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.
Editor’s Note: I am reprinting* this post, by permission of its author, Greg McKeown, best-selling author, public speaker and founder and CEO of McKeown, Inc., a leadership and strategy design agency based in California. I met Greg many years ago at a talk he gave to the members of the local chapter of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals. I have been following his writing, podcasts and talks about “Essentialism” ever since. You can learn more about Greg’s work or subscribe to his newsletter at https://gregmckeown.com/
Have you ever continued to invest time and energy into a failing project instead of cutting your losses?
We all find it difficult to uncommit from nonessential projects and distractions – even if it’s a losing proposition.
One reason is that we tend to overvalue things that belong to us.
I’m sure you can think of things in your life that seem to be more valuable the moment you think about giving them away.
Psychologists call this the endowment effect. And unfortunately, it applies to our activities and commitments as well (that project at work or the hobby you’ve invested in but are only sort of enjoy).
Working hand-in-hand with the endowment effect is something called loss aversion.
This is the idea that we perceive the pain of losing something as more significant than the joy of gaining something else (1).
Loss aversion makes us afraid to uncommit because we fear losing an opportunity, a relationship, or prestige. Left unchecked, this fear of loss can blind us to what we can gain by exploring new and better opportunities.
But despite its difficulty, we can overcome the endowment effect and loss aversion.
I’ve used this simple strategy, suggested by the BBC’s Tom Stafford, to evaluate how much I really value something.
*published by permission of Greg McKeown
As a veteran professional organizer, I’ve shared thousands of tips over the years on home organizing, downsizing and planning a less stressful move.
To celebrate the end of 2021, (phew) I looked back over my blog posts from this year to dig up individual pearls of wisdom I could share again to inspire you for 2022. Do any of these resonate with you?
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?”
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.
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!
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?”
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!”
Here are a few great reasons to hire a professional organizer or move manager
I hope one of these tips has inspired you. Feel free to share which of these you plan to try for 2022 and why? I would love to hear from you.
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!
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
I still love it when I hear my clients tell me about how getting organized has impacted their lives.
“After you got me organized, I enrolled in a cooking class I’ve been wanting to take.”
“I started gardening again.”
“My family told me I was a lot less grumpy.”
“I felt like I could breathe again!”
My “brand” of organizing came out of my own, real life.
I first started organizing my home 12 years ago, quite by accident – I wasn’t a “born organizer.” When I found myself feeling restless and anxious after I left my corporate career at age 49, I started organizing my bathroom cabinet.
Almost immediately, I started noticing that the act of sorting my home’s contents and purging things I no longer wanted, then finding creative ways to store or display them was fun and did wonders for sparking my creativity not to mention taking my mind off of being unemployed with a mortgage.
The first time I helped a friend get her papers organized, I came home and told my husband it was the most satisfying thing I’d done in years!
If my clients say they want their kitchen’s dry goods stored in chalk-labeled, air tight containers, that’s fine, we’re happy to do it. For me, it’s not worth my time. My dry goods get put in a bin in their original packaging. When I want pasta, I know where it is.
Your home does not have to look like a cover from a lifestyle magazine or an Instagram post if that’s not who you are.
Knowing how you behave in real-life is a great decision tool to help you when you are thinking about ways to be better organized.
Here’s an example I see often.
People keep way too many business cards. But in reality when they are looking for a business they rarely if ever go to that “business card file.” They get a referral from a friend, or another professional or they do a web search. In other words in “real life” they behave differently from how they organize their life.
When my clients tell me, they want to store all their recipes in sheet protectors, in three ring binders but they have three stacks of old, saved paper recipes a foot high on their kitchen counters from 10 years ago, I will ask them, “In real life, if you were looking for a recipe, would you go through this stack?” Sometimes they say yes, but most times they’ll admit they refer to their cookbooks or go online for recipe ideas.
When it comes to organizing, do what’s truly worth your time.
For anything you are wanting to organize, ask yourself, “is it truly worth my time?” or “if I were looking for this, where would I look for it in real life?”
It takes hours to create a 3-ring recipe binder for recipes. As an organizer, it’s not for me to tell my clients what to keep or what not to, but sometimes I know my clients get caught up in the magazine version of organizing instead of what really fits their own habits and lifestyle.
They want the complete collection, the perfect solution, or they want to be the version of themselves they think they should be instead of who they really are.
If it’s worth your time to sort through that stack of paper recipes, to curate your favorites and edit out the ones you would never make anymore – the ones using meat, for example if you’re now a vegetarian – then by all means do it if makes you happy!
What you don’t want to do is hold onto the recipes – or the unfinished craft projects or the broken chair you’ve intended to fix for ten years — and say, “someday I’m going to do this.” Because you won’t. If you wanted to, you would have. It’s not a priority for you anymore. And that’s good. It means that hopefully you’re spending your life on things that you do enjoy or are important and meaningful to you.
If you’re not, those are questions you can pose to yourself as well or with the help of an advisor, guide, life coach or therapist, if appropriate.
As we get older, our priorities shift and time seems to speed up and feel more precious.
If six months or a year goes by and the recipes are still stacked on your kitchen counter, the art project never got started, the chair never got fixed, then maybe it’s time to say, “I’m choosing to do something else with my life now” and let it go.
Here’s another approach. Ask yourself, what is it about the unfinished project that still holds your attention.
Perhaps the recipes remind you of happy times with your family, parents, grandparents and you want to keep those memories alive. If that’s the case, then find the two or three or ten recipes that evoke the best memories and make them. Toss the rest.
If the unfinished art project was something you felt inspired to create when you first decided to, ask yourself, ” Do I still feel that inspiration now?” What was it about the project that excited you when you first thought of creating it? You may find the answer will reveal a new inspiration that is more compelling for you now.
As for the broken chair, imagine it’s fixed. Would you use it? Would you gift it to someone? Did it belong to someone special in your life? Are you honoring them by keeping that memory stored broken in a basement?
The point is, don’t get hung up on the goal you set for yourself 3, 5, 10 years ago. If you really still want to do it, then it’s possible something else is holding you back. You may be stuck on an outdated perspective about yourself or what it means to be a better version of yourself. You may be holding on to an Instagram version of you instead of the real you.
Is the you, you are now, enough?
Editor’s Note: Cara Lanz is a freelance writer, digital marketer, and self-proclaimed word nerd. She is also a god-send to me. This month she is my guest blogger. When she isn’t creating digital content for clients across the country, she is blogging on MidwesternHomeLife, her own lifestyle website. She loves to share simple and (sometimes) healthy recipes, debt-free tips, and inspiration for creating a happy home in the heartland. You can find Cara at https://midwesternhomelife.com/.
I knew I needed to declutter my dishes when it came down to a math problem I just couldn’t solve. I had two people in the house and a dinnerware cabinet brimming with — among other things — 21 dinner plates, 12 salad plates, 17 saucers, and 20 soup bowls.
Now, in my defense, they were all matching– well, as matching as Fiestaware can be — and neatly organized. No haphazard piles or plastic containers shoved in there. So, on its face, it didn’t really appear as though I needed to declutter my dishes.
But the math just didn’t work. Plus, I had other cabinets bursting at the seams with things I wanted to move into my dinnerware cabinet.
How would I go about deciding what to keep and what to get rid of?
Enter Lis McKinley, owner of LET’S MAKE ROOM. As an organizational expert, she’s helped hundreds of others figure this very thing out.
But, I wondered: Would she finally be the one to pry my superfluous Fiestaware from my gripped fingers, or would I be the one and only person she has not been able to help? I really had no idea which way this was going to go.
So we set up a Zoom meeting.
When I first got on a call with Lis, I noticed two things right away. She’s warm and welcoming and made every crazy organizational dilemma I had seem like it was totally normal, and she’s heard it a million times. She’s also extremely decisive in that teacher kind of way that just made me want to do what she said because I knew she knew what she was talking about.
She laid out our plan for exactly what we were going to do during our time together. She even had a clever acronym for her process: S.P.A.C.E. She gently took the time to explain what each of the steps meant and made sure I understood them.
For the next hour, we:
Here’s what that looked like.
To get started, I pulled all my dishes out of the cabinet and put them into like piles. Bowls with bowls, plates with plates. Not only did this help me to see with clarity exactly what I was dealing with, but it also gave me an empty cabinet, aka, a clean slate, to start all over again.
The goal of purging was to make decisions about which items I wanted to keep, based on four criteria: Do I love them, want them, need them, or use them? We had really thoughtful conversations and she asked me things like, “If you saw that in a store, would you buy it again?” We also discussed how often we entertain, how many adults and kids, and which dishes we need to accommodate them. Then we pared down from there. It all made perfect sense.
We also sifted through things that I knew just weren’t going to go back into the cupboard. These super fussy 2-part martini chiller/chilled appetizer glasses, for example. Also, some heirloom dishes that are pretty enough, but I’m just not using them.
During the assign process, I had to find a home for everything. To figure that out, I had to think about where I would most likely look for things if I needed to use them. So a good amount of my dinnerware was assigned back to the cupboard.
Those fussy 2-part glasses — and other things I’ll never use again — went straight into the “Donate” box. The heirloom dishes went into my “Ask Mom If She Wants Them Back” box. But that wasn’t the end of it. Lis made me pick a date when I would drop off the “Donate” items and send a pic to my mom of the items that were potentially going to boomerang back to her. So, now I was accountable. But, it was all on a timeline that I chose.
Now it was time to put things back. Contain my pared-down dishes into the cupboard. But it wasn’t just, “Okay now put everything back.” Lis asked me to think about each item I was putting back and where it would be best to put it. We had discussions about things like, “Well, we really use these bowls more than those bowls,” and “I can’t reach those plates very well when the dishwasher is open.” So it was super strategic, and I could tell it was going to set me up for long-term success.
Also, Lis knew one of my goals was to get rid of so much stuff in this cupboard that I could free up my entire top shelf, drop it down to a level I could actually reach, and transport items I use all the time from another hard-to-reach cupboard. So while Lis sat in the Zoom room, I hauled over a bar stool, climbed up on my counter, and dropped down that top shelf. Just like that, that cupboard became 33.33% more useful to me!
During the equalize phase — this was the tidying up at the end of it all — I easily put things back where they belonged. Lis explained that the process of assigning and containing is what makes it possible to equalize, because I had already established a home for everything.
I had a pile of plates and bowls that were going to be put away into my pantry for when I needed them for a large party. I had certain dishes I only use for my food blog that needed to go where those things live. At last, everything was where it should be.
By the end of our hour and a half together, my cupboard was whittled down to a svelte 10 dinner plates, 10 salad plates, and 10 soup bowls. Zero saucers. Lots of room for everything we need, in the places that make the most sense. AND a completely empty shelf ready to take on the overflow when I use the S.P.A.C.E. method to clear out my next cupboard.
Your bedroom is your place of respite. When the rest of the world feels chaotic, as it does now, your bedroom is the place, ideally, you can retreat to for solace, comfort, sleep, and peace.
If your bedroom is cluttered, all of these things will be impacted. This is especially true if you use your bedroom as a workspace, which I never recommend unless you absolutely have to. If that’s the case, be sure you turn off all your electronics at night, so there are no buzzes, pings, or blinking lights to disturb you.
If possible, set up a barrier such as a folding screen or curtain between you and your workspace to create a distinct boundary.
Lastly, surround yourself with things that bring you joy (a favorite piece of art, a cherished photo, a few favorite books, maybe even a wind chime outside your window), but not too much. Keep it uncluttered, and you’ll feel refreshed and ready for each new day.
-Lis McKinley at Let’s Make Room
It’s called the reverse hanger technique. Here’s how it works:
Turn all your hanging clothing around so each hanger faces towards the back of your closet. As you wear items, return them to face the front of the closet. Now mark your calendar for 6 months from the date you did this. On that day, notice which clothing items are still facing towards the back. These are the ones you haven’t worn!
I recently did this after emptying all my hanging clothes from my closet so my husband could paint it. As I put things back, I noticed right away a few things I didn’t want so they went right into the donation bag. The rest were hung on my favorite space-saving hangers with the hook turned towards me. The last few days I have been putting items back with the hooks turned away from me. I know there will be items that may not get turned around but this gives me confirmation and then I can decide in six months whether it still makes sense to keep them.
Still energized to do more?
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:
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:
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.