My Thoughts

Don't Buy Random Crap for Your Loved Ones

You’ve heard of The Five Love Languages, right? If not, the basic premise is that people tend to prefer to give and receive love in one of five ways: words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch, gifts, and quality time. Once you and your loved ones figure out your individual love languages, it can help you show love to each other more effectively. In fact, if you’re not sure what you prefer, there’s an online quiz you can take to find out!

Recently, I’ve watched my clients struggle with the gift giving love language. Specifically, they have family that lives very far away and misses them very much, and shows their love by sending them inexpensive gifts regularly. While I haven’t met the gift givers in person, it’s clear to me that these gifts are sent out of an abundance of love, with absolutely no ill intent.

However, there are serious side effects to a regular gift giving routine.

  1. Those gifts add up fast. In thinking of one client in particular, her mom likes to send her costume jewelry, cloth bags, cute glasses and dishware, and general tchotchkes. My client, like many of us here in San Francisco, lives with her boyfriend in a one bedroom apartment. It’s plenty of space for them and their cats, but there just isn’t enough storage to accommodate the constant inflow of gifts. 
  2. Those gifts cause serious guilt. My clients tell me that they don’t want to donate these gifts because they know that if the giver found out, they would be hurt. The gifts, in effect, become an emotional burden and an extension of the guilt my clients already feel over living so far away from their loved ones.
  3. Those gifts can cause relationship strife. I have a couple of clients who deal with continuous gift giving from both of their moms. They are each uncomfortable with dealing with so much stuff from their own mothers, but end up taking that frustration out on each other and the other’s mom. While this is so common for all of us as humans - we redirect anger at a person we can’t confront to the people who see us every day - it’s completely avoidable in this case.
This is what years of inexpensive gifts looks like after I've helped a client decide what's important to keep... and what's not.

This is what years of inexpensive gifts looks like after I've helped a client decide what's important to keep... and what's not.

People whose love language is gift giving (and I am one of them, so I know of what I speak!) sometimes struggle with the idea that a gift could be a bad thing, and they often don’t know how to communicate their love in other ways that feel just as effective. So, I have a few suggestions!

  1. Take a picture of the cute tchotchke, send it to your loved one, and tell them why it made you think of them. How fun is a random loving message in the middle of the day? You get all the benefits of gift giving, like reminding someone that you love them and showing that you understand what’s special about them, without any of the downside. This also gives you the opportunity to see whether or not your loved one actually wants that item! If they text back “hahaha, love that, I miss you too!” then the thought was enough. But a text that says “OMG I need this!” means you have the green light to send a gift!
  2. Give experiences rather than objects. This is something my family has wholeheartedly embraced as part of our gift giving tradition and we all absolutely love it.  You get the gift giving experience - opening something, the surprise, the feeling of being special to the giver - and then you get to extend it by talking about the upcoming event, planning for it, then doing it and reminiscing about it after the fact. My sister gave me a trip to Jackson Hole for Christmas a couple years ago and it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten!
  3. Direct your gift giving energy to people who are in need. Every holiday season, my husband and I adopt a family through Compass Family Services, and take great joy in making their Christmas magical. I love giving to friends and family, but it's even more rewarding to give to people who truly need and appreciate the gifts.
  4. Save your gift giving effort (and budget) for select occasions. Often, people send many cheaper gifts because they feel that the number of gift giving occasions should be maximized but they don’t have the funds to purchase high quality gifts that often. When it comes to gifts, like many other things in life, I recommend going for quality over quantity. Two high quality, beautiful gifts per year will give your loved one all the surprise and delight you crave, and because you have the extra time and money to spend on selecting it, chances are much higher that they will use and love the gift.
  5. When in doubt, just pick up the phone and say “I love you.” Because that’s what we’re all really trying to do with gift giving, right?
This not my family's Christmas, but the gifts prepared for our adopted family this past holiday season!

This not my family's Christmas, but the gifts prepared for our adopted family this past holiday season!

I, personally, will never stop loving the process of opening a present that someone has selected just for me, and then watching them open something I know they’re going to love. But I love it even more when it’s a truly special moment and not just a regular thing.

LMW

My Most Difficult Organizing Job

Last week, I was explaining my work to someone, and they asked me a question I actually had never been asked before. They wanted to know what had been my most difficult job, and why.

I have been so fortunate to have absolutely wonderful clients over the past few years. There really have not been any horror stories - my clients have listened to me, trusted me, and been honest with me. I value the relationship I have with each client, and remain incredibly grateful they have allowed me into their lives to help them.

That said, one job does come to mind. The client wanted me to help unpack following a move - which is a great time to get organized! However, this person was also absolutely unwilling to consider changing any habits or getting rid of any items at all whatsoever. This person believed that I could wield some sort of organizer magic to make the stuff they owned take up less space and look prettier, without requiring them to put in any effort to change.

IMG_5426.jpg

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that’s not what it’s about. I do not wave a magic wand, and I do not do cosmetic fixes. I create an organizing system that works for each of my individual clients, and then I make it look beautiful. People come to me because they realize that their space is not working for them, and I do my very best work when they are willing to undertake change.

Plus, when you come right down to it, organizing and storage are limited by the rules of physics. There is nothing I can do to make a certain number of shirts suddenly take up less physical space. I cannot bend the space-time continuum! This is why I always tell people that organizing is not about the storage, it is first and foremost about the stuff.

So there you have it: my most difficult organizing job. And if that’s all I’ve had to deal with, then I count myself very lucky indeed!

LMW

On Long Term Love

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not a relationship expert. I’m a professional organizer, which means I’m much more qualified to tell how to store your sweater collection than how to recognize true love.

What I can tell you is that I’m lucky enough to be living in a truly fulfilling marriage, one that just turned eight years old today. I can also tell you that the first indication that I’d found the love of my life was so simple that at the time I didn’t think much of it.  

It’s ridiculously simple, in fact: when I told friends and family about my relationship, the phrase “it just works” came out of my mouth.

From the first time I hung out with my husband, he fit into my life. There was no worrying over whether or not he liked me, no strategizing over how to get him to commit, no counting of pros and cons.  I had spent my high school and college years striving and searching and pining for love, and then when I met my husband, it felt like, “Oh, there you are. That wasn’t so hard.”  It. Just. Worked.

Nearly thirteen years after we first met, we are still just two ordinary people who were lucky enough to find each other and smart enough to hang on to each other. No Great American Novel will be written about our love... and if you grew up obsessed with the great literary love stories, as I did, the sheer normalcy of a real, lasting love may at first feel like something of a come down.

Photo courtesy of  Timothy Teague Photography

Photo courtesy of Timothy Teague Photography

But I promise you: the love that just works is worth everything.  It will give you new depths to find in yourself where you least expect them, challenge you to be your best even when life is monotonous, teach you how to give more to another person than you thought you ever had in the first place, and give you a bedrock of security from which to conquer the world in your own way.

Thank you, AVW, for all of it.

LMW

On Imperfection

I will not be the first or last person to talk about imperfection. Insert trite truism about our social media airbrushed perfection image driven society blah blah blah here! Plenty of people smarter and more articulate than I have written powerful pieces on the topic.

Instead, I want to tell you what imperfection means to me. Specifically, I want to tell you about my skin.

Hangin' out in the skin I'm in at The Peak, Hong Kong

Hangin' out in the skin I'm in at The Peak, Hong Kong

I’m super pale. I come from a long line of people so pale that some of our freckles are white. For most of my life this has been distinctly unfashionable, so in my teens and twenties I absolutely hated my pale skin and tried to tan. Emphasis on "tried." 

I’m covered in freckles and moles, because see above: pale skin and sun damage. Some of them are cute (my mom used to refer to the crop of freckles that would appear on my nose every summer as brown sugar sprinkles), but a lot of them are bumpy, uneven, and weird (yes, I get my skin checked from head to toe by my dermatologist every 6 months).

I have cellulite. I’ve had it since I was about twelve years old. No matter how much I weigh, no matter how much I exercise, no matter how well I eat, the skin on my butt and the backs of my legs is lumpy and dimpled.  I spent a lot of time when I was younger tying sarongs over bathing suits and being sure that no photo ever captured me from behind.

In all my pale, freckly, cellulite-filled, scarred glory from a bachelorette party this spring!

In all my pale, freckly, cellulite-filled, scarred glory from a bachelorette party this spring!

I have a few scars. There’s a line on my lower abdomen from my emergency appendectomy in December 1995 (in Nairobi, Kenya - it’s quite a story). My bellybutton is a little wonky from an ovarian cyst removal in 2007 (it was 10 cm in diameter and my best friend named it Alvin - good riddance!). I have a long keloid on my inner left arm from the removal of a melanoma in 2016 (it had not spread, I’m lucky). 

There are a plethora of self tanners available, even ones that don’t make a person as pale as I am look orange. I could have larger moles removed if I wanted to. There’s a procedure to fix cellulite. My dermatologist has even offered me a shot to make my scars less prominent. For reasons that are only starting to coalesce to me now, I don’t do any of the above.

To me, my skin is part of my story. Yeah, it might look a little gross in places, but the human body is a little gross. That, and it makes me look interesting. No one else on the planet looks quite like me.

I love to be active and try new things, whether it’s a new workout, travel destination, or clothing style. In the past, caring about my imperfections has hindered that. These days, I put on my sunscreen and wear my workout clothes or bikini, and get on with it. The more time that passes, the fewer f*cks I give about whatever anyone thinks of my pale, moley skin with cellulite and scars. I can’t say I totally love it - at least not yet - but I’m getting there!

LMW

The Joy of Empty Closets

I have empty closet space in my house. 

Does that statement seem strange to you?

If so, let me explain.

For many people, and pretty much all of my clients, there is a direct relationship between the amount of storage in their home and the amount of stuff they have. Specifically, the amount of storage dictates the amount of stuff, and when space runs out, they seek to obtain more storage.

In my personal life, and when working with clients, I flip this around. Forget the storage space you have - whether it’s closets, shelves, a basement, an attic, whatever. Instead, focus first on the stuff. What do you actually need and use? What do you love that brings you real joy? And why would you have anything at all that doesn’t fall into either of those two categories?

Then, only then, do we talk about how and where to store the stuff.

This is our laundry cabinet - everything we need, nothing we don't, and space if needs change. The cabinets above are empty, too!

This is our laundry cabinet - everything we need, nothing we don't, and space if needs change. The cabinets above are empty, too!

Leaving empty storage space is also about acknowledging that time is an important dimension of organizing. The process of living an organized life is ongoing. You need to maintain your home organization systems every day (it takes just a few minutes if your systems work well) , and adapt them as your needs change.

If there's one thing I know, change is a constant in this life, no matter how much we may fear or resist it. So, given that, why not leave yourself both the physical and mental space to accommodate that change? Future You might take up a new hobby and need a place to stash the equipment. Future You might throw a party and want a coat closet to accommodate guests. Future You may work from home and need a place to set up a work station, and Future You may bring home a baby with all of the gadgets, gizmos, outfits, and diapers parenthood brings.

This is our entryway coat closet. We love to entertain, so there needs to be space for coats and bags so people can settle in and feel at home!

This is our entryway coat closet. We love to entertain, so there needs to be space for coats and bags so people can settle in and feel at home!

By completely stuffing all of your storage space full, you are creating serious problems for Future You! Under likely time crunch and performance pressure, Future You will have to cobble together a solution for their new venture, rather than having the space and energy to comfortably and easily fit it into their life.

In so many ways, living an organized life is about investing time in the present to free up more time in the future to spend on the activities and relationships that really matter to you. What kinds of amazing future projects could you make room for if you left yourself some empty storage space?

LMW

The Clutter/Shopping Death Spiral

Which came first, the disorganized home or the shopping habit?

Let me introduce you to the phenomenon I call the clutter/shopping feedback loop. In a disorganized home, clutter accumulates, which prevents you from efficiently finding and using the things you own, which leads to more purchases of things you may already own, which you then try to store in a disorganized environment, which then leads to more clutter… and around and around and down the death spiral we go.

An actual LMW Edits original: please ask before using this image!

An actual LMW Edits original: please ask before using this image!

Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?

People often think that they just need to stop shopping in order to resolve this downward clutter spiral. True, this is one way to disrupt the feedback loop, but it’s actually pretty difficult. Plus, you can never let up - if you slip back into the shopping habit, the clutter will just start accumulating again.

Why do I say “just not shopping” is the more difficult solution? Because as humans, we have limited willpower, and marketing is in our faces literally 24/7.

I keep a spare “junk” email account for online shopping and ordering. I was sick of all of that stuff cluttering my main inbox (I'm always working towards the holy grail of Inbox Zero) but I still wanted access to deals. I rarely pay full price online because there’s always a coupon code or sale going on!

Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 3.14.43 PM.png

Here’s a screenshot of my trash folder from this afternoon. Literally every email is screaming at me to “buy buy buy!!” All of these messages arrived within a 8 hour period. And that’s a curated list, I unsubscribe from mailings from any store I know I won’t shop. AND that’s even before I go online or outside to do, well, anything essential to modern work and life.

How can any human be expected to just go cold turkey on shopping when a) they need things and b) it’s so incredibly easy to just buy them? It requires way too much willpower!

The good news is that there’s another way to disrupt the clutter/shopping feedback loop: organize your space. By organize, I don’t mean move things around or put them in pretty containers - you still can’t find that thing you ordered on Amazon last week if it’s at the bottom of a very delightful woven basket! By organize, I mean take yourself through the whole process of decluttering, setting up systems, storing items appropriately, and maintaining your organization through simple daily habits.

If that sounds overwhelming, that’s why I’m here to help. I’ll guide you through the whole organizing process so that you can finally live clutter-free - and laugh at all of those promotional emails as you mass-delete them!

LMW

5 Reasons to Hire A Professional Organizer

“Getting organized” is one of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions to make.  If this is something you’re thinking about at the dawn of 2018, I applaud you!  An organized home streamlines routines, cuts down on stress, and makes everyday life more pleasant.  I want you to experience the small miracles of a well organized space for yourself!

There are so many tips, tricks, and resources out there that it can be tough to distill what will work for you and your family.  Unless you already have a game plan in place, I’d strongly recommend hiring a professional organizer. These are the concrete reasons why:

1)   Speed

 Yes, you can absolutely organize your own home. But like most of us, you’re probably busy and feeling stretched thin already. A professional organizer can help you accomplish more than you ever thought possible in a much shorter amount of time.

I never go anywhere without my measuring tape and label maker!

I never go anywhere without my measuring tape and label maker!

2)   Tools

Professional organizers arrive ready to work, meaning that you don’t have to add yet another errand to your schedule before you start organizing. Each organizer carries a different toolkit based on his or her working style, previous experience, and organizing philosophy, but rest assured that you won’t be asked to hunt all over your house for a pair of scissors or a Sharpie!

3)   Recommendations

Getting organized often brings up other tasks to accomplish, from buying new furniture to disposing of hazardous waste. Professional organizers are part of a network of service providers and have great recommendations for how to get these often mysterious tasks taken care of quickly and efficiently.

4)   Empowerment

Decluttering means making tough decisions, which can induce self doubt.  A professional organizer will empower you to make the decisions you want to make, and help you feel confident every step of the way.

5)   Follow through

Organizing inevitably generates to-do items, from paper that needs to be filed to donations that need to be transported to your charity of choice.  Professional organizers can take care of many of these tasks for you, meaning that once they leave, you’re really done with your entire organizing project.

Now that you’re convinced to hire a pro, start with the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals and their Find an Organizer database.  And if you’re in or near San Francisco, you can book a complimentary half hour phone consultation with me right now and get started on your organizing project today!

LMW

 

 

 

The Price of Time

When I talk to people about why they want to get organized and what they hope to achieve in the process, their responses always come down to time.  An organized life requires an upfront investment of time that then pays dividends in time saved that can be spent on things that really matter.  People fundamentally want to get organized because they want to spend more time having fun with their families and friends and less time hunting for that one particular sweater in the back of the closet or dealing with overdue bills.

Your time is precious, and it’s finite.  So, whether you’re purchasing someone else’s time or using your own, I strongly encourage you not to discount its value. Whenever I talk to my clients about amounts of money, whether it relates to the pricing of my services or their options to make money on the items they no longer want, I always try to frame the discussion in terms of time and effort. 

Yes, hands-on organizing that’s tailored to you by a professional is relatively expensive in terms of both time and money.  However, you have to compare that investment with how long it would take you to organize the same space by yourself, and how well the final product would work for you compared to the solutions a pro would create. 

I like to tell my clients that the reason they should hire me is so that they never have to undertake a huge organizing project ever again.  I set up systems and teach my clients how to manage them so that they may only need an organizing checkup now and then to keep things running smoothly.

On the flip side, clients often see dollar signs when they look at items they no longer want that were very expensive when originally purchased.  I regret to inform you that most things do not hold value, since the secondhand retail market is flooded with vintage and antique pieces while the current trend is toward simple, minimal design. 

Further, the amount of money you can make by re-selling your castoffs is directly proportion to the amount of time and effort you put into the sale.  The easiest option, consignment, means a big chunk of your profit is taken off the top, while the options that yield the highest return, like eBay, require you to do everything yourself and reward more work on better pictures, marketing copy, and sale monitoring

When making organizing decisions, it’s important to consider the big picture, and how much your personal time is worth. 

LMW