March To  A Different Tune

It’s March!

Time for March Madness, Pi Day – complete with mathematical jokes, pi-reciting competitions, and fresh baked pie, and St Patrick’s Day, when the Chicago River turns green. It’s also when the Vernal Equinox, on March 20th, signals the start of Spring. The sun shines on the equator, giving us a near 50-50 split of day and night. In the mid-Atlantic states, the temperatures can still be frigid enough to get hit with a sudden spring snowstorm, but somehow it just doesn’t matter. It’s as if just the thought of leaving Winter behind for Spring is enough for us to believe it’s warming up already.

A lot of us are so restless for a change that we start our spring cleaning during March. Last year, in one of my March blog posts, I talked about how Spring Fever is Our Friend and how to go about spring cleaning in an orderly fashion:

I’d like to add something this year.

Declutter in degrees.

I’ve helped several clients with spring cleaning after they’ve already started the process, got themselves tied up in knots, and then called in the reinforcements. They usually call me for the same reason: they made a bigger mess than they planned… and it’s because they didn’t declutter first.

My advice is to march through March to a different tune this year. Start out your spring cleaning in a  bolder, more structured, empowered way.

  1. The first step in your mission is to schedule a pick up by a charitable organization for two weeks ahead. The motivating factor to smart decluttering is to know when the stuff you no longer need is going to leave your home. Don’t put it in your car and take it for rides for a couple of weeks only to drag it back into your home when you need the room in your car again. Decide on a pick-up-at-home charitable organization that resonates with you. For reasons very dear to my heart, my favorite is Vietnam Vets. One of my brothers-in-law died from exposure to Agent Orange and another brother-in-law is now undergoing treatment for a blood borne disease due to contact with the same chemicals. Also, Vietnam Vets is reliable and efficient. They find your house and pick up every time. You can schedule right online Make sure you tape a piece of paper that says “VVA” on top of the pile so they can be sure they’re only picking up what you want to donate. How awesome is that?
  2. Decide how many bags or boxes you’ll be donating.  I always tell my clients to check off the box that says 4-15 bags. It’s propels you into a different cadence. Your journey suddenly becomes a marathon. You know you’re going to want to put out at least 4 bags and hopefully get to 14 or 15. Nailed it!
  3. Then decide where will you leave your donations? Try to pick a place that is covered. If you can’t, just make sure you have a tarp or old shower curtain liner to put over the pile so that nothing gets wet.

Be intrusive in your own home. Nay, ruthless I say! No matter which room you start in, open every drawer, search every cabinet and closet, look under every piece of furniture and decide what to do with what you find. Literally march if it helps to inspire you. Lift those legs and set a rhythm as you get going.

More than likely, there are items that haven’t been touched since you did your spring cleaning the year before. Last year, you saved them because you were going to need them someday and here you are a year later still staring at the irritating thing in the same place you left it.

How insulting to our own dignity! You didn’t use it. You still don’t need it.


Don’t think anything else other than “I don’t use this. I don’t need this.” Then grab that item and put it straight into your donation box or bag before you have time to talk yourself out of it. If you find that you can’t do this, then follow Mel Robbins’ advice from her book, “The 5 Second Rule”, count to five and if at the end of five seconds you still can’t think of a reason to keep it, into the pile it goes. Be decisive. Don’t hesitate.

Continue on in this fashion throughout your whole house, always staying at an even pace, a good rhythm. Anything that you thought you needed a year ago that is covered in dust from non-use, is still in the same place you left it last year, looks like it’s seen better days, or just seems to scream at you, “Let me outta here,” trash it or donate it so it gets to someone who will need it, use it and appreciate it.

Remember you’re on a mission. No regrets. Keep marching through March!

Nobody Wants Our Parents’ Stuff

dsc03404This article is interesting. We are currently going through this with our aunt’s stuff as we try to sell her home.
My advice is to take some advice from this story.


Smothered in Clutter: Helping the Overwhelmed Relocate Their Joy

This past fall when Facebook became too political for me, I backed off of it and joined Instagram. Instagram, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the app, enables users to take pictures and share them. It was much more fun to look at pictures of my friends and family than political rants. While on Instagram, I poked around a bit and found out I could also follow people I didn’t know, but with whom I shared similar interests.  

I was particularly attracted to photos from professional organizers in other areas of the country. I looked at the gorgeously stacked and fully labeled pantries, color coded play areas, funky arts and crafts containers, and beautifully beribboned linens storage. While I enjoyed the pictures, I found myself feeling rather ambivalent.

Wait! I’m a professional organizer! What was this about? I decided to have a good sit down with myself to find out what exactly was going on.

The great part of this introspection time was that I realized I take pleasure in working with all of different people on all of of the decluttering and organizing activities that are part of my profession.  On any given day, I could be working with a single person, a family, a couple, or a retired person or that I might be emptying a house for someone who is readying it for sale, or helping someone organize what they already have, or decluttering when there is just too much stuff to even start the organizing process. Yes, every job is different. Every client unique. Love all of it!

But, I also had an “Aha” moment. I became fully aware that my favorite part of this profession is helping people declutter. When I first meet with a new client, there is a marked difference between the one who needs to reorganize what they have and the one who can’t enjoy their home because they have too many things lying around. My potential organizing clients talk more casually about the work they are requesting. But, I can hear the stress behind the words my potential decluttering clients speak in our first conversation. 

The good thing is that once decluttering clients realize that I’m not the least bit judgmental and that I have more than likely seen far worse than whatever they’re showing me, they trust me. I bring a lighthearted approach to otherwise overwhelming tasks and circumstances, and they let their guard down. They start talking more about the way the clutter makes them feel and the restrained looks on their faces give in to what they’re really feeling: usually smothered in their clutter.

The best part is that they quickly understand that I’m only there to help them. In any way I can. That I’m willing to work on their schedule, not bothered by whether they make decisions quickly or not. I’m their cleaning buddy who is also there to help them make smart decisions and work in a productive, orderly manner.

As we declutter their home, working room by room, donating no-longer-needed items, and making new storage decisions, their demeanor visibly relaxes. They smile more. They find themselves working on little projects in between our meetings and are excited to show me what they’ve accomplished. They become proud of their home again. That’s key for them.

When we’re finally done a de-cluttering job, my clients are very different people. They’re more engaged in life. Why? Because they are more confident. They usually find extra time to enjoy activities they had stopped appreciating when their clutter began to weigh them down.

This! This is the part of my job that I love! I relish in helping my clients “find” their home – and themselves again. Watching them change as their house changes brings me such great pleasure. I love knowing they are walking in their front door each day with smiles on their faces. Do some of them call me back every month or every few months to help them bring their home back to order? Sure! Some clients find it hard to change habits. But, it’s all good. They’re happy to have me back and we’re happy to be working together again.

So, back to Instagram and my disinterest in all of the pictures of perfect organization, pretty containers and gorgeous pantries. I realized that, while that part of my profession is fun, it’s not the real “heart” work. There’s not much of a transformation in the client when we’ve completed jobs like that. Yes, they love their new space – and so do I. Looking at things in such perfect order is fun.

But, the faces of the clients who have worried they won’t be able to accomplish the job, who’ve slaved through their clutter and braved the decisions of donating or throwing out unneeded items with me? Those are the faces I see and the joy my heart feels when I close my eyes at night.

I see the client who was able to free herself of the many reams of sheet music now available on her iPad. I see the client who made the liberating decision to donate her former husband’s clothing. Or the client who finally admitted to himself and his wife that he was ready to say goodbye to his enormous compact disc collection and recycle two crates of old music magazines in their attic.

Sometimes it’s as simple as letting someone like Lighten Up in. Other times it’s as simple as gradually letting go. Often the most progress is made when a client allows a satisfying combination of both.