The Blog

Mess and Stress Can Weigh Heavy: Shed the Clutter, Shed the Pounds

scaleLike the chicken and the egg dilemma, it’s difficult to determine what came first; the mess or the stress. Are you so stressed and time-challenged that you create the mess? Or is it that your natural messy style causes you to be in a constant state of stress?

The triple threat is that all too often mess and stress can exacerbate bad eating behavior. Research has shown that there is a strong connection between stress and over-eating. Each of us handle stress in a different manner and in order to cope, some of us resort to emotional eating. Food is commonly viewed as a comfort for combatting loneliness, depression, and a whole hosts of other emotional pain syndromes.

Recently, I have been witness to a fascinating discovery with regard to organizing and diet. Clearing and cleaning one’s spaces can have a significantly positive impact on a person’s physical state. Just like dieting, organizing can give you back the control you might have surrendered.  Both processes emit great results and provide huge measures of accomplishment.  The brain wakes up, will power is revitalized and ignites productive behavior.  This kind of “heathy thinking” spills into healthy eating.

So start simple and try this.  Clean out just one drawer and begin to toss some junk mail or unread magazines lying around.  Take a good look around and see if you can clear some more clutter you never noticed before. Baby steps. Get to a point that you feel you accomplished something and you feel good about it.  Give yourself a pat on the back. Maybe you will get bit by the bug and that sense of pride will fuel you to continue.  You might feel encouraged to lean out those paper files or get the courage to attack the closets!  Who knows?

One thing is for certain, shedding the clutter can often shed the pounds. It’s astonishing to see both the spatial transformation and the weight loss. I’ve noticed that once your spaces feel lighter, YOU will feel lighter as well.  Shedding the clutter will make you feel mentally unencumbered and that can have a powerful influence on the mind/body connection.

Are you ready for the ultimate diet? Organize. Don’t be surprised that it will re-shape your life… and your body too!

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The Three Wise Monkeys That Might Be Hanging on Your Back

3-wise-monkeysWhat do you think I would say, or see, if I came over to your home right now? Don’t panic, I’m not heading over there just this minute, merely a conjecture. Indulge me if you will, and take a quick look around with me.  Do YOU see what I see?  If I’m a betting woman, I say emphatically, no.

Like the three wise monkeys who embody the principle, “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” I’m guessing that most of what I observe, YOU no longer see. After much time, things become invisible.  So often when I tour a client’s home and inquire about a particular pile or puddle of things, they respond with sheer bewilderment as if they’re looking at it for the very first time.  In fact, they have no rational defense for why those items are actually there.  For me, it clarifies how powerful the objective eye truly is, and how much value that brings to my role as a Professional Organizer.

While there are so many various interpretations of the pictorial maxim of the three wise monkeys, the concept can also have significant meaning to how you to choose to live an orderly life, or not.  I think it accurately depicts the person who turns a blind eye to a situation (sees no mess); refuses to acknowledge it (hears no nagging about the mess); who doesn’t want to be involved and who feigns ignorance (chooses not to speak of the mess).

How many of us look the other way when confronted with unpleasantness?  Isn’t it so much easier to close our eyes, cover our ears, and shut our mouths?

I’d like to think that there could  be a positive and useful reference to the three wise monkeys; one that infers being of good mind, considerate speech, and affirmative action. The challenge is in opening your eyes to reality, listening to what others have to say, and speaking with an open mind and heart.

How do you deal with your unsightly mess? What monkeys do you have on your back?

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The Forgotten Marriage Vow: “For Neat-er or Messy-er” til Death Do You Part?

I’m not sure this is always something you know before you marry, albeit prior even to living with someone.  Irregardless, sharing the same spaces with your beloved doesn’t always translate to blissful harmony.  It can be eye-opening at the very least, and disastrous if not acknowledged.

We are all on our best behavior at the beginning of our relationships, but eventually our true colors will expose themselves. I can recall that when I got married, my Mom warned me to be careful of enabling my husband  from day 1, fearful that once I started to clean up for him, I would be doomed to clean up after him for life.  Part true.  Be wary of negative patterns.

I did not pick up his befallen underwear or puddles of dirty socks, nor did I collect the damp shower towels left strewn on the bathroom floor (I just put hooks behind the door, lol).  But I did however, beat him to the punch in throwing out the garbage nightly (even though I had asked him to do earlier), prepare all meals from cook to cleanup, and micro-manage his belongings.

You see, I was always a neat freak and so I was only too happy to straighten up and manage our home on a daily basis.  I never allowed it to get to the point where our home got unruly. It was in my DNA.  In retrospect, I realize now that I never waited long enough to determine if my husband was even neat or sloppy.

In fact, I claimed the role as organizer long before I made it an actual career.  It was a natural instinct for me to clear a table, load the dishwasher, or put away the laundry, all without ever asking for help. I managed the children’s carpools and activities, family schedules, and our social calendar.  A true enabler indeed, present and accountable.  In my defense,  life was different back then and perhaps I was just young and foolish.

But nonetheless, that was our “dance” for over 33 years, and although that arrangement has worked thus far, I have since changed and so have the rules. Heed this lesson, it is never too late for change. Through recent years, we have grown to share many more responsibilities.

Today, both women and men have choices to work in or out of the home, and must learn to share responsibilities to balance their household.  As a Professional Organizer, I have the opportunity to work within the homes of my clients, and I have observed that so many of their spousal conflicts are rooted with their contrasting organizing styles.

The disparity is often huge but the arguments are the same.  Typically, one blames the other for the mess. This is what I’ve learned about couples;

Neat + Neat= Neat (always)

Neat + Messy= Challenging but manageable (professional help advised)

Messy+ Messy= Chaotic nightmare (professional help an imperative)

While I am not a marriage counselor,  I recommend these three solutions;

    • Communicate:  Communication is always the number problem prior, during, or after any organizing session.  Too often, the husband and wife are not on the same page with how they want to manage or utilize their shared spaces. I propose they state their needs and clarify.
    • Negotiate:  Compromising is essential in every marriage, so working out a system that they both can live with is a productive conversation. Living together in harmony is the point.
    • Resolute:  Strive to resolve your conflicts and have the solution be the goal. Don’t get caught up in right or wrong, the blame game is futile.  Just aim for happy.


So if you are not lucky enough to have exclusive spaces, understand that this means sharing common areas with consideration. Address your organizing styles.  Are they compatible?

Felix Unger and Oscar Madison may have been best friends but certainly not the best of roommates.  Take a closer look in your home and identify what’s working and what is not, and ask yourself, are you an Odd Couple?  Do the work.  Your marriage may depend on it.


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Does Your Home Have a Good Flow?

Do you ever feel that your house sometimes seems like one big traffic jam?  Too much incoming and not enough outgoing? Is there bottle-necking in the highly congested areas? Are some hallways hard to maneuver without stepping over things? Consider this.  If your house is clogged up, you can probably ease up the congestion with just a little more organization. 

Creating definitive zones in your home will help manage the way you and your family use your spaces.  If your mail lands on a counter that is in a very active hub in your home, chances are it will be knocked over, mislaid, or even disappear.  If sweaters, jackets and coats, and scarves are not put away, chances are they will get mixed in with a pile of other unattended clutter. This is a perfect storm for misplacing or losing important items. Too often, items like keys, glasses and cell phones are notoriously misplaced or buried because we put them somewhere or anywhere without a conscious effort to put them in a consistent place. And if your household is a particular hectic one with multiple activities, children, etc. the mess could get ugly. General family clutter creates chaos for everybody in the home. For adults, it could mean a missing magazine or an important bill; for the kids, it’s a missing piece to a favorite toy, board game or puzzle.  Assess the damage.  Time to organize.  Separate the  clutter, and organize specific places for each individual family member’s stuff.  Too many people sharing the same spaces with little or no regard for organization can only lead to trouble.  More importantly, homeless things and unattended clutter can become serious hazards for everybody living in the home.

Find your busy intersection in your home and control it.  Imagine a natural flow when entering your home at the end of a typical day; hanging up the jacket in the coat closet, then placing the keys in a bowl or on a hook, onto dropping the mail in a designated basket or tray, and thereafter returning your phone, glasses, briefcase or handbag back to its consistent resting place.  Now you’re ready to move through your home without a trail.  Pretty easy, huh?  As a result, you won’t need to put anything away later, and you also know where to find them when you need them. You’ve just cut your losses, literally.

If the kitchen is the most popular hub in your home, design the space so it can accommodate the heavy traffic.  Be creative and make your spaces work for you.  Avoid clogging the areas near the fridge with frequently used appliances.  Keep counter tops clear so that more than one person can utilize an adjacent area without vying for the same spot.  Encourage traffic to flow away from the crowded areas, creating more of a one-way traffic pattern into the more open spaces.

If you find yourself walking in circles to look for something, maybe you should rethink its location and accessibility.  A simple change can alter the flow of your home.  Leave the traffic jams for the road , prevent them from invading your own home.

Does your home have a good flow?  Can you identify any hazard signs in your home?

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Are Your Kids’s Organized? Is it Nature vs.Nurture?

I think I was born organized. I am certainly wired that way, but is it really innate?  My mother is extremely organized and so maybe I just inherited this behavior. She taught me and I learned.  But my kids did not.  What went wrong?

One theory is that while I attempted to show them, in their early childhood, I did it for them. Yes admittedly, I was the human vacuum and was famous for clearing a room or a dinner table, and taking out the trash before they even had a chance to whine about it.  I enabled them.  Looking back, shame on me.

School mornings were a nightmare; the rejected clothing that never made it onto their bodies were strewn all over the floor like a battle field.  And what did I do?  I picked up all the clothing, re-folded and rehung before they could wrinkle, and before they got home from school.  I couldn’t help myself.  Ditto for the playroom; I cleaned each night and they made a new mess each day. The mess was intolerable until one day I realized that I could merely shut their doors.  Begrudgingly, my kids eventually followed my instructions but only with multiple reminders,  an inevitable raised voice, harsh threats and stern warnings. They rarely did it on their own.

Now grown and independent, I notice that there is an inkling of my organizational nature buried in their respective apartments somewhere. The chaos and disorder rear their ugly head less and less as they mature.  They have learned to be accountable for their own organization because it’s their space now. No-one else is there to clean up their mess.  But has this been instinctual all along, or have I just drummed into their heads relentlessly? Honestly, they are still a far cry away from being super organized and often still clutter their spaces with little or no concern at all.

It’s clear that the “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” theory is not necessarily a universal one.  Studies reveal that children of hoarders don’t necessarily bear the same compulsion, and in fact some are inclined to live an opposite lifestyle.  As with alcoholism, sometimes the patterns skip a generation.   Unfortunately, there are those that do fall prey to stronger repeated patterns of disorder and addiction. Environment can be a powerful instigator.

So if being organized is a behavior that can be taught, then I take my chances that my future grandchildren will learn to manage their own  stuff, because their parents still won’t want to clean up.  And if it ends up that being organized is a natural and inherent behavior, and being messy skips a generation, it’s still a win-win.

Have you taught your children the fundamentals of organization?  Is being organized a natural or nurtured behavior? Do messy parents breed messy kids? I’d love to know what you think.

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Do You Love The Space You’re In?

Take a look around.  Do you like what you see?  Do you feel good in the space?  Chances are, whether in your office, your bedroom, or any other room in your home, if you aren’t enjoying the space, if it’s not working for you,….. you won’t want to hang out in it.  It’s likely that it is fostering some bad energy.  If the once cozy den is now full of  assorted clutter, and an accumulated mess is crowding the couch,  how cozy can it really be?  If your bedroom closet is a disastrous mess, it is probably very stressful to get dressed amongst the chaos and find what you’re looking for in a hurry.  It’s not only costing you time, it could potentially lead to a fashion ensemble nightmare of epic proportions.  Ditto to the kitchen.   If your kitchen space is not working for you, you probably won’t ENJOY cooking in it, and I would venture to guess that there won’t be great sensational entrees coming out of there.   The home-office is no different.  If the work space is not efficient, you will not be as organized as you could be.  If there is a clog in the work flow system, it will impede on your productivity, for sure.

So make your spaces work for you, and design it so you can enjoy it with the optimum functionality.  Love the space you’re in.

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The Junk Drawer Epidemic

You are not alone.  Don’t beat yourself up for having a  junk drawer….everybody has one.  But fess up, how many do you actually have?  You know that drawer.  It’s the infamous miscellaneous drawer filled with random stuff.  It’s the drawer you throw everything into that doesn’t have its own exclusive landing place in your home.  It might be where you keep your collection of pens, batteries, flashlights, spare keys, matches, instruction manuals, bills, receipts, etc..

No doubt, there are endless categories but the problem is…there is not endless space. 

It happens so innocently, doesn’t it? When a drawer gets overly cluttered and barely closes, you just start shoving new things into other drawers.  And before you know it, like creeping crud, the junk is spreading like wildfire into multiple drawers!  Your intentions were good  initially, I’m sure.  You probably started out monitoring the junk drawer, but eventually it is mysteriously invaded by random loose change, crumpled post-it notes with scribbled phone #’s on them, newspaper clippings, coupons, phone chargers,  tylenol, and all sorts of new junk. You can’t help yourself, it seems unavoidable.

I know life is hectic and it’s much easier to just tuck the clutter away inside a drawer so that everything “appears” neat on the outside.

Bottom line is that you’re often opening too many drawers, digging through all the clutter,  and can’t find anything you need, when you need it. The perfect storm…this would be the time to organize, sort the junk and consolidate items into like categories and get some control back.  Create designated spaces for items that need to be accessible. No need to tangle your rubber bands with band-aids, paper clips, or old pieces of chewing gum. If you sort like with like items, you will be able to organize accordingly.  Separate office supplies, store receipts together, keep all sunglasses together with their cases, and create a segregated space for medications.

Stay on top of that drawer and weed often.  Don’t let the junk takeover.  If you let it, it can potentially live in every drawer.  Uh-oh, T-R-O-U-B-L-E.

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The Perfect Organized Cook May Only Exist On Reality TV

I don’t know about you, but I’m a messy cook.  Truth be told, I am organized, in theory, but Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray have got it over me, hands down.  They are fortunate to have a team of helping  hands behind the scenes to prepare and pre-measure all the ingredients, perfectly chopped and arranged in pretty little uniform bowls all ready to go.  I, on the other hand, am grabbing ingredients, chopping as I go, adding additional seasoning as I deem necessary, and sample tasting everything throughout the entire process.  A little of this, a little more of that.  My mother always told me that a cook tastes his/her meal at least 3 times before it gets served. Think about it:  First, you need to mentally prepare and organize the planning of the menu in your head, making sure you have all the necessary ingredients.  It’s like you can almost taste it in your head. Secondly, while you are actual doing the cooking,  you continually sneak multiple spoon size tastings to ensure that the flavors are syncing, and lastly, when you finally sit down and eat the actual meal, you are tasting it once again.  Are you even still hungry?

So while preparedness is essential in cooking and an integral part of the organization of the meal, cleaning the pots, pans, utensils, and as I go, is still something to strive for. I’m more concerned in getting the food plated properly and less interested in keeping up with the cluttered and messy counter top, and coordinating that everything is coming out hot and on time.  Hence, at the end of the meal,  I’m left with an impressive mess to deal with, but it works for me.  I am content with cleaning up and rinsing dishes on a happy full belly and give a thorough cleanup my proper attention.  I work at my own pace.  There always seems to be a method to my madness.

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Kid’s Organizing Their Past

Day 17: (May 22) Today I insisted the kids come out to clean out their respective rooms.  I would never take the liberty to toss their stuff; it’s theirs! 

Interestingly, the kids thought it wasn’t going to be such a big deal to sort, weed, and pack up their rooms, but every time I peered into their room, they were completely entrenched in their personal photo albums and making little progress.  Intermittently, both my son and daughter shouted out for me to come share something they discovered. I laughed to myself and realized that they too needed their own special time to revisit their past memories. But shortly after, (hah-hah) the relentless commando organizer took over and I insisted they speed up the process.  I was very mindful that don’t live home anymore, so each visit had to be a very productive one.  Not surprising, at the end of the day, they only made a small dent and I might add, a very large mess! My son was quick to toss and purge his old clothes and miscellaneous items that he hadn’t missed, so made another big pile for donation.  My daughter, on the other hand, was far more reluctant to part with a favorite tee shirt she’ll never wear.  Of course her photo albums were organized, labeled, and ready to pack.  Like mother, like daughter.

They will be back to finish, begrudgingly.

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Mental Organizing for My Move

 Day 3: (April 15, 2010) Today is the day for designing a plan, which means I have  take the emotion out of the equation.  The reality of MOVING THE MESS is NOW! OMG and I have way too much stuff.   So initially I’m thinking, an effective starting point would be to address the excess…the clutter…the stuff I don’t really need, nor will I miss, (which translates to: the kid’s roller blades, bicycles,  tennis rackets, basketballs, hockey sticks, art supplies, board games, etc.).  Just because I don’t need them anymore, someone else surely does. This is easy.  If I know that other children can enjoy these things, it feels great  to let it go and donate to an appropriate charity. Ditto to their clothing, saved Halloween costumes, knapsacks, sleeping bags, baseball caps, clothing, and sports memorabilia no longer cherished.  OK, now we are moving……(not literally, of course,  but at least in my head).

With respect to the grand scheme of “organizing (i.e. sorting, weeding, and purging), I would be remiss if I didn’t factor  being ”green” into this equation.  Let me mention, that as an Organizer and a conscientious consumer, it is my responsibility to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. It would be so easy to simply decide “trash” or “treasure” and overflow the dumpster with those items I no longer need.  But we all must be accountable for our stuff and mindful that clearing our clutter means recycling or donating, not dumping it  into our Earth’s landfills. I get it, and I can only hope the rest of the world gets it. If someone out in the world can benefit from our undesirables, wouldn’t that be a more gratifying option?  Think of it as re-gifting.

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