Category Archives: Organizing

Got Baggage?

I recently spent a week with my sisters (I have three) and I realized something. No matter how well we are doing, we still carry around our own personal baggage. Sometimes it’s from yesterday, and sometimes it’s from twenty years ago. Emotional baggage is very hard to part with. In some way, it defines us. Even difficult experiences make us who we are. Logically, we want to get rid of it, but perhaps we are afraid of losing something important. Perhaps these memories offer comfort, because they show us how far we have come. But when this baggage is always in front of us, how much of our present can we truly enjoy and appreciate?

Clutter is a physical form of this emotional baggage. Sometimes it directly relates to good or bad memories. Sometimes we just remember how much it cost and so we hate to “get rid of it”. But how much is this “baggage” really costing us?

Would selling it be worth the time? If so, great! If not, ask yourself what this item really means to you. What do you feel when you look at it? Does it bring up that emotional baggage? Would a donation to a charity help you get this off your mind, while possibly giving you a payoff greater than the actual dollar amount it is worth?

I believe the freedom people seek when starting to get organized is only possible when they are willing to free their minds from the emotional baggage that led to the physical pile-up. The stacks accumulate because we avoid them, and the negative feelings become more intense when we avoid them, as well. Have you woken up from a terrifying dream, lately? Have you hurt yourself walking through a cluttered space? These are signs saying: “pay attention to me!”

When you are ready, so am I. Let’s get rid of some baggage together.

Live “abundantly clear”,
(303) 322-5327

Getting Organized – NOT as Seen on TV

A few years ago, the show “Clean Sweep” gave everyone the idea that in about a day or so, their home could be gorgeous and organized.  Now, the show “Hoarders” is doing the same thing.  The fact that the clutter epidemic is getting more attention is positive.  However, if you need to get organized, the important thing to remember is this: your home did not get this way overnight, so making a lasting and positive change will take time.

Since this principle applies to so many things in our lives, why do so many of us still think that the magic bullet still exists?  Saving money for a comfortable retirement takes time, losing weight and keeping it off takes time, learning a new skill takes time.  If you decide to call an organizer to help, or if you tackle the problem on your own, just remember to schedule enough time, stick with it, and maintain consistency until you are finished.  I compare this process to getting in shape.  You can’t become a long-distance runner overnight – it’s just not possible.  I started running last summer and it was not fun.  I walked most of the time, and ran as long as I could stand it.  Then each time out I ran a little more until I could run 4 miles without too much trouble.  It probably took about 6 months from couch to 4 miles.  It takes time.

If you do hire an organizer, be clear with him/her about your expectations.  Do you want your whole house organized in four hours?  This is not a reasonable expectation, even with a large crew.  It physically takes time to sort and purge items, but it takes even more time to decide what these items mean to you and how and where you want to use them in your home.  The fact is, as the client, you are responsible for making decisions about your priorities – what items fit your ideal vision for your space, and what ones do not.  I can bring a crew in and clear out your home – but what will you learn?  How will that help you to maintain an organized home in the future?  An organizer is there to coach you and ask questions, and help you see your life and your things in a new way – so they no longer own you.  But it takes time.

The TV shows don’t show you how many people worked on the home, and they don’t really show how long it takes.  Mission Organization often makes it seem like projects are completed in a day or two, yet knowing organizers who have worked on these shows, I can tell you it takes about a week – for one room.  Help is out there, but starting this with unrealistic expectations only sets you up for disappointment and frustration.  Do your research, read some books on organizing, talk to people who have hired organizers before (organizers will be happy to give you names of clients).  Decide in advance if you can do this on your own, or if the help is worth the expense.  An organizer’s value comes from teaching you new skills and helping you stay on track.  These skills come from training and years of experience, so the cost reflects much more than how much he or she can physically move around in a session.  Paying for this service is not for everyone, but many people find it very helpful for years after the initial work.  With that said, if you know what to do and just haven’t done it – then schedule the time and get going!   If it’s worth doing – it’s worth scheduling – but give it time.

Helping Family Get Organized

Since I’m about 2000 miles away from most of my family, it seems the best way for me to keep in touch is to read Facebook, or their blogs.  My little sister, Robin, has a blog –  I just read it today and I was surprised to learn it was about getting organized.  Hey, isn’t that my gig?

It seems she’s going through a tough transition, but one thing helping her out is a big project to keep her occupied.  I’m a fan of that trick.  When I’m stressed, I like to cook, sew, or organize something.  Sure, our house is and should be (given what I do for a living) pretty organized on a regular basis.  But hey, I’m human, and there’s still a basement, and the “utility drawer” (I refuse to have a junk drawer), that can get a little full with the deal-with-it-later stuff.   Robin’s project is a little bigger than a junk drawer, however. 

I was surprised to find that she has decided to take on my parents’ home, a house stuffed with 40 years of items, not just from raising five kids, but from two businesses (one of which was physically moved from a 500 sq. foot office into the former library of the home).  Given that my father was born during the Great Depression, and can pretty much find a use for anything, you can imagine the daunting task before my little sister.

Why am I not there helping?  Well, geography plays a big role, but I think it’s bigger than that.  I joke with clients that I help them (as in, other people’s parents) because my parents won’t let me.  It may have to do with the fact that I haven’t lived there in about 20 years (egad).  I’m sure there are a few items of mine buried in the attic, but overall, I’m physically detached from the house, and the stuff.  Robin has been away for a few years, but has pretty much always left her room “as-is”.  She’s deeply entrenched.  For her, it’s not “their” clutter, but “our” clutter.  If you ever decide to help your family with their clutter, and you haven’t lived there in a while, be warned – they may not take kindly to this idea.  You still expect your childhood home to look then same, but when you return to find it very different than you remember, it can throw you.  This different perspective can seem hurtful to the people who live in and love this home.   You are wearing nostalgia glasses, and not seeing things clearly.  In that way, you are an outsider.  But even an outside help would be more welcomed  – because it is completely neutral.  This is the irony of the situation.

While my father was ill a few years ago, I tried to keep myself busy by cleaning out the expired food and science experiments in my parents’ fridge.   My father was in the hospital, and my sisters and I had just returned from seeing him.  We were just sitting around, not knowing what to do.  So, we started pulling things out of the fridge that had dates starting with a “19..”, giggling, and shoving jars under each other’s noses, saying “smell this! – no, you smell it!”  and for a while we could forget about what may or may not be happening a few miles away in that cold hospital room.   I remember that time fondly – a time when we were all in the same boat, without the distraction of kids, jobs, spouses, etc.  We were just there for each other – and we found a project to do together. 

Years later, my father doing better, my parents still have not forgiven me for the things we threw away.  So, now, when I go home… I touch nothing.

One thing I noted in Robin’s blog: she wrote about her own struggles to part with books that represent a recent failing to her.  This is something that many people deal with.  There are things we keep because they are from our past, and things for our future plans.  If the bulk of our possessions are in the past or future category, and very few are for the present time, this must be addressed.  Many of us are very hard on ourselves.   If we had a bad relationship with our mother, we keep things of hers after she’s gone, even if they have terrible memories associated with them.  These things haunt us in a very real way.  Perhaps we are punishing ourselves.  Perhaps in some way we feel that if we accept this burden, we have atoned for our sins.  I think this is a mindset from which we all need to free ourselves. 

Keep the good things, the things that make you smile, the things you need and use now.  Keep a small percentage of things for the future and good memories from the past, and ditch the rest.  There is no need to torture yourself – the world gives you enough to deal with.  You deserve good things, a good life, and a harmonious home that makes you feel safe.

Even though Robin is uniquely qualified to handle this challenge, she’s hitting a roadblock – trying to figure out what to do with all that stuff.  This is hard for anyone, but especially in this case, considering all the unique items in the house.  My advice is: hire some local help.  As I mentioned before, outside help can really do the trick because they have the skills, but are detached from the stuff.   Also, I am a big fan of just picking up the phone and calling someone who might have the information I need.  When you open yourself up to just a little bit of help, it’s like a huge amount of energy flows your way and pretty soon you have a whole network of people, eager to join you.  When you try to go it alone, pretty soon you could feel isolated and defeated, and it’s likely you’ll give up.

I did a quick search of the organizers in my parents’ area:

Organizers can consult and help refer clients to the resources they need – like resale shops that specialize in vintage clothing, office supply stores that could use old office equipment, or at the very least, the proper recycling centers and junk hauling companies (like 1-800-got-junk) – I personally like the guys at “College Hunks Hauling Junk”, but they aren’t in New England, yet.   I think it’s always worth a call – since anyone in that kind of business worth their salt will give you some leads on where to go – without charge.

I hope my little sister succeeds in her project, and for her and all the sisters and brothers out there, trying to help their parents get organized – remember: help is out there!

Working on it!

As the summer wanes, houses sell and staging items come back.  Kids return to school and moms start thinking about all of the “stuff” in the house.  So, I’ve been working on a lot of organizing projects, including one in my own home – thanks to all of the staging accessories coming back into my house! Some of the recent projects outside of my home include: a garage packed with various tools and automotive supplies (an impressive assortment) – and the best part is – they had chickens and ducks and goats – oh my!  They stayed in their respective areas – but I had fun paying them a visit after we were finished!   I also recently helped an art teacher organize her classroom just before school started.  My sister is an art teacher (and my mom was too), so it was a lot of fun working in such a familiar territory.  Other projects included working with a mom to organize and store baby clothes for when the next baby arrives, and setting up a closet for her new au pair. 

Some staging projects have been mixed in there, as well – but mainly a lot of items are returning… So, how does an organizer organize her own storage space?  Well, it’s pretty much there, but with some spill-over.  I’ll be clearing out anything that doesn’t currently have a home and adding a new shelf unit (the plastic ones from the hardware store are cheap and easy to assemble).  Then, I’ll do a once over to make sure everything that does have a home is in a good spot – and re-arrange as needed.  I’ll also pull out items that haven’t been used in a while and put them into the “donate” box.  The shelf should help get the extra items off the floor, and that will pretty much be it.  However, given that I’ll be organizing other people’s homes for the next few days, I may do this next week.   Yes, professional organizers are capable of a little procrastination, too!

Live abundantly clear!

Holly – (303) 322-5327

Present Projects

Yesterday, my husband and I both had a day off, at the same time – a very rare occurrence.  It was a hot, muggy afternoon, with dark clouds threatening rain.  So, we decided to check the TiVo to see what it had recorded.  We decided to watch Kung Fu Panda.  High-brow it is not, and yet… there was a wise Turtle who said a wise thing:

“The past is history.  The future is a mystery.  Right now is a gift – that’s why it’s called the present.”

This is not a new quote, a new concept, or even a new movie, but I liked getting the reminder.  How often are we so consumed with the future and the past, that we forget to enjoy or even notice the present?  I love working with clients, helping them stage their homes or get their spaces organized and functioning well – because I am completely present with them, in that moment.  I don’t think about the last appointment, or the next appointment, I just think about that item, or that picture, or lamp, and the best place where it should “live”.   It may sound odd, but when I’m finished, I feel refreshed.  Even if it’s a long day, and I’m physically worn out, my mind is awake.  It’s why I love what I do. 

Any project, whether large or small, has the power to engage us and connect us the the present moment.  Years ago, before TV or I-Phones, people would unwind by playing a card game, chatting with friends, or even doing chores together.  In fact, I doubt the need to “unwind” was even considered very often.  You just did what you needed to do, and you found the joy in it, in that moment.  If you find that TV, Facebook, or your Blackberry are at best post-poning your anxiety, and at worst adding to it, why not turn them off for a while?  Is life so awful that we need constant distractions from it?  If so, why aren’t we looking at the reason?

I find it funny that computers and Blackberrys are something we are “on”… like a drug.  True, the very fact that I’m writing this blog is ironic, or just plain hypocritical, but when I’m “off” the computer, I’m off.  Without these electronic leashes, I find I can enjoy everything from grocery shopping to cleaning out the garage.  A project, any project, can allow you to remember how lucky you are to have a brain and a body that works.  In the next few days, try doing a little project with the phone or Blackberry out of reach, and see how (after you get over the anxiety of being “disconnected”) it can calm your mind.

When Bad Gadgets Happen to Good People

I’m a fan of technology, but from an organizing perspective, I think the gadgets are starting to get a little out of hand.  The promise these items hold when we see them in the store or on a commercial is immense.  Any possible stress or struggle in your life can be solved because: “there’s an app. for that!”  Really?  Wow, sign me up.  What they don’t tell you is the amount of money you’ll be spending on this gadget, and all of the gadget’s little friends you have to buy separately before it looks like the one in the TV ad.  They also don’t tell you how much time you’ll need to spend figuring out how all of these things work, figuring out how to re-train your mind away from your old system to this new one.   No, they don’t tell you that.

And yet, we continue to buy them.  The latest and greatest.  The new and improved.  The thing you’ve been waiting your whole life for.  Enough, Madison Avenue, enough!  Every week I see houses filled with this stuff, unused or barely used.  These devices are supposed to make our lives more efficient, less stressful, and give us free time.  Instead, what I see are clients who are confused, over-worked, tired, and burned-out – with the extra clutter of gadgets, chargers, boxes, wires, syncing docks, etc., etc….

That said, I actually own one of those “smart” phone devices.  I like it, but it isn’t my entire life.  I still take lots of notes – on paper!  I like that it is essentially no different from the one I had 7 years ago.  It’s just smaller and lighter.  Bravo to the company who helped me maintain a system that is easy to work with for all of these years.  I pray that they will continue to make it.  I know I’m probably kidding myself.

I started thinking about this because of a client who has a “fancy phone” (no need to advertise) for a few months now and has just discovered how to turn the ringer on and off.  Some people might snicker at this, but I believe this is a fundamental and systemic problem with planned obsolescence, and if you own a phone or a computer more than a year old you might as well have stone tablets and an abacus.   Typewriters were just fine for people for about a hundred years.  Sure, they got better, but they were still essentially the same.  How can we keep up with technology that changes so dramatically every few months?  I’m all for learning new things, but some of us were not cut out to be IT specialists and we should stop pretending that we were.

So, my answer is – resist the urge!  Resist the urge, which is coming from an external force of advertisers with years of training in manipulation, to own the latest computer, the latest kitchen gadget, the latest phone that does more than any phone should, the latest gaming system, and the latest music system.  If you have a record player – good for you!  Use it, enjoy it.  Take pleasure in the process of putting a record on a turn-table and gently placing the needle down and waiting to hear it “catch”.  (And, here’s another thought – the reason we don’t play records is because it’s too hard to multi-task when you have to pick a needle up at the end of the record.  So why do we always have to multi-task?  Can’t we just do one thing at a time anymore??)  Enjoy doing things “by hand” once in a while.  Don’t let the anyone tell you there’s something wrong with you if you write to-do’s on a note pad.  Remember, your life can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.  Outside forces only have as much power as we give to them.  Stop clutter at the source, and don’t buy something to replace an item that still works well.  Choose tools that work for you, and ignore the rest – they’ll be obsolete next month, anyway.

Live abundantly clear,


Are You a Member of the Messy Desk Club?

When I worked in the corporate world, you could tell a lot about a person by his or her desk.  The trouble was it was open to many interpretations.  I worked with someone (we’ll call him Paul) who had stacks and stacks of files on his desk.  His superiors thought he was a real “go-getter”, was always busy, and could seemingly multi-task like a champ.  Those of us who were his peers had a different perspective.  When you called Paul, he almost always had his phone forwarded to voicemail.  Everything was a “fire” he was putting out, and being “in the weeds” was his daily position.  He gained a reputation as someone to work around, not with.

In my job, we had ad hoc projects each day, but for the most part, my team and I had a schedule, and we knew what had to be completed and when.  As a result, I was able to put files away and sort my paperwork every night before I left work, so I walked into a clean desk each morning.  Were there nights when I was just too tired and dragged myself home without doing the nightly tidying?  Sure, but I noticed a marked difference in how I felt the next morning and how well I managed my work that day.  Here’s the kicker – one night I was about to leave and my desk was pretty much clear.  My boss passed by and asked “what – don’t you have any work to do?”  Ha ha – what a card.   Bosses – do your whole team a favor, and don’t make fun of your organized employees – they know where things are and they can get your answers when you need them.  You want them on your side, and you want your other employees to see the respect you show those who can manage their time, and their spaces.

So, if you are a member of the messy desk club, ask yourself why.  Maybe there’s a little ADHD going on there, because it’s difficult for you to finish something before another task grabs your attention.  If you suspect that, do your research and get some assistance.  Lists are great for ADHD, plus other visual or audible reminders (like the *bing bong *on your Palm, or Outlook, etc.)  Maybe it’s just a bad habit.  Time to break it.  Learn some time management and filing skills – (try a professional organizer!) – or delegate anything you can.  Maybe you’ve found that people leave you alone when you look busy.  You may do well with this tactic for a while, but eventually the little boy shouts out: “the emperor has no clothes!”  Do you really want to be the person who never gets promoted due to the fact that you’ve established a reputation for being too busy to ever take on anything new?   Information is power – but only if you can find it.

Organize to Economize

Anyone who’s been to the Organizing System Store (why advertise for them?) knows that getting organized is expensive!  Or is it?  True, storing items you aren’t using requires containers to hold them.  But wait!  Why are you storing items you aren’t using?  We all do it, and we all have very good reasons.  Perhaps it’s an item you use once a year, like around the holidays.  Perhaps it’s clothing that doesn’t fit, but once summer comes around, you plan to slim down to fit into that size XS sweater.  Huh?  Then there’s the “it may come in handy” items.  If you have the room to store these items, you’ll get no quarrel from me.  BUT, if you are finding that your daily quality of life is suffering because you have a layer of unused items, covered by a layer of often-used items, and they are starting to blend together in chaotic mess, then we need to talk.

Many people think they don’t have the money to get organized (“when I win the lottery – I’ll finally get organized!)  In this economy, we can no longer afford to be disorganized.  Buying a pair of shoes,  a shirt , or a food item and then later realizing you already had the exact same item, buried in the back of a closet or cupboard, could be costing you much more then the time it would take to get organized.   Misplaced items might as well be trashed items.  Some of my clients even lose money!  Many’s a time clients and I have found gift cards, checks, or even cash that they were looking for, or forgot they had!

We use about 20% of our belongings 80% of the time.  That’s just life.  The trick is making a conscious effort to be aware of what you are using and what you are not.  I have a sewing machine.  Do I use it every day, or even every month?  Not necessarily, but I have a home for it where it won’t get in the way of other things I use every day.  When I need it, I can set it up in 30 seconds and it’s ready to go.   It’s not about perfection, it’s about utility. 

Is your home organized enough to be functional?  You don’t need to spend money to contain every item you own.  You just need to make sure you are keeping a reasonable amount of items for the space that you have.  Organizing systems are useful when there is wasted space – but they are not the solution if you are unrealistic about what you need, what you use, and how much space you have.

One more note – when you decide to make a change, and you can’t do it on your own, ask for help.  We all have skill sets, we all have talents, and we don’t need to be perfect in all things.  Maybe someone else can help you with something that has been holding you back.

Live abundantly clear! – Holly