Home » Julie’s Blog

Kitchen Organization – WXGC Radio

It’s hard to cook when there isn’t room to spread out, cupboards are overflowing and prime real estate is at a premium. Clear the clutter so cooking isn’t such a chore.

Junk Mail – WXGC Radio

I liken junk mail to an unwelcome fly or bug in your house. Not so bad dealing with one or two but more than that is crazy making. Defend yourself against those pests coming in in the first place!

Benefits of Decluttering – WXGC Radio

You may think that those loose possessions strewn about is no big deal but how much easier would certain aspects of your life be without clutter?

Clutter Bug – WXGC Radio

How to identify is your clutter is affecting your life negatively.

Call it what you like, cluttering, being a pack rack, a finder/ keeper, messy, or disorganized, some people like to refer to themselves as clutter bugs Read more

What IS a professional organizer?

This is a question I get all the time, what is it that I really do? Some people think I organize events like 5K runs or protest marches and a number of people are surprised that there is an industry devoted to my profession. Basically put, I help people in their homes or offices. Help how? I help my clients deal with a myriad of possessions including clothing, books, paperwork, furniture, tools, heirlooms, photos, keepsakes, kitchen goods, kids toys, collections, filing systems, anything that you find in most homes, garages, storage units and barns. I also help clients with productivity, time management, chronic disorganization and how to manage their homes so that they will hopefully lead a calmer, more streamlined and prolific life. I also help people with hoarding tendencies.

Older generations are wondering how this profession ever became a profession in the first place. Homemakers in the 1950’s didn’t seem to have trouble keeping their homes neat and tidy and certainly weren’t drowning in paper, clothes and a vast accumulation of “stuff”. Times changed, women joined the work force, people worked more hours and our society equated success with top notch belongings. Keeping up with the Joneses became a saying for a reason. Things were cheap, stores popped up everywhere and brand loyalty slipped away.

Now we have so much stuff, especially clothes and paper, that we don’t know what to do with it all! A common theory is that those who grew up during the great depression kept everything out of necessity and they passed that ideal down to their children and so on and so forth. Sure there is some truth to that but it’s been quite a while since food was rationed and things like metal and rubber were hard to come by. So an industry was born. The National Association of Professional Organizers was founded in 1983 by a group of women who were offering organizing services in Los Angeles and decided it was ideal to exchange ideas and network. Today, with approximately 4,000 members, NAPO is recognized worldwide as The Organizing Authority®

The number one reason why potential clients reach out to me is because they are overwhelmed. They have a lot of things that are disorganized and they don’t know where to start. We are losing all sorts of time looking for lost keys, papers, and other items. We can’t park in our garage because there’s no room; we buy things that we already own because we forgot we owned them or can’t find them. The offsite storage industry is booming as people rent more space to store things. Putting a cluttered home up for sale will take longer to sell than a home that is orderly and will probably sell for less. The average American receives 49,060 pieces of mail in their lifetime; 1/3 of it is junk mail. We are stressed out, overloaded with information, working harder, not necessarily smarter and a number of us are dealing with the estates of our aging parents.

Lucky for me, I get to help! I visit my client’s space; I listen to their story and understand their goals without judging them. Together we come up with a plan of attack and then we dig in, sorting thing into categories such as toss, recycle, donate, sell, return to original owner, shred, give away and of course, keep. It’s often times more than decluttering; it’s actually downsizing the amount of belongings and keeping the remainder in a way that is systematic and logical. Some clients have lived in the same home for 25-50 years and the time has come to move into something smaller, more efficient, perhaps nearer to adult children or into an assisted living facility. My clients are combining households, moving out of their city residence to live full time in the country or are two families that will be living as one. People that have rented a storage unit thinking it was temporary become tired of paying to house stuff that they no longer need or love. Even though you keep hearing the term “paperless” so many of us are still holding onto to bank statements from 15 years ago or receipts that have faded beyond recognition over time, boxes and boxes of them. It’s not all cut and dried; there are emotions, sentimentality and a lot of decision making. The work can be physically tiring but more so, it’s mentally fatiguing. I’m there as a cheerleader, the voice of reason, the expert who has dealt with similar situations many times before. I help to keep us focused, to work in a productive manner and most importantly, to get things done!

Helping my clients achieve their goals is satisfying but being allowed into their lives, to enter their personal space, to hear the stories behind the inanimate objects and to help them to move forward is extremely rewarding. There are interesting finds, lots of “Oh, that’s where that is” or “I thought it was lost forever”. There are some tears, hugs and laughs. Shoulders that have carried heavy weights are relieved, spaces that were practically useless become viable again and people become mindful of what they use, want, need or love in a new manner even if it’s as simple as knowing where the extra batteries are.

Depression and Clutter

If there ever was a catch-22 conundrum, it’s depression and clutter. It can become a never-ending cycle of chasing one’s own tail, around and around, one step forward, one step back.

When getting out of bed and trying to get through the average day takes every ounce of energy, there isn’t much leftover for dealing with the mail or folding laundry in the super specific method of Japan’s organizing phenom, Marie Kondo. Trying to keep a shiny sink and the dust down to less than 1/2 inch thick is like running a marathon, when you’re out of shape

Oh come on Julie, you may think, you’re surely exaggerating. I am coming from a place of not just professional experience but personal experience as well. I have suffered from depression for years and am grateful to say it’s mostly been under control for the past decade or so. My first extreme situation was postpartum depression after my daughter was born. I’m so lucky that I’ve had dysthmia for most of my life, which is a mild, persistent disorder; clinical (major) depression and seasonal affective disorder — the trifecta! As I write this column, I have what’s called a “happy” light blaring 10,000 lux of full spectrum lighting on my desk to keep away what people commonly refer to as the wintertime blues.

Professionally, I have dealt with clients who have suffered personal losses, are having trouble with the aging process, have been through the wringer with medical illness and injury, have experienced trauma, are going through divorces or are just grappling to get through life because of a chemical imbalance in their brain. It’s not just a pile of old magazines here or too many shoes as a result of retail therapy there. I help people who have to go through the possessions of their loved ones who have passed away, decide what to do with the stuff that the spouse abandoned when he or she left the marriage, deal with the childhood room of a son or daughter who is now in college or off in the world. Sometimes we have to adapt the home for a household member who is now wheelchair bound or for an elderly parent who can’t climb stairs anymore.

Women especially feel embarrassed or ashamed that they haven’t been able to keep up with the household because in our society women are in charge of taking care of the family and the nest. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, but my female clients who lack a sense of organization or how to maintain an orderly environment can’t understand why the Martha Stewart gene was left out of their DNA. It’s particularly hard for them to ask for help.

Depending on how severe someone’s depression is, keeping house can be just a little challenging all the way to “nothing a stick of dynamite wouldn’t fix” because clutter is never-ending. If you’ve read a magazine cover or saw a home improvement show profess that you can kiss clutter goodbye forever, they are seriously pulling your leg. Stuff comes into our lives no matter how much of a minimalist we attain to be. This is where having a good defense is the key to having a good offense when trying to keep clutter at bay. Not letting it cross over your doorstep helps tremendously.

Overwhelm is a top reason people reach out to me for help and overwhelm is one of the most innate emotions people with depression suffer from. Overwhelm and hopelessness is like the backbone of depression. My clients feel overwhelmed frequently because they are looking at the mess or disorder in their home as one big picture and therefore knowing where to start is perplexing. Of course, I’m not a therapist nor do I have any medical training, but when I’m doing an initial phone consultation with a prospective client, I often hear keywords within their story that leads me to believe they may be dealing with some form of depression.

At some point they may volunteer the information. I like to be open about my experiences because talking with someone who knows how you’re feeling can create a sort of an immediate bond and I do end up bonding with some clients at some point. It may sound cliché, but if I can help one person by sharing my struggles, it’s worth it.

People are frequently surprised; “you, depressed?” they exclaim. That’s the thing, depression reminds me of some homes — painted a cheery color on the outside, beautifully decorated inside but down in the basement, toxic mold grows in the dark, floorboards are rotting where there is a leak and it’s like home away from home for a troll.

Coming out of a deep depression is like a dark, black curtain being lifted. There is joy to be found in little things, energy that was once almost impossible to corral now abounds, you may feel ambitious for the first time in a long time, but most importantly there is hope, hope for the future. It’s not easy to ask for help, but if there’s just one thing you can do for yourself or a loved one, it’s seek help from a medical professional and know that you’re not alone.

Organizing for the New Year

A new year can be exciting for so many reasons, it’s a fresh chance to start over, to redefine our ambitions and set new goals that somehow seem more attainable because we’re committing to those goals along with millions of others. We declare our intentions with resolutions and getting organized is a popular one!

The top resolutions every year seem to include losing weight/getting in shape, quitting vices and getting organized. One reason so many of us seem to fail at keeping resolutions is that we take on too many. It would be a pretty significant shift in our behaviors if we gave up sweets, cocktails, tardiness and impulse buying in one fell swoop. Focusing on just one of the stumbling blocks you come up against frequently may be a better game plan. Besides, we can commit to a resolution at any point in time during the year; it need not be Jan. 1. We can start anew at the beginning of every month perhaps or carry over the same resolution multiple years in a row. I’ve been maintaining a commitment to keeping my office floor free and clear of any obstructions for three years now.

Take some time to reflect on last year and try to identify what went wrong, what areas of your home and work you would like to improve on. Recommit to resolutions that you weren’t quite able to nail. Here are some organizing and productivity tips you can use at any time of year:

• Breaking down the overall resolution into smaller, doable tasks allows us the opportunity for mini-accomplishments and nothing feels better than succeeding.

• Get realistic. Getting organized is a lot like getting in shape. It doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t disperse years of clutter in a few hours just like you can’t cut out junk food for a day and expect to be vastly healthier. Clutter can accumulate slowly and there’s nothing wrong with picking away at it, a little bit at a time. Fifteen- to 25-minute blocks of decluttering are an ideal time to dig in, maintain focus and then retreat to refresh and regroup. It can be a lot of brain work making decisions, so reward the tasks you’ve completed with a short walk, play time with your pets, a few pages of a current book you’re reading, maybe a quick phone call with a friend or family member.

• Define goals in a very specific way. Instead of “I want to get organized,” try “I want to sort and address my snail mail every single day” or “I always want to know where my car keys are.”

• Map out the area that you are devoted to utilizing in a better manner. Perhaps you want to keep a clear space around your computer keyboard and the “prime real estate” area of your desk. Create a no clutter zone using painter’s tape and as you achieve keeping stuff out of the zone, widen it until you reach your ideal.

• Forming habits can take some time and dedication. It’s easier if you replace an old habit with a new one. For instance, instead of bringing the mail in and just placing any on any flat surface, put it in a dedicated spot that you’ve labeled “incoming mail” or even better, do a quick sort as soon as you enter your home. Labeling can be really helpful if you’re trying to get other members of the household to adapt to new systems.

• Are you hanging on to certain items that were gifts but you don’t actually like, need, want or use them? Once the gift has left the hands of the giver, you should have full rights to do whatever you would like to do with it. Embrace the good intentions and consider donation or re-gifting. I believe that re-gifting is perfectly acceptable; again, once the gift leaves the hands of the giver, they have given up their ownership rights. It also helps to ask yourself if the gift giver would want you to be hanging onto something that made you feel guilty or obliged; probably not.

• Some people excel using visual clues, so you may have more success with posting reminders in the areas you’re working on improving such as “No dishes in the sink overnight please” or “Suzy’s backpack goes here.”

• Taking the time to purge paperwork and files is a great way to create space for the inevitable paper that will come your way throughout the year. Lose old magazines, unnecessary memos and owner manuals to things you no longer own, greeting cards that aren’t keepsakes and archive files that are inactive from your desktop or filing system.

• Don’t forget to organize your schedule to save yourself lots of time all year long. Go through your calendar, whichever version works best for you — paper or digital — and reserve time every month for backing up your computer and decluttering your desktop and office. Mark birthdays, anniversaries, significant events like weddings or reunions and even what month you need to get your car inspected.

• Is this the year you want to handle less paper? Consider signing up for automatic payment with electronic receipts for utilities, rent/mortgage, vehicle payments or insurance premiums. You don’t have to do everything all at once if you’re not sure if paperless is right for you; try one or two accounts first.

May you have a new year full of positive experiences, the gift of simplicity and the ability to embrace your material treasures while letting go of the extraneous stuff.

Fall preparations for your home

The nights have become chilly, people have closed their pools for the season and before you know it, we’ll be in the grips of Father Winter soon enough. It’s time to put summer to bed and be sure that your home is ready for what’s ahead. My number one priority is what I call “hassle avoidance” so any proactive measures I can take to be ready for the change of seasons is one step further away from having a crisis when it’s bitter cold and the snow is deep. Here are some tips to help you batten down the hatches:

  • First thing is first, is your furnace clean and ready for the heating season? Do you need to order heating fuel, arrange to have the heating ducts or chimney cleaned? Call for servicing before the busy season hits. Wood stove owners are cutting or receiving wood and stacking away. Be mindful about stacking wood directly against your home, it’s an invitation for rodents and insects like termites to nest and is also a fire hazard.
  • Drain and store hoses and check any outside faucets for leaks. Drain any underground sprinkler systems. Some outside water connections (like mobile homes or summer only cottages) may need to be hooked up with heating tape and insulation to keep pipes from freezing.
  • Check for overgrown foliage which can damage siding or branches hanging over roofs or power lines. Trees or shrubs too close to your home are not only a good place for burglars to hide but can keep you from seeing damage to your foundation and make maintenance difficult
  • Water can cause some of the most difficult problems so check windows, thresholds, and sills for any signs of unwanted water. Check that weather-stripping, caulk and glaze is in good shape and isn’t split or worn away.
  • Clean gutters and downspouts. Plan ahead for ice dams buy purchasing a snow roof rake for lower roofs you can reach and by having the information handy for calling on the professionals in case of ice dams. You may remember last winter was nothing short of an ice dam nightmare for many home owners and can be very dangerous for you to try to resolve yourself. Ice dams cause roofs to leak which cause ceilings to leak and water can also flow down walls between studs and dry wall or lathe.
  • All year round you should be prepared for power outages but especially so come winter. Check your supply of batteries, flashlights, candles, headlamps, camping lanterns and oil for oil lamps if you go old school. You should have an emergency preparedness kit on hand and a “go” bag packed. www.FEMA.gov and www.Ready.gov offer comprehensive information as well as the Red Cross, www.RedCross.org which has excellent emergency checklists.
  • If you don’t have a carbon monoxide detector, now is the time to get one. Every winter it seems we hear of some tragic event where occupants die from exposure to carbon monoxide. Of course always have batteries on hand for both your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. You’ll be changing them out at daylight savings time which ends November 6, 2016 at 2:00 am.
  • Reverse your ceiling fans so the blades run in a clockwise fashion which will create an updraft to push hot air down.
  • Run or drain the last bit of gas out of any lawn mowers, weed whackers or leaf blowers as gas that sits during the winter can cause mechanical problems come spring.

Lastly, as you put summer away, take notice of what summertime things you didn’t use at all this year and why. No one played badminton because the net was ripped and no one had the time to fix it? Maybe it’s time to let the broken net go and get a new one next spring. If no one had ambition to fix the broken Adirondack chair this summer, will it be any different next year? The sundresses, bathing suit or short shorts didn’t fit this year but by George they will next year! Perhaps so but will the elastic still be good, will they still be in a style that you’ll wear or will it just be depressing that they didn’t fit. As we swap out seasons, it’s a good time to lose the stuff you haven’t used, didn’t need and didn’t love.