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.
Organizing, like meditation, is a practice. It starts out feeling strange and unfamiliar. Over time it becomes the opening to a new way of being.
Over the years I’ve dipped into meditation but never with any consistency. I considered myself a meditation failure.
A few months ago I started again with the help of an app called Ten Percent. I pay for it but not much. The app was inspired by the book Ten Percent Happier. Its author is a journalist named Dan Harris. Harris experienced a very public panic attack while delivering the news on air one day. For more on his story, which is worth reading, visit www.tenpercent.com
When I first heard him at a conference on happiness, (yes you can roll your eyes), I liked him right away. First, he is a reporter, not a “wellness guru.” He is a self-proclaimed “non believer,” critical thinker, funny, Jewish, cute – hey it doesn’t hurt – and about as far from woo-woo as I could imagine.
He describes himself as workaholic. I once heard him say that since he started meditating his wife thought he’d become “less of an asshole.” He sounded like the right teacher for me.
So one day I started. That was 89 meditation sessions ago. (The app helps you keep track.)
The Good Side of Failure
Meditation is not hard but it’s not easy either. It helps if you have a guide and a structure; A thought or phrase to focus on like your breath. I also had to learn that meditation is not about “clearing your mind.” That’s impossible nor the goal. Instead, I learned that failing at meditation is the whole point of meditation.
You focus on something, for a second, lose track of your focus, notice you’ve lost track and get back on track.
It’s in the noticing of when you’ve lost track, that helps you to become more aware. What struck me is that it is the in the moment of “failure” where you gain the most awareness.
We live in a culture and a country that fights failure at all costs. Like vultures at a carcass, we go after people when they fail. Simone Biles withdrawing from the team events at the 2020 Olympics for her own mental health is one recent example. Worst of all, we are ruthless when it comes to our own failures. My inner critic almost made my therapist jump out of her chair recently.
Failure, fear of failure, shame, guilt. I see it so much in the coaching and organizing work I do.
Our clutter – both the mental chatter and the physical stuff – is the manifestation of our sense of self. It’s like being in a self-driving car that’s lost control. By the way, being in a self-driving car is my worst nightmare.
Meditation has shown me the good side of failure. That is, in the moment of losing track, comes the new way of seeing, the shift in perspective. In that moment, it feels like your inner bully is in full force, but that’s where the self-compassion comes in.
The Sting of Self Compassion
Is it easy to find self-compassion when our critical mind is attacking us like a swarm of bees? It’s almost as if the medicine is worse than the pain. But that in fact is the opening, the antidote to the sting if you will.
I have to admit I’m not great at this, yet. I’m still working on turning up the volume of my self-compassion and turning down the volume of my critic. At least I am more aware of it now. I have an opponent I can see a bit better. With time I hope I will be able to hold us both, in the same space, not as my enemy, but with kindness and forgiveness.
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.
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.
My Virtual Organizing Call with Lis
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.
My Dishes, Decluttered
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.
Are you downsizing to move and have household items and furniture you don’t need?
Did you know you can sell your items in an online auction sale, all in one day (in most cases), and earn back money to help offset the cost of your move? The whole process takes about two weeks from start to pick up day, and before you know it, you’ll be ready to move or get your house on the market.
I recently organized one of these sales, for a client in Oakland, CA, through a company called Max Sold.
How Do Online Auction Sales Work?
The key to it being successful and worth your time is taking the time to organize and group like items together in what are called “Lots.”
Lots are an array of related items that can attract several buyers, thus driving their price up through online bidding.
Even less popular items will sell, thus saving you the hassle and cost of taking them to a local charity or saving you money in hauling fees. Think of it as creating a one-stop-shop of your home’s unwanted contents.
It’s not just your furniture you can offer for sale. You can sell just about anything – appliances, baby items, books, unused cosmetics, craft supplies, home decor, office supplies, unused toiletries, tools, even used cleaning products and supplies!
How to Prepare for an Online Estate Sale
Getting ready to sell your items in an online auction or estate sale takes a little bit of planning at the front end to make sure your pick-up day is smooth sailing. This is how it works:
Decide What You’re Selling
Set aside items you are keeping in a separate room, such as your bedroom or another spare room or storage area if you have one.
Declutter all trash inside and outside your home. You can also arrange for a free bulk pick-up if your city offers one.
Recycle or remove anything damaged, broken, stained, ripped, overly worn, or opened, such as toiletries, and dispose of hazardous waste.
Donate usable items that don’t typically sell or cannot be included, like regular clothing (designer or luxury items are fine), and donate unexpired, unopened food such as dry and canned goods to a local food bank. In general, regulated items such as car seats or adult-only items such as weapons cannot be sold through conventional online sales.
Group Items Into Lots
Group what is left – like with like – in “Lots.” Single items of furniture or a large appliance can be sold as one Lot.
Organize items to be camera-ready — in other words, all visible when photographed.
Place smaller items on furniture and other surfaces and plan to sell those things first.
Separate unique or valuable items and group these with less valuable but similar items to encourage bidding
Photograph each lot several times using the selling platform and include a brief item description, condition description, and assign a pick-up time. Small items usually go first, larger items on top of furniture next, and larger furniture items and appliances last.
Review and edit your catalog before it goes live. Give your buyers at least seven days to review your sale.
Prepare for Pick Up
During the current Covid-19 pandemic, make sure your home is well ventilated and that you are wearing a mask. It will make it easier to sort and organize items and keep you and buyers safe when they go to pick up their items in your home.
Aim for a weekend pick-up day for buyer convenience. This means giving yourself at least ten days from posting date to pick-up date.
Get help for pick-up day since you will need to keep track of buyers and their items. Consider hiring a professional organizer with this type of estate sale experience to manage all or part of the process for you.
Plan for and make arrangements for items not picked up by the end of your pick-up day. You can also offer them as free items to other buyers. With luck and the right planning, you won’t have too many “leftovers.”
Get paid. When your pick-up event is over, submit a pick-up report to report any issues. Fourteen business days later, you will get your payment by check or direct deposit, depending upon what you choose. Keep in mind that the platform you use will take a percentage of your sales in exchange for using their platform. Typically this is a 70/30 split, with you getting 70% of the proceeds and the platform getting 30%.
About Max Sold
Max Sold will help you sell items in the following categories through an online auction sale:
Art and posters
Baby Items (except regulated items such as baby seats)
Bed and Bath
Books (except those considered promoting intolerance, racism or pornography)
You’ve been thinking about getting organized and decluttered for weeks, months, years. You just can’t seem to get started, motivated or going. What’s holding you back?
Decluttering and organizing are not unlike other forms of self-care such as eating healthier, getting in shape or reducing your stress. Accomplishing these takes a plan, consistent action and focus.
It can be as simple as setting a goal, breaking that goal into small parts and making sure you have what you need to obtain and meet your goal. Just like walking – taking one step and then another – you are seemingly doing the same thing over and over but the scenery changes as you go.
As you make progress, you will notice other types of change in your body, your brain and your mood. All these changes work on each other to improve your actual, as well as perceived, sense of wellbeing. The same is true for organizing.
The beginning of the year is a great time to resolve to get organized. Even if you are feeling motivated, your chances of success will depend on having a simple, actionable plan. This will help you overcome distractions and reasons to do something else.
Make a Plan
People sometimes hear the word plan and they give up before they start. Planning is nothing more than visualizing yourself doing the task and considering what you would need to be successful.
In the case of organizing, think about what you will need to get the job done.
Imagine yourself doing the task. Break it into small steps. What will you have to do to tidy or organize your desk, freezer, coat closet, tool area? Will you empty everything first? Do you have enough counter space? How will you sort items? Do you plan to donate or recycle or dispose of items you don’t want? Do you need a sitter for your kids? Take a few moments to think it through.
Consider what you’ll need to support you in the task. Just like it’s a good idea to have comfortable, supportive walking shoes when you go for a brisk walk outdoors, as you get organized, you will need things to support your process. This could be things like bags for donations or trash, a dust rag for wiping off surfaces, a clear surface for sorting items, even music if you think that will keep you motivated and energized. Get those things together before you start organizing. Once you gather your supplies once or twice, it will be second nature the next time you embark on a new organizing task.
Gathering your supplies is a form of taking action. Clearing a surface for sorting is also a form of taking action. Even getting your music set up is an action. The secret to success is taking small, achievable consistent action every time you embark on an organizing project.
Aim for action, not perfection. As the saying goes, perfection is the enemy of progress. This is especially true for physical organizing. Does the surface need to be perfectly clear? No. Do you need to have pretty bins, brand-new containers and chalk board labels? Absolutely not! Most of all, don’t compare yourself with others. Turn off the critic and know that good enough IS good enough.
Treat organizing as a practice not a one-time event. A practice is a series of behaviors that you do over and over with consistency. This will help build what I call the decision-making muscles in your brain. Each time you make a decision about whether or not you want to keep something you own, your decision-making muscles will get stronger.
See yourself as more organized. Getting organized is an action consisting of similar tasks. The more you do the more you’ll develop an “organized” mindset. You’ll start to see yourself as an organized person. That mindset will further propel you to change your behavior. For example, you may think twice the next time you shop or consider bringing something new into your home.
For many this can be the most difficult part of embarking on an organizing project. You have a plan but once the reality of sorting items, making decision after decision and physically moving or transporting items, you will lose focus, get bored and maybe want to give up. Don’t!
Just like walking – taking one step and then another – you are seemingly doing the same thing over and over. But what you are also doing is creating other types of change you might not notice right away in your body, your brain and your mood. All these changes work on each other to improve your actual, as well as perceived, sense of wellbeing. The same is true for organizing.
When you focus on the tasks of physical organizing and decluttering, there are some very real ways you are enhancing your body and mind’s wellbeing.
Improve brain health. Researchers believe the brain’s prefrontal cortex holds the neurons that allow us to sort and categorize. It’s actually a very sophisticated brain process involving assigning categories based on our experience. The act of organizing improves our brain’s health by exercising those parts of our brain needed to accomplish the task of getting organized.
Gain self-awareness. Accept that some areas will be easier for you to declutter than others because of negative associations. If you notice you continually avoid or start and stop an organizing task, ask yourself if there is something about the objects themselves that have a negative connotation. Recognize and accept the association but don’t let it stop you.
Enhance wellbeing. The very act of sorting alone can be a kind of meditation. As you sort, you will notice your mind going in many directions. As you focus, you will become more relaxed and the task of sorting and purging becomes easier. Not only that but the focused actions you take will release the neurochemicals in your brain, called endorphins, that make you feel good.
Sustain motivation. I always ask my clients to imagine the space they want decluttered as already organized. Then I ask them to tell me 1) How it makes them feel and 2) What they can now do differently in the space that they couldn’t do before. Being able to imagine the result is a common strategy used by athletes to keep them focused. Keeping your imagined result, top-of-mind, can be a great way to stay motivated and focused.
For those with cognitive impairments caused by traumatic brain injury, stroke or age-related dementia, you may have a more difficult time with organizing. These conditions often impact your ability to process the information needed to organize your physical surroundings. With support and professional guidance these obstacles can be overcome or diminished.
Organizing physical items in your home – by sorting, editing and assigning where they live – is a form of self-care that improves your body, brain and mood. It may feel difficult, painful or even boring at first but with a plan, consistent action and focus, you will likely feel good, less stressed and happier.
Lis McKinley, M.A., is a certified professional organizer, move manager and owner of LET’S MAKE ROOM, LLC based in Oakland, Ca.
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.
Stuck at home. You’ve had your morning coffee, read the gloomy newspaper or scanned your social media apps. You have something pressing to do but avoid it and mindlessly start shuffling papers on your desk.
You wander around aimlessly, straightening pictures, moving a pile of books from one surface to another, throwing out an obvious piece of trash. You know you’re barely making a dent but somehow it seems important in the moment.
You look around your home and feel the familiar pang of shame that comes from knowing your house is more than a “bit of a mess.” Books and knick-knacks piled two-deep on shelves. Your cabinets and drawers packed full with a lifetime of items that meant something to you once but now you can’t even remember where half of them came from.
Almost every surface covered with the residue of the week.
Don’t Go It Alone!
You look around at the 20 or 30 years of accumulated stuff. You wonder if you have the resources to hire a professional organizer who would somehow magically transform your home into a picture straight out of Real Simple Magazine. You know this is impossible now. Money is tight and you’ve just paid your property taxes or your son’s tuition or an unexpected medical bill from a procedure you had last year before something called Covid-19 stole your “normal” life.
Momentarily the thought disappears as your alarm reminds you it’s time for your weekly Zoom call.
During the meeting you happen to mention your desire to get decluttered and curiously ask if anyone else is feeling the same. All at once, hands shoot up in the air. You let out a sigh of relief and recognition. You are not alone in this struggle and that’s when it hits you. “Why not start a clutter support group?”
The idea came to C.J. during a recent Zoom meeting she was conducting with her clients – mostly other self-employed people. C.J. casually mentioned she’d like to be more organized and asked if anyone else was experiencing the same thing.
“Half the hands in the room shot up” C.J. told me recently by phone. She then posed the question to the group, “Maybe we should form a pod? That’s how it started. It was totally spontaneous.”
Within a few days C.J. had come up with a group structure — action oriented, not just a support group – a name, The Decluttering Divas and a schedule. They meet virtually once a week on Monday mornings and keep their computer’s microphones and cameras turned on so everyone else in the group can “get the visceral sounds of decluttering.” C.J. gets the group going but it is strictly peer-support that keeps everyone on task.
Tame Your Inner Critic
Perhaps the biggest value of the group has been the way it helps silence everyone’s inner critic, including C.J’s.
“She tells me this is too big a job and I’ll never be able to complete it. But I keep telling her that as long as I break it down into manageable chunks, and have support, I really can.”
The group shares another bond – that of facing the many challenges of life as baby-boomers. Several of the group’s members juggle their lives and their businesses, often with competing responsibilities for aging parents, adult children and the self-imposed pressure of changing attitudes towards the things they own. For some, decluttering runs into direct conflict with their parent’s depression-era views of save everything
In C.J.’s case, that meant, among other things, coming across a collection of old hair accessories and incredulously wondering why she had kept them. “The last time I had hair long enough to wear hair ornaments was probably in the mid-90s!”
Join A Worldwide Movement
It turns out Decluttering Divas is not alone. A search of other decluttering groups on the popular Meetup.com website found 71 groups consisting of nearly 18,000 members in 62 cities across 16 countries around the world.
While it’s unlikely the Covid-19 pandemic, with more and more people being sequestered at home, lead to the phenomena of worldwide clutter groups, as well as popular topics such as minimalism, online selling, tiny houses, and home editing, it’s probably one of it’s few silver linings. Even C.J.s group has one participant from the United Kingdom.
The reasons people join a decluttering group are as varied as their stuff. In “Decluttering Divas,” one member was dealing with the clutter left behind by her parents who lived with her for many years but who have since moved on to retirement communities or passed away.
Another is an artist who wanted more time for her art and hobbies and was getting too distracted by her clutter.
For C.J. herself it came down to being able to be more productive at work as a busy entrepreneur who travels extensively as well as to be able to relax at home.
Even her husband, without prompting, caught the decluttering bug.
“One day I came out of my meeting and found a bunch of cups and glasses on the counter. He decided it was time to clear out a kitchen cabinet.” Together they got rid of most of them, offering them for free to neighbors through the popular site, Nextdoor.com
Applying what you already know to get organized
While not a professional organizer herself, C.J. had worked with a few in the past, and had read several books about organizing and several of her clients are professional organizers.Along the way, she’s learned techniques and strategies for decluttering but it’s been her coaching and group facilitation experience that turned her casual question into a satisfying reality.
When the group first met, C.J. posed three “focusing questions” to ensure each member had a real action-oriented purpose for being there.
The focusing questions asked members to set and share a specific and attainable goal, explain why they had chosen that goal and set a deadline for completing the goal. Members who could not set a realistic deadline were asked to scale back their goals until they could.
To keep it “manageable,” there are a total of 8 people in the group though other peer-lead groups around the country, according to MeetUp.com show as many as 600 members.
During meetings, members of the group share their goals and even post before and after pics. Offline the group shares or exchanges resources such as where and how to get rid of things, especially useful during the current health restrictions when many charities are not accepting or limiting their donation services.
I have three rules I ask my clients to agree to when I start an organizing or downsizing project with them.
Rule #1: I only work with the owner of the decision when it comes to deciding what is kept vs. not kept (sold, donated, tossed).
Rule #2: The owner of the decision cannot be overruled unless they explicitly delegate their decision to someone else.
Rule #3: If you were given items from family or friends, whether you wanted them or not, you and only you are the owner of the decision.
Most of us know when a gift is given. Usually it’s done with the receiver in mind.
Sometimes things are given (or kept) because the giver and receiver don’t know what else to do; They don’t want it but they can’t just toss it.
When the giver does this it’s called re-gifting.
When the receiver keeps it, but doesn’t really want it, it’s called…stuck.
“I can’t just give away my grandma’s china to anyone! I would feel terrible. Maybe my daughter or granddaughter will take it off my hands.”
Problem solved. I don’t have to feel guilty…you can!
Love Grandma but not her stuff
But what good is a gift given – or kept – out of guilt? How does that honor grandma’s memory?
Things are just things until we impose an external value onto them.
Even an item that’s worth something does not make it valuable to the owner unless they feel connected to it in some way – emotionally, aesthetically, practically.
“I loved Grandma and remember her using this china. I would like to have it because it reminds me of her.”
But what if you loved Grandma but her china is simply not your style? It doesn’t fit the way you live because every piece has to be hand-washed or you don’t have room for it in your tiny home?
Keep in mind there is likely someone somewhere who will enjoy it for what it is, even without the sentimental attachment.
Three decision-making questions
As the owner of the decision, you get to decide. Here’s an easy way to make a guilt-free decision.
Grab the box of china, take another good look at it and ask yourself these three questions:
Question #1. “Would I buy this for myself if I saw it in a store or thrift shop?” If no, you probably don’t want it but still feel attached in some way. Go to question #2.
Question #2. “Are there any individual pieces I can use that I like?”
The soup tureen repurposed as a vase. A single teacup and saucer to enjoy a morning cup of tea?
Keeping one or two pieces from the set will make it easier to give away the rest. Alternately, you could take a picture of it and preserve the memory that way.
Don’t worry about breaking up the set unless it is super valuable and chances are it isn’t. If you want to check the value, you can look up the pattern on Replacements Ltd.
Question #3. Is there some place or someone nearby who would take it? If you are working with a professional organizer, they will be super helpful here.
Consider thrift shops, antique stores, school auctions, a church rummage sale or swap meet. There are also traditional charities like Goodwill, Salvation Army or Out of the Closet. You could also post it online – check out Craigslist, eBay, Freecycle.
Still not sure, do a Google search, “donate china set near me” (Keep in mind some places may still be closed due to the current Covid health emergency, so call first. )
While this generally takes longer you get the satisfaction of giving it directly to someone who wants it. Just don’t look for the “perfect” solution. Perfection is a convenient ploy for procrastinators.
Once you’ve decided, let it go as soon as you can. You’ll feel so much freer for having done so and trust me, Grandma won’t mind.
My husband is the keeper of the house paints in our home. That’s because he does most of the painting–interior and exterior–himself. I asked him how he keeps track of all the half-used paint cans since we had just completed a small remodel project. His answer was quite simple. “Label each can as you seal it.”Here’s how:
Use a piece of masking or painter’s tape on the can lid. Include the room or area where it got used and the date.
The date is especially important, because if you’ve repainted the room a different color in the interim, you can get rid of that paint. Check with your local waste management service regarding proper disposal. Also, previously used paint does have a shelf life. Anywhere from 2-5 years. After that, it can get moldy or contain a foul odor. Ever try to tell the difference between Sherwin-Williams Swiss Coffee and Alabaster? Knowing which can of paint you used for which area of your home will prevent mistakes when you need a quick touch-up.