Sneak preview! A 30 day decluttering plan– let’s do this!
Your house is cluttered. How do I know? Because most houses are. Even mine sometimes! Besides, you’re here aren’t you?
This is pretty straightforward. I have a printable chart for you if you’d like it, and every day in April, I’ll be addressing one space here on the blog. However, you don’t have to do them in any particular order. I encourage you to look at the tasks and circle the spaces that are driving you the most crazy first.
BUT! I do not recommend doing extra large or tedious jobs at the beginning. For instance, save the filing cabinet until later. It’s best to pick things like your pantry, car or your mail stack to begin with. Why? Because they are good short term goals that will make you feel better immediately and encourage you to keep going! In fact, I’ve organized these in order of typical impact– that is, the areas that will improve our every day lives quickly are towards the beginning. Cross them off as you go; it’ll feel GREAT! If you have before and afters, I’d love to see them! Please post to facebook.com/simplysarahorganizing/
One note: as you go thru these, you’ll find random photos, batteries, non-working electronics, and things that should be filed EVERYWHERE! Save these somewhere until you get around to those areas so you don’t get sidetracked. Also: if you’d like, spread this out and do one a week! Just go forward. Even small steps are progress.
The key to tidying up your home could be addressing ADHD
Most people probably assume that the tie between ADHD and clutter is just that people can’t concentrate enough to clean up. Not so. In fact, I’ve seen ADHD clients do very well at tidying up at times due to periods of hyperfocus, which they also experience. However, there’s a bigger issue that needs to be addressed. Impulse control and buying.
Often, those who haven’t researched ADHD don’t know that overspending is actually a symptom. But if you stop to think about it, you can easily see how it falls into the spectrum of issues. Impulse control is one issue, and the other is the aforementioned hyperfocus that sometimes happens– getting really excited about something and purchasing multiple items relating to that. My clients have reported both. Unfortunately, this often causes problems in their relationships as well. The clutter and the financial issues both cause a strain.
Fortunately, I’ve found a combination of learning, working with an organizer, and sometimes medication to manage ADHD to be very helpful. In fact, I was recently working with a client who has come such a long way. Feeling the chaos of the day, instead of feeling the impulse to clutter or buy, she realized that the physical act of decluttering and managing her things was just what she needed and we dug in. No longer feeling the urge to buy, her and her daughter who also has ADHD have realized that organizing has been a huge key to mental peace.
“The past beats inside me like a second heart.” ― John Banville, The Sea
Something I see often is the anguish of a relative who feels burdened by the volume of things left to them by a loved one, and yet they belabor over the decision whether to part with them. The feeling is a sort of longing, but it seems to be mixed with guilt, as if getting rid of something is somehow an act of betrayal. Or losing the person even more, if that was possible.
To begin with, if this is you, you can turn the tide right now by taking a good look at your belongings and getting rid of anything that doesn’t mean much to you. This will help anyone who inherits your world.
And to those trying to decide what to keep, let me offer this guide:
Can you use it? Really, if you keep something but it stays in a box for the next 30 years, you really don’t have it. Try to keep things that can be used, displayed and enjoyed to keep your loved one’s memory alive and in front of you.
Some examples of things I’ve kept: -an old avocado green GE clock that hung on grandma’s kitchen wall for years. It finds a place in my every home, and it’s currently telling time in my laundry room. -a sewing box from my other grandma. It too was a green color, but a yucky one. I painted it white and display it, and use it. I kept her tomato pincushion in there, some lace, and some other findings that remind me of her, always sewing something. -jewelry pieces that have been passed down from various family members. Not only do I keep them, but I wear them, and feel close to my loved ones.
Next up: was it quintessentially “them”? There’s no need to keep the kleenex cozy from the back bedroom just because it was in their house. Think of the things that really defined them. A favorite book from their collection with their notes in it, maybe. Grandpa’s gardening spade. Poetry they wrote.
What about pictures? If you don’t know who the people are, find a relative who might and ask them to explain the pictures or write names and maybe approximate dates on the backs. If they don’t know either, there’s no use in keeping them.
A final word, your relatives would not want to be a burden. Keep a few things that add to your life, and let go of the guilt of letting go of everything else. Additionally, sometimes it’s hard at first. Give yourself permission to hold onto things for a little while, but also give yourself permission to pass them on later.
I’m working with a wonderfully creative woman right now. In her 80’s, no one can say she’s wasted her time. She’s excelled at about every form of art there is, and currently she is learning to paint– one thing she is determined to do before she “goes on”, as she puts it. We’ve also come across many books on short stories because writing is another new endeavor.
To make room for her current creativity, we’re letting go of some of the past. Not important things, no. Those things are displayed all around. Instead we’re sorting thru partially finished quilts and other projects. Some, she is delighted to find, and we store them in sight to be completed later. Others, she looks at realistically and declares that there’s not enough time so they have no chance of being finished by her hands. Also, materials such as fabrics she has stopped using, go now as she favors hand-dyed cloths over the usual cottons. How she decides which ones stay and which go is mysterious to me, but she definitely knows, and I package them up to be passed to someone who will be elated to have them. The items will go to other crafters and artists, some to be made for charities.
I smile at her. “You know how to allow things to flow through your life: Two bodies of water in the Middle East, the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, are connected, but vastly different. The Jordan has water that flows in and then out of it. It’s teaming with life and the banks are fertile. But at the end, it empties into the Dead Sea. Nothing flows out of the Dead Sea. It’s stagnant, and nothing can live in there. But you are like like the Jordan.”
All of these things will be passed on to someone who will use them, and she’ll be here, living out her creativity in the space we’ve now opened up. It’s a colorful life 🙂
Recently I was chatting with a client who hadn’t heard the buzz from the new show. When I mentioned that the thrift stores are being overwhelmed due to Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, she questioned me about it. I told her about how the adorable little Japanese organizer bounces into a house, encouraging the inhabitants to keep only things that “spark joy”. Clothes that are kept are folded origami style, real small, and tucked away. Everything else goes, but not until you thank items for their service.
“She has a rule, no more than 30 books,” I remarked casually. My client snapped to attention, “well you know that wouldn’t work for me.” Yes, yes I did. Which is why I’d never expect that of her.
So, if you’re thinking that by the time I’m finished with you, your place will be as bare as the picture above, the answer would be: that’s up to you! While working with clients, I go with the natural flow of things. And while I may be a non-bias party that can help decide if you should get rid of something, you’re always the final word. Sometimes I’ll ask questions to help you decide. I won’t argue with clients about something they want to keep, not even an old tattered shirt, especially if they’ve been doing great with the editing process. My client above has purged all sorts of things and has ample room to keep books.
And while the KonMari method is great for some, it may not be for others. So, the question is: what do we need to do to make you feel comfortable in your space?
We keep things out of guilt– we paid a lot for something we didn’t use and now feel the need to punish ourselves by staring at it, apparently. Let me tell you about the magnetic eyelashes…
To begin with, I’m not proud of this story. Many of you may know that I’m an extremely frugal person, and I pride myself in the fact that I’m immune to advertising. Usually.
What nobody knows, except for Mom, is that I’ve always disliked my puny eyelashes. However, the idea of someone like myself putting glue anywhere near my eyes is a scary one, so I’ve never tried fakes. Enter an ad on Facebook with long luscious lashes attached by little magnets. You put one layer on top and they snap! into place with another layer on the bottom! Easy peasy, right?! I paid a ridiculous amount (I’m ashamed!) to have said eyelashes sent to my door, and waited excitedly to get them.
The day they came was a busy one, but I had about 10 minutes between tasks that day, in which I expected to be able to hastily snap! these on. I pulled the box out of the envelope it was sent in and read it. I was warned that these were for external use only, and if I were to accidentally ingest or inhale them, I should seek medical attention. I wondered what sort of mishap could cause one to inhale a row of eyelashes. It also said not to use if you have a pacemaker. I imagined a women wheeled into the ER with a stopped heart, an eyelash stuck to her chest…
Inside the box I found four spidery looking things encased in a sparkly silver magnetic compact. I pulled them out and prepared to look glamorous.
First, they clicked together but had only caught the tips of my own lashes, and so were hanging off. Next, they clipped too much to the left and then to the right, looking like a typewriter pushed all the way to one side. My hands shook, and several times they fell onto my cheek. I was starting to see how one might wind up sucked into a nostril. Over and over…I became so frustrated that I put them back in the magnetic spider trap. They looked up at me, innocently. I promised myself I’d conquer them another day.
That day came a few weeks later when I, with resolve, again stood in front of my mirror. I had a military ball coming up, and I wanted to get the hang of this so I could wear them. After much trial and mostly error, they snap! went right into place on my left eyelid. I was so excited, and yet I noticed that they impaired my vision somewhat, hanging low like one of those hippie beaded curtains in my field of vision. Also, I could see through my naked eye that the look really wasn’t me and seemed a bit fake. Which they were. Still, I felt triumphant!!!
I called up Mom on a video chat. She looked at me puzzled thru the phone. “…and what made you think you should do this?” she wondered.
“Well, you know my eyelashes are so puny. I thought these would be good for the ball. Not me, eh?”
“I know I couldn’t be in the same room with you without laughing.” …She was right. I probably couldn’t either. I imagined myself trying to carry on conversations when I couldn’t even see. I admitted defeat and a monetary loss.
Not long after, I was at coffee with a lovely friend of mine. A friend with class. A friend who could probably pull the look off. I told her about how I had been beaten by those magnetic black widows and instead of laughing at me, she told me she’d love to try them. Fast forward to another coffee date today, accompanied by a live piano player– it felt like being in a movie and snap! she was about to sport lashes like Marilyn Monroe. I passed them off to her and told her I’d like to see pics.
And so, this is where the organizing advice comes in: Often we keep things because we hate that we’ve wasted money on them. However, if you let something hang around the house, you’ve spent money, now you’ve spent emotional currency on it (stress!), and eventually you’ll wind up getting rid of it anyways. What can you do instead? Admit to the loss ASAP, get real with yourself, and pass it on to someone who will use it. This is especially important with things that might expire. For instance, I had a client who had ordered some costly supplements and then found they weren’t the right thing. She forgot to send them back on time, felt guilty for having wasted the money, and so they sat in the box until we found them– a couple of years after the expiration date.
If something like this happens to you, quickly scout out someone that can use your item. Then at least it won’t feel like a total loss. And you won’t have your failure staring at you…literally.
Long passed away pets, old love letters, and unmentionables, which is why I won’t mention them. Organizers get up close and personal, and we see a lot of things. Pretty much nothing phases us. Unlike a magazine page or Pinterest pin, you actually live in your home and there is evidence of that. We’re all mostly the same and you are totally not being judged in any way.
However, there is something that I come across repeatedly and I want to address it: organizing and/or cleaning supplies. Storage bins and baskets of all sizes, printed out materials about organizing, cleaning liquids of all kinds– often unused or still in packages. One realistic client joked to me as we kept finding these items, “Don’t you love seeing our pitiful attempts at organization?” Again, I don’t judge.
I see these items as a realization that something needed to be done about the mess. However, it also reveals a bigger issue. The thinking that an organizational system or program alone will fix the problem.
For organizational systems to work, there are two other parts that need to be in place.
A reasonable amount of items. You must first edit your clutter. Just buying containers to corral it in new and fancy ways won’t cut it.
My client last night had a binder full with an organizing program she had purchased…we found it underneath the mountain of stuff on her desk. But good for her! She realized she needed help to get the ball rolling and contacted me, and together we had tackled that mess in no time. We recruit professionals of all kinds for their various specialties– maybe an organizer should be your next call!
(PS BONUS! One other thing we always find is a serious overage of pens and pencils. We accept this as a fact of life. I don’t know where they come from exactly but they multiply like bunnies! Don’t worry, everyone has this problem.)
NO we are not afraid of the Skittles that have been buried under your files for 5 years, and no, this is NOT the worst we’ve ever seen.
Organizers recognize that our clients come to us in various states of vulnerability and that it’s difficult to open up your life to someone. Trust that you are in good hands. Let’s take a look at what it’s like to work with an organizer and hopefully this will banish any worry.
To start with: The session usually begins by establishing a way to sort items. This often includes boxes or bags labeled TRASH, DONATE, OTHER ROOM and others depending on your situation. Your professional will help you decide.
The items you’re deciding to keep will start to be grouped together as well. These categories often develop as your organizer starts to see patterns and gets an idea of what you use regularly and how/where you use it. You will be asked several questions pertaining to this as you chat along the way. If you ever used one of those little shape sorters as a kid– you can totally do this!
Expect your organizer to begin to feel like a good friend. Personal, warm, and sometimes overly honest– totally helpful. They’ll keep you on track and maybe remind you to take breaks.
At this point things might look messy: FEAR NOT! Depending on whether your organizer has decided everything needs to be pulled out to get a good look at it or how many little piles of do-dads you have, stuff may be everywhere. Sometimes this feels a little overwhelming to the client. But just like so many things, things often get worse before they can get better. At this point, things are about to wrap up!
(Sometimes this process will take more than one session. If so, things will be tidied enough to make your place livable until next time. If you’re willing, homework might be assigned such as sorting paperwork or other things you can do on your own before your organizer returns.)
Ahhh….now that we’ve edited your belongings, things can be put back in a way that makes sense. Your organizer will ask more questions about what and where things make sense to you in order to come up with a system that is easier to use and maintain. Now that you have less “stuff”, there should be a place for everything. Sometimes organizational items will need to be purchased, but often I find that we free up usable storage bins in the process that can be used in the end.
At this point, many organizers will talk to you about a plan to keep your space tidy or get some dates on your calendar so you’ll remember to revisit the area for maintenance. You might also schedule to work on the next space with your professional.
This is where you’ll feel spectacular! Basically everyone reports feeling great after this process and the science backs it up. You’ve made a clean sweep of the clutter that’s been causing you stress, and now it’s time to enjoy your space again.
“I looked at you and knew there was no way to justify keeping those lights I bought to hang in the garage 10 years ago…”
I’m struggling to write an introduction to this post, because the title is so self-explanatory. In short, sometimes it seems hard for people to try to justify hiring an organizer because some think they should be able to do it for themselves. However, the piles of “stuff” sitting around us usually indicate the contrary. And while it may be possible to do it yourself, sometimes people just need some help. Read on!
Getting started. “I feel so overwhelmed.” Often my client feels paralyzed and doesn’t know where to begin. This is the biggest obstacle we overcome together. After entering a space, an organizer will be able to immediately hone in on a definite starting point and direction for your project.
Community. Why do so many join weight loss programs, health clubs, exercise classes etc? Because there’s accountability, community and support there. Because it’s easier with someone standing by your side. Because you’re not alone. A friend and I were talking about organizing and she said this, “I’m single and sometimes I invite a friend over while I’m cleaning and doing dishes just to have someone to talk to.” There is certainly more joy in feeling that you’re not alone.
Accountability. Piggybacking off of the above, hiring an organizer keeps you on task. This helps you even if you’d like to do some of the work yourself. I often work together with a client and then assign “homework” if they are willing for tasks that are better of done oneself such as paperwork. Knowing that I’ll be coming back is motivating. In fact, just by making the appointment, one client started on much of the work herself before I got there! Having an organizer is essential if you (or your child) struggle with ADHD. We can keep redirecting your focus back to the project on hand.
Experience. Which saves you time and money. I can’t tell you how many clients have previously wasted money on expensive systems that weren’t practical for them. On the other hand, one client asked me, “do you spend all of your free time looking up organizing information?” I smiled 🙂
Impartial decisions. The quote at the top of this article was from a client’s husband. He was on board with her decision to organize the house but didn’t feel he needed me personally. After much of the house had been finished, he was so excited about the results and said, “Ok, I want you to schedule Sarah to come work with me.” We cleaned out the garage and as he mentioned, just having someone there helped him to get real about whether he’d use an item or not.
Resources. Organizers are typically knowledgeable about the best place to obtain or dispose of items. Paper shredding events, paint disposal, places to get the best organizing equipment, new organizing books, apps to help you out–all continuously on our radars.
If you can think of any other great reasons to bring an organizer on board please chime in below!