Excuse #1: “I might need it someday.”

Look at each item as though you were packing it (or not) for a move. Does it still have a purpose in your life today? Ask yourself, “If I were to move this item, where would it live in my home?” Why isn’t it living there in your current home? When I hear my client say they might need it someday, I hold up a calendar and say, “I see Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday on this calendar. Can you show me someday?” I ask them to circle a day on the calendar as someday, and if they haven’t used any of the items they designate as “someday” by that date, they need to donate them. Hanging on to stuff you aren’t currently using makes it harder to access the things you want to use.

Excuse #2: “I don’t know what to keep.”

This usually relates to paper. The amount of paperwork you receive can cause you to freeze, especially when much of the paperwork seems to be “important.” The US Postal Service attests to the fact that contemporary Americans get more mail in one month than their parents did in an entire year, and more mail in one year than their grandparents received in a lifetime. And that doesn’t include email! It’s no wonder we have difficulty discerning what is important. Essentially, you need to keep paperwork for which you have a purpose. There are five purposes of keeping papers: 1) taxes, 2) resale of property/cost basis, 3) agreements you have, 4) certificates/legal proof, and 5) returns (receipts) or disputes (claims). Be clear what that purpose is and store the paper so that you can access it when that time comes. Most paper (in fact 80 percent) has no future. Toss it!

Excuse #3: “It was a gift.”

Once a gift is given to you, you are free to do with it what you choose. The object isn’t the gift. The gift is the act—someone thought of you and wanted to express their thoughts in a tangible object. My mom told me when I was a child, “It’s the thought that counts.” Think good thoughts. Now get rid of all those gifts you don’t use or love. I’m sure you never gave anyone a gift and thought, I love you very much, and I hope this is a burden to you for the rest of your life! The love is in the giving. Use it, love it, or give it to someone who can. You have my permission to get rid of any gift you don’t use or love.

Excuse #4: “It reminds me of my mother.”

People associate an object with a special memory. The object is not the memory; the memory is inside you. Take a picture and let go of the object. To preserve the memory, write about the memory in a journal and place the picture of the item with your journal entry. There it will be preserved so that you won’t forget, and generations after you will have the memory too.

Excuse #5: “I paid a lot of money for it.”

The monetary value of any item is only that for which you could sell it. Don’t hesitate to part with something simply because you paid a lot of money for it. Keeping items that don’t serve a purpose in your life today cost you in terms of lost productivity and sacrifice of freedom. Plus, it is negative energy. It makes you mad that you spent a lot of money for something that you are not using anymore, and keeping that item around is a constant reminder of that feeling. One of the criteria I use with clients in helping them to decide whether or not to keep something is that if it makes you feel bad or mad, get rid of it!

Excuse #6: “I don’t have the time to get organized!”

Granted, our “free time” is precious, and the last thing you want to do is spend your limited free time eliminating the clutter in your life. But clutter monopolizes our time. How much time do you spend looking for your keys, an unpaid bill, or the permission slip for your kid’s field trip? The time you lose because of the clutter is easily doubled when you consider the time, energy, and effort that are sapped from you mentally and psychologically. No matter how deep the clutter is, you can make the time to free yourself from it. It’s an investment in yourself that will turn things around. And after you’ve made that investment and create new habits with your new systems, the time spent will come back to you with compounded interest!

What’s your excuse?  Are you ready to take action and get started?

Do you struggle with letting go of your stuff?  Here are 20 questions you can ask yourself about your stuff that might help you decide to let go:

Practical Questions

1. Is it useful or beautiful to you?
2. Is it a duplicate?
3. Is this the best place for it?
4. When’s the last time you used this item?
5. Are you going to finish this project? When?
6. Would you buy it again?
7. Can you borrow or purchase another one if needed?
8. Does it take more time and effort to manage than it is worth?
9. If you were moving, would you want to pay to have it packed and moved?
10. What does it cost you to keep, store, and maintain it?

For Clothes

11. Do you feel great wearing it?
12. Does it match anything in your wardrobe?
13. Does it fit you well?
14. How many do you have of this (i.e., how many white T-shirts do you have)?

Emotional Questions

15. Does it make you happy to see it?
16. Does it make you mad, sad, or feel bad to see it?
17. Does it spark joy?
18. Does it make others unhappy to see it?
19. Are you keeping it because someone gave it to you and you will feel guilty if you get rid of it?
20. If we took a picture of it, would that make it easier for you to let it go?

As professionals, we can help you with the decisions of your stuff.  Ready to get Started?

Does the thought of organizing your garage seem too daunting?  Do you wonder where to begin when you can’t even walk in there?  When was the last time you were able to park your car(s) in your garage? Let me help you get started–because sometimes that’s the hardest part!  Here’s how:

  1. Set aside an entire weekend – schedule on your calendar
  2. Schedule a donation service to pick up your donations after the weekend
  3. Gather Materials
    1. drop-box or a bagster for your mountain of discards that can’t be donated
    2. tent canopy to set up in your driveway or yard to keep you shaded or dry during the process
    3. 3-4 folding tables to set up under the canopy for sorting
    4. boxes for sorting items you want to keep and labeled by category
  4. Identify the different categories of things you want to keep in your garage; i.e., sports equipment, tools, gardening, household supplies, automotive, camping, holiday, etc.
  5. Set-up your staging area
    1. Keep Area – sorting tables and boxes labeled by category
    2. Donate Area – place tarp on the ground to designate this area
    3. Trash Area – dumpster
  1. EVERYTHING comes out of the garage and as it does DECIDE and sort by:
    1. Keep and what category – place in appropriate bin/box
    2. Donate – place in large garbage bags or boxes in the Donate Area
    3. Discard – place in the dumpster or trash bags
  1. Sweep out the garage before placing items back
  2. Install uniform shelving and bins to fit each shelf area to maximize the space
  3. Designate zones in your garage related to each category and where you will be able to easily access items.
  4. Designate shelves for each category
  5. Place items in containers (like with like) and label
Once your garage is organized you will want to keep it organized.  Practice new habits such as
  1. Put things away where they belong after you use them
  2. Keep zones intact so you can easily find things when you need them
  3. Don’t put something in the garage to decide what to do with it later—decide now
  4. Designate a Donation Zone and container for items you no longer want
Does the task still seem too daunting?
Here’s some garage inspiration! 

What questions do you have?  What garage organizing tips work for you?  Come join the conversation.

A serious contender for why clutter and disorganization occur is an inability to easily make decisions about where to put things and what things to keep.

  • How do you decide where to put your stuff?
  • What stuff do you not know where to put it away?

If this is a challenge for you, try the D.E.C.I.D.E. model to determine what to do with items that are cluttering your environment:
D define when and where you use the item.
E = establish the criteria for whether or not to keep the item (i.e. do you use it, do you love it, is it beautiful. etc.).
C = consider all the alternatives of not keeping the item (i.e. can you borrow it or easily replace it later if you do need it).
I = identify the best placement for where to keep the item based on use.
D = develop and implement a plan of action for clearing the clutter.
E = evaluate and monitor the placement of your things and adjust/relocate when necessary.
The more often you practice and exercise the decision making part of your brain, the easier it will become to make decisions about your stuff.

It seems the Portland housing market has picked up because my team and I have been downsizing, packing, and unpacking many clients this spring.  I have lost count, but I would estimate that we have eliminated over 200 black garbage bags of “stuff” in the past two months.

I have learned over the 11+ years of working as a professional organizer, that it is challenging for people to make decisions about what to keep and that’s why they have too much stuff.  We decide to deal with our stuff later and later never comes.  [Lack of] decision making is often the reason we have too much stuff.

Regular practice of anything makes the task or activity easier.  If you want it to get easier for you to make decisions about what stuff to keep, exercising the decision making part of your brain daily will help immensely.  It doesn’t have to require a lot of time.  Simply spend 5 minutes each and every day and let go of 5 things you have multiples of.  Every day it will get a little bit easier to make a decision about what stuff to keep and what to release.

To get you started, below is a list of 30 items you probably have multiples of that you can reduce. In 30 days you will have 150 fewer things taking up space.  If you practice this for 1 year, you will have 1,825 fewer things and a very strong decision making brain!

Vases (you know, the ones you get from the florist that you have 20 of)
Writing instruments (pens, pencils, markers)
Plastic food storage containers
Bags (plastic, paper, boutique, gift)
Water Bottles
Threadbare socks
Broken Objects
Unfinished Projects
Expired canned/packaged food
Home décor objects
Partially burned candles
Hotel soap/shampoo
Single socks/gloves/mittens
Expired or really old spices/herbs
Weed 5 files
Wire hangers (I say ditch all, but start with 5 if that is too hard)
Greeting cards you received
Household cleaners you decided you don’t like
Expired over the counter medications
5 items in your junk drawer (I know you have one drawer, maybe two)
Expired makeup/dried up nail polish
Let me know what you experience from this exercise and what other items you released.
Do you have more possessions than you can comfortably handle? 

Are you embarrassed to invite family, friends, health care providers, or maintenance workers into your home because it is not presentable?

Do you find it easier to drop something instead of putting it away, or to wedge it into an overcrowded drawer or closet rather than finding space for it?

Is your home, or any part of it, unusable for its intended purpose, with a bed you can’t sleep in, a garage you can’t park in, a kitchen you can’t cook in, or a table you can’t use for dining?

Is clutter causing problems at home, at work, or in your relationships?

Do you hesitate to share this problem because you feel embarrassment, guilt, or shame about it?

Do you have a weakness for discarded objects, bargain items, freebies, reading materials, or yard sales?

Do you use avoidance, distraction, or procrastination to escape dealing with your clutter?

Does your clutter create a risk of falling, fire, infestation, or eviction?

Do you avoid starting assignments, miss deadlines, or abandon projects because you can’t find the paperwork or material you need?

Do you have difficulty making decisions about what to do with your possessions, daily living, or life in general?

Do you rent storage space to house possessions that you rarely use?

Do cleaning, organizing, follow through, upkeep, and maintenance all become daunting tasks, making the simplest of chores insurmountable?

Do you bring an item into your home without designating a place for it and releasing an equivalent one?

Do you believe that there is all the time in the world to clean your house, finish those projects, and read all those piles of old magazines or newspapers?

Are you easily sidetracked, moving from one project to another, without finishing any of them?

Are you constantly doing things for others while your own home is out of order?

Do you often replace possessions rather than find or clean those you already have?

Does perfectionism keep you from doing anything at all?

Does clutter cause you to have late charges added to your monthly financial obligations?

Do you feel a strong sense of emotional attachment towards your possessions, which makes it difficult to release them?

Do you consider all your possessions to be of equal worth, whether or not the objects have financial, functional or sentimental value?

Do you waste your valuable time and talents by constantly rescuing yourself from clutter?

Does clutter keep you from enjoying quality leisure time?

Is the clutter problem growing?

If you have answered yes to some of these questions, CLA is there for you. If you want help, you can find it in the Clutterers Anonymous fellowship. Source: CluttersAnonymous.net


With my client’s permission, I’m sharing her organizing story… 

Last week, as part of my training program client practicum, a team of new professional organizers and I worked with a client of mine to declutter and organize her home office. This was not the first time.

Sometimes, it takes repeated work to find what is truly going on with someone’s clutter and disorganization and for the client to be READY for change. As was the case with this client. After an in-depth discussion I discovered what was going on.  Whenever my client came across an item she didn’t know what to do with (mostly gifts people gave her that she felt guilty about not keeping) she moved it upstairs to her home office and placed it on the floor in front of her library shelves, saying to herself, “I’ll decide later.”  That behavior—postponing decisions and moving items she doesn’t know what to do with to a space designated for a different purpose—is what needed to change.  It’s not the decluttering. It’s not the organizing. It’s the BEHAVIOR. 

The client, my team, and I decluttered and organized the space in six hours.  But this time, we did a few things differently.

(1) We placed a decorative cylinder basket by her door (near her recycling) for her to place items she no longer wants, or never wanted. Once the basket is full she will take the items to her favorite donation center.  Why by the door? Because the items need to go out of her home, not to her office upstairs.  She was walking items upstairs to her office, only to discover she needed to walk them back down the stairs and out the door!

(2) We placed her yoga mat and exercise aids on the floor in front of her library shelves as a VISUAL REMINDER to take care of herself and not clutter the floor.

(3) I’m returning once a month for three consecutive months for ACCOUNTABILITY and to cement the new behaviors of making immediate decisions and releasing anything that is not beautiful or useful from her home.

Read her testimonial and see her pictures on my training business Facebook page (February 19 Practicum)—while you are there, feel free to “like” my page. 

Why is organizing so hard? Over the years, I have heard this question from many clients. Until recently I couldn’t think of an illustration to explain why it is hard for them and not for me. I think I now have a personal story that illustrates why we all have something that is exceptionally hard for us and not for others. 
Last October I started to experience a pain near my sciatic nerve. I went to a massage therapist and got some relief and I told myself, “It will eventually work itself out and the pain will go away”. I told myself that for five months and taking a daily dose of Aleve. In March, I realized the pain was not going away on its own.  I was literally stuck in pain and had great difficulty moving. The less I moved, the more the pain increased, but it was hard to move. It was difficult for me to understand why I was in so much pain when “nothing” happened. I didn’t injure myself, I just woke up one day and had pain. I looked at others who moved so easily and thought, “Will I ever move easily again?”
During my annual physical I mentioned it to my doctor. She said, “Oh, that’s your pelvic it’s probably out of alignment. A physical therapist (PT) can help you work it out.”
I promptly saw a PT and she confirmed my left pelvic was out of alignment and all of the supporting muscles have been working overtime to compensate. It took five months of PT, chiropractic adjustments, and home strength exercises and stretching to get me back into alignment and not taking a daily dose of Aleve. 
I’m now on home maintenance of exercises and stretching and probably will be for life. If I miss a day of exercising, the pain increases. 
It seems my journey with pelvic pain is similar to how my clients experience disorganization. A situation occurs and their organization systems start to break down (similar to my pelvic supporting muscles). Ignoring the clutter or thinking they will get to it “someday” only increases their disorganization (similar to ignoring my pain only increased my pain). Eventually they become paralyzed (unable to move easily), overwhelmed by the clutter, and it is just too hard to make one step towards organizing. 
It is at this point a decision is made. A – live with the clutter (the pain) or B – seek the help of a professional. If they decide on ‘A’ and live with the clutter it will increase and become chronic. If they decide on ‘B’ and work with a professional they learn that clearing the clutter is only the first step. Just like getting my pelvic adjusted and back in alignment was the first step. My pelvic won’t stay in place without maintaining strong supporting muscles. So, I need to exercise every day. 
The same is true for organizing. Clearing the clutter is the easiest part (although not necessarily easy or painless). Maintaining a less cluttered or clutter free environment is the hardest part. It requires routine maintenance to keep the clutter at bay. But, it does get easier over time (as are my exercises) and becomes part of a daily routine. Eventually organizing is no longer hard.
Working with a professional through my physical pain was the only way I was going to begin to heal. Working with me may be the only way you will clear your clutter and begin to live an organized life. Organizing is easy for me because it’s a habit for me. One I developed decades ago. It can be easy and painless for you too.
When you are ready take the first step by completing an organizing needs assessment. I promise, I will make organizing as fun and painless as possible and we will work together to create a maintenance plan that you can be successful with!