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.
If you have household items or unsorted paper on your floor in boxes or bags, chances are you have a clutter problem. That’s because bags and boxes are not furniture, not permanently anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, bags and boxes have their place in organizing. I use them all the time to carry out donated items, to contain trash or recycling or to pick up my groceries. It’s fine to keep a small supply but they are “temporary” containers, not permanent fixtures.
As a professional organizer, coach and move manager, boxed and bagged “clutter” is a common problem for many of my clients.
I’m not talking about items you have stored in a closet, garage or attic. These too may need to be “gone through” – usually when you’re planning to move or sell your home.
It’s sometimes an issue of time management, motivation or other more pressing priorities. Conditions such as ADD, anxiety or depression can also make it difficult to focus on the task at hand.
Whatever the reason, bags and boxes usually signify a “holding” place for your stuff, instead of a “home.”
Here are 10 easy steps to manage the bags and boxes of stuff in your home:
If you have both unsorted paper and physical items, start with the physical items. You will see results quicker and feel motivated to continue.
Sort the items on a clear surface, such as a card table, counter or ironing board if that’s the only surface available.
As soon as the box is empty, break it down and place it by your recycling bin to see space right away. It’s important that you see see results right away to stay motivated.
Now it’s time to make decisions. Look at each item by category and decide if you are using it now or whether it’s something you love. If you wouldn’t buy it in a store, don’t love it, haven’t used it, or it brings up negative emotions, let it go. If it feels good to keep it for yourself, then keep it.
Most clean and usable items can be donated to conventional charities such as Goodwill, Salvation Army or a local thrift shop. Be sure to check days and times they accept donations. Since COVID, many charities have limited their donation drop off times or require appointments.
Don’t spend a lot of time on where you donate your items.This is a form of procrastination. Some haulers now will take items for donation. Two of my favorites in the San Francisco Bay Area are NixxitJunk.com and Remoov.
If you have high value items consider consignment, or online platforms to sell them. Do whatever is easiest or makes the best use of your time.
If you plan to use your empty boxes for donations, be sure you can carry them. You are better off using a double paper-bag or reusable shopping bag for donated items.
Now the fun part: Look at what you kept and decide where it should live in your home. Like you live in your home everything in your home should have a home. An item’s home gets determined first by asking, What room would I look for this? Consider also, where will it be contained? For example, a certain piece of furniture, a specific closet, drawer or a type of bin? Don’t worry if these areas are already cluttered themselves. Get them closer to home!
Do this for each item you’ve decided to keep before moving on to the next bag or box.
Did you get through at least one bag or box? Did you toss or recycle them to make more room for you? Good job!
Aim to do one bag or box as often as you can and before you know it, your floors will be clear of clutter and you’ll feel great!
Too much stuff to do it yourself? Having difficulty focusing or feeling overwhelmed? Consider hiring a professional organizer to help you.
Find one in your area at the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals or NAPO.net and search by your zip code.
Last year you spent a week, month or a lot of money, to organize your home, or one area of it, and now it’s back where you started.
During Covid, you coped last year by shopping. You got into a new hobby. You inherited items from your family. Either way, you got some new stuff. It may even be better than the old stuff but the old stuff is still there. The stuff you had and the new stuff didn’t get put away or it piled above other stuff you already have.
In addition, all those great storage systems for containing your stuff stopped working for you or your family. You started to fall back into old habits. Now you’ve got more stuff than before.
My advice to you: Don’t be discouraged. It may be time to examine your thinking, perspectives and habits when it comes to obtaining and organizing. Remember, sometimes life gets in the way and your priorities change.
First and foremost, consider it a learning, not an opportunity to shame yourself!
How often do you say to yourself…?
I’ll get to it later
I’m keeping it just in case
I’ll just put it here, for now
My family isn’t cooperating!
I couldn’t find it so I bought another
I’ll go through it tomorrow
I may need it some day
It belonged to my parents. I just couldn’t toss it!
Everything in life is an experiment
Remember that great feeling you had when everything had a “home” and it was so neat and tidy?
It didn’t happen by accident and whether you did it yourself or had help from friends or professionals, chances are you learned something you’ve just forgotten. When you forget, your old habits return.
It’s like other things we try to change in our lives. (Believe me. I know this firsthand!)
For example, imagine you need to get to a healthy weight. It’s going to take action and consistency. Not just once, not just for a week, but every day or at least more days than not. You’ll also need a plan based on your strengths, needs and goals.
The same is true when you want to develop an organizing habit.
Know your strengths
Are you visual? Consider “envisioning’ what an organized space looks like for you. Draw or design it or find a picture online or in a magazine that inspires you. Look around and start to notice what you like about your space, not just what bothers you.
Are you tactile? Go around the space, from right to left, and mark all the items you want to get rid of with some painters tape. Touch the items and decide if they still hold meaning for you or not.
Are you a great listener? Consider watching organizing videos online, listen to podcasts or attend a free organizing talk in your area. Organizers often speak for free at retirement communities, real estate groups, community centers or libraries as a way to promote their services. Better yet, get some free advice
Are you physically agile or strong? You may be able to work alone and declutter yourself. Perhaps you can build yourself new storage systems or shelves. This type of strength is called kinesthetic.
Are you intuitive and pretty self-aware? This will help you to edit what you have. Ask yourself key questions that make it a whole lot easier to feel in control and less overwhelmed by your clutter.
Do I love this?
Does it bring in negative emotions or bad memories?
If I saw it in a store, would I buy it again?
Has it been more than a year since I used it?
If it should disappear would I miss it?
Do I know someone who would enjoy it more than I do?
Would it give me pleasure to give it away?
Am I truly honoring the person or their memory by keeping this?
Consider your needs
Sometimes we just don’t want to do something. We “don’t feel like it.” Other times it’s the thing that gets us out of bed in the morning. Your needs are the basics of what makes life possible for you. For some it may be survival needs for others, they may be linked to your highest values. In general needs are the pre-requisites for functioning at your best. Consider your needs and how they fit into these four questions:
Is this something that’s important to me now?
Will having this space more organized help me get up in the morning or improve my day to day life?
Would learning a new organizing habit make me feel better about myself or change the way I perceive myself now?
What would happen if I left things as is? What would be the consequence?
Reflect on your WHY
Take a moment to identify what you want, how you’ll know you got there and why it’s important to you right now. This could be a short-term goal or a long-term goal. The short-term goal can tie into the long term goal but it should be satisfying in and of itself. For example, if you want to get your garage organized again, start with organizing one cabinet or the tool box. If your guest room has been overrun with stuff and is now a storage area, start with just the things on the floor and leave the surfaces, closets and closet organizing to later.
Achieving small successes will have a big impact on your ability to meet your larger goal. Along the way, you will also want to clarify why this is important to you so you can feel and be motivated to take actions that move you closer to your goal. Try asking yourself these four questions:
If everything were organized just the way I imagine, what would that bring me?
What would I be able to do that I can’t do now?
How would it feel to know that I have reached my goal and am maintaining it?
Besides me, who in my life would be most impacted if I did or did not develop this habit?
Change is certain when you know who you are
The process of change and developing any habit is not impossible. As a professional organizer, move manager and personal advocate for those who want to make change in their lives, I can tell you I wasn’t a “born organizer.” My home is tidy but not a magazine showpiece. I learned to be more organized as I discovered my strengths, needs and what was important to me (and what wasn’t).
It works for me and my husband. We each have our shared and separate responsibilities to keep up with it and I don’t take for granted that I can share those tasks with someone else. If I lived alone, I know it would be harder but not impossible. I also know I would need to make choices about what I could accept and live with.
Even if you live alone, are a single parent, have learned to cope with a physical or cognitive challenge or are recently retired, know that you already have certain strengths that can help you to develop and maintain an organizing habit, enjoy your life and get more done.
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.
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.
Life is tough enough! Easily finding something clean to wear that you love shouldn’t be! Want to do something really good for yourself now that you’ve survived another tax year? Here are three easy clutter-busting activities that won’t tax you and may end up saving you time and money!
Organize your laundry
Take five minutes and sort that giant pile of overflowing laundry into four stacks:
Whites including white sheets and white towels
Bright colors such as pink, red, purple, yellow, orange or light blue or washable delicates including anything that has never been washed before,
Dark colors including black, grey, navy or brown.
Heavy items such as blankets.
Contain three of the piles into a laundry sorter, bins or baskets and load the remaining pile in the laundry. While the first load is washing you can now attend to your clothes.
Organize your clothing drawers
Start by choosing the most overstuffed drawer in your dresser. Empty the contents into a pile on your bed, assuming it’s clear. If it’s covered in clothing include these too. If it’s covered in other items, remove them to a nearby table. You want to start with a clear surface.
Start sorting items like with like. For example: Long sleeve shirts, t-shirts (single color) graphic t-shirts, sleeveless shirts, knit shirts, button down shirts, etc. If you have items you would never wear but have strong memories or sentimental value, put those in their own pile.
Once sorted, go through each pile, item by item and purge all items you don’t love, have not worn in over a year, are ripped, stained or would require too much work to restore – DO YOU REALLY WANT TO SPEND YOUR PRECIOUS TIME GETTING A STAIN OUT OF AN OLD T-SHIRT? Put the discarded items in a black trash bag. If you have great quality items you don’t want and still have tags on them, put those in a separate bag labeled “To Sell.” For sentimental items, take a picture of them and let them go or if you must, store them in a bin at the top of your closet with a label that reads: Stored on _____ date.
Check to see if your first load of laundry is ready for the dryer and put the next load in and return to your pile of clothes.
You should now have several piles of clothing you do want. If the drawer you emptied these from is large enough to contain them, without stuffing them in, begin folding or rolling them. I like the folding in thirds method so that items can be terraced together inside your drawer. Any button down blouses or shirts should hang in your closet.
Place folded items inside your drawer, by type and if you like by color. You’ll love the way they look and it will be so easy to find what you need!
Now go back, and check your laundry. Remove the first load from the dryer fill the second load. Fold your dry clothing however you are used to or use the folding in thirds method included above.
Organize your hanging clothing
As above, remove all hanging items from your closet. Include, clothing, scarves, belts, and handbags.
If you have a sturdy portable clothing rack, place the items on the rack. Otherwise use your bed to sort by color and type.
Again, sort items like with like. For example. Long hang dresses/skirts, pants, jackets, long sleeve blouses, short sleeve blouses, better quality camisoles, large purses, small purses, small clutches, bags, belts and scarves. Resist the urge to purge things at this stage as you may end up tossing something you intended to keep. It’s also much easier to make a decision about what to edit when you are looking at “like” items.
One by one, purge items as described above. Set aside clothing you prefer to gift to others just don’t contribute to their clutter as a tactic for holding on to things!
Once edited, replace items hanging on wood hangers, cheap store hangers or slippery plastic hangers that take up a lot of real estate in your closet with non-slip, space saving hangers available at many stores.
Store handbags in bins or on upper shelves. Use area below short hanging items for shoes. Space permitting, use bins to store heavier weight sweaters and scarves (as pictured). I recommend using labels for bins, even if they are translucent, to remind you and others what they do and don’t contain.
Finally, return to your laundry to add in your final load in the washer and dryer. Remove folded clothes and return them to their rightful owner. If they are yours, you can now neatly return them to your newly organized drawer and closet.
Now, sit back and admire your work! Tomorrow getting dressed will be a whole lot easier and definitely less stressful than your taxes!
Every so often I have to declutter something in my home.
I don’t want to lose touch with what my clients experience and I like what it does for my peace of mind. It frees me of some amorphous burden I sometimes experience in other parts of my life. It’s like a form of exercise or meditation for stress relief.
Today’s lesson is brought to you by hair conditioner.
You see, I have very thick, wavy hair that gets tangled easily if I don’t use some kind of detangler or conditioner. Years ago, maybe once when I was a child, I was washing my hair and I’d run out of detangler. The next thing I knew, my mother was doing her best to detangle my matted mess and causing me much pain and anguish in the process.
I never thought about it until today but while I was decluttering my bathroom and utility cabinets I noticed I had a lot of hair conditioner. Even more striking however was how much I resisted letting it go, even though I wanted to declutter. I thought, “How many bottles of hair conditioner do I really need?”
In fact, I thought about all the rationale questions I ask my clients:
“If it disappeared could it easily be replaced? YES.”
“Do I love this particular bottle? NO.”
“Did I have enough already? ABSOLUTELY!”
So when it came down to really examining my own resistance to letting go of an abundance of hair conditioner, I had to trace it back to that moment of pain. I never wanted to be caught without it again. “Doing so,” my brain told me, “would surely lead to pain and suffering.”
In California recently, thousands of people have lost their homes to wildfires. I know from my experience as a professional organizer and from friends who have lost their homes in fires, that going through extreme trauma and loss can be devastating. The recovery process is long, complicated and fraught with real fears of attachment and letting go.
I once had a client who had survived the loss of two homes through fire. Her collection of emergency supplies could fill a small garage.
Fear, I’ve learned, doesn’t have to come from a big trauma. It can come from small events too.
Fear lives in your body and your psyche for a long time. Fear of loss, fear of change, fear of re-experiencing pain. Fear is such a strong and powerful emotion, it doesn’t matter how much time goes by or even what caused it in the first place; It continues to rule our behaviors and our habits.
So what can you do when you notice fear ruling you at a time when you need to feel strong?
Let’s say you need to downsize your home because you are moving to a smaller space. When it comes to doing the simplest decluttering, pay attention when you see yourself holding on to something for apparently no obvious reason. Notice what emotions come up.
Ask yourself,”what does this item remind me of?” Don’t minimize it, no matter how silly it may seem. If a memory gets triggered, allow yourself to review it.
What in that memory may be getting in the way of your home organizing goals?
Is it a fact that whatever you remember will or could happen again?
Is it probable? If it did, how would you cope?
Imagine letting go of the item and see what comes up and what you would do if it happened.
There is amazing information in our brains that can help with not just the act of organizing or decluttering but can also give us insight into ourselves to help us heal from our biggest traumas or even small ones. The pain is real.
The question is can you control how you react to it now? Doing so will empower you to take control of the fear.
Once you can objectively examine the real benefit of getting to where you want to go, you will realize the real price is holding onto an old fear when you no longer need to be afraid or even better, when you know you’ve survived.
Personal and home organizing is a hot topic and almost everyone has an opinion about what works. Here are ten beliefs about organizing that I have heard numerous times in my ten years as a professional organizer and move manager. Ask yourself, have I heard myself think or say any of these? If so, read why I think you’d be better off tossing out these beliefs next time you decide to get organized at home.
Myth #1 If it’s visible I can see it. (Also known as, I will remember I have this if I put it here.)
If everything is visible, nothing is. Your eye doesn’t know where to focus. Picture things in a pile. They might be visible but good luck finding what you need in a hurry. If you find yourself saying, “I will remember it if I just put it here,” in my industry we jokingly refer to that as the FHS system of organizing, as in First Horizontal Space.
Myth #2 Just touch the paper once.
I’ve heard clients repeat this back to me dozens of times but it never made sense to me, especially for paper that is prompting you to do something – such as pay a bill – or paper that is likely you will look at again – such as your credit card bill. The only paper I can see looking at once is the paper you toss (or shred) like your junk mail.
Myth #3 It will just take me a day to get organized Unless you make a living as a professional organizer, I would never recommend you spend an entire day on an organizing project unless you have a lot of energy! Organizing is both a physical and mental task. Spending eight hours sorting, purging, assigning homes to items, then containing them in a way that makes sense, not to mention shopping for the right organizing products and labeling them, is a lot or work! Most of my clients consistently underestimate the time it takes to organize a space. Organizing a room includes not just what you can see, but what you can’t see (hidden on shelves, in cabinets and drawers). If you are motivated to get organized, pick a day and time frame when you are feeling normally energetic or when you do other types of household tasks. Don’t spend more than 3-4 hours working. Do you really want to spend your precious days off organizing your garage if what you really want to do is tend to your garden, take a walk with your dog or have brunch with a friend? One more tip: Never use your vacation time to get organized if you don’t have to.
Myth #4 Containers, bins and labels will get me organized That of course is what many stores carrying organizing products and systems will want you to believe. Don’t get me wrong, many of these products are great and I would be the first to recommend a good storage bin to a client when it calls for one. Just buying products and having them collect dust in your home will never get you more organized. Plan on using them for a specific set of items that you have already sorted through and decided to keep because you use them.
Myth #5 Organized people are dull Dull no. Passionate, creative, caring, quirky, friendly, obsessive (sometimes). If you like your “messy” side and have no reason to be “tidy” then embrace that part of yourself if it doesn’t cause pain for you or your loved ones. That being said, I’ve always believed that when you create more physical space in your life, it gives you the room to focus on or discover what truly gives you joy.
Myth #6 I am hopeless when it comes to getting organized The messages we give ourselves often manifest as reality. But just because you don’t have the expertise, skill, “mindset” or intention to get organized doesn’t mean you can’t be me more organized. I understand not everyone is cut out to be better at something they wish they were. No amount of effort will ever turn me into a marathon runner but I did once complete a marathon-walk. It took months of training every weekend, motivation and a plan. If you want to learn to be better organized, you can do it
Myth #7 I just need time to do some filing
Several years ago, I started a new personal productivity service for my clients who were struggling with too much paper.
I was inspired to do this after I heard so many of them say that the answer to their paper piles was filing. It’s not! The answer to your paper piles is less paper! But knowing what paper to keep, how and why, and having a simple system for organizing and managing new paper as it comes in to your life, does work. Learn more about my personal productivity service here.
Myth #8 I just need more storage space The famous comedian, George Carlin, had a great routine about why people buy homes (as a “place to put their stuff.”) Check it out here for a good laugh: https://youtu.be/MvgN5gCuLac. While storage or lack thereof may be a contributing factor to your disorganization, buying or building shelves will not make the clutter go away. It will just “contain” it. But buying shelving just to contain your “stuff” is like, as Mr. Carlin said, like buying a house just to have a place to put your stuff.
Myth #9 Live minimally While I love to watch the shows about Tiny Houses, not everyone is cut out to live in a 200 square foot home. I know I’m not! When I was in college, I had a boyfriend who literally had one knife, one fork, and one spoon. At dinner we used to playfully compete for who got the fork at dinner! It may have seemed romantic at the time, but you don’t have to live this minimally to enjoy your life. There is a grey area in between. When it comes to deciding what you really need, I prefer to use the word “curate” as it implies keeping only what supports you. Curate comes from the Latin word Cur or care. Thus we keep what we care about and anything left that is still useful, finds new life in the care of someone else. Living in a consumer and technological culture has made that very difficult. Sadly there is so much I see that can’t be re-used or recycled. Choose carefully what you bring into your life. Everytime you are tempted to buy something new, consider that the day may come when you will want to part with it. Will it be usable or trash?
Myth #10 Having a place for everything I own will make me more organized. Having a home for what you use, love and need is important but having a home for your stuff alone does not make you more organized. It won’t help you, for example, if you have used your space so efficiently that every square inch of your home contains things that you’ve never used, exist in quantities that exceed what you need or you are keeping for sentimental reasons that never honor the person who gave them to you. What’s the point of holding on to your grandmother’s china if you never use it! In her day, she probably kept it as an heirloom for you and chances are she used it because in her day, China was part of her lifestyle the way mugs and plates we own are part of ours. If you are keeping something for sentimental reasons, use it to bring back memories otherwise release it for someone else to enjoy. Just keep in mind, to someone else it’s just a plate and saucer.
I actually had to look up what gender parity meant before I wrote this.
Gender parity is not some catchy slogan. It is a statistical measure created by the United Nations International, Educational and Social Organization or UNESCO that compares a particular indicator among women, like average income, to the same indicator among men.
Specifically the GPI measures the extent to which all genders have equal access to opportunities such as education, employment and consideration for either, across the world.
So what does gender parity have to do with home organizing?
According to NAPO, the National Association of Productivity and Organizing specialists, women are three times more likely to assign themselves or be perceived as the one with primary responsibility for home organization.
Women, in general, are more likely to be stressed by the clutter in their homes and more anxious about maintaining organizing systems such as managing mail and paying bills even when the existence of those systems – or lack thereof – affects everyone in the home.
Women are more likely to take on the responsibility as well as the cost (in time and money) of disorganization even if they spend equal time earning income outside of the home.
If they have children, they are twice as likely, than their spouses, to blame themselves or worse, are blamed, for clutter and a lack of order in their homes.
The belief or misconception that women, by virtue of their gender, should automatically know how to be organized has always irked me. I don’t recall learning in my high school biology classes that women have an “organizing” gene. I know I didn’t! Everything I know as a Certified Professional Organizer I learned.
Assigning responsibility or even blame for a home’s organization to “Mom” “Wife” or “Daughter” in a home shared by multiple genders, is like saying the flood in the basement from the heavy rains that damaged the floor is Mom’s fault instead of the absence of a good drainage system.
Now that it’s the 21st century, I think it’s time for this 19th century mindset to change. In the spirit of #pressforprogress I am putting forth these 5 core gender parity statements. I hope you will consider sharing them under the hashtag, #clutterhasnogender
Clutter at home is gender neutral
Both genders can be organized or disorganized. Don’t assume women are more or less organized than men.
Knowing what to keep, sell, donate or toss can be learned by any gender
Organizing systems and habits can and should be learned, taught or adopted by multiple family members; Men, women and children!
The responsibility for cleaning, organizing and maintaining one’s home is NOT gender specific
All during January you are going to hear and see stories about getting organized. It’s the second most common resolution people make after “lose weight” and about as likely to happen. So what kills a thousand good intentions? It’s not because you are weak or lack the skills or even a plan. It’s because you haven’t come up with a truly, compelling, all-out, no holds barred, take no prisoners, terrifyingly vivid and all consuming, WHY as in, why do I want to be more organized? There are lots of really good reasons to get organized here are a few I’ve heard over the years:
Be free to do more with my time
Feel less stress and anxiety
Be able to entertain at home or have friends over
Have more room and time to do what I enjoy
Be a better model for my children
Get more done at work and present myself more positively
Getting clear on your WHY is the key to following through on your organizing goals or resolutions. It is the single most important motivator when you start and it’s the glue that helps you keep going when you back-track. Most importantly your WHY has to be for you! It doesn’t mean your family or coworkers or boss won’t appreciate it, but it has to mean more to you!
If your WHY is not strong enough to get you going, then pick another. When I started organizing it was right after I left my job in 2008. I was going stir-crazy because I wanted to be useful and I needed to see results. I certainly didn’t know then that I was going to become a professional organizer, let alone start my own business. My WHY was about my desperately needing to feel in control at a time in my life when things felt very chaotic. Of course, the added bonus was that I also could also find that cute green jacket when I needed it and I stopped buying duplicates of antiperspirant. Want to know the full story of how I got started? Click here