Getting Organized in January

Get Organized illo

It’s a natural time to want to get organized, isn’t it?

January, the month right after you got all that new stuff that needs to be organized, the month right before many of us have to start buckling down on organizing for preparing taxes. The month when it’s often, in many parts of the world, a good time to stay home, where you are safe, warm and dry. But where you also can’t help but notice the need to organize. 😦

January is such a naturally good time for organizing that NAPO, the National Association of Professional Organizers, has designated it as #GetOrganized Month.

I thought it would be fun, in honor of Get Organized Month, to feature links to a few posts by professional organizers I particularly admire.

But then something interesting happened this morning when I opened up my computer and saw a new post by a friend who has recently started a blog. The title of her latest post is “Stuff.” Naturally, I had to read that one!

In it, she talks about how she came to the realization that she’s got too much stuff; how it came to be that way; and what she plans to do about in the future. (She also shares a wonderful video clip of George Carlin talking about “Stuff.”)

So, although Sara is not a professional organizer, I thought sharing her post would be a good place to start. You can read her post about “Stuff” here.)

Next I decided to visit the website of Alison Lush, a professional organizer who lives in Montreal. I enjoy following Alison on Twitter, and she often makes insightful and appreciative remarks about the posts on our Facebook page. So I figured that her blog would have a good post to share, and I was right! Here’s a post she wrote last year, about her family’s “new normal.” I think this is a nice companion piece to Sara’s, since it is written several years after the decision to somehow get in control of “all that stuff” was made, and it gives a good sense of how good it can feel to have made those changes.

Another favorite professional organizer of mine is Nettie Owens. Nettie lives in Havre de Grace, Maryland. I really like her philosophy and approach to organizing, so much so that I interviewed her for this blog.  Recently I asked Nettie to share some of her favorite posts with me, so I could in turn share them with our readers. Here’s one, appropriately posted in January (last year).

Next  on my list was a visit to the Marcie Lovett’s blog. We recently shared this post by Marcie, a professional organizer based in Olney, Maryland, in which she shares her favorite tip about “how to begin” decluttering, on our Facebook page. (No, I am NOT going to tell you what the tip is: just visit her blog! It’s easy. 🙂 )

I have often also enjoyed and appreciated  posts by “Erin the Organizer,”  a Chicago-based professional organizer.  Here’s a nice one she did this month, with suggestions for good projects to tackle in January.

I hope you’ll enjoy learning from these experts! Wishing you all a productive, happy January, and all the best in your organizing efforts!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.


An Interview with Nettie Owens, Professional Organizer


Nettie Owens, Professional Organizer (Photo by BrandIt Images)

Since January is National Get Organized Month (GOMonth), we thought this was a great time to find out a little bit more about the field of professional organizing, and what professional organizers really do. We are delighted that Nettie Owens, founder of Sappari Solutions, who recently celebrated 10 years in the field, accepted our invitation to be interviewed for this post.

How did you decide to become a professional organizer? What was the path that led you to this work?

When I began my business in 2004 the industry was still fairly young. There were a few organizers who had already been around for 15 years of more, but just a few. Organizing TV shows were just coming out on HGTV and TLC.  Those were really my first introduction to professional organizing. Seeing the lead organizers on those shows sparked an interest for me. I thought, “Wow!  That person is just like me! I want to help people in the same way.”  Prior to starting my company I had worked in administrative and project management roles. When I found professional organizing I realized I found what I was meant to do.  It was a great feeling!

What do you think is the most important quality for a professional organizer to have?

Compassion.  Being neat and organized is almost secondary. You have to work well with people.  You have to be able to see the person amidst the clutter. When hiring new organizers I ask a question before they ever set foot in a client’s home. “You walk into a client’s home for the first time, what do you see?” Many people answer they see piles of laundry, books, clutter, mail, etc. The people I hire say they see an overwhelmed person.

You recently earned the Level III Certificate of Study in Chronic Disorganization, ADD and Hoarding from the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD)–and you’re one of only 81 people in the world to have done so, right? You also have a Level I Certificate in Aging from ICD. What is important for people to know about these conditions and how they affect people when it comes to getting organized? And what are some of the special issues connected with aging? 

Chronic Disorganization is isolating and is not a diagnosis of a condition. It is a description of symptoms that could have any wide range of causes. It means that a person has been challenged with organization for a long time, that they have tried organizing solutions and not been successful, that their disorder causes problems in their daily living and that they don’t see a change coming in the future. It is such a frustrating place to be. I want people to know that I have yet to meet a lazy, chronically disorganized person. There is always more to the situation than meets the eye. Often a person is chronically disorganized when conditions such as ADHD, hoarding, depression, anxiety and even PTSD exist. For an aging client, especially one for who organizing has been a lifelong challenge, you meet with additional hurdles such as a loss of structure and support, dwindling finances, possible onset of dementia and other neurological conditions, and possible physical limitations. But there is always a person there–someone with great memories, goals for the future and valid emotions that need to be considered. I will often recommend the book Digging Out, by Michael Tompkins and Tamara L. Hartl. The authors describe how a family can help and how to use the “Harm Reduction Method” to support their loved one.

What are some of the most important questions to ask a professional organizer before hiring her to work with you?

An organizer should be a member of a professional community, such as NAPO or ICD in the US. There are other organizations internationally. You should ask how long he or she has been in business and what his or her specialties are. There is a wide range of talents in this community, and you should find the person that fits your needs. I would also ask for referrals. The organizer’s clients can tell you more about their work style.

What are some of the most common misperceptions about professional organizers?

People often think we come in with trash bags ready to throw out all their stuff. While letting go of the excess can be part of the process, it isn’t the focus of organizing. Organizing is about giving people access to that which is important to them. Plus, we don’t make decisions for our clients about what to keep and what to part with. Another misperception is that we can wave a magic wand and solve the challenges a person is facing. We work with our clients to craft solutions, but it is definitely a process and it takes time.

What is your most important piece of advice for someone who struggles to become organized, but really wants to do it?

I am not sure there is one most important piece of advice but I will give three, if that’s okay. First, recognize your strengths and tie your organizing solutions to these strengths. For instance, if you have a set morning routine, add one step to it that will work towards your organizing goals. Second, and closely related to the first, work in small increments. Consistency over time builds habits that make big changes when added together. Small, consistent steps outweigh weekend clean-outs every time. Third, be mindful of what is coming in and what is going out. If more is coming in than is going out, you are trying to bail out a sinking boat with a spoon, and it just won’t work.

What do you love most about your work?

I love the ‘ah-ha!’ moments that people have. I love making a real difference in the quality of life for the people I work with. It is so rewarding.

Thank you, Nettie!

Nettie Owens, CPO-CD is a professional organizer and owner of Sappari Solutions, founded in 2004. Prior to starting her own company she worked in variety of positions for companies large and small, and honed her skills in management, project management, customer service, instruction, and office administration. Nettie graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a BA in Computer Science and a minor in Entrepreneurship and Management.  She lives in Maryland with her husband and three rambunctious kids. She is active in her community, supporting non-profit groups such as The Havre de Grace Green Team, Habitat for Humanity, and many others. She was interviewed for this post by Janet Hulstrand, coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home, and of this blog.

On Your Mark, Get Set, Get Organized!

January marks the eighth annual National Get Organized (GO) Month, sponsored by the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO).

“GO Month is timed to coincide with the New Year, when many people are thinking about changing habits to improve their lives. In fact, improving organization supports several of the most common New Year’s resolutions, including saving money, managing stress or spending more time with friends and family,” the press release announcing this year’s GO Month explains.

What are your New Year’s resolutions?

Do you have any resolutions specific to downsizing the home?

If so, we’d love to hear them and share them with our readers.

Won’t you post your New Year’s resolutions and/or Downsizing Dreams as a comment to this post?

With all best wishes for a happy, healthy, fresh, and uncluttered New Year!


A Lesson Plan for Organizing

Looking for some inspiration for organizing my things, I decided to interview a professional organizer. Marcia is a former educator turned professional organizer and (full disclosure) a friend of mine.

Her company name, Home Organizer: section by section, describes precisely how Marcia approaches the task of organizing – breaking down the job into smaller and smaller sections.

Marcia’s first concern is respect for the client. While sorting through things with clients, Marcia wants them to feel valued and validated, feelings that can help them continue on with the task. The clients are encouraged to see meaning in their things, meaning that is perhaps not apparent to others.

By being positive, Marcia helps celebrate the person who chose this stuff in the first place. She keeps her antennae up for the things people want to share with her because, in sharing their stories, they are also sharing who they are and what they see as their place in the world. She wants, above all, to have the clients come out of the experience feeling good about themselves.

Using her many years as teacher to help her formulate a plan, Marcia says her first task is to assess the situation. What is the client’s goal? What is their readiness for achieving that goal? From teaching Marcia understands that a person can’t start on anything they are not ready for, skillwise or emotionally. Readiness is the key to learning. Then she shows how the client’s goal is actually doable – section by section. Marcia asks which room the client wants to start with, then which area of that room, then which part of that area, working down to the smallest section. Sorting through one small section helps the client feel a sense of accomplishment quickly.

Just as she did every day as a teacher, Marcia creates a basic lesson plan. She…

– sets a goal.

– models what the client should do, showing them what she would like them to do.

– works together with the client on the task, then asks the client to do the task while she is present.

– asks the client to perform the task without her.

– gives the client something to do by themselves and has the client reflect on that task with her later.

– plans the next session after assessing the previous one.

Marcia’s working style is to have respect for the person and their belongings and respect for their learning style. She likes to make the process of sorting fun and she does this by listening to the stories clients have to tell. She gets people to show their real selves, who they are, through their stuff.

From Marica I learned that with a lesson plan of our own and working with the smallest section possible, we can all become organized.

Marcia’s parting advice was: Organization is freeing up your time for the things you really want to do. That certainly shines a positive light on what many of us have always felt was an onerous task.


Favorite Downsizing Stories: “Appreciate Your Family”

One of my favorite stories about emptying the family home was told to us by one of the people we interviewed in the course of writing our book (Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home). Here is her story:

 We waited to empty my mother-in-law’s house until after she was settled in the nursing home, but I think we waited too long. We had ample time to go through the house at a leisurely pace, but by that time she was no longer able to communicate. I’m sure there were stories to go along with a lot of the ‘junk’ we were sifting through, but there was no one to tell us the stories. I guess the ideal situation would be to have the owners of the house there when things are being sorted.

At first reading, this may seem like an unusual choice for a favorite story. But to me it goes to the heart of why it’s important to tell our stories.

The poignancy of this anecdote illuminates exactly why we should tell our stories and when: We should tell our stories when we are still able to tell them, of course, but especially during the stressful time of emptying a family home and especially when making a distressing change in the life of a family such as when a family member needs constant care and moves to a nursing home.

People tell their stories for many reasons.

Randy O. Frost and Gail Skeketee, in their book Stuff, say that, for hoarders, telling their stories helps lessen the connection to the object and allows them to let it go.

A friend of mine, a professional home organizer, encourages her clients to tell their stories because she finds that in telling them, her clients define who they are to themselves and to the world. (More about her downsizing lessons in a later post.)

In a post last week, my coauthor asked for humorous stories of downsizing, stories that can lighten the mood and help give one perspective on the downsizing process.

Tell your stories now, every day, so that your children and grandchildren will know what is important to you. They’ll know why you’ve kept the things you have and why these things help define the person you are.


January is Get Organized Month

The holiday parties are over. And even in these lean times, there’s probably a bunch of new stuff in the house.

There’s definitely a new crop of holiday cards.

There’s probably a pile of mail you haven’t been able to deal with since sometime before Thanksgiving.

And you have to find a place to put it all—where will that be? Or maybe a better question is when will that be?

Well, January is the month when everyone rolls up their sleeves and gets back to work. January is the month when you’re kind of sick of socializing anyway, and definitely sick of the piles of clutter facing you everywhere you turn. January is the month you’re supposed to be putting your tax information together.

January is a great time to get organized. Which is probably why, six years ago, the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) chose January as Get Organized Month.

This makes a lot of sense. Did you know, for example, that:

*“Get Organized” is one of the top 10 New Years resolutions made by Americans year after year?

*Sixty-five percent of respondents to a recent NAPO survey felt that their home was at least moderately disorganized?

*Price Waterhouse Coopers estimates that workers spend nearly 50% of their time looking for information because it isn’t organized properly?

Fifty percent! Just think of all that wasted productivity, whether at work or at home.

If that isn’t an inspiring reason for getting organized, what would be?

That’s why this year, as in the past years, professional organizers and others will be sponsoring a variety of special events across the country during the month of January, to help people get organized.

You can find out more here:

One of the lessons we learned when downsizing our parents’ homes was that being organized in how you go about it can make a really big difference in how well it goes.

So here’s wishing you a very happy Get Organized Month!

And if you have any stories to tell about breakthroughs or successes you’ve experienced as a result, we’d love to hear them.


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