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:
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.
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.
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.
I rarely scan anything. The only exception when I need to scan or upload a document to share.
If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t exist. I have no short term memory.
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.
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.
I don’t watch TV shows about organizing or hoarding.
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.
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.
I never liked the term “professional organizer.” Unfortunately they haven’t come up with anything better.
My team organizes better than I do but I know what works and I am great at managing projects, people and getting things done.
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.
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.
Recently I learned about something called the Intention-Action Gap. The intention-action gap is a term used by people, mainly behavioral experts, who study the reasons why we do or don’t do things that are good for us.
In simple terms, the intention-action gap refers to the difference between what people say they would like / plan to do and what they actually do. For example, people say they want to get organized, or lose weight, or get more exercise or eat healthier but they don’t.
Behavioral experts explain this “gap” between our intentions and our actions in several ways but recently I came across an article written by Ozoda Muminova, a London-based researcher, business and organizational consultant who helped me understand this disconnect between what we want and what we actually do in a delightful and amusing way.
Basically she said that as humans there are certain barriers to changing our behaviors. Things like, habit, unknown impact, feeling isolated and overcoming difficulty. Her answer, in short: make it fun, make it social, make it personal and make it immediately rewarding.
Ozoda created this simple model to explain how to meet every barrier to change, with an enabler of change:
5 steps for turning good intentions into good behaviours. Used by permission of The Good Insight/Ozoda Muminova
I got to thinking about this in the context of why so many of us, myself included, really want to achieve a certain goal like losing weight, exercising more and even getting organized, but can’t follow through. You may start but within a moment you find yourself procrastinating or putting it off again.
Inspired by these ideas of challenging each barrier with a positive enabler, consider this simple 5 step approach to changing old habits that get in the way of your happiness.
For every barrier you have to your goal, whether it be losing weight, exercising more, getting more organized or something else, do what you can to make it fun, make it relevant to you personally, make it possible to see change immediately so you’ll keep going, make it social, that is, look for evidence that others are doing it too and make it rewarding!
Let’s say you want to organize your closet. Here’s an example of how you could apply this simple plan to get it done!
1. Make it fun
Play your favorite upbeat music or ask your best (most fun) friend to help you. Put on your most colorful and silly clothes to get you inspired or set up sturdy bins and practice your awesome basketball dunk or free throw for those items you are sending to donation. The point is, if you make it fun and easy you are more likely to get it done.
2. Make it personally relevant
Be clear about why you are getting organized, in other words ask yourself, what’s in it for me? Will you enjoy being able to see your newly organized closet? Will it make it easier for you to find what you need when you need it? Will it make you feel good about yourself and what you’ve accomplished? If you can equate the task to something meaningful to you – my discarded stuff could help others, getting dressed in the morning will be easy and fun, I will feel good about showing off my home to my friends – you are more likely to get it done.
3. Look for immediate change
Next consider a plan for how to see change immediately. I recommend breaking the task into smaller pieces . Instead of attacking the entire closet, start with just the top shelf or one side before tackling the rest. Psychologically, we are motivated to continue once we see small changes. If you are tackling a larger space, clear off a surface – the floor or a table – as you are more likely to continue when you see clear space versus something you can’t see such as a drawer. Remember you can only climb a flight of stairs, one or maybe two, steps at a time. The point is you’ll still get there.
4. Make it social
If you are unable to enlist the help of your family or friends (or if you don’t want to), consider that you are not alone in your desire to get organized. The popularity of people like Marie Kondo and The Container Store are evidence of the trend in organizing. Why not set up a challenge with an online friend or find a virtual room for other like-minded people to share your progress with on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or FlyLady.net. You could also arrange to have an “accountability” partner. This is someone you know who you can report your progress to with no judgement. I often do this for my clients.
5. Make it rewarding
Finishing an organizing project is its own reward. I know the satisfaction I feel when I complete a large organizing project for a client and sometimes I want to celebrate my accomplishment with my crew. We may go out for dinner or to a local tap room for a beer or I may just go home and take a luxurious hot, bubble bath.
The intention-action gap explains why we can’t overcome our resistance to change or existing habits. Understanding the 5 barriers to change and replacing them with these 5 “enablers” of change can turn bad habits into new behaviors that lead to a happier and more satisfied life.
I believe getting organized is about making room in your life for what you enjoy the most. So now that you’re done, go do something just for you or do it with others so you can celebrate your success together!
If everything in your home was organized – easy to find, orderly, containing only what you love and use the most – what would you do that you can’t do now?
In what ways would you feel different then you do now?
What impact would it have on you and those around you?
Your answers to these questions are the most important part of getting organized. Why? Because getting organized is not a goal, it’s a process, a method, a system for achieving something important to you. It’s not enough to say, “I want to be more organized,” if you don’t know why.
Whenever I meet with clients for the first time I ask them these three questions. This is because getting organized is hard work! If you don’t have a compelling reason to tackle the physical, mental and emotional tasks often associated with organizing your home’s contents, you will lose focus, motivation and you’ll end up back where you started or worse.
Stop thinking and start doing
Here’s an easy way to get started and break the cycle of procrastination:
Decide about an area of your home you wish were more organized. Is it your office? Your garage? Your kitchen? Your bedroom?
Write down the one room that most interferes with your day to day life now and why!
Are you feeling an overwhelming sense of stress because your office is a mess? Does your garage make you cringe every time you pass through it? Are you finding it more and more difficult to prepare a meal in your own kitchen? Decide which area is bugging you the most and write it down.
The most disorganized room in my home that is making my day-to-day life more stressful is ________________.
Close your eyes and imagine that room completely organized. You know exactly where everything is and it’s easy to find. It contains only what you love and use the most. It is clean, tidy and orderly. What’s more, you have systems in place for keeping it that way.
Fill in the blanks to these three questions:
If my ____________ was organized I would be able to ____________.
This would make me feel _________________.
As a result, I could _______________ for myself and the people I care about.
How it might look to you
You thought about your home and the area you wish were more organized is your kitchen.
Maybe your kitchen has too much clutter on every surface. The floors, table, counters. You’ve lost control of it and now cooking a meal for yourself or your family is challenging if not impossible.
You’re spending too much on take-out meals as a result and you’re worried about your health and your family’s health, not to mention your finances.
You can never find what you need when you need it so you end up buying more of what you may already have.
You are feeling an unacceptable level of stress and you may even be fighting with your family or others you live with as a result.
You work full time or are taking care of others and are exhausted at the end of the day and the last thing you want to spend your time doing is cleaning.
Now imagine your kitchen has undergone a miraculous organizing makeover.
You know exactly what you have and everyone in your family knows where to find what they need and where to put it back when they are done.
Opening your cabinets, cupboards and pantry makes you happy because the things you use and love the most are organized and visible or labeled.
You can now cook and prepare food in your kitchen with pleasure. You enjoy relaxing in your kitchen with a hot cup of coffee or tea.
You can invite friends over or your family can sit around the kitchen table and have a meal together. This makes you feel happy, connected, free, light, and more available to yourself and others.
You spend less time in the kitchen so you are able to get to work on time, or spend more time enjoying what you love to do including spending more quality time with your friends or family.
Never make “get organized” or “be more organized” the goal in itself. It sounds nice but unless you have an overwhelming and compelling reason to do so, it probably won’t happen. Instead focus on what an organized space, room or house would give you that you don’t have now.
Recognize when you need help
Many home organizing projects can be as labor intensive as a home remodel. Unless you are a contractor, I doubt you would remodel your own kitchen! Know when it’s time to hire a professional:
When the project is too big to handle alone (hint: if you’ve procrastinated or attempted, only to turn away from it once again)
If you have physical, emotional or mental limitations that would prevent you from managing the job alone
If you just don’t have the time to do it alone but want to get it done.
If you are on tight deadline from an impending move, remodel or you need to put your house on the market
Know your WIIFM – What’s In It For Me – your overwhelming and compelling reason for getting organized. It is the most important part of your plan. Make this, and not “get more organized” your resolution for next year, and you will probably be successful.
You’ve lived in your home for 25 years or more. Perhaps you raised your kids there. Maybe it was your parents’ home before it was yours. It contains the memories of your life, your children’s lives, your families lives, the life you had with a spouse.
Every item in your home reflects something about you and the people you love most. Now the time has come, by choice or circumstance, to empty your home of all the memories so you can continue to live, more simply, perhaps more frugally, without the burdens home-ownership brings in later life. Now the real work begins.
As a professional organizer specializing in helping people just like you make this transition, I’m here to tell you it can be done. It seems overwhelming, impossible sometimes, but I have never, ever had a client not move on with their lives, as they planned. Is it easy? No. Is it stressful? Yes. There are few things harder in life than moving, except losing a loved one, and in some respects moving can feel just as painful, especially because it’s our memories we are leaving behind, not just our stuff.
This is why it is so, so important to know and constantly remind yourself why you are making this move in the first place.
Are you protecting your financial future?
Are you needing a simpler life?
Do you want to release yourself of the burden of taking care of a home that may be too big for you now?
When all is said and done, how will you know that you got there?
Take a moment and picture yourself done. You’ve moved.
You’re in your new home or your new community. What are you doing? Who are you with? How are you feeling? Are you enjoying the view outside your new home? Are you with family or friends you wanted to be closer to? Are you taking a walk in the neighborhood you knew would make you happy? Are you enjoying a new activity your move has made possible? Whatever the image is, picture it and keep that picture close to your heart.
Get as crystal clear as you can about this picture. You will need it to spur you on to keep moving when the chaos, albeit temporary, of moving is at its height and you find yourself wondering if you’ve done the right thing. I’m here to tell you, to reassure you. You have.
Memories are what make life rich and meaningful but so is living in the present moment. It is often the things or stuff of our lives that trigger those memories. We ask ourselves,”If I get rid of this or that will I lose the memory?” Yes, you may but not necessarily. Life is about creating new memories. If we had to remember everything that happened to us at every moment of our lives, a condition called hyperthymesia, you would be exhausted from the constant burden of non-stop, uncontrollable, stream of memories. Essentially you would be unable to live in the present.
When you are downsizing, it’s important to remember your future just as much as your past.
Every so often I have to declutter something in my home.
I don’t want to lose touch with what my clients experience and I like what it does for my peace of mind. It frees me of some amorphous burden I sometimes experience in other parts of my life. It’s like a form of exercise or meditation for stress relief.
Today’s lesson is brought to you by hair conditioner.
You see, I have very thick, wavy hair that gets tangled easily if I don’t use some kind of detangler or conditioner. Years ago, maybe once when I was a child, I was washing my hair and I’d run out of detangler. The next thing I knew, my mother was doing her best to detangle my matted mess and causing me much pain and anguish in the process.
I never thought about it until today but while I was decluttering my bathroom and utility cabinets I noticed I had a lot of hair conditioner. Even more striking however was how much I resisted letting it go, even though I wanted to declutter. I thought, “How many bottles of hair conditioner do I really need?”
In fact, I thought about all the rationale questions I ask my clients:
“If it disappeared could it easily be replaced? YES.”
“Do I love this particular bottle? NO.”
“Did I have enough already? ABSOLUTELY!”
So when it came down to really examining my own resistance to letting go of an abundance of hair conditioner, I had to trace it back to that moment of pain. I never wanted to be caught without it again. “Doing so,” my brain told me, “would surely lead to pain and suffering.”
In California recently, thousands of people have lost their homes to wildfires. I know from my experience as a professional organizer and from friends who have lost their homes in fires, that going through extreme trauma and loss can be devastating. The recovery process is long, complicated and fraught with real fears of attachment and letting go.
I once had a client who had survived the loss of two homes through fire. Her collection of emergency supplies could fill a small garage.
Fear, I’ve learned, doesn’t have to come from a big trauma. It can come from small events too.
Fear lives in your body and your psyche for a long time. Fear of loss, fear of change, fear of re-experiencing pain. Fear is such a strong and powerful emotion, it doesn’t matter how much time goes by or even what caused it in the first place; It continues to rule our behaviors and our habits.
So what can you do when you notice fear ruling you at a time when you need to feel strong?
Let’s say you need to downsize your home because you are moving to a smaller space. When it comes to doing the simplest decluttering, pay attention when you see yourself holding on to something for apparently no obvious reason. Notice what emotions come up.
Ask yourself,”what does this item remind me of?” Don’t minimize it, no matter how silly it may seem. If a memory gets triggered, allow yourself to review it.
What in that memory may be getting in the way of your home organizing goals?
Is it a fact that whatever you remember will or could happen again?
Is it probable? If it did, how would you cope?
Imagine letting go of the item and see what comes up and what you would do if it happened.
There is amazing information in our brains that can help with not just the act of organizing or decluttering but can also give us insight into ourselves to help us heal from our biggest traumas or even small ones. The pain is real.
The question is can you control how you react to it now? Doing so will empower you to take control of the fear.
Once you can objectively examine the real benefit of getting to where you want to go, you will realize the real price is holding onto an old fear when you no longer need to be afraid or even better, when you know you’ve survived.
The other day I decided to organize my one and only recipe binder. Most recipes I look up online. A few I take from cherished cookbooks and an old 3-ring, 1-inch recipe binder I’ve had for years. I found myself wanting to organize the binder recently after it took me a little too long find a recipe I needed.
When I started the process of organizing the binder- emptying the contents, sorting each recipe by category, disposing of the ones I knew I would never make again, then putting them back in order – I thought to myself, “I really don’t feel like doing this right now.”
Being organized is all about developing an organizing habit. It requires a thought, a motivation, an acton and a result.
Developing an organizing habit comes from a desire to continually survey your environment and be willing to improve your surroundings so you can function on a day to day basis with more ease.
It takes a willingness to regularly decide whether or not this thing or that still serves you or adds value to your life. Once decided, it then should be followed up with action – a choice to retain and store it logically and aesthetically, or to let it go to to find a new life somewhere else or to dispose of it safely and conscientiously. It’s not easy. Even sometimes for an organizer.
I had no strong motivation, nothing forcing me to undertake this little project. I also realized if I wanted to find a recipe in the binder, I still could, if I was willing to tolerate the inconvenience of looking for it (I was). There were other more pressing priorities in my life. I’d just returned from a trip to New York and was still adjusting to the time change and catching up on my to-do list.
Now back home, I realized, “I’m tired.” I thought it would be nice to get this done, but it wasn’t really necessary right now. I can live with it the way it is. Further, I just didn’t have the bandwidth to make decisions or take on any actions. This, I thought, is just how my clients feel.
It’s nice to be organized but let’s face it, it’s not always easy to get organized. When do you really have to get organized? It differs for everyone but in general here are some reasons you don’t have to get organized:
If what you want to organize is good enough and still usable (like my recipe binder)
If you (and your family or housemates) can still find what you need when you need it without too much effort
If you are okay with your home looking “lived in” and doesn’t have to look like it’s staged for sale
If you are not regularly losing things, paying bills late, incurring late fees, or paying for things you already own and can’t find
If you and your family are not fighting over the clutter in your home
If you are not feeling stressed every time you open your closet
If you are enjoying your life to the fullest
Here’s when you probably should think about getting organized:
When you are selling your home or moving
When you are planning a remodel
When you or a member of your family has to downsize for their own safety
When you feel the stress of your paper or physical clutter impacting your wellbeing or mood more days than not
When you and your family are arguing over the clutter in your home
When you realize you feel ashamed or embarrassed to have people into your home when you otherwise would
When you’ve used up your storage space or can’t use your storage the way it was intended (e.g., parking your car in the garage)
When you find yourself renting storage units for more than a year (this is a very costly way to defer organizing)
I frequently meet people who when they find out I’m a professional organizer will say, “oh, I need you!” but in fact they really don’t because they’ve learned to live with and tolerate their cluttered closets and messy garages. They put up with the fights with their kids or their spouses. Or they just don’t feel like doing it even when someone can do it for them because it’s one more thing on their to-do list.
Most people realize the time to get help is when the disorder exceeds their ability to tolerate the consequence. It’s when it costs them more in money or peace of mind to do nothing. Sadly, this is also when they are least equipped to take on the task. Like me in that moment with recipe binder, they are just too tired and there’s too much else they have to get done first.
Think you want to organize your office? What’s it costing you not to? What can’t you do now? How would it help you if you could find what you need when you needed it?
Want to organize your kitchen, living room or closets? What’s it costing you not to? Are you unable to prepare a meal? Are you fighting with your spouse because there’s no place to sit and play with your kids in your living room?
Are you feeling sick to your stomach every time you open a closet, cabinet or cupboard because the mess is unbearable?
Are you moving and waking up nights thinking about how the heck you’re going to get all the stuff from your 2,500 square-foot home into a 1,200 square-foot condo with no garage!?
I often say to my clients, don’t let the small stuff get in the way of the big stuff. What I mean by this is consider the cost of not taking action.
If it’s small, like my deciding not to organize my recipe binder right now, there is relatively little consequence. But if you defer taking action or decide you can do it all yourself, consider the cost to your health, your marriage, even your dreams and goals. For those large painful organizing projects that are impeding your life or causing you great stress, it’s not whether you can afford to do it, it’s whether you can afford not to.
I actually had to look up what gender parity meant before I wrote this.
Gender parity is not some catchy slogan. It is a statistical measure created by the United Nations International, Educational and Social Organization or UNESCO that compares a particular indicator among women, like average income, to the same indicator among men.
Specifically the GPI measures the extent to which all genders have equal access to opportunities such as education, employment and consideration for either, across the world.
So what does gender parity have to do with home organizing?
According to NAPO, the National Association of Productivity and Organizing specialists, women are three times more likely to assign themselves or be perceived as the one with primary responsibility for home organization.
Women, in general, are more likely to be stressed by the clutter in their homes and more anxious about maintaining organizing systems such as managing mail and paying bills even when the existence of those systems – or lack thereof – affects everyone in the home.
Women are more likely to take on the responsibility as well as the cost (in time and money) of disorganization even if they spend equal time earning income outside of the home.
If they have children, they are twice as likely, than their spouses, to blame themselves or worse, are blamed, for clutter and a lack of order in their homes.
The belief or misconception that women, by virtue of their gender, should automatically know how to be organized has always irked me. I don’t recall learning in my high school biology classes that women have an “organizing” gene. I know I didn’t! Everything I know as a Certified Professional Organizer I learned.
Assigning responsibility or even blame for a home’s organization to “Mom” “Wife” or “Daughter” in a home shared by multiple genders, is like saying the flood in the basement from the heavy rains that damaged the floor is Mom’s fault instead of the absence of a good drainage system.
Now that it’s the 21st century, I think it’s time for this 19th century mindset to change. In the spirit of #pressforprogress I am putting forth these 5 core gender parity statements. I hope you will consider sharing them under the hashtag, #clutterhasnogender
Clutter at home is gender neutral
Both genders can be organized or disorganized. Don’t assume women are more or less organized than men.
Knowing what to keep, sell, donate or toss can be learned by any gender
Organizing systems and habits can and should be learned, taught or adopted by multiple family members; Men, women and children!
The responsibility for cleaning, organizing and maintaining one’s home is NOT gender specific
It’s common to see adult children moving back in to their parents’ home after college to save money. But here’s a surprising fact:
14% of adults living in someone else’s household are actually the homeowner’s parents – and the trend seems to be on the rise, up from 7% in 1995, according to a Pew Research Study.
It’s one thing for a 22 year old that had roommates in college to move back in with their parents. It’s another thing to be 50, 60 or 70 years old and find yourself living with your adult children in their house, possibly with your grandchildren.
Aside from all the psychological and emotional aspects involved in sharing a home with relatives, there are also the practical and organizational considerations:
Will there be room for my belongings and what’s important to me?
Do I have a say in how things are organized in common areas such as the kitchen, family room or garage?
Will I have to let go of things I love?
Will I have storage areas I can call my own?
What rooms or storage areas will I need to share?
Will I feel safe?
Whether you are moving back in with your parents or your parents are moving in with you, planning for these questions ahead of time will make for a smoother transition and less stress when it comes time to blend the family. Here are a few strategies I recommend you do before you start packing.
Make it safe. Clear all exit routes such as floors, stairs and hallways of possible trip hazards.
Make it accessible. Provide sufficient space and clear access to bathrooms, kitchen and other common areas
Make it private. Dedicate a room large enough for a bed (or beds) with at least one closet or storage armoire for clothing and personal items and natural light from an outside window. If this room was previously used for storage of other household items, find other homes for them or consider donating them if you haven’t used these items yourself for years.
Make it welcoming. Create shared storage areas by making room inside your kitchen cabinets, pantry, utility closet, linen closet and garage. This may be the perfect time to do a little downsizing yourself!
Set clear boundaries. If you know you don’t have room for everything your relatives own (and you probably wont) explain that you only have limited space. Help them decide what they really love, want and use. Let them know they have options but they probably won’t be able to keep everything!
Make it possible. Offer to help with the actual physical move or downsizing if you can or consult with a professional organizer who specializes in residential move planning if you need ideas, hands-on help or guidance.
I’m going to tell you a short story about a lobster to illustrate what happens to us when we experience change and more importantly when we are called to take action when we want to change something about ourselves or our homes.
As a lobster ages and grows, it needs to shed it’s shell. It does this by finding the safest place it can in the rough surf of the ocean and far away from other predators. As it matures, its shell starts to constrict around it’s body. If it didn’t shed its shell, it would suffocate and die. This means that until its new shell hardens, the lobster will be completely vulnerable to the elements. It has an instinctual need to risk its life in order to grow and thrive.
For many of us “change,” even when it’s for the good, such as when we decide to get organized, makes us feel like that lobster. We know we need to move forward but sometimes the thought scares us as much as being thrown into a violent ocean current. Not changing can also mean suffocating in our own shells. It’s no wonder facing change and taking action can be so overwhelming.
Change, though not a linear process, is like the lifespan of the lobster. It involves a process of feeling uncomfortable enough to make a change that will bring us to know ourselves better. It involves several phases which I’ve narrowed down to six.
The Six Phases of Change
1) Passive discontent
2) Naming the problem
3) Getting help
Phase 1: “Passive Discontent”
This is the phase marked by general feelings of dissatisfaction with the status quo. It’s a kind of restlessness combined with a heightened level of awareness. It may come about after you’ve read a book, seen a TV show or heard someone talk about something that makes you uncomfortable, angry, sad, frustrated or overwhelmed. Those close to you may have even hinted to you that something was wrong. You’ve been feeling “not yourself” but you’re not ready to take action yet.
The sad part is some people stay at this phase forever. This happens when the pain of changing exceeds the pain of the status quo.
Such is the case for some people with severe and chronic disorganization or Chronic Hoarding Disorder This happens when people pose a risk to their own (or other’s) health and safety by retaining extreme levels of indoor and outdoor clutter.
Unfortunately, the anxiety they feel when they consider letting go of possessions, no matter what condition, can exceed the pain of living in spaces that are completely unusable. Thus they remain stuck in a kind of limbo until forced to make a change against their own will. Most people who feel disorganized are not “Hoarders.” Instead we all fall somewhere along a spectrum from minimalist to severe acquirer. Most people are somewhere in the middle.
Phase 2: “Naming the problem”
When you ask yourself the question, What needs changing or what needs organizing? You are at this phase. This is where the soul-searching begins. You start thinking about resources for answers but you’re still apprehensive about verbalizing your thoughts or asking for help. Early attempts to express your dissatisfaction may result in your retreating to your shell especially if you are feeling unsure of yourself or if you are concerned about the judgment of others.
Phase 3: “Getting Help”
At this point you may be ready to look for some information or answers to help you better understand your feelings. These are actions that would include talking to friends and family as well as gathering information through research, online searches or consulting with professionals. You may start reading or attending talks or asking for advice. You’re dipping your toes in the water but you’re not yet ready to dive in. You’ve started to realize you can’t make the change you want by yourself and you may even start to feel some hope as you move to the next phase of being ready to take some action.
Phase 4: “Readiness”
You are now committed to using the physical, emotional or financial resources you have to start making some changes. You’ve hired a professional, received some good advice, or resolved to take action yourself. You may be feeling both relieved and impatient as you realize you want to make change happen sooner rather than later.
Phase 5: “Doing”
During the “Doing” phase, you experience the ups and downs of progress. Slip-ups may occur and you may feel discouraged. Motivation is replaced by the need for habits and contingency plans. Your ability to achieve your desired change is dependent upon your ability to withstand the disappointments, backsliding and obstacles. This is where planning is so critical to the process of change. If you don’t have a plan of action, you may get to this part of your journey and want to give up. Having a plan is something you should have in place by this phase. This is where hiring a professional organizer is worthwhile because he or she will have the expertise to help you plan for all contingencies, anticipating problems and suggesting alternatives.
Phase 6: “Results ”
Circumstances change from inside and out. Making small changes can have a big impact on your life. As a result of the changes you make and the actions you take, major events may occur. You can experience these as both “good” and “bad”. You’ll gain greater clarity around goals and desires and your energy increases but you may also see the unexpected consequence of the actions you’ve taken. People around you may behave differently towards you. Some may try to sabotage you. If you need to, seek some outside advice from friends or professionals who have tread the same path or who can advise you about how to manage unsupportive people. When you get to where you want to be, you can reflect on how far you’ve come.