Interview with Alison Lush, Professional Organizer

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Alison Lush
 is a certified professional organizer CPO-CD®, CPO® in Montreal, Canada. She recently took the time to discuss the challenges of dealing with clutter; how “spring clearing” can offer an opportunity for people to redefine their relationship with stuff; her approach with her clients; and what all those letters mean after her name. Here is her interview, conducted via e-mail with Janet Hulstrand.

Janet: First of all, I’d like to ask how you came to be a professional organizer. What motivated you? Was there a specific life event, or moment of awareness, that made you realize this was a good profession for you?

Alison: I had a career in catering–was very successful, loved it, was at the top of my game–when I realized at age 45 that the food industry did not offer much for my future growth and advancement. When I told my best friend I was looking for a new career in April 2010, she said “professional organizer,” and I literally replied, “What’s that?”

I jumped right in, joining the Professional Organizers in Canada, and becoming a subscriber to the Institute for Challenging Disorganization. I started volunteering right away, which was a great move in hindsight: I started building my professional network, developing my own reputation, and learning from others.

During the classes I was taking, while learning how to work successfully as an organizer, I was personally affected. My understanding of the power of my possessions, and my relationship with my possessions started to change. I realized that I had a lot to gain by becoming my own first client.

Janet: You asked me to change my use of the term “spring cleaning” in the intro to this interview, to “spring clearing.” Why is that?

Alison: I’m not a fan of spring cleaning: too much guilt! I prefer to say “spring clearing,” which is an opportunity to create new awareness of our relationships with our stuff and our space.

Janet: What do you love most about your work? What do you find the hardest?

Alison: I LOVE being called in when someone is

  • discouraged about their stuff;
  • curious about how they ended up where they are;
  • and ready for change.

Through discussion, while we’re working through their stuff, we can shed light on the various elements of these things, develop an understanding of the causes and consequences, and develop alternative strategies. I love to empower the individual while breaking through the backlog!

What I find the most difficult is when my clients have decided that a thing may leave their home, but conditionally, that is, they are only willing to let a thing go if they either get a certain amount of money for it, or if they find someone who will cherish it. I certainly respect this need, but I find it difficult. I would so prefer that we invest our energies inside their homes!

Janet: You recently were interviewed for an article in New York magazine with the tag line “When You Love Clutter and Your Partner is a Minimalist.” First of all, I’m curious: do you think anyone really loves clutter? 

Alison: Perception is everything here.

I’m looking at a pile of stuff to deal with at the side of my office.  Aesthetically, it can be called clutter because those things do not belong together,and none of those things belong there.

But that pile also represents other things.

  • Time: it will take me time to deal with each of those things.
  • Decisions: each of those things will need to be considered, which is work.

I suspect that most people live with clutter because it is WORK to deal with it.

Some people surround themselves with great volumes of possessions and truly want to keep it all, but in my experience, those are in the minority.

 Janet: It says in that article that you are “a born clutterbug” who comes from a “chronically disorganized background.” What does that mean? And how has this helped (or maybe hindered?) you in your work?

Alison:It has helped me in my work because I have successfully reprogrammed myself and changed my environment quite dramatically. I am therefore truly convinced that many other people are capable of this as well. I am very enthusiastic for them!

 Janet: Many times the people we call “keepers” in our book need and want help in decluttering, but they don’t want to be shamed, scolded, or bossed around. What is the best way for professional organizers–or friends and family, for that matter–to work with people who theoretically want to declutter their lives, but find it extremely difficult to do so in practice?What do you think are the most important qualities for professional organizers to have?

Alison: Empathy, humility, and respect. This is not primarily about the stuff. It is about individuals and how they feel in their lives. They are the experts in their lives. Their values are the ones that matter. Their emotional readiness needs to define the speed of progress. A professional organizer is there to encourage, to support, to help, to make jokes, to offer alternatives, and to work.

Helping move stuff around is easy, and anyone can do it. But helping an individual who has a backlog and some emotional attachment is challenging and sensitivework, and many people are neither skilled nor emotionally prepared for this role.

Choose your helpers with care. My primary goal is “Do no harm.”

Janet: What should people be able to expect of someone who is in the business of helping others declutter their lives?

Alison: Professional organizing is still an unregulated industry. Organizers who are members of their professional association, who have achieved industry education, who volunteer for the industry, and who are insured demonstrate the highest standards of professionalism and engagement.

After all those benchmarks, pay attention to how you feel when you are with the organizer. The goal is to develop a partnership. You should feel encouraged, supported, and not judged at all.

Janet: What do the people looking to declutter need to bring to the process? 

Alison: People looking to declutter will get the most out of it if they are willing to be curious about their relationship with stuff, and to consider change.

For example:

  • Every spring and fall, the person has a big job to swap out all their seasonal clothing;
  • The person feels burdened by these tasks, resulting in procrastination and guilt…twice every year!
  • Questioning one’s clothes systematically helps to identify whether that work is necessary;
  • Start by examining the cut, colour, and condition of each item. Raise the bar!
  • Reducing the overall volume of clothes (through higher standards) will render the seasonal task more manageable, and may even reduce it to just outerwear and footwear (as in my home).

Janet: Finally, can you tell our readers what the letters CPO-CD® mean after your name? What kind of training is involved in earning this professional credential, and what additional knowledge or expertise does someone who has had this training have to offer that other organizers may not?

Alison: CPO-CD®means Certified Professional Organizer specializing in Chronic Disorganzation, and represents several years of specialized education from the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, plus mentoring. It culminates in an examination by a panel of peers.

The CPO-CD® program was the best professional and business decision I made. We learn best practices for helping people living with the most complex challenges concerning their belongings. We study multiple underlying causes that may be contributing to chronic disorganization. We demonstrate the philosophy, language, and behaviors that are respectful and humanistic. Curiosity, empathy, and professionalism are nurtured.

If I needed to hire a professional organizer, I would look for a CPO-CD®!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home. Alison Lush is a professional organizer in Montreal, Canada. You can learn more about her here.

 

 

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A Spring Sale on Our E-Book!

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When our book first came out, the Cleveland Plain Dealer review said, “The best time to read this excellent book is before you need to…with simple honesty and sensitivity, the authors describe the range of emotions families feel when it’s time to clean out and sell the family home.”

But Moving On is useful in many other life situations, from moving, to spring cleaning, to general decluttering. We encourage people to do “proactive downsizing” – which means, basically, that whatever your age, whatever your situation in life, NOW is the time to start getting rid of stuff, so it won’t be such a daunting task for you or your family later on.

And now, for a limited time only* we are offering our e-book for $4.99, 50% off the regular price of $9.99.  

If you’ve never read an e-book, this would be a great time to try. Why? Well, here are a few reasons:

  • The e-book is an updated version of our 2004 book, and the only version that has been updated.
  • Our helpful resource section provides live links to a wide variety of sources of information about how to appraise, sell, donate, preserve, recycle, or otherwise deal with all the stuff you are going through.
  • An e-book will not add one more book about decluttering to your bookshelf!
  • You don’t need a Kindle, a smartphone, or a tablet to read an e-book. You can read it on a desktop computer.

You can see some of the nice things people have had to say about our book here.

And if you want to take us up on this great opportunity to save 50% on our book, you can get started here.

Sooo…if you don’t mind our asking: what are you waiting for?

*Now through May 31, 2018.

Of Spring Cleaning, Gently Used, and Landfills

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As spring cleaning time draws near, I’m having a bundle of thoughts about the relationship between spring cleaning, the words “gently used,” and landfills.

What do these three things have to do with each other? Well, actually quite a bit.

Spring, of course, is the time that many people aggressively go about decluttering their homes and getting rid of the things they don’t need or want anymore. And this is a good thing.

Much of what goes out of our homes goes either to organizations that can pass our “rejects” on to others who can use them; or into recycling receptacles; or into the trash. (And sadly, the stuff that ends up in the trash goes on to landfills… 😦 )

So the best thing to do, from a community health and an ecological point of view is to try to minimize the amount of stuff that ends up in the trash.

And the best thing, from the point of view of those who sort through our “rejects” in thrift stores, churches, shelters, libraries, and other places where people donate used things, is to not have to spend a lot of time sorting through stuff that really should have gone into the trash. This is why these organizations tend to stress, beg, cajole, and otherwise urge people to only donate those things that are “gently used.” And this is completely understandable. (Moldy items, for example, create unhealthy fumes for those people who are sorting through the stuff to breathe while they’re sorting, and may also contaminate things that are still usable with things that are not. This is not okay!)

But one of the big problems is what to do with the stuff that is between “gently used” and trash. We have written several posts on this blog that can help people find ways to recycle hard-to-recycle items, such as textiles, shoes, carpeting, and so on. Here is the link to a section of our blog where you can find some of those posts.

We also wrestled with this problem when we were writing our book, and what we found is that if people are committed to finding ways to reuse items that are more than gently used rather than trash them, there are ways. Just one example of this is the idea of donating old towels to an animal shelter. (The dogs. Don’t. Care!!!)

I suspect that not many people are aware of the magnitude of the problem of too much clothing going into landfills. Earth 911 reports that “the EPA estimates that Americans discarded over 14 million tons of textiles in 2010…about 5.7% of the total municipal solid waste (MSW). And while 5.7% may seem like a ‘small’ percentage, that is still 28,000,000,000 lbs. of clothing that could have been reused or recycled – every year.”  Earth 911 points out that the textiles dumped in landfills burden the environment and artificially decrease the lifespan of the products. This, they say, is where clothing recycling comes in. You can learn more about how to recycle clothing  here and about some of the initiatives businesses are taking to encourage reusing garments here.

I think it may also be time for all of us to think through the consequences of rejecting  items, whether clothing, books, or furniture, as soon as they are “gently used.” Do we really need to give away, or trash things the minute they are no longer “gently used”? And do the standards really need to be as high as they are at some of the places we donate things? Do we really imagine, for example, that one slight stain on an otherwise very serviceable (and attractive) garment, or (perfectly comfortable) chair, means that it should be trashed? That it could not still prove useful to someone? Do we really imagine that a “well-loved” picture book cannot be enjoyed just as much by a young child who has it at second or third (or even fifth?) hand, as much as they would enjoy a “gently used” one? After all, what is the most important thing about reading a picture book to a child? It is the pictures, right? And the closeness? And the voice of someone reading to them? And all of that can happen quite easily with books that are definitely more than “gently used.”

I think if we can all just become a bit more aware of what happens when we lose sight of the things we’re letting go of, and what the long-term consequences are of what we do with them, hopefully we can all become a little more thoughtful, a little bit less picky, and a lot more “green.”

Out of sight may be out of mind, but it shouldn’t be. It’s good to know that we’ve done the best we can to ensure that when we’re done using something, it doesn’t turn into a problem for someone else.

Happy spring cleaning, everyone!!! 🙂

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

 

Spring Cleaning: 50 Things to Get Rid of Right Now

Roz Chast’s wonderful take on the burden of too much stuff, from her book Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Spring cleaning. For some people, it means cleaning and scrubbing. For many, it means changing closets from winter clothes to summer clothes. And for a lot of us, spring cleaning means clearing out things we no longer need.

Lists of 50 things-to-get-rid-of appear regularly online or in shelter magazines. I have seen them and often think I should come up with a list of my own.

At a talk I gave last week, I asked each person in the audience to come up with 5 items that they could get rid of right away. Many of them came up with difficult items: a mother’s much-loved china service or a dear friend’s paintings. I suggested they were making things more difficult for themselves by starting with the challenging items rather than the easy ones.

So what are the easy things? Here’s my list of 50 things to get rid of right now. And some suggestions as to where to donate, recycle, or pass them along.

1. Magazines you haven’t read

Give magazines to doctors’ offices or hospital waiting rooms.

2. Old phones

Here’s where you can donate old phones.

3. Plastic leftover dishes without lids

You should replace your plastic containers regularly. Toss if they are scratched or cloudy.

4. Old hangers

Give wire ones to your dry cleaner.

5. Costume jewelry you don’t wear

Donate the jewelry to a thrift shop, give larger pieces to a nursery school’s dress-up corner, or donate to an art class.

6. Used-too-many-times workout gear

Recycle the fabric and treat yourself to new duds.

7. Plastic grocery bags

They can’t be recycled so take them back to the store.

8. Books: best sellers you have read

Or ones you never will: give them to friends or donate at one of these places.

9. Books: old reference books

Most of the information in reference books is dated or can be found online. Donate to one of the places listed here.

10. Old calendars and day planners

Record any necessary information, pull out pages with sensitive information so they can be shredded, then toss them.

11. Your children’s artwork

Take photos of your kids and the work, then toss the work. Here are some other suggestions.

12. Business clothes

If you don’t wear them or no longer go to the office, donate them to Dress for Success.

13. T-shirts

Especially the ones you keep around just to wear at home. Use them for rags or take them to fabric recycling.

14. Supplies from a hobby you abandoned

Give them to friends who are interested or donate them to an art teacher.

15. Worn out sheets, mattress pads, pillows

Take them to an animal shelter.

16. Old remotes

Recycle the old ones; here are some suggestions.

17. Blurry photos

Or ones where you don’t remember the people, or duplicates: offer them to an art teacher or just toss them.

18. Digital photos

The ones that are taking up too much space on your phone. Edit them.

19. Dead or leaking batteries

Here’s where you can recycle them.

20. Travel-size toiletries

Donate them to a homeless shelter.

21. Old paint

Dispose of it responsibly through help from Earth 911.

22. Specialty appliances

That special sandwich press, the Mickey Mouse waffle maker, the yogurt maker: recycle any appliance that you never use.

23. Clothes that don’t fit

Donate to your local thrift store.

24. Shoes that hurt; sneakers that are worn out

Here are ways to recycle and dispose of shoes.

25. Old greeting cards

Repurpose some of them into gift tags: donate the rest to the Girl Scouts or the YMCA or St. Jude’s Ranch for Children.

26. Frozen leftovers

Or containers of leftover food in the refrigerator: toss them all.

27. Damaged plates or cups

Anything with a crack or a chip on the rim should be tossed for safety reasons. You could donate them to a high school or college art teacher.

28. No longer current forms of entertainment

Recycle the VHS tapes and the CDs.

29. Old towels

Donate them to an animal shelter.

30. Kitchen utensils

Clean out that cluttered kitchen drawer and give away what you don’t use.

31. Plastic utensils and straws that come with take out food

Just toss them.

32. Prom dresses

And bridesmaids’ dresses and other evening wear. Donate them to girls in need.

33. Used medical equipment

This isn’t always easy but here are some suggestions.

34. Old medications

Check to see if your local pharmacy participates in the DEA’s Prescription Drug Take Back Day.

35. Used baby clothes

Donate them to your favorite charity.

36. Recipes you cut out and never use

Just toss them. You can look up recipes online.

37. Pens and pencils

Toss pens that don’t work and pencils with dried erasers.

38. Office supplies you don’t use

Donate yellow pads, post-it notes, paper clips, and anything you no longer use to the office of your favorite nonprofit organization or religious group.

39. Old spices

Just toss them out and buy new ones.

40. Old condiments

Toss them and anything else that’s stored on the refrigerator door.

41. Sports equipment

Here are some suggestions for donating and recycling items you no longer use.

42. Old makeup

Toss all mascara, blush, base, even nail polish.

43. Decades-old papers

File necessary medical and financial papers where you can find them or scan them, and then toss or shred what’s not needed.

44. Old keys

Give them to an art class for a collage.

45. Junk mail

Try to get rid of it before you come into the house.

46. Credit card receipts

Toss ones you don’t need to keep, especially those for consumables like food and restaurants.

47. Loose change

Wrap in wrappers and take it to the bank – or donate it!

48. Multiples – of anything

Keep one or two, give away the rest.

49.Things that belonged to your parents

See our book Moving On for help with letting go.

50. ___________________

What should the 50th item be? Let us know in the comment box below what’s on your list.

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

Five Easy Tips for More Green Living

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1.  Bring reusable cloth bags with you when you shop. (The only hard part of this is getting in the habit. But it’s not that hard to do!)

2. Set your computer to print on both sides of the page!!!!  (Why haven’t I thought of this before?!)

3. Take advantage of the fact that many retailers are making it easy for us to recycle hard-to-recycle things.

For example Staples and Office Depot will take batteries and printer cartridges (you can even get store credit back on the cartridges). Best Buy takes old electronics (TVs, computers, etc.) in a blessedly simple process. You bring the stuff to them, they take it off your hands and keep it out of landfill. That’s it! And Whole Foods will take wine corks, batteries and other hard-to-recycle items.

4. Resist the temptation to throw away old shoes. Instead look for ways to donate or recycle them. My coauthor wrote this great post that will help you find places to do it.

5. Stop buying styrofoam cups. They are petroleum-based, linked with a variety of health concerns, and very difficult to recycle.  See more about this here.

As spring cleaning season approaches, we would welcome any other tips you may have, especially about places that make it easy to recycle hard-to-recycle items. Please let us know in a comment!

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

More Spring Decluttering: Cleaning Out Your Garage

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With the warmer weather finally here, spring cleaning is unavoidable (as much as some of us would like to avoid it!) and that means cleaning out the garage, too.

We know that there is a life beyond for the things we no longer need. Our trash can be someone else’s treasure if we take the time to get the items we would like to discard to the right places.

Here are some suggestions for recycling certain items in your garage.

Tires

According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, in 2013 more than 95 percent by weight of the scrap tires generated in the United States were reused: as tire-derived fuel, in ground rubber applications such as playground surfaces, and for engineering and construction uses.

Regulations for recycling tires vary by state. To locate a place to recycle tires in your area, search online under “local tire recycling.”

Motor Oil

Used motor oil can be recycled. Many service stations and repair facilities will accept used oil and used oil filters. Local recycling centers may accept motor oil or be able to steer you to a place that does. The best way to locate a collection center is to visit Earth911 and search by ZIP code.

Bicycles

For places to donate your bike and for places that help recycle/reuse bicycle parts, check out Ibike.

There are programs that provide bikes to developing countries, such as Bicycles for Humanity and World Bicycle Relief; you won’t get rid of your bike but you will help others to obtain a bike that is “an engine for economic and cultural empowerment” as they say on one of the sites. What could be better than that!

Sports Equipment

Play It Again Sports will buy back used sports equipment and this blog post on houzz offers suggestions for getting rid of sports equipment in an eco-friendly way.

Sometimes an organization like the Boy Scouts or a church youth group will sponsor a drive for gently used sports equipment. Check out organizations in your area to see if they are interested in your used items.

Tennis Balls

ReBounces has suggestions for recycling large numbers of tennis balls and check out “How to Recycle Tennis Balls” at 1-800-Recycling.com.

Shoes and Sneakers

And if you have worn-out or outgrown sneakers and sports shoes lying around, check out our post on where to recycle shoes.

Keep the memories of you and your kids playing sports or enjoying a bike ride in the park, but get rid of all the stuff you no longer need. The result? A more organized garage, a grateful recipient of the donated items, and a healthier environment.

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

Spring Decluttering: Keep the Memories, Get Rid of the Stuff!

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Yay!!! Spring is here at last–at least for most of us it is, and for those who think it will never come–it will, it will!

So it’s time to think spring cleaning–and spring decluttering–once again.

Here are five tips for making the task less painful, more productive—maybe even a little bit joyful. Don’t believe it? Read on…

Find ways to enrich the lives of others (and/or protect the environment) as you make your home a more comfortable place to live in.

Clothing, kitchen items, furniture, unused appliances—all of these things can make life easier and better for people in need and for the organizations that help them. Many organizations will pick up furniture and clothing, and get it to people in need. Best Buy stores accept electronics–TVs, computers, printers, etc.,–and will properly recycle them. Staples and Office Depot give store discounts for returned printer cartridges, and collect batteries for recycling. Many libraries still take books, and if they don’t, schools, prisons, hospitals and other community organizations can use them. (And you can find ideas for other places to donate books here.) Old sheets and towels can be donated to animal shelters. You get the idea! What you don’t need, someone else can use, and for many people who are loathe to part with things, knowing that’s it’s going “to a good cause” can help.

Break large, overwhelming tasks into smaller, more manageable ones.

Does the sight of an overstuffed closet make your heart sink? Don’t be discouraged! Start with just one shelf, or the floor of the closet. Or work by category: today, shoes, tomorrow: sweaters. Ignore the rest for now (develop tunnel vision!) and press on. You can do it! One step at a time. 

Take time to congratulate yourself along the way.

Who said this task was easy? It’s not! Take time to celebrate the progress you’re making. DON’T focus on all there is still to do. Instead, DO look at that one shelf, or corner of a room you just cleared. Doesn’t it make you feel good?! Okay, now, back to work!

Allow yourself to back away from difficult decisions “for now.”

Sometimes what it is unbearable to think about parting with on Day 1 can be much easier to let go of in a month, a week, or even the next day. Don’t linger over difficult decisions–or even worse, give up on the task. Just put those items aside and keep on making the easier decisions.

Keep the memories, get rid of the stuff!

This has become our mantra. Find ways to honor, safeguard and keep the precious memories that make it hard for you to get rid of some of the things cluttering up your life. Take pictures, tell stories, write them down (or record them) to share with family and friends. For most people, with most objects, the memories are what count: they don’t take up space, and giving them away is a joyful and good thing.

Our e-book has helpful stories about the imaginative ways people have found to make the process of downsizing and decluttering less tedious, more joyful. And the resource section in the back of the book, with helpful links, will help guide you toward places where you can donate or recycle everything from grand pianos to wine corks, from nearly-new prom dresses to old carpets.

And–think of this–this is one book that won’t take up space on those shelves you’re trying to clear. 🙂

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

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