There are a lot of things that are worth taking seriously in this world, and sometimes we need a little dose of silliness to balance things out. In celebration of Friday and the weekend ahead, I felt inspired to dust off my not-so-great poetic skills and let the power of positive thought guide me in this epic tale of organizing success and chivalry. Continue on at your own risk…
Once upon a time there was a busy mom with 4 messy kids and a husband whose dirty clothes lived on the carpet like they were hit by a bomb. The dog kept hiding his toys in the mound of laundry on the floor, and there was so much clutter in the kitchen that the mom could no longer close the pantry door. There was a fire breathing dragon living under her porch and a unicorn eating her flower beds despite the fright of the scarecrow’s torch. She was distressed and overwhelmed and had nowhere to turn. Then she met Erin, a fabulous, incredibly talented and ravishingly beautiful organizer (insert laughter) who wasn’t afraid to get burned (by the dragon of course).
Suddenly, the busy mom’s life changed and things got rearranged. Erin came into her castle, assessed the situation and devised a plan without hassle. With a wave of her wand and a swoosh of her long flowing hair, she flew through the house decluttering, tidying and putting everything back somewhere. She taught the kids incredible lessons, like where to find the garbage can to prevent further messins’. She straightened out that husband and stopped those clothes from hitting the floor, thus removing Fido’s favorite hiding place and finally shutting that pantry door. She extinguished the dragon’s odorous fumes, installed unicorn-proof fencing around the flowers and protected the shrooms. She hustled and bustled and brought order to all parts of the kingdom.
The busy mom was no longer stressed. She cried tears of joy over becoming de-messed. She thanked Erin for her genius and creativity, noting that she could not have done it herself, even if the whole neighborhood was involved in the activity. She was so excited that she called all her friends and before Erin knew it, she was looking at life through a rose-colored lens! She was a millionaire, living in a posh mansion without a hair of despair. She sat grandly out back, looking down at the stack of perfectly organized and impeccable homes that she had created for her customers. “It’s all in a day’s work” she sighed, “I’m along for the ride.” The day was soon ending, and tomorrow would bring more opportunities for dragon slaying, sword wielding and hearing customers sing. As she headed for bed, she dreamed in her head of tomorrow’s adventures that would be sure to bring more opportunities for clutter to shed. The End.
I warned you...
Getting ready to move? There are a lot of different packing supplies out there, especially if you start looking into specialized boxes and containers. If you are moving to the other side of the country, you might want to forego the hassle and leave the packing and moving to the experts who will bring all the needed supplies along. If you are moving across town and opt to rent a truck or transport your things using the help of family and friends, you are likely looking for fool-proof and budget conscious solutions to assist. Aside from those always-critical cardboard moving boxes, these are my go-to supplies that will help you get the job done like a pro:
Liquor store boxes – The boxes that you can get for free at your local liquor store come already equipped with dividers, which you will find are perfect for wrapping and packing mugs, glassware and breakable tchotchkes that would not fair as well in an open container. Roll them in packing paper and stack within each divider to make everything snug as a bug for your journey.
Contractor grade outdoor trash bags – Contractor grade bags are triple the thickness and strength as regular outdoor trash bags and can easily contain just about anything. Use these upside-down over groups of hanging clothing in place of a garment bag to transport your wrinkle-prone and fancy garb from one closet to the next with ease. Use them to protect and contain bedding, throw pillows, hangers and stuffed animals. Just make sure you label them with a bright piece of duct tape, so they don’t get mistaken for trash!
Plastic zip / cable ties – Purchase a package of 10”-12” long ties to use for bundling folding lawn and beach chairs, containing all parts of a dismantled wire shelf or baker’s rack, or anchoring all your vacuum cleaner parts to the vacuum so you can easily find things when you are ready to unpack. The use for these little buggers is only limited by your imagination when it comes to moving!
Bubble wrap – Completely underrated as a moving supply, bubble wrap is critical for adding an extra layer of protection to breakables, especially those that are larger and/or irregular shapes. Bubble wrap can also be used to cover pictures and smaller framed art that can be placed side-by-side into a standard moving box for safe transport over short distance moves.
Packing paper (or newspaper if in a pinch) – Not everything needs bubble wrap, but it’s probably obvious that you will need to put some sort of other cushioning in between breakables as you pack them. Wrapping most everything in a sheet or 2 of packing paper usually keeps them safe. You can buy a big box for less than $10 at most home improvement stores. Newspaper is also an option, but I would avoid this for porous or light-colored items, since the ink from the paper could be transferred to them permanently during the moving process.
Grab plenty of good quality packing tape, a box cutter and a few wide Sharpies, and you should be all set to conquer your move. With a bit of elbow grease, and maybe a lot of help from friends, you will be moved and unpacked in your new home in no time.
As I continue to work with clients and help them with their organizing challenges, I am seeing a high level of synergy between excessive clutter and depression. I see a vicious cycle occurring where the feeling of loss of control or depression leads to low motivation for household and lifestyle related chores, resulting in a buildup of clutter. This clutter then causes anxiety and fuels depression in a very vicious and unsettling cycle. It's one that is rarely broken without the intervention of another person, process or experience.
In one of her articles in Psychology Today, psychologist and writer Sherrie Bourg Carter perfectly captured the list of side effects stemming from clutter. “Why does mess lead to so much stress?
I know firsthand the negative effects of having too much clutter in your life. I also know the grounding sense of freedom that can be achieved in a clutter-free environment. Clearing out the clutter can literally change your perspective, attitude and motivation in an instant. Like magic, it will clear a pathway, both literally within your home and figuratively within every other aspect of your life. Seeing the positive changes in motion through the work I do with my client’s is what gets me up in the morning every day.
If you are living amidst a great deal of clutter and disorganization, you don’t have to remain hostage to your belongings. Call me, call another organizer or enlist a friend. Involve others and commit to “digging out.” The hard work of moving, sorting, arranging and letting go will be a small and temporary hurdle that, once accomplished, will lead to a new awakening of the inner you. Your anxiety, stress and feelings of depression will be greatly improved, and the air will feel lighter all around you. Come on, I dare you to give it a try!
Clutter is a mischievous beast. It innocently enough starts with a few pieces of mail on the counter or clothing on the floor. At the start, we are completely and well within our realm of organizing comfort, so we might ignore the mail or step over the clothes with the knowledge that we can address those items later. The problem is that sometimes later doesn’t happen for a really long time, and during that time, the few pieces of mail grow to mountainous levels and the clothing piles up and spills out into the hallway. The clutter gets bigger, it seems to take over, and stress ensues. At some point, at the tipping point, that innocent clutter takes on a life of its own. It becomes ominous and overwhelming.
Sounds scary, right? However, have no fear if this situation has happened to you. There is an answer, and although you might be standing overwhelmingly in front of this mess in the current moment, I’ve got some simple steps that will get you back on track to a less cluttered state of living in no time!
First, breathe! Take a deep breath and recognize that your clutter, your mess, does not own you. It is not a reflection of your talents, capabilities, level of motivation or personal character. It is just simply a pile, or maybe many piles, of inanimate objects. It’s just stuff and it has no life, no feelings, energy or power. I recommend that you find a friend to help, when possible. Whether you engage your husband, mother or a set of hired hands, conquering large tasks with others makes the entire process feel more manageable.
If you are tackling this clutter by yourself, you must recognize that you are one person, with 2 hands and feet, and only so many hours in the day to accomplish the clean-up. Regardless of the size of your team, scope out the scale and variety of mess and decide on a preset time-period each day to tackle a portion. If you have an hour a day to spare, set your timer on your phone for an hour and get to work. When the alarm sounds, what is done is done. Walk away and get on with your day. There is always tomorrow to continue your efforts.
Find a good staging location close by. Clear out some floor or table space to stage and sort the clutter that you plan to address. If the mess is large, you might need to find multiple places to stage sorted items. If the weather is nice, take it outside temporarily onto a tarp or blanket. Isolate a few plastic bins or garbage bags to place items in as you sort through and categorize.
Work in zones. Pick one spot, any spot (let’s call it Zone 1), to get started. Don’t look around. Don’t get distracted. Don’t give in to your urge to skip from place to place. Just put the blinders on, hone in on that zone like a cave man on a hunting mission and get that one spot cleared out. If you address one portion or zone of an overwhelmingly large project at a time, you will find that the stress and overwhelm is greatly reduced. Your feeling of confidence, control and capability will increase as you go.
Once you have set your time limit, cleared a good work area and picked a zone to start, get to work sorting the contents of that zone into the area or areas that you just cleared out. Ask yourself what each item is and what category it falls into. Where and how is each item used? As an example, if I am looking at a pile of pens, magazines, mail and miscellaneous supplies, I might start by separating everything into 3 categories: office supplies, magazines and mail. I will also likely have a trash can or bag nearby to throw out items that are no longer working or needed.
As I move through the clutter from one zone to another, I might find new categories of things, so I will just create more piles or bins to contain them as I go. Don’t get too caught up in the categories as you sort but remember to keep them limited and at a high level. If you overthink it, you will have so many categories set aside that you will have just moved the clutter from one area to the next with little to no progress being made.
Once the entire mess has been sorted into different categories, it is time to find homes for everything and put it away. Once it is all sorted, I can decide where each one of these categories currently lives or should live in my house. For example, I will put the office supplies back where they belong in the bins in my office, the mail will be opened and filed accordingly in my mail management system (this is another lesson altogether), the outdated magazines will go into the trash, and the latest editions will be put into the basket in my living room.
There are always going to be those items at the end that are different from the rest; the ones that you don’t know what to do with. My advice is two-fold for these situations. First, if the item is something you regularly use and/or love, you will need to find a new home for it somewhere. I would try to keep it close to the area where it is used or can be most treasured. Secondly, if the item doesn’t fall into one of these 2 scenarios (use or love), get rid of it! I don’t care if it was expensive, given to you by your dead grandma or if you are determined to pass it onto your children someday. If you don’t use it or love it, it has no business living in your home. It will continue to be a source of clutter and/or stress and is not worth your time or energy when there are bigger fish to fry. There is no rule that requires you to keep items that are gifted from or for others. I can assure you with almost 100% confidence that God has not made it your purpose to be the keeper of everyone else’s things, so do not let the guilt set in, even for a minute.
We all know that the best way to control clutter is to never let it get out of control in the first place, but sometimes life happens. We get busy, distracted and pulled in many directions, and clutter appears despite our best efforts. If you just take a deep breath, isolate some portion of each day to focus on the mess, and bite off one chunk at a time, you will find that even the largest and most unruly mountain of clutter is conquerable.
People ask me all the time about my favorite organizing products, and my list of go-to's seems to be so large that I usually struggle to give them a quick answer. If we are talking about organizing in the kitchen, I love to use products like lazy Susans, cabinet drawers and clear decanters. In the bedroom, I am a huge fan of organizing with under-bed bags, felt hangers, dresser drawer dividers and decorative baskets. I use a ton of large contractor grade garbage bags to assist with sorting, downsizing and moving, and there are literally a million organizing uses for small zip ties.
My “favorite” products really depend on the scenario and space that we are organizing in the moment. What I can share though are the tried and true brands that I keep revisiting again and again. These brands make products for use in many different areas of the home and are some that I seem to be reaching for or suggesting repeatedly.
3M Command – 3M has greatly expanded their Command line in recent years, and now offers a large variety of hooks, picture hangars, ledges, mirrors, racks, caddies, grippers, cord bundlers and more. I love their grippers for neatly hanging brooms, mops and other cleaning tools. Their picture hangers can be used for an endless number of projects that have nothing to do with pictures, and their key racks, dry erase message centers and hanging knobs are just plain cute. Their products can be used virtually anywhere, and the adhesive strips allow them to be moved around with little to no marks left behind. I probably don’t need to tell you where to get these since they are sold everywhere from your local supermarket to big box retailers like Target and Home Depot.
youCopia – I think I have mentioned this brand before and they are one of my faves. Their products are not super aesthetically pleasing since most are simple white and clear plastic or metal, but this brand makes high quality products at a very reasonable price. They offer shelf risers, lazy Susans, racks and organizers that are perfect for corralling pot lids, spices, coffee, tea, vitamins, beauty supplies, office supplies and more. This brand can be purchased at The Container Store and online at places like Amazon.com.
Room Essentials – This brand makes bins, baskets, cubbies and a variety of housewares and décor. What I use most often are the cubby systems and bins that help to organize everything from a cluttered toy room to the overflow in the laundry room. They make cubby shelves in a range of sizes, shapes and finishes to fit anyone’s taste and budget. Their products are widely available, so replacing bins or shelves is easy, and they can be assembled in a reasonable amount of time. These products can be purchased at retailers like Target and Walmart.
Real Simple – This is another great brand that produces a ton of useful organizing and home décor products. They make bins, bags, flocked hangars, drawer dividers and closet organizers. These are good looking products that stand up to even the most aggressive of clients and are also very budget friendly. You can view all their product options at Bed, Bath & Beyond.
PlanetSafe Calendars – This vendor makes great wall calendars and self-stick white board mats to track projects, ideas, family activities and events. They offer an extensive selection of sticky note organizing systems, which really simplify the to-do process and paper clutter for people who need to visually see everything daily. Check them out at www.planetsafecalendars.com.
Urban Legacy – I am really obsessed with this vendor’s selection of shelves and brackets lately. They are based local to me in Lancaster, PA and use reclaimed barnwood to craft beautiful, one of a kind shelving, racks and bins. I currently have these hanging in my laundry room with rose gold brackets! View their craftsmanship on Etsy or at www.urbanlegacy.us.
Folex Company – This is more of a cleaning product than an organizing tool, but is essential for removing spots, stains and smells from just about anything. I buy their Instant Carpet Spot Remover by the gallon and use it everywhere. It neutralizes pet and mildew smells very quickly and has proven to remove stains better than any other product that I have tried. I buy this at Lowes, but there are many other retailers who distribute it.
These are just some of the brands that I find myself recommending to customers and using in my own home on a regular basis. There are a ton of other great options out there, and the fun thing about the organizing process, is that it is truly unique and personal to the individual who is getting organized. There is no one-size-fits-all, so my favorite might not be yours. Thanks to retail establishments like The Container Store, Home Goods and Target, we can always be sure to find the right tools and supplies that fit our taste, lifestyle and budget while having a bit of fun in the process!
Tiny houses are the trend lately, and it seems that many Baby Boomers are opting for a downsized lifestyle and more adventure, as opposed to a sprawling dream home with thousands of square feet. Organizing for very small spaces can be challenging, especially if you are downsizing from a much larger footprint. Once the downsizing activity has taken place, there are a few guiding principles to consider when setting up or arranging your new smaller space:
Once arranged, the following guidelines are just a few that can help to maintain a neat and well-organized space:
Examples for Bedrooms:
Examples for Bathrooms:
Examples for Kitchens:
Examples for Living Rooms or Multi-Function Family Rooms:
With a bit of creativity, the diligence needed to develop some new habits, and the right storage products, anyone can survive and even thrive in a small home environment.
Remember that old saying “it’s just like riding a bike”? I have no idea who coined it, but it was meant to draw a comparison to activities that were deeply rooted in the muscle memory gained from lots of practice. The idea was that, if you practiced enough, riding your bike would become like second nature. If you practiced enough, you could train your body to ride with a lot less thought or effort. And if that bike sat rusty in the garage for 10 years, because you had put forth the effort to practice years before, the idea was that you could jump back on and ride away into the sunset as if only mere seconds had passed since your last pedal session.
People ask me a lot about the best ways to stay organized. Cleaning up and out seems to be the easy part, but now that the house is beautiful and everything is put away in its place, how do we keep it this way? Depending on how far removed your new organizing behavior is from your old habits, staying organized is going to take the same vigor and endurance as it took to learn to ride that bike years ago.
For example, if you always lose your keys around the house, and we implement a new process to hang them on a hook by the door when you enter, you will need to make the conscious effort to actually do it…every time. It takes practice, and more practice until eventually hanging the keys on the hook becomes second nature and engrained in your muscle memory. Suddenly hanging the keys on the hook will feel like an easy routine, and the process will no longer be a strain on your brain power and intention as you arrive home tired from work each night. The thing to remember is that there will be work involved. I unfortunately can’t wave a magic wand to “cure” us of our poor organizing habits and replace them with ones that work better for our lives. If I could, I would be the first to wave it over my own house!
There are a lot of schools of thought out there around best practices for forming habits and the importance of considering things like learning styles, motivators and goals. Developing new habits to stay organized will take time, support and accountability from family and friends, as well as a focused desire from whoever is embarking on this mission. I have lots of tricks up my sleeve to help move this process along for each client, but the overarching theme to remember is that practice makes perfect. You are going to have to conjure up the focus, intention and willpower to practice, but once mastered, your new habits really will be just like riding a bike!
Many of my customers mention areas that are used for storage in their homes, like garages, basements and closets, as the main contributors of stress and clutter to their lives. These areas are usually the places where we drop bins or items that we don’t know what to do with in the moment, and often have the good intention of getting back to them later “when we have the time.” Then life happens! As a result, a few temporarily stored items can turn into a mountain of stuff, ripe for avalanches and a lot of stress at the thought of getting them organized.
These areas usually require some grit and elbow grease to organize, regardless of whether I sort through them or the customer decides to tackle them solo. Physical exertion aside, the process itself can be quite simple of you follow these 7 basic steps:
If these steps are followed, anyone can tackle any space with enough determination and time. If the project feels too immense, break it into manageable chunks over several days or weeks, or buy a keg, invite your friends, and make a party of it!
I have always fantasized about a glamorous closet. Maybe one of those huge, custom built dreamers, with a fancy ottoman in the middle and a chandelier. I could sit there on my ottoman, sipping coffee in the morning and contemplating which of my 300 pairs of shoes I would wear. Sadly, I must make do for now with my humble walk-in, lined with wire shelving and a mismatched array of Ikea cubbies and plastic storage drawers. I don’t have 300 pair of shoes but am grateful to have a lot. My closet may not be ready for a magazine shoot any time soon, but it is organized, accessible and neat.
Regardless of which version of closet you own, I have found that every style can be perfectly organized with the right products. If you’ve read many of my other posts, you know that I don’t usually share details on the most expensive and lush products. Like most of you, I have had to get creative over the years. I have had to get very good at striking the perfect balance between, say Ethan Allen and Walmart. Here are 6 of my favorite must-have organizing products for any closet:
If you use the right storage systems and commit to keeping shoes off of the floor, you will find that it is very easy to maintain a well-organized and enjoyable space within your closet. Even if an ottoman won't fit, there will still be room to sip that cup of coffee in the morning while you decide what to wear!
There’s a place that I have been driving by since I was a teenager. It lies about ¾ of the way between my house and my parents’. It’s a cute log cabin that must contain the same inhabitants because I still see things hanging from the posts at the entrance to their driveway that have been there since I was in high school. I have no idea how much longer they will be there, but on those posts hang ‘Wizard of Oz’ style tin can figurines. Someone in their household has been making the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion out of recycled tin cans since almost before I can remember.
As I drove home from a family get-together this weekend and once again passed these now-iconic figures, it got me thinking about re-purposing in general. Most of us as Americans have way too much stuff. We have a lot of options and a lot of freedom to decide how and where we use all this stuff. We all have things in the basement, garage and other storage locations that we keep for one reason or another and can’t quite bring ourselves to get rid of. These items may not serve us in our current lives and might be items that we haven’t even taken out into the daylight for a year or more.
What if we look at these items differently? What if we ignore mainstream advice, forego simply offloading them, and instead reinvent a purpose for them, just like this very creative Wizard of Oz fan has apparently done with tin cans for decades? Yes, maybe we are talking about tin cans and what others see as garbage, but what if we apply the same creativity to certain belongings? If we think outside of the box, we might be able to come up with an infinite number of cool ideas to re-use or re-purpose memorable items, while still maintaining a neat and organized home. Maybe we can turn Grandpa’s old wash basin into a shelf? Maybe we can flip Grandma’s ugly Chinese vase upside down, glue a tray to the top, and make a great pedestal to show off that favorite collection of succulents? The list and limits to our creativity are endless, and we alone hold the key to our own ideas.
Before you decide to reluctantly toss something that feels kind of important, think about re-purposing it instead. Maybe there is no use or way to re-purpose. Maybe you really don’t care enough. In that case, get rid of it! I am the last person to encourage you to hang on to things that you do not use or need! Otherwise, think about it, ask friends, surf Pinterest, or do whatever you do to get creative inspiration. A personal, deeply meaningful way to re-purpose something of importance brings far greater enjoyment than continuing to keep it “hidden” in that old musty box in the basement.