Archive for the ‘Decluttering’ Category

Why decluttering is good for your health

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You’ve been talking about getting organized and decluttering for weeks, months, years. You just can’t seem to get started. Get motivated. Get going. What’s holding you back?

Decluttering and organizing are not unlike other forms of self-care such as eating healthier, getting in shape or reducing your stress. Each of these take a plan, consistent action and focus. But what exactly do these things mean?

It can be as simple as setting a goal, breaking that goal into small parts and making sure you have what you need to obtain and meet your goal. 

The beginning of the year is a great time to resolve to get organized. Yet, if there is nothing to motivate you, the chances of succeeding are pretty slim. Even if you are motivated, like any self-improvement goal, your chances of success will depend on your having a simple, actionable plan and the ability to overcome distractions, both internal and external.  

Make a Plan

People sometimes hear the word plan and they give up before they start.  Planning is nothing more than visualizing yourself doing the task and considering what you would need to be successful.

In the case of organizing, think about what you will need to get the job done.

  • Imagine yourself doing the task.  Break it into small steps. What will you have to do to tidy or organize your desk, freezer, coat closet, tool area?  Don’t just jump in. You’ll be overwhelmed and probably give up. 

  • Consider what you’ll need to support you in the task. Just like it’s a good idea to have comfortable, supportive walking shoes when you go for a brisk walk outdoors, as you get organized, you will need things to support your process.  This could be things like bags for donations or trash, a dust rag for wiping off surfaces, a clear surface for sorting items, even music if you think that will keep you motivated and energized.  Get those things together before you start organizing. Once you gather your supplies once or twice, it will be second nature the next time you embark on a new organizing task.

  • Break the task down into logical steps. Exactly how are you going to organize your desk, freezer, coat closet or tool area? You may want to sort things first or throw things away. You will also have to decide which items you want to keep from those you don’t? If you get stuck on a decision, or get unexpectedly interrupted, make a plan for that too. 

Take Action

Gathering your supplies is a form of taking action.  Clearing a surface for sorting is also a form of taking action. Even getting your music set up is an action.  The secret to success is taking small, achievable consistent action every time you embark on an organizing project. 

  • Aim for action, not perfection. As the saying goes, perfection is the enemy of progress. This is especially true for physical organizing. Does the surface need to be perfectly clear? No. Do you need to have pretty bins, brand-new containers and chalk board labels? Absolutely not! Most of all, don’t compare yourself with others. Turn off the critic and know that good enough IS good enough.

  • Treat organizing as a practice.  A practice is a series of behaviors or actions that you do over and over.  This will help build what I call the decision-making muscles in your brain. Each time you make a decision about whether or not you want to keep something you own, where you would like it to live in your home and how you will contain it to make it easier to find again, your decision-making muscles will get stronger.

  • Take Action.  Getting organized is an action consisting of similar tasks.  The more you do the more you’ll develop an “organized” mindset. You’ll start to see yourself as an organized person. That mindset will further propel you to change your behavior. For example, you may think twice the next time you shop or consider bringing something new into your home. 

Stay Focused

For many this can be the most difficult part of embarking on an organizing project. You have great intentions but once the reality of going through items, making decision after decision and physically moving or transporting items, you will lose focus, get bored and maybe want to give up. Don’t!

Just like walking – taking one step and then another –  you are seemingly doing the same thing over and over. But what you are also doing is creating other types of change you might not notice right away in your body, your brain, your mood.  All these changes work on each other to improve your actual, as well as perceived, sense of wellbeing.  The same is true for organizing.

When you focus on the tasks of physical organizing and decluttering, there are some very real ways you are enhancing your body and mind’s wellbeing. 

  • Improves brain health.  Researchers believe the brain’s prefrontal cortex holds the neurons that allow us to sort and categorize.  It’s actually a very sophisticated process involving assigning categories that are also influenced by our experience.  The act of organizing improves our brain’s health by exercising those parts of our brain needed to accomplish the task of getting organized.
  • Gain self-awareness. Accept that some areas will be easier for you to declutter than others because of negative associations. If you notice you continually avoid or start and stop an organizing task, STOP and ask yourself if there is something about the objects themselves that have a negative connotation. Recognize and accept the association but don’t let it stop you. 
  • Enhances wellbeing.  The very act of sorting alone can be a kind of meditation. As you sort, you will notice your mind going in many directions.  As you focus, you will become more relaxed and the task of sorting and purging becomes easier. Not only that but the focused actions you take will release the neurochemicals in your brain, called endorphins, that make you feel good. 
  • Sustains motivation. I always ask my clients to imagine the space they want decluttered as already organized.  Then I ask them to tell me 1) How it makes them feel and 2) What they can now do differently in the space that they couldn’t do before. Being able to imagine the result is a common strategy used by athletes to keep them focused. Keeping your imagined result, top-of-mind, can be a great way to stay motivated and focused.

For those with cognitive impairments caused by traumatic brain injury, stroke or age-related dementia, you may have a more difficult time with organizing.  These conditions often impact your ability to process the information needed to organize your physical surroundings. With support and professional guidance these obstacles can be overcome or diminished.

Organizing physical items in your home – by sorting, editing and assigning where they live –  is a form of self care that improves your body, brain and mood. It may feel difficult, painful or even boring at first but with a plan, consistent action and focus, you will likely feel good, less stress and an improved attitude toward your life and wellbeing. 

Lis McKinley, M.A., is a certified professional organizer, move manager and owner of LET’S MAKE ROOM, LLC based in Oakland, Ca. 

 

 

 

Get Decluttered Now! Take Action on Your Home Organizing Goals

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Clear Clutter: restructure, harmony, energy, free, mindful, intention, purpose, habits, balance, feng shui, release, simplify, detach, space, downsize, organize, storage, let go, clarity, attachment, give away, reduce, useful, keep, emotional, memories, recycle, decide, unload, donate, future

Stuck at home. You’ve had your morning coffee, read the gloomy newspaper or scanned your social media apps. You have something pressing to do but avoid it and mindlessly start shuffling papers on your desk.

You wander around aimlessly, straightening pictures, moving a pile of books from one surface to another,  throwing out an obvious piece of trash. You know you’re barely making a dent but somehow it seems important in the moment.

You look around your home and feel the familiar pang of shame that comes from knowing your house is more than a “bit of a mess.” Books and knick-knacks piled two-deep on shelves. Your cabinets and drawers packed full with a lifetime of items that meant something to you once but now you can’t even remember where half of them came from.

Almost every surface covered with the residue of the week.

Don’t Go It Alone!

You look around at the 20 or 30 years of accumulated stuff. You wonder if you have the resources to hire a professional organizer who would somehow magically transform your home into a picture straight out of Real Simple Magazine. You know this is impossible now. Money is tight and you’ve just paid your property taxes or your son’s tuition or an unexpected medical bill from a procedure you had last year before something called Covid-19 stole your “normal” life.

Momentarily the thought disappears as your alarm reminds you it’s time for your weekly Zoom call.

During the meeting you happen to mention your desire to get decluttered and curiously ask if anyone else is feeling the same. All at once, hands shoot up in the air.  You let out a sigh of relief and recognition. You are not alone in this struggle and that’s when it hits you.  “Why not start a clutter support group?”

This is exactly what happened to C.J. Hayden, a business coach, trainer and author of six books including, the bestselling, Get Clients Now! A 28-Day Marketing Program for Professionals, Consultants, and Coaches.

The idea came to C.J. during a recent Zoom meeting she was conducting with her clients – mostly other self-employed people.  C.J. casually mentioned she’d like to be more organized and asked if anyone else was experiencing the same thing.

“Half the hands in the room shot up” C.J. told me recently by phone. She then posed the question to the group, “Maybe we should form a pod? That’s how it started. It was totally spontaneous.”

Support Group of Women

Within a few days C.J. had come up with a group structure — action oriented, not just a support group – a name, The Decluttering Divas and a schedule. They meet virtually once a week on Monday mornings and keep their computer’s microphones and cameras turned on so everyone else in the group can “get the visceral sounds of decluttering.”  C.J. gets the group going but it is strictly peer-support that keeps everyone on task.

Tame Your Inner Critic

Perhaps the biggest value of the group has been the way it helps silence everyone’s inner critic, including C.J’s.

“She tells me this is too big a job and I’ll never be able to complete it. But I keep telling her that as long as I break it down into manageable chunks, and have support, I really can.”

The group shares another bond – that of facing the many challenges of life as baby-boomers.  Several of the group’s members juggle their lives and their businesses, often with competing responsibilities for aging parents, adult children and the self-imposed pressure of changing attitudes towards the things they own. For some, decluttering runs into direct conflict with their parent’s depression-era views of save everything

In C.J.’s case, that meant, among other things, coming across a collection of old hair accessories and incredulously wondering why she had kept them. “The last time I had hair long enough to wear hair ornaments was probably in the mid-90s!”

Join A Worldwide Movement

It turns out Decluttering Divas is not alone. A search of other decluttering groups on the popular Meetup.com website found 71 groups consisting of nearly 18,000 members in 62 cities across 16 countries around the world.

While it’s unlikely the Covid-19 pandemic, with more and more people being sequestered at home, lead to the phenomena of worldwide clutter groups, as well as popular topics such as minimalism, online selling, tiny houses, and home editing, it’s probably one of it’s few silver linings.  Even C.J.s group has one participant from the United Kingdom.

The reasons people join a decluttering group are as varied as their stuff.  In “Decluttering Divas,” one member was dealing with the clutter left behind by her parents who lived with her for many years but who have since moved on to retirement communities or passed away.

Another is an artist who wanted more time for her art and hobbies and was getting too distracted by her clutter.

For C.J. herself it came down to being able to be more productive at work as a busy entrepreneur who travels extensively as well as to be able to relax at home.

Even her husband, without prompting, caught the decluttering bug.

“One day I came out of my meeting and found a bunch of cups and glasses on the counter. He decided it was time to clear out a kitchen cabinet.”  Together they got rid of most of them, offering them for free to neighbors through the popular site, Nextdoor.com

Applying what you already know to get organized

While not a professional organizer herself, C.J. had worked with a few in the past, and had read several books about organizing and several of her clients are professional organizers.  Along the way, she’s learned techniques and strategies for decluttering but it’s been her coaching and group facilitation experience that turned her casual question into a satisfying reality.

When the group first met, C.J. posed three “focusing questions” to ensure each member had a real action-oriented purpose for being there.

The focusing questions asked members to set and share a specific and attainable goal, explain why they had chosen that goal and set a deadline for completing the goal. Members who could not set a realistic deadline were asked to scale back their goals until they could.

To keep it “manageable,” there are a total of 8 people in the group though other peer-lead groups around the country, according to MeetUp.com show as many as 600 members.

During meetings, members of the group share their goals and even post before and after pics. Offline the group shares or exchanges resources such as where and how to get rid of things, especially useful during the current health restrictions when many charities are not accepting or limiting their donation services.

Members even share links to organizing products they see online such as containers and bins.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the group has been the fact each member understands what it’s like to feel overwhelmed by clutter and want to help each other.

“Having this group has meant I have support, camaraderie, and benevolent peer pressure from being surrounded by others on the same path.”

 

Lis McKinley is a Certified Professional Organizer®, Move Management Specialist and Owner of LET’S MAKE ROOM, LLC based in Oakland, California. She leads her own virtual “No Excuses Decluttering Group.”

For more information or to register go to NO EXCUSES DECLUTTER GROUP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overcome heirloom guilt and still keep the memories

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Heirloom china set

I have three rules I ask my clients to agree to when I start an organizing or downsizing project with them.

Rule #1: I only work with the owner of the decision when it comes to deciding what is kept vs. not kept (sold, donated, tossed).

Rule #2: The owner of the decision cannot be overruled unless they explicitly delegate their decision to someone else.

Rule #3: If you were given items from family or friends, whether you wanted them or not, you and only you are the owner of the decision.

Most of us know when a gift is given. Usually it’s done with the receiver in mind.

Sometimes things are given (or kept) because the giver and receiver don’t know what else to do; They don’t want it but they can’t just toss it.

When the giver does this it’s called re-gifting.
When the receiver keeps it, but doesn’t really want it, it’s called…stuck.

“I can’t just give away my grandma’s china to anyone! I would feel terrible. Maybe my daughter or granddaughter will take it off my hands.”

Problem solved. I don’t have to feel guilty…you can!

Love Grandma but not her stuff

But what good is a gift given – or kept – out of guilt? How does that honor grandma’s memory?

Things are just things until we impose an external value onto them.

Even an item that’s worth something does not make it valuable to the owner unless they feel connected to it in some way – emotionally, aesthetically, practically.

“I loved Grandma and remember her using this china. I would like to have it because it reminds me of her.”

But what if you loved Grandma but her china is simply not your style? It doesn’t fit the way you live because every piece has to be hand-washed or you don’t have room for it in your tiny home?

Keep in mind there is likely someone somewhere who will enjoy it for what it is, even without the sentimental attachment.

Three decision-making questions

As the owner of the decision, you get to decide.  Here’s an easy way to make a guilt-free decision.

Grab the box of china, take another good look at it and ask yourself these three questions:

Question #1. “Would I buy this for myself if I saw it in a store or thrift shop?”  If no, you probably don’t want it but still feel attached in some way. Go to question #2.

Question #2. “Are there any individual pieces I can use that I like?”

­The soup tureen repurposed as a vase. A single teacup and saucer to enjoy a morning cup of tea?

Keeping one or two pieces from the set will make it easier to give away the rest. Alternately, you could take a picture of it and preserve the memory that way.

Don’t worry about breaking up the set unless it is super valuable and chances are it isn’t. If you want to check the value, you can look up the pattern on Replacements Ltd.

Question #3. Is there some place or someone nearby who would take it?  If you are working with a professional organizer, they will be super helpful here.

Consider thrift shops, antique stores, school auctions, a church rummage sale or swap meet. There are also traditional charities like Goodwill, Salvation Army or Out of the Closet. You could also post it online – check out Craigslist, eBay, Freecycle.

Still not sure, do a Google search, “donate china set near me” (Keep in mind some places may still be closed due to the current Covid health emergency, so call first. )

While this generally takes longer you get the satisfaction of giving it directly to someone who wants it. Just don’t look for the “perfect” solution. Perfection is a convenient ploy for procrastinators.

Once you’ve decided, let it go as soon as you can. You’ll feel so much freer for having done so and trust me, Grandma won’t mind.

 

Lis McKinley
Owner
LET’S MAKE ROOM, LLC

 

 

 

Downsizing for retirement: how to let go when your heart says no

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Lis Golden McKinley, M.A.
Certified Professional Organizer
Owner, LET’S MAKE ROOM, LLC

Older_man_holding_Teddy_Bear

 

It’s time. You’ve set aside the day, taken off work, brought in the garbage bags and the packing boxes. No more excuses. It’s you versus the clutter. This time you intend to win because you’ve decided to put your house up for sale.

The late comedian George Carlin used to say,

“Your house is just a place for your stuff. If you didn’t have so much G-D stuff, you wouldn’t need a house!?”

But what happens when your stuff is too connected to memories? Carlin joked no one wants that stuff either but guess what they do!

When I say stuff, I don’t only mean furniture and household items. I mean the sentimental stuff you’ve buried in your closet or shoved into the back of an attic or basement. Stuff like your son’s grade school artwork, even though he’s in college now. Grandpa’s set of World War II history books. The two crocheted baby blankets grandma made for your kids.

Keep them for the grandkids!” You protest and back into the closet it goes. Except you have way too much in your closet already. So instead you pay hundreds of dollars a month to store stuff you can’t bear to part with at the local public storage.

That’s when it hits you. It’s not only your house you have to downsize, but your storage unit too.

Exasperated, you slump down in your arm chair and wonder, “how am I going to do this?” and pour yourself another glass of wine.

As Baby Boomers get older – and by the way, I’m one of them — they start thinking about their health and the desire to simplify their lives.

75% of people who want to downsize their lives say they can’t. The reason? They have too much stuff, according to research conducted by Kansas University.

The number one reason baby boomers can’t declutter is they are often sentimentally attached to what they own. There are just too many painful decisions that have to be made about what to keep or go. “No thanks,” they utter, “I’d rather have a root canal.”

The good news is you don’t have to throw the baby-doll out with the bathwater. Instead, you can actually feel good about letting go. Less regret, guilt or incurring the wrath of your family.

It is important to remember that not everything you are sentimental about has to go. Instead, the key is taking the time to curate your collection of sentimental items and giving away what you don’t want to the right people (or places).

Curating is about deciding what is going to be part of your permanent collection and what isn’t and where it can go. It also includes saying goodbye, with gratitude, to the things that have served out their purpose and forgiving yourself for doing the best you can to dispose of them responsibly.

As a Certified Professional Organizer and Move Manager based in Oakland, California, I have helped hundreds of clients achieve their own vision of a more simple and organized life for retirement.

Part of this process always involves making decisions about the items we most commonly get attached to: Books, clothing, photographs, sentimental cards and letters, memories – both ours and our kids.

When it’s time to curate these items, I find it useful to think about them in three ways:

  • Say goodbye with gratitude
  • Keep for my new life
  • Give to others

Say goodbye with gratitude

This collection contains items that are damaged beyond repair or are not worth your time or money to repair.

You can appreciate what they were in their original form and know that their time has come to an end. Anything that still makes you sad to let go of, you can take a picture of. That way you will still have the memory of the item.

Keep for my new life

This collection contains your favorites. Items you love so much you would use or display again. The ones that you would remember and miss if they disappeared. Better yet, they are the ones that fit into your new, simplified lifestyle. These are the best of the best!

Give to others (or giving items new life elsewhere)

This collection contains both high quality and useable quality items you don’t want. They could be of a high enough quality you could sell or consign them, or special enough that you would prefer to give them to a particular person or organization. In other words your decision to let them go is contingent on them getting to the right recipient or organization. This collection also includes useable quality items that could be donated to charities such as Goodwill, Salvation Army or Out of the Closet

If they are not sellable but the recipient is important to you, do an online search by type in your area. For example “Senior center thrift shop near me.”  There’s a wonderful place in San Francisco called SCRAP that accepts donations of all types of craft and teaching materials (though they are closed temporarily due to Covid-19). Here are a few other examples of unique places to donate your higher quality items. (Due to Covid-19 some of these will be temporarily closed. Check before going.)

  • Senior center thrift shop
  • Church, school or charity auction
  • Thrift shop for a charity you support such as cancer research
  • Local animal shelter
  • Children’s thrift shop for low income moms
  • Re-use/repurpose non-profits

There are also online websites such as Nextdoor.com where you can post your unwanted items. Be careful not to post your personal information. Instead ask people to direct message you if they want your item.

Use “Say goodbye with gratitude,” “Keep for my new life” and “Give to others” with other types of sentimental items you have. Here are few tips for downsizing other sentimental household items:

Books
(If you are downsizing and you have an excess and need space)

First decide on the greatest number of bookshelves you will keep so you will know how much you need to downsize.

Keep books you still refer to or hold special memories or can’t find online.

Donate duplicate books, books you’ve never read, are not likely to read or don’t hold interest for you. Also donate books from a previous chapter of your life.  Someone is bound to appreciate them.  Take them to your local library or college. Most Goodwill stores will also accept books for donation but not text books.

Recycle any that have mold. Mold travels and will contaminate other books.

Sentimental Cards and Letters
(If you have more than will fit into a banker box or small suitcase)

These are often the hardest to let go. Keep the ones that express a personal sentiment to you, not a generic greeting. You can also photograph these and let the physical card go.

Toys and Childhood Memorabilia
(Yours or your adult children)

This is the stuff you’ve tossed in a “keep” box but never looked at except when you’ve moved. It could be anything from rocks you collected, to tickets stubs, to small medals you received as a kid to souvenirs from family trips.

They best represent the “memories” of your childhood. It’s likely none of it is valuable, unless it’s in its original packaging and in pristine condition. If you’re not sure, you can always check sites like Etsy or Ebay.

First sort those into two piles – usable quality and higher quality. As you come across anything that that you don’t want but are afraid of forgetting, take a picture of it! That way you will always have the memory.

If the items are small, you can display them in a large fishbowl, brandy snifter or inside a shadow box. I’ve seen these for just about out every imaginable collectible: medals, matchboxes, toy cars, record albums, sports memorabilia even old postcards.

Check out some “memorabilia storage” ideas on Pinterest or Etsy If you’re not up to this, ask someone in your family who has a talent for crafts or art to do it for you. What a perfect birthday or Christmas present!

If you wouldn’t pay to have the items repurposed into something new, chances are you don’t love it enough to keep it. You can always take a picture of it if you’re scared of losing the memory. If it’s a small quantity of items you are keeping, give them a home in a small treasure box. I always think of a the little cigar box the character Scout kept under her bed from the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Giving away sentimental items to the right place or person is what makes it possible for you to let them go

Don’t use your kids as a reason to keep stuff that you don’t have room for in your new home. If possible, ask them to come and get it by a certain date. If they live far away or don’t care, let them know your plan to donate whatever is usable. Keep your favorites, the ones you consider “heirlooms” and limit them to no more than will fit into a small bin or box. Your kids won’t miss the rest and neither will you.

A final note about trash, landfill and forgiveness

It’s likely you will have to throw out more than you intended. Recycle as much as you can but accept the limitations of what is and is not recyclable in your community.

When you bought it 30 or 40 years ago, you weren’t thinking about whether it was recyclable. You needed it and it served its purpose. Again, dispose of it with gratitude. If it has to go to landfill, forgive yourself. Know that you have learned to be a more responsible citizen and consumer. Now you can enjoy and maintain your simple and spacious new life with the things you love the most.

 

 

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How Home Organizing Brings Your Family Together

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Family Closet

Editor’s Note:

Nanette is a home organizer who works with me as an associate of LET’S MAKE ROOM. We haven’t worked or seen each other in more than two months.  She and her husband, two adult children and their dog are sheltering-in-place during the Covid-19 health emergency.

Yesterday she shared a personal story with me of using this time to attend to her own home organizing projects. She is looking ahead to a time after her kids have moved on, when she may be ready to sell her home. Having worked with me for years, Nanette knows how the task of downsizing for a move can be daunting so she recently decided to take on a couple of her own projects.

Nanette’s story illustrates just how personally satisfying it can be to embark on a home organizing project, any time, but especially now, when families have the benefit of being home together more than usual. Here is her story:


The “shelter-in-place” order was the perfect opportunity to organize our cluttered storage closet. My 24-year-old daughter and 20-year old-son have been here with us and my husband is working from home.

The closet held toys, keepsakes, books, table linens, photos and homeless items.

With everyone home I could get their input on what they wanted to keep and what could I could donate.

I began by emptying the closet and sorting items by owner – me, my husband, daughter and son. I asked each to sort their items into two piles; “keep” or “donate.”  Each accomplished the task in their own unique way.

Our daughter sorted through her items alone and needed no help in her decision making. She donated all her collectible dolls, which she never liked, even though I had saved them for her. She kept the toys and keepsakes she felt connected to and that were usable or could be displayed.

At first, our 20-year old son said, “Mom you decide because I don’t know what I should keep.”

I got him started by sorting his bins and asked him first to decide on the big items. I am glad I did as I didn’t expect him to keep the miniature baseball bats. I then took the smaller items and sorted ‘like with like’ and asked him to keep what he wanted.

He grabbed toys he said he remembered playing with and he combed through looking for all the extra parts.

When done, my son told me sorting items into smaller categories helped him make decisions.

After dinner that evening, while we all still were at the table, our son picked up a box of his medals and sorted them. He selected the medals he wanted to keep and shared the rationale for keeping each medal.

After completing the task our daughter said she had kept all her medals and she later sorted hers as well.

The stack of beautiful table linens that I have never used, got donated. While beautiful and given to me by family members, they are not something I ever used. The matching napkins I kept as I do use linen napkins.

The silver items, all blackened from sitting in storage, unused, got sorted. My husband’s silver baby cup got cleaned and moved into the cabinet. The tarnished candelabra went into the Halloween bin. The utensils got polished and moved into the kitchen. Everything we kept now had a home.Everything else we donated. (Actually stored until the donation sites can open).

My husband did not want to make decisions right away so I put the items he had not made decisions about on his desk. He will make a decision at some point but I decided not to store the items until he committed.

My husband painted the closet and installed movable-shelves, replacing our fixed wood shelves.

I reused the smaller bins and stored the frequently-used items on the upper shelves.

I rolled my table runners and put them into a basket on the floor which opened up shelving.

I ordered a wrapping station to mount on a side wall.

I have more space to use for new items that come into our home and I love being able to find what I need.

Now I have a great functioning storage closet.

 

 

I’m not a hoarder. I’m a collector. Why can’t I get organized?

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The answer? It’s not because you are a collector. It’s because you don’t know why you are collecting.

Having collections in and of itself does not make you disorganized. If that were true every museum and gallery in the world would be a cluttered mess.

It’s more likely your collections need to be reviewed for their personal relevance to you the same way a museum, gallery or boutique will display and collect their collections to fit their particular vision, style or mission.

Are you collecting items that have meaning to you or are you attached to them for another reason? If your mother passed, and you have everything she ever owned, how is that honoring her memory? How does that enhance your life? Is that a collection or just a collection of stuff?

There is no such thing as the clutter-police.

No one is going to come to you and say, “you can’t get rid of that!” unless you let them. If an heirloom was given to you, you are the owner of that decision. Not the person who gave it to you. Not even your spouse or your children. Just you.  If you don’t like something you were given, someone else will. I was given a gift of a cookbook from a friend but I know I will never use it. Instead I am giving it to someone who I know will love it.

You probably have more collectibles than you have room to store them.  Prioritize which of those collectibles you want on display or to use yourself. The rest are just things taking up space. Consider giving them new life somewhere else as a gift or donation.

Your decision about what and how much to store, will depend on your available space and of course how much value they have to you.

Outside or external storage is like buying a house just for your things! Is that worth it to you?

You can be both “a collector” and still suffer from chronic hoarding disorder, a mental health disorder in which an individual excessively saves items that the consensus among the general public would be to view as worthless or to such excess as to render their living space uninhabitable or non-functioning.

Assuming you do not fit the criteria for hoarding disorder, (people aren’t hoarders, they have hoarding disorder) there are several possible causes of why you are disorganized.

Here are the most typical barriers to organizing your collections:

  1. Time. You perceive or believe you don’t have the time to get organized. You may have other more pressing or important priorities. Any organizing task, no matter how small requires some time investment. Even a minute can make a difference in how much time you spend tidying up your home. Spend a minute now, save hours later.  Take a moment now and think of all the things you could do if you just had one minute to do them. For example: Hang up a coat. Toss the junk mail. Empty the dish drying rack. Empty a trash can. Can you think of more? Getting organized is a habit not an event.
  2. Space. You have more things than you have space for. It’s a simple equation to fix.   Less stuff = more space for what you love, use and collect. There’s no getting around it. If you moved from a three-bedroom home with a cluttered garage into a two bedroom condo with no garage, you will have more stuff than you have room for. Even if you have the same amount of square footage, you will still need storage. This would include both built in storage such as closets and cabinets, as well as furniture that is built for storage. In short, you have to be willing to edit and purge what you no longer love, want or use.
  3. Mindset. Getting organized requires a large degree of logic, attention to detail, system thinking,  creativity, physical endurance, mental focus and to put it bluntly, a willingness to do it. Inertia, whether physical or emotional (caused by depression, anxiety or attention deficits) can be a huge impediment to getting and staying organized. Untreated mental or emotional issues can lead to other more serious conditions or risks. Consult with a physician or mental health provider about whether your own mindset may be interfering with your organizing goals. If you consider yourself “chronically” disorganized, check out the public resources available from The Institute for Chronic Disorganization
  4. Strategies. Even with plenty of time, space and readiness, you will need to have a plan for how to tackle different types of clutter. Is it things you are trying to organize or paper?  In my work with clients I approach these two types of clutter very differently. Organizing things tends to be easier for most people because their value is easier to assess, practical and emotional.  People struggle more with paper out of fear and a lack of clarity about what to keep and what can be safely tossed. Explore the web or your library for tips on organizing from others and see what’s worked for them.
  5. Purpose. The old expression if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there is true for organizing as well. Sometimes the goal is easy, such as clearing out a house to sell or decluttering a garage enough to fit a car. Most of the time the purpose is more intangible such as a desire to feel more peace and wellbeing or a desire to feel more comfortable having people over.  Ask yourself, “why do I want to do this?”
  6. Scope. No matter how motivated you are, sometimes an organizing task is just too big to do alone or the urgency too great. That’s when it may be time to call in ‘the troops.’  Put the word out to (nonjudgemental) friends. Reach out to local organizers in your area. Do a Google search for “professional home organizer near me.” Post a help wanted ad at your local community college for help or ask other trusted professionals in your life for a referral to a professional organizer. You can also check out the National Association of Organizing and Productivity Professionals or the National Association of Senior Move Managers. Just enter your zip-code and it will list credentialed or qualified organizing professionals near you.

Getting organizing requires a compelling purpose. What’s yours?

  • Just a desire to get organized is not enough to overcome the physical and emotional barriers that may keep you stuck in clutter.
  • Resolve to let go of things that no longer have value for you, even if they once did or if they were given to you by a loved one or friend.
  • Explore whether your mindset or other inhibiting conditions may be keeping you from meeting your goals.
  • Finally, gather your tools or more specifically your strategies. Have a plan to know what you will do in different circumstances or with different types of items. Struggle with downsizing books? Google tips on “how to organize your library.” Need help organizing your massive amount of clothing? Google “Wardrobe editing decision tree.”

Now that you know where, why, how and when,  decide whether you can do it alone or if you need help. Either way, congratulate yourself for making the decision to make more room in your life for what matters most.

 

Things I learned from losing my home in a fire

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The Woolsey Fire burns a home in Malibu, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. A Southern (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

 

I live in Northern California, where the Kincade Fire is raging across parts of beautiful Sonoma county, just 80 miles north of me. It has been burning out of control for more than a week.

So much of what I do as a professional organizer is about helping people make room in their lives and their homes for what truly matters most to them.  There is no more vivid way to drive home this notion then when you suddenly lose everything in a wildfire. 

This is what happened to my friend Patricia Judge, exactly a year ago, during the Woolsey Fire in Southern California. 

This month, I invited Patricia to share her story. There is plenty being written about “emergency preparedness” right now but by sharing Patricia’s story, I hope you will take a moment to consider what she learned – and continues to feel – from her first hand experience.

After you read it I hope you will take at least one action today to protect your memories, your assets and your life should you ever need to leave your home in a hurry due to a natural or man-made disaster.


“Knock! Knock! Knock!   Mandatory Evacuation!  The fire is on its way!  Leave now!”

This is what I heard at my door while I was sleeping early in the morning last November. It was the sheriff.

“How much time do I have?” I asked the Sheriff.

“Get dressed and get out of here now.” he told me.  “The fire is on its way!”

I knew there was a fire, but it seemed so far away from me, and I realized at that moment I was not prepared.

As I put on my pants and shoes, grabbed some jewelry from my dresser, I couldn’t believe what was happening.  As the Sheriff knocked on my neighbors doors to leave I don’t think any of my neighbors actually thought the fire was on its way either.

My neighborhood was gone in 30 to 45 minutes.  Actually, my neighbor didn’t make it out because the road was no longer accessible.  He did not die, but he did lose everything he was putting into his trailer as the Sheriff was telling us to leave.  I recall the trailer’s chassis was still there in the rubble when I eventually returned to see what was once our neighborhood.

I had lived in Southern California where there had been fires and admit to having a flippant attitude about them. 

I always thought the chances of our house being burned down was low.  What I discovered was it can and it did happen.

What I learned from losing my home in the Woolsey Fire was this.

Be Prepared!

What does that mean?  Know what you want to take in advance even before a fire. 

In the moment it is happening you will not be thinking straight.  Write it down and know where it all is so you can put it in your car.

Don’t get caught in a false sense of safety.  Anyone can lose their home in an instant.

If you own your home, make sure you are adequately insured. Make sure your agent has copy of your policy. It’s one less thing you have to remember to grab. 

If you rent, get renters insurance!  It is not that expensive and insure your home for more than you think you will need. 

I was surprised to realize that even with my “minimal” lifestyle, how much it cost to replace, what I had lost. 

I lost pretty much everything and even a year later I am replacing things I lost and realizing that this expense will go on for years to come.

Make an “Emergency Binder”  that has all the paperwork you will want if you have to evacuate and keep it accessible.

Back up your computer’s documents onto hard drives or the cloud at least every month. 

Keep the hard drives with your “Emergency binder.” 

If you have photos you want to rescue make sure you can carry them are and easy for you to access.

Clothing – know what you want to take.

It was a total afterthought and I realized I lost so many shoes, purses, and clothing that were very valuable and some irreplaceable. Replacing them is expensive.

Art/keepsakes – take what you cherish the most.

I spent my life collecting my art and although I can still see and feel each piece it is no longer with me.

I no longer own the Kaftan my close friend Ilene made for me.  That is actually one of the pieces I really regret losing, although, even as I write this I can feel it and her love embracing me.

On the day of the Woolsey fire, I went to my sister’s house which seemed far away from the fire. When her home was being evacuated she kept saying, “I feel silly taking my sweaters.”  I told her, “You are standing here with someone who has lost everything.  Take any and everything you want.  We have two cars and can load them up to the brim.  The only thing you will have done is waste your time.  Wasting your time is a gift!

Some final thoughts:

If you are told an evacuation order is coming your way, pack your cars while you still can.

If you are given a “mandatory evacuation,” leave as early as possible.

Before fire season even hits, pull anything flammable away from the exterior walls of your house. Some of my neighbors’ homes burned because the debris and dry plants they had outside their home caught on fire.

Fires move quickly, more quickly than you realize. It took less than an hour from the time I left my house to lose all my cherished things.

Incinerated to the ground and gone.

3 questions that will guarantee you’ll be organized

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  1. 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?

  2. In what ways would you feel different then you do now?

  3. 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:

  1. Decide about an area of your home you wish were more organized. Is it your office? Your garage? Your kitchen? Your bedroom?
  2. 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.
  3. The most disorganized room in my home that is making my day-to-day life more stressful is ________________.
  4. 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.
  5. Fill in the blanks to these three questions:
    1. If my ____________ was organized I would be able to ____________.
    2. This would make me feel _________________.
    3. 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.

Sound familiar?

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.

 

Clearing A House to Sell

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There is a voyeur in all of us when it comes to other people’s homes and the amount of “clutter” they keep. Think of shows like “Hoarder’s” and “Buried Alive.”  We look at other’s lives and ask, “are we as bad or better than that?”

Last week I started a house clear-out. It took six crew working five solid days to go through each individual item in every room, closet, cabinet, drawer, cupboard and shelf, to decide whether or not it could be sold, donated, recycled, trashed or hauled.

The items were then physically grouped into these categories with the marketable items going to an estate seller; The good quality, used items that wouldn’t sell, going to various charities; The paper, recyclable plastics and glass bottles going to the recycling facility, and; the trash getting hauled both privately and through a city sponsored bulk pick-up program. The project required many hours of planning, coordination and execution.

If you’ve ever wondered why you can’t clear the clutter from your home? This could be the reason. It takes a village!

You won’t see the “after” pictures. Not yet. But despite what it may seem, this is not a house belonging to a “hoarder.” This is not someone who secretly acquires items and has a compulsive need to save them, regardless of their value.

This is not the result of an individual who has a problem letting things go any more than the rest of us.

Instead this house, was once owned and inhabited by a family – a mother, father and child. Where friends and relatives came to visit, to celebrate, eat and grieve together. Where the parents grew up in an era where everything was saved since since there was a scarcity of practically everything when they were children. (Old habits die hard and often get passed down).

When that child grew up she got married and moved down the street and her parents got older and eventually needed care, and little by little things started to pile up. Little by little things couldn’t get done because there were much bigger things that needed doing and she was the only one doing them. Little by little the child, now an adult, had to take care of the family business, first with her mother, and finally alone. Then she lost her husband and she was completely alone.

She is older now, strong in mind but less so physically. Sometimes she sought solace in things, things to help her feel better, happier, pretty, less alone.  who amongst us hasn’t? And little by little it got worse.

This could happen to anyone, you, me, your neighbors down the street who’s house from the outside looks so tidy and neat.

So the next time you think, oh I’m not like that! Or how could she/he/they let that happen? You may want to count your blessings that life has been kinder to you.

 

 

The Ultimate Garage Organization Survival Guide

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Editor’s Note: In June we celebrate all things Dad, in celebration of Father’s Day. This month, I’m pleased to share this informative guide to garage organizing written by Trent Skousen, from Golden Gate Garage Storage, a colleague and associate member of the local chapter of my professional association, NAPO (National Association of Organizing and Productivity Professionals). Trent and I share a lot of the same ideas about garage organizing. Read on and make this Summer the one you finally get your garage organized!

When I was a kid, my mom would task the family with giant cleaning days. They were usually before family or friends came to visit, although I suspect some days, she just got the itch to clean up. We would spend all day sorting through the living room, bedrooms, and kitchen to make everything look nice and orderly.

Part of that organizing was removing the clutter from most of the house. Unfortunately, we just dumped most of that extra stuff in the garage. Have too many toys in the bedroom? Throw some in a box in the garage. Too many cleaning supplies under the bathroom sink? Put ‘em in the garage. We did that over and over.

As a result, the garage became so cluttered and packed over time, we couldn’t even park our cars in there. It became so cramped that we lost all motivation to get it organized. The whole project was overwhelming. Finally, my dad persuaded (bribed) my brother and me to take a week of our summer vacation to go in there and sort everything out.

Many homeowners experience something similar happening in their own garages. These spaces look more like an old warehouse than a functional home space. It becomes a dumping ground for everything we don’t want to deal with in the house. How do we end this vicious cycle? With a little conscious effort, an organized and functional garage isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds.

With Father’s Day around the corner, now is a great time to take a look at getting that garage fixed up for Dad. Here is your ultimate survival guide to get you started.

Step 1- Develop a game plan:

Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Planning in organization is just as important as doing the organizing itself. Not only does planning give you an idea of what you need to accomplish, it gives you the peace of mind of knowing what you need to do exactly when you need to do it.

Sit down with your team. This can be your family, friends, or organizing professionals. Set a realistic goal that you can shoot for. One example could be to leave nothing left on the garage floor by the time you finish.

After you have your goal, here are some tips about things to include in your plan:

  • Pick a date- You need to get a specific date in mind to start and stick to it. Write it out and tell your family. Make sure that you are set on getting to work and won’t have anything to distract you. Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to complete it. Don’t plan to finish it in a day if you need several weekends.
  • Plan on who will be helping- How many people will be there to help? How much can each person handle? Are there any children helping that need simpler jobs?
  • Figure out costs- If you’re planning on hiring help or buying equipment, you’ll need to set a budget and determine costs ahead of time. Be sure to weigh the cost against the benefit for each item – sometimes paying a little more will save you time, money, and stress in the long run.

Step 2- Cleaning:

Move all of the items in the garage out to the driveway, lawn, or backyard. You won’t be able to do a deep clean without emptying the space first. If you have limited space or weather issues, consider focusing on smaller portions of the garage at a time.

As you move your possessions, it helps to sort them into piles based on their function (i.e. camping gear, gardening equipment, power tools, etc.).

With the empty space, deep clean the garage surfaces, walls, and floors. Start from the ceiling and move toward the floor, so you don’t get things dirty that you already cleaned:

  • Replace any dead light bulbs.
  • Dust off shelves and cabinets.
  • Wipe down any tables or workbenches.
  • Scrub the walls and floorboards to remove scuff marks and blemishes.
  • Sweep and mop the floor.

Having a clean garage will not only make it look nicer, but also make it safer to breathe the air and touch the surfaces inside.

Step 3- Decluttering:

*Note: This step is interchangeable with Step 2. You can do this before, after, or during the cleaning phase. Do what is best for your situation.

Now, you’ll want to start getting rid of anything you don’t need in order to create more space.

Start by systematically going through everything individually. Like I mentioned, it helps to group things together by category (like chemicals, tools, stored personal items), and decide what you still need and what you don’t. If things are broken, old, or you don’t use them anymore, get rid of them first.

After that, take what remains and make a second pass at them. This can be trickier, because now you really have to think about the item and the likelihood you will use in the near future.  Like Lis McKinley, Certified Professional Organizer and owner of LET’S MAKE ROOM always says, “Just because something is useable, doesn’t mean you have to keep it! Almost everything is useable. When you need space, the goal should be looking for reasons to let it go, not finding reasons to keep it.”

If there are items of sentimental value, ask yourselves if you really are happier having it around or if you’ll use it. If not, it’s time to let it go.

Be realistic about what you keep in the garage,” she adds. “It should be things you actually use, such as tools, or things used seasonally such as sports equipment or holiday supplies – but even these things can be curated. Stick with the notion of, do I use it now? Am I likely to use it this year? Would I miss it if it disappeared? If not, give it away where it can be used and appreciated.

Step 4- Reorganize:

At this point, you should have your essential items and a clean garage. It’s time to organize your items in the garage.

Consider using a zoning strategy. Zoning means to group similar items together in storage. This helps you know where everything is and helps you keep track of what you have and makes it easier to find what you need in the future. If you already grouped items together during decluttering, this shouldn’t be too hard.

Another suggestion is to consider using storage systems. This can be as simple as stackable bins, hooks on the wall, and baskets. Other options that really reduce the clutter include shelves, cabinets, and overhead storage racks. Storage systems help get everything off the ground safely. This is especially useful if you have young kids wandering through the area, because you can keep dangerous chemicals or tools hidden out of reach. Plus, it gives you more space to park your car or even include things like workbenches or workout equipment.

Step 5- Continue the process:

Just because your garage is clean and organized doesn’t mean it will stay that way without help. Plan time each week to tidy up, just as you would with the rest of your house. Sweep out debris and make sure things are off the ground and in their proper place. If you buy something new that needs a place, take a few minutes to rearrange everything so that it has a proper place of its own.

Having a nice garage will make your home more functional and enjoyable. With a little planning, organizing can be a fun and rewarding process!

This post was written by Trent Skousen at Golden Gate Garage Storage. He enjoys going to movies and watching basketball with his wife.