Archive for the ‘Professonal Organizer’ Category

The Meaning of Things

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Recently I’ve been thinking about things. Not things in a colloquial sense but literal things, objects: the computer; my grandmother’s sculpture; the four pairs of eyeglasses I own. I’ve also been thinking about memories. What it means to have a memory? What it means to lose your memory? What it means to lose your memories, as thousands of people did last week when they lost their homes in the Northern California fires, just about 90 minutes from my home in Oakland.

I work with people nearly every week helping them decide what to do when they want (or need) to let go of stuff. Not just the things that remind them of who they once were, or places they once visited but also regular things too; Things they find useful or once did.

Two of my close friends lost their home in the Northern California fires. They lost everything they owned. They had just enough time to escape with their dogs and the clothes they must have quickly put on since it was 1 a.m. when they evacuated. My friends are extremely resilient. They’ve chosen to move forward, not look back. I know it must be hard. I wonder how often during the day they face the inconvenience of no longer having small things, or feel the waves of grief flow over them when they think about the loss of more important stuff.

I’ve heard many of my clients say to me, “I can’t let that go. It reminds me of ….” I sometimes ask, what would happen if (blank) should disappear? Would the memory go with it? In some cases it could and it does. I think this is what is so profoundly difficult about the process of getting organized, downsized or as I like to call it “curating” your life’s contents.

A long time ago I was hired to clear out a small storage unit belonging to a woman who had died and whose family was not interested in claiming the contents. There was in fact nothing of significant monetary value left behind but there were “memories.”  Commemorative plaques; a community service award; several family photos, a child’s simple drawings as well as knickknacks and other personal items. Things that were obtained, given, created for her and about her. Without her, I realized they didn’t mean much to me but they meant something to her.

People who lost everything in the Northern California fires last week and for that matter from the storms in Texas and Puerto Rico just days earlier, are heard in the news saying how “grateful” they are for having their families, for having survived, for knowing how “lucky” they were. It’s an amazing testament to their humanity that they can recognize this at one of the lowest points of their lives. And I have no doubt that they too are grieving the loss of their memories and possessions.

I’m not sure what all this has taught me as a professional organizer or even just as another human being. Of course, like many, I’ve considered what I would do and feel if I was in a similar circumstance. As a professional, I wholeheartedly encourage planning whether it be creating a safety plan with your family, an emergency kit or getting your most treasured memories and important documents digitized.

Being prepared also means helping those you love be better prepared to grieve by making your wishes known ahead of time, like a living will. This type of document lets others know what matters most to you when you can no longer make those decisions yourself. A dear friend did this about six months before she passed away and it made a world of difference to her closest friends and family. She wrote her plans down. At the top of the page she’d written the title, “End Of Life Matters.” The irony was not lost on either of us.

Last week my crew and I helped a couple downsize their home of twenty plus years. It’s something I’ve done many, many times yet each experience is different. Together and separately my clients made literally thousands of decisions in just a few days. Some of those decisions were easy. Many more were not. Even the most seemingly benign objects brought back memories of family gatherings, professional obligations, personal triumphs and poignant losses. Without context they are just things but for them they represented the meaning of their lives.

When my clients let go of things sometimes the memories go with them. I see my clients resist and I feel that struggle. Sometimes I even feel it directed at me though I know it’s not. I tell them, “I don’t have an opinion about what you keep. I do, however, have an opinion about helping you get to where you want to go.”

Letting go of things can sometimes feel like choosing to let go of memories. And who chooses to let go of their memories?! At least with my clients the choice is theirs. This wasn’t the case for the people in the recent fires. Do their memories go with them even when they have lost everything?

I hope so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paper you can toss (or shred) today without fear

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Even if you do everything on your smart phone, paper is still a fact of life, as is identity theft. Knowing what paper is safe to toss is not only a good habit, it will help minimize your chances of being a victim of identity fraud and make it easier for you to know just what to keep (e.g., for tax purposes) for when you want to get organized.

TIP: If you don’t have a shredder, use a black marker to hide any confidential information on documents that contain an account number, medical record number or social security number before you toss. Items that may include this information are noted below with the word shred.

TIP: Be sure you keep and regularly empty a recycling bin in the area where you do your paperwork.

 *These are general recommendations for household paper. If you own a business or have extenuating circumstances, such as you owe back-taxes, consult with your tax preparer or consult an attorney about your specific situation.

 What to toss…

Pages you’ve printed off the Internet that don’t contain anything about you personally

Online account information you can easily find on the Internet

Brochures, flyers or marketing material for events or products that don’t interest you anymore

Outer envelopes of mail you’ve received, even if it has your address.

Paid bills after one year if you are not claiming them on your taxes (shred).

Business cards for people or companies you would never do business with or meet for coffee.

Loan documents when your loan has been sold or paid off (shred).

Closed bank account statements and checks (shred).

Greeting cards from people you don’t like or remember (Recycle)

Your child’s scribbles and instead curate and take photos of your favorite artwork and rotate their latest creation as part of your “collection.”

Investment statements, excepting your year-end statement and any records of trades (shred).

Bank statements after one year unless they contain expenses you’ve claimed on your taxes (shred).

Prescription receipts unless you claim them on your taxes (shred).

Credit card statements after one year unless they contain expenses you claim on your taxes (shred).

ATM and store receipts more than 30 days old.

Paycheck stubs more after one year. Keep your W2 and tax return instead (shred).

Copyright: Lis McKinley, 2017

 

Lis McKinley, M.A., is the owner of LET’S MAKE ROOM based in Oakland, California. She is a Certified Professional Organizer and Move Manager specializing in helping homeowners and other residential clients get organized to move, remodel or simply enjoy their homes more with less of what they don’t need.

3 hogs taking up space in your home (and they’re not your family)

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Are you moving, getting ready for a remodel or simply want more room in your home with less clutter? Here are three common space hogs and what you can do about them.

  1. Other people’s stuff. Did you agree to store things for your kids, relatives or friends for a few months but now those months have become years? Tell your kids or your Aunt Sadie you are moving or remodeling (even if you aren’t) and kindly ask them to arrange to get their items since you will need the space yourself. Set a firm deadline – a month is reasonable in most cases – and ask for their permission to sell or donate them — at your discretion — by a certain date if they don’t respond by that date.  That way you’ve done your due-diligence.

  2. Boxes from your last move (and likely the one before) that never got unpacked. Remember those boxes? I’m guessing you don’t but apparently they were so important that you bothered to move them at all. Chances are they contain one of the following:  Old papers, memorabilia, holiday supplies, stuff belonging to your parents (or kids)  that you just couldn’t face, or all those items that you don’t use but couldn’t throw away at the time.

    If you are moving, are you really going to pay to have those boxes moved again?!

    Here’s what to do about them starting with old papers: Unless you ran a small business, and they contain your tax records for the past seven years, get rid of them. Arrange to have a local shredding company pick them up  or take them there yourself but don’t waste your time shredding them. Memorabilia: We keep memories for just this moment. No one else cares about these memories except you. If you want to leave a legacy for your children, don’t make it those boxes that have gathered dust in your garage or attic. Holiday supplies: Unless you used them last year, donate them to a charity that accepts art supplies. Stuff that belonged to your parents (or kids) that you coudn’t face: Refer to #1 above.

  3. Magazines and old mail.  There are certain magazines I love to read but once I’ve read them, they get recycled. Except in rare cases such as vintage out-of-print magazines, most collectors and charities don’t take old magazines.  If you want to get rid of them, gather them up in small book boxes (so you can lift them) and carry them to your home’s recycling area. Most municipal recyclers won’t charge for paper recycling.  As for old mail, you have three options: 1) pay to have it all shred. Depending upon how much you have, this could be costly but it will be the most timesaving approach and insure your identity will be safe.  2) Have a sorting party. Invite two or more people to help you sort your piles into keep, shred or toss. Keep includes “vital records” such as original birth and death certificates or personal memories that can’t easily be replaced. Shred includes any document, opened or not, from a banking or financial institution if it’s not obvious junk mail. Don’t waste time opening them if you’re not sure. Toss is everything else. 3) Hire a professional organizer or productivity specialist that specializes in residential or home office organizing. They can advise you about what to keep and help you sort and dispose of your unwanted paper safely.

The little red moving truck that could (and did)

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My client, Olivia, and I were standing in the family room of her mother’s home knee deep in moving boxes and overstuffed yard bags, packing items she had decided to get rid of when I came across a small plastic grocery bag.

Olivia (not her real name) and I had been working together for several sessions and by now we’d become well acquainted with one another. I have been exceedingly lucky and grateful to have worked with many wonderful people since launching LET’S MAKE ROOM,  Olivia is one of them.

She found me through a local consignment store where she had gone to sell some items belonging to her mother who had recently died after a long illness. Olivia had spent the last seven years seeing to her mother’s care at the home she shared with her with a single-minded devotion that spoke to the kind of person I was just beginning to know.

A woman of enormous grace and compassion, Olivia had given every ounce of her being to the care of her mother so that by the time she was ultimately relieved of this responsibility, she had little left, mentally or physically, to tackle the next phase she had set out to accomplish – making a home for herself in the home that had once been her mother’s.

She told the owner of the local consignment shop about her plight, about the overwhelming work ahead of her and that was how she first learned of me.

At our first meeting, Olivia stated her objectives: Empty the house of items she felt others would enjoy more than she wanted to keep them as quickly as possible to make room for the life she needed to continue on her own.

We agreed on a plan. I would work with her to help choose what items would go, pack everything up and arrange to have it all picked up by a local estate liquidation service.  The job involved the sorting, packing and organizing of well over 100 boxes and bags of items once belonging to her mother as well as other household items. I arranged for the service, a company called Remoovit, to pick up everything including furniture Olivia no longer wanted. We were just a few days away from having the estate liquidator’s 25′ truck arrive and we were nearing the end of the process when I found a small white grocery bag tucked into a box of toys in her family room closet.

I opened the bag and poured the contents on to the large folding table we were using as a workstation. We both stopped and looked at the still unrecognizable items, about a dozen brightly colored pieces of wood.  Then I realized there was something else inside the bag. I pulled it out.  “It’s a puzzle!”

Our attention immediately shifted to these colorful shapes on the table and together, just like two children, we excitedly began arranging the pieces. It took a minute or two and then there it was: An adorable red truck with big black wheels slightly overloaded with an array of items in different colors. We burst into loud shrieks of laughter as the irony hit us simultaneously.  It was the future. At least the immediate future. What had once been a child’s toy, most likely hers or her mother’s, saved and long hidden from view, had now become real. “I’m going to have it framed,” she said.

As an organizer who has seen far too many unrealized projects become clutter, I felt obligated to press her on this decision – “It it worth your time and money?”

“Absolutely,” she replied.

A few days passed. The estate liquidator’s truck came and went, filled with the boxes we had packed on their way to new and as yet unknown owners.  I moved on to other projects and other clients until one day about a week later I got a call from Olivia.

“Can you come over? I have something for you.”

I arrived at her house curious about what she had for me. Perhaps she had neglected to include an item she wanted sold or donated? I walked into her living room and she handed me a package wrapped in brown paper. I unwrapped it and there, behind glass, beautifully framed and mounted, with the words “LET’S MAKE ROOM’ engraved on a little metal plaque below, was the little red pickup truck.

“I made it for you,” Olivia said with a wide grin. I looked up at her. My eyes widened and then of course, began to tear up. “Thank you,” was all I could say. It was the best endorsement of my work I’ve ever received.

It hangs in my home office. When I look at it, I think of Olivia and the gift she gave me just by working with her: the realization of and how much I love what I do.

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!

 

Clutter is not a character flaw

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Organized Garage. Photo by LET’S MAKE ROOM

What are you doing this weekend? Unless you are like my friend Jan who loves to organize her home, there are probably a lot of other things you’d rather be doing then, say, organizing your garage.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t want to be organized. Being organized is wonderful! It reaps great benefits, including but not limited to:

  1. Quickly finding what you need when you need it. Something you take for granted until you can’t find it.
  2. Feeling the sense of calm that comes when everything is clear in your space.
  3. Knowing you haven’t overlooked something important like your mortgage bill or the date of your kid’s first recital.
  4. More money to spend on things you want when you’re not spending money on duplicate items you can’t find and forgot you already had.
  5. Having time to focus on what you are truly great at or on something that gives you real pleasure

The difference between being organized and getting organized is simple: One takes effort, in some cases an overwhelming amount of physical as well as mental effort. It also takes a plan and a good working system that can easily be sustained.

Being organized, takes much less effort, and as a result you have more freedom and time to spend doing what you want to do as opposed to what you should do.

To put it simply, being organized is a whole lot more fun than getting organized. I’m a professional and I’ve been doing this for years but even I don’t live to get organized. I get organized to live.

When you decide to get organized, with or without help, the first thing you should do is stop making your clutter a character flaw. Instead consider the clutter you’ve created as a reflection of the busy, productive (and hopefully) better life you’ve created for yourself.

If it’s paper clutter that’s driving you crazy, stop blaming yourself for all the paper you have.  Despite all the efforts at going “paperless,” paper is still a fact of life. Today, for example, the contents of my in-box grew by 2 documents, 5 receipts and 7 pieces of mail I personally did not generate.

So instead of beating yourself up, ask yourself, “What would I rather be doing this weekend?” If your answer is something fun, fulfilling or relaxing, go ahead and do it, without guilt. If, however, the clutter around you is causing an unacceptable level of stress or you finally want to tackle your garage, go ahead. The investment in your home and yourself will be worth it.

 

Why you shouldn’t “get organized” in 2014

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2013 2014 in SandJanuary is the perfect time to plan your personal organizing and productivity goals but like most people you’ll probably never do anything about them.

Forgive me if that sounds a bit cynical but over the years I have realized a lot of people say they want to get more organized but don’t.  That’s because they realize it’s boring and tedious, which it can be unless you are naturally organized.

After all, who wants to think about organizing a garage or the year’s tax receipts when it’s all you can do to get out of the house in the morning?

Instead of resolving to “get organized” this year,  think about what positive change you want in your life and then connect that change to something you can control.

Here’s what I mean. Let’s say you want to do a better job at saving money.

Start by examining the ways you spend your money now. There are numerous and easy ways to do this. One of the simplest is perusing your bank account over the past year. Many banks provide a “quick view” of where your money went by category such as groceries, mortgage, gifts, utilities, tuition, etc.

Look for some of the hidden ways you spend money. For example, I had a client who owned four identical blouses, two with their price tags still attached.  Her clothes closet was so cluttered she didn’t remember she owned them.

After organizing her closet, she could easily see everything she kept stored.  No more time wasted looking for things she couldn’t find. No more getting late to work every day. No more money spent on duplicates.

When you discover how and where you spend your money, it becomes easier to adjust your budget and your spending.

Did you resolve to get healthier this year? Try losing a few clutter pounds.

I guarantee, when you let go of unwanted things in your life it actually makes you feel lighter. When you feel lighter you feel like being more active. The more active you are, the healthier you will be and feel.

I had a client who felt so much lighter after our work together organizing his home office, he started a regular jogging routine. Eventually he started running and last year he entered and completed his first marathon.

Is 2014 the year you change your job or career? Be innovative.

Keep your mind active any way you can. Whether that means taking dance lessons or organizing your model car collection. Make connections and start connecting the dots. What kind of people or ideas attract you?  Take small risks like joining a networking group (if you’re shy).  Do something productive.  Bake a cake.  Write a poem. Fix a broken appliance. Organize your closet. Anything so long as you can see and experience the result.

I know a woman who was unhappy at her job. In 2008 at the start of the recession, she found herself unemployed.   She spent the next few months doing all the things she had wanted to do while she was working but didn’t have the time or energy to do. She read books, took classes, did volunteer work and one night she organized her bathroom cabinet, just because she felt like it.

Four months later she started her own organizing business. That woman, by the way, is me.

So when you are thinking about your resolutions for 2014, don’t include “get organized” unless you know why you want to get organized?  Instead, consider what you want to accomplish and see if it’s something you can get by doing what you do naturally. 

Life is short.  At the end of your life, chances are you won’t wish you were more organized. If, however, getting organized gives you what you want, helps you save money, advances your goals, takes away your stress or gives you more peace of mind,  then by all means, do it.

Still feeling stuck? Come back next week to get some quick-start tips that will help you start your year off on the right track.

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.

My ‘Isaac Newton’ moment or how a bottle of antiperspirant made me what I am today.

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Recently, I was asked to speak to a group of small business owners about organizing and how I became a professional organizer.   Curious? Watch this short video and get a taste of how I work with different organizing ‘personalities.’  Have a comment or question?  Include it below.