Friday, January 30, 2009

Right Brain Organizing - For Messies

Your best friends are engineers. You cringe at the thought of straight books on a shelf. Your world is full of colour and ideas - and mess. And you are tired of it. The mess that is (engineers are ok). How about tailor made organizing support for the right brain world.

Organizing for the Creative Person is just that. Dorothy Lehmkuhl and Dolores Cotter Lamping have captured the world of the right brained soul and provided clear, concise information on how to harness your gifts to end your world of mess. For a taste of their humour and understanding of the issues consider the following excerpt:
"The acronym 'PUT OFF' can be used to summarize the specific causes of procrastination:

  • P = Priority
  • U = Unknowns
  • T = Time

  • O = Overload
  • F = Fears
  • F = Feelings

An easy read, great suggestions for all you right brain creative folks who have fatigued of living with the mess. Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Shopping Addictions

Professional organizers often find themselves with clients whose homes are filled with belongings. In many of these cases, the clients admit to suffering from compulsive shopping behaviour. Compulsive shopping, also known as shopping addiction , is as severe and debilitating as any other addiction. In some cases, it is even more difficult to manage; alcoholics can stop drinking. Individuals suffering from shopping addiction are still required to buy basic necessities for their lives.

Wikipedia describes the condition as oniomania and provides a summary of information and resources related to compulsive shopping. Individuals suffering from compulsive shopping may feel "good" when they shop and use the behaviour to help themselves feel better. Typically the shopping is then followed by feelings of guilt and remorse. The items are often never used and sit untouched with their tags still on.

If you think you may be suffering from a shopping addiction it is important to get help for yourself. In Canada, the Canadian Association for Mental Health can be helpful in directing you to the right resources.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chronic Disorganization

As with most states of being, there are different degrees of disorganization. One can think of a continuum from very organized to severely disorganized. Chronic disorganization, however, is considered to be a different situation altogether.

People who are chronically disorganized likely live in a state of severe disorganization. They do not typically respond to conventional organizing practicies and strategies no matter how hard they try to make them work. They have three defining features as identified by Judith Kolberg in Conquering Chronic Disorganization:

  • They have been disorganized all or most of their adult life;
  • Being disorganized negatively effects their quality of life in some way everyday; and
  • Previous attempts to be organized have not been successful.

Chronically disorganized people think, learn and organize in ways that are unconventional and therefore conventional organizing strategies do not work for them. Fortunately Judith Kolberg and a number of colleagues have made it their business to understand how to help individuals with chronic disorganization. She founded the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization which now provides education to professional organizers and related individuals on working with those who suffer from chronic disorganization.

So if you think you may be chronically disorganized check out the NSGCD website. The professional organizer directory on both Professional Organizers in Canada and National Association of Professional Organizers includes identification of those who specialize in this area.

You don't have to live with your disorganization.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Client Questions - Am I Alone?

Q "Now that you have seen my disorganization and mess, tell me, am I the worst that you have seen. Are there other people that are more disorganized than me and have more mess than me?"

A Yes. Always.

It often takes a lot of courage for a seriously disorganized person, or family, to let a professional organizer into their home. For that matter, many of my clients have not had anyone into their home for a very long time. They are too ashamed. Their embarrassment and concern that they will be chastised by friends and family ensure that those friends and family will never be invited over. Their embarrassment is expressed in a desire to know they are not the worst or most disorganized people I have ever worked with.

The reality is that there are a lot of people in this world with a lot of stuff they a) don't need b) don't use c) don't have room for and d) don't know how to manage or part with. The impact on their lives is no different than the impact on the disorganization in the life of the clients that express their frustration and embarrassment in the form of today's question.

If there weren't lots of disorganized people in Canada, the country would not support the growing roster of industry professionals such as the members of Professional Organizers in Canada , now with over 600 members, or its affiliate, the National Association of Professional Organizers in the United States.

More important, however, is how each individual or family, struggling with disorganization, gets a grip on their lives so that they too can live to their full potential, unencumbered by unnecessary activity or belongings; otherwise known as "stuff".

So if you are wondering if anyone else in the world suffers from disorganization like you do, the answer is yes. Lots of people. Now what will you do to manage it?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Anticipation - Plan Ahead

For many people the concept of anticipating what's coming down the road is hard to to grasp. We are all wired differently and not everyone has the same orientation to the future.

In this case, I find helping clients to plan ahead is more helpful. How far can you plan ahead? Many of us work with financial planners to plan ahead for our retirement. That's a form of organizing the future. Some of us plan ahead for our children's education with education funds. That's also a form of organizing the future.

How about planning ahead for summer activities? Have you thought about your children's activities for the summer? Have you booked the camps that they want to attend? Plan ahead to that you, and your family, are not disappointed by applying or acting too late.

How about planning ahead for the weekend? Have you made plans? Have you organized the gear that you might need for those plans? Are you using the weekend to plan ahead for the next week.

Try writing a list of a couple of things you need for tomorrow to make it an easier day. See if you can get those accomplished today before you turn out the light. That's planning ahead and organizating your life, one step at a time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What's Holding you Back?

When working with a new client, one of the first challenges I face is to understand why the client is disorganized. Our first visit together is an assessment session which helps me to understand the issues that they face and why they face them. Understanding reasons for disorganization is key to overcoming it. Without an understanding of the underlying isssues, it is very difficult to help an individual, family or business implement systems, structures, process and particularly behaviour changes to achieve a greater level of organization.

Julie Morgenstern, in her book Organizing from the Inside Out, offers a clear and simple discussion of the causes of clutter. She describes three levels of reasons and points out that "everyone struggling with disorganization suffers from at least one Level I cause, but may also be suffering from some Level 2 and 3 causes as well". I have summarized them here for you so that you might have insight into your own reasons for disorganization.

  1. Level 1: Tehnical Errors. These include the simple mistakes in your organizing systems, such things as items not having a home, inconvenient storage, more stuff than storage space, or complex, confusing sytems that are too complicated for you to use.
  2. Level 2: External Realities. These include factors in the outside world over which you have little or no control. Understanding how to manage these factors will help you to create realistic expectations for yourself. They include unrealistic workload, the speed of life and technology, life or business in transition, uncooperative partners or limited space.
  3. Level 3: Psychological Obstacles. These include hidden, internal forces that keep you disorganized no matter how much you might wish to be otherwise. Understanding these issues can help you either work around or through them to seek greater organization. They might include a need for abundance, craving the thrill of creating order from chaos, having unclear goals and priorities, being afraid of success or failure, feeling the need to retreat, having a need for perfection or distraction, and having sentimental attachments to items.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Packrat Behaviour

Managing the behaviour and characteristics of a packrat is a common reason that professional organizers are called by clients. Packrat behaviour is seen equally often at the office as it is in the home. The only difference is that at the office, there may be someone in a position of authority reminding you to keep your workspace in a professional state. The following behaviours and characteristics, modified from a list developed by Judith Kolberg and Kathleen Nadeau in ADD-Friendly ways to Organize your Life, may be familiar to you because of your own life or perhaps the life of someone around you:

  1. You hang on to things that you, or anyone else, hardly ever uses;
  2. You eagerly collect items regardless of whether you need them;
  3. You refuse to part with items because you think you will use them someday (but can't remember the last time you used it);
  4. You consider yourself a packrat;
  5. Your workspace or home is so cluttered it is hardly functional;
  6. You have difficulty making decisions about objects.

Sound familiar? The following strategies may help you get started on a healthier path.

  1. Try the "two for one" policy when bringing new things into your environment. If you bring a new book into your home, commit to removing two books already there that you can't remember the last time you touched.
  2. Ask someone you trust, a clutter companion, to commit to a day of clearing out. It will probably take more than one session but you will find even starting will be very rewarding.
  3. Clear a sorting table so that you have a clear space at waist height in which to sort. You will find this easy on your back and the sorting will feel easier.
  4. Choose items of better quality and let the quantity of objects diminish. If you find 4 staplers, keep the best one.
  5. Play the Friends, Acquaintances, Strangers game. Objects that feel like friends can stay. Acquaintances may or may not stay depending on their timeliness and utility. The strangers leave your space.
  6. Establish and maintain a commitment to yourself to live in a healthier lifespace. You deserve it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Keeping New Year's Resolutions

Many of you have made resolutions for the New Year - big juicy goals for your excellent life that you are creating.

How is that going for you? Here's a site that might be helpful. offers a selection of articles on setting and keeping those resolutions. Here's one that I found particularly helpful by Wie Yin Yong. New habits can be a challenge to establish - as frustrating as old one's are to kick. This article on Making New Habits may be particularly helpful in anchoring the new bahiours in your life.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The (Dis) Organized Teenager - Exam Time!

Here is comes folks. All us semestered families are heading for the last stretch of the semester and the big E word: Exams.

For some teenagers exams are just another opportunity to show off how much they know and how much fun they had studying. Not my teenager. She is having fun alright: at the swim meet, the ski hills and movie nights at a friend's house. So how do we instill the discipline to study and review all that must know information in order to encourage the best opportunity for success in our teens?

Here are some tips for your teen to set themselves up for success:

Step 1 - Establish a list of all the material that will be covered in the exam. If you aren't sure, check in with the teachers before the term is over. Once classes are out they are harder to find. Most curriculum is broken into units providing a natural way to organize and list the material. A term is likely about 10 - 13 units. Review the list and your notes. Do you have all the information you need to study? Do you need to pick up notes from a friend or teacher for classes you missed?

Step 2 - Break down the material into the time you have to review it. If you have 5 days to study for 4 exams and 4 hours a day, you may choose to use one hour a day per subject. For ten units that would be 2 units per day. Did I loose you on the math? Simplify: Break down the material into bite size chunks for which you have the time.

Step 3 - Remove all other distractions (cell phone, ipod), be rested, well fed and take frequent breaks. Most adults can concentrate for about 45 minutes. Expect your teen to get up and move at least every 45 minutes.

Step 4 - Review, repeat. Review, repeat. Familiarity will assist with recall.

Good luck!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Client Questions - Going Vertical

Q It seems that every surface in my home has stuff on it. My home is cluttered but I have no other place to put things. What else can I do?

A It is human nature to put an object down or away in the place of least resistance or the most accessible spot when we are finished with it. For many people, that spot ends up being an empty flat surface. The result can be a cluttered space with every flat surface filled and, in worse case scenarios, several layers of objects on every flat surface.

Switch from horizontal to vertical storage strategies and habits. Vertical space is up and down space in your home. The floor, counters and table tops are horizontal space. Keep your horizontal space clear and your home will look and feel less cluttered and be easier to move around in.

Book shelves are great vertical storage and can be used to storage an array of items besides books. Putting similar items in containers such as boxes, baskets or other plastic containers on the shelves reduces the messy look of many objects. A hook on a wall is another simple and effective means of using vertical space, great for clothes especially in a child’s room.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Menu Planning Monday

Has your home settled down after the holiday activity? There is nothing like a little routine to get us all grounded and reorganized. If you haven't tried planning your menus, I highly recommend it. MPM comes from my colleague Laura over on OrgJunkie. She has posted some great links to gluten free recipes for those of you with special diets in your home.

In the meantime, what's on your menu this week? Here's our lineup:
Monday - Swim team: Fish, rice, frozen vegies, green salad
Tuesday - Swim team: Our traditional pasta night, meat balls, green salad, Italian bread
Wedneday - Swim team, choir: BBQ pork kabobs in marinade, rice, grilled vegies, cruditee salad
Thursday - Swim team/lessons: BBQ chicken in Diana sauce, spinach/raspberry salad with caramelized almonds
Friday - Ski night: Sandwiches on the road
Saturday - Supper for 9: Pasta with Tomato and Meat Sauce, spinach salad (again), Italian Bread
Sunday - Make your own pizza

Someday Syndrome & Someday Wishes

How often do we use the words "someday I will..." Occassionally? Frequently? Can anyone claim never?

I have a colleague who can claim "not any more". Alex Fayle, a professional organizer used to say "Someday I will live and write in the south of Spain". Like so many of us he had his share of someday wishes. Unlike the majority of us, Alex did something about his someday wishes and made them his reality.

Someday Syndrome is not only his story but a resource for anyone suffering from the procrastination syndrome. Does this sound familiar?

  • Someday My Ship Will Come In
    Waiting for, instead of pursuing, your dreams
  • I'll Get Around To It Someday
    Wasting your life with navel-gazing and other procrastination games
  • I Might Need It Someday
    Filling your life with stuff instead of achievements.
If you have ever suffered from procrastination, even mildly on a bad day, I recommend you to Someday Syndrome. Never was there a better time than the fresh beginning of a year to end those somdays and start creating your amazing life full of acheivements.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

I would like to wish all my readers a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Stay tuned for more organizing tips starting Monday January 5, 2009.