Letting It Go (part 1)

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We encourage clients to say goodbye to things that they no longer want or need, but letting go doesn’t necessarily mean putting things in the trash. In fact, seeing lots of stuff headed for the landfill can be one of the biggest downers of working as a professional organizer.

There are often alternatives including:

  • Selling

  • Giving away

  • Donating

  • Recycling

It’s a thrill turning your discards into money – sometimes offsetting the costs of organizing and beyond. There is satisfaction in passing things on to those who can use them or benefiting a worthy cause. And we all rest better when potentially harmful things are disposed of safely and properly.

The flip side of this is that it can quickly become overwhelming to find a destination (let alone the BEST destination) for each and every item being let go. In fact, many people we work with know exactly what they want removed from their space, but aren’t sure how to make it go away.

In order to keep the organizing process on track, we limit ourselves to choosing a handful of destinations for different categories of items. Here are some of our go-to resources.

SELLING: Getting our clients cash for unwanted items? Yes, please. We turn to…

  • Trove.LA for local consignment of clothing and home décor

  • The RealReal for online consignment of luxury items in mint condition

  • ThredUp for online consignment of apparel including mall brands

  • Regeneration for upfront sale of vintage apparel and accessories

  • Abell Auction Company for estate sales (art, high-end furniture, décor)

  • Roxbury Jewelry for appraisal and sale of gold and fine jewelry

  • Amazon Trade-In for electronics and some media

  • OfferUp for selling furniture locally (exercising caution not to spend more time than a thing is worth)

  • JLF Appraisal Services for coins and collectibles, or if otherwise stumped!

GIVING AWAY: It’s a generous impulse to give things to friends and family, coworkers or household help, but let’s consider:

  • Who is the recipient? Only save things for a specific person who agrees to take them.

  • What are they taking? Be mindful that the things you’re giving are truly wanted or needed, so your clutter doesn’t become someone else’s problem.

  • How are the items getting to their destination and who is paying associated costs?

  • Where are you keeping things until they are picked up or shipped?

  • When is this happening…is it scheduled?

More to come! Stay tuned for resources for donating and recycling in Letting it Go, part 2.

It's In the Bag

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We like to be prepared and never mind a Mary Poppins joke! Our standard organizing kit currently consists of two shoulder bags and a few larger items.

1.     The bag of tricks: The bag itself is a Baggallini, a line designed by travel agents to be the ultimate carry-ons. We love all the compartments!

-  Outside pocket #1: DYMO Label Manager 280 and charger (no worrying about batteries)

- Outside pocket #2: Eco-friendly all-purpose wipes

- Inside, in labeled gallon baggies, in a variety of sizes, colors, etc.:

  • Tapes & adhesives

  • Bags & baggies

  • Tags & ties

  • Hooks

  • Post-Its

  • Label tape cartridges

  • Protective equipment (i.e. gloves, shoe covers, masks)

  • Picture hanging kit

  • Magic sliders & felt pads

 

2.     The bag of tools:

- In an Art Bin:

  • Scissors

  • Utility knives

  • Cordless screwdriver

  • Folding 24” ruler

  • Rotary cutter

  • Hammer

  • Rubber mallet

  • Hole punch

  • Pliers (for moving shelf pegs)

  • Lemon oil (for removing stickers)

  • Tape measures (hard and soft)

- A folder with card-stock & large printable labels

- Office supply kit: sharpies, pens, pencils, highlighter, oil pen, binder clips, paper clips…

- Micro-fiber cloths

 

3.     The bigger stuff:

Lifetime 4’ adjustable height folding table(s): these raise up to 36,” key for working while standing

- Step ladder

- Contractor bags: our favorite are the Target brand

- Large clear recycling bags, such as Ultrasac

- Stackable hampers for sorting

4.     Just when needed:

- Rolling garment racks

- Instant camera

- Laminating machine

- Home office shredder (we call a shredding truck for bigger jobs)

Want sources for anything that’s not linked? Are we missing your favorite organizing tool? Let us know!

SK Organizing may be rewarded as an Amazon Affiliate for purchases made via some of these links.

So You've Hired a Professional Organizer

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Congratulations! If it’s us, we’re so looking forward to working with you! Here are a few suggestions for what to expect and how to make the most of your investment in getting organized.

***

Please don’t: apologize for your “mess” or ask us to compare you with other clients. We’re not judging you – we’re here to help.

Please do: give us a chance to win over your skeptical partner. Some of our most enthusiastic clients started out as the reluctant spouse or colleague. As long as we have their consent to organize shared belongings, we look forward to showing them what we can do.

***

Please don’t: straighten up in advance of our visits. In fact, seeing the typical state of things helps us determine the right solutions.

Please do: (if possible) make arrangements for kids and pets to be out of the space where we’re organizing. Adorable as they are, it’s better for their safety and our efficiency if they can be elsewhere during the session.

***

Please don’t: panic when you see the contents of a closet or a room all spread out. It will look worse before it looks better. Sorting is a key step of the process.

Please do: communicate! The more you share with us about your goals, style, and habits, the better we can customize the results. If there is something misplaced that you’d be excited to find, please tell us so we can alert you if it’s discovered…we enjoy the treasure hunt, too!

***

Please don’t: worry about us getting rid of your stuff. We will always obtain your permission before donating or disposing of anything.

Please do: make time during our appointments to review and give feedback, if not in person then via text or video call. If you prefer to work side by side with us, please expect that it can be physically and emotionally draining (more so when it is your own belongings). You’ll want to be well-rested, fed and hydrated and take breaks as needed.

***

Please don’t: confuse the pace of reality TV for reality. Our project will not be completed in the 30 minutes it takes to remodel, redecorate, or reorganize a house on television.

Please do: expect to see real progress with each session! Organizing takes work but the payoff is relatively quick and tangible (compared with exercising, for instance) and we’ll be documenting what we achieve.

***

Please don’t: despair over “backsliding.” Life happens and your level of organization can take a hit. If you need help keeping things on track, we can schedule routine maintenance (monthly, seasonal or twice yearly) or set refresh appointments as needed.

Please do: make an effort at maintaining the systems we create. Like other things, organization gets easier with practice and can become routine.

***

Please don’t: stay silent if there’s something we suggest or do that isn’t working for you. We want to know so we can address it.

Please do: spread the word if you’re happy with our service! A referral is the highest compliment you can give.

Why Organizing Matters

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Sure, an organized space is aesthetically pleasing. Matching bins and printed labels make for beautiful “after” photos. But organizing is important for reasons far beyond aesthetics. What keeps me so excited about my work is the transformational effect on my clients’ quality of life.

For instance…

Time: What’s the value of an extra 91 hours? This is the amount of time you’ll save over the course of a year if you shave 15 minutes off your morning routine by being more organized in the closet, bathroom, and-or kitchen. Think of how much faster you get ready when traveling because you’ve narrowed down your options and everything is close at hand. It’s very achievable to mimic this at home by eliminating clutter and arranging things efficiently, i.e. storing like with like and keeping things close to where they are used, with everyday items getting place of priority.

Money: There are literal savings to be achieved in not buying duplicates of things you know you own but cannot find, or have forgotten about because they are pushed to the back of an overfull cabinet or drawer. Your items will last longer if they are stored properly and it will be easier to maintain them if they’re easily accessible. You’ll save on storage, you’ll save on your next move. If issues with paper organization are resulting in late fees and interest charges, perhaps even impacting your credit score, getting organized can be of major financial benefit.

Stress: Disorganization is stressful. Piles of stuff on your desk, table, counters or floor signaling to your mind that your work is never done? Running late because you left something behind? Perhaps clutter is impacting relationships with family or others who share the space. It might be making you feel bad about yourself. Organizing on your own or with a pro will take an investment of time and effort, but the process should yield a calmer, less stressful environment

Heath: A better organized space is easier to keep clean, which means breathing in less dust and dirt and avoiding pests. Clean countertops and organized pantries can promote healthier food choices by inspiring you to cook with fresh ingredients. Letting go of expired food and medications can prevent serious illness. Less stuff in the bedroom may lead to better sleep, and thereby help your mind and body function at their best.

Organizing can be truly life-changing. Don’t get me wrong. I like containers, too. But it’s not about the containers.

Now is the Time

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Like many professional organizers and productivity consultants, organizing is not my first career. In 2017, the production company I worked for got word that the independent film studio where we had our deal was closing its doors. I saw an opportunity to transition into a new industry that had long been a “side gig” and a passion of mine.

I launched my own organizing business and joined NAPO, the industry association for organizing and productivity professionals. The organization was a terrific resource but the array of courses, certificates, and certifications seemed overwhelming. There was so much to learn and so much, it seemed, to worry about. What was I doing right? What was I doing wrong? How long would it take to know if my business would succeed?

At the urging of a family member, I signed up for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) – an intensive eight week course created by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts in 1979. Inspired by a blend of medical science and Buddhist meditative traditions, MBSR was originally developed to help chronically ill patients take an active role in their health and wellbeing. It turned out to be remarkably effective, with benefits proven in clinical trials.

Over 24,000 people from all walks of life have now completed the program, and I am one of them. The practice of mindfulness helped me take my organizing journey one step at a time, to focus on the present rather than the “when” and “what ifs.” I have a tendency to perpetually be planning for the future and suspect many can relate. Mindfulness teaches us that those thoughts may be keeping us from all that’s possible in the present.

I began to relate mindfulness to my client’s struggles as well. There were clients who held on to overwhelming amounts from their past – papers from old jobs, clothing their children had long outgrown, bins of expired hotel toiletries, closets full of items inherited from loved ones. These things that held memories (not always good memories) were taking up space in a way that made their present lives more stressful. They were not able to park a car in the garage; not able to list the house for sale; not able to offer visitors an inch of space to hang their clothes.

Other clients were afraid to let items go that they might need in the future. They’d keep every product manual and reference book and the packages that things came in, just in case. They’d stockpile trash bags or rolls of paper towels beyond what they could comfortably store. They’d have duplicate items, because what if one breaks? Anxiety about the future – not trusting their own ability to access goods or information – was getting in the way of creating the space to live their best lives in the present.

Mindfulness gives us the tools to quiet our preoccupations with the past and worries about the future. We recognize a thought, refuse to pass judgment on it, look at it as if from a distance, and watch it go. We know that we are not alone in our feelings, that they are universal. Gaining influence over our thought patterns this way takes practice and isn’t easy, but I try to remain mindful in my own life and pass on what I’ve learned to my clients.

At one of my final MSBR sessions, as the group practiced a slow walking meditation on the street outside the institute, I looked down and noticed something shiny. It was a small diamond ring. I turned it in to the institute’s lost and found, smiling at the symbolism. Only when we unburden ourselves of the past and the future, can we discover the treasures of the present.

My Best Kitchen Organization Tips

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I love to cook, and find that keeping an organized kitchen and pantry is essential to supporting that passion. It's no surprise, then, that kitchens are some of my favorite spaces to organize for clients! Whether you have four cabinets or forty, the same principles apply. Here are some basic tips and strategies:

BIG PICTURE

-      Store like with like and position things close to where you’ll use them. Reserve “prime real estate” near your main prep station for most frequently used items.

-      Keep countertops clear. You’ll be more likely to eat healthfully if you’ve created space to cook with fresh ingredients!

-      If you find yourself piling mail or other paperwork in the kitchen, designate a specific area to process it.
 

DRAWERS & CABINETS

-      Use drawer dividers or organizer trays for utensils and hand tools.

-      Store heavier items like small appliances in bottom cabinets, and lighter items like glasses and plates in top cabinets.

-      Nest your mixing bowls and food storage containers.

-      Organize container lids by size. Consider a vertical sorter for lids to pots and pans.

-      Special pieces for holidays and entertaining can be stored elsewhere if kitchen space is limited.

-      Reserve the area under the sink for cleaning supplies and trash bags. Affix caddies and/or hooks to the inside of cabinet doors for sponge, scrubber, and gloves. 

 

PANTRY

-      Decant and toss bulky, unattractive packaging to save space and keep food fresh.

-      Turntables are great for liquids like oils and vinegars.

-      Use risers for cans and spices, or designate and line a spice drawer.

-      Keep an inventory and/or shopping list.

 

LET GO

-      Let go of: gimmicky single-purpose tools, especially bulky or redundant ones; mismatched or chipped dishes and glassware; novelty mugs and branded giveaway items; expired food and spices; old plastic containers that may not be food safe; kitchen appliance manuals you can access online.

-      Have you accumulated too many of one thing...maybe mugs, water bottles, vases? You’re probably only using 20% of them.

-      If you're holding on to something you don’t like or use because it was inherited or given as a gift, consider taking a photo and then letting it go. (Applies equally well in other rooms!) 

How to Tackle a Closet

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I’ve been doing a lot of closet organizing recently and wanted to share my process with you. If you’re undertaking this project on your own, maybe you’ll get some helpful tips. If you’re considering working with me, you’ll know what to expect! 

Step 1, the Prep: The simplest upgrade we can make to the look of your closet is hangers. We will be discarding wire dry cleaning hangers which can damage your clothing, and replacing them with one or two types of hangers (i.e. crystal, flocked, wood) that suit your wardrobe and your budget. We’ll only use one type of hanger consistently within each category of clothing. We’ll also gather some large bags or containers to use later in step 3, the edit.

Step 2, the Sort: Now we separate items into categories – for instance, shirts, shorts, pants, skirts, suits, dresses, sweaters, shoes, hats, and handbags. If you have existing categories that you want to maintain, like shirts divided by sleeve length or separate categories for athleisure or formalwear, by all means maintain them! Otherwise, we’ll want to keep the categories broad at this point. Micro-categories can overcomplicate the process and slow things down. We can do the Sort inside your closet if space permits, or onto rolling racks in a larger room.

Step 3, the Edit: The edit can be the most transformative step in the process. This is when we decide what stays and what goes. More precisely, is it going back into your closet or to laundry, dry cleaners/tailors, donation, or resale/consignment. You may also have categories like store returns, seasonal storage, things to give to a friend/relative, or if you live multiple places, to move to a different property (lucky you!) In my experience, it really helps to do the Edit with a friend or a professional organizer’s help. If you haven’t worn something in a year or more, try it on. Let whoever is helping you give you their perspective on the style, fit and condition of your items. A successful Edit will save you time and frustration getting dressed, because your closet space is dedicated only to things you want to wear now. 

Step 4, the Placement: You’ve made your selections! We can now arrange your things in your closet category by category. We’ll divide them, where appropriate, into subcategories like t-shirts from collared shirts or short dresses from long dresses. This is a matter of both personal preference and closet design. With double hang, I typically like tops on the top and pants on the bottom (logical, right?). I also recommend organizing within each category by color, so you can go straight to the item you’re looking for without having to comb through them. My preferred color order, from left to right, is white, yellow, orange, pink, red, purple, blue, green, brown, grey, black. The same category-then-color approach works for folded items and even shoes.

…Now take a photo and show it off! 

Free Resources for Professional Organizers

Photo by  William White

Photo by William White

As I launched my professional organizing business last year, I set out to learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible, from my fellow organizers — without spending all of my new business income on forms, coaching, and other services aimed at new P.O.s. What an open, generous, and supportive community it has turned out to be!

Here are some of my top FREE resources for current and prospective P.O.’s looking to connect with and learn from each other and our more established colleagues: how we manage and market our businesses, what we've done right and wrong along the way, and how we help clients get and stay organized.

Enjoy! I'll update this list as I discover more great resources for and about our industry, so please send me your suggestions!

alphabetically

A to B Podcast

A practical organizing podcast with a sense of humor hosted by Autumn, a San Diego area P.O., and Bethany, a teacher. Features many interviews with industry experts.

Podcast (on iTunes)

Show Notes

NAPO - the National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals

The industry-leading professional association for organizers, with approximately 3,500 members nationally. Non-members can access free content including their Getting Started Guide and a just-launched podcast aimed at helping P.O.s grow our businesses.

Getting Started Guide

Podcast

METROPOLITAN ORGANIZING, LLC

Professional organizer, author and coach Geralin Thomas' website offers a treasure trove of free checklists and helpful, business-oriented blog posts for new P.O.s.

Checklists

Blog (Professional Organizer Training)

Pro Organizer Studio

Jen Kilbourne Obermeier and Layne Parker Brookshire manage this business and design resource specifically for professional organizers. Invaluable!

Website (sign up to access the Free Course and Resource Library)

YouTube Channel

Facebook Group

Professional Organizers Think Tank

There are over 7,000 members in this very active FB group. Ask any question and receive the wisdom of the crowd!

Facebook Group

Take Note: Getting Things Done

 

Do you take notes? I rarely did. In school, I found it a distraction. I couldn’t engage as well with what my teachers were saying if I was too busy writing. Even as a film producer, I mostly relied on my memory and my email inbox to serve as reminders. This worked fine…except when it didn’t.

As I completed my professional organizing curriculum over the summer, I learned about a time management method called GETTING THINGS DONE (GTD) created by productivity consultant David Allen. Allen’s strategies include detailed systems for recording things, whether on paper or digitally, to get them off your mind. Only then can you focus completely on the task at hand.

According to GTD, unrecorded thoughts are like open browser windows. As you open more and more windows, your browser performs less and less efficiently. The same is true of your mind. If you are mentally reminding and re-reminding yourself to send out those client materials, buy more paper towels, RSVP to your cousin’s wedding – you’re wasting brainpower that could be directed at your most important goals. 

Whatever that nagging thought is, record it on a to-do list, schedule it on your calendar, tell your smartphone to remind you at a relevant time. You’ll discover that you magically “closed” the browser window. The thought will stop popping up at inconvenient moments when you need to be concentrating on something else.

Note-taking didn’t come naturally to me, but over the past few months I’ve made a real effort to record and write things down. It has made a noticeable difference in my time management, helping me track a long list of items to accomplish as I build my business. I hope it does the same and more for you!

 

The Heart of Organizing podcast

I recently listened to all 25 episodes of THE HEART OF ORGANIZING, a podcast by the veteran San Francisco Bay Area professional organizer Andy Hartman of Clutter Free Services. Andy produced the series in 2009-2011 but it remains just as relevant and inspirational today.

Before beginning an organizing project, he encourages listeners to devote serious thought to exactly what they want to achieve and crucially, why. Only once you've determined what is important to you can you select and arrange your possessions to support those values.

He breaks down organizing projects into three "S's" -- simplify, sort, and store. To put it briefly:

  • Simplify. Getting rid of things that are obsolete, broken, not being used, accessible online, redundant with other possessions, or have low value for you (do not support what is important in your life or uplift you.)
  • Sort. Determining categories with whatever level of specificity works for you, and putting like with like. When categories overlap, choose one and cross-reference.
  • Store. Assigning each category a home and if necessary, a container. The stuff you use most often should be most accessible, the size of category should match the size of the space, and ideally the home should match the function (where you use something).

The first two steps, simplifying and sorting, can be done in either order or simultaneously. If you have difficulty simplifying, Andy recommends that you sort first to see what you have and where you have redundancies. And simplifying does not have to mean discarding. Andy offers a helpful episode and corresponding webpage with Resources for donating, selling, and re-cycling.  

If you need motivation to get started, check out his episode on "The Hidden Costs of Stuff." Consider the costs of losing things among the clutter and buying duplicates of what you already own; of late fees and damaged credit score for late bills; of off-site storage of unused belongings and of transporting them when you move. Things deteriorate from non-use. How much does it cost to maintain your things free from dust and pests? Is disorganization impacting your quality of life? Are you serving your stuff, instead of your stuff serving you?