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 To me, this is a useless, waste of space, cluttered with useless, outdated items.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.

Paperwork Getting You Down?

night-office-shirt-mail

Deciding what to keep, what to toss, and how to digitize.

I recently spent an entire afternoon organizing and filing paperwork. Those are lost hours I will never get back! Once the job was done I committed myself again to keeping up to date with my filing, and put in place a number of systems that should make it easier for me to keep my commitment. Years ago we were promised that the world would become paperless. More than a decade on, many companies are beginning to see the financial benefits of going digital with their communication, invoicing and reporting.  So much so that many (though not all) of the services I use now provide me with a login to access my digital paperwork on the company’s system.

But living half-way between a paper and paperless environment raises questions about what financial and other personal documentation still needs to be kept, and for how long.  Below I have outlined the recommendations for retention of various documents (according to Dutch regulations) along with some strategies to manage the “paperwork”, whether it arrives in your real-life or digital mailbox.

What to Keep

Last Statements

  • Monthly utility statements for Gas, Water, Electricity.
  • Monthly statements for TV, Internet, Phone, Mobile.

One Year

  • Salary statements, until you have your annual statement, then dispose of the monthly specifications.
  • Yearly statements for Gas, Water, Electricity.

Two Years

  • Rental contracts.
  • Mobile phone contracts.
  • Health insurance policy (renewed yearly) and related reimbursement declarations.
  • Local tax authority charges and statements.

Five Years

  • Annual salary statement.
  • Bank statements.
  • Tax submissions.

Indefinitely, upon renewal or termination

  • Pension statements.
  • Mortgage documents .
  • Title to your automobile.
  • Notarial documents (marriage or divorce contracts, birth records, wills, etc.).
  • Passports, visas and travel or residency permits/documentation.
  • Employment contract/s.   
  • Insurance Policies (exclusive health insurance)

What Can Go

  • If it doesn’t meet the criteria above, it’s time for it to go!
  • De-clutter as you file. Recycle envelopes, fliers, and manuals (anything void of personal information) and toss or shred/recycle paid invoices.

Go Digital

  • Check with all your service providers, local council and bank to determine if you can receive invoices, statements and/or communication via email. You will be provided with a personal login to access your documents.
  • Set up automatic payments via your bank or service providers. This will reduce those monthly reminders via post.
  • Scan your documents and save in an “Important Documents” Folder in the cloud. Vital documents such as passports are convenient to have scanned and saved, both for security in case of loss or theft, and to save time when you need to provide them for a new job, mortgage, etc. Bank or salary statements can be saved digitally and the paper versions recycled.
    • As an alternative to Dropbox or Google docs try the Docady app, a secure and safe application to store and organize your important documents.
  • If you live in the Netherlands sign-up with Mijn Overheid, a nationwide digital messaging service used by nearly all townships and government institutions. It will notify you when your driver’s license expires, when the tax office has made a new childcare supplement calculation, or your township has determined your latest home-tax valuation. You will be required to login with a DigiD.

Mindfulness, Minimalism & Marie Kondo

dandelion

In 2015 I experienced a significant mind-shift in the midst of recovering from some major burnout.

Flashback to 2014:  I was going through life’s motions, wanting to but not able to find my true “purpose”, struggling to keep up with our family routines and feeling busy and overwhelmed by day-to-day tasks and responsibilities.

My experience is not singular.  We have all experienced the kind of major life change (children, separations, moves, illnesses and career promotions, to name just a few) which throws our sense of organization, structure and well-being into question. At the very moment I was experiencing just such a shift, I encountered Mindfulness, Minimalism and Marie Kondo, three pillars that ultimately, after months spent first healing my physical self, brought me a renewed sense of myself, my abilities, my purpose and lead me to a more focused and organized way of living.

The Cluttered Mind – Mindfulness

Mindfulness is living in the here and now, without judgment, from moment to moment. I was first introduced to the concept of Mindfulness through an ex-colleague who had taken a course introducing its concepts and methods. At that time I was overwhelmed by the seemingly endless to-do lists and responsibilities of work and family, so much so that I was unable to enjoy the big or little moments that I knew were supposed to be “fun” or “relaxing”. All I could see was a series of tasks stretching out in front of me, endlessly and joylessly. My colleague wisely thought a course like the one she had taken might be just the thing to help me out of this funk.

Mindfulness has been practiced for centuries by Buddhists and was brought to the West in the nineteen-seventies by Jon Zabat-Zin, who developed its principals into a program called MBSR to assist individuals suffering from acute illnesses. Over the last few decades, it has been further adapted into a skill-set that can be learned to help practitioners cope with depression, stress or addiction.

In early 2015, I finally attended an eight-week Mindfulness training course. It was then I realized for how long I had been suffering from the effects of untreated stress and depression, largely because I had set the bar too high for my own personal achievements. I was trying too hard to do and have it all. The course taught me how to be less judgmental of myself, practice patience, accept my reality and let go of what I cannot control.

We never seem to have enough time in the day, we run from place to place and shift from task to task, all the time hoping for a miracle cure to our time management crisis. I have learned there is no one organization app that will solve your problems or a cure-all time management style that will release you from your commitments. Instead, Mindfulness is a way to pause, feel the discomfort or pleasure of a moment, slow down the thought process and focus more clearly on what you want to achieve out of your life.

Not sure if you are ready just yet to try Mindfulness? I recommend any of the following by way of introduction:

  • Headspace:  an app that will teach and lead you through meditation; made for our busy lives, it can easily be slotted into your work commute, lunch break or before bed each day.
  • Coloring Books for Adults:  these have become all the rage and for good reason. Take a coloring break with your child and discover how the mind automatically quiets, you won’t be able to think of to-do lists when focused on coloring between the lines.
  • Running: need something more active?  Just 30 minutes of running can give your mind rest, spark creativity (and endorphins) and reduce the blues.

The Cluttered Life – Minimalism

At the mention of “minimalism” most people automatically picture a stark white room with a singular chair, perhaps a lamp, all of a Scandinavian design, of course. These days, though, minimalism isn’t necessarily about living sparsely but rather living life more intentionally. In our modern lives we are searching for more purpose, redefining what success is and, ultimately, what it means to be happy.  There is no standard set of rules or guidelines that you must follow to be a true minimalist; it is a lifestyle choice for you to define in whatever way works for you, by minimizing the excesses that distract you from achieving contentment.

I have always considered myself a thoughtful selector of the items I choose to bring into my home. Having moved a multitude of times over the course of my life I realized early on I had no desire to pack, carry and unpack a large household with many extraneous items. When I discovered the minimalist lifestyle I finally had a word for they way in which I already aspired to live, and as I dove deeper into the idea of Minimalism I realized how I could apply the same concepts of de-cluttering my home to all areas of my life. I now free up resources and streamline my lifestyle to live a more intentional and productive life. In doing so, my relationships with friends and family have never been better, and every day my purpose in life becomes clearer and more defined.

To learn more about Minimalism, I suggest you check out: www.theminimalists.comwww.becomingminimalist.com/ or nosidebar.com/

The Cluttered Home – Marie Kondo

2015 was the year of Marie Kondo. This Japanese organizing and de-cluttering guru captured our attention with her book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing”. For those of you who may not have heard all about her methods by now, Kondo has developed a unique perspective and organizing method called the KonMari method. She recommends that you physically touch every item you own, register your emotion, ask yourself “Does it spark joy?” and if the answer is “yes“, keep it, if it doesn’t, get rid of it, even if you can name a thousand other reasons to keep it. Kondo’s method is black and white, and she argues that applying the method to your own home leaves you surrounded only by the things you love and value most.

As a professional organizer, I read her book early on. At first, I had my reservations:  Kondo is a young, single professional living in Japan, so how could she understand our lifestyle with two busy kids and two working parents? Yet I found that even though my house is streamlined and orderly, I could look at the remaining objects and ask myself, does it spark joy? And, sure enough, several items in my home sparked no joy. Items we collected over the years that at one point in my life were meaningful, even beloved, but now left me flat. We all struggle with the emotional attachment to our belongings, and by using Kondo’s method I was able to finally let go of several items, including a leather jacket I bought in college on a trip to Italy that no longer served me or gave me joy. I still have the memories, but I don’t need the reminder taking up precious space in my wardrobe.

If you would like to learn more about the KonMari method, the first step is to read her book. Also, just this month she released a new step-by-step follow-up book called “Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up.” It is a comprehensive companion to her original book fully illustrating her method of folding and storing clothing and how to de-clutter all the categories of your home.

Better Habits, Better Resolutions

scrabble-resolutionsAsk my husband and he’ll tell you I never drive the same route twice. I argue with the navigation system about alternative (and in my mind faster) routes. My nature is to rebel against the idea of routine, which when driving around locally can become monotonous. The truth is if I would drive the same route repeatedly I could predict how long my journey would take, I wouldn’t have to worry that I might arrive late at my destination or become stressed when road works send me off-course.

Routines, and their subsequent habits, are necessary for our brain to predict our future actions. These repetitive actions allow us to process information faster and maintain low stress levels through their predictability. When we have a daily routine and create healthy habits for ourselves we achieve more without demanding extra energy from our mind and body.

If you have ever admired another for their ability to be organized, ask about their routine. Most often they have implemented a set of habits to their routine that keep them on task and up to date; they empty the dishwasher before breakfast, lay-out their clothing the night before, and sort and action the mail when it arrives. These habits, built into their daily routine, help them stay level-headed, stress free and organized.

This week we celebrate the end of another year and usher in 2016 filled with promise and new possibilities. It is a time of self-reflection, recognition of our achievements and making resolutions for the coming year. Experts will tell you that in order for your resolution to succeed define a realistic habit to your daily routine. Top those habits up with realistic milestones and soon those habits will become second nature. It is easy to say I want to run more in 2016 but you are more likely to succeed if you say I commit to running 30 minutes every Tuesday and Thursday and to sign-up for a 5K run in April.

So what resolution does a professional organizer make for the New Year? What would I like to have better organized? – Our family photos. We have thousands of digital photos from the last ten years, all stored on an external drive, sorted by year and month. Sound organized? Yes, but what good are they doing on a device in a closet never to be accessed, viewed and enjoyed. What is the point of capturing memories in photographs never to be viewed?  I’ve talked about printing photo albums for years, yet the digital photos increase by the day and I haven’t printed a new album in years. Therefore I have made the following commitment to myself for 2016: 1) I will reserve maximum two hours every week to back-up all new photos, delete duplicates and make a selection for printing; and 2) I will commit to creating and printing an annual photo book each month. Since I am about 10 years behind I aim to be caught up by October.

If you have being better organized in 2016 is on your resolution list begin by looking at your routine and habits. Start small, don’t say I am going to organize the whole house, rather commit to tidying for 15 minutes before bed every day. Set a realistic and obtainable goal and share it with someone that can hold you accountable. If you need extra guidance structuring your resolution, Gretchen Rubin the author of the Happiness Project has written a new book on habits, Better Than Before. According to Rubin “when we change our habits we change our lives”. Here are six questions she poses you to ponder when creating your resolutions.

To make it even easier for you I have created a FREE printable calendar for a month of tidying, organizing and de-cluttering. Download, print and make a fresh start in the New Year to be sorted.

Whatever habits you look to change and resolutions you promise to make I wish you health and prosperity in 2016.

Happy New Year!