My Take

The Truly Accessible Organizing Manual

Getting organized is like a lot of other self improvement processes such as healthy eating or exercise - we all know we should do it, but it often takes a particular “a-ha!” moment to get us moving in the right direction. Today, I’m continuing my journey through some of the most popular organizing books so that I can help direct you to the organizing philosophy that connects with you and gives you your “a-ha!”

So, if you find Marie Kondo too exacting, Swedish Death Cleaning too weird, or Emily Ley too traditional, it may be because you’re starting from zero and you need just the basics on how to maintain a livable home. In this case, I have found the organizing manual for you: Unf*ck Your Habitat, by Rachel Hoffman.

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There are two things I love most about Rachel Hoffman’s book. First: she maintains that organizing is for everyone. Male, female, single, coupled, able bodied, differently abled - Hoffman maintains that no matter who you are, you are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the space you live in. I could not agree more. As I always say, organizing is not about appearances, it’s about creating a functional home environment that supports all the things you want to do with your life. That’s something everyone needs!

Second: she gives it to you straight. While there is not even a speck of meanness in the book, and she explicitly discusses strategies to deal with limitations related to both physical and mental health, Rachel Hoffman doesn’t coddle her readers. She is straightforward with what it takes to get to minimum standards of of a human living space, and real about the amounts of work involved. Because that’s the thing: living an organized life does take a little work. It actually takes less work than living a disorganized life, but it’s certainly not an effortless magical ride.

Some people might find Unf*ck Your Habitat too basic. For example, if you already have a house cleaning schedule, clear flat surfaces, or a regular schedule for doing your laundry, you’ve already mastered the fundamentals and you might be ready for something more in-depth. But if you don’t understand and fully live the fact that doing your dishes is a three step process (“wash, dry, put it away goddammit” - love this!), then this book is for you.

Are you ready to “unf*ck your habitat” but don’t know where to start? Give me a call! I’ll meet you wherever you are and help you create the beautifully organized home of your dreams.

LMW

A Manual for Organized Living

A blogger I’ve followed off and on recently posted a gushing review of Emily Ley’s new book A Simplified Life: Tactical Tools for Intentional Living.  So of course, you know I had to pick it up and read it through my professional organizer’s eyes!

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What I love most about this book is how Emily clearly explains that an organized home with systematic routines is the foundation for the rest of your life, rather than the end goal. She rejects the fetishization of organizing so common on blogs and Pinterest, which I find incredibly refreshing!

I also love how she consistently drives home the critical importance of simplicity. I’ve found in my own work that less is almost always more, and Emily shows how it’s possible to simplify in a variety of ways without losing quality of life or experience.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly for its target demographic: female, Christian homemakers in heterosexual marriages with children who live in single family homes in suburban environments.  If this is you, you are going to love Emily and her wise, practical advice!

If this isn’t you, Emily’s perspective might frustrate you. She comes across as an earnest, kind person who is doing her best every day. That said, there are blind spots in this book. She suggests that we store food in the pantry and tools in the kitchen, perhaps not realizing that having a pantry itself is a luxury.  She exhorts us to pull back professionally to make room for family life, which makes it clear that her household is privileged enough not to require two full time working parents.

A Simplified Life proves to me that there are as many perspectives on organizing as there are people who love to organize and believe in the power of an organized home. So, find the one that speaks to you, and use it to help you create the organized home you’ve always wanted!

LMW

The Hottest New Organizing Trend?

This past fall, I noticed a PR blitz across major media outlets for the hottest new trend in home organizing.  It had all the elements of a runaway hit: a universal struggle, a controversial angle, and foreign (even better, Scandinavian!) origin.  So of course, I pre-ordered the book on Amazon, eager to find out what all the fuss was about!

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My copy of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter arrived a couple of weeks ago, and I spent a leisurely hour and a half with a mug of coffee enjoying it one morning.  I can’t decide if I want to be Margareta Magnusson or become her new best friend, but I can tell you that I was not expecting to shed a happy/sad tear over an organizing manual and I’m weirdly glad I did!

Margareta is a self-described grandmother and artist “between the ages of eighty and one hundred” and her voice is practical, warm, and deeply authentic.  She’s the wise Swedish grandma you never knew you needed to bake you cheesecake, mend your old clothes, and teach you how to tend a garden.  She’s also surprisingly up to date, waxing philosophical about the pace of change and decrying her contemporaries’ lack of engagement with technology.

Oh, and she’s direct.  My favorite quote?

“Many young families have to schedule their lives down to the smallest increment to have time to d what they consider most important.  Do not ever imagine that anyone will wish - or be able - to schedule time off to take care of what you didn’t bother to take care of yourself.”

There is so much reality, struggle, potential offense, guilt, and love wrapped up in those two sentences. And they distill a concept that is by definition hard for me to communicate to older clients.  After all, I’m 35, I can’t possibly understand what they’re going through!

But at the same time, my clients need to hear Margareta Magnusson’s message: that organizing while you are still alive, both for your own benefit and that of your children, is important and valuable work.  I know from experience, both my own and my clients’, that the burden placed on children by parents who don’t “death clean” is significant and incredibly draining.

So, I’ll be recommending this Swedish grandmother’s wisdom to pretty much everyone! After all, as she says, not one of us will make it out of life alive.

LMW

P.S. If you’ve read a book about organizing and wondered what a professional organizer might think about it, let me know in the comments and I’ll add it to my list!

How French Girl Style Works

Simple, minimal style can be as visually compelling and fashion-forward as it is timeless.  Think of classic “French girl” style, which gets fawned over every few months by fashion blogs (for the ultimate primer on the current state of French girl obsession in our culture, see Eliza Brook’s piece at Racked: How To Sell A Billion-Dollar Myth Like A French Girl).  You can instantly conjure an image of what this looks like in your head and it’s an image you likely want to see yourself in… imagine, if you will, a pair of straight leg jeans, smart little booties, and a slouchy sweater topped with a classic leather cross body bag.

I have a theory about how “French girl” style evolved... and you’re not going to be shocked that it all comes back to organizing.  I suspect that the ability to create a simple, timeless style à la Parisienne stems, at least in part, from a basic fact: French girls have small closets!

When I say that European apartments have small closets, I mean they are SMALL.  In the very lovely one bedroom apartment my husband and I inhabited for a few months in London, the entire closet space for the two of us consisted of a wardrobe from Ikea that was less than four feet wide.  No one I mentioned this to found it in any way out of the ordinary. 

When your storage space is smaller, you’re forced to make more careful decisions about what you buy.  You’re prevented from purchasing in great quantity or frequency because there just isn’t room for haphazard shopping! And if you have to buy fewer things less often, you necessarily find yourself getting pickier about the things you do buy and how they fit into your personal style.  This situation also means that you can probably afford to spend a bit more on each piece, rather than dividing your budget among a plethora of cheap stuff.

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Above and below: the same cream cashmere Theory sweater (not currently available), a bunch of different ways, from my Instagram!

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Imagine how a tiny closet might change your shopping habits, and in turn, your style.  French girls might have one Saint James striped shirt instead of a pile of them from Zara.  They might wear a single pair of the perfect worn in jeans on repeat instead of rotating through twenty different washes and cuts.  They may have chosen the perfect slouchy cashmere sweater instead of stocking up on trendy acrylic copies.  In a way, French girls are living with enforced capsule collections. 

A cruel irony of fashion is that it’s often easier to refine your style and express it when you have fewer options to choose from.  So, if you want to cultivate your own particular flavor of “French girl” style, consider downsizing your wardrobe to its true essence.  And if you’re considering a wardrobe overhaul, I’m here to help!  Schedule a call with me today and get started on your own dream closet.

LMW

How to Spot a Great Professional Organizer

There are approximately nineteen zillion articles published about how to organize your home this time of year.  I try to read as many as I can because I want to know what kind of information my clients have been taking in, what ideas I can use myself, and what silly myths or hacks I’ll have to dispel!

The article I want to talk about here is actually a year old, but I find the content evergreen: How-to: Declutter Your Home in the New Year.  It’s from our friends at goop, which might make you suspicious (I am… strongly ambivalent on the entire concept of the site), but I can tell you that the organizers profiled in it are the real deal and are sharing great tips you can really use.

Photo courtesy of goop.com/The Home Edit

Photo courtesy of goop.com/The Home Edit

How do I know?

1)   They’re thorough.  Some organizers don’t actually want to go through every single piece of everything in the space they’re working on, whether it’s to save time and effort or to avoid stressing out the client.  Those are both worthy aims, but in the end the main goal is to leave the client with a fully organized space that they can maintain on their own.  If the client hasn’t seen absolutely everything they have, this just won’t happen.

2)   They tailor solutions to each individual client.  Everyone loves the idea of a beautifully curated pantry a la Gwyneth Paltrow’s as shown at the end of the article.  But decanting everything you buy into labeled boxes and bins only works if… you’re willing to take the time to decant everything you buy into said boxes and bins!  For some people this is realistic, and for some it’s not.  A good organizer will find out what works for the client and tailor their solutions accordingly, rather than imposing their idea of what an organized space should look like.

3)   They focus on simplicity.  People who struggle with organization need less, not more, of everything: less stuff, fewer places to stash it, fewer types of containers, fewer steps needed to complete a task.  Simple organizing solutions are the ones most likely to last.

4)   They understand the intersection of stuff and habits.  This intersection will be at a different point for each client.  Some clients are so excited about a new organizing scheme that new habit formation easily follows.  Others need the organization tailored to the habits they already have – even if that solution isn’t the most aesthetically elegant.

After working with a great professional organizer, your space will work for you… and it will look beautiful!  See for yourself: schedule a complimentary phone consultation with me today.

LMW

Declutter Your Digital Life

In my work and here on the blog, I focus primarily on organizing tangible stuff.  However, even though it’s less obvious, it’s just as important to organize your digital life as your physical space.  For insight into the reasons you might want to overhaul your digital storage strategies, I particularly loved Daniel Cooper’s take on the topic: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Your Computer).  The dirty little secret his experience reveals is that while the stuff is different, the issues involved in both digital and physical organizing are pretty much the same!

Photo courtesy of engadget.com

Photo courtesy of engadget.com

As Cooper discovers when he sets out to tidy his own computer, it’s never really about the stuff.  If organizing really boiled down to a simple game of Stuff Tetris, it wouldn’t be so difficult or overwhelming!  Instead, it’s about what the stuff means, why it means that, and how to extract that meaning in a way that’s productive instead of letting it hold you back.

To organize your digital life, just like in the physical world, setting up systems in advance is just as important as doing the work of organizing after the fact.  What do I mean by that?

For one thing, I don’t organize my email in the traditional sense of filing messages once they come in.  There’s a good reason for this: I’ve been using Gmail since 2005 and the search function is so good I’ve literally never found myself unable to find something I needed.  And anything I want to do with my email is so easily automated on the front end that there would be literally no time saved or functionality gained by trying to file my email in folders after reading it.  So, I’ve set up the rules that make my inbox work effectively (for example: send all email addressed to an old address I never use to one folder and mark it as unread), and carry on!

A peek at my actual hard drive/iCloud backup

A peek at my actual hard drive/iCloud backup

Still, when it comes to organizing digital storage, I do have a system. To keep it easy, I utilize a common naming convention when I create files and drop them in the appropriate folder the first time I save them.  It’s a virtually automatic process for me, because my folder architecture has been pretty much the same since I started using my 1996 Powerbook my freshman year in high school!

Lately, there’s one more step I’ve added: cloud backup.  I used to back everything up periodically to an external hard drive, but recently transitioned to a dual backup to both Google Drive and iCloud.  Frankly, iCloud is a bit easier to use because I can just save things to it directly from my MacBook, but Google Drive’s ability to upload whole folders at once and auto-replace any duplicates is pretty sweet too!

If your desktop is covered with icons or your browser is stuffed with bookmarks and it’s stressing you out, consider taking the time to organize your digital life.  And if you need support through the process, contact me - I can help!

LMW

Top Tips from the Best in the Business

One of the best reasons to hire a professional organizer is that we come with not only our own expertise, but also recommendations for a whole host of service providers to help fulfill your organizing dreams.  One of my most trusted such partners is Golden Gate Garage Storage.  Joe O’Neal and his team are friendly and professional, and execute each project beautifully.  I’ve referred them to multiple clients for garage storage build-outs and they’ve always been pleased with the results!

Photo courtesy of Golden Gate Garage Storage

Photo courtesy of Golden Gate Garage Storage

Given that I have such a high opinion of Golden Gate Garage Storage, I was thrilled when they asked me to contribute to a blog post they put together of tips from some of San Francisco’s best professional organizers. I’m so pleased to be included in this truly wonderful group, many of whom I know personally (or have even worked with!).

What I love about this quick blog post is that, in addition to tips you can really use, you get a sense of each organizer’s perspective on their work.  We are all professionals, but no two organizers work exactly the same way.  It’s so important that you feel a good fit with your organizer, and I encourage you to research and even speak with a few of us in order to find the person you really click with.

I thought long and hard about what tip to give since there are so many pieces of wisdom I’ve collected that I use with clients.  In the end it had to come down to wardrobe since the closet is my favorite room in the home to organize.  And in fact, I’ve even talked about this tip before here on the blog - it’s that important and relevant to my life in addition to my work!

If you’re ready to organize your garage, closet, or any other room in your house, get in touch with me!  You can schedule your complimentary phone consultation straight from my website here.

LMW

Organize First, THEN Move

When I came across this article, I found myself nodding along to every word.  Liz Johnson's 4 Tips for Paring Down Your Belongings Before A Big Move are a clear, concise distillation of so many of the topics I cover with my clients who are going through moves.

I’ve seen firsthand that when it comes to moving, taking the time to get organized beforehand will pay huge dividends during the unpacking process.  You know those last few boxes that just have random junk shoved into them that you have no idea what to do with?  If you get organized before packing, those boxes won’t happen in the first place!

Photo courtesy of food52.com (Liz Johnson)

Photo courtesy of food52.com (Liz Johnson)

I’m working with an adorable family right now who just moved from an apartment into their first home (and are expecting their second child).  It’s such an exciting time for them, and so fun to be a part of their major life transition.  In fact – the husband joked with me last time I was over that I’m now part of the family!

However… I wish they had called me sooner!  We only had time for a couple of organizing sessions in their old place.  We got a lot done, but I could have helped make their transition even smoother if I had had the opportunity to go through all the spaces in the old apartment before the movers came.

Don’t get me wrong – they are still going to end up with a beautifully custom organized home at the end of all this!  But because we weren’t able to spend more time on the front end, they moved more stuff than they needed to and are now in the position of making keep/toss decisions at the same time as we make placement and organizational decisions.  It’s now a more complex and overwhelming process, and I’m glad I’m there to streamline it for them!

To be specific: if you’re moving and want help, call me with about 2 months of lead time.  I’ll help sort your belongings in your old place, manage your move, and organize everything during the unpacking process so that your new home works for you from the get go.  Moving can suck – but it doesn’t have to!

LMW

A Radical Approach to "Just In Case"

Have you ever gone to donate or trash something and then thought, “No, I should keep that just in case”?  I can tell you that I hear this All. The Time., and so do The Minimalists: a pair of best friends who discovered minimal living and are out to spread the good news through their website, podcast, books, and documentary film.  They’ve come up with a revolutionary way of approaching the concept that will likely shock you the first time you read it: Getting Rid of Just-in-Case Items: 20 Dollars, 20 Minutes.

Kind of crazy, right?

But here’s why it works.  Think of something you’re holding on to just in case, and try what I do with my clients: drill down on that.  Just in case of what?  What is the scenario in which you would need this item, and how likely is that scenario to occur in your life?  What would happen if that scenario occurred and you hadn't kept the item – how much expense and effort would it take to replace it?

This might feel aggressive and make you uncomfortable, and that’s ok.  People are often resistant to this line of questioning because it challenges a very deeply held belief for many of us: that one should always be prepared for anything.  But as The Minimalists point out, preparedness for unlikely situations carries its own costs.

For example, I have a client who travels frequently.  She and her husband each have a complete set of rugged, top of the line luggage that they use on all their trips.  Perfect!  However, they have also kept the last couple of sets of luggage that their current set theoretically replaced.  When I asked if she was ready to donate the old suitcases (which are still in good condition), my client said the magic words: “I want to keep them just in case.”

I tried to drill down on this a bit. Her reluctance to donating her old suitcases boiled down to the fact that she had really liked her old luggage set and wasn’t as big of a fan of the new stuff.  She felt guilty that she had spent a non-insignificant amount of money on new luggage only to find she didn’t like it.  It became clear that she wasn’t ready to make this decision, and that was totally fine – I work on my client’s timeline, not mine – but my gentle probing questions got the wheels turning.

Hold on a second, you say – luggage is expensive and can’t be found just anywhere!  This doesn’t pass the 20/20 test!  I would counter that this situation does in fact pass the test because my client will never need the old luggage in the first place.  A scenario in which her new set is completely lost or destroyed is incredibly unlikely.

In the meantime, suitcases are large and take up space my client could otherwise use for other things.  In addition, their continued presence in her home means that she’s continually confronted with a decision she made that makes her uncomfortable and feels pressure to resolve this discomfort.

What are you holding on to just in case, and at what cost?

LMW

Purse Storage for the Real World

You guys, the unthinkable has happened: there is a list of organizing tips on the internet that I can wholeheartedly endorse!  Thank you, Nancy Mitchell and Apartment Therapy, for publishing The Ultimate Guide to Organizing Bags and Purses!

Photo courtesy of apartmenttherapy.com (I Heart Organizing)

Photo courtesy of apartmenttherapy.com (I Heart Organizing)

For those readers who might be newer to my personal style of organizing, I am a skeptic of hacks that don’t address the root needs of each person’s wardrobe and life.  So many organizing recommendations just don’t function well, hiding things you need to be able to see or grouping them artificially in the name of a Pinterest-ready row of pretty straw boxes with chalk labels.  Hm, was that too on the nose?  Moving on…

That said, just like any professional organizer I have a few tried and true organizing techniques that check all my boxes: they’re quick and easy to install, aesthetically neutral, and work best when you’ve already done the hard work of organizing (that would be editing your collection, which should always be Step #1!).  And this list includes at least three of them!

I regret to inform you that I am not showing you how I organize my bags today. The closet in the room we are currently using as a master bedroom is very strangely shaped and came with pre-existing shelves and hanging space wedged into nooks and crannies.  I moved my things in as best as I could, and I’m living with it until I can move into the closet in our new master suite, but the entire internet does not need access to this situation!

I will tell you, though, that I will be using shelf dividers for my clutches and bags, and there will be hooks for my totes.  Hooks are such under-appreciated organizing tools.  The one benefit of my current weird closet is that there are hooks everywhere and they are so useful – I put belts on a couple of them, keep spare hangers on one and lay out my next outfit on another, stash the week’s pair of PJ’s here and that sweatshirt that doesn’t need to be laundered yet but isn’t quite clean over there.

I will also say that there’s bag storage strategy that works for me but that I do not often recommend to clients: I keep my purses in their dust bags.  It’s easy to see why I do that: the dust bags protect the purses!  But why wouldn’t I recommend this to a client?  It’s because many people who struggle with organizing have a hard time remembering where they put things and difficulty maintaining the habit of putting each item back in its place when they’re finished with it.  In order to help them stay organized, they need everything to be relatively visible.  With a lifetime habit of use-it-then-put-it-away firmly in place, I don’t need to see my shelf of purses to know that the one second from the left is the gray Fendi 2jours medium sized tote!

I look forward to being able to share my own closet with you, but in the meantime, these tips can get you started on your purse organization!

LMW