~ by joel martens
Spring is here and it’s time to move forward with that long-desired project… The challenge for many though is deciding when and where to start. There are so many choices with any home project, but ultimately the dreaded place to start for most is in the cleaning and organization department. Think of it this way, if your palette is filled with clutter and old detritus, how can you successfully see what needs to be changed?
A good friend expressed such frustration when trying to accomplish a change in her home this way, “I have such a difficult time knowing where to start,” she said, “there are so many things to consider and so much stuff to deal with. It’s easier just to ignore it and let it be the way it is.” So ultimately projects never ended up being taken on or completed, because she would be completely overwhelmed by the choices she had to make.
For that reason, one of the things we talked about, was that it was probably time for her to ask for some help from an outside source. Cleaning and disposing of excess is much easier for someone who doesn’t have an emotional attachment to those “things.” I offered to be that person and we worked out a time to meet.
We spent an entire day just clearing out the downstairs closets and storage area—it revealed not just a lot of the physical stuff (15 glue sticks, a shoe box full of pens, enough file folders and supplies to outfit a mid-size office for half a year),but it also revealed a few other more emotional attachments she hadn’t seen before.
I spoke about organizing and the emotional nature of change extensively with Amanda LeBlanc, host from Style Network’s new show The Amandas recently. I said that I thought disorganization was often a symptom of something else happening in a person’s life.
She wholeheartedly agreed and shared a story: “I like to tell of one of my clients with way, way too many clothes, she did not want to part with one single shirt—yet wanted to get organized. As you can imagine these two things didn’t mix. As we began to discuss this issue, I guided here with a line of questioning that lead her to reveal something she was completely unprepared for.
She told me she always had a love for fashion and as a child she would write down the outfits she wore and put a star next to the ones she received a compliment on. This threw a flag up for me and led me to ask if her mom had been hard on her. I specifically asked, ‘Did she critique how well you looked each day?’ To which the client said,’My mom never told me I was pretty in my life.”’
Amanda continues, “It was a light bulb moment for her and for me—she was still that child seeking approval from her mom. She never felt she was pretty—it was the moment she was able to start letting go.“ When it comes to this issue, “There is always a reason, new or old.”
Ithough about the nature of people’s attachment to their “stuff” and how powerful it can be and asked Amanda how she deals with getting them to let go and move on. Her approach is to work very closely with her customers and most importantly, spend a great deal of time listening to what they say and what they don’t say.
“There are some clients I know are ready to be pushed and I know how far I can push them.” She continues, “By listening I also know when it’s enough—I have some clients who can’t touch the things I want them to get rid of because it evokes too much emotion. Honestly, a good organizer must learn how to make that process easier for any client.”
Further discussion led us into a conversation about how she has often felt more like a therapist, because there are times when disorganization can not only be a symptom but can cross over into much more—hoarding. I asked her when she thought it crossed over into hoarding and if she had an opinion why.
She had this to say, “Being disorganized and being a hoarder are two different things and have to be treated as such. Hoarding is a psychological issue and when I work with a hoarder I usually include their therapist or psychiatrist. I have worked with many of them and they have all been clear that they are hoarders. They cannot be forced to get organized, in fact that’s not even usually the goal for them. We have to take small steps with hoarders and ease them into the process of letting go. If you push them too hard or take the wrong approach, you can cause more harm than good.”
We were a little off topic but I thought it was a fascinating one, so I pursued it by inquiring what her feelings were on the challenges of working with someone who has this particular issue—how difficult it is. She agreed that it was and said, “Definitely, it’s just so challenging and you want to save them, but they don’t always want to be saved. It can be very emotionally taxing!” But ultimately she loves the process of helping her customers, challenging or not, and in the end said, “I love it! If I ever had to find a new career I would get my PhD in psychology.“
Okay, time to refocus on the matter at hand; how to take the steps necessary to move forward on your own personal “clearing the clutter” journey. Remember folks, like Amanda LeBlanc says, “it’s a process.” Start slowly and take on manageable pieces, don’t try to organize your entire life in one sitting, it is a recipe for failure and frustration. Start by organizing one room, such as your kitchen and if that is too overwhelming, break it down even more by doing a drawer or shelf-by-shelf. Just keep moving forward and step-by-step you will accomplish much.
Like many things in life it is a matter of finding the best way for you in your process to accomplish a task. One of the mottos that I use for my personal process (I used it with the friend whom I mentioned previously as well) is, if you haven’t seen it or used it in the last year, it’s outta’ here!
Here are Amanda’s “Top Five” tips for getting organized:
1. Purge! Purge! Purge!
2. Make projects small and realistic so you can attain them and build on your organization successes.
3. Think about adding aspects and things that make you happy in the space you are organizing.
4. Consider your habits and work with them, not against them.
5. Ask for help!
One of the other things I love about the way Amanda LeBlanc works is that she approaches her organizing much like a designer. By that I mean she makes the spaces that she works on not only practical, usable and easy to access, but they are actually beautiful to look at (see tip number three). If you watch her program on Style Network, you will see that aesthetic in action. Each space becomes a thing of beauty, something to be proud of instead of ashamed.
She expressed her philosophy this way; “I have a very specific viewpoint on organizing and I realize it’s different from some others, but it works for me and my clients. I have always felt that if a room is beautiful, if it makes you happy when you are in there, you are much more likely to keep it organized. I have now proved that to be true with the thousands of clients we have serviced. You don’t have to go to the extremes you see us do on The Amandas show, but adding little touches will, I promise, make a difference.”
I love her concept and I believe it holds true for many in that, if you are living in an unappealing or chaotic space it expresses itself outside of that world, causing more stress. If you take the time to chip away at the chaos, where-ever it may lie in your life, you will not only be cleaning up the mess you have been avoiding, you will free yourself up for other things.