Category Archives: Strategies

Perspectives on Letting Go

freedom release letting go

Ahh, attachments to our stuff. It’s really all a mental game. If we were truly able to assess our belongings according to our practical needs, we would probably be living with 10% of what we own.

Why is letting go so hard? How do we manage the psychology of releasing things?

Over the years, we’ve seen people find success with one (or a combination) of these three approaches:

Focus on how you can help yourself

Honor the life you want to live. Have a vision of how you want to be in the world and edit your stuff so you can match that and live your best life now. This is about releasing the past and creating your ideal future. You’re honoring yourself by letting that be your focus.

Focus on how you can help other people

Recognize that your excess is a form of abundance. Release your objects so they can serve their purpose in other people’s lives. Release resentment or other negative emotions that the objects bring up in you and put them out into the world to do positive things for other people.

Feng Shui expert Karen Kingston tells a story of a divorced woman had a pair of large, expensive decorative urns from her divorce settlement. They were beautiful but made her think, with bitterness, of her ex-husband.  She was encouraged to sell them and get a lot of money for them instead of having them foster bitterness and resentment and a constant reminder of a painful relationship.

Focus on how you can help the environment

Bringing in less can aid the environment, but disposing of things in a thoughtful way will help offset the environmental impact of consumption. Some people hesitate to clean out a closet or garage because they don’t want it all to go to landfill. Take advantage of living in the San Francisco Bay Area which is filled with easy options for recycling/reuse and responsible disposal.

Stopwaste.org is a quick way to find what is available near you. There are many places that accept e-waste, expired medicines, CFLs, hazardous waste, styrofoam, packing peanuts and air-packs. Partially used art and office supplies can go to the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse or S.C.R.A.P., building materials and hardware can go to Urban Ore or a Habitat for Humanity ReStore outlet. Plastic children’s toys, if not donate-able, can be recycled with hard plastic at most urban recycling centers. There are also resources for your unneeded medical equipment (wheelchairs, walkers, tubing, etc.)

Freecycle, Craigslist, Nextdoor, and other community neighborhood forums are great places to post usable items for free.  These places allow you to find people who want your cast-offs and will take care of the hauling!

If you don’t want to deal with the public, you can pay for a hauler to come. EcoHaul, 1-800-Got Junk, Lugg are companies that advertise responsible disposal of items the remove from your place.

There is no “right” approach. What is that key that will release you from the obligation to hold on to things you don’t need and really don’t even want? Not sure how to get rid of something? Just ask! As Professional Organizers, we’ve got ideas!

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Filed under Decluttering, organizing, Perspective, Reduce/Recyle/Reuse, Strategies

Tackle Messy Build-Up With Your Kids This Summer

organizing crafts

Everyone with kids knows that they typically come with lots of STUFF. And somehow it keeps coming in…if you have more than one kid the challenge is even greater.

This buildup is natural. More than any other time of life, the very nature of childhood is about growth and change. Your child’s abilities, interests, and sizes are constantly evolving  – and all the toys, clothes, learning materials change along with them. And young ones are magnets for toys and gifts from relatives.

This means if you aren’t keeping a constant vigil on moving out outgrown items (and how many of us are, really?) you’ve likely got some backlog of unused and unneeded kid stuff.

If your kids have a little more time at home during the summer, take advantage of that to do some weeding.

Break It Down

You’ll have a better chance at success if you focus their attention onto one category of stuff at a time. A general request to “clean out the playroom” isn’t going to get them very far. But a specific request to gather up all the DVDs and choose the ones they love to watch is much easier to get follow through on.

If you divide up the project into categories you’re teaching an important skill about grouping “like items” together.

Put out a big bag or box and have the kids weed some or all of these groups:

  • Board games
  • Clothes that don’t fit (can even break this down by type – tops, pants, jackets)
  • Sports equipment
  • Craft supplies
  • Art projects/ drawings
  • Books
  • DVDs, video games
  • Electronics
  • Toys (you can break this category down by type – electronic, stuffies, dolls)

Create a System and Motivate

Sometimes it’s easier to decide what to keep, rather than what to let go of. Clearly labeling 3 bags or boxes – KEEP, MAYBE, DONATE/SELL can help. Let your family know it’s like going shopping for things they love within our own collection. This helps kids get in touch with making conscious choices about what they really use and like.

Motivation strategies to get them going:

  • Help them visualize the end result – more space to play with their favorite items
  • Use a timer to bound the work
  • Offer incentives or rewards – a movie night after clearing out unwanted DVDs for example.
  • Create a contest or game around who can purge the most 

Enlist Help

If you’re paying for a babysitter or childcare, enlist their help to tackle 1 category a day. Even as little as ½ hour each week spent on weeding will go a long way to staying ahead of the next influx of new gifts or purchases!

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Filed under artwork, children, Decluttering, General Organizing, Kids, Reduce/Recyle/Reuse, Strategies

Giving Your Photos and Memorabilia a Reason for Living

photo organizing

Do you have piles of photos stored somewhere in your basement or attic or the back of your closet?  You’re not alone.  Many of our clients hit a wall when it comes to tackling the photos and memorabilia.  It always seems to be the lowest priority until a life event like a birthday or graduation prompts the need for quick and easy access to your loved ones photos.  It’s then that you realize how inconvenient you’ve made it for yourself to view your family memorabilia.

Organizing photos (digital or printed) is a lot like organizing anything in the house – the first step is to determine why you would be keeping them.

Take a few minutes to consider the bigger picture…what do you want your photos for? Do you imagine that you’ll pass the unfinished project on to your kids? Would you like to have some on display or in albums? How important is it to identify people or events for others?

Before you dive into the backlog spend some time framing (pun intended) the picture of your immediate and long-term goals – it will give needed clarity to your sorting and purging.

Figure out what you’re keeping. This takes setting aside time, regularly, to gather and weed your collection.

Divide your photos into 4 categories:

1 – Photos to display, share or put in an album

These are the best of the best; the ones you would be sad if they were destroyed. You may never actually create the album, but it’s important to make the separation in case you or your family member gets motivated.

2 – Photos to keep but not display

The second cut, those you want to store or archive for safekeeping and possible future use.

3 – Photos that tell a story

Even if they are not perfect, don’t automatically toss a great picture if it tells a significant story. They can be illustrative of some specific point in time or mark a milestone.

4 – Photos to dispose of

Come on!  Do you need to keep the 5th copy of a photo you don’t even like? Blurry photos, poorly composed photos, photos of people you don’t even remember can all be tossed.

Next step, determine the keepers.

Set up containers with the 3 separate categories labeled — Album/Display, Archive, Trash — so it’s easy to separate them.  The pictures that tell a story can be tagged with notes and put in the appropriate category.

Once the initial sort happens, you can drill down into more specific categories.  Categories help with retrieval. They help you browse the archive for retrieval or help determine the structure of an album.

Would a picture of Aunt Mary on vacation with you in Hawaii get sorted into Vacations, Aunt Mary and Her Family, the year & month of the trip or …?

There are no right or wrong choices, but you will need to make a choice.

Post-its and index cards, Ziploc bags are great temporary ways to sort printed photos until you arrive at your final organization. Start with broad categories or themes and know that you can come back and fine-tune, if desired, later. To keep the process moving, limit your time with categorizing of each particular photo to a couple seconds. Resist the urge to reminisce; there will be plenty of time for that later.

Power Sort Box

Power Sort Box from Creative Memories for sorting physical photographs

Digital photos need this kind of attention and maintenance also! Don’t kid yourself – the accumulation of thousands of unsorted digital photos will create just as much overwhelm and hassle as the boxes or bags of printed photos taking up closet space. Digital photos can be tagged with multiple categories.  This is a great advantage; it’s the equivalent of having the same photo in 3 or more different places.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, tackle bite-sized chunks.  Commit to just one box of sorting, or time yourself and do one-hour blocks of time or enlist an interested party and make a date to do it together.

IMPORTANT! Moving forward, make sure you have a sound system of photo management in place so you’re not contributing to the backlog. For most of us this means managing digital photos. Here are some tips:

  • Figure out how to sync your devices and/or copy photos to ONE master location
  • Make sure you have a backup system!
  • Use additional folders for sorting and/or use tagging to mark a photo as belonging in more than one category
  • Make actual prints of favorites so they can be enjoyed on display

If this article has left you feeling completely hopeless and overwhelmed instead of inspired, it’s time to ask for help! Search the Association of Professional Photo Organizers (www.APPO.com) for a local resource.

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Filed under Decluttering, disorganization, Empty Nest, Memorabilia, middle-age, Moving, organizing, paper organizing, Perspective, Strategies, Technology

5 Organizing Lessons from Happy Brain Science

There’s been a lot of research done on the science behind happiness. According to Ayla Lewis of http://www.HappyBrainScience.com, as it turns out, our brains are not as hard wired as we may think. We tend to think of our personalities as being fairly “set” however science has proven we can take specific actions to change how we think and feel.

So how does this relate to organizing?

If you’ve locked yourself into a mindset that you can’t be organized, that you’re a “messy person,” or that you’re just not good at it – that doesn’t have to be your story!  We tend to cast ourselves into a role that is static but brain science shows change is possible.

Here’s 5 ways you can proactively change your approach to getting organized:

Don’t Go It Alone

Research shows that you can make more progress if you involve positive people in your life. This could be a professional organizer or just a supportive friend.

Take Charge of Your Attitude

Perspective has tremendous power.  It is as important as the actions you take. A shift in perspective will empower you to get and stay organized.

Focus on the Positive

Searching out and focusing on the positive in a situation primes our brains to look for more positives.  Let’s say you just pulled a pair of worn out shoes from your closet to throw away or donate.  That’s a positive step toward decluttering!  Yay! Celebrate that and see that as a step in the right direction.

Take a Power Pose

As Amy Cuddy, Harvard researcher has suggested, standing with your hands on your hips like Wonder Woman for two minutes can change your psychology.  Putting on a smiley face helps…even if you don’t mean it. Research shows that the physical act of turning the corners of your mouth up actually makes you feel happier.

Honor the Progress You Make

Work toward making progress on any given goal as opposed to measuring success by the endpoint. Happiness research has shown that this provides more satisfaction than actually achieving the goal. Spending 5 minutes on decluttering is more doable, and happiness-inducing, than setting aside an entire weekend to get organized.

People feel empowered, lighter, less burdened … and they get happier when they get de-cluttered. Isn’t it worth a try?

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Filed under Decluttering, General Organizing, Perspective, professional organizer, Strategies

Tips for Maximizing Your Storage Space

Most of us have stuff in storage, whether it is in a commercial storage unit or a closet in your house, we have things to store. I figure even The Minimalists have items in storage of some sort.

How do you maximize the space you have to avoid paying monthly storage fees or to minimize the storage fees you pay by renting a smaller space?

Here are a few tips for making the most out of your storage.

First: Do a little purge

Figure out your have-to-haves as opposed to your nice-to-haves. Do you really need to keep that snowboard, if you haven’t been to the snow for 10 years? Would it be easier just to rent ski equipment if you decide to take a trip to the mountains?

Doing a purge doesn’t mean you have to go through everything you’ve been storing. Take a quick look around and see if there is anything easy to get rid of. Is there a carpet that is so stained you’ll never use it again? or are you holding onto art that you’ll never hang on your walls?

It’s not very methodical, but every item you remove makes space to see and evaluate what’s you really want to keep.

Once you have done a sweep of the items you know you won’t keep, you can go through boxes individually, but for the quick and dirty method, just rearrange the space to make full use of it.

Second: Use containers for storage

Boxes are easier to stack than small loose items. Whenever possible, box and label items that can be stacked or put on shelves. Clear plastic tubs are great because you can easily see what’s inside.

Third: Maximize the use of the space

Use vertical space, add shelves, use rollers or wheels under things to make things moveable. These rolling metal shelves come in different sizes.  The shelf heights can be customized. Find them at Home Depot, Costco, The Container Store and even on Amazon.

These plastic shelves are inexpensive and easy to move around.


Fourth: Arrange the room

Packing the room according to your access needs is essential. Group items toward the front that need to be accessible…even if they aren’t exactly in the same category. For example, you might need access to your summer equipment more often than your Aunt Gertrude’s ashes (yes, we find those in storage units.) Seasonal items take priority over memorabilia.

Consider whether you need walkways to get to things or can items be put on rolling shelves and stack the shelves right next to each other – knowing you can roll them out to get to the back.

Fifth: Label

In addition to labeling any boxes and tubs it can be useful to label whole shelving units or zones within the space.

Tip: Use shelving on wheels so you can roll things out and get access to items in the back…instead of having to unpack the whole unit to get to something at the back wall.

Tip: Use as much vertical space as possible. Shelving enables that but if what you’re storing doesn’t make sense to store on shelves such as rolled carpets, framed pictures or skis, see if you can hang things on the walls or from the ceiling using brackets or hooks.

Handy items to keep in your storage unit:

  • Flashlight or headlamp
  • Labels and/or blue tape
  • Large magic markers/sharpies
  • Box cutters/scissors

What to bring with you when you go to visit your storage:

  • Storage unit keys and access code
  • Camera/phone for inventorying
  • Toolkit with battery operated drill
  • Brackets/hooks
  • Sturdy plastic bins or boxes with lids

Remember to balance the true value of your items against the ongoing cost of storage Most likely, you are paying $1200 a year to store these items in a commercial storage facility.  You might intend to have items in storage for a short time, but statistics show that we keep things in storage much longer than originally planned.

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Filed under Garage, General Organizing, Moving, organizing, Perspective, Storage, Strategies

Ways to Get Things Out of (and Into) Your House

Are you downsizing or relocating? Or just have some stuff you want removed from your house? Every now and then need a couple of strong guys to deliver furniture or take away a big load of donations?

These 3 options provide ways to jettison the stuff you don’t want.

remoov

Remoov

Remoov is a company that takes everything away and sells or donates, recycles and trashes items you don’t need. They literally “remove” everything, sell what they can and give you the difference between the cost of the moving and processing and 50% of the proceeds from the sales of items. They curate to get the best price for the items. They sell items through their online auction site: TheLocalFlea.com.

  • 50% of the value of the sold items
  • Donation receipt for your taxes
  • Your junk responsibly discarded
  • A new home for your unwanted items

They are committed to reducing waste by increasing recycling and reuse of products. The timeframe for the removal of items can be quite short.  Getting money back from items sold can take many weeks.  Pricing is easy to figure with their online graphic.

MaxSold (1)

MaxSold

Having an estate sale is a one traditional way of clearing a home. MaxSold is an ONLINE only version of an estate sale.

What do you have to do to prepare? Separate items you want to keep from those you want to sell. Items for sell will be grouped into “lots”, photographed, put into an online catalog and marketed locally. Viewers of the auction have 1 week to bid on items. Pickups are scheduled for 1 day in particular time slots and managed by MaxSold staff. Purchasers must show ID and proof of purchase before being escorted to pickup their “lots.”

The whole process takes 2 weeks end to end. Max Sold charges 30% or $10 per lot OR $1000 overall whichever is higher. MaxSold does not handle donation or disposal of items that don’t sell.

lugg

Lugg

Think of this as Uber for movers. On-demand or by schedule you can get 2 guys to load, haul, deliver or move things within a home. A simple to use phone app lets you set your pickup location, add a photo of items to be handled, get an instant quote, and movers can be on their way within 30 minutes. You can also schedule a date & time in the future if needed. Currently only available in SF Bay Area (all counties) and Los Angeles. Drop-off point can be up to 150 miles from pickup.

Examples of when to use:

  • Bringing home furniture from IKEA or another store
  • Taking away boxes of books for donation
  • Taking away a load of junk to the dump
  • Moving furniture between rooms of the house
  • Pickup a craigslist purchase and deliver to your house

These are only 3 of many different ways to declutter and downsize. When you’re ready, help is available!

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Filed under Bay Area Services, Decluttering, Empty Nest, Garage, Moving, Reduce/Recyle/Reuse, Strategies

Couples and Clutter – Conquering Criticism

birds-communicating

As Valentine’s Day approaches we are reminded of the challenges couples face managing clutter in a shared space. “Clutter” is incredibly subjective. One person’s state of chaos is another’s state of total harmony. Do a quick Google search on “couples and clutter” and dozens of articles and statistics come up. You’re not alone if you’re feeling frustrated.

What to do when your styles and thresholds for clutter don’t match up?

Relationship researcher and expert John Gottman identified 4 key behaviors that undermine relationships and are barriers to communication: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. Each has an antidote. In our next 4 posts we are going to illustrate how each one can show up when navigating clutter between couples. First up…Criticism.

Expressing a legitimate complaint is different than launching into a criticism. Criticism uses blame which can backfire and hinder communication. Talk about your feelings using I statements and then express a positive need. What do you feel? What do you need?

The antidote to criticizing is to state your complaint in a gentler way. A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, while a criticism attacks the character of the person. The antidote for criticism is to complain without blame.

Example: Messy Bedroom

Criticism: You never put your clothes away. Why are you so lazy and messy?

Complaint: The laundry on floor is making it hard for me to move through room. You said you would put them away today – what happened?

Example: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Criticism: Who told you you could move my stuff without asking me? You’re such a neat-freak!

Complaint: I’m having trouble finding things after you clean up. I was late today because I couldn’t find my work bag. I want to be part of the process for deciding where my things live. Can we choose a dedicated spot for my things?

Example: Paper Issues

Criticism: PG&E is going to shut off our electricity! Are you so busy that you don’t have time to take care of this simple task?

Complaint: We just got a late notice from PG&E. You are in charge of the bills and this isn’t the first time they didn’t get paid. Can we talk about how to resolve this?

Relationship conflict is natural and has functional, positive aspects. Successful couples learn how to manage and live with differences by honoring and respecting each other.

Our next post is about Conquering Contempt.

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Filed under Bedroom, Decluttering, General Organizing, Office, Perspective, Strategies