about public speaking. And yet, as a small business person I know the value it brings to others in the form of information and sometimes even inspiration. But I do it quite frankly because I have to. Working with people in their homes and in their offices or helping them move is tactical but it’s also very personal. I know that if people see me and feel I am someone they can trust, and recognize I  have the expertise to help them, then they often will remember me when it comes time to organize their offices, or their bedrooms or help them plan and oversee their move to a new home.

The Paper MonsterThis is what I was thinking at seven o’clock this morning, on my way to speak to a group of fifty small business owners and entrepreneurs about how to face their fears, specifically about how to confront their own Paper Monsters.  I did this presentation a few weeks earlier and it had not lived up to my expectations  – perfectionism, my monster, rearing it’s ugly head, yet again –  and now I was getting ready to face him again.  Was I scared? Petrified, which is why at that moment I started thinking about my clients.

“If  they can have the courage to hire me, then I can damn well find the courage to face my fears as well, ” I thought.  And so I did. And it went fine. It wasn’t perfect but it was good enough. And that’s good enough. But to be honest, I’m glad it’s over. At least for today I can celebrate.

Tomorrow, I do it again.

Looking to hire a professional organizer? Buyer beware

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Laurie (not her real name), hired me recently to help her organize her overstuffed, clothes closet. It took two days. One day to sort and then edit what she no longer wanted and one day to contain, label and return what was left to her closet, organized, folded, hung right side in, and accessible.

Laurie is an active, super-mom of two school-aged kids, with a full time sales job. She told me she wanted to feel less stressed in the morning which often meant time spent looking for a matched pair of shoes or a clean outfit so she could get herself dressed in time to feed her kids and get them to  school before heading to work herself. She confessed her husband was neater than she was and her disorganization was creating friction between them.

This is the type of organizing job that most people think of when I tell them I do residential organizing.  In fact, organizing a closet is one of those “dream” assignments that most professional organizers knows comes once in a blue moon.

In general, the people who hire organizing professionals to work in their homes are those who have much bigger challenges.

This is why I silently cringe when I come across people who refer to themselves  as a “professional organizer” but have no significant experience working with clients, let alone credentials or training.

In May of next year,  the official manual of mental health diagnosis and criteria, otherwise known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (5th edition) or more commonly known in the mental health world as the DSM-V, will be published by the American Psychiatric Association.

The DSM-V contains a listing of diagnostic criteria for every psychiatric disorder recognized by the U.S. healthcare system.  Among those conditions expected to be included is “Compulsive Hoarding Disorder” which up till now has been listed as a sub-set of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a serious anxiety disorder involving intrusive thoughts and ritualized behaviors aimed at reducing an individual’s anxiety.

Including Compulsive Hoarding as it’s own condition came out of research that found that people who suffer from this condition, which basically involves the excessive acquisition of items that  frequently are perceived by others as having little or no value but lack the ability to discard them, have not responded to treatments used for OCD. In addition, other studies have found that people who compulsively hoard don’t always show other symptoms of OCD.

Even if someone is not disorganized at the level of a “Hoarder” but may be what is termed “Chronically Disorganized,” this doesn’t mean their disorganization can be easily understood or fixed by just having the right containers.     There are many factors —  situational, emotional or physical– that impact a person’s ability to manage their lives in a reasonably organized way.  Disorganization is a symptom but it is also a behavior disorder that can impact a person’s well being, health and safety in very real ways.

For example, I recently worked with a middle-aged woman who was suffering from depression brought on by the death of her father with whom she was very close. Her depression lead her to neglect her home for so long that when I met her she couldn’t access her sink to get fresh water.  Her floor was covered with so much clutter that she would have difficulty leaving her home in an emergency.  Her bed was piled so high with clothing she slept on her couch.

The Institute for Challenging Disorganization, known in the industry as ICD,  is a subscriber organization that provides education and resources to those challenged by disorganization as well professionals working with this population. People with Chronic Disorganization, according to ICD, have a history of disorganization in which “self-help efforts to change have failed, undermining their current quality of life and the expectation of future disorganization.”

People with Chronic Disorganization are often great at keeping their conditions a secret. Such was the case with a client I had who was the picture of professionalism – a 45 year-old sales manager who was the top sales producer at her office but had not invited anyone to her condo in five years because she told me she was “too exhausted to clean up” and hadn’t unpacked since she moved in.

At a time when we have twice as much information coming at us, both digitally and in print, even the most competent person can find themselves challenged to stay on top of it all. Such was the case of an entrepreneur I worked with who could do anything involving technology but when it came to organizing his bills,  documents and other paper, he felt like a “lost cause.”

Even people whose lives are relatively stable can be challenged by the enormity of organizing challenges such as the retired widow who hired me to help her fit the contents of her 2,400 square-foot family home she just sold into a 1,600 square-foot city apartment she had rented.

Unfortunately, anyone can call themselves a  “professional organizer.” Doing so does not require any type of specialized training, certification or license.

The National Association of Professional Organizers otherwise known as NAPO is the leading professional association for the industry.  While their role is not to regulate,  they do require that members adhere to an ethical code, and are in the process of developing a basic curriculum that will be required of all members in the coming years.

Professional organizing is a relatively new industry, and NAPO, formed in 1985 and which now includes more than 4,200 members in 12 countries, including the U.S., was formed when people were discovering there was a growing need for help on ways to be more organized and productive at a time when consumerism was at its highest and the information age was just starting to explode.

Fortunately, there is a certification track available through an organization called the Board of Certified Professional Organizers® or BCPO®  The BCPO® requires certain experiential standards be met and applicants must pass an exam before they can receive their BCPO® certification. (I am getting ready to sit for my exam in February.)

Although NAPO and the BCPO® are working hard to establish standards for the profession, most consumers are not aware of these standards, nor does the general public necessarily understand the differences between someone who calls themselves a “professional organizer” and one who actually has the credentials, training, experience and education to perform the work at the highest level.

Consumers, whether they be businesses or individuals must rely on the recommendations of others, and their ability to size up the skills and qualifications of the organizer. This means they often have to make an important decision about the kind of help they need from their gut feelings.  This wouldn’t be a big problem if what you are looking for is someone to organize your clothes closet but what if, like many people, your disorganization is impacting your well being,  health or safety in bigger ways?

As a consumer, I would implore you to consider an organizing specialist the same way you would consider any other professional such as an attorney, dentist, doctor or accountant. Would you feel comfortable hiring a dentist who advertised on a free bulletin board?  Would you work with an accountant who you discovered on a flyer tacked to a phone pole? Would you send your parents to seek medical care from someone who had four other jobs?

All I’m saying is, you get what you pay for. In other words, Buyer beware.