The party had to end sometime. Now that the holidays are behind us, we must reconcile all the eating, buying, hedonism and general gluttony. After the crest comes the crash. Which is why in January, the diets, the budgets, the self-improvement resolutions and the once-and-for-all promises to get organized debut. And we pledge, yet again, to get a grip and get it together.
Fortunately, professional help is available. Lord knows, and I’ll speak for myself here, I got myself into my mess, so I sure as heck can’t be trusted to get myself out of it. Like good diet counselors, financial planners and fitness trainers, professional organizers are filling their appointment books as folks call in saying, “This is the year …”
“People call when they get overwhelmed,” said Amy Tokos, a certified professional organizer based in Omaha, Neb., and president of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals.
“They’re overwhelmed by their stuff, or by other people’s stuff — their parents’ stuff, their kids’ stuff. They struggle going through this themselves because it requires making a lot of decisions. Most people always have something they would rather do, so they put it off.”
No kidding. Who wouldn’t rather grab a bag of chips and binge watch “The Queen’s Gambit” than clean the hall closet?
“Some are trapped by perceptions of how everything should be (thank you social media),” said Tokos, who joined the profession in 2008. An engineer by training, Tokos specialized in finding ways to streamline processes in manufacturing plants. After she had four kids, she applied those skills to her own home, then did the same for friends and family. “Just a few moves can eliminate friction points and result in a lot less frustration.”
Most of the people she helps have tried on their own to fix the problem, but their solutions haven’t worked, she said.
That’s because — insert lightbulb here — organizing is not just about putting stuff away, so it looks pretty. It’s about creating a mindset and systems, so spaces work better, and — take a deep breath — getting everyone in your household on board.
Which is why the average family home looks like an overturned moving truck.
When certified professional organizer Danielle Tanner Liu, of West Linn, Ore., got into the field in 2004, she soon realized that the work “involved much more than making drawers and cabinets look nice,” she said.
“You need to work through the pain and shame that surround this issue. You deal with marriages on the brink, and households where bills get lost in the shuffle because no one can find the checkbook. After we come in, folks realize financial as well as emotional benefits.”
For those who want to make 2022 the year they get their house together, here are six fundamentals Tokos and Liu recommend for starters:
• Identify your trouble spots. “Nine times out of ten, when people have an area that isn’t working, they are asking it to do too much,” Liu said. Commonly overused spaces include the hall closet, the pantry and the laundry room. They become catchalls because they don’t have a defined purpose. This is how the extra toilet paper winds up in the guest room closet.
“If the key purpose of the laundry room is to support you when you do laundry, don’t store candles, vases, pet supplies and batteries there,” she said, listing pretty much every item I store in my laundry room.
“Before you put anything in a room, ask does this item support this room’s purpose?” If not, put it somewhere else.
• Acknowledge that space is your boundary. Your space is finite; your stuff is not. While you cannot change how much space you have (short of moving, or heaven forbid, getting a storage unit), you can alter how much stuff you have. If every area of your home is crowded, you have too much. Cut back, and live within your means.
• Question your values. Be honest. Ask yourself, would you rather have an orderly room that functions, and cupboards with breathing room, or lots of stuff? “At some point, you have to ask, do I want to live with books piled everywhere, or fewer books and nice-looking bookcases?” Liu said.
“Some people will choose the stuff over the function. And that’s fine, so long as they consciously make the choice about what they value.” If you decide you truly value space and breathing room, you’re primed for change.
• Categorize by like items. When tackling a messy room, start by making piles by category: memorabilia, office supplies, clothes. “The act of sorting and seeing what you have is instantly satisfying,” Liu said. You can now visualize what you have, what you have too much of, what belongs in a different room, and how much space you have to fit what does belong.
• Don’t binge on bins. “Every January, we see stores selling bins, bins and more bins, to help customers get organized, but bins alone do not solve the problem,” Liu said. While they are great for storing holiday décor in the attic, or off-season clothes in the basement, they themselves don’t impose order. You need to do that.
• Be realistic. Don’t let social media set your expectations, Tokos said. You might see a picture of a beautiful pantry on Instagram, but photos on social media are often staged. “You don’t see the newspapers or homework lying around.” Set your own goals. Maybe you want to open your linen closet without having the contents fall out, or open a cupboard and see the back wall, or park both cars in your two-car garage. Whatever the goal, make sure it’s realistic for your household. Aim for function, then make it pretty.
Join me next week to learn when and how to work with a professional organizer, and hear from someone who did.
Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books, including “What to Do With Everything You Own to Leave the Legacy You Want” and “Downsizing the Blended Home – When Two Households Become One.” Reach her at marnijameson.com.