Friday, March 30, 2012

Spring Cleaning: Breaking Free From the Clutter

Awe, Spring! The bounty of spring is upon us with it's effusive energy, kaleidoscope of color, heightening of the senses and brightening of the spirit- about time if you ask me!  It's a much welcome sign when the cherry blossoms begin to bloom, because that tends to align so perfectly with my awakening from the bleary-eyed haze winter casts upon me. When I do awaken from the fog, I am welcomed with a whole bunch of junk. From the physical clutter in my home to the clutter of pent up emotions and energy bursting from within, add a dash of weight gain and overall stuffiness and stiffness, well you've got one rattled and anxious lady, ready to burst. Mark Twain relayed the feeling best, " It's spring fever. That is what the name of it is.  And when you've got it, you want - oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!"

It's so nice to be able to get out and get moving again- to loosen-up, release energy, build-up strength and endurance again.  It's also a great time to open the windows, let in the fresh air and do some spring cleaning- breaking free from the clutter that physically surrounds and from the jumble within, in order to better take advantage of the new possibilities spring affords us.

Research shows cleaning and decluttering your home or office makes you feel better, decreases stress and anxieties, and can give you a workout!  You know I love anything that get's people moving and has the potential to make people happier!  So it couldn't have been better timing when I meant mother of three, professional organizer and owner of Around Tuit, LLCLeslie Berlin Clesner, about a month ago. She kindly agreed to share her professional wisdom and some decluttering advice.

How and why did you become a professional organizer?
I was working for a non-profit in DC and there wasn't any more room to really grow, so I hired a career coach, knowing I needed to leave my job, but had no idea where to go.  While working with her, I stumbled onto the website of a professional organizer and laughed that people got paid to do what I've be doing my whole life! So, we explored it further, I found out there was a National Association of Professional Organizers, went to a meeting, met some people - and other "newbies" and it started there!  My best friend's mom (the girl whose closet I would organize) was my first client!

What exactly do you do? How do you help people get organized? 
A lot of what I do for people, most can really do themselves.  Oftentimes, people are just so overwhelmed with their "stuff" that they don't know where to start.  Or they are just too busy.  I can put things into perspective for them.  I'm a 2nd pair of eyes that sees something completely different from my client.  When you are living in something for so long, it becomes the norm.  You are blinded by and often paralyzed by your options.  I can determine the best place to start.  What to do first.  I put blinders on my clients to only focus on one thing or one space at a time.  I have rules and guidelines to follow.  I give direction.  And, I'm hands on.  I actually help you do the work.  Every client is different so things sometimes change from time to time.  But my methodology is usually the same.  I come and evaluate the situation, talk to the client about their daily and weekly habits, find out what is overwhelming or paralyzing them, then create a game plan.  What people don't realize sometimes, is that you sometimes have to work backward.  If you want to organize the basement, you may need to start somewhere else, especially if some of the stuff in the basement belongs somewhere else!  It's important to understand the client.  Everyone is different.  Some people want things behind closed doors.  Others are visual - out of sight, out of mind.  So, it's important to understand your client so that you are really helping them, and not making it harder on them. 

As a hands-on organizer, I physically help go through whatever it is we are working on, helping my clients make decisions as to what they should keep or not, what to do with it once a decision has been made and if they keep it, how best and where to keep it, and if they don't, what to do with it - recycle, donate, consign, sell, trash, etc.  I love finding a place for everything!

It's hard to pick one example of how I helped someone, but one client in particular has been a lot of fun for me.  I started working with him a few years ago - he wanted to rearrange his condo, re-paint, re-organize, etc.  I loved that he trusted me to help him pick paint colors, new furniture, a new layout for his space.  He has since called me back any time he wants to do something different in his place.  He's since re-done his bathroom and kitchen.  Most recently we did a de-clutter session which prepared him for replacing carpet, buying new bedroom furniture and getting rid of some old stuff.  I've seen his entire place completely re-done and I was a part of that.  He's also considering a job change, so I have put him in touch with my career coach, and I love knowing I'm a part of him taking a huge step forward in his life.  I love knowing when he takes that giant step toward a career change, his home is in order, the work has all been done, and he can relax knowing that's all behind him and focus on his "new" life! 

Any tips, tricks to help us declutter this spring?
Like with like.  That to me is one of the most important techniques in organizing.  If you get all of the same items together, you really get the big picture of how much you have of one specific thing.  It helps when making decisions of what to keep or not keep.  Once that's done, it's important to find a permanent home for the items.  This way, when you need something you should only have one place to look for it.  Certain things may need to be split up for convenience, for example, cleaning supplies in an upstairs bathroom for quick cleans, etc.  But, the bulk of the cleaning items in the house should all be together in one place.  And another thing I personally love to have is a container of misc. items.  It's sort of a "like with like" scenario.  All of these items have no home, so they "live" together.  And, when you are looking for that missing puzzle piece, or one of something, again you only have one place to look for it.  Another tip is to identify the "hot spots."  The places that constantly build up clutter.  See what the clutter is made up of.  Do these items have a home?  Can you remove the surface they are building up on?  Can you prevent some of these things from either coming into the house or ending up in that spot?  Be realistic.  If mail builds up right inside the front door, see if there's a space for a recycle bin or shredder.  Go through the mail immediately and get rid of the pieces you don't need.  The next step is to decide what to do with the pieces you keep.  That's where I come in.

What's one organizing tool, gadget, thing you can't live without- something that everyone should be using, should have.
I LOVE The Container Store's Elfa drawer carts.  They come in a variety of sizes and I just love them.  I can put one in every room in my house!  They are sturdy, good quality, smooth-gliding drawers that can fit in a closet, inside cabinets, or just as a piece of furniture.  They can hold everything from clothing to office supplies to arts and crafts.  I have one in my kitchen I use for snacks for the kids and another in my linen closet holding cleaning supplies, kids bath stuff and first aid items.  Their uses are endless!  I also love the men's and women's shoe-sized containers from The Container Store.  They have a good snap on lid, are clear to see what's inside, stack nicely and fit just about anywhere.  Great for sorting like items and storing them too!!

I am overwhelmed! My house is a mess!  There is no end to the madness. Junk has piled up and up and up- the kids, pets, what have you, have taken over the house and I don't know where to begin. What's your best advice?
Call me! :)  If you aren't doing it yourself (doesn't mean you can't), and you are at your whit's end and overwhelmed, call someone who can.  Sometimes you just need to admit you need some help and let someone else do it for you.  If your toilet was leaking, you'd call a plumber.  If you are disorganized, call a professional organizer!

I hope Leslie's advice has inspired you to do some spring cleaning. It sure has helped me tackle some of the big projects that were giving me anxiety in my household, such as the giant pile of  my daughter's accumulated school work and art projects as well as the overflowing linen closet. I feel lighter, relieved and productive since I have dug-in, dug-out and decluttered. Thank you Leslie!