Is There Hope For Teens' Messy Rooms After All?

You guys, I’ve discovered a secret super power. I love working with teenagers to organize their rooms, and it seems that they like working with me too!

When I started working with this 17 year old on her bedroom, we couldn’t see the floor!

When I started working with this 17 year old on her bedroom, we couldn’t see the floor!

There could be a few things going on here. For one thing, I think it makes a difference that I’m not a parent. I have a lot of friends who are parents, and I hear from them about their struggles, so I can definitely empathize with parents’ frustrations with their teens’ messy rooms. At the same time, I’m not a parent myself, and so in some way I still self-identify as someone’s daughter rather than someone in charge. This allows me to relate directly to my teen clients.

In addition, from the very beginning of my business, I have maintained that my client is the person who lives in the space I am organizing. This may be the person who is paying me, but not always. This means that when I’m working with a teenager, I’m talking directly to them, and listening to their needs and desires for the space. 

Here are a few things I’ve noticed when working with teens and their parents - perhaps these observations might inspire you to approach your teen and their room situation from a new angle!

We affectionately dubbed the top of this bookshelf her “smell-good station.”

We affectionately dubbed the top of this bookshelf her “smell-good station.”

  1. No matter how messy a teen’s room or how long it’s been that way - they may hate it as much as you do! Just because someone lives in a disorganized environment doesn’t mean that’s their preference, they may just not have the resources or energy to change it. So often a teen needs help getting started and tools to keep going, rather than discipline.

  2. Teens learn how to live in a home from their parents over the course of their lives. So, if your home has perpetually disorganized areas, it should not be surprising that your teen’s room follows suit. And as a result, they’re going to be pretty resentful if you ask something of them (a clean room) that you don’t ask of yourself. Think back to your teen years - didn’t you hate hypocrites like none other?

  3. The teen years are all about the struggle for control. Teens feel like they’re ready to be adults, and parents are totally freaked because they know decision making skills have not yet been… refined. The good news is that a teen’s room is a pretty safe space to give them practice with taking ownership. If you let them organize their room the way they want to - even if it doesn’t map exactly to your vision - you very well may get a tidier space and a happier kid.

Above all, if you are the frustrated parent of a teen with a messy room, I beg of you: please, please, please DO NOT declutter and organize the teen’s room without their participation. It will totally backfire on you. Why? By doing so, you’ll break their trust. And trust, as we all know, is a really hard thing to get back.

 If you have questions about how to help your teenager get started on organizing their space, let’s talk!

LMW

Don't Believe Everything You Read...

…but I’m totally cool if you believe this!

A couple of weeks ago, I submitted my blog to Feedspot for consideration to be listed as one of the Top 100 Organizing Blogs. Lo and behold, I made the list at #63! From what I understand, the list is always growing and changing based on discovery of new blogs, how often the blogs publish, and what their blog and social media audiences look like. So, it’s not as if this is The Definitive List. But it’s something!

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One thing that I think makes me stand out from the rest of the pack is my approach to blogging about organizing. I believe that every useful organizing tip that exists is already out there on the internet. There’s no use in my reinventing the wheel by continuing to post the same old content as everyone else. Plus, that stuff just doesn’t interest me much - I don’t organize because it’s pretty, I do it because it makes people’s lives easier and better in a simple but meaningful way.

So, I’ve taken the approach of going a bit deeper. I want to ask the questions and bring up the topics that often get glossed over when people talk about creating #organizingporn. What lies beneath our desire to acquire, our tendency to get overwhelmed, our sense of peace when a space is clutter free? What’s going on that we’re trying to fix with stuff? What does organizing really make room for in our lives?

I also want to get more personal, because that’s the way I truly connect with my clients. You have to trust me before you’ll let me into your home, after all! So, I want to show you how I actually organize for the real life I live every day.

Ultimately, I stand for common sense organizing for modern urban living. If that’s your jam, you’re going to love this blog!

LMW

Choosing The Right Type of Professional Organizer For You

Many people don’t even know that professional organizing is “a thing” - and yet, there are tens of thousands of us, working in more ways than you could imagine! Some organizers work as a side hustle, and others do it full time. Some organizers ride solo, and others build large companies. Some organizers work with families, others specialize in estate sales. There truly is an organizational fit for every person who needs help reclaiming their space!

Something else you may not know about the professional organizing industry: just because you meet and hire the business owner does not mean that said business owner will be in your home working on the project - or even that the organizers on your project will be employees who have been trained and supervised by that person! It is extremely common in the industry for professional organizers to hire other organizers on a contract basis for jobs they can’t handle on their own.

When you hire LMW Edits, you always get me and my bag of tricks - no alterations or substitutions!

When you hire LMW Edits, you always get me and my bag of tricks - no alterations or substitutions!

There are upsides to this, for sure. This strategy ensures there are enough people on your job to get your project done in a reasonable amount of time. It brings the overall price down because the going hourly rate for independent contractors is well south of the value of the business owner’s time. It’s also a professional development mechanism - it’s very common for organizers just starting out to do different contract gigs to learn the trade. I did it myself - and still do for organizers I really like working with when they come up short and need a hand!

There are also downsides. As a contractor, I have shown up to a gig for an organizer I have never met in person and been directed into a room and told to start sorting. The only filter applied was a phone conversation and a contract I signed with the organizer’s company. What’s more, on a multi-day job, the team might have been different every day! So just when the client starts getting comfortable with me, I’m done for the day and an entirely different person might show up the next morning.

The downsides are why I will never hire independent contractors. I would sooner refer you, a potential client, to a larger organizing company I know and trust, than I would take on the burden of sending unknown, untrained people into your home and hoping that it all turns out well. My service is built on a strong personal relationship between me and my client, which allows me to create organizational systems and setups that are specifically tailored for them.

That said, my style of service is certainly not for everyone! Many people prefer handing off the job to an efficient team and marveling at the end results. So, if you’re contemplating hiring a professional organizer, consider the following.

An larger organizing company or service might be right for you if:

  1. Your first priority is a gorgeous “after” photo that looks like it’s out of a magazine.

  2. Your space is a large and/or tightly cluttered home.

  3. Your desired aesthetic is the exact aesthetic featured in the organizing company’s photos.

  4. Your main concern is pricing.

My kind of individual organizing consulting might be right for you if:

  1. Your first priority is a system that works and lasts.

  2. Your space is a smaller home/apartment, or a discrete project area within a larger home.

  3. Your desired aesthetic is custom tailored to you, your needs, and your existing home style.

  4. Your main concern is security and trust.

If you think my style of organizing might be a good fit for you, let’s talk! You can schedule your free in-home organizing consultation here.

LMW

Organizing for Network Marketing Success

Network, or multilevel, marketing has a mixed reputation these days.

In the 20th century, joining a network marketing company like Avon or Tupperware gave women a chance to earn their own money, make their own purchasing decisions, and gain a little more independence than they otherwise might have had. Sounds great, right?

Fast forward to today, and there are more multilevel marketing companies than I could possibly name. You’ve probably seen a few of them on your Facebook feed: Beachbody, Beautycounter, Scentsy. Some of the products are great… and some aren’t. And unfortunately, the networks are structured so that most reps don’t actually make much, if any, money.

I’ve worked with a few representatives from some of the most popular multilevel marketing companies around to help their organize how they incorporate their business into their home. This is a huge challenge, and solving it can be the difference between a rep who makes a tidy sum, and one who breaks even or loses money. As I see it, there are three main organizational struggles, all of which an be solved by sticking to basic organizing principles.

1) All. That. Inventory.

This is my client’s current inventory after culling products that were not the current version (therefore not sellable).

This is my client’s current inventory after culling products that were not the current version (therefore not sellable).

Multilevel marketing reps aren’t just sellers - they’re required to purchase the physical product themselves before they sell to the end user. This is a serious space challenge… if you live in a relatively small apartment or house in San Francisco, what exactly are you going to do with all that inventory?

We have to get real. The company will be pushing you to buy, buy, buy! They make their money when YOU buy, not when your CUSTOMERS buy - that’s when you make your money. So, as with any kind of purchasing, you need to buy according to your own individual needs and priorities. If the lip balm is flying off the shelves but nobody wants the body butter… don’t buy the body butter, even if the company gives you a huge incentive to do so.

And in terms of storage, just like any other collection, designate a specific storage area and pledge Do Not outgrow said area. This means you’ll have to make tough purchasing decisions, but it will also mean that your partner or roommate won’t want to stab you with that cool new earring they just stepped on!

2) Fun marketing ideas, oh my oh my!

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The companies know that they can’t just shove out product and hope it sells - they have to help their sellers market the stuff! Although social media is definitely a major part of any multilevel marketing strategy, most of the companies still push the traditional party setup where women get together to socialize and see the products firsthand. So, a lot of the marketing materials come in the form of stuff: paper, banners, trinkets, etc. that all need to be stored.

Again, you need to consider your own needs and priorities. You literally couldn’t implement every marketing idea the company sends you - you’d never sleep, or eat, or spend time with your family. So instead of keeping all the marketing materials that come your way, instead only store the ones you like to use and see great results from.

3) Tracking your (ideally) bumper crop of customers, orders, and shipments.

So you’ve purchased your inventory, received your marketing materials, and started making sales. Now, how do you keep track of all these folks? Many of the companies still use paper order forms for in person parties, and the online ordering systems can cumbersome.

My advice, as with most things, is to go as paperless as possible. Paper not only takes up storage space, but also is harder to search through, compile, and use for marketing purposes. I highly recommend using some kind of customer relationship management (CRM) tool. 

Here’s the key: a CRM has one major thing in common with any paper filing system you can think of: you have to actively use it. Whether digital or physical, an information management system is a dynamic product and not a set it and forget it type of thing. So, there will be a learning curve - but I promise, if you start when you have so few customers it seems a little ridiculous, and stick with it, you will see major impact on your marketing efforts and sales.

Need help setting up organizing systems for your network marketing venture? Get in touch, and we can schedule a complimentary in-home consultation for you!

LMW

Little Adjustments, Big Impact

I am not a fan of productivity hack culture. I find most of the ideas hawked by self help authors, podcasters, and vagabonding entrepreneurs to be less impactful than they seem and more work than they’re worth. I’m especially skeptical when it becomes obvious that the productivity hacker in question doesn’t have a clear vision of why they’re saving all that time. They just seem to be wedging more work and more hacks into the day, rather than taking that extra time and using it on something meaningful to them.

However, there are three tweaks to routine that my husband and I have made together that have moved us forward on three important shared goals: to read more of higher quality stuff, to get more, better sleep, and to spend more, better time together. If you share any of these goals, I’d recommend considering the following small changes to your routine.

1) No phones in the bedroom.

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I resisted this one HARD, you guys. And I made all the excuses you’re probably thinking of. My phone is my alarm clock! We don’t have a landline! I like to check email and social media in bed as a transition into my day each morning!

But the fact of the matter is that having access to our phones in bed meant that we were accidentally staying up too late and spending lots of time technically in the same space but ignoring each other. Plus, I was more likely to run late in the mornings because I got distracted scrolling through somethingorother before I even got out of bed.

We used the occasion of moving into our new master bedroom to start with a clean slate - and light assisted plug in alarm clocks. I have read more books in the last year than I probably did in the three preceding it, but I have to confess… if it’s a REALLY good book, I WILL stay up!

2) No drinking during the week.

I have never been particularly concerned about my relationship with alcohol. So when I read an article about the idea of only drinking on weekends, I resisted this idea too - what fun would it be to give up the pleasure of sharing a glass of wine to unwind at the end of a rough day? 

A little moderate abstention makes The Best Martini In The World all the more delicious!

A little moderate abstention makes The Best Martini In The World all the more delicious!

But the fact is that two things are true. The ritual of drinking causes me to check out mentally with the first sip - which means that any time after that is a wash in terms of any meaningful activity, including reading. And even one drink makes me more sluggish in the morning.

So, I brought up the idea to my husband and he agreed to give it a go. We have used the same rules from the article - abstain on school nights except for social events and vacations - and the better evening and mornings are totally worth it. I even dropped about five pounds without thinking about it!

3) Close the office door on evenings and weekends.

I have a nasty habit of retreating to my home office whenever I’m bored to check email, scroll through social media, and basically doodle around and waste time. I hate that I do this, but I couldn’t find a way to stop myself. Until that is, I was having coffee with Alexis Haselberger, a time management and productivity expert, and she told me that she physically closes her home office door to be able to focus on her family and personal life.

We’re still testing this one out, but early signs are good. We’ve been spending at least a couple evenings a week curled up on the couch with the dog between us and either noses in books or both looking over a laptop to do some planning. A far cry over retreating to our separate spaces to consume separate sources of media!

What seemingly small adjustment have you made that had a big impact on your life?

LMW

And Now For Something A Little Different...

It’s happening, guys. We’re going to video!

I absolutely love talking to everyone I meet about my job, my business, and my industry. There’s just so much going on there - almost everything in our lives relates back to our homes how we live in them, how we were raised in them, how we think about them. In fact, I often try to hold myself back so that I don’t completely take over conversations or bore people out of their skulls!

One of the major joys I get in talking to people about my work is that they ask me all kinds of amazing questions. My clients do, too. And since we’re all curious about what goes on with people and places we aren’t familiar with, I figured it might be interesting for you if I shared some of those questions I get… and answered them in case you were wondering them too!

So with no further ado, I present my first shot at a FAQ video. The lighting is terrible, my iMovie skills are remedial at best, but I’m proud of my message and the fact that I’m sharing it with you today. Please enjoy, comment, subscribe, tell a friend, and all that jazz these YouTubers do these days! And of course, if you have any questions you’d like to see me answer, leave a comment or contact me directly: lucy@lmwedits.com.

Thank you for your indulgence as I embark on this new adventure of my face on the internet!

LMW

Join me, Lucy Milligan Wahl, a professional organizer living and working in San Francisco, as I answer the number one most commonly asked question I get!

Master Bathroom Reveal

Designing a bathroom is a little more complex than installing a closet - as I found out first hand! The room isn’t a blank canvas of a neat box, but instead more of a puzzle of plumbing, structural issues, and of course, organizing needs.

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Before we started the design, I knew exactly how I wanted to organize the space. We wanted a separate tub and shower, as well as a water closet with a door, and double sinks. I have found that double sinks are one of those little luxuries that really cut down on minor spousal squabbles! And I wanted both individual and shared storage areas, since many toiletries are person specific but you also need a spot for medication, first aid supplies, and other things everyone uses.

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I worked closely with both my architect, Stuart Hills of Apparatus Architecture, and my contractor (no website, booked for the next 3 years, that’s life in San Francisco) to create the design. I picked out the herringbone floor tile and marble counter top, and suggested the black on white tile frames on the opposing walls. It was my contractor who suggested turning a negative (an extremely thick foundation that runs along the back wall of the entire room) into a positive (the continuous counter top that gives us an extra deep sink area and provides a shelf in both the shower and tub areas). And it was Stuart who steered me away from a tile backsplash (too dated) and suggested instead that we mount the medicine cabinets and light fixtures on a mirrored surface.

There are, as ever, trade offs whenever you design a space. In order to get the aforementioned double sinks, we had to sacrifice vanity storage space. So, we went with medicine cabinets for our individual toiletry needs, and use the drawers in the middle of the vanity for shared products. The under sink areas each have pull out drawers where we store backup and travel sized products. 

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I’m really big into uncluttered surfaces in my own home. So, everything that you can see out on the countertop has a purpose and was specifically selected. In the shower, that means only the products we use daily are there. It’s aesthetically pleasing, but totally unnecessary, to pick a single brand for your shower - hey Kiehl’s, if you were to make a shaving cream for ladies, that would really completely my picture here - it’s just important to edit down to what you really need. I’m also a fan of buying larger containers where possible to cut down on the amount of plastic you use overall.

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Clutter free living in a bathroom also means that my medicine cabinet has to hold all my skincare and hair products. Since this photo was taken, I have actually also moved all my makeup here as well - the mirrored storage unit on the counter by the tub was bugging me! I manage this by maintaining a high quality, tightly edited collection. Although I’m actually quite a product junkie, following new releases and keeping a list of things I’d like to try, I follow a hard and fast rule: I can only have one of each type of product open and in use at any one time, with no more than one backup stored for when it runs out. No, I can’t buy everything shiny, new, and pretty to hit the market. But, what I do have is everything I need at my fingertips and a truly enjoyable primping experience because I love each and every product (well, maybe not the zit cream…).

I’m so happy with how our master bathroom turned out, and I feel like I’ve settled into a nice groove of being able to get ready efficiently every day. Because that’s what organizing is all about in the end - making life easier!

LMW

What. The. BLEEP.

I follow a lot of other professional organizers on Instagram - it’s fun to see what people are working on and get inspiration from their projects! But something I saw the other day really shocked me on a visceral level.

Below a picture of a spare pantry shelf featuring neatly categorized snacks in open wire baskets was a caption with a “pro tip”. The organizer suggested that to give your pantry a desirable, high end look, you should purchase attractive snacks and fancy water (SmartPop and Fiji were mentioned by name), store them in pretty rows and wire baskets, and then… Never. Eat. Them.

WHAT?? Guys. Wait. No. Seriously??

The first pantry I ever organized - nicely labeled and containerized, but still very functional!

The first pantry I ever organized - nicely labeled and containerized, but still very functional!

Let’s unpack this for a second. I’ve been processing this for a few days now, and I’m still just staggered that this organizer is suggesting you devote storage space to things that you do not need and will not consume in order to create a certain look. In a room in your house that NO ONE EVER GOES IN.

First of all, we’ve got the straight up waste. I don’t know about you, but food waste really bothers me. It’s not just a waste of money, but also of the resources used to grow, manufacture, and package the food. Food waste is also a huge environmental problem, taking up space in sewers and landfills. And there are hungry people in this country for goodness’ sake - it’s just extraordinarily poor taste to flaunt never-to-be-touched food in a public forum.

Second of all, this is an epic case of Keeping Up With The Jones’ (or Kardashians, if you’ve seen the pics of their cookie jars that no one eats from). It’s another example of mindless consumption at its least constructive. If you actually eat SmartPop and drink Fiji water, and have large enough pantry in which to store them in pretty wire baskets with lots of white space, awesome! But if you don’t, create your own custom version of a well organized food storage area and live your truth. I find it extremely ethically suspect to recommend that people put on a facade of a lifestyle they do not live. It can only lead to feeling more empty behind that false front.

Another straightforward pantry I organized for a busy young family.

Another straightforward pantry I organized for a busy young family.

And third, we’ve got the total perversion of the entire point of organizing a home. The reason to get organized is to make your life easier. Full stop. Organized living means you spend less time and energy dealing with your stuff, and instead devote those resources to the relationships and activities that truly matter to you. A pantry full of pretty uneaten food contributes to an easier life in exactly zero ways.

I’m just… I’m agog. It’s all well and good to create an aesthetically pleasing home. But to go to this degree in a PANTRY? Where no one goes except the people who live in that house? Just so you can post pictures on social media? Of measuring up to somebody else’s idea of what “high end” is and why that is desirable? I am so squicked out by the whole idea.

I’ve now been helping people organize their homes for over five years. And I can tell you conclusively that happiness does not come from more stuff, or fancier stuff. It comes from feeling love, connection, and contribution. A fake “high end” pantry will not make anyone any happier.

LMW

Overwhelmed by Creativity

Creativity comes along with a lot of stuff. One of my very first clients absolutely loves scrapbooking. She has a ton of backlogged projects and is always finding new inspiration. She also has all the latest and greatest scrapbooking tools and a bountiful supply of card stock, paper, ribbon, washi tape, etc. for when the creative mood strikes! As you might imagine, all this equipment and material takes up an awful lot of space and is relatively complex to keep organized. 

A little #organizationporn for all my needleworkers and color enthusiasts!

A little #organizationporn for all my needleworkers and color enthusiasts!

When I work with highly creative, inspired clients, I’m still doing the same thing I always do: helping them to edit their belongings so that we can create a streamlined organizing system that supports their goals and is easy to maintain. This does mean that I help my clients edit their raw materials and project ideas. And edit is a pretty word for delete, or throw away.

This may sound like I’m trying to limit my clients’ creativity in the interests of creating a gorgeous organizing system. And I can see that perspective. But here’s why I believe that even the most creative people benefit from careful editing.

  1. A human being only has so much time and energy. Many incredibly creative people I work with can think of more projects in a day than they could complete in years. And the more projects you add, the more stuff accumulates… but the more projects remain unfinished, or even un-started. Which leads me to…

  2. The feeling of accomplishment when you’ve finished a creative endeavor and send it out into the world - whether it’s submitting a book for publishing or just getting that photo you’re so proud of framed and hung - is incredible. It’s rewarding, and it fuels you for the next project. If you have too many ongoing ideas, you’ll never actually get through any of them, and you’ll rob yourself of the opportunity to be proud of your finished product. And anyway…

  3. There’s freedom in limitation that can lead to all kinds of surprising inspiration. It’s like kids who play for hours with the box a playhouse came in and don’t seem all that interested in the house itself - the blank canvas of a box, although it has fewer features, gives them more room for imaginative play. Plus, there’s a dark side to endless possibilities…

  4. I often work with clients who feel a sense of guilt or inadequacy from knowing that they are not following through on some great ideas. I ask them the question: will it feel better to keep this project around and know that it’s available to you to work on, or will it feel better to acknowledge that you don’t have the time and energy to complete it and let go of the idea to focus on other projects? It’s often not until I voice this question out loud that they realize how much a of a burden some projects have become!

I have to admit, I identify  and sympathize strongly with many of my creative clients. As I build my business, I’m always coming up with new ideas and projects! But I have to remember to focus on delivering my services to the very best of my ability every day, and add only those things that I truly have the time and energy to maintain.

So, creativity is not the opposite of organization! In fact, a great organizing scheme can really support your creative projects and help you bring more of those brilliant ideas to fulfillment. 

LMW

Rethink Your Approach: A 3-Step System for Organizing Paper

What if I told you that the average adult couple needs just one standard size file drawer to store all the paper they require for their personal lives?

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Many people I talk to about organizing immediately bring up their struggle with paper. From the influx of mail to all the paper that comes home from school with kids, the sheer amount of paper in our lives can be really overwhelming. Yes, even in the year 2019, when we have theoretically gone digital!

There’s just something about paper. Maybe it’s a holdover from an earlier age, when every single piece of paper was potentially important… and also irreplaceable. Maybe it’s because we’ve been burned by digital storage in the past. Maybe it’s because we still don’t fully trust the privacy of digital storage. I suspect that for many of us, it’s a combination of the above. 

No matter why we struggle with paper, we can’t avoid it, so we need a way to deal with it! And in order to get to a place where we have only the paper we need, we have to reframe the way we think about it. 

I’ve developed a three-tiered system for addressing paper that I use in my own life, and that serves as the basis of paper management systems I set up for all my clients.  It works like this: when a piece of paper comes into your home, it can fall into one of three possible categories:

1) This is an important record that must be kept in paper format (e.g. mortgage paperwork, car title)

> All important records should be kept in a neatly organized filing system. I personally recommend a drawer because it is less likely that files will get banged up or rearranged. 

Pro tip: if you have a folder labeled “Miscellaneous” - you’ll never find those items when you’re looking for them! File documents the way that you would think to retrieve them.

2) This represents an action item (e.g. pay a bill, RSVP to an invitation)

>All paper action items should be kept in one location within your field of vision where you usually take care of these sorts of tasks. The idea is that you will constantly be presented with these items so you won’t forget to do them, but they won’t be spread everywhere creating clutter that overwhelms you.

Pro tip: once you’ve done the action item, toss the paper immediately and enjoy the feeling of relief!

3) This can be tossed immediately

>Anything not in the above categories can be thrown away. Notice that I said, “can,” not “must.” I encourage all my clients to reframe their perspective on paper and let go of the pieces they don’t need, but I also acknowledge that everyone has a different comfort level and may need to move to a low-paper lifestyle over time.

Pro tip: most of the paper that comes into your home fits in this third category!

If a deluge of paper is overwhelming you and your household, try on my three tiered system for size and let me know how it goes!

LMW