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.
To celebrate the end of 2021, (phew) I looked back over my blog posts from this year to dig up individual pearls of wisdom I could share again to inspire you for 2022. Do any of these resonate with you?
Treat organizing your home as a practice, not a one-time event
Home organizing, whether it be your guest room, junk drawer or home office, is as much a mind-set as it is a habit. Practice organizing and over time you will develop an organizing habit. That means, keeping an eye on high clutter areas like your clothes closet, office or garage. Continuously ask yourself “do I want/need/love this item?”
Aim for progress not perfection
Don’t expect your home, office or storage area to look like an ad for “the most organized Mom in the world!” You do not have to spend hours refilling matching containers with cute “blackboard” labels if that’s not who you are. (I know it’s not who I am.) Better to do a small action then let yourself be paralyzed by the enormity of a perfectly organized space.
The less you have the less you have to organize and the easier it is to maintain
In a consumer culture, shopping can be a competitive sport or even a form of therapy. It’s difficult to keep a lid on the stuff coming into your home. One of the best things you can do is prevent those things from cluttering your space in the first place. Cancel those subscriptions, stop the junk mail, don’t buy in bulk if you live alone, don’t keep something just because it’s useful.Only keep it if you use it!
Consider your time, privacy and convenience
It’s great to pass along things to friends, family, neighbors, even strangers. I love the “Buy Nothing” sites as an example where you can give away everyday items you no longer want to people in your neighborhood. It’s also a great way to keep things out of the landfill. But as my client’s often hear me say, “Don’t let the small stuff get in the way of the big stuff.” If you have a roomful of items you no longer want, consider the easiest option for letting go of most items all at once. If you’re stuck, it’s always great to ask, “Is it worth my time?”
Sort it into categories that resemble the aisles of a department store
Clothes with clothes, shoes with shoes, office supplies with office supplies, games with games, tools with tools, etc. Think about categories you would find in a department or hardware store. Don’t make any decisions about keeping or tossing until you’ve staged all the categories. By the way, you may need a folding table or two. Seeing your items sorted, and by category, helps you make quick decisions about what to keep. Do you really need all 26 screwdrivers?
Just because something is usable doesn’t mean you have to keep it
There are no clutter police. Almost everything is usable but if you don’t use it, don’t keep it. Ask yourself did I use this in the last year and do I intend to use it in the next year? (e.g., Holiday decor falls into this category). If your answer is no, let it go.
Your home does not have to look like a cover from a lifestyle magazine or a social media post if that’s not who you are. It bears repeating!
If you are not sure whether or not to keep something, ask yourself, “If I saw it in a store, would I buy it?”
We keep things out of habit, delayed decision making, guilt and a host of other reasons. If you are trying to declutter or simplify your life, this is a great way to know if it stills has value for you.
Honor the memory, person or experience with something meaningful
When you walk through a museum or someone’s home and admire painting or an object of art, do you take it home and keep it? Hopefully not – unless you want to end up in jail. Sometimes you can simply enjoy the memory of a person, place or experience without having every item that reminds you of them. Pick one or two things that truly honors the person or best represents your experience.
Only the owner of the item gets to decide about whether it stays or goes
I have a rule when I work with couples. Only the “owner of the decision” has the say about keep vs. go. The non-owner does not get a say unless explicitly asked. I’ve avoided many arguments with this rule. The only exception should be if one member of the couple delegates the decision making to their spouse. In this case, the delegating spouse has to set the parameters very carefully. No coming back later and saying, “I wanted that!”
When you’ve got to get it done quickly, efficiently and expertly, hire a professional organizer
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.
How to keep your office organized when it’s is in your bedroom
You are finally in bed after a long day. You cover yourself with a blanket; feel the warm comfort of your pillow beneath your head and the soft, cool sheets against your tired body. You begin to relax into a night of slumber when you are suddenly startled by the pinging sounds of your computer sending notifications about tomorrow’s busy day. You get up and turn down the volume and get back in bed. That’s when you notice the pile of papers strewn across your desk, in varying heights and reminding you of a slew of unfinished tasks, unpaid bills and projects still yet to be started. You shut your light out, hoping in darkness you will forget the site of all that you have left undone. All of a sudden you see the blinking of all your devices in random rhythms, your router, your modem, your phone. Your room lights up with a blue blinking glow. You cover your face with a pillow and somehow manage to fall into an exhausted sleep.
In general, I don’t think a bedroom is a great place for your office. Your bedroom should be a place of respite, relaxation and most of all sleep. Yet sometimes, there is no choice. Space is at a premium. You share a home or an apartment and there is no other available space to work.
This doesn’t mean you should lose sleep when your office is in your bedroom. Here are some ways you can minimize those distractions without sacrificing your personal productivity.
Hide your desk. Space permitting, hide your desk behind a free-standing, decorative folding screen or room divider. You can buy them online or in most home decor stores. When it’s time to leave work, simply pull the screen around your desk.
Shut out and shut down. Turn off or block digital noise and distractions. If you can’t hide your electronic equipment, things like your modem, router, or fax/printer behind or under your desk, place a small piece of dark blue painter’s tape over the lights that blink. Painter’s tape will not harm your equipment and can be easily removed or re-placed. This is especially recommended if you use a guest room for your office. You don’t want your guests losing sleep from all the pings and blinking lights.
Re-purpose and reposition. If your room is configured for it, why not turn your desk into a combination bedside table-workspace. That way, you are no longer looking at the desk from your bed. You’ll need a lamp on your desk anyway, so why not make it your bedside lamp. You can also leave a little room nearest your bed for a book or notepad, a place to put your reading glasses, a small plant or decorative item, and a clock or device with an alarm. In other words, all the things you would need nearby while you’re working.
Clear the decks. Surfaces are notorious clutter catchers. No matter what size the surface, they have a way of getting covered with things. Just like you have a home, everything in your home should have a home. Take the time each day to survey what you have on your desk or work surface and decide 1) Can I toss it? 2) Does it need to live on my desk? 3) where else could it live in my home? Then toss it, move it or take it back to where it lives. No more homeless items!
Create vertical storage. Install simple bracket or wall-shelves above your desk area for less frequently used items, books, or reference materials. Use decorative boxes in like colors to contain surplus office supplies. Get these all off your desk and on to a shelf to free up space for working, creating and being more productive.
Equalize your workspace. Before leaving your desk for bed, take 60 seconds to put loose items in drawers, loose papers in a stack or contain them in a shallow box (e.g. an “in-box”). Review your calendar and most important to-dos for the next day. Then shut off your computer (or put it in “sleep mode”) along with all other unnecessary electronics. You’ll save money on your electric bill and may even get a few more Zs tonight.
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.
This year, why not give your Mom what she really wants for Mother’s day.
More time to spend with her family, and less time to feel overwhelmed by her clutter, especially all that paper!
Here’s what you can do: Suggest to Mom that you’d like to give her the gift of organization so she can feel more in control of her life and less stressed by all the paper clutter in her home. You can help her yourself or better yet, hire a Certified Professional Organizer, who can quickly identify and sort all it all. Once sorted, you can purge what’s no longer needed and contain what’s left either in labeled paper or digital files according to your mother’s preference and ability.
If you decide to do this yourself, make it a time not just to plow through those piles but also to share the memories with Mom. Whatever you do though, don’t chastise Mom for keeping everything. No one was born with an “organizing gene” and the rules around paper have changed considerably since she was young, especially now that we are in a digital age though she may not be.
Most of what we keep, as much as 80% according to several studies, we never refer to again. Old bills, especially utility bills, make up the bulk of what I’ve seen the most of when helping my clients tame their paper piles.
I’ve seen floors literally buckle under the weight of boxes upon boxes of retained paper.
Even if all the paper in these boxes were accidentally tossed the chances of needing anything in them is statistically small. That being said, there is always a chance that those boxes contain confidential information so to protect your Mom’s identity I recommend you arrange to have it picked up by a residential document destruction company in your area.
Shredding these papers protects your Mom from others using her confidential information fraudulently. If you chose to to this yourself, be especially mindful when you are tossing documents containing the following:
Social Security Number (in full)
Credit Card Account Number (in full)
Driver’s License Number (in full)
Medical Record Number (in full)
Account Number (in full)
In recent years the practice of including full account numbers has changed to protect individual identities but that has not always been the case. If your Mom has kept documents for more than 10-15 years, it’s possible some contain this type of confidential information. Note however, documents that contain just a name, address and phone number are part of public record (remember old phone books?) and nothing can be done with this information alone so it’s safe to recycle these.
To get started, you will need a cardboard or plastic box labeled “SHRED” to contain documents for destruction. You will also need a supply of paper bags or boxes labeled “RECYCLE” and a smaller receptacle for “TRASH” such as the plastic that contains magazines and other junk mail. Lastly, you will also need a work surface. If table space is scarce, use a folding table or large ironing board if available. Use a “sharpie” for labeling if needed.
These record retention and destruction recommendations are general best practices and not intended to replace the advice for you or your Mother’s specific situation, especially if she is ill, disabled, or in dispute with the IRS. In these cases, consult with your tax preparer or another legal professional.
To get you started, start with whatever loose paper is most visible on surfaces, tables, desks or the floor. Open all mail and sort all items, including individual files and documents into the following 5 categories:
Financial includes: old and unpaid bills, store receipts paid in cash (if you are tracking your mother’s cash expenditures), bank statements, investment statements, tax returns, pension documents, social security information
Medical includes: Medical history, prescription records, explanations of benefits, prescription receipts, and health insurance and/or Medicare documents specific to your Mom
Legal includes: Life insurance policies, veteran records, estate planning documents such as wills, trusts, power of attorney, health proxies or living wills, birth, adoption, marriage and death certificates
Home includes: Property insurance records such as home and auto, mortgage records including records of satisfied mortgages, appliance warrenties
Personal includes: Educational and work history, cards, letters and other correspondence, general reference such as “project” or “idea” files. Binders that contain old training material, photographs, professional or published papers written or contributed to by your Mom and anything of a personal nature that could not be replaced if lost.
As you do this you can toss the following: empty mailing envelopes, obvious junk mail, expired coupons, store receipts paid by by credit or debit card and old user guides or warranty information for products or appliances no longer owned. Keeping a focus on sorting will make purging later go that much faster.
Next purge (shred or recycle) the following from each of the five piles:
Financial: Old paid bills, store receipts for low value items, checks from closed accounts, investment statements except current month or quarter, tax returns from more than seven years ago. ATM receipts – unless tracking cash withdrawals
Medical: Outdated medical information, explanations of benefits, receipts for prescriptions paid by insurance, any documents not specific to your Mom such as marketing and general information
Legal: Cancelled life insurance policies, cancelled or expired contracts
Home: Cancelled insurance policies, repair records for cars no longer owned, mortgage bills already paid, any reference material not referred to in over a year or that can easily be found elsewhere or online. Anything printed off the internet.
Personal: Any personal reference material that has not been referred to in over a year (such as old recipes, remodel ideas, maps, wellness or hobby information, old magazines, binders containing old training material, greeting cards signed by unknown people, out-dated resumes, any document that can be easily found online. Children’s school records and drawings if not displayed. Take a digital photo instead. Personal papers such as these will most likely take up the bulk of your Mom’s paper files.
KEEP and CONTAIN (either file or scan)
Use this as a guide for setting up your paper or or electronic file system
Tax returns and current tax information including receipts used for deductions for future tax returns
Bank statements and investment statements by account name and last 4 digits of account number – most recent three months unless your Mom will be applying for assistance under Medicaid or MediCal. In this case she will need the last 5 years of bank statements.
Credit card statements by account name and last 4 digits of account number – last three months only
Life insurance by policy name – keep while active
Social security account information
Records of health history, prescriptions taken and major conditions
Lists of physicians, specialists and other providers seen or consulted with
Insurance/Medicare/MediCaid account information
Estate planning documents (birth, adoption, marriage, death certificates)
Heath proxies, power of attorney documents
Records of satisfied contracts or any current contracts
Mortgage documents for current home
Records of recently paid household bills (less than one year) – if possible, set up auto pay and have bills issued paperlessly via email.
Records of property insurance (home, auto, other assets)
Warranties, appraisals or certificates for high value items (value greater than $100 per pound)
School transcripts/Official records such as diplomas
Records of work history (most current)
Cards, letters and other correspondence if it has historical or resale value (emotional value is optional)
Professional, written or published work if it has historic importance to the general public or a particular industry for archiving purposes
Anything that could not be easily replaced with strong emotional value
TO-DO or ACTION Paper
Finally, identify any documents that require some kind of ACTION or to-dos that your mother feels are worth her time such as bills to be paid, forms to be filled out, greeting cards to be mailed, or items she wants to discuss with another professional. Put these items in a separate mail sorter on her desk or workspace, keeping the bills separate from everything else. Don’t put anything here that needs to be filed or contained. Any retained magazines should be placed where your Mom likes to read them. Once she is done with these items they can be filed, contained or tossed as needed.
After you spend a few hours helping her, then take her out for lunch or dinner so you can both relax and enjoy some quality time together, knowing that you’ve made some room in your lives for what matters most.
Anyone who juggles life’s internal and external demands, whether that be a promise to stay healthy or a need to get things done at home or at work, will recognize themselves in at least one of these 10 little lies.
The lies themselves are a kind of time rationalization, says Dr. Ari Tuckman, author and subject expert on adult ADHD. The lies people tell themselves keep them disorganized or stuck in bad habits. How close in time something has to be done is what determines whether or not we take or avoid action.
For example, if a deadline is looming within days or hours, we may be more apt to take action then if it’s weeks or months away. The closer something is to the present the more we see and feel its impact. This can either be felt as pleasure, such as a having our favorite food nearby or painful, such doing our taxes or preparing to move.
In essence we are constantly asking ourselves, “Is it better to suffer in the present to experience joy in the future or should we aim to enjoy the present moment at the expense of possible future consequences?” It is an ongoing tug-a-war between the pleasure-motivated side of our brain and the executive function that helps us to make wiser choices that can also feel inconvenient or downright painful.
How many of these 10 little lies do you tell yourself?
I can do that tomorrow
I’ll put that away later
I don’t need to get organized; I remember where everything is
I don’t have to write that down. I’ll remember.
This will just take a minute
Sorry, I was late….traffic!
I’ll just start after a quick break
I’ll just work twice as hard tomorrow
I’ll get to that in a minute
I don’t need to do that now
People fall somewhere on a continuum between complete impulsivity (those with attention issues) and overly diligent (those with obsessive tendencies). Those with better self awareness fall somewhere in the middle, says Dr. Tuckman. When you find yourself using one of these little lies, Dr. Tuckman advises stopping to pause and visualize the outcome as both your “today self” and your “tomorrow self.” Introducing that momentary pause and visualization can sometimes cause you to do something – like scheduling that appointment – and make the difference between staying on track or going off the rails.
Need help getting organized? Call us to schedule a free project assessment, by phone: 510.846.1976
Are you moving, getting ready for a remodel or simply want more room in your home with less clutter? Here are three common space hogs and what you can do about them.
Other people’s stuff. Did you agree to store things for your kids, relatives or friends for a few months but now those months have become years? Tell your kids or your Aunt Sadie you are moving or remodeling (even if you aren’t) and kindly ask them to arrange to get their items since you will need the space yourself. Set a firm deadline – a month is reasonable in most cases – and ask for their permission to sell or donate them — at your discretion — by a certain date if they don’t respond by that date. That way you’ve done your due-diligence.
Boxes from your last move (and likely the one before) that never got unpacked. Remember those boxes? I’m guessing you don’t but apparently they were so important that you bothered to move them at all. Chances are they contain one of the following: Old papers, memorabilia, holiday supplies, stuff belonging to your parents (or kids) that you just couldn’t face, or all those items that you don’t use but couldn’t throw away at the time.
If you are moving, are you really going to pay to have those boxes moved again?!
Here’s what to do about them starting with old papers: Unless you ran a small business, and they contain your tax records for the past seven years, get rid of them. Arrange to have a local shredding company pick them up or take them there yourself but don’t waste your time shredding them. Memorabilia: We keep memories for just this moment. No one else cares about these memories except you. If you want to leave a legacy for your children, don’t make it those boxes that have gathered dust in your garage or attic. Holiday supplies: Unless you used them last year, donate them to a charity that accepts art supplies. Stuff that belonged to your parents (or kids) that you coudn’t face: Refer to #1 above.
Magazines and old mail. There are certain magazines I love to read but once I’ve read them, they get recycled. Except in rare cases such as vintage out-of-print magazines, most collectors and charities don’t take old magazines. If you want to get rid of them, gather them up in small book boxes (so you can lift them) and carry them to your home’s recycling area. Most municipal recyclers won’t charge for paper recycling. As for old mail, you have three options: 1) pay to have it all shred. Depending upon how much you have, this could be costly but it will be the most timesaving approach and insure your identity will be safe. 2) Have a sorting party. Invite two or more people to help you sort your piles into keep, shred or toss. Keep includes “vital records” such as original birth and death certificates or personal memories that can’t easily be replaced. Shred includes any document, opened or not, from a banking or financial institution if it’s not obvious junk mail. Don’t waste time opening them if you’re not sure. Toss is everything else. 3) Hire a professional organizer or productivity specialist that specializes in residential or home office organizing. They can advise you about what to keep and help you sort and dispose of your unwanted paper safely.
Is the stuff in your home stealing your space? If so, you are living with a space-thief.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, the average cost per square foot of space is upwards of $250. That means if you have a clutter, your space thief is doing a thriving business!
Everyone has some degree of attachment to their possessions; An old desk belonging to your great grandmother; A collection of figurines, each one representing a different travel experience you took with with your mother, now gone; Photo albums of your childhood, your ancestors and now your own children and grandchildren.
I am not suggesting, whatsoever, that you let go of the things that give meaning to your life. But consider this: What if those meaningful items are stored in your basement, garage or attic, amidst the debris of old moldy boxes, sporting gear you haven’t used since 1987, and a shelf full of rusted, empty paint cans?
If you’ve maxed out your storage in the living areas of your home with stuff you don’t even care about, you are living with a thief, a space-thief. The space-thief is stealing your space, by replacing it with clutter, you don’t want or need.
It’s time to take back your home from the space-thief!
I’ve come to appreciate the term “curate” instead of declutter. It implies something less negative, less demeaning about the things we keep.
The word curate, comes from the latin word cur meaning “care.” A Curate, according to it’s original meaning, was a member of the clergy who took care of the parish. Later, the term curator came to mean one who was charged with the care of something, such as an exhibit, museum or collection.
Approach every clutter issue as an opportunity to be a curator for your own home or office. In organizing terms, think of your home as you might think of a museum or art gallery. The value of your home’s contents isn’t defined solely by its market value. There is also value when you can use and enjoy what you own.
A museum or gallery has storage areas to preserve, protect or restore items, typically not open to the public, but it’s the galleries, exhibitions and public spaces that are enjoyed and worth seeing. If your home is more of a storage area than a place to enjoy, you’ve been robbed – by the space-thief.
Here are some ways you can approach your home as a curator and protect yourself from the space-thief in your home:
Sort and categorize items according to type or theme and then decide which are the ones that best fit the theme, spark joy or hold meaning for you now. I once had a client who loved vintage kitchen tools. She had a great collection of vintage egg beaters. Instead of having them stored in a box, she eliminated the duplicates, let go of those not worth repairing and then kept her favorites. The result was a whimsical display that made her vintage kitchen not just functional but a fun place to cook!
Consider a “bequest” of things you no longer value yourself to others you know (or don’t) for the joy of giving. Offer unwanted items to a specific individual by a specific date. Don’t just put it in a “gift” bin. If they pass or don’t meet your deadline, you can opt to donate it to someone else or to charity. Just don’t let it stay too long once you’ve decided to let it go. Doing so, is like giving it away to the clutter-thief.
Choose which items you want to share with your family, friends or simply enjoy yourself and determine the best home and way to display them. If it’s worth keeping, it’s worth using, sharing or enjoying. If it’s surplus – then decide where you will store your “surplus” but know that keeping too much surplus, just in case, is also the same as giving it to a space-thief.
Beware of counterfeit items you thought had value to you, because you’ve kept them, and realize they are actually just stealing space from your home (or office). An old client had kept a valuable desk belonging to her ex-husband. She never liked it and now she was forced to see it every day, which only brought up unpleasant memories. Even when something has market value, if it is stealing space and joy from you, it is not worth keeping. She sold it and used the money to buy herself a desk she could truly call her own.
Take time or get help to contain, display and safeguard your contents for their safety and protection as well as for your own. If your valuables are buried in a pile of clutter on the floor, not only are they at risk of damage but one false step and you could be out of commission yourself.
Editor’s Note: This is an introduction to the system I created to help people who struggle with too much paper.
Believe it or not, there are only three kinds of paper.
It doesn’t matter if it’s your first novel, your 2009 taxes or a bubble gum wrapper. The key to organizing paper is to remember these three types and know the difference between them. They are:
Paper you Act on
Paper you Contain
Paper you Toss.
Most people get stuck in paper clutter for three reasons.
They don’t have a system for organizing and managing it
They are afraid of accidentally tossing something important so they hold on to it “just in case.”
They hold on to it with the intention of doing something with it “someday” but never do.
Unless you take some kind of comfort from having a lot of paper around you, I’m going to assume you would prefer to have less.
The ACT system is actually quite simple. It just takes a little practice. The key to it is remembering that the goal of the system is to minimize the amount of paper you actually keep. If that’s not your goal, then consider what value all that paper has in your life now?
The ACT system is an acronym for Action, Contain, Toss.
Paper you act on is either a task or a project that’s worth your time to complete.
Paper you contain will likely be referred to again, or you are required to keep. (Everything else is optional!)
Paper that has no value to you should be tossed or safely disposed of.
Here’s how to use the ACT system to organize your paper:
For every piece of paper that comes across your desk, whether it be a business card, a magazine, a contract, a pad of paper, an invitation, notes to yourself, etc., you should ask yourself these three questions in successive order:
Is there an IMPORTANT Action I need to take with this piece of paper that is worth my time? (Reading and filing don’t count.) If your answer is no, then before you toss it, ask the next question:
Is it LIKELY I will need to refer back to this piece of paper again and would it be difficult to find it elsewhere? If yes keep and Contain it. Otherwise, go on to the next question:
Does it display any personal or confidential information that I would not want others to see? If not, then you can Toss it. Otherwise shred it.
The key to taming your paper monster is making the ACT system a regular habit.
Spend a few minutes each week sorting your incoming paper, mail and other documents according to the ACT system
Take action on those tasks and projects that you decide are worth your time
Contain only what you are likely to refer to again and can’t find elsewhere
Minimize the amount of paper you keep – what may have been important last year may not be now. It’s okay to let it go.
Maximize the amount of paper you toss – and protect your identity as you go. If you’re not sure, ask a professional.
Make peace with your paper piles by incorporating desktop containers, files and other organizing products that fit your own personality and style.
For more help on how to get organized at home, call us to schedule a visit.
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