The Myth of the Drill Sergeant Organizer

Fred has a lot of clutter. It’s getting in his way. A friend notices this, and recommends that he hire a professional organizer. Fred says, with a nervous laugh and semi-mock dismay, “Oh, no! She’ll make me get rid of all my stuff!” Probably due to the tough-love TV organizers and the prevalence of hoarding shows, organizers are seen by many as harsh taskmasters who cart off truckloads of stuff and like to make our clients cry.

That may make for good TV, but it’s not reality. If most professional organizers bullied clients into giving or throwing away their most cherished possessions, they wouldn’t be very successful, because they’d be spending all their money and time in court defending themselves from lawsuits.

No, we organizers can’t make you get rid of your stuff. You own the stuff; the choices are ultimately up to you. But we do have to ask the hard questions: Do you use this? Do you love it? Is its presence in your home helping you or harming you? There are differences to the approach. Some organizers are so gentle, they never even suggest you get rid of anything, and subtly, perhaps Socratically, they guide you to make the decision yourself. Others use a tough love approach. This works for some clients. The popularity of fitness “boot camps” suggests that some people are motivated by getting pushed hard and yelled at. But fortunately, there are enough organizers around for every personality.

For a lot of people, owning lots of stuff – even useless stuff – provides a sense of security. The thought of getting rid of something may provoke a panic: who knows what could happen if you need it later? Even though ultimately the client makes the choices, being nudged in the direction of giving up security can create a feeling of losing control. This is understandable, and this is why an organizer can’t be just a bully. It’s also our role to provide reassurance, perspective, and guidance.

Although I do love a good purge, it’s only one means to help you live a better life in your space, which is the goal of every residential organizer. You should keep the things you own that are meaningful, useful, and make you happy. Our job is to help you figure out what those things are, and help you let go of the rest. No push-ups required.



Thoughts from “It’s Hard to Make a Difference…”

Julia Kholodenko recently shared her thoughts upon reading the book I like to recommend, It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys:

“So far I have learned two key concepts: (1) the limiting factor to the amount of stuff you have is the amount of time that you wish to devote to keeping it organized, and is not simply determined by how much you can store and (2) there is a difference between an organizing habit, such as regularly cleaning up your desk, and an organizing system, such as the filing system in which you put those files which have been piling up on your desk. I think I always assumed that if there was a system, then the habit would be automatic. But I realize that for me, I have to start with habits and think about what habits I am willing to adopt (and often make sure my husband will adopt them too) and then design my systems accordingly.”

She put this so succinctly that I asked for permission to pass it on, so there you are. πŸ™‚

How Many Extras? (not hurricane-related)

When my clients are trying to decide how many extras of things they will need, I ask them to consider a few questions:

–How expensive is the thing? Would the cost to replace it be insignificant or a major outlay?
–How easy is it to obtain the thing? Is it available in stores close by? Would friends have one to lend you? Or do you have to travel a great distance to get one?
–How immediately would you require the thing? Toilet paper is a good example. πŸ™‚
–Does having extras of the thing add to a bad household clutter situation, which will make it more likely that you won’t be able to find the thing anyway and therefore buy more of it, which will add to the clutter, etc.?
–Do you have enough room to store extras of the thing? (Seems like that’s a big part of your decision making process). Limiting it to a certain volume is good.
–Have you historically gone through them frequently (using up, losing outside the home, or breaking) or needed multiples at once? Power strips/extensions are an example of needing several at once.

So You Think You Want to Have a Yard Sale?

If you’re doing it for fun, and to meet your neighbors, then go for it!

But if you expect to make some decent money, think again. Yard sales are very rarely lucrative, in terms of measuring the time invested against the profits gained.

You’d need to go through your stuff and select things to sell, write and post ads online and in newspapers, buy labels, poster board, and markers, go to the bank for change, make and post signs, price items, drag your folding tables out from the basement, arrange everything appealingly, and then staff the thing. When it’s all over, you’d still need to make a trip to Goodwill with everything that’s left.

If you’re a freelancer, the math makes this very quickly a losing proposition. Let’s say all of the above equals about 15 hours of work. If your hourly wage is $15 per hour, then you would have to make $200 at the sale in order for it to be a good use of your time. In my experience, $200 is a very profitable yard sale. Remember, yard sale shoppers expect (and haggle for) extremely low prices, like 25 to 50 cents per book.

Even if you have a job with set hours, is this the way you want to be spending your precious free time?

From my experience, and from what I’ve heard from others, it is almost always a better use of your time to donate the less valuable items. Many charities can come to you to pick them up, and you can even get a tax deduction for their value. If you have anything that’s worth the trouble of selling it, try Ebay, Craigslist, or use an Ebay reseller or antique shop. But try selecting a dollar amount below which you won’t bother. (Mine is $20.)

So I hope now you’re thinking twice about hosting a yard sale. Maybe next time I’ll talk about attending them…

What Do Organizers Do All Day?

A young woman who is interested in possibly becoming an organizer emailed me to ask me what a typical day is like in my career. I told her that full time for an organizer is about 18 hours on the job (usually in 3 to 4 hour sessions for me), and then there’s all the other stuff. So I made a list of what I’m often doing when I’m not at a session (not all in one day!), and it was interesting enough I thought I’d share it with you.

Emailing with clients (reminding them to schedule, working out scheduling details, checking in re. their homework, mentioning any new ideas I have for them, etc.)
Posting on my Facebook pageΒ orΒ WordPress blog
Updating my website (I don’t do this often enough)
Checking my kit, and either replenishing supplies or making a note of which ones to buy
Sorting donations so I can take them to appropriate places (school, library, etc)
Dropping off donations somewhere or scheduling a donation pickup
Doing free phone consultations with potential clients
Checking for any new reviews of my business on Yelp and Angie’s List
Checking my client spreadsheet to remind myself where I left things with whom, and whether I need to follow up with anyone
Going to NAPO meetings, taking NAPO teleclasses, exchanging ideas with others on the NAPO email list
Reading books and websites to learn more about organizing and related subjects
Organizing my own stuff, which is good practice and fun anyway
Looking up information for clients (recycling guidelines, places to donate things, closet installers, etc. etc.)
Promoting any events I may be doing
Preparing for events (usually speaking engagements, but sometimes it’s a booth at a fair and all the setup for that)
Just mulling over client issues/needs/concerns in my head at any old time (often while I’m in the shower or just falling asleep)
Contacting/looking for people who can help my clients get things done (handyman, housecleaner, laundry service, personal assistants)
Shredding small amounts of paper for clients without shredders
Mentioning to anyone I encounter at the drop of a hat that I’m a professional organizer
Depositing checks from clients at the bank
Going to an office supply store, Ikea, The Container Store, etc., looking over stuff to see if any clients can use any of it, and just to see if anything new/exciting has come in
Doing my own paperwork, including financial recordkeeping and paying estimated taxes
Watching shows like Hoarders to learn more about clients (not just hoarding clients) and organizing and therapeutic techniques
Brainstorming for new ideas to promote my business
Organizing/editing before-and-after photos, both for clients’ encouragement and also posting online (with permission)
Photographing weird objects for my “Weird Things I Found While Organizing” blog

That’s everything I could come up with in about 20 minutes… there’s probably more I forgot. But there you go.


My client today was distraught. She has been saving paperwork for decades that she realizes now she never needed to keep. For a few weeks now, she has been very harsh with herself while we have done our weeding. No matter how much I tell her that her problem is a very common one, she’s not even one of the worse cases I’ve seen, and that she should give herself a break, she keeps berating herself for hanging on to all these things. I have been trying to impress upon her that the only reason the papers have built up so much is that she went years without ever looking at them, and she doesn’t need to ever let that happen again. But all she can focus on is how “stupid and pathetic” she has been for keeping them all this time.

I came home from our session today, and I thought about how I’d spend the rest of the afternoon and evening. I remembered that I’d been meaning to do some gardening for a couple of days, but other things kept intervening. Now, as I got out of my car, I thought, “But I’d need to change out of my work clothes into my gardening clothes, and I really need to use the weed whacker but I’ve never done it before, and it looks like it might rain….” Then, probably with my client still on my mind, I realized that I didn’t need to do it all, I just needed to do some. I could always wash my clothes if they got dirty. And it couldn’t hurt to just get out the weed whacker and see how hard it was to use.

I spent about an hour out there, whacking (super easy and fun), weeding, transplanting, and watering. As I dug the dandelions, plantain, and other interlopers out of my lawn, I felt bad about how many weeds there were.* Did I do an inadequate job last spring and summer? Did I wait too long this year to get at them? I wondered if they would reseed and multiply faster than I could pull them out. I pulled out a small bucket’s worth and dumped them into the lawn waste bag. It was hard to stop, seeing how much more work had to be done, but it had to be enough. I had other things to do. I could do more tomorrow, weather permitting.

I don’t think I need to say anything more. Time to change out of my dirty clothes. πŸ™‚

*Yeah, I live with other people, but no one else weeds the lawn. Either they don’t care much, or they assume I’ll do it.

Give Your Stuff Away Day & Free Organizing for Medford Residents

Hey everyone. I want to tell you about Give Your Stuff Away Day, a nationwide event for people to give stuff and get stuff, with no money changing hands. On Saturday, May 14, put good usable items you no longer want or need on your porch, steps, or curb. Then take a walk and go “shopping” for new things! (Please, for me, try to give more than you take!)

That same day also happens to be the National Association of Letter Carriers’ yearly food donation drive, which is fine, since GYSAD isn’t meant to include food. Just make sure you label things accordingly, and no taking food from other people’s porches!

I’ve created a Facebook event page for this. Please sign up there and tell your Facebook friends.


In honor of this event, I’m having a special contest just for Medford residents: Email me a list or photo of ten items that you have given away in the time between now and May 15. Your method isn’t important – give them to friends, donate them to Goodwill, use Freecycle, put them out for Give Your Stuff Away Day, whatever. But they have to be items worthy of donation, and you may not get paid for them. (A tax deduction is fine.) Also, cheating is wrong, mmkay?

If you’re not a client of mine yet, you will be entered into a drawing to win a free two-hour organizing session (value $120).

If you’re a past or current client, you will be entered into a drawing to win one free hour of organizing to be applied to your next session (value $60).

I have very few clients in Medford, so your odds will be excellent!

Holy cow, it’s been a long time.

I’m so sorry I’ve let this LJ languish! I’ve been spending a lot more time on Facebook. So make sure you “like” Find Your Floor over there. But I will try to post here more often, as well.

Some new developments:

I’ve started a blog called Weird Stuff I Have Found While Organizing. (Everything is posted with the client’s enthusiastic permission.)

I’ve been interviewed by my British friend Penelope.

I was in the “Housekeeping For Nerds” Panel at Arisia.

I’m going to be speaking at the Arlington Senior Center at 1:30 PM on Thursday, February 10, about organizing for seniors! The 30-45 min. talk is free and open to the public. The Senior Center is at 27 Maple St. (behind Town Hall), and their number is 781-316-3421.