Consumed with Tidying

It is the middle of winter, short frigid days and long dark nights. I find myself lighting the candles, wrapping myself in a blanket, and increasing my television consumption. I know, I know, not the most effective or efficient use of my time but I’m a TV junkie. Luckily, I have been able to combine my love of TV with organizing by binge watching organizing programs on Netflix. If you have access to Netflix and you’ve ever wondered what an organizer does, and what they can offer you, then watch a few episodes of “Consumed” and “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo”.

Now there is one caveat I have to my previous statement. These are televisions shows after all and television is made to be sensational, to draw you in, which is why we love to binge watch. The shows are just a glimpse inside a person’s private life (their home) and the chaos created through overconsumption. As an organizer I can see beyond the sensation and read into, for as much as the program allows, what is really going on in the lives of these people. Sometimes I want to reach through the screen and offer my assistance. That interest and excitement reminds me why I love helping others find a better quality of life through organizing and decluttering.   

Whether you’ve watched the programs or not I thought I’d share a little of my insight into what makes the program work and what may be lacking.

Consumed: With a firm but caring hand, organizational expert Jill Pollack helps overwhelmed families declutter their homes and their lives. (Netflix) Jill’s method has each family pack-up all their belongings, store them off-site and live with only the essentials for two weeks. After two weeks, the families are reunited with their belongings and asked to get rid of 70% of their possessions.

What I love:

  • Everything passes through their hands so they must connect with each object and determine if it stays or goes.
  • The method takes people out of their comfort zone and demonstrates the arc of emotions people have during the process: overwhelm, hesitation, acceptance and finally freedom from their possessions.
  • Each episode shows how our excess possessions are just a manifestation of an underlying problem. The possessions aren’t the problem in and of themselves, but by reducing the amount of possessions we own we have more time and energy to focus on finding the energy and happiness we seek.  
  • Nearly every family lets go of 70% of their possessions, and when Jill revisits them after three months most are continuing to let go and implementing or maintaining more quality time together.

What is missing:

  • It is an intense method that isn’t affordable or practical for everyone.
  • There are a few episodes that show people with serve issues, such as hoarding, and would require the added expertise of psychologists or therapists, along with that of an organizer. These issues are not addressed.
  • The organizing solutions shared come in the form of a handy-man, who repurposes some of their furniture; they don’t provide you with low cost/no cost solutions you can implement yourself.

Tidying Up with Marie Kondo: In a series of inspiring home make-overs, world-renowned tidying expert Marie Kondo helps clients clear out the clutter – and choose joy. (Netflix) Marie Kondo helps her clients tidy by implementing her method of folding and storing items, through the process clients reduce their number of possessions.

What I love:

  • Marie makes it clear to her clients that she doesn’t possess magic, but you can find that illusive magic within yourself. The magic isn’t, like the wave of a wand, the transformation of the home, it is the transformation within, showing how you feel lighter and happier, have joy, because you have less stuff and more time to do what you love.
  • Peppered throughout each episode are Marie’s methods for folding and storing items. It is a practical DIY guide on how to implement her method without the assistance of an organizer. For those who have read her book these will be recognizable.
  • Each episode represents nearly every type of client an organizer could potentially work with, from new parents, to empty-nesters, young 20-somethings to retirees, and those blending homes together, dealing with the personal effects of a loved one lost or preparing for a new phase in life.   

What is missing:

  • Marie’s style is very practical and deals with surface level emotions; the show glosses over those struggling and doesn’t show Marie supporting or guiding those needing more emotional support during the “tidying”, i.e. letting go process.  
  • Her method focuses on tidying, and that is her strength, but you never tidy what you don’t need to keep. The simple question of does it “spark joy” was sometimes too simple for individuals who found “joy” in everything and weren’t prepared for decluttering.
  • How people found their joy. While people were open to the process many struggled with the method and the idea of letting go, and then it would jump to the end and they would be happy and relieved. You missed how they made the transition.

In both programs there were two things the organizers made clear, you must know why you want to organize your home and that you, not the organizer, need to do the heavy lifting. There is a common misconception that an organizer will come in to your home and clear the clutter for you. Your possessions are yours and the attachment you have is personal, which means the decision to keep or let go is determined by you, not the organizer. The organizer is there to coach you through the process, when you get stuck, to keep you on track, and to offer advice and solutions on how best to store and maintain items.

In nearly every episode of both programs I was able to relate to the person’s experience whether it be like my own, or someone I know, or that of a client I have worked with. It helps being an American and seeing it through that lens. Many will be put off by the fact that Americans have TOO MUCH STUFF, in excessively large homes that may not be relatable across other cultures. If you don’t see yourself in the people on the screen, that’s ok, but know that many of us are struggling to manage the influx of stuff in balance with the joy we want out of life. If you yourself, or someone you know, is facing this struggle, enlist the help of an organizer and get consumed with joy.

Get Your Digital Clutter Sorted

I am all too familiar with digital clutter. While I have a neatly organized storage box, with clearly labeled and sorted storage bags for cables, accessories, chargers, and manuals — once out of sight it is out of mind. Just last week while retrieving an extra power cord from the storage box I discovered some extraneous clutter. How did we end up with so many extra sets of headphones? Those quickly found themselves in the bin. A TomTom, remember those? Google Maps and our car navigation kit suit me just fine. And an old Nokia smartphone; how long ago was that upgraded to an iPhone? Both ended up in the hands of extended family members within days.

My own experience shows none of us are immune to digital clutter. Minimizing the clutter frees up space, opens the opportunity for better upgrades to new devices, and reduces the amount of time you waste on moving, storing or sorting through your digital possessions.

Here is a list of digital items to consider decluttering & recycling:

  • DVDs & CDs: Like a good book collection, those of us who came of age before the advent of Spotify, iTunes, Netflix and other Cloud video and music services, have garnered an extensive collection of DVDs & CDs. If you haven’t watched/listen to your collection or don’t even have a player that works for them it’s time for them to go. Not ready to let go? Discard the covers and store the discs in a case.
  • VHS tapes: does it need to be said? Definitely, time to dispose of them.
  • Computer manuals and CD-ROMS: If you no longer own the device or the software has a newer version, toss it. Nearly every manual or software update is available online.
  • Cables: Keep unique power cables for charging your devices, but if you have 10 versions of a universal cable maybe at least 8 of them need to go.
  • Keyboards, Monitors, Mouse: Apart from monitors, computer periphery is relatively inexpensive to replace. Invest in a good set that you actively use and dispose of the rest.
  • Digital Cameras/Video Cameras: Most likely you use your smartphone to capture photos and record videos. Is it time to let go of the one-use device?
  • Thumb Drives: Nearly everything can be stored and accessed from the Cloud. And with the size of images and documents that old 1GB (or smaller) thumb drive is useless and outdated.
  • External Hard Drives: Like thumb drives, old external hard drives don’t have the capacity to store all our photos/documents/videos anymore. Consider upgrading and migrating your files to an NAS of minimum 1TB (Networked Accessed Storage).
  • GPS Devices: Do you use an app like Google Maps or have an integrated navigation system built-in your car? Old GPS devices are outdated, requiring constant updates.
  • Old Mobile Phones. If you have no one you can pass it on to, recycle it. Or see if you can get some money for it through a buy-back company. Holding on to a collection of phone covers? One phone, one cover is enough.
  • Health tracking devices: From watches to smart bands there is a myriad of accessories that sync & connect to our other devices. Have you bought an upgrade or received a replacement version? Pass on working models to friends or families and recycle the ones that are broken.
  • MP3 Players: Once the must-have of portable music players, with music streaming services or player apps on our smartphone your old MP3 player is heading for the recycling bin.
  • Headsets: Your current headset and a back-up are sufficient; anything else should be tossed.

Of special note, I must comment on the storage of the packaging your devices came in. I’ve heard lots of excuses from clients justifying holding onto the pretty box.

  • The product is more valuable with the packaging (resale value); what is the likelihood you will resell the item?
  • If it breaks and I need to ship it back or return it to the store; if it is under warranty the company will take it back in any packaging.
  • If we ever move the box will protect it and be convenient; when is your next move planned? How did you move your digital stuff in the past?
  • It is pretty, it seems a waste to throw it away; either find a new use for the box or set a date (1 month, 6 months) for when you will recycle the packaging.

Is your digital clutter more than you can manage? Do you need assistance determining how best to sort & store your digital belongings? sorted.by Melissa can help. Email or call for a Free Consultation. 

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Professional Organizers Are Just Like You & Me

For the last year the corner on an upper-floor of our home has become a dumping ground. Before it was a usable space; my personal work and storage space, a desk with paperwork, my husband’s record collection, house administration and mementos. Last October when we re-configured and upgraded an area of our living room to include a new work space for myself, storage units and an entertainment system, the renovation resulted in moving “temporarily” all audio and video equipment, CDs and videos upstairs.  Our intention was to re-home it all after the renovation.

Well, a year on and that hasn’t happened. We were conscious of what we added to the new storage units, what I moved into my downstairs work space. We didn’t want to clutter the space we just spent months designing. So there stood everything upstairs, collecting dust, being neglected. And as the months rolled by items that had no home or were part of another project began to pile up. I walked by this space every time I went upstairs. It irritated me that the rest of our home was neat and tidy, yet if I wanted to use the printer it required careful footing and a balancing act ensuring the piles didn’t tumble. It was a growing irritation that appeared to only affect me, my husband appeared to be clutter-blind to the situation.

It has been a year since the renovation and I’ve had enough. To me, this is a useless, waste of space, cluttered with useless, outdated items. I had to take action.

The take away:

  • It takes a vision/purpose to motivate for the what the space should be used for. Just tidying alone will not keep it tidy. If it is considered a dumping ground then it will remain a dumping ground, no matter how tidy the piles are. So I re-imagined the space as a music corner for my husband. He has a large record collection and a stereo system silently collecting dust. He also has no individual space for himself in the home.
  • It takes time. Over two afternoons I moved and rearranged furniture, configured the new music station, sorted through piles of paperwork (so much went into the recycling bin), and re-homed several items. In total, I spent more than six hours re-organizing. Limit the time you commit to your organizing project to save energy and avoid decision fatigue. Start with 30-minute intervals and build from there.
  • You will have to make lots of decisions rapidly. And it will be exhausting, that is decision fatigue. It hasn’t been used in a year, should I keep it? Will we use this? Do we love it? How many art projects of my children should I keep? Do I like all these photographs?
  • You will get distracted. As you sort you will discover a myriad of projects to complete. I found piles of photographs and albums, my children’s art projects, computer cables and accessories, furniture parts and manuals.  Don’t fall into the trap and be distracted by completing these projects, no matter how small or how quick you might think they will take to complete.
  • You can’t throw away possessions that aren’t yours. We own a large CD collection, on top of the records, and I wanted to downsize the storage. We’ve gone digital, but we are not yet ready to let go of our collection. Despite saving the CD along with the inner sleeve my husband was rather disappointed when I trashed the jewel cases of his CDs. I saw less storage space; he saw a less valuable collection for his rarer CDs.
  • You will find outdated appliances or materials. I found a Walkman CD player and a tape collection. My smartphone plays my digital music and tapes went out of vogue in the 1990s. Technology changes rapidly, but our willingness to let go over our investments is much harder. What is the current value of holding on to these items?
  • There will be a (large) pile that needs to go to the charity shop and recycling center. Schedule this in your agenda and action it ASAP. The point of the organization project was to get rid of the piles. Leaving this too long will lead to the broken window syndrome, the piles will attract new piles. You will end up back to where you started, losing the time and space you gained.
  • Everything needs to find a home. Re-home every item in the current space you are re-organizing or somewhere else in your home. If it you can’t, then most likely it needs to leave the home.

When you look around your home do you see unfinished projects?  What you need is the help of a professional organizer, a person who can:

  • help you see the big picture
  • clear your space of clutter and unnecessary distractions
  • focus on the right priorities for your family and home
  • find more effective organizing solutions

If you are struggling to decide where to start, sorted.by Melissa, a professional organizer, can help. Whether it be addressing clutter, storage inefficiencies or preparing for a move or renovation, sorted.by Melissa will work with you to find the solutions that work best for you and your home so that you can move forward.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

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It’s officially autumn and summer is now as far away as it will ever be. What’s left are the memories of those sunny days embodied in hundreds, if not thousands of digital snapshots. As time marches quickly forward, how often will you sit down to look at these memories of summers past, of smiling faces, ice creams, and sandy beaches? We all have great intentions for our summer snaps, but as the concerns of work and school routines take over it’s all too easy to allow them to collect digital dust, while still taking up valuable space on our mobiles or computers.

Before you do anything with your digital photos I recommend performing a back-up:

  1. Copy photo files from your mobile or digital camera and store them in the cloud and on an external hard-drive.
  2. Consider paying for a small yearly fee for a service such as SmugMug, which offers privacy, “Fort Knox-level” security and back-up (and a host of other services).
  3. Remove photos from your mobile to create more storage space.
  4. Delete duplicates and unflattering photos; be critical and spend a few minutes reducing the selection to favorites worthy of long-term storage.

Here are a few options to highlight your favorite snapshots, whether you have two minutes or two hours:

    • Select your favorite summer photo and set this as your mobile home screen or desktop screen image.
    • Place all your summer photos in a folder on your computer. Set this as a rolling photo album on your screen saver.
    • Do you have one photo that captures the entire summer? Print your photo and buy a frame related to your holiday to honor your favorite holiday moment.
    • Create wall art by selecting one or many of your favorites. Upload them to IXXIDesign. Within days you will receive a kit of your printed photos with adhesive strips to affix to your walls.
    • Have magnets made of your favorite summer photos. Hema offers a service to print nine or 12 photos on magnets for an extremely affordable price. Every time you open the refrigerator you can fondly reflect on your summer.
    • Create a birthday or 2017 calendar. Select 12 of the best photos to upload and have printed by Pixum.
    • Print a photo book from Facebook or Instagram. Use My Social Book to connect to your Facebook or Instagram account and with a few clicks, you have ordered your favorite shared photos to be printed in a keepsake book.
    • Make a keepsake box. Go old school and purchase a decorative box; print your favorite photos and add mementos from your summer holiday to the box. You can relive the summer when you rifle through your keepsake box.

Drowning in a sea of disorganized digital files?  Contact me and together we can get you sorted.

Our Love Affair with Bags

wordle_bags2We all love bags but, here at the dawn of 2016, I think it’s safe to say most of us love them a little too much. How did all these bags get into our lives? Well, there are two main ways: either because we bought them for something, or we bought something that we put in them. The first category of bags, well, those are our silent workhorses. We need them to tote our laptops to work, to cart our rain gear and gym clothes, or to haul bottles, diapers and snacks for our offspring. If you have a school-aged child, she needs a knapsack too, and, eventually, a gym bag. Oh, and does your child do any extra-curricular sports? Then you will need a swim bag, ballet bag, judo bag, or fill-in-the-blank bag to contain all that equipment and keep it ready-to-go. Active lifestyles need bags, and that’s okay. But so often we fail to get rid of bags that have outlived their use and so our collection grows, and one day you open a closet to find bags spilling out, many of which you may not have used in years. Believe me, it is now time to donate or throw away that over-used handbag, or that backpack covered in characters your kid stopped liking long ago. Go ahead, you have my permission–just do it!

Culling your “purpose bag” collection will certainly feel great and free up some space, but there’s a far sneakier category of bag invader on the loose. Walk into any home and you will find shopping bags stuffed in closets, hidden in drawers, hanging on coat racks and nestled on chairs. We have plastic bags that hold more plastic bags. We use bags to sort out our possessions, often with the intention to recycle, donate or complete as a future project. Broken bits to fix/glue? You put it in a bag. Leftover assembly parts? You put it in a bag. Loose cables and cords? You put it in a bag. Screws, nails, tacks, tape? You put it in a bag. Don’t know where it should go, but I “need” to hold on to it? You put it in a bag.

How many of these bags do you think you own? Take a guess. I am going to bet that number is actually double, perhaps even triple what you might think. How do I know? Well, as a professional organizer, I get to peek into how people live, and nearly every client I have met has more bags than he thought, and certainly many more than he needs! In 2010 there were 98.6 billion plastic carrier bags placed on the EU market; nearly 90% were for single-use. That means that every EU citizen was in possession of around 198 plastic carrier bags in 2010 (source: IamExpat), and most of us can’t help hanging on to them. We are so good at stuffing them out of sight that soon they are out of mind and so our collection grows.  But now is the perfect time to break free of our “bag habit.” Dutch legislation that went into effect on 1 January 2016 means businesses will no longer offer these bags free of charge to consumers, presenting us all with an opportunity to be more mindful about letting these bags into our homes.
So what to do about all those bags?
  • Just say no to plastic carrier bags and don’t pay for them. What a waste environmentally and an unnecessary drain on your finances. Instead, reuse all the bags you currently own, decreasing rather than increasing your collection. Put one or more in your work bag, your handbag, your bike bag and your car. Have them available in places where you are going to need them for essential purchases. If you’re really drowning in plastic bags then use them as trash liners for your small bathroom wastebaskets until you run out. Above all, when a plastic bag can’t be used again . . . recycle it!
  • Carry along a tote or fold-able bag for personal purchases. Lucky enough to have a day out shopping for a new outfit? Will that new blouse or jeans, that bottle of perfume or lipstick fit in your hand bag? Say no thank you to the cashier, and take your new purchase as is, using a tote or fold-able bag brought from home, or try to combine multiple purchases into one shopping bag.  If you like to bring your purchases home and ‘unwrap’ them”, ask yourself why you are experiencing that feeling. Was the ‘gift to yourself’ more important than the purchase? Are you purchasing to fulfill another need?
  • Use large shopping bags or carriers for donations and/or recycle them. Sometimes we make a large purchase such as new pillows or boots that simply won’t fit into a tote. The store offers us a large, sturdy paper bag with rope or fabric handles which we gladly accept to make the transport from store to home easier. Don’t become attached to the bag!  Either recycle it immediately, collect your recyclables in it, or de-clutter a closet and fill it with your donations.  Then drop it off and walk away.
  • Don’t go tote-ally crazy. How many of us have been to a conference, workshop or other event where you have been given a canvas “goody bag”? Canvas bags and totes are a popular and practical souvenir for any event; they offer great advertising for the provider and are convenient for carrying around event swag. Next time you hit an event, though, bring your own tote, and if another bag is offered, ask yourself if you like it enough to re-use it after the event? If a new tote makes it home with you, either start using it right away (and think about getting rid of an older one) or donate it.
Now-back to all those loose bits and pieces and unfinished projects:  I give you permission to throw them away! If you really needed it you would have fixed it by now. Say good-bye to all that excess baggage in 2016 and start fresh!