Posts Tagged ‘Professional Organizer’

Don’t get organized this year!

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Tranquil Living Room with Dog

Photo by Erica Islas


It’s a new year. A fresh start.  “This is the year I will finally get organized!” You promised yourself you’d do it last year (and the year before).

Alas, it all feels too overwhelming. You don’t know where to start. You don’t have a plan in place. Deep down you know you can’t do it alone.

As a veteran professional organizer, move manager, personal coach and owner of LET’S MAKE ROOM, I know what keeps my clients  “stuck” in their clutter.

5 Tips To Finding Your Real Goal

TIP#1 – Stop setting “get organized” as your goal

That’s like saying, I want to exercise more. Really? What is it that you want from exercise?

To feel better, be more active, get your blood sugar under control? Or perhaps its train for a fitness event like a marathon?

Exercise, like organizing, is part of the process that gets you to your goals but it isn’t the goal itself.

TIP#2 – Set a goal that answers the question, “If everything is organized just the way I want, what would I be able to do that I can’t do now?

Imagine yourself sitting in the area you want organized. It could be your bedroom, your closet, your dining room, your office, or even your garage. What is it that you’d be able to do there that you can’t do now?

Sleep better? Get dressed quickly? Find what you need? Sit, eat, and perhaps even entertain at your dining room table? Pay your taxes on time? Easily pack for your family camping trip and know where to return everything when you return?

In other words, what does “get organized” get you? Make that your goal!

TIP#3 – Think about how you’ll  feel when you accomplish what you really want.  

You will feel more relaxed, less stressed, and energized. You will have more fun, enjoy your life, fight less with your spouse or kids, and spend more quality time with them or alone.

Imagine feeling calm when your home is tidy.  A tidy home not only creates the physical space to help you find what you need.  It also creates the room in your brain to think more clearly and be more mindful.

TIP#4 – Combine your answers to TIP #3 and TIP #4 into a new goal. Here are some examples:

  • I want better quality sleep so I can feel more relaxed and less stressed.
  • Find my clothes quickly and easily so I can feel less rushed in the morning
  • Invite friends over to dinner so I can try out a new recipe, have fun with people I care about feel less isolated.
  • Go on a camping trip with my family or friends and know I have everything I need ahead of time.
  • Feel good giving away the things in my life that no longer serve me and make room for the things I truly love.

Notice, the word organize does not appear in either of these goals. It may be part of the process to get what you want. Or it may not.

Start with the real goal.  Then determine if organizing is part of the process. Is getting decluttered what’s needed? If so, how are you going to do it?

TIP#5 – Understand your talents and challenges and get help if you need it.

Not everyone has the brain neurons, skills, or training needed to organize their lives.

If you’ve tried getting organized year after year, there’s a good reason why you’re not succeeding. And it’s not because you’re lazy, stupid, or crazy!

When it’s time for help

Chronically disorganized people have underlying physical or emotional conditions. These can interfere with the ability to obtain or practice organizing skills.

Consider getting help. Too overwhelmed to do it yourself? Hire a Professional Organizer. Join a support group or a peer group facilitated by a professional organizer. My colleague Sherri Curley from The Practical Sort offers small virtual groups. Check her out!

If clutter is creating emotional stress or a safety hazard for you or a family member, consider professional help from a therapist or mental health agency offering services for those with hoarding disorders.

Consider hiring an organizing coach who specializes in working with those with ADHD.

Chronic disorganization has many causes. Examples include ADHD, unresolved grief, childhood trauma, depression, and anxiety. Growing up with others who were either exceedingly sloppy or tidy can also contribute to chronic disorganization.

Intellect and talent have nothing to do with being organized or disorganized

Some of the most brilliant people alive, and in history, such as artists, presidents, CEOs, musicians, and royalty are chronically disorganized.

Get started!

But let’s say your clutter is just a function of living in your home for 10, 20, or more years. Or you don’t have a lot of clutter, just some trouble spots you’d like to work on but you haven’t had the time to tackle it.

The same 5 tips apply. – Know what your end goal is first. To help, I’ve included a fill-in-the-blank sentence you can use to state your goal.

“I want my _________________________ (Living area, Storage area, Work area. Be specific) more organized so I will be able to _______________________. This is important to me because I will feel ________________________. 

Here are a couple of examples:

I want my whole home decluttered so I will be able to hire movers to pack and move me to my new home. This will enable me to sell my old home and know that I won’t experience the stress of moving that I’ve had many times before.

I want to organize and declutter our rarely used spare room into a home craft area so I can have space to work on the projects that I enjoy without cluttering up our dining room table anymore. This is important to me because I know I won’t have to rush to clear the dining table every time I want to eat or entertain. That will make me feel calmer and more excited about the prospect of having people over.

Happy New Year!

 

Why there is no Miscellaneous Store

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My neighbor, knowing my line of work, left me this cartoon yesterday which of course made me laugh.  It also got me thinking.

I often joke to my clients, you can say “crap” (or other expletives) just don’t say miscellaneous.  A little professional organizer humor. It’s also a reminder that there is no such thing as the Miscellaneous Store.  I’ve never seen a store aisle or store directory labeled as Miscellaneous. 

Amazon and it’s vendors clearly understand that people don’t have time to sort and identify all the little knick-knacks of our lives.  If you search the word miscellaneous on Amazon you’ll find an array of unrelated items that don’t have any apparent connection. Everything from colorful swim shorts to automotive engine parts to a denim tablecloth. There’s even something called a pantry wardrobe, presumably to contain all your “miscellaneous” pantry and wardrobe items.  (Doesn’t everybody keep their canned peas with their pajamas?)

For a professional organizer, miscellaneous is a meaningless word.

There is no way to identify a miscellaneous item – it implies a quantity – for sorting or categorizing.  Where do you donate miscellaneous to? We can’t assign a home to something called miscellaneous if we don’t first identify what it is and how it’s used.  Junk drawers are notorious for containing miscellaneous items but try and find something in a junk drawer  and you’ll probably leave empty-handed.

Miscellaneous is the catchall term for things that we commonly think of as clutter. The stuff (or crap) that we don’t want to spend the time sorting, purging, assigning a home to or containing.

We kid ourselves into thinking, we can always find it, if it’s in the “junk” drawer, but only if you can see what’s there. A junk drawer is nothing more than a cluttered garage in miniature.

When a client hires us to declutter their garage, We often show them how we will do it by using their junk drawer (or some similar storage area) and they get the idea right away! I also learn how they make decisions.

How we organize one thing is how we organize everything

Junk drawers, filled with “miscellaneous” stuff, are the perfect metaphors for how we organize everything.  There’s nothing wrong with this. We have busy lives and not enough time to deal with it all.  It’s okay to pick and choose how we spend our time and what we prioritize.  Something’s gotta give.

So we buy a package of eight batteries when we only need two and the rest have to go somewhere. We put them in the junk drawer along with the rubber bands; half used package of oven bulbs; the small screwdriver; our kiddo’s missing puzzle piece; the pencil sharpener; the sewing kit; the half used bottle of aspirin; and that “part” that came from something else but we don’t remember what but we keep in anyway, just in case.

Then when we can’t find the thing we’re looking for, we go out and get it at the store that sells,  “Miscellaneous Junk Drawer Crap.”

For a quick primer on how to organize a junk drawer, take a look at this video we did a while back.

 

 

Decluttering? How to decide what stays or goes

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If you are in the throws of decluttering, it’s likely you’ll get stuck.  This is because you can’t decide what to keep or go. Just the thought makes the inside of your brain feel like this:

You are probably thinking something along these lines…

  • But my best friend gave it to me  (even though it’s not really me).
  • I spent a lot of money for this five years ago, I can’t just get rid of it!
  • It’s useful but I just don’t have a use for it now. Maybe I should hold onto it, just in case.
  • It may be worth something!
  • But it belonged to my grandmother!
  • I may need it someday.
  • I can’t think about this now, I’ll deal with it later.

This is what really happens when we start to declutter. It’s not about the stuff. It’s about how we think about the stuff.

Decluttering is hard! It’s physical, mental and emotional

Stop beating yourself up for not having done it. The key is knowing what questions to ask yourself when you are considering whether or not to keep something.

Here are a few questions to consider next time you are facing a pile of donatable stuff that you want to declutter. The most important of these is… Do I love it? Always err on keeping something you truly love.  Knowing what you love is a good litmus test for everything else.

  1. If I saw it again in a store, would I buy it?
  2. If it suddenly disappeared would I miss it?
  3. Does it bring up bad memories?
  4. Do I use it now or at least once a year?
  5. If I saw it at a thrift job would I pay a $1 for it? If not, toss it.

So what’s your decision? Keep, Donate or Toss?

What’s your decluttering personality? Stay tuned for my next post.

13 Confessions of a Professional Organizer

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Secret


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:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. I rarely scan anything. The only exception when I need to scan or upload a document to share.
    5. If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t exist. I have no short term memory.

    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    8. I don’t watch TV shows about organizing or hoarding.
    9. 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.
    10. 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.
    11. I never liked the term “professional organizer.” Unfortunately they haven’t come up with anything better.
    12. My team organizes better than I do but I know what works and I am great at managing projects, people and getting things done.
    13. 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.

Free Yourself of Paper Clutter Fear

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Ripping apart fear

Most people would rather have a root canal than organize their paper. I have yet to find anyone who likes to organize their paper clutter.

Bills, documents, notes on old legal pads, mysterious receipts, birthday cards from people you do and don’t remember, even something pleasurable such as photos of your family can feel like an insurmountable chore to organize.

Plowing through piles or bins of paper is different from other types of organizing. It requires a whole different set of decisions and brain skills and unlike organizing 3-dimensional objects such as your clothes or dishes, paper is often fraught with all kinds of meaning – most typically fear and anxiety and to a lesser degree, sentiment and confusion.

Paper doesn’t have the same qualities that other objects have in our lives. It’s not pretty or shiny or useful, except in its blank (note pads) or decorative (wrapping paper) form.  Organizing paper won’t make it more possible for you to entertain, unless it’s covering your dining room table.

Face it, for most people, organizing paper is boring.

Complicating the process is age. The older we get, the harder it is to focus on the task of organizing paper.  It takes all kinds of executive functioning skills that get harder as we age. It’s more than just a matter of know what to keep and what to toss.

The moment we look at our paper piles, our brains become Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind.  “I can’t think about it now. I’ll think about it tomorrow.”

Paper organizing requires careful review. You can look at a piece of clothing and know it’s a piece of clothing. With paper you have to study it. Is it a bill? A statement? An insurance policy? Is it something important? Do I need to act on it? Will I need it later?

With paper, you are already exhausted by the time you figure out what it is.

It’s no wonder that even in the age of going “paperless” we still have so much paper.

During my career as a professional organizer, move manager and now organizer coach, I have encountered virtually every type of paper and document that exists.  I have also written extensively on the process of organizing your paper. But it doesn’t matter how well its sorted into tidy little piles. If you don’t or can’t make a decision about it, it probably won’t get put away.

Here’s the good news about paper organizing.

In most cases, if you never organize your paper, nothing really bad will happen. The sky won’t fall. You won’t go to jail. Your children won’t be hurt. You won’t get sick, at least not from the paper. Will it cost you? Maybe, if you forget to pay a bill, or don’t do your taxes or forget your daughter’s birthday (God forbid!). Even if you forget to pay your electricity bill, don’t worry, you’ll get another reminder, and another.

Would it be inconvenient or possibly stressful to forget to pay your electricity bill? Yes, but it’s not life threatening unless you are on life support and if so, organizing your paper is not going to be top of mind.

The worst part about paper clutter is that it’s often a reflection of our state of mind  The more clutter, the more we realize we’re feeling confused, overwhelmed or neglectful. This creates more anxiety and confusion and the cycle repeats.

It’s better to have a system for managing your mail, paying your bills, filing important documents or knowing what you should shred to protect your identity. These are all habits and elements of life that make us feel calmer, lighter and in control of our lives. But if you don’t already have these habits, and are not inclined to learn them now, you can still feel less stressed about your paper clutter.

Here are some ways you can manage your guilt or alleviate your anxiety about your paper piles.

  1. You know all those saved letters and greeting cards you’ve kept over the years? You’re not likely to ever look at them unless you’re moving or downsizing your home and probably not even then.  If you never look at them again, it’s not a problem. Your adult children will have to at some point but that’s another story.
  2. If you overlook a bill, you’ll get another. Don’t sweat it.
  3. You don’t have to support every charity that keeps mailing you solicitations for donations. This is true especially if you have a limited income.  Seniors are their favorite customers since they count on you forgetting that you donated last month or last year. When you get them in the mail, toss them.
  4. If you feel strongly about supporting your favorite charity allocate no more than 1% of your total income and divide that up between your five favorite charities.  Let’s say you earn $75,000 a year. 75,000 x 1% = 750. 750/5=150. Donate no more than $150 to your favorite charities.
  5. If you didn’t order something from that catalog when you got it, you probably won’t. Recycle it.
  6. Keep your family photos. Even if you never look at them.  They don’t take up that much space.
  7. If you have more than a grocery bags worth of documents to be shredded, take them to be shredded. It’s not worth your time to do it yourself.
  8. Stop ripping up envelopes with your name and address – unless doing so gives you satisfaction. Your name and address are public information. An identity thief can’t hurt you with just your name and address.
  9. If you see your complete social security number on anything, shred it!
  10. Keep a bin near where you open your mail. That way all the junk can get tossed right away.

  11. Empty your mailbox daily. A stuffed mailbox is a sign that something is wrong in your home.
  12. The IRS will never call you. Open anything that comes from them.
  13. Stop saving investment statements. They are obsolete from the moment you get them.
  14. If you can easily find it in your email or online, you don’t need to keep the paper copy.
  15. If you have more than 1 or 2 boxes of unsorted paper that you have not looked at in more than six months, you probably won’t.
  16. There is an 80 percent chance that anything you file you will never look at again.
  17. If you want to find something really important, chances are you can request a copy, unless of course it’s a love letter or your 6th grade report card.
  18. Don’t spend your retirement years going through your files unless you really want to.
  19. If you have paper on nearly every surface in your home, including floors, near your stove or on your bed, then it’s time to call in a professional, for your safety.
  20. If you have any reason to believe you’ve been a victim of fraud or if you suspect someone has access to your credit information without your consent, contact all three credit reporting agencies immediately and submit a fraud alert.

Experian:1-888-397-3742

Equifax: 1-866-640-2273

Transunion: 1-800-813-5604

Have an organizing question or need help getting organized to move or want to schedule a coaching session? Schedule a free, no obligation phone chat with me using this link. https://calendly.com/letsmakeroom/30min

 

 

Bags and boxes are not furniture

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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:
  1. If you have both unsorted paper and physical items, start with the physical items. You will see results quicker and feel motivated to continue.
  2. Sort the items on a clear surface, such as a card table, counter or ironing board if that’s the only surface available.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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!
  10. 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.

Advice From a Veteran Professional Organizer

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Celebrate the end of 2021 with inspiring tips to get and keep you organized in 2022!


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?

Treat organizing your home as a practice, not a one-time event

Home organizing, whether it be your guest room, junk drawer or home office, is as much a mind-set as it is a habit.  Practice organizing and over time you will develop an organizing habit.  That means, keeping an eye on high clutter areas like your clothes closet, office or garage. Continuously ask yourself  “do I want/need/love this item?”

Aim for progress not perfection

Don’t expect your home, office or storage area to look like an ad for “the most organized Mom in the world!” You do not have to spend hours refilling matching containers with cute “blackboard” labels if that’s not who you are. (I know it’s not who I am.) Better to do a small action then let yourself be paralyzed by the enormity of a perfectly organized space.

The less you have the less you have to organize and the easier it is to maintain

In a consumer culture,  shopping can be a competitive sport or even a form of therapy.  It’s difficult to keep a lid on the stuff coming into your home. One of the best things you can do is prevent those things from cluttering your space in the first place. Cancel those subscriptions, stop the junk mail, don’t buy in bulk if you live alone, don’t keep something just because it’s useful. Only keep it if you use it!

Consider your time, privacy and convenience 

It’s great to pass along things to friends, family, neighbors, even strangers. I love the “Buy Nothing” sites as an example where you can give away everyday items you no longer want to people in your neighborhood.  It’s also a great way to keep things out of the landfill.  But as my client’s often hear me say, “Don’t let the small stuff get in the way of the big stuff.” If you have a roomful of items you no longer want, consider the easiest option for letting go of most items all at once.   If you’re stuck, it’s always great to ask, “Is it worth my time?”

Sort it into categories that resemble the aisles of a department store

Clothes with clothes, shoes with shoes, office supplies with office supplies, games with games, tools with tools, etc.  Think about categories you would find in a department or hardware store. Don’t make any decisions about keeping or tossing until you’ve staged all the categories. By the way, you may need a folding table or two.  Seeing your items sorted, and by category, helps you make quick decisions about what to keep. Do you really need all 26 screwdrivers?

Just because something is usable doesn’t mean you have to keep it

There are no clutter police. Almost everything is usable but if you don’t use it, don’t keep it. Ask yourself did I use this in the last year and do I intend to use it in the next year? (e.g., Holiday decor falls into this category). If your answer is no, let it go.

Your home does not have to look like a cover from a lifestyle magazine or a social media post if that’s not who you are. It bears repeating!

If you are not sure whether or not to keep something, ask yourself, “If I saw it in a store, would I buy it?”

We keep things out of habit, delayed decision making, guilt and a host of other reasons. If you are trying to declutter or simplify your life, this is a great way to know if it stills has value for you.

Honor the memory, person or experience with something meaningful 

When you walk through a museum or someone’s home and admire painting or an object of art,  do you take it home and keep it? Hopefully not – unless you want to end up in jail. Sometimes you can simply enjoy the memory of a person, place or experience without having every item that reminds you of them. Pick one or two things that truly honors the person or best represents your experience.

Only the owner of the item gets to decide about whether it stays or goes

I have a rule when I work with couples. Only the “owner of the decision” has the say about keep vs. go.  The non-owner does not get a say unless explicitly asked.  I’ve avoided many arguments with this rule. The only exception should be if one member of the couple delegates the decision making to their spouse. In this case, the delegating spouse has to set the parameters very carefully. No coming back later and saying,  “I wanted that!”

When you’ve got to get it done quickly, efficiently and expertly, hire a professional organizer

Here are a few great reasons to hire a professional organizer or move manager

  • Your in-laws are coming to spend the holidays with you and your guest room is packed-full of stuff.
  • Your Realtor® wants to put your home on the market but not until you’ve downsized and decluttered 30+ years worth of your family’s belongings.
  • You can’t get your car into your garage anymore and winter is approaching.
  • Your home office looks like it was a hit by a tornado and you are losing money, afraid of upcoming tax season, and not getting things done even though you are great at what you do!
  • You were in a hurry to unpack everything in your new home when you moved in and now you can’t find anything.

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.

 

Did your organized space fall apart?

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Organizing is a habit not a goalLast 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:

  1. Is this something that’s important to me now?
  2. Will having this space more organized help me get up in the morning or improve my day to day life?
  3. Would learning a new organizing habit make me feel better about myself or change the way I perceive myself now?
  4. 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:

  1. If everything were organized just the way I imagine, what would that bring me?
  2. What would I be able to do that I can’t do now?
  3. How would it feel to know that I have reached my goal and am maintaining it?
  4. 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.

How Lis Helped Me Declutter My Dishes in 90 Minutes

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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: 

Sorted

Purged

Assigned

Contained

Equalized

Here’s what that looked like. 

Sort

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. 

Purge

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. 

Assign

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. 

Contain

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!

Equalize

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. 

Why getting organized is good for your health

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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.

Take Action

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

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

  • Treat organizing as a practice 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. 

Stay Focused

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.

Unique Challenges

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.