J – Junk
As the saying goes, “One man’s junk, is another man’s treasure”. I think that was said by Sanford and Son. Clients often worry about getting rid of things because they don’t want to throw away something they’ve spent money on. I hate to throw away useful things! This is why I like to donate as much as I can to worthy organizations such as Goodwill. I tell my clients that even though they can’t use something, someone else may be able to use it. You may not need or want the Elvis clock your great aunt Trudy gave you for your birthday 3 years ago, but someone may find it at Goodwill and feel like they’ve hit the jackpot!
Everyone thinks their things are worth a lot of money, and therefore hate to get rid of them. But when is junk, really just junk? I say. It’s when the cost of keeping something outweighs the cost of letting it go, or trying to sell it. The cost of an item is not just monetary, things cost us energy (in upkeep), time (in trying to sell them) and emotional distress (in keeping too much). In past blogs I’ve discussed the idea that our stuff takes a toll on our emotional health and can often make us feel overwhelmed and unfocused. Likewise, we can get so bogged down with maintaining our junk that we forget that it’s there to serve us, not the other way around. Clients often tell me they have things they think are ‘worth something’, and are eager to sell them. It’s difficult telling someone that no one is going to pay big bucks for their old toaster or college textbooks from 1978. People also always want to sell clothing and ask me about consignment shops. I’m not a fan of consignment, since they only take items in pristine (and dry cleaned) condition, that are currently in style. Most people seem to want to consign old, worn out clothing from their teen years. Unfortunately, I often have to burst the get-rich-quick bubble by saying most people’s junk is just that, junk. I tell clients that the time and money (if you hire someone) you will spend trying to sell something is worth more than the item. More often than not, the tax write-off you will get from donating it is a much better and less stressful option. If you do choose to take the time to sell your things, a few good spots are Craigslist (for local items), Ebay (for collectors items), Thread Up (for clothing), Rebagg (for purses).
So what if your junk doesn’t fit into a box you can throw into the back of your car and drop off at the donation center? I tell my clients that I will take away and donate everything that fits in my car at the end of each work session. I’ve had clients take me up on that, literally, so that that I leave their home with only enough room for me to fit into the driver’s seat. For those that have bravely tackled a garage-full of junk, there is help in the form of junk haulers. This is an amazing business, which complements the work that we, organizers, do. For a nominal fee, they come to your home with a big truck and muscled employees to remove everything you want gone. The best part is, that they don’t just take all of it to the city dump. Companies like Junk King, make sure everything they haul away is dealt with responsibly. They do everything from recycling old refrigerators to donating your bedroom set. Companies like Gone For Good even have a store where they give you a discount on your haul-away of they can resell some of your old items. Then there’s Clutter Trucker, who specializes in hoarding situations and mandatory clean-outs.
What’s the point? I’m glad you asked! Whether you think of your stuff as junk or treasure, if you don’t need or want it, don’t hold onto it!
Your Junk may be useless to you, but useful to someone else – Donate it!
Is your junk ‘worth something’? – Sell it!
If your junk is overwhelming your space and you – Have it hauled away!
I – Information
Technology is the wave of the future, but sometimes this wave is so powerful that it’s easy to feel like you’re drowning in the sea of information. Emails, blogs, newsletters, TV, mail, Facebook, Twitter. – all these different things bombard you with information on a daily, and sometimes hourly basis.
Having a computer is a must these days. It’s necessary for work, and most students (even as early as elementary school) are required to have one. You can find out just about any information you want from a computer. You can pick were to eat, where to go on vacation, buy a car, make new friends, electronically stalk someone, and meet your future spouse. Computer’s are amazing! I could not have written this blog without one. However, they are also the cause of a LOT of stress. These magnificent machines can certainly cause problems – that spouse you met online is now ‘chatting’ with someone else, your bank account has been hacked, your directions sent you to an abandoned warehouse instead of the fabulous new restaurant you were going to, your vacation confirmation got lost and you are now stuck at the flea dip motel, next door to the Scranton, PA thumb wrestling team on their way to regional’s.
The mail also keeps coming, no matter where you move or how hard you try to run from it! And, unfortunately, in this computer age, it doesn’t all consist of love letters and postcards from fun far-away places. It’s mostly junk and bills!
So the choices to combat the information overload are to move to a cave with no Wifi, where even the bravest of mail carriers does not dare to tread, or learn to manage it, so it doesn’t manage you! Luckily, I’ve got some tips to help with the latter!
Mail – When the mail comes, spend 10 minutes sorting it right then and there!
Sort the mail into 3 main categories:
1. Disposal (Trash/recycle/shred) – can be disposed of immediately
2. File – can be put aside (like in a small basket marked ‘to be filed’) and those items can be filed, on a weekly or even monthly basis, depending on the amount.
3. Action (anything you need to do something else with) – can be further sorted into individual categories like pay, read, respond, etc.
This really should only take 10 minutes, unless you are a very important person who receives tons of mail daily (like the President or Justin Bieber). Each category in your action pile should then be followed up on to complete the actions. This way you don’t need to dig your bills out of a stack of pizza menus and credit card applications, and your lights won’t get shut off for failure to pay the bill because you didn’t know where it was! Also, a way to have less unwanted mail is to sign up with a service like DMAchoice. They help you decrease the amount of direct marketing you receive, so you have less junk to wade through and throw away.
Email – I get at least 50 emails daily…45 of which are things I don’t need to look at. To start getting less of those, each time an email comes in that you don’t want, take a second to go to the bottom and hit the ‘unsubscribe’ button. You may have to do this for a lot of emails, but it will be worth it when your inbox is no longer cluttered with ways to decrease your debt and increase your hair line.
Also, the same principle applies to email as paper mail. Take ten minutes to sort it. Set up email folders like, “Upcoming Events”, “Read/Review”, and “Follow up”. When emails come in either, 1. Delete them, 2. File them, 3. Act on them. This way your inbox won’t build up like soap scum in your bath tub, getting to the point where it’s just gross!
The bottom line is that it’s manageable if you manage it in little bits, before it gets out of hand and causes a breakdown (electronic or literal).
Go through your mail immediately!
Unsubscribe to junk emails as soon as you get them!
Set up folders in your inbox to sort keeper emails!
H – Hoarding
When people learn that I’m a Professional Organizer, they associate it with the show “Hoarders” (which, by the way, I cannot watch at all). They often ask if I work with “Hoarders”. The short answer is…Not really. The longer explanation is that there are 1-5 levels on the Clutter Hoarding Scale. I have worked with levels 1-3, but levels 4 and 5 are best left to those with a background in psychology, because true Hoarding is a psychological disorder.
The word ‘Hoarder’ is thrown around lightly, these days, partly because of the show and party because it’s become a buzz word for anyone who has too much stuff. Many people will tell me that they have so much stuff they’re “practically a hoarder”. Others will smile and say they’re on their way to becoming one, and still others will say they have some clutter, but can’t be “classified as a hoarder”. There is a distinct line between people who are messy/cluttered and those who hoard. That line is defined by a person’s ability to function. Can they cook a meal on the stove, or are there stacks of mail on it? Can they take a shower, or is the tub/shower taken over by boxes? Can they sleep in their bed, or is it covered in clothing? Can they walk safely through their home, or are their possessions in the way?
So I’m here to set the record straight about what hoarding is, and isn’t! The International OCD Foundation Has a very detailed Fact Sheet about Hoarding. They describe Hoarding as having these 3 qualities:
“1. A person collects and keeps a lot of items, even things that appear useless or of little value to most people
2. These items clutter the living spaces and keep the person from using their rooms as they were intended
3.These items cause distress or problems in day-to-day activities.”
People who hoard, have brains that work slightly differently. Their priorities tend to be different, and their rational thinking skills are compromised. People hoard for various reasons.
• Most have experienced a tremendous loss, and their coping mechanism tells them that holding onto items is a way to deal with that loss.
• They assign value to things which have no actual value and therefore feel it is unwise for them to part with the items.
• Their belief that items may be useful someday, which compels them to save more of those items than they could possible ever use.
The people who hoard aren’t the ones who typically call Professional Organizers, or anyone for that matter. Most are ashamed of their spaces and don’t want anyone to know about their issues. The sad fact is that help is typically forced on them when others see their homes. A family member or friend may seek help for a person they believe is hoarding. A landlord may require their apartment to be cleaned up in order to continue to stay in the apartment. And, sadly, many homes of people who hoard only get cleared after they have passed away, which is often a direct cause of the hoarding.
However, like any chronic disorder, there is no easy fix, and cleaning out the home of a person who hoards, before they are ready to do so, can be damaging to them. It also will most definitely result in a continuation of the hoarding behavior, which will bring them right back to the same place they were before their home was cleared.
So the takeaway here is:
• Hoarding is a psychological disorder that requires assistance from a mental health professional, first and foremost.
• “Hoarder” is a derogatory term and not a buzz word.
• Chances are, you don’t have hoarding tendencies, and you just need a bit of help organizing your clutter.
We give gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, holidays, house-warming’s, births, weddings, showers, baby naming’s, bachelor/bachelorette parties, new jobs, promotions, moving away, graduation, get well, thank you’s, weight loss, sympathy, apology, confirmations, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, just because, 1st periods, pushing a baby out, 3rd Wednesday of the month, Turtle Day, getting a splinter, getting a splinter out.
As you can see, there is an endless stream of gift-giving occasions, and who doesn’t like gifts? But after we’ve gotten that precious teddy bear, or picture frame, or candle, or live alligator, what do we do with them? Most of the time they sit in the back of the closet or in the garage or basement storage room (maybe not the alligator), because you don’t need them, or even like them for that matter. However, you can’t seem to get rid of them, because they were gifts. I call that ‘guilt clutter’. Everyone has it and everyone’s been guilty of contributing to it by giving gifts. I know what you’re thinking “Zebras a pretty”! No? Ok, maybe that was just me. But seriously, we can’t just stop giving gifts, nor do we want to stop receiving them. We just want to stop having to deal with them later. There are a few options to fix this problem:
1. It’s ok to regift (with care)! If you get gifts you’re not too fond of, or that just aren’t your style, put them directly into a regifting bin. Make sure to attach a sticky note with the name of the gift-giver, so that you don’t give them back their same gift(that would be embarrassing) . Next time you get invited to an event, look through your regifting bin before going to buy something new.
2. It’s ok to donate it! If you’re not comfortable regifting, donating is another great option. This is especially good for those slightly used items that you don’t want anymore, or for hand-me-downs that no longer serve you. Someone else will make good use of your discarded items so you don’t have to feel like they’re going to waste.
3. Give consumable items or experiences instead! The gift receiver is much more likely to remember the gift of a massage than the gift of another vase. With the invention of Groupon and the like (best invention ever!) it’s much easier to give experiential gifts, even across state line. Here are some great gift options:
• Cake (provide a cake for someones happy occasion)
• Fruit basket or fruit-of –the-month membership
• Bottle of wine
• A home cooked meal is always a treat for a special occasion
• A cookie basket
• Take them out to dinner/lunch/ breakfast
• No fruitcakes!
• Dining Out
• Spa Treatments
• Travel Vouchers
• Personal promise to do some household chores or babysitting
• Car wash
• Professional Organizer
• Give a donation to their favorite charity
• Donate your time to help out a charity on their behalf
• Tickets to a show/event
• Take them out to a show/event
• Hot Air Balloon ride
• Cooking classes
• Netflix account
• Museum membership
Part of getting your space organized is controlling what comes into the space. While we can’t turn down gifts (that’s just plain rude), we can make ruthless decisions on those gifts without feeling the pangs of guilt. We can also do our part not to contribute to anyone else’s ‘guilt clutter’.
Don’t be afraid to get rid of gifts that don’t make you happy!
Don’t give clutter gifts!
Not every occasion requires a gift!
F – Free
No matter what it is, if it’s free, we want it! Americans are guilty of accepting anything and everything that’s labeled ‘free’. Whether it’s free samples of broccoli casserole at the grocery store (even though we don’t like broccoli), or a free dollop of lotion tucked inside a tiny packet in a magazine (that only covers half of one hand), or a water bottle advertising a mortuary (which I was recently offered), we want it! Most of those freebies end up in the ‘miscellaneous’ drawer, only to be found 3 years later, and thrown away (by your organizer).
You know the saying “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”? It means that nothing is ever truly free; there’s always some sort of price to be paid. When accepting free stuff, that you neither want nor need, that price is clutter. Unfortunately, we pay the price when clutter takes over our physical, mental and emotional space. It doesn’t happen overnight, which is why it’s so tricky! Clutter creeps up slowly, and before you know it, your possessions now possess you!
I have a question on my assessment form that I always ask potential clients. “How do you hope to feel when everything is organized?” 9 out of 10 times the answer is “Free”. When clients answer this question you can almost see the image of a clutter-free space going though their mind. This image takes the place of the cluttered reality they live with on a daily basis.
Ahhh, freedom! What we all yearn for and dream of! The feeling of not being burdened by anything; the feeling of gliding easily through life! I had a client who simply put her mail into boxes when it arived. She had online bill pay, so she didn’t need the paper statements, but she wasn’t sure if she should keep them, and everything else that was sent to her (just in case). She had moved several times, and just had the boxes of mail moved with her. With every move the boxes grew and grew. She was about to move again, and here employer (who was paying for the move), said she needed to decrease the weight of the move. She knew the 30+ boxes of mail, dating back the 1980s were the problem. When I came to work with her, she was adamant about going through each envelope and piece of mail to make sure she wasn’t getting rid of anything important. After doing this for several days, she realized the toll it took on her emotionally and mentally. I was then able to talk her though the notion that if she hasn’t needed any of these papers in the last 3 decades, how important could they really be? I think that gave her the freedom she was looking for and the boxes of mail headed out the door to be shred!
Our culture is based on the notion of “he/she with the most stuff wins”. But what do we really win? In the end, the more stuff we have, the less free we tend to feel. So why do we find it so difficult to get rid of our stuff? And why do we acquire more stuff?
What does ‘free’ mean to you?
Don’t accept any more free stuff!
Free yourself from clutter!
Basement declutter to put house on the market. House sold in 3 days after declutter
The alphabet of organizing! Or, how to simplify your life one letter at a time!
E – Excuse
We come up with excuses to get out of, or delay, doing things we don’t want to do; excuses for why we’re not as fit or wealthy or organized as we’d like to be. Excuses for not being organized are among the most common “ I don’t have time to put that away.” “ I didn’t put it away because I don’t know where it goes.” “ There’s just way too much to put away.”. Excuses range from being too busy, to not knowing where to start, to feeling overwhelmed. All of these excuses are valid, but they all keep us in a state of limbo, stuck, wanting to make a change, but thinking about all the reasons we can’t, instead.
A lot of times we make excuses because we’re not ready to tackle the issue at hand. However, in most cases, the longer we make excuses the bigger the problem grows. If we put off working on a big work/school project until the night before it’s due, we make the project much more difficult and stressful. The same thing goes for organizing projects. If we keep putting papers into a stack, thinking we don’t have the time to file them right now, pretty soon we’ll have several stacks that require hours and hours of time to get them filed.
Not only that, but excuses:
• Keep us from accomplishing what we want
• Create more work down the road
• Keep us stuck in an unpleasant situation
• Contradict desires
But what if we’ve used so many excuses that we’ve dug a hole we can’t get out of? Get help! Whether it’s hiring a Trainer to get you in shape, a Career Coach to put you on the right track, or a Professional Organizer to declutter your life, it’s never too late to exchange excuses for solutions!
The excuses to ‘not’ do something greatly outnumber the reasons ‘to’ do it. But the thing about excuses is that they always keep you from accomplishments.
You can have results or excuses, not both!
If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse!
Stop making excuses!
The alphabet of organizing! Or, how to simplify your life one letter at a time!
D – Decisions
If you’re like me, you love when a decision has been made, but you agonize over the making of it! There’s a story my mom likes to tell about me when I was little. She would let me pick out a piece of candy at the checkout of the grocery store and I would proceed to weigh the pros and cons of my potential enjoyment of each piece of candy. So much so that my mom would tell me “you’re not buying a car, just pick a piece of candy so we can go”. Can you imagine how hard it was for me to buy my first car?? So it’s safe to say that I have a bit of difficulty with making decisions! That being said, once I have finally made a decision, it’s like a huge weight has lifted and I never look back and wonder if it’s the right thing to do!
Some people are quick decision-makers and some painstakingly slow, like me. However, decisions have to be made in life. That’s just the way it is! Whether they’re small decisions like what to have for dinner or life-altering ones like what job to take, or they lie somewhere in between, like what to do with grandmas stuff once she has passed away, they must be made with care and attention.
Not everyone feels this way though. Some people are so paralyzed by decision-making that they simply don’t do it, which leads to all sorts of problems. One of those problems being clutter; clutter is simply delayed decisions. If you’re not sure what to do with the mail when it comes in so you put it in a pile on the kitchen counter, you are delaying the decisions of what needs to be done with it (pay, toss, respond, file, etc). If your closet is packed with stuff you haven’t worn in ages and you don’t know where to put the clean laundry , so you just leave it in the laundry basket, you are delaying cleaning out your closet and deciding what to keep and what to get rid of. There are endless examples of delayed decisions in everything we do.
Sometimes deciding tasks become so big and overwhelming that people pretend they don’t exist. But there’s good news! You don’t have to go it alone. If decisions are tough, ask for help! I like to ask for people’s opinions when I have big decisions to make. Often times someone will bring up something I hadn’t thought about which will help sway me one way or another. If things have gotten out of hand and there are just too many decisions to be made, ask for help! This is why my profession exists! We help people make decisions they have trouble making on their own. We come armed with pertinent questions and scenarios that will help jog your decision-making skills. The best part is, that once the decision has been made, there is instant relief! What if I make the wrong decision? You ask. Good question! What constitutes a wrong decision? Getting rid of something and then missing it? If you fear the second thought monster you can always test your decisions out first. Instead for giving your childhood teas set to a charity, try putting it in a box and keeping it out of sight for 6 months. After the 6 months are up evaluate whether you’ve missed it. If not, let it go completely, if you have, find a way to use it (or display it) so it will bring you nostalgic joy. There’s no use keeping joy in a box in your basement!
So I bet you’re wondering if my decision-making skills have improved since I’ve become a Professional Organizer. The answer is Yes and NO. I am great at helping others make decisions but I still have trouble picking out a good candy bar (Kit Kats, Butterfinger, Twix…). After all, the fate of dessert is at stake!
Get help with overwhelming decisions
Not every decisions is life-altering
Once you make the decision you WILL feel better
The alphabet of organizing! Or, how to simplify your life one letter at a time!
C – Clutter
That one small word can strike fear in the eyes of women, children and well-groomed men! It can also bring on feelings of disgust, exhaustion, overwhelm, anger, sadness and embarrassment for all of us!
Clutter has become synonymous with confusion, but at its core, it’s simply a delayed decision! This means that every place in your space where you have clutter lie decisions that have been postponed. Sometimes that’s just because you don’t know where to put something because it doesn’t have a ‘home’, or that you’re too busy to put things into their proper ‘homes’, or sometimes, it goes much deeper than that. For some, decision-making is paralyzing, and the more difficult it is the larger the clutter grows, until it becomes completely overwhelming. This is when we get into issues of hoarding. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that everyone who has difficulty making decisions has hoarding tendencies. If that were true, we would all have therapists on speed-dial! Hoarding is on the extreme side of the clutter spectrum. However, clutter, whether big or small, causes problems if left unchecked.
Clutter usually creeps up slowly, starting with a few pieces of mail on the dining room table, some clothes on the bedroom floor, or dishes in the bathtub (who can relate??). At first, it’s easily remedied and has more to do with cleaning than with lack of organization. However, no matter the size, shape or smell of the clutter, it all takes its toll on our state of well-being. Clutter causes:
• Restlessness. With an unsettled space come unsettled emotions — your mind is constantly thinking about everything that needs to be done.
• Lack of Focus. Instead of focusing on the task at hand, you might find yourself weighed down with feelings of guilt about your space. Then your brain becomes overwhelmed trying to process your surroundings.
• Wasted time. Your frustration level soars when you can’t find what you need.
• Wasted Money. When you need something but can’t find it, you end up buying it again, even though you know you have it ‘somewhere’.
According to WebMD decreasing clutter and organizing your space leads to better emotional health. When we know what we have and where to find it, we feel more at peace and are able to focus on more important things, like spending time with loved ones, paying bills on time and watching that Love Boat marathon this weekend! What can be better than that?
Clutter is delayed decisions
Clutter is a slippery slope that can get out of hand quickly
Clutter causes us to miss out on things we enjoy
The alphabet of organizing! Or, how to simplify your life one letter at a time!
But it’s such a bargain! How many times have we all said this when faced with deciding whether to buy an item that we KNOW we don’t really need? We try to convince the rational and organized part of our brain that we should buy it because it’s a great deal and that we’re actually doing a good thing by buying it because we may need it someday! Right? Well, I’m here to tell you that a bargain is only a TRUE bargain if you can make good use of it! This means that buying that glass Llama statue at 60% off is only good if upon seeing it you exclaim “I have the perfect place to put that”, and it will complete your animals of the world that spit collection! Otherwise, it’s not a bargain; it’s just another thing that will need to be dusted and will eventually end up at a garage sale.
Marketing is set up to make things irresistible to that disheveled little devil sitting on our shoulder and poking us with his spear (that he go for ½ off at a clearance sale). However that guy is nowhere to be found when you are knee-deep in bargain basement items…in your basement!
Have you ever bargained with a family members, trying to convince them that you will take care of the clutter engulfing the kitchen table, after you finish more ‘pressing’(aka…more interesting) things? If this sounds familiar, then you are the one that comes out on the short end of that bargain, because that clutter will be waiting for you when you run out of pressing things to occupy your time. And then they’ll be even more of it! So, really, you just bargained some more work for yourself. There is no need to bargaining yourself out of fun activities, but if you plan it well, you can have your fun and an organized space!
Here’s a good bargain for you: How about setting aside time in your day/week/month (whatever works best) to schedule organizing time. Put it into your calendar in big letters. Don’t plan anything over it and don’t reschedule it to do something more ‘pressing’, like clipping your toenails (although that really should be done at some point). Like Nike says…”Just do it”! Not sure where to start? Follow Mary Poppins and “start at the very beginning”. Pick a room; pick a spot in the room and get to work!
Don’t be a victim of marketing bargains!
Stop bargaining more work for yourself!
Strike a bargain where you win over clutter!
So begins my alphabet of organizing! I am going to teach you how to simplify your life one letter at a time! This will be fun(I promise)!!
A – Accept
Before you can do anything about your clutter, you have to acknowledge it and accept the fact that it’s a problem and needs to be dealt with. Without this first step, you won’t get very far. If you walk around your home and there are piles of things everywhere and you’re not sure why you’re unhappy all the time, accepting that it may be the clutter in your space can help turn things around.
Accepting help is the next step. I have had people call and tell me how much they need my services and even go as far as setting up and initial consultation, only to cancel right before the consultation because they can’t fully accept that they need help. When they cancel, it’s always with another time to reschedule, but they end up canceling the reschedule date as well. This cycle continues for several rounds until they can honestly accept the help.
I had a client who came to me for help organizing her home office. She said her daughter tried to help her, but it didn’t go very far because it led to a fight and her daughter yelled at her. This is a very familiar scenario! You’re ready to accept some help and turn to your family/friends first. This is very logical, but usually ends up backfiring, as in the case of this client. When she came to me she was a bit skeptical, because her daughters help left her feeling very disappointed and nowhere closer to organized. She asked me how working with me would be different, so I made her a promise that I wouldn’t yell at her (I didn’t mention that don’t yell at any of my clients), which put her at ease right away. We were successful and everyone walked away happy (including the daughter, who was relieved not to have to do any more organizing).
Accepting your limitations in all things actually helps to accomplish those things. Not everyone is good at everything and sometimes you have to ask for help! I have a brilliant client who’s a doctor, but she constantly marvels at my ability to see things in a way she can’t see them. I tell her that everyone has their skills and talents. I couldn’t do what she does and she can’t do what I do, which keeps us both in business!
Accept that you may have an issue with clutter!
Accept help from others to organize the clutter!
Accept your limitations in dealing with the clutter!