Posts Tagged ‘Professional Organizer’

Is fear holding you back from getting organized?

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Every so often I have to declutter something in my home.

I don’t want to lose touch with what my clients experience and I like what it does for my peace of mind. It frees me of some amorphous burden I sometimes experience in other parts of my life. It’s like a form of exercise or meditation for stress relief.

Today’s lesson is brought to you by hair conditioner.

You see, I have very thick, wavy hair that gets tangled easily if I don’t use some kind of detangler or conditioner. Years ago, maybe once when I was a child, I was washing my hair and I’d run out of detangler. The next thing I knew, my mother was doing her best to detangle my matted mess and causing me much pain and anguish in the process.

I never thought about it until today but while I was decluttering my bathroom and utility cabinets I noticed I had a lot of hair conditioner. Even more striking however was how much I resisted letting it go, even though I wanted to declutter. I thought, “How many bottles of hair conditioner do I really need?”

In fact, I thought about all the rationale questions I ask my clients:

“If it disappeared could it easily be replaced? YES.”

“Do I love this particular bottle? NO.”

“Did I have enough already? ABSOLUTELY!”

So when it came down to really examining my own resistance to letting go of an abundance of hair conditioner, I had to trace it back to that moment of pain.  I never wanted to be caught without it again. “Doing so,” my brain told me, “would surely lead to pain and suffering.

In California recently, thousands of people have lost their homes to wildfires. I know from my experience as a professional organizer and from friends who have lost their homes in fires, that going through extreme trauma and loss can be devastating.  The recovery process is long, complicated and fraught with real fears of attachment and letting go.

I once had a client who had survived the loss of two homes through fire. Her collection of emergency supplies could fill a small garage.

Fear, I’ve learned, doesn’t have to come from a big trauma.  It can come from small events too.

Fear lives in your body and your psyche for a long time. Fear of loss, fear of change, fear of re-experiencing pain. Fear is such a strong and powerful emotion, it doesn’t matter how much time goes by or even what caused it in the first place; It continues to rule our behaviors and our habits.

So what can you do when you notice fear ruling you at a time when you need to feel strong?

Let’s say you need to downsize your home because you are moving to a smaller space. When it comes to doing the simplest decluttering, pay attention when you see yourself holding on to something for apparently no obvious reason. Notice what emotions come up.

Ask yourself,”what does this item remind me of?” Don’t minimize it, no matter how silly it may seem. If a memory gets triggered, allow yourself to review it.

  • What in that memory may be getting in the way of your home organizing goals?
  • Is it a fact that whatever you remember will or could happen again?
  • Is it probable? If it did, how would you cope?

Imagine letting go of the item and see what comes up and what you would do if it happened.

There is amazing information in our brains that can help with not just the act of organizing or decluttering but can also give us insight into ourselves to help us heal from our biggest traumas or even small ones.  The pain is real.

The question is can you control how you react to it now? Doing so will empower you to take control of the fear.

Once you can objectively examine the real benefit of getting to where you want to go, you will realize the real price is holding onto an old fear when you no longer need to be afraid or even better, when you know you’ve survived.

I can throw out that old hair conditioner now.

How to get organized when you don’t feel like it

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The other day I decided to organize my one and only recipe binder. Most recipes I look up online. A few I take from cherished cookbooks and an old 3-ring, 1-inch recipe binder I’ve had for years.  I found myself wanting to organize the binder recently after it took me a little too long find a recipe I needed.

When I started the process of organizing the binder- emptying the contents, sorting each recipe by category, disposing of the ones I knew I would never make again, then putting them back in order – I thought to myself, “I really don’t feel like doing this right now.”

Being organized is all about developing an organizing habit.  It requires a thought, a motivation, an acton and a result.

Developing an organizing habit comes from a desire to continually survey your environment and be willing to improve your surroundings so you can function on a day to day basis with more ease.

It takes a willingness to regularly decide whether or not this thing or that still serves you or adds value to your life. Once decided, it then should be followed up with action – a choice to retain and store it logically and aesthetically, or to let it go to to find a new life somewhere else or to dispose of it safely and conscientiously.  It’s not easy. Even sometimes for an organizer.

I had no strong motivation, nothing forcing me to undertake this little project. I also realized if I wanted to find a recipe in the binder, I still could, if I was willing to tolerate the inconvenience of looking for it (I was).  There were other more pressing priorities in my life.  I’d just returned from a trip to New York and was still adjusting to the time change and catching up on my to-do list.

Now back home, I realized, “I’m tired.” I thought it would be nice to get this done, but it wasn’t really necessary right now. I can live with it the way it is. Further, I just didn’t have the bandwidth to make decisions or take on any actions. This, I thought, is just how my clients  feel.

It’s nice to be organized but let’s face it, it’s not always easy to get organized. When do you really have to get organized? It differs for everyone but in general here are some reasons you don’t have to get organized:

  • If what you want to organize is good enough and still usable (like my recipe binder)
  • If you (and your family or housemates) can still find what you need when you need it without too much effort
  • If you are okay with your home looking “lived in” and doesn’t have to look like it’s staged for sale
  • If you are not regularly losing things, paying bills late, incurring late fees, or paying for things you already own and can’t find
  • If you and your family are not fighting over the clutter in your home
  • If you are not feeling stressed every time you open your closet
  • If you are enjoying your life to the fullest

Here’s when you probably should think about getting organized:

  • When you are selling your home or moving
  • When you are planning a remodel
  • When you or a member of your family has to downsize for their own safety
  • When you feel the stress of your paper or physical clutter impacting your wellbeing or mood more days than not
  • When you and your family are arguing over the clutter in your home
  • When you realize you feel ashamed or embarrassed to have people into your home when you otherwise would
  • When you’ve used up your storage space or can’t use your storage the way it was intended (e.g., parking your car in the garage)
  • When you find yourself renting storage units for more than a year (this is a very costly way to defer organizing)

I frequently meet people who when they find out I’m a professional organizer will say, “oh, I need you!” but in fact they really don’t because they’ve learned to live with and tolerate their cluttered closets and messy garages. They put up with the fights with their kids or their spouses. Or they just don’t feel like doing it even when someone can do it for them because it’s one more thing on their to-do list.

Most people realize the time to get help is when the disorder exceeds their ability to tolerate the consequence. It’s when it costs them more in money or peace of mind to do nothing. Sadly, this is also when they are least equipped to take on the task.  Like me in that moment with recipe binder, they are  just too tired and there’s too much else they have to get done first.

Think you want to organize your office? What’s it costing you not to? What can’t you do now? How would it help you if you could find what you need when you needed it?

Want to organize your kitchen, living room or closets? What’s it costing you not to?  Are you unable to prepare a meal?  Are you fighting with your spouse because there’s no place to sit and play with your kids in your living room?

Are you feeling sick to your stomach every time you open a closet, cabinet or cupboard because the mess is unbearable?

Are you moving and waking up nights thinking about how the heck you’re going to get all the stuff from your 2,500 square-foot home into a 1,200 square-foot condo with no garage!?

I often say to my clients, don’t let the small stuff get in the way of the big stuff. What I mean by this is consider the cost of not taking action.

If it’s small, like my deciding not to organize my recipe binder right now, there is relatively little consequence. But if you defer taking action or decide you can do it all yourself, consider the cost to your health, your marriage, even your dreams and goals. For those large painful organizing projects that are impeding your life or causing you great stress, it’s not whether you can afford to do it, it’s whether you can afford not to.

 

 

 

 

Give Mom what she really wants! Less paper clutter, more family time

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Mother_and_Daughter

This year, why not give your Mom what she really wants for Mother’s day.

More time to spend with her family, and less time to feel overwhelmed by her clutter, especially all that paper!

Here’s what you can do:  Suggest to Mom that you’d like to give her the gift of organization so she can feel more in control of her life and less stressed by all the paper clutter in her home.  You can help her yourself or better yet, hire a Certified Professional Organizer, who can quickly identify and sort all it all.  Once sorted, you can purge what’s no longer needed and contain what’s left either in labeled paper or digital files according to your mother’s preference and ability.

If you decide to do this yourself, make it a time not just to plow through those piles but also to share the memories with Mom.  Whatever you do though, don’t chastise Mom for keeping everything. No one was born with an “organizing gene” and the rules around paper have changed considerably since she was young, especially now that we are in a digital age though she may not be.

Most of what we keep, as much as 80% according to several studies, we never refer to again. Old bills, especially utility bills, make up the bulk of what I’ve seen the most of when helping my clients tame their paper piles.

I’ve seen floors literally buckle under the weight of boxes upon boxes of retained paper.

Even if all the paper in these boxes were accidentally tossed the chances of needing anything in them is statistically small. That being said, there is always a chance that those boxes contain confidential information so to protect your Mom’s identity I recommend you arrange to have it picked up by a residential document destruction company in your area.

Shredding these papers protects your Mom from others using her confidential information fraudulently.  If you chose to to this yourself, be especially mindful when you are tossing documents containing the following:

  • Social Security Number (in full)
  • Credit Card Account Number (in full)
  • Driver’s License Number (in full)
  • Medical Record Number (in full)
  • Account Number (in full)

In recent years the practice of including full account numbers has changed to protect individual identities but that has not always been the case. If your Mom has kept documents for more than 10-15 years, it’s possible some contain this type of confidential information.  Note however, documents that contain just a name, address and phone number are part of public record (remember old phone books?) and nothing can be done with this information alone so it’s safe to recycle these.

To get started, you will need a cardboard or plastic box labeled “SHRED”  to contain documents for destruction. You will also need a supply of paper bags or boxes labeled “RECYCLE”  and a smaller receptacle for “TRASH” such as the plastic that contains magazines and other junk mail.  Lastly, you will also need a work surface. If table space is scarce, use a folding table or large ironing board if available. Use a “sharpie” for labeling if needed.

These record retention and destruction recommendations are general best practices and not intended to replace the advice for you or your Mother’s specific situation, especially if she is ill, disabled, or in dispute with the IRS.  In these cases, consult with your tax preparer or another legal professional.

SORT

To get you started, start with whatever loose paper is most visible on surfaces, tables, desks or the floor. Open all mail and sort all items, including individual files and documents into the following 5 categories:

  1. Financial
  2. Medical
  3. Legal
  4. Home
  5. Personal

Financial includes: old and unpaid bills, store receipts paid in cash (if you are tracking your mother’s cash expenditures), bank statements, investment statements, tax returns, pension documents, social security information

Medical includes: Medical history, prescription records, explanations of benefits, prescription receipts,  and health insurance and/or Medicare documents specific to your Mom

Legal includes: Life insurance policies, veteran records, estate planning documents such as wills, trusts, power of attorney, health proxies or living wills, birth, adoption, marriage and death certificates

Home includes: Property insurance records such as home and auto, mortgage records including records of satisfied mortgages, appliance warrenties

Personal includes: Educational and work history, cards, letters and other correspondence, general reference such as “project” or “idea” files.  Binders that contain old training material, photographs,  professional or published papers written or contributed to by your Mom and anything of a personal nature that could not be replaced if lost.

PURGE

As you do this you can toss the following: empty mailing envelopes, obvious junk mail, expired coupons, store receipts paid by by credit or debit card and old user guides or warranty information for products or appliances no longer owned.  Keeping a focus on sorting will make purging later go that much faster.

Next purge (shred or recycle) the following from each of the five piles:

  • Financial: Old paid bills, store receipts for low value items, checks from closed accounts, investment statements except current month or quarter, tax returns from more than seven years ago. ATM receipts – unless tracking cash withdrawals
  • Medical: Outdated medical information, explanations of benefits, receipts for prescriptions paid by insurance, any documents not specific to your Mom such as marketing and general information
  • Legal: Cancelled life insurance policies, cancelled or expired contracts
  • Home: Cancelled insurance policies, repair records for cars no longer owned, mortgage bills already paid, any reference material not referred to in over a year or that can easily be found elsewhere or online. Anything printed off the internet.
  • Personal: Any personal reference material that has not been referred to in over a year (such as old recipes, remodel ideas, maps, wellness or hobby information, old magazines, binders containing old training material, greeting cards signed by unknown people, out-dated resumes, any document that can be easily found online.  Children’s school records and drawings if not displayed. Take a digital photo instead. Personal papers such as these will most likely take up the bulk of your Mom’s paper files.

KEEP and CONTAIN (either file or scan)  

Use this as a guide for setting up your paper or or electronic file system

FINANCIAL RECORDS

  • Tax returns and current tax information including receipts used for deductions for future tax returns
  • Bank statements and investment statements by account name and last 4 digits of account number – most recent three months unless your Mom will be applying for assistance under Medicaid or MediCal. In this case she will need the last 5 years of bank statements.
  • Credit card statements by account name and last 4 digits of account number – last three months only
  • Life insurance by policy name – keep while active
  • Social security account information
  • Pension documents

MEDICAL RECORDS

  • Records of health history, prescriptions taken and major conditions
  • Lists of physicians, specialists and other providers seen or consulted with
  • Insurance/Medicare/MediCaid account information

LEGAL RECORDS

  • Estate planning documents (birth, adoption, marriage, death certificates)
  • Heath proxies, power of attorney documents
  • Veteran records
  • Records of satisfied contracts or any current contracts

HOME RECORDS

  • Mortgage documents for current home
  • Records of recently paid household bills (less than one year) – if possible, set up auto pay and have bills issued paperlessly via email.
  • Records of property insurance (home, auto, other assets)
  • Warranties, appraisals or certificates for high value items (value greater than $100 per pound)

PERSONAL RECORDS

  • School transcripts/Official records such as diplomas
  • Records of work history (most current)
  • Cards, letters and other correspondence if it has historical or resale value (emotional value is optional)
  • Professional, written or published work if it has historic importance to the general public or a particular industry for archiving purposes
  • Anything that could not be easily replaced with strong emotional value

TO-DO or ACTION Paper

Finally, identify any documents that require some kind of ACTION or to-dos that your mother feels are worth her time such as bills to be paid, forms to be filled out, greeting cards to be mailed, or items she wants to discuss with another professional. Put these items in a separate mail sorter on her desk or workspace, keeping the bills separate from everything else. Don’t put anything here that needs to be filed or contained. Any retained magazines should be placed where your Mom likes to read them.  Once she is done with these items they can be filed, contained or tossed as needed.

After you spend a few hours helping her, then take her out for lunch or dinner so you can both relax and enjoy some quality time together, knowing that you’ve made some room in your lives for what matters most.

 

 

What it takes to make make money selling your unwanted stuff

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Store selling vintage items

 

 

When you’re downsizing your home in preparation for moving, the first question you may ask yourself is, “Can I make some money on the stuff I already own?”

Much of what you own and no longer want can probably be donated as long as it’s still usable but if it pains you to donate items to charity because of the time, money and energy you spent acquiring them in the first place, here are some questions that can help break your paralysis around the dilemma of sell or donate?

Is it valuable?  

Sometimes the easiest way to find out is to do a little internet research on sites that sell similar items to see if any have sold recently and for how much? Be careful to check sold listings not just items for sale.  If there is a glut of similar items on the site, chances are they are waning in popularity.  You can check online auction sites such as e-bay, Etsy, Amazon or Shopify.  Another option is to get a formal appraisal but since this often is fee-based, consider it for items that you know have high value such as fine jewelry, furs or collectible art but not sure how much.

Is it an antique?

Just because something is old, does not mean it necessarily has value. Value is determined by how much a particular item demands in the marketplace now. Just because you love it, or your parents spent a fortune on it, doesn’t mean it has value in today’s market. One notable category for this is antique furniture, unless it was manufactured in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Mid-century modern furniture is particularly popular for the millennial generation of new buyers, those in their twenties and thirties now or those born in the twenty years after 1980.  Consider the fact that today’s young couples probably have no interest in either your grandmother’s china (unless it’s microwave and dishwasher safe), that early-19th century loveseat you bought at auction or those fabulous matching suits you wore during your career in the 80s and 90s.

Is it in excellent condition?

If it’s worn,  torn, stained, faded, damaged, needs more than a minor repair to make it functional or has a strange odor, chances are it won’t sell. But it could still be donated. Consider that oversized sectional sofa you have that’s just a few years old.  If the fabric looks new and it’s free of damage, it still probably won’t be easy to sell unless you do so through a community sale site such as on Craigslist or NextDoor and even then you should expect to get no more than 15%-20% of your original cost. (Remember someone also has to pay to have it transported out of your home.)

Is it a collectible item? 

Now here is the good news.  Vintage items such as art, jewelry, toys, used sporting goods, clothing and even some vintage office supplies are in demand now. Recently a client of mine was getting rid of an old banana-seat bicycle she’d kept.  Despite some metal rust and obvious wear, she was able to sell that bike for about $1,000!

Vintage is the new antique!

There are stores popping up all over now that carry a wide range of unique items that look like they were taken from a barn or a small town general store. Things like signage, county fair items, old store fixtures, barber shop poles and library card catalog drawers are finding buyers who feel nostalgic but don’t want their homes to resemble their grandparent’s homes.

If it’s clothing, is it less than 2 years old or more than 40 years old and in very good to excellent condition?

Resale of gently used designer and brand name clothing and accessories has become a big business. Sites like Thred Up and The Real Real have tapped into this market and so have brick and mortar consignment and thrift shops. But what if you have a basement or closet overstuffed with clothing you don’t want anymore that is more than two years old and maybe not quite “vintage?”  In general, consignment businesses are looking for items they know their customers want now! Don’t even think about bringing in that designer linen blouse if it’s still early spring.  Also, you probably won’t find a buyer for those unopened bags of clothes you ordered from online sites, unless they are designer brands, not just popular labels. If it’s a luxury item, such as a fur coat, you may be better off donating it as long as you have an appraisal or receipt that can testify to its current value.

Do I have time to do the legwork of selling?

This, more than any of the other five questions, should be the one you consider first. I left it for last because most people don’t even consider the value of their time when it comes to selling their household goods.  Also, if you are planning to move in less than a month, your selling ship has probably sailed. Y0u have much more urgent things to attend to especially if you are moving into a smaller home. Selling takes time. Time to research the value of your items to price them; Time to photograph or transport items (either by car or by mail) to buying-sites; Time to respond to inquiries or be available to show prospective buyers your items if you plan to sell them locally. When your move is imminent — that is in less than 30 days — time is not what you have an abundance of and you need that time to plan your move, hire your movers,  downsize what you can, pack, settle your accounts, plan your travel, meet with realtors, bankers, loan officers, etc.  If you have the time, then use it wisely. If not consider hiring a professional organizer or move manager to help.

Focus on the items that you know have value – think vintage collectibles or luxury items that would appeal to someone who is looking for what you have.

Donate it!

If you decide to donate, don’t let finding the perfect recipient for each item get in the way of your generosity. Find charities that you can drop off items to easily and do a internet search for charities that do truck pick ups nearby of furniture or larger quantities of donated items.  Keep in mind that charities that do truck pick ups, like Salvation Army, may need as much as 3-4 weeks notice. They also have the discretion to refuse your items if they are not in usable condition. Be sure to have a Plan B if this happens such as arranging for a hauler or recycler who will dispose of your items responsibly.

In short, if you are moving or selling your home, and want to minimize your stress,  try not to let the small decisions get in the way of the big ones!

 

 

This will make you more organized

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Less_Is_MoreHave you dreamed of having a tidy, organized home or resolved every year to be more organized? There are literally thousands of books, magazines, articles and blogs (mine included) that will offer you all types of tips and ideas for how to live a more uncluttered, organized life. If I were to narrow it down to one, very simple idea it would be this: Less stuff. Here’s just a handful of reasons why having less will actually give you more!

  • Less to distract you
  • Less to remind you of bad memories
  • Less things you can’t find when you need them
  • Less money spent on duplicates
  • Less time spent getting organized and more time being and feeling organized
  • Less arguing with your family because of clutter
  • Less to pack when you want to remodel or move
  • Less to unpack after you’ve moved
  • Less storage needed (and less money spent on outside storage)
  • Less chance you’ll overlook an important bill or task
  • Less chance you’ll misplace something important
  • Less stress on your family
  • Less loneliness when you’re too embarrassed to entertain at home
  • Less of what is cluttering your life!

I could probably go on and on because the benefits of having less of what you don’t love or need far outweighs the burden too much unnecessary stuff often brings.

It’s not about “minimalism” unless that’s your thing. It’s about choosing, every day, to love what you have and only keep what you need and use!

Just because something “can be used” doesn’t mean you should keep it. When was the last time you used it? What is the likelihood that you will use it? If you haven’t by now, chances are you won’t.

Do a web search for “donate stuff near me” and you will find a great list of charities eager for unwanted items in your community.

Jason Klare @jmklare with Everything but the House (EBTH) says it best:

Sometimes saying no to owning things can feel even better than saying yes to buying them in the first place. “

 

 

 

The Meaning of Things

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Recently I’ve been thinking about things. Not things in a colloquial sense but literal things, objects: the computer; my grandmother’s sculpture; the four pairs of eyeglasses I own. I’ve also been thinking about memories. What it means to have a memory? What it means to lose your memory? What it means to lose your memories, as thousands of people did last week when they lost their homes in the Northern California fires, just about 90 minutes from my home in Oakland.

I work with people nearly every week helping them decide what to do when they want (or need) to let go of stuff. Not just the things that remind them of who they once were, or places they once visited but also regular things too; Things they find useful or once did.

Two of my close friends lost their home in the Northern California fires. They lost everything they owned. They had just enough time to escape with their dogs and the clothes they must have quickly put on since it was 1 a.m. when they evacuated. My friends are extremely resilient. They’ve chosen to move forward, not look back. I know it must be hard. I wonder how often during the day they face the inconvenience of no longer having small things, or feel the waves of grief flow over them when they think about the loss of more important stuff.

I’ve heard many of my clients say to me, “I can’t let that go. It reminds me of ….” I sometimes ask, what would happen if (blank) should disappear? Would the memory go with it? In some cases it could and it does. I think this is what is so profoundly difficult about the process of getting organized, downsized or as I like to call it “curating” your life’s contents.

A long time ago I was hired to clear out a small storage unit belonging to a woman who had died and whose family was not interested in claiming the contents. There was in fact nothing of significant monetary value left behind but there were “memories.”  Commemorative plaques; a community service award; several family photos, a child’s simple drawings as well as knickknacks and other personal items. Things that were obtained, given, created for her and about her. Without her, I realized they didn’t mean much to me but they meant something to her.

People who lost everything in the Northern California fires last week and for that matter from the storms in Texas and Puerto Rico just days earlier, are heard in the news saying how “grateful” they are for having their families, for having survived, for knowing how “lucky” they were. It’s an amazing testament to their humanity that they can recognize this at one of the lowest points of their lives. And I have no doubt that they too are grieving the loss of their memories and possessions.

I’m not sure what all this has taught me as a professional organizer or even just as another human being. Of course, like many, I’ve considered what I would do and feel if I was in a similar circumstance. As a professional, I wholeheartedly encourage planning whether it be creating a safety plan with your family, an emergency kit or getting your most treasured memories and important documents digitized.

Being prepared also means helping those you love be better prepared to grieve by making your wishes known ahead of time, like a living will. This type of document lets others know what matters most to you when you can no longer make those decisions yourself. A dear friend did this about six months before she passed away and it made a world of difference to her closest friends and family. She wrote her plans down. At the top of the page she’d written the title, “End Of Life Matters.” The irony was not lost on either of us.

Last week my crew and I helped a couple downsize their home of twenty plus years. It’s something I’ve done many, many times yet each experience is different. Together and separately my clients made literally thousands of decisions in just a few days. Some of those decisions were easy. Many more were not. Even the most seemingly benign objects brought back memories of family gatherings, professional obligations, personal triumphs and poignant losses. Without context they are just things but for them they represented the meaning of their lives.

When my clients let go of things sometimes the memories go with them. I see my clients resist and I feel that struggle. Sometimes I even feel it directed at me though I know it’s not. I tell them, “I don’t have an opinion about what you keep. I do, however, have an opinion about helping you get to where you want to go.”

Letting go of things can sometimes feel like choosing to let go of memories. And who chooses to let go of their memories?! At least with my clients the choice is theirs. This wasn’t the case for the people in the recent fires. Do their memories go with them even when they have lost everything?

I hope so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 hogs taking up space in your home (and they’re not your family)

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Are you moving, getting ready for a remodel or simply want more room in your home with less clutter? Here are three common space hogs and what you can do about them.

  1. Other people’s stuff. Did you agree to store things for your kids, relatives or friends for a few months but now those months have become years? Tell your kids or your Aunt Sadie you are moving or remodeling (even if you aren’t) and kindly ask them to arrange to get their items since you will need the space yourself. Set a firm deadline – a month is reasonable in most cases – and ask for their permission to sell or donate them — at your discretion — by a certain date if they don’t respond by that date.  That way you’ve done your due-diligence.

  2. Boxes from your last move (and likely the one before) that never got unpacked. Remember those boxes? I’m guessing you don’t but apparently they were so important that you bothered to move them at all. Chances are they contain one of the following:  Old papers, memorabilia, holiday supplies, stuff belonging to your parents (or kids)  that you just couldn’t face, or all those items that you don’t use but couldn’t throw away at the time.

    If you are moving, are you really going to pay to have those boxes moved again?!

    Here’s what to do about them starting with old papers: Unless you ran a small business, and they contain your tax records for the past seven years, get rid of them. Arrange to have a local shredding company pick them up  or take them there yourself but don’t waste your time shredding them. Memorabilia: We keep memories for just this moment. No one else cares about these memories except you. If you want to leave a legacy for your children, don’t make it those boxes that have gathered dust in your garage or attic. Holiday supplies: Unless you used them last year, donate them to a charity that accepts art supplies. Stuff that belonged to your parents (or kids) that you coudn’t face: Refer to #1 above.

  3. Magazines and old mail.  There are certain magazines I love to read but once I’ve read them, they get recycled. Except in rare cases such as vintage out-of-print magazines, most collectors and charities don’t take old magazines.  If you want to get rid of them, gather them up in small book boxes (so you can lift them) and carry them to your home’s recycling area. Most municipal recyclers won’t charge for paper recycling.  As for old mail, you have three options: 1) pay to have it all shred. Depending upon how much you have, this could be costly but it will be the most timesaving approach and insure your identity will be safe.  2) Have a sorting party. Invite two or more people to help you sort your piles into keep, shred or toss. Keep includes “vital records” such as original birth and death certificates or personal memories that can’t easily be replaced. Shred includes any document, opened or not, from a banking or financial institution if it’s not obvious junk mail. Don’t waste time opening them if you’re not sure. Toss is everything else. 3) Hire a professional organizer or productivity specialist that specializes in residential or home office organizing. They can advise you about what to keep and help you sort and dispose of your unwanted paper safely.

What to do with your stuff when later becomes now

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When it comes to the stuff in our homes, I believe a  continuum exists between two points  –  keep everything and save nothing. Most people fall somewhere in between.  Yes, there are extremes at both ends – those with a tendency to acquire an excessive amount and those with an equally extreme tendency to rid themselves of anything of value, sentimental or otherwise. But for most people, myself included, we all have sentimental attachments.

The other day I was wandering through my home and thinking about what I absolutely had to keep if I ever had to make the choice. As a professional organizer, it’s an exercise I practice regularly as a way to empathize with my clients.

It turned out the things I really felt strongly about were the items I have the most sentimental attachment to.  None of it was furniture, thankfully.  Mostly letters from my parents and close friends that could never be replaced. Photographs (the paper kind) from my childhood and “keepsakes” that I don’t need but that don’t take up much space either. I also have some written work that would be difficult to replace unless I took the time to scan it and for me, that’s not worth my time.

My husband has a box of important stuff related to his daughter, my step-daughter. And of course, I have a small  “treasure box” of memorabilia from our life together.

The only time I know I would go through this stuff is if I were moving or downsizing. Otherwise it stays hidden, for the most part.   But what does it mean not to have these things? Would it feel like my life had ended? What happens when you keep things with the intention of looking at them later and then find later is now?

Even if it comes unexpectedly, now should be when you get to re-read the letters, sort through the photos, recall the memories and maybe even tell the stories.  But now is often competing with time itself. The house has to be sold. The move has to happen. The remodel is about to start.  Sometimes, sadly, the owner of these things is no longer around for the task.

As an organizer, this is the most poignant part of my work; When I realize the meaning of that photo, award or stuffed animal toy only exists because of the person who imparted that meaning.  When it belongs to someone else, you can impart your own meaning, but then you are left with the same dilemma: Keep it or let it go?

I find it’s useful to consider the truth of these questions when later suddenly becomes now.

  • Would my life really be over if I let these things go or would I just feel that way?
  • Is everything meaningful or could I pick out just the things that are most important to me?
  • By keeping everything, am I placing a significant burden on my family to deal with later?
  • Am I keeping everything as an excuse to avoid creating new memories?
  • If this or that item should disappear would I miss it or attempt to replace it if I could?
  • Would taking a picture of it allow me to let it go if I had to?
  • Is there anyone who I know for certain who would want it (be careful with this one since you don’t want to obligate someone to take something they really don’t want).
  • Do I really love it or am I keeping it to satisfy someone else’s (perceived) need – such as when you keep it not because you like it but because it was a gift from someone you care about.

Life is like walking through a wonderful art museum. You get to admire and spend a little time with the art work that resonates the most with you. You may even be able to take pictures or buy postcards. But at the end of the day, you don’t get to keep what you saw. You do however get to remember how you felt.

Why you shouldn’t “get organized” in 2014

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2013 2014 in SandJanuary is the perfect time to plan your personal organizing and productivity goals but like most people you’ll probably never do anything about them.

Forgive me if that sounds a bit cynical but over the years I have realized a lot of people say they want to get more organized but don’t.  That’s because they realize it’s boring and tedious, which it can be unless you are naturally organized.

After all, who wants to think about organizing a garage or the year’s tax receipts when it’s all you can do to get out of the house in the morning?

Instead of resolving to “get organized” this year,  think about what positive change you want in your life and then connect that change to something you can control.

Here’s what I mean. Let’s say you want to do a better job at saving money.

Start by examining the ways you spend your money now. There are numerous and easy ways to do this. One of the simplest is perusing your bank account over the past year. Many banks provide a “quick view” of where your money went by category such as groceries, mortgage, gifts, utilities, tuition, etc.

Look for some of the hidden ways you spend money. For example, I had a client who owned four identical blouses, two with their price tags still attached.  Her clothes closet was so cluttered she didn’t remember she owned them.

After organizing her closet, she could easily see everything she kept stored.  No more time wasted looking for things she couldn’t find. No more getting late to work every day. No more money spent on duplicates.

When you discover how and where you spend your money, it becomes easier to adjust your budget and your spending.

Did you resolve to get healthier this year? Try losing a few clutter pounds.

I guarantee, when you let go of unwanted things in your life it actually makes you feel lighter. When you feel lighter you feel like being more active. The more active you are, the healthier you will be and feel.

I had a client who felt so much lighter after our work together organizing his home office, he started a regular jogging routine. Eventually he started running and last year he entered and completed his first marathon.

Is 2014 the year you change your job or career? Be innovative.

Keep your mind active any way you can. Whether that means taking dance lessons or organizing your model car collection. Make connections and start connecting the dots. What kind of people or ideas attract you?  Take small risks like joining a networking group (if you’re shy).  Do something productive.  Bake a cake.  Write a poem. Fix a broken appliance. Organize your closet. Anything so long as you can see and experience the result.

I know a woman who was unhappy at her job. In 2008 at the start of the recession, she found herself unemployed.   She spent the next few months doing all the things she had wanted to do while she was working but didn’t have the time or energy to do. She read books, took classes, did volunteer work and one night she organized her bathroom cabinet, just because she felt like it.

Four months later she started her own organizing business. That woman, by the way, is me.

So when you are thinking about your resolutions for 2014, don’t include “get organized” unless you know why you want to get organized?  Instead, consider what you want to accomplish and see if it’s something you can get by doing what you do naturally. 

Life is short.  At the end of your life, chances are you won’t wish you were more organized. If, however, getting organized gives you what you want, helps you save money, advances your goals, takes away your stress or gives you more peace of mind,  then by all means, do it.

Still feeling stuck? Come back next week to get some quick-start tips that will help you start your year off on the right track.

The Yoga of Organizing

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My friend and Yogini extraordinaire, Deborah Saliby, called me on Sunday asking for my advice.

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Deborah Saliby, Yoga for Health

Deborah has been teaching Yoga for more than thirty years.  There are a lot of Yoga teachers out there but relatively few hold the special certification that she does in Iyengar training. The certification signifies that she has undergone extensive training as an instructor in a particular method of Hatha Yoga called Iyengar, named for B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the foremost Yoga teachers in the world.

Whenever I have a question about Yoga, I call Deborah.  The moment I feel like my body, mind and spirit are crying out for a little restoration, Deborah is the first person I think of.  On Sunday, however, after her class, Deborah’s mind and spirit were crying out for a different kind of restoration, in her home.  I am grateful she called me.

“I want to organize three closets in my house,” she told me,
“but I’m not sure where to start.” She asked if I would mind sharing some of my professional organizing tips.  “Of course,” I told her. I enjoy it when anyone calls me with a specific organizing question. To me if you are willing to ask the question, you are definitely in the mindset to get organized.

As a professional organizer,  the most common questions I get involve the how and where of organizing, as in “how do I do this?” or “where do I start?”  Typically this follows an extended period of gradual awareness which eventually transforms into “I really wish my (fill in the blank) was more organized. But it’s not until the defining moment when the thought, “today is the day I’m going to do something about it,” that change can occur.

For my friend Deborah that moment came after she got home from teaching one of the many Yoga classes she leads in Berkeley, California.

“So where do you want to start?” I asked. “I don’t know, she said. So I probed a little more. “Which of your closets bugs you the most, that is, which has the most impact on your daily life? “My bedroom closet where I keep all my clothes,” she said, with a little giggle, “you know how much I love to shop?”

“Okay,” I said. “So why do you want to do this at all?” She explained to me that she wanted to hold a sidewalk sale. “Yes,” I said, “that’s good, but why do you want to get organized?” I asked again. “Because I can’t stand looking at the mess in my closet anymore. I know I have a lot of nice things in there that I don’t want anymore and half the time I can’t find what I’m looking for. I’m wasting time and I want to be able to wear what I love.”

Deborah understood what was bothering her about her closet but even more she knew what organizing it would mean to her (not to anyone else) and she was motivated. Plus she had the added incentive of making a little extra money. I told her, “Yeah, you could sell all the clothes you don’t want anymore and with the money you make go out and buy new ones.”  We both laughed.

I offered Deborah a step-by-step plan to get all three of her closets organized.  I shared some strategies for how to overcome some predictable obstacles such as what to do with items that had more “emotional value” than “wear-value.”  I took her through exactly what I would do with her if I were physically doing the work with her and then I asked her if she had any questions. “Nope, I’ve got it.”

Before we hung up I told her to feel free to call me when she was done with the first closet.  Even though Deborah was doing this for herself, I wanted her to know that I was interested in hearing about her progress.

The next day, Deborah did call. She sounded really happy.  She told me how she had followed my plan including emptying the entire closet first, sorting items by category, parting with what she no longer used, wore, or loved and got rid of things that brought in bad “mojo.”  She reorganized the items she kept by type and color and put aside those things she plans to include in her sidewalk sale.  In total it took her two hours. I was impressed.

“How do you feel now?” I asked her, “Great! Just walking past my closet makes me happy.”Neat Closet

I offered Deborah some final tips about items she was still undecided about and suggested some ways to contain items on the shelves using what she already had around her house, before saying goodbye.

After we hung up I went in to my living room and took a big breath and stretched.  Thank you for that, Deborah.

Have a question about organizing? Getting ready to move or start a home renovation project and need to get things packed, donated and organized? Call or email me. I promise you’ll come away with something you can use.

As I told Deborah, I love to be a catalyst for change.