13 Confessions of a Professional Organizer

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Secret


When I tell people I’m a professional organizer, they almost always ask, “is your house immaculate?”

In the early years of my career as a professional organizer, I dodged the question because I didn’t want others to think I wasn’t perfectly organized.

Over time I came to realize that there is no such thing.

When it comes to having a fulfilling, organized life, perfection will get in the way every time.   I don’t want to be model of perfection.   More importantly,  I don’t want my clients to expect that of themselves.

Having a home that you enjoy, where you can spend time relaxing, enjoying time with family and friends, pursuing your interests and taking care of the business of your life, is far more important than having a perfectly organized life. There is no such thing. Life is messy.

The question about how organized I am in real life prompted me to think about other truths  about my personal approach to organization.

So here are 13 confessions about me as professional organizer that may surprise you:

    1. My house is not organized perfectly. It’s tidy and I can generally, though not always, find what I’m looking for.  My home is not a Pinterest post or a cover of Architectural Digest.  My style is to organize for my real life, not a fantasy life that I could never achieve let alone maintain.
    2. I don’t have an opinion about what my clients keep, donate or toss. The only time I do care is when I see them make decisions that seem contrary to their goals.  In that case I will ask their permission to gently point it out.
    3. The papers I keep are contained in three places in my home. One is a small file box. Another is an old suitcase that belonged to my mother. The third is a single file drawer. My paper supplies are kept in a drawer and on a shelf.
    4. I rarely scan anything. The only exception when I need to scan or upload a document to share.
    5. If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t exist. I have no short term memory.

    6. I can’t fold a fitted sheet like Martha Stewart. (Believe me I’ve tried dozens of times).  However,  I can make it tidy in a linen closet.
    7. If it’s trash, I don’t feel bad about tossing it.  I do my best to donate or recycle it but the world is not set up yet for zero waste and that’s not my fault. I appreciate sites such as Stopwaste.org when I want to recycle something less typical.
    8. I don’t watch TV shows about organizing or hoarding.
    9. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I don’t decant into containers.  If you want everything in your kitchen, pantry or home to be labeled in pretty, matching ceramic containers, as organizers we are happy to do it.
    10. We don’t have a garage. The previous owners of our home took it down to put in another room. We use it as a TV and exercise area. It has a large storage cabinet we use for holiday supplies, camping, memorabilia, sporting goods and games. Behind it is where I store all my supplies for work. My car is parked in a driveway.
    11. I never liked the term “professional organizer.” Unfortunately they haven’t come up with anything better.
    12. My team organizes better than I do but I know what works and I am great at managing projects, people and getting things done.
    13. When I cook, my kitchen becomes a disaster. I am not an “organized cook.” I guess that’s because I’m focused on the food itself, not on the dish that didn’t get washed, the counter that didn’t get wiped or the container of cream that didn’t get put away. My husband is an incredibly organized cook.

Free Yourself of Paper Clutter Fear

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Ripping apart fear

Most people would rather have a root canal than organize their paper. I have yet to find anyone who likes to organize their paper clutter.

Bills, documents, notes on old legal pads, mysterious receipts, birthday cards from people you do and don’t remember, even something pleasurable such as photos of your family can feel like an insurmountable chore to organize.

Plowing through piles or bins of paper is different from other types of organizing. It requires a whole different set of decisions and brain skills and unlike organizing 3-dimensional objects such as your clothes or dishes, paper is often fraught with all kinds of meaning – most typically fear and anxiety and to a lesser degree, sentiment and confusion.

Paper doesn’t have the same qualities that other objects have in our lives. It’s not pretty or shiny or useful, except in its blank (note pads) or decorative (wrapping paper) form.  Organizing paper won’t make it more possible for you to entertain, unless it’s covering your dining room table.

Face it, for most people, organizing paper is boring.

Complicating the process is age. The older we get, the harder it is to focus on the task of organizing paper.  It takes all kinds of executive functioning skills that get harder as we age. It’s more than just a matter of know what to keep and what to toss.

The moment we look at our paper piles, our brains become Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind.  “I can’t think about it now. I’ll think about it tomorrow.”

Paper organizing requires careful review. You can look at a piece of clothing and know it’s a piece of clothing. With paper you have to study it. Is it a bill? A statement? An insurance policy? Is it something important? Do I need to act on it? Will I need it later?

With paper, you are already exhausted by the time you figure out what it is.

It’s no wonder that even in the age of going “paperless” we still have so much paper.

During my career as a professional organizer, move manager and now organizer coach, I have encountered virtually every type of paper and document that exists.  I have also written extensively on the process of organizing your paper. But it doesn’t matter how well its sorted into tidy little piles. If you don’t or can’t make a decision about it, it probably won’t get put away.

Here’s the good news about paper organizing.

In most cases, if you never organize your paper, nothing really bad will happen. The sky won’t fall. You won’t go to jail. Your children won’t be hurt. You won’t get sick, at least not from the paper. Will it cost you? Maybe, if you forget to pay a bill, or don’t do your taxes or forget your daughter’s birthday (God forbid!). Even if you forget to pay your electricity bill, don’t worry, you’ll get another reminder, and another.

Would it be inconvenient or possibly stressful to forget to pay your electricity bill? Yes, but it’s not life threatening unless you are on life support and if so, organizing your paper is not going to be top of mind.

The worst part about paper clutter is that it’s often a reflection of our state of mind  The more clutter, the more we realize we’re feeling confused, overwhelmed or neglectful. This creates more anxiety and confusion and the cycle repeats.

It’s better to have a system for managing your mail, paying your bills, filing important documents or knowing what you should shred to protect your identity. These are all habits and elements of life that make us feel calmer, lighter and in control of our lives. But if you don’t already have these habits, and are not inclined to learn them now, you can still feel less stressed about your paper clutter.

Here are some ways you can manage your guilt or alleviate your anxiety about your paper piles.

  1. You know all those saved letters and greeting cards you’ve kept over the years? You’re not likely to ever look at them unless you’re moving or downsizing your home and probably not even then.  If you never look at them again, it’s not a problem. Your adult children will have to at some point but that’s another story.
  2. If you overlook a bill, you’ll get another. Don’t sweat it.
  3. You don’t have to support every charity that keeps mailing you solicitations for donations. This is true especially if you have a limited income.  Seniors are their favorite customers since they count on you forgetting that you donated last month or last year. When you get them in the mail, toss them.
  4. If you feel strongly about supporting your favorite charity allocate no more than 1% of your total income and divide that up between your five favorite charities.  Let’s say you earn $75,000 a year. 75,000 x 1% = 750. 750/5=150. Donate no more than $150 to your favorite charities.
  5. If you didn’t order something from that catalog when you got it, you probably won’t. Recycle it.
  6. Keep your family photos. Even if you never look at them.  They don’t take up that much space.
  7. If you have more than a grocery bags worth of documents to be shredded, take them to be shredded. It’s not worth your time to do it yourself.
  8. Stop ripping up envelopes with your name and address – unless doing so gives you satisfaction. Your name and address are public information. An identity thief can’t hurt you with just your name and address.
  9. If you see your complete social security number on anything, shred it!
  10. Keep a bin near where you open your mail. That way all the junk can get tossed right away.

  11. Empty your mailbox daily. A stuffed mailbox is a sign that something is wrong in your home.
  12. The IRS will never call you. Open anything that comes from them.
  13. Stop saving investment statements. They are obsolete from the moment you get them.
  14. If you can easily find it in your email or online, you don’t need to keep the paper copy.
  15. If you have more than 1 or 2 boxes of unsorted paper that you have not looked at in more than six months, you probably won’t.
  16. There is an 80 percent chance that anything you file you will never look at again.
  17. If you want to find something really important, chances are you can request a copy, unless of course it’s a love letter or your 6th grade report card.
  18. Don’t spend your retirement years going through your files unless you really want to.
  19. If you have paper on nearly every surface in your home, including floors, near your stove or on your bed, then it’s time to call in a professional, for your safety.
  20. If you have any reason to believe you’ve been a victim of fraud or if you suspect someone has access to your credit information without your consent, contact all three credit reporting agencies immediately and submit a fraud alert.

Experian:1-888-397-3742

Equifax: 1-866-640-2273

Transunion: 1-800-813-5604

Have an organizing question or need help getting organized to move or want to schedule a coaching session? Schedule a free, no obligation phone chat with me using this link. https://calendly.com/letsmakeroom/30min

 

 

Bags and boxes are not furniture

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If you have household items or unsorted paper on your floor in boxes or bags, chances are you have a clutter problem.  That’s because bags and boxes are not furniture, not permanently anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, bags and boxes have their place in organizing. I use them all the time to carry out donated items, to contain trash or recycling or to pick up my groceries.  It’s fine to keep a small supply but they are “temporary” containers, not permanent fixtures.

As a professional organizer, coach and move manager, boxed and bagged “clutter” is a common problem for many of my clients.

I’m not talking about items you have stored in a closet, garage or attic. These too may need to be “gone through” – usually when you’re planning to move or sell your home.

It’s sometimes an issue of time management, motivation or other more pressing priorities.  Conditions such as ADD, anxiety or depression can also make it difficult to focus on the task at hand.

 Whatever the reason, bags and boxes usually signify a “holding” place for your stuff, instead of a “home.”

Here are 10 easy steps to manage the bags and boxes of stuff in your home:
  1. If you have both unsorted paper and physical items, start with the physical items. You will see results quicker and feel motivated to continue.
  2. Sort the items on a clear surface, such as a card table, counter or ironing board if that’s the only surface available.
  3. As soon as the box is empty, break it down and place it by your recycling bin to see space right away. It’s important that you see see results right away to stay motivated. 
  4. Now it’s time to make decisions. Look at each item by category and decide if you are using it now or whether it’s something you love. If you wouldn’t buy it in a store, don’t love it, haven’t used it, or it brings up negative emotions, let it go. If it feels good to keep it for yourself, then keep it.
  5. Most clean and usable items can be donated to conventional charities such as Goodwill, Salvation Army or a local thrift shop.  Be sure to check days and times they accept donations. Since COVID, many charities have limited their donation drop off times or require appointments.
  6. Don’t spend a lot of time on where you donate your items. This is a form of procrastination.  Some haulers now will take items for donation.  Two of my favorites in the San Francisco Bay Area are NixxitJunk.com and Remoov.
  7. If you have high value items consider consignment, or online platforms to sell them. Do whatever is easiest or makes the best use of your time.
  8. If you plan to use your empty boxes for donations, be sure you can carry them. You are better off using a double paper-bag or reusable shopping bag for donated items.
  9. Now the fun part: Look at what you kept and decide where it should live in your home. Like you live in your home everything in your home should have a home. An item’s home gets determined first by asking, What room would I look for this? Consider also, where  will it be contained?  For example, a certain piece of furniture, a specific closet, drawer or a type of  bin?  Don’t worry if these areas are already cluttered themselves. Get them closer to home!
  10. Do this for each item you’ve decided to keep before moving on to the next bag or box.
Did you get through at least one bag or box? Did you toss or recycle them to make more room for you? Good job!

Aim to do one bag or box as often as you can and before you know it, your floors will be clear of clutter and you’ll feel great!

Too much stuff to do it yourself? Having difficulty focusing or feeling overwhelmed? Consider hiring a professional organizer to help you.
 
Find one in your area at the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals or NAPO.net and search by your zip code.

Pretend you don’t own it: Edit your to dos and get more done

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Editor’s Note: I am reprinting* this post, by permission of its author, Greg McKeown, best-selling author, public speaker and founder and CEO of McKeown, Inc., a leadership and strategy design agency based in California.  I met Greg many years ago at a talk he gave to the members of the local chapter of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals. I have been following his writing, podcasts and talks about “Essentialism” ever since. You can learn more about Greg’s work or subscribe to his newsletter at https://gregmckeown.com/


Essentialism Graphic

Have you ever continued to invest time and energy into a failing project instead of cutting your losses?

We all find it difficult to uncommit from nonessential projects and distractions – even if it’s a losing proposition.

But why?

One reason is that we tend to overvalue things that belong to us.

I’m sure you can think of things in your life that seem to be more valuable the moment you think about giving them away.

Psychologists call this the endowment effect. And unfortunately, it applies to our activities and commitments as well (that project at work or the hobby you’ve invested in but are only sort of enjoy). 

Working hand-in-hand with the endowment effect is something called loss aversion.

This is the idea that we perceive the pain of losing something as more significant than the joy of gaining something else (1).

Loss aversion makes us afraid to uncommit because we fear losing an opportunity, a relationship, or prestige. Left unchecked, this fear of loss can blind us to what we can gain by exploring new and better opportunities.

But despite its difficulty, we can overcome the endowment effect and loss aversion.

A 1-Minute Strategy to Help You Uncommit

I’ve used this simple strategy, suggested by the BBC’s Tom Stafford, to evaluate how much I really value something.

  1. Pretend you don’t own it.
    • Instead of asking how much you value something, ask, “How much would I pay to obtain this?”
    • When it comes to non material things, ask, “How hard would I work to get involved if I wasn’t already involved?” (2).

*published by permission of Greg McKeown


(1) https://www.uzh.ch/cmsssl/suz/dam/jcr:00000000-64a0-5b1c-0000-00003b7ec704/10.05-kahneman-tversky-79.pdf
(2) https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20120717-why-we-love-to-hoard

Get a head start on an organized New Year!

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Want to get a head start on an organized New Year?  Check out these expert tips from several of my professional organizer colleagues around the country. There’s even one from me on how to decide where to start when embarking on a whole-home organizing project. This article is being published, by permission, from the creators of Porch.com.   

Get Organized for 2022

Get a head start on an organized New Year!

Does the beginning of every new year bring the intention of cleaning out your closets? You might be feeling a little overwhelmed by the thought of dealing with the influx of material goods that comes with the holidays.

The pandemic taught us a great deal: being together and having experiences are more important than any material possession we could possess. Yet, despite this, many people took advantage of the “void” that social distancing had created by shopping online for more items.

Now is the perfect time to take stock of your possessions and purge what you don’t need. However, you shouldn’t allow your possessions to prevent you from having the home and life you desire.

Are you interested in starting the new year with a little less clutter? Check out these useful tips from expert home organizers.

 

Get the benefits of starting a new year organized and clutter-free

Starting the New Year with a clutter-free, clear, and organized space increases the possibilities of a happier and healthier year.

Your physical space has a significant impact on your mental and emotional well-being.  When your home is clutter-free, you feel more relaxed, happy and life is easier.  An organized home promotes healthier living, including eating and sleeping better.  In addition, you’ll have more time to spend with friends and family and to enjoy hobbies or those projects you’ve been meaning to get to!

Here are some tips from ASPO Certified Home Organizers.

Starting the new year clutter-free can be genuinely life-changing. If your new years’ resolution includes adopting a positive outlook or slowing down your pace of life, decluttering is the place to start. By clearing out your physical surroundings, you clear out your mental space and make room to breathe in new ideas or simply enjoy where you are at. You are gifting yourself a resting place which is what a home should be.

Annie Allen, Professional Organizer in Soquel, CA

 

Having a clutter-free and organized home will help improve your life because you know where everything is. Your productivity increases by giving you the needed room and space to do more, and it can definitely save you money. Knowing what you have, cuts down on duplicates or overbuying.

Andre Richardson, Professional Organizer in Hampton, VA.

 

Clutter can cause stress, anxiety, and sometimes depression. Starting the new year clutter-free will help you stay motivated and help you achieve the long and short-term goals you set for the New Year and have peace of mind.

Rekita Brown, Professional Organizer in Jacksonville, FL

 

Starting the New Year clutter-free will allow you to focus on more important things.

– ASPO Certified Home Organizers

 

Why it’s important to start the new year clutter-free and organized

Starting the year clutter-free allows you to live your best life throughout the year. During the last year, you may have purchased too much stuff, paper may have become overwhelming, and you may have lost track of our planner. Many feelings come into play with too much clutter, and you may have experienced sadness, hopelessness, or being weighed down. Decluttering is the best path to empower you and help you accomplish your daily tasks and yearlong goals. To move forward, it’s best to release what is not loved, used, or needed. If you are bogged down with paper, learn what you need to keep and shred the rest. Upgrade your planner and make the choice to enter all dates and details as soon as you know these. Most importantly, know that you can make this change right now, and the impact will be remarkable.

-Ellen Delap, Certified Professional Organizer, and owner of Professional-Organizer.com

 

5 Tips for a clutter-free Christmas (next year).

  • Give experiences, not stuff. If you give experiences (like a spa visit, a lunch out, a trip to a public garden) to your loved ones, you’ll eventually start receiving them in return. That cuts down on clutter in your home and theirs. It can be challenging to part with gifts, even if you don’t love the item, so adjusting your gift-giving practices is a great first step.
  • Donate the holiday decorations that don’t put a smile on your face. As you’re decorating your home and tree for Christmas, set aside those items you’re not using or loving. It’s the perfect time to donate them and reduce clutter. When you take down your decorations, it’ll be easier to store them, and you’ll know your collection includes only those things that make you happy.
  • Reuse last year’s leftover Christmas cards.If you habit of hanging onto the holiday cards you didn’t use because you bought more cards than you sent out, I encourage you to reuse those rather than buying new ones. It would be the rare person who remembered they’d seen that card before. By doing this, you’re not only cutting down on clutter; you’re staving off future clutter.
  • Discard the Christmas cards you’re sent.When you take down your Christmas decorations, I give you permission to go ahead and let go of the cards you were sent. I can almost guarantee you that the people who sent you the cards won’t be offended. However, if you hang on to all the cards you receive every year, you can create a real clutter problem. (Believe me, I’ve seen it.)
  • Pare down your gift list.If there are people on your gift list who have been there forever, perhaps you could reach out to them and suggest not exchanging gifts. Or making a charitable donation rather than giving stuff. The fewer items you bring into the house at holiday time, the less clutter you’ll have.

-Janine Adams, CPO® owner of Peace of Mind Organizing

 

Resolutions for a clutter-free 2022

How does one begin? Here are some steps to help jump-start the process.

Step #1: Start Small

One of the biggest mistakes is taking on the entire task at once. After an initial burst of energy, many people poop out and never finish the project.  Instead, do it in steps. Organize one room at a time, one section at a time. Spread it out over manageable steps, but keep to a set schedule –mark the time off in your calendar.

Step #2: Keep it Simple

The best organizing systems are simple to maintain. Don’t try to design a filing system that takes more than a few minutes a day to uphold. When organizing your closet, don’t get caught up in organizing by color, size, and season, or you’ll spend a lot of time trying to keep a system that takes too much effort and will not last.

Step #3: Be Disciplined about Maintaining Your System

Set aside at least ten minutes each day to ensure your home or office remains clutter-free. It’s much easier to do ten minutes a day than try to set aside an entire hour at the end of each week. Once you get into the habit (after two weeks or so), it will come naturally and effortlessly.

Step #4: Keep the Ultimate Goal in Mind

Getting and staying organized requires some commitment, but the payoff is enormous. Your stress level will be reduced, you’ll feel better and more comfortable in your home, you’ll feel eager to have guests over more frequently, and you may even save money. I’ve had many clients repeatedly buy the same item over and over simply because they had given up on trying to find it amidst the clutter!

-Betsy Fein, President at Clutterbusters

 

Five easy hacks that’ll keep your home clutter-free in the new year

  • Get rid of items that are broken or no longer used.This is important at the beginning of the year, especially if new computers or other electronics were holiday gifts. Immediately recycle or donate old laptops and electronics that don’t work or are outdated.

 

  • Make decisions. If you don’t, the piles will collect around you. When my clients don’t know what to do with the papers in their home offices, they stash them on shelves, drawers or let the piles multiply. Instead, ask yourself, “do I need this” and “can I get another copy.” These questions will help you make decisions regarding what to keep. Those documents can then be filed in an appropriate location to be quickly retrieved.

 

  • Don’t forget about the digital clutter. You’ll also want to keep your computer clutter-free so you can quickly find documents. If you’re looking at a sea of documents, folders, and shortcuts on your desktop, systematically declutter and organize the documents and delete shortcuts that aren’t needed. Schedule time quarterly to maintain it.

 

  • Process the mail. Depending on the amount of mail you receive, this may be a daily or weekly task. In either case, designate one spot near your front door to collect the mail. Weed out the catalogs and junk mail before dropping the mail in its assigned basket or tray. This way, only items that require your attention will collect.

 

  • Unpack those cartons. With the popularity of online shopping comes the daily delivery of boxes. Get into the habit of unpacking the contents of each box, putting them away in their designated home, and discarding the cartons. Making this part of your daily routine will minimize the clutter.

-Stephanie Shalofsky, Certified Virtual Professional Organizer from The Organizing Zone

 

Stop buying these for a clutter-free New Year!

You don’t need to buy things to get organized! Getting organized is about making room for items you love, not buying more things to store things that you aren’t even enjoying.

For the love of God, don’t buy any more plastic bins! Most households already have too many plastic containers in various sizes and colors, see-through and not, with lids and without. The world does not need one more plastic bin. Putting things in bins does not make you an organized person. They are seductively cheap and easy to carry home, but too many bins just make your home look like a warehouse store.

Don’t buy new things when you are already throwing away similar items. For instance, we buy plastic for dog and cat poop bags. Instead, watch how many plastic bags are already passing through your hands, including grocery store bags, cereal box liners, produce packaging, bread bags, toy packaging, and so many others.

But what will you store things in if you don’t buy plastic bins? If your goal is to live in a clutter-free home, avoid buying more things than your home can hold AND stop buying more things than you can use in a month. That includes buying just enough food, clothes, toys, office supplies, holiday decorations, and other consumable goods. Put your food in your cabinets, your clothes in your dressers and closets, your toys on a shelf. When you’ve got more than you can manage, reduce your load until everything fits. The SORT and Succeed system can help you get and stay organized with five simple steps to save time, space, and money.

-Darla DeMorrow is a Certified Professional Organizer® and owner of HeartWork Organizing

 

Tips to get your kids to declutter their toys for the Holidays

Are your kids’ new and existing toys taking over your home? When the stress from toy clutter takes away from the fun, it’s time to teach your children how to pare down their collection and tidy mindfully.

With your help, here are five steps to help your children get their toys in order:

1. Do an inventory check. Ask them to bring out ALL of their toys. Seeing how much they have will help them recognize they already have more than enough. Next, sort toys by type (soft toys, plastic toys, games, puzzles, etc.) before making any decisions.

2. Edit each group of toys by ranking which ones they love to play with most. Compare similar toys to reduce. Remove broken or less played with toys. Be sure to ask questions that allow your children to express what they love about the ones they’re keeping and why they are letting go of others.

3. Teaching them to be grateful for their previously enjoyed toys, then involve your children in responsibly donating, giving away, or discarding/recycling properly will give them a sense of closure.

4. With the remaining toys they’re keeping, decide the best locations to store them properly for easy access and put them back. Practice being respectful of the amount of space they have. If there’s not enough room, they may need to rearrange or edit some more.

5. Repeating this process every few months will educate you and your children on which toys they genuinely enjoy. Regular editing and mindful purchases will prevent future clutter from accumulating.

-Ann Dooley, Professional Organizer and founder of Simple Joy with Ann

 

How to have a clutter-free gift giving experience

I listen to the holiday gift-buying commercials. Television and radio ads encourage us to buy things that people will LOVE, and then the ads change, reminding consumers that since they didn’t get the gift they really wanted, they can exchange it for something they’ll love! No one, it seems, wins at this game of gift-giving/receiving.

In my world, as a Professional Organizer, I walk into many crowded spaces filled with things my client no longer uses or needs or desires. Many of them tell me that some of the clutter comes from those gifts they’ve never needed, but guilt kept the gift trapped in their home!

There’s a solution to this marketing/consumerist problem, and now’s the time to think about gifting that doesn’t cause clutter!

So with a grateful heart, I offer a few tips for gifts for the holidays: gifts that don’t create clutter:

  • Take people you love to dinner or cook for them. Cook something you know the person likes to eat or take them out to one of their favorite restaurants or dessert spots. Some of the best memories are shared with loved ones at the table.

 

  • Help a friend de-clutter their closet. Start by emptying the space you want to organize and create three piles: toss, donate, and keep.

 

  • Or – for a friend with a lot of clutter, consider a Professional Organizer gift certificate. Visit Napo.net to find someone in your area.

 

  • “Experience Gifts” create lasting memories and are often more enjoyable and fulfilling than any material object. Whether it’s a tour of the city, a hot air balloon ride, or a trip to the spa, your loved one will be happy to be spending time with you enjoying the experience.

 

  • Charitable Gifts are perfect gifts for someone who has everything or immensely supports a charitable cause. Consider making a donation in the person’s name; be sure it is a cause that is important to the person, not just to you. Find ways to donate to environmental, children’s, health research, and many other organizations online. Research the fund on Charity Navigator, so you know you’re making a wise choice.

-Regina F. Lark, Ph.D. from A Clear Path

 

When should I start decluttering?

We have more clutter than we know what to do with. Too many things distract us, create stress, and rob us of our time and self-purpose. It’s never a bad time to start decluttering, so start now! You’ll feel more confident to entertain family and friends in a clutter-free home. You’ll also become happier and more productive in all you do by creating lasting change and balance in your life.

At Sacred Space Organizing, we always recommend starting with clothes. This is because most of us have more clothes than we could possibly wear. It’s easy to let things go when you focus on what you want to keep rather than getting rid of. It’s a paradigm shift that can be extended to all other areas of your life.

Once you start discarding items you no longer use, you’ll be content with who you are and what you have. Surround yourself with things and people you love, and you’ll find your worldly desires decrease. Not only that, but by discarding items that no longer serve us, we can pass them on to those who truly need them, especially at this time of year.

Getting organized can be an overwhelming process. Don’t feel bad if you need extra support along the way. We would love to help you with the process and have worked with clients from all over the nation through our Virtual Organizing sessions. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a local organizer if you need a hands-on approach. You can do this!

-Erin Neumann Professional Organizer and owner of Sacred Space Organizing

 

Your end-of-year declutter checklist

As a Professional Organizer for 4 years, I have helped people in many different situations. Most of them use one word consistently: “overwhelmed” If you can relate, I hope you’ll read on to see my decluttering tips:

  1. Declutter Your Schedule- Why is my home so organized? It’s simple because I enjoy organizing, which means I do it often. I have a habit of looking at my spaces to see how I can improve them. If you make a habit of organizing and decluttering, you will be amazed at the results. We have two options: Organize now, or organize later… and later is ALWAYS more challenging. Declutter your schedule so you can find time to get your spaces in order (and keep them in order).
  2. Declutter Distractions- If you want more time to declutter and organize, you’ll want to minimize distractions. One reward of organizing is saving time. Clients often say, “I’ve been looking for that,” or “I just bought another one of those” because they couldn’t find it or didn’t even know they already owned it. Time spent looking for lost items is not only frustrating but fruitless. Organizing is an investment of time now to save even more time later.
  3. Declutter in Bits- One of the reasons my clients feel overwhelmed is because the project is “too much.” They want to organize their whole garage, but instead of focusing on ONE shelf or ONE drawer… they focus on the daunting task of the entire space. Give yourself the chance to feel some satisfaction by completing one little area at a time. If you’re familiar with Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball, it’s the same concept. Knock out the smallest project first, and celebrate your accomplishment. From there, you can continue to knock out more small projects, and over time it will add up to MAJOR results.

-Charissa, Professional Organizer owner of Grace To Organize

 

Ideas for storing your Christmas decor after the Holidays to avoid clutter

Did you overlook some decorations when you were decorating your tree this year? Were there falling apart homemade decorations from last decade that stayed in the storage container? If you own decorations you don’t love anymore and haven’t used in the last two years; it’s time to think about letting them go. Instead, make space for the decorations you love to display by decluttering those you don’t enjoy using anymore.

My hot tip for storing tinsel and string decorations is keeping them in a snap-lock bag, so they don’t get tangled. Next, consider keeping your baubles in shoe boxes so you can stack them with a large storage container without breaking anything. Finally, keep all your Christmas decorations in sealed containers that can live at the top of a wardrobe or in the garage, so it’s easy to find them next year.

-Amy Revell Professional Organiser and Declutter Coach from The Art of Decluttering

 

Tips to get kids involved in end-of-year decluttering

We can start with what the answer isn’t:

  • Threats.
  • Screaming.
  • Throwing things away without their knowledge.

Kids pay more attention if they easily understand and are entertained – as do we adults! Explain to them the point of this. Lighten the mood, so they remain engaged. Tips for doing that:

  • Get everyone on board. Hold a family meeting to discuss why you are decluttering rather than singling out the kids. Is it to move more freely, keep things healthy, find things faster, share your abundance? Have everyone say what they think is a benefit of this and what they’ll do (ex: let go of broken items, clothes not liked it or don’t fit, stuff not often used) and when (ex: by 4 pm today…then we’ll go together to donate them!).
  • Appeal to their heart. Point out how infrequently they wear or play with something and how they have so many other things they do love and use. Talk about how those things that they’d be giving away could warm, entertain, or help another child.
  • Make it fun. Put on the music they like. (Not the TV –you’ll lose them!) Allow them to “toss” non-breakables to a “bye-bye!” pile across the room. Take a funny photo of them in a shirt that they have far outgrown. Midway through, serve snacks they like. Keep it light and bright, and pressure-free.
  • Relate. While they work on their things, work on your own, show them the things you are parting with and explain why.
  • Be realistic. They will not do it at the same speed or with the same decision-making ability that you would do it. If you see them getting distracted or bored, help them out with a little encouragement and a reminder of the goals you all set.
  • Show gratitude. Thank them for their help. Ensure they know their efforts are appreciated and what they are doing matters.

-Nancy Meck, Professional Organizer from Meck Organizing

 

What room should I start with? 

“Help! My home is so cluttered. I want to get organized, but it’s so overwhelming. Where should I start?”

As a veteran professional organizer, move manager, and organizing coach, I’ve heard this from hundreds of people.

At LET’S MAKE ROOM, we specialize in “big pain” projects. Yet, what’s really painful differs depending upon your specific circumstance.

When a client tells me they don’t know where to start, I ask: “Which area of your home is causing you the most stress now?”

It could be your overstuffed guest room, which until now has been used as the “catchall storage area,” but, yikes, family is expected for the Holidays!

Maybe it’s your cluttered kitchen, every surface covered with sippy cups, half-eaten bulk foods, and a host of rarely used kitchen tools. Making a meal is challenging enough. Cleaning those counters is nearly impossible.

Are you running a business from home? You’re great at what you do, but how can you do it if your home office looks like it was hit by a tornado? If you can’t be productive and stay on top of your most important tasks and projects, this could be your priority.

Maybe you are selling your home, but your packed garage, the last bastion of delayed decisions, needs to be cleared out of all those empty boxes, old clothes, empty paint cans, hundreds of tools, random bits of hardware, and who knows what else?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your home’s clutter, my simple tip is this:

Start with the room or storage area, which, if organized, would make your day-to-day life easier and give you the most peace of mind.

Getting organized should never be your goal if you don’t have a reason to do it. Instead, think about what you would be able to do if ________ room were tidy and organized just the way you imagine. How would that make you feel?

Listen to yourself, and you’ll know where to start.

-Lis McKinley, Certified Professional Organizer® and owner of Let’s Make Room

 

Top 3 tips to keep an organized home year-round?

These are my 3 favorite decluttering tips because they are so simple and easy to do all year round.

1) Keep on top of those items that can clutter up the home with this simple idea. Keep a bag in a cupboard or the car boot for charity donations. Drop them in the bag when you spot things around your home that you no longer use or love. Drop it off at your local charity shop and start again when it’s full.

2) Make it super easy to identify the clothes you no longer wear. Turn hangers around in your wardrobe so that they face the wrong way. As you wear an item of clothing and return it to the closet, face the hanger the correct way round. It’ll soon become obvious which items you love to wear and those you never wear. Sell or donate those items you haven’t worn at the end of the season.

3) Use the one in, one out rule. When you make a new purchase or bring an item into your home, use this as a prompt to review and remove something that you no longer need or love. This works really well in the wardrobe as an old coat can make way for your new season’s purchase, worn jeans create space for a new pair. This is a great way to create space for new items and unwanted things cluttering up your home.

-Laura Williams, Founder & Professional Organiser at OrganisedWell

 

Options for disposing of items

When it comes to disposing of items no longer wanted or needed, I suggest donating first and foremost. A quick and community-minded way is to post items on a local Nextdoor, Buy Nothing, or FreeCycle page. Post photos and a short description, and neighbors can pick up the item at a designated time and location. It skips the middle man resale shop and instantly gets in the hands of someone who will use it. If those aren’t available locally, bagging and boxing up your unwanted wares and dropping them off at any local charity, resale shop, or thrift store is next best. It still ensures those items will be used and loved again and not end up in a landfill. For any specialty item, try a quick online search or ask locals on social media for resources for a donation. For example, if there’s a tabletop loom in your basement, find out if there’s a weaving school, art school, or university nearby that would be happy for the donation.

Finally, pull out anything recyclable after sifting through whatever is left in the discard pile. Filling the trash can will hopefully be the last resort. Not only does this mean newspapers and cans, but likely other items, too. Electronics, ink cartridges, light bulbs, and batteries may be recycled at the local hardware store. Glasses and prescriptions may be accepted at the pharmacy. Scrap and precious metal can be sold by weight. Depending on what you have and your time frame for clearing out, these can all be great options.

-Amy Trager, CPO®  from Amytrager.com

 

How do you declutter when you want to keep everything?

When we work with clients to do a thorough purge, they can more clearly realize the excess. When coaching through the process, we ask questions like, “when was the last time you used this?” to help them grapple with these sometimes difficult decisions. It also helps to pull things out of drawers and cabinets. So much can hide in spaces we don’t see. It’s important to be very sensitive to the needs of people who are holding on to things. There is a great deal of sentimental attachment, so a non-judgmental, empathic coach will help push through some of those hard places. We encourage our clients to take pictures of larger objects and write stories about what they mean so that future generations can appreciate them. Younger people don’t have the same sentimental attachments, but a written family story can carry on for generations, and it doesn’t take up storage space when it can be digital.

When space is limited, hanging on to things can become a real problem. Making use of every inch of storage space is critical. Using dividers, drawer organizers, adjustable shelving, proper containers, and labels can bring plenty of chaos to order.

-Monica Friel from Chaos to Order

 

How to start decluttering in 3 Steps

Step 1 – Strategize Your Space

Planning is the first step in organizing. Capture your thoughts, ideas, and solutions for each room in your home. Next, assess the causes of the disorder to achieve lasting change.

Some questions to ask:

  • What do you call this space?
  • What activities do you do in this space?
  • Do you have all the items you need to support those activities?
  •  What does the finished space look like to you?
  •  What is your vision of “organized?”

 

Step 2 – Prioritize Your Belongings

Empty the room you are decluttering and group like items together in bins or boxes.

  • Relocate or let go of anything that doesn’t pertain to the room’s activities, function, and purpose.
  • Reduce and let go of what doesn’t serve a purpose in your life anymore.
    • Tip – if an item makes you feel mad, bad, or sad, you don’t need it in your life.
  • Return the things you are keeping to the space and place the frequently used items for easy access.

 

Step 3 – Practice Living Clutter-free

To keep your home decluttered, practice these easy habits:

  1. Don’t wait to decide where something belongs; choose immediately and put it there.
  2. If you take it out, put it back.
  3. Don’t put it down; put it away.
  4. Open and sort your mail daily.
  5. One-in-one-out.
  6. Buy containers only when you know what will go in them.
  7. Set a limit on how many of something you will keep
  8. Set a limit on the amount of space you allocate to a collection.
  9. Organizing is not a one-time “clean sweep” event. Create and follow a maintenance plan for all the areas of your home. You can do all the grouping, reducing, and organizing you want, but you can easily backslide if you don’t learn the skills and build new habits.

-Anne Blumer, CPO, CVPO from SolutionsForYou, Inc.

 

How to reduce clutter in your bedroom

It is easy for bedrooms to become the collection spot for all sorts of items—piles form. When you declutter the bedroom, start with your clothing.  Hang up clothing in a closet or on a rack. Place other clothing in a dresser or on shelves. Have a place to put dirty laundry. Keep the clothing you like wearing, the ones you get compliments on when you wear it, and that suits your lifestyle.  Donate the rest. Next clear out the floor of your closet.  Keep only the items that should be in the bedroom. The other items need to find new homes. This will create space for shoes, luggage, or accessories. If you need to store sheets in the bedroom, try using the shelf in your closet.  Fold the 2 sheets and pillowcase and slide them inside the other pillowcase. You have a nice contained set of sheets that are easy to store. Recycle sheets with stains and holes. Donate sheets you don’t use that are the wrong size and mismatched. Cosmetics can also pile up on bedroom surfaces.

Use a container to store the cosmetics and make them look attractive. Check expiry dates, remove expired items and products you no longer use. Try to relocate some of the cosmetics to the bathroom. Jewelry is another area to consider. There are nice trays that can fit in drawers, boxes to sit on a dresser, and wall-mounted cabinets to store the jewelry you use frequently.  Go through your jewelry and make sure you still love it; it is not broken and clean. Donate or sell jewelry that you no longer wear, fads that have come and gone, and jewelry that doesn’t fit. The nightstands in a bedroom tend to collect clutter. Frequently clear off the surface and declutter the drawers. Decide what is important to have handy. Do you need a book, tissues, medication, charging station, or water bottle? In most cases, the bedroom is used for relaxing and sleeping. Find new places for all the items that don’t belong and create a tranquil space.

-Julie Stobbe from Mind Over Clutter

 

It is entirely possible to live in a home that is free of clutter. You’ll be well on your way if you follow these helpful tips.

Our home is nothing more than a mirror image of ourselves.

A brilliant window that peeks into the most intimate corners of our soul, protecting the most beautiful memories from our past, and creating space for every nook and cranny of our lives to be filled with laughter and love

Regardless of where you’re starting from, there’s nothing that can’t be accomplished to create a clutter-free home and life for yourself. With each piece of physical clutter you clear away this year, you’ll make room for more love, laughter, and energy to come into your life.

Advice From a Veteran Professional Organizer

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Celebrate the end of 2021 with inspiring tips to get and keep you organized in 2022!


As a veteran professional organizer, I’ve shared thousands of tips over the years on home organizing, downsizing and planning a less stressful move.

To celebrate the end of 2021, (phew) I looked back over my blog posts from this year to dig up individual pearls of wisdom I could share again to inspire you for 2022.  Do any of these resonate with you?

Treat organizing your home as a practice, not a one-time event

Home organizing, whether it be your guest room, junk drawer or home office, is as much a mind-set as it is a habit.  Practice organizing and over time you will develop an organizing habit.  That means, keeping an eye on high clutter areas like your clothes closet, office or garage. Continuously ask yourself  “do I want/need/love this item?”

Aim for progress not perfection

Don’t expect your home, office or storage area to look like an ad for “the most organized Mom in the world!” You do not have to spend hours refilling matching containers with cute “blackboard” labels if that’s not who you are. (I know it’s not who I am.) Better to do a small action then let yourself be paralyzed by the enormity of a perfectly organized space.

The less you have the less you have to organize and the easier it is to maintain

In a consumer culture,  shopping can be a competitive sport or even a form of therapy.  It’s difficult to keep a lid on the stuff coming into your home. One of the best things you can do is prevent those things from cluttering your space in the first place. Cancel those subscriptions, stop the junk mail, don’t buy in bulk if you live alone, don’t keep something just because it’s useful. Only keep it if you use it!

Consider your time, privacy and convenience 

It’s great to pass along things to friends, family, neighbors, even strangers. I love the “Buy Nothing” sites as an example where you can give away everyday items you no longer want to people in your neighborhood.  It’s also a great way to keep things out of the landfill.  But as my client’s often hear me say, “Don’t let the small stuff get in the way of the big stuff.” If you have a roomful of items you no longer want, consider the easiest option for letting go of most items all at once.   If you’re stuck, it’s always great to ask, “Is it worth my time?”

Sort it into categories that resemble the aisles of a department store

Clothes with clothes, shoes with shoes, office supplies with office supplies, games with games, tools with tools, etc.  Think about categories you would find in a department or hardware store. Don’t make any decisions about keeping or tossing until you’ve staged all the categories. By the way, you may need a folding table or two.  Seeing your items sorted, and by category, helps you make quick decisions about what to keep. Do you really need all 26 screwdrivers?

Just because something is usable doesn’t mean you have to keep it

There are no clutter police. Almost everything is usable but if you don’t use it, don’t keep it. Ask yourself did I use this in the last year and do I intend to use it in the next year? (e.g., Holiday decor falls into this category). If your answer is no, let it go.

Your home does not have to look like a cover from a lifestyle magazine or a social media post if that’s not who you are. It bears repeating!

If you are not sure whether or not to keep something, ask yourself, “If I saw it in a store, would I buy it?”

We keep things out of habit, delayed decision making, guilt and a host of other reasons. If you are trying to declutter or simplify your life, this is a great way to know if it stills has value for you.

Honor the memory, person or experience with something meaningful 

When you walk through a museum or someone’s home and admire painting or an object of art,  do you take it home and keep it? Hopefully not – unless you want to end up in jail. Sometimes you can simply enjoy the memory of a person, place or experience without having every item that reminds you of them. Pick one or two things that truly honors the person or best represents your experience.

Only the owner of the item gets to decide about whether it stays or goes

I have a rule when I work with couples. Only the “owner of the decision” has the say about keep vs. go.  The non-owner does not get a say unless explicitly asked.  I’ve avoided many arguments with this rule. The only exception should be if one member of the couple delegates the decision making to their spouse. In this case, the delegating spouse has to set the parameters very carefully. No coming back later and saying,  “I wanted that!”

When you’ve got to get it done quickly, efficiently and expertly, hire a professional organizer

Here are a few great reasons to hire a professional organizer or move manager

  • Your in-laws are coming to spend the holidays with you and your guest room is packed-full of stuff.
  • Your Realtor® wants to put your home on the market but not until you’ve downsized and decluttered 30+ years worth of your family’s belongings.
  • You can’t get your car into your garage anymore and winter is approaching.
  • Your home office looks like it was a hit by a tornado and you are losing money, afraid of upcoming tax season, and not getting things done even though you are great at what you do!
  • You were in a hurry to unpack everything in your new home when you moved in and now you can’t find anything.

I hope one of these tips has inspired you.  Feel free to share which of these you plan to try for 2022 and why? I would love to hear from you.

 

I’m a Professional Organizer. Why Am I Keeping These?

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About six months ago, we were getting ready to remodel our basement.  I had to move my collection of record albums to another storage area and as I did so, I thought, “why am I still keeping these?”

I didn’t bother to wait for the answer. Instead, I put them away for safekeeping and walked away.

About two months later, with the remodel complete, I moved the albums back into the storage cabinet and thought, “why am I still keeping these?” This time, it occurred to me that if I took pictures of all the album covers I could check to see if they were available for streaming online, something I would have suggested to my clients.

It took about 30 minutes to snap a picture of all 115 albums, a mix of mostly rock, folk, R&B and some classical.  Then I walked away.

A month ago, I went to put away our outdoor chair cushions for the winter. As I did, I saw the record albums in the cabinet meant for the cushions. We really need the whole space for the cushions, I thought, so I took the records, divided them between four, double-bagged grocery bags, and left them in the basement on the floor.

“When I get rid of these, it will be easy to carry them away.”  Then I walked away.

About a week ago, I went downstairs and spotted the four bags.

“This is ridiculous! I’m an experienced professional organizer. Why am I having so much trouble with this?”

So I started asking myself the kinds of questions  I ask my clients:

  • Do I love these? – I love the music and yes, some of the albums themselves.
  • Would you miss them if they disappeared? –  Not necessarily, as long as I could get the music again.
  • Would you buy the albums again if you saw them? – Definitely not.
  • So what do you want to do?

I immediately went to my phone and created a post to sell the albums on a popular website. Then I created a shareable link that included the photos of all the album covers I had taken two months ago. Within minutes interested buyers responded with offers.

Being able to share the photos right away really helped since buyers could scan the collection before making an offer.

Proud of myself for finally moving forward I told my husband, “Guess what? I posted my albums for sale.” He replied, “are you keeping any?”

Suddenly a swell of emotion came over me. How did I not think of this?

As an organizer, I always ask my clients who have collections they want to sell, which, if any, do they want to keep? Somehow in my eagerness to get the job done, I forgot to ask myself the same question.

Since no one had actually bought the collection yet, I thought, “I’ll set aside the ones worth it to me to frame and hang,” but as I did so I realized I didn’t want to hang any of them.  One by one I quickly went through the four bags of albums.  That’s when the memories started flooding back.

Dancing with my friends to Blondie’s Parallel Lines in college.  Singing to Joni Mitchell’s Blue in my bedroom as a teenager. Recalling the first time I felt the power of Janis Joplin’s gravelly voice on Pearl.  Pining for an old sweetheart while listening to Billie Holiday.  Remembering the very first record I ever played on my parent’s portable record player, Getz/Gilberto. I knew the words to The Girl from Ipanema when I was six.

I put all the albums back in the bags and took the best offer.

The buyer arrived that day  – a 30 something guy who worked as an environmental scientist but had a love of albums and a small hobby-business selling them.  I sat with him while he went through each of them to check their condition. As he did, I heard myself talking like the typical late middle-aged music fan I am, reminiscing about seeing Sly and the Family Stone at Madison Square Garden and how I really wasn’t a huge fan of  The Beatle’s Abbey Road but the cover was so iconic.

These albums were the soundtrack of my life. And that’s when it hit me. “I’m not just selling my albums. I’m giving up part of myself.”

It wasn’t just the albums I was saying goodbye to. It was me, Liz – the way I spelled it then –  the white, middle class, introspective, New York City kid who felt the sounds of Marvin Gaye and Aretha in her bloodstream.  The one who played Fleetwood Mac and Rickie Lee Jones, over and over again in her dorm room or rocked to the sounds of the The Pretenders, The Kinks and Cream in her first apartment.

She was me, the student who stopped one day on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, a freshman at Boston University, and paid the astronomical sum of $10 to a street vendor to buy the album It’s A Beautiful Day with it’s iconic cover of the young mountain girl, her hat and dress pushed by the wind.

“Prophetic,” I thought.  The band was from San Francisco, the place I would find myself moving to almost ten years later.

Back in my basement, I watched as each vinyl record passed through the buyers hands as he inspected them.  After we agreed on a price, he asked me, quite generously, if there was anything I wanted to keep?  Should I have said, “Yes! I want it all back. The years and the time?” I didn’t.

Instead, I picked up the last record he’d looked at, It’s A Beautiful Day. He hadn’t heard of it until I started hum-singing the band’s most famous track, “White Bird” the song about a bird trapped in a golden cage, on a winter’s day, in the rain. Then, of course, I had to tell him the story of how I bought it.

 

 

 

Did your organized space fall apart?

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Organizing is a habit not a goalLast year you spent a week, month or a lot of money, to organize your home, or one area of it, and now it’s back where you started.

During Covid, you coped last year by shopping. You got into a new hobby.  You inherited items from your family.  Either way, you got some new stuff.  It may even be better than the old stuff but the old stuff is still there.  The stuff you had and the new stuff didn’t get put away or it piled above other stuff you already have.

In addition, all those great storage systems for containing your stuff stopped working for you or your family.  You started to fall back into old habits. Now you’ve got more stuff than before.

My advice to you: Don’t be discouraged. It may be time to examine your thinking, perspectives and habits when it comes to obtaining and organizing. Remember, sometimes life gets in the way and your priorities change.

First and foremost, consider it a learning, not an opportunity to shame yourself!

How often do you say to yourself…?

I’ll get to it later

I’m keeping it just in case

I’ll just put it here, for now

My family isn’t cooperating!

I couldn’t find it so I bought another

I’ll go through it tomorrow

I may need it some day

It belonged to my parents. I just couldn’t toss it!

Everything in life is an experiment

Remember that great feeling you had when everything had a “home” and it was so neat and tidy?

It didn’t happen by accident and whether you did it yourself or had help from friends or professionals, chances are you learned something you’ve just forgotten.  When you forget, your old habits return.

It’s like other things we try to change in our lives. (Believe me. I know this firsthand!)

For example, imagine you need to get to a healthy weight. It’s going to take action and consistency. Not just once, not just for a week, but every day or at least more days than not.  You’ll also need a plan based on your strengths, needs and goals.

The same is true when you want to develop an organizing habit. 

Know your strengths

Are you visual? Consider “envisioning’ what an organized space looks like for you. Draw or design it or find a picture online or in a magazine that inspires you. Look around and start to notice what you like about your space, not just what bothers you.

Are you tactile? Go around the space, from right to left, and mark all the items you want to get rid of with some painters tape. Touch the items and decide if they still hold meaning for you or not.

Are you a great listener? Consider watching organizing videos online, listen to podcasts or attend a free organizing talk in your area. Organizers often speak for free at retirement communities, real estate groups, community centers or libraries as a way to promote their services.  Better yet, get some free advice

Are you physically agile or strong? You may be able to work alone and declutter yourself. Perhaps you can build yourself new storage systems or shelves. This type of strength is called kinesthetic.

Are you intuitive and pretty self-aware? This will help you to edit what you have. Ask yourself key questions that make it a whole lot easier to feel in control and less overwhelmed by your clutter.

  • Do I love this?
  • Does it bring in negative emotions or bad memories?
  • If I saw it in a store, would I buy it again?
  • Has it been more than a year since I used it?
  • If it should disappear would I miss it?
  • Do I know someone who would enjoy it more than I do?
  • Would it give me pleasure to give it away?
  • Am I truly honoring the person or their memory by keeping this?

Consider your needs

Sometimes we just don’t want to do something. We “don’t feel like it.” Other times it’s the thing that gets us out of bed in the morning. Your needs are the basics of what makes life possible for you. For some it may be survival needs for others, they may be linked to your highest values.  In general needs are the pre-requisites for functioning at your best.  Consider your needs and how they fit into these four questions:

  1. Is this something that’s important to me now?
  2. Will having this space more organized help me get up in the morning or improve my day to day life?
  3. Would learning a new organizing habit make me feel better about myself or change the way I perceive myself now?
  4. What would happen if I left things as is? What would be the consequence? 

Reflect on your WHY

Take a moment to identify what you want, how you’ll know you got there and why it’s important to you right now. This could be a short-term goal or a long-term goal. The short-term goal can tie into the long term goal but it should be satisfying in and of itself. For example, if you want to get your garage organized again, start with organizing one cabinet or the tool box.  If your guest room has been overrun with stuff and is now a storage area, start with just the things on the floor and leave the surfaces, closets and closet organizing to later.

Achieving small successes will have a big impact on your ability to meet your larger goal.  Along the way, you will also want to clarify why this is important to you so you can feel and be motivated to take actions that move you closer to your goal. Try asking yourself these four questions:

  1. If everything were organized just the way I imagine, what would that bring me?
  2. What would I be able to do that I can’t do now?
  3. How would it feel to know that I have reached my goal and am maintaining it?
  4. Besides me, who in my life would be most impacted if I did or did not develop this habit?

Change is certain when you know who you are

The process of change and developing any habit is not impossible. As a professional organizer, move manager and personal advocate for those who want to make change in their lives, I can tell you I wasn’t a “born organizer.” My home is tidy but not a magazine showpiece. I learned to be more organized as I discovered my strengths, needs and what was important to me (and what wasn’t).

It works for me and my husband. We each have our shared and separate responsibilities to keep up with it and I don’t take for granted that I can share those tasks with someone else.  If I lived alone, I know it would be harder but not impossible. I also know I would need to make choices about what I could accept and live with.

Even if you live alone, are a single parent, have learned to cope with a physical or cognitive challenge or are recently retired, know that you already have certain strengths that can help you to develop and maintain an organizing habit, enjoy your life and get more done.

How to practice failure and be happy

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Organizing, like meditation, is a practice. It starts out feeling strange and unfamiliar. Over time it becomes the opening to a new way of being.  
 
Over the years I’ve dipped into meditation but never with any consistency. I considered myself a meditation failure.
 
A few months ago I started again with the help of an app called Ten Percent. I pay for it but not much. The app was inspired by the book Ten Percent Happier. Its author is a journalist named Dan Harris. Harris experienced a very public panic attack while delivering the news on air one day.  For more on his story, which is worth reading, visit www.tenpercent.com
 
When I first heard him at a conference on happiness, (yes you can roll your eyes), I liked him right away. First, he is a reporter, not a “wellness guru.”   He is a self-proclaimed “non believer,”  critical thinker, funny, Jewish, cute – hey it doesn’t hurt – and about as far from woo-woo as I could imagine.
 
He describes himself as workaholic.  I once heard him say that since he started meditating his wife thought he’d become “less of an asshole.”  He sounded like the right teacher for me.
 
So one day I started. That was 89 meditation sessions ago.  (The app helps you keep track.)

The Good Side of Failure

Meditation is not hard but it’s not easy either. It helps if you have a guide and a structure; A thought or phrase to focus on like your breath. I also had to learn that meditation is not about “clearing your mind.” That’s impossible nor the goal. Instead, I learned that failing at meditation is the whole point of meditation.
You focus on something, for a second, lose track of your focus, notice you’ve lost track and get back on track.
 
It’s in the noticing of when you’ve lost track, that helps you to become more aware. What struck me is that it is the in the moment of “failure” where you gain the most awareness.
 
We live in a culture and a country that fights failure at all costs. Like vultures at a carcass, we go after people when they fail. Simone Biles withdrawing from the team events at the 2020 Olympics for her own mental health is one recent example. Worst of all, we are ruthless when it comes to our own failures. My inner critic almost made my therapist jump out of her chair recently.
 
Failure, fear of failure, shame, guilt. I see it so much in the coaching and organizing work I do.
 
Our clutter – both the mental chatter and the physical stuff – is the manifestation of our sense of self. It’s like being in a self-driving car that’s lost control. By the way, being in a self-driving car is my worst nightmare.
 
Meditation has shown me the good side of failure. That is, in the moment of losing track, comes the new way of seeing, the shift in perspective. In that moment, it feels like your inner bully is in full force, but that’s where the self-compassion comes in.

The Sting of Self Compassion

Is it easy to find self-compassion when our critical mind is attacking us like a swarm of bees? It’s almost as if the medicine is worse than the pain. But that in fact is the opening, the antidote to the sting if you will.
 
I have to admit I’m not great at this, yet. I’m still working on turning up the volume of my self-compassion and turning down the volume of my critic. At least I am more aware of it now. I have an opponent I can see a bit better.  With time I hope I will be able to hold us both, in the same space, not as my enemy, but with kindness and forgiveness.
 
For more information about Lis McKinley visit www.letsmakeroom.com

Organize your life for you, not for Instagram

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I still love it when I hear my clients tell me about how getting organized has impacted their lives.

“After you got me organized, I enrolled in a cooking class I’ve been wanting to take.”

“I started gardening again.”

“My family told me I was a lot less grumpy.”

“I felt like I could breathe again!”

 

My “brand” of organizing came out of my own, real life.

I first started organizing my home 12 years ago, quite by accident – I wasn’t a “born organizer.” When I found myself feeling restless and anxious after I left my corporate career at age 49, I started organizing my bathroom cabinet.

Almost immediately, I started noticing that the act of sorting my home’s contents and purging things I no longer wanted, then finding creative ways to store or display them was fun and did wonders for sparking my creativity not to mention taking my mind off of being unemployed with a mortgage.

The first time I helped a friend get her papers organized, I came home and told my husband it was the most satisfying thing I’d done in years!

If my clients say they want their kitchen’s dry goods stored in chalk-labeled, air tight containers, that’s fine, we’re happy to do it. For me, it’s not worth my time.  My dry goods get put in a bin in their original packaging. When I want pasta, I know where it is.

Your home does not have to look like a cover from a lifestyle magazine or an Instagram post if that’s not who you are.

Knowing how you behave in real-life is a great decision tool to help you when you are thinking about ways to be better organized. 

Here’s an example I see often.

People keep way too many business cards.  But in reality when they are looking for a business they rarely if ever go to that “business card file.” They get a referral from a friend, or another professional or they do a web search. In other words in “real life” they behave differently from how they organize their life.

When my clients tell me, they want to store all their recipes in sheet protectors, in three ring binders but they have three stacks of old, saved paper recipes a foot high on their kitchen counters from 10 years ago, I will ask them, “In real life, if you were looking for a recipe, would you go through this stack?” Sometimes they say yes, but most times they’ll admit they refer to their cookbooks or go online for recipe ideas.

When it comes to organizing, do what’s truly worth your time.

For anything you are wanting to organize, ask yourself, “is it truly worth my time?” or “if I were looking for this, where would I look for it in real life?”

It takes hours to create a 3-ring recipe binder for recipes. As an organizer, it’s not for me to tell my clients what to keep or what not to, but sometimes I know my clients get caught up in the magazine version of organizing instead of what really fits their own habits and lifestyle.

They want the complete collection, the perfect solution, or they want to be the version of themselves they think they should be instead of who they really are.

If it’s worth your time to sort through that stack of paper recipes, to curate your favorites and edit out the ones you would never make anymore – the ones using meat, for example if you’re now a vegetarian – then by all means do it if makes you happy!

What you don’t want to do is hold onto the recipes – or the unfinished craft projects or the broken chair you’ve intended to fix for ten years — and say, “someday I’m going to do this.” Because you won’t. If you wanted to, you would have. It’s not a priority for you anymore. And that’s good. It means that hopefully you’re spending your life on things that you do enjoy or are important and meaningful to you.

If you’re not, those are questions you can pose to yourself as well or with the help of an advisor, guide, life coach or therapist, if appropriate.

As we get older, our priorities shift and time seems to speed up and feel more precious. 

If six months or a year goes by and the recipes are still stacked on your kitchen counter, the art project never got started, the chair never got fixed, then maybe it’s time to say, “I’m choosing to do something else with my life now” and let it go.

Here’s another approach. Ask yourself, what is it about the unfinished project that still holds your attention.

Perhaps the recipes remind you of happy times with your family, parents, grandparents and you want to keep those memories alive. If that’s the case, then find the two or three or ten recipes that evoke the best memories and make them. Toss the rest.

If the unfinished art project was something you felt inspired to create when you first decided to, ask yourself, ” Do I still feel that inspiration now?”  What was it about the project that excited you when you first thought of creating it? You may find the answer will reveal a new inspiration that is more compelling for you now.

As for the broken chair, imagine it’s fixed. Would you use it? Would you gift it to someone? Did it belong to someone special in your life? Are you honoring them by keeping that memory stored broken in a basement?

The point is, don’t get hung up on the goal you set for yourself 3, 5, 10 years ago. If you really still want to do it, then it’s possible something else is holding you back.  You may be stuck on an outdated perspective about yourself or what it means to be a better version of yourself. You may be holding on to an Instagram version of you instead of the real you.

Is the you, you are now, enough?