09 March 2011

Making Your Home an Oasis - Frenzied Female Conference "Embrace the Fabulous You"

These is a transcript from a speech I gave at the Frenzied Female Conference "Embrace the Fabulous You" on February 18th, 2011.


I’ve been thinking a lot about this conference since I first spoke to Sherri last year.  The thing I hate is the beginning of a speech.  I could talk all day about organizing, but what are the most important things you need to know today – to stop feeling frenzied and to make your home an oasis?

I think we better start today at the same place all of my organizing project start – with the question “Where do I begin???”

This is how it works, I’m sitting at my desk returning emails and calls, or I check my voice mail after a session with a client.  So, I get someone on the phone (usually a woman, because truly men seem to be able to function longer in chaos than we can.  That’s not a judgment, just a professional observation.) “Hello!  I have this big organizing dilemma and it’s too much for one human to handle and I don’t know what to do anymore and it’s even making the cat crazy… And I don’t know where to start!”

If that is you on the phone, first I will give you the pep talk that we all need.  You are a successful woman.  You get things done.  Before I go on, I want you to seriously think about what you accomplish.  You have strengths, your superpowers – maybe you are an artist, maybe you are a great people person, maybe you can do outrageous math in your head and save the day.  What do you do that is soooo you?  So let’s get this mess into perspective, it’s just one little thing that isn’t your strong suit.  And it is always ok to ask for help.

Next step is me.  Organizing is my superpower; which means not only do I declutter for a living, but I was also born with a knack for seeing how things could be easier.  I would seriously rearrange products at the grocery store so they lined up… but being a professional organizer is not about making my life easier, it’s about what is best for you, for your space, and for your routine.

So now we are back to you.  No more beating yourself up, you have admitted that there is a problem and found help to solve it.  Now we tackle that big question “Where do we start?”  We, because you and me are in this together now…

Since I’m not talking to you individually right now, I need you to think for a minute about what space bothers you the most.  Is it at work, in your office?  At home, in your home office?  The garage, the kids room, your closet?  The trunk of your car?  Your purse?

If you still can’t decide, think of the one space in your life you hope people never see or know about.  The place that, when you close the door, you hope you never have to open it again.  

Whatever place you are imagining... that closet you hope no one will ever open because you aren't sure it will shut again, that filing cabinet that has eaten more paper than you know where came from, that junk drawer that became a junk room... that’s where we are going to start.  Think about it logically, this is your monster under the bed, the thing that scares you the most.  If you can tackle it successfully, all your other organizing projects will be a snap!  (Remember Monica's secret closet on Friends... )

Now we need to talk about timing.  I get a lot of extreme statements “the whole house is a wreck” “my whole life is out of control” “everything is a mess”.  That means we need to break that huge beast of a project into manageable tasks.  Like one shelf at a time, one drawer of files, or attacking just the top of the desk.  This is a special limit. If you aren’t sure where in the room to begin, just walk in, turn left, and attack the first thing you come to.  Then work clockwise.

If you can’t see a clear stopping and starting point, let’s set a time limit.  Work on one dedicated area for 15, 20, 30 minutes.  That’s another good way to stay productive and focused on a smaller picture.

And since we are talking about time, according to the book Natural Superwoman, our natural biorhythms mean that we are at our most focused at 10 am.  Which means that right now you are getting very sleepy and I better keep this talk exciting!  But the point I am making is, if it’s possible, work at your peak time for productivity.  Use the time when you feel most like a superhero to attack this monster of a mess.

That's enough generalities on how to attack any project, now let's talk about your specific mess.  Again, let’s go back to my typical day.  After all those pleasantries and plans, this is the next thing I usually hear “ummm, I think we better start with the paperwork.”

I saw some file folders yesterday at the office supply store that had large labels on them such as “last stop before the trash” and “never to be seen again”.  According to statistics provided by the National Association of Professional Organizers, approximately 80% of what we file is never looked at again. Peter Walsh, Oprah’s organizing guru, wrote a great book called It’s All Too Much.  He says that we show that we cherish things by how we store and display them.  The way people hang onto paper, with this terrible burden of filing cabinet after filing cabinet, really shows how scared of paper our electronic society really is.

It’s important to understand the difference between paper that must be kept – the paper that should live in your file drawer (I have a mock system here in the portable box – medical documents, retirement information, education & professional documentation.  These are things that don’t expire and may need to be called on.)

The other type of paper will eventually expire in usefulness (utility bills, credit card statements, etc.)– this is the paper that can be archived & then destroyed after 7 years.   Things the IRS may ask you about for now, but can’t after a few years.  And if the IRS doesn't want it anymore, why should you?  

The key with papers you are still not sure of – What are the repercussions if you get rid of them?  My biggest tip, and something I do right away with all the people I work with, is to unsubscribe from junk mail.

Let’s talk about the rest of the house now – think about where you want to do things (wrapping presents & sending cards), and where you actually do them right now (on the coffee table).  You have to analyze your & your family's routines and see what makes more sense, is it more reasonable to move your space around to create a wrapping station or does it seem better to create a home to store cards and tape and things near the coffee table so you don’t have to change your routine.  It’s just an example (I could have said dealing with the mail, but even I get sick of talking about paper all the time).  And there is no wrong answer.  I have set up whole rooms dedicated to gift giving and letter writing, and I have also arranged a drawer in the living room to accommodate personal whims.

Now, how do you store things?  If it’s going to be out of sight, I am a big fan of clear plastic storage containers.  Clear is good because even when things are clearly labeled, you can still see what is inside and it takes away the fear of what unknown mess may be lurking in that box.  Get all the same type of container for an area, so they will stack and nest most efficiently.  Name badge stickers (without the “Hello! My name is…”) are the perfect size.  Now that we have all the storage tucked neatly away, let's talk about what might still be visible.

In the book ADD-Friendly Ways To Organize Your Life, it addresses a problem called visual clutter.  Visual clutter is differences that our brain picks up on but we may not immediately notice – like if the books on the shelf are in no particular order.  You may not think it bothers you, but subconsciously your brain is aware that the books are in a jumble instead of being grouped by category or size or color.  I have a terrible time with this, because I seem to be hyper-aware of things not in order.  For instance, I can’t sit in my office and work if the desk isn’t completely clear and everything filed or put away.  It doesn’t make my life easy, but it does mean I can spot things that might be bothering you and you don’t even know.  You can practice doing this yourself.  Sit in a chair in your nemesis room and just look.  What bit is the most agitating?  Go fix it!  Keep going until you can sit in that room and feel peaceful and happy.

Now we come to the last question I get on the initial phone call… Do you know what it is?  “What can I buy before you come?”

I know it is more fun to go shopping than to do the actual work, but I always say the same thing – you have more space than you realize, and you probably already have the basic tools that we need at your house.  And this is when you would say “Yes, I knew I wanted to tackle this project so I went and bought a bunch of file folders and a label maker and some containers.”  And I get a little sad, because I would love to shop for this stuff, but everyone already has it!

I am NOT encouraging you to shop before you work on your project, because after you start you will have a much better idea of what you truly need.  But, I do want to show you my top five favorite things:
2 – drawer organizer – no drawer should be a junk drawer!
3 – literature holder – best thing for turning piles into accessible papers
4 -  lazy susan – great for unexpected places like in the fridge and under the sink
5 - label maker – Brother P-touch
Don't forget to call today for your FREE PHONE CONSULTATION, and don't worry -  I HAVE SEEN IT ALL BEFORE!