My Thoughts

Organize or Containerize?

A friend of mine called me earlier this year, all in a tizzy. “I need your expert advice!” she exclaimed. She went on to explain that she was watching her sister-in-law try to organize her home, and felt like something wasn’t clicking. “She keeps buying all these pretty matching boxes,” my friend puzzled, “and putting stuff in them. But it doesn’t seem to be making a difference for her. What am I missing?”

I knew exactly what was up - I’ve seen it so many times before! And it’s a really common misconception, so please don’t beat yourself up if you’ve done this too.

“You’re right, something IS missing,” I told my friend. “But what she’s doing isn’t organizing. It’s containerizing. And it’s just a short term fix for the organizing issues she’s having.”

Sound confusing and/or somewhat ridiculous? Let’s break it down. 

This space is containerized, but not organized. At this point, the client and I still needed to edit her items and store like with like in containers that made sense to her.

This space is containerized, but not organized. At this point, the client and I still needed to edit her items and store like with like in containers that made sense to her.

Organizing makes life easier. The way it does this is by making sure you can efficiently find and use the things you need to accomplish life tasks, from getting ready in the morning to paying bills to completing home renovation projects. Common tactics include storing like with like and keeping most frequently used items most accessible.

Containerizing is just what it sounds like: placing stuff in containers to make a space look nicer.

You can absolutely organize effectively without containers. It might look a little sloppier than you’d like, but if you’ve set up the system correctly, it should work for you. I went into this in a little more detail earlier this week, and you can see actual pictures there of closets I’ve completed for happy clients that involve fewer containers than most organizing inspo photos on social media.

You can containerize without organizing, but it will not make your life easier in the slightest - and might even make it more difficult! How? Well, visualize a cluttered space in your home. Now imagine that instead of crowded shelves and surfaces, there are matching baskets full of all the stuff that currently occupies that space. Sounds amazing, right? Ok, now imagine that you need to find one single item: a Sharpie. Where is it? If you just put stuff willy nilly into containers to make the space look nicer, you are going to have no actual idea where the Sharpie is, and you’ll have to ransack each and every basket in order to find it. Not so amazing after all!

Now, there’s no shame in liking to put stuff in containers. I definitely use wire baskets in my laundry room, drawer dividers in my closet, and canisters for dry goods in my kitchen. But in order to use containers of any kind effectively, you’re going to need to organize the stuff that goes in them first.

This is why, when people ask me if they should buy bins or tubs before they start working with me, I say absolutely not! There’s no way to know how we should containerize your stuff until we organize it first.

Got lots of containers and still feel overwhelmed in your space? Get in touch, I can help you get organized AND containerized!

LMW

Perfectly Imperfect

For the first few years of my business, I operated in a bubble of my own making. I served my clients, I learned from them, and I deepened and refined my own ideas about organizing. I did this rather intentionally: I wanted to develop my own voice, rather than glom on to someone else’s ideas.

This is an organized closet. The client can find and use everything. It’s just not a picture perfect closet, and that’s ok!

This is an organized closet. The client can find and use everything. It’s just not a picture perfect closet, and that’s ok!

And then I gained some confidence in my skills, got on Instagram and started following other organizer accounts and… hoooooo boy. The extreme precision and decoration on a lot of organizing layouts, sometimes seemingly to the detriment of actual usage of the system, really threw me for a loop. (Want to know what I’m talking about? Search #organizinginspo on Instagram.)

I’m glad I spent that time in my bubble, because it didn’t cause me to question my own work or become jealous of others’ success. Instead, I was able to approach this very powerful (and very pretty, it must be admitted) organizing trend from an inquisitive place. Why did I have such a visceral reaction to some of these pictures? Why did I instantly know on a gut level that this was not the kind of work I wanted to do?

It comes down to the whole reason I started my business in the first place: I fundamentally believe that the point of organizing is to make life easier. And organizing doesn’t have to mean custom labels ordered off Etsy, rainbow order everything, or matching baskets for days. Organizing means a system of dealing with stuff that works and lasts.

I was explaining this with no small degree of passion and hand waving to my business coach last week, and he looked and said, “besides, if something looks too perfect, you don’t want to use it and mess it up.”

This is also an organized closet. Using boxes for the sweaters on the shelf would actually have discouraged this client from using them!

This is also an organized closet. Using boxes for the sweaters on the shelf would actually have discouraged this client from using them!

I mean, he really hit the nail on the head there. Imagine setting up this big, beautiful organizing system in your closet… and then you wake up the next morning and need to get dressed. What do you do? Are you comfortable with taking down baskets to get out a pair of underwear, flipping through hangers, unfolding knits? Or are you so bummed in advance about the idea of this system getting messed up that you just grab what’s closest to the front and leave everything perfectly in place? I have to tell you, I don’t rainbow order my clothes, because I know I’m not going to maintain it. And I have a lot of practice with using and maintaining organizing systems!

It’s kinda like what I talked about last year regarding using things up and wearing things out. Of course, we shouldn’t treat our belongings carelessly, but we should also actively use them if we love them so much! As much of a bummer as it is to totally thrash a pair of shoes, all the joy taken in wearing them is irreplaceable, and the vision of them sitting perfectly untouched in the closet couldn’t ever come close.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that organizing is for real life. And real life is imperfect! That’s why I focus so much on the actual function of the systems I set up for my clients, and when I do consider the aesthetic of a setup, ensure that it blends seamlessly with the client’s existing home and style.

Later this week… what happens when you put the aesthetic first, rather than the system? Hint: it’s not actually organizing!

LMW

Organizing Is For Everyone

I have had clients who are men, women, children, adults, black, white, Muslim, Mormon, gay, straight, trans, cis, couples, singles, parents, DINKS… and the reason I tell you this is not to enumerate the rainbow of human diversity but to emphasize that organizing is for literally everyone. If you are a person who is just trying to get through this thing called life, organizing can help you!

Often when I tell people about my business, I get a funny reaction: “Wow, that’s so cool! I mean, I don’t need an organizer, but I’m sure lots of people do.” Sometimes, this is probably because those people are actually pretty freakin’ organized. But I have a sneaking suspicion that the majority of the time, it’s a defensive reaction - they feel like organizing is not for them. And reading between the lines, I find that it’s usually for one of these three reasons.

It’s not that this teenager didn’t want a made bed - she just didn’t know how to do it while keeping all the elements she wanted involved.

It’s not that this teenager didn’t want a made bed - she just didn’t know how to do it while keeping all the elements she wanted involved.

1) I’m just not an organized person.

For better or for worse, American culture reveres hard work and achievement. Not only that, but we seem to have been indoctrinated to think that a high level of achievement is more than result of hard work: it’s an actual personality trait. Here’s where the danger lies. If aptitude for organizing is a personality trait, then you’ve either got it or you don’t. 

How depressing is that?

Fortunately, there is no such thing as “an organized person.” Organizing is a skill. Some people are taught it and some aren’t; some people find it easier and some find it more difficult. But everyone can learn organizing principles, and use them to live an easier, simpler life.

2) I don’t really care about being organized.

Apathy is a funny thing. After all, if you don’t care about something, then you don’t have to think about it or consider the way it may be affecting your life.

My challenge to those who profess not to care about whether or not their home is organized is this: have you experienced life in an organized environment? My guess is either you haven’t, or the way in which that environment was organized didn’t work for you. And I predict that if you can create organizing systems and patterns that work for you, you will see a significant improvement in your quality of life.

3) I don’t have time to get organized.

This single guy knows what he likes in his home - he just needed help figuring out the details of how to make it all work.

This single guy knows what he likes in his home - he just needed help figuring out the details of how to make it all work.

Speaking of time… man, do I have a whole lot of empathy for people who are short on time. This world is tough and people are run ragged. Sometimes, even to me, it seems the height of absurdity that I ask someone to stop their life cold for three hours and focus on their stuff.

And then, every time I finish an organizing session, I remember why I do this. Whether it’s the woman who says she instantly feels ten pounds lighter, or the couple that finds joy in home cooking again, or the dad who finally feels like he’s regaining control of his life after his divorce, my client see real, tangible results even from the first organizing session.

In a way, you don’t have time NOT to get organized. The time you invest in creating an organized home will pay you back huge dividends of time in the future: time that you won’t be spending hunting for things you need rightthissecond or bickering with your partner.

More than anything, I want you to know that not only is organizing most definitely for you, but also that you deserve a beautifully organized home that truly works for you. You’re worth it!

LMW

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

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!

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

How to Design A Custom Closet in 5 Easy Steps

If you own your home, or can get permission from your landlord, one of the best ways to organize your wardrobe is to install a closet system. A coherent system will optimize your space, create a clean look, and help you keep everything organized for the long term. 

But how, you ask, do I pick from the myriad closet system options available? How do I know what elements to include?

The process can seem overwhelming, but you can break down the creation of your dream closet into 5 concrete steps.

Photo by  Kelly Vorves

Photo by Kelly Vorves

Step 1: Declutter and measure.

You KNOW I was going to start here! The closet of your dreams will contain only clothes and accessories that make you feel great when you put them on. That, and you need to know how much of each category of clothing, shoes, and accessories you’ll be storing in that closet. Don’t forget to account for the fact that you will shop again in the future - give yourself some breathing room!

Step 2: Choose your product.

There are A LOT of options out there, from big box stores on up to solid wood custom. First, weigh your budget, your aesthetic, and the flexibility you need from your storage to narrow down what type of system you’re shopping for. Then you can look at a couple of manufacturers in that space and select the one that’s right for you.

Whatever you choose, know that a closet will seem way more expensive than it should be - frustratingly so - but once it’s installed, you’ll be so glad you made the investment!

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Step 3: Consider your personal wardrobe.

Closet companies all have a recommended basic layout for both men’s and women’s closets that they start with, but to truly get the best solution for your wardrobe you’ll need to have a really good handle on what you own and how you like to store it.

Do you wear more separates or dresses? Do you like to fold your knits on shelves, or in drawers? Is a varied collection of shoes and bags important to you, or do you only own tried and true essentials? What about belts, ties, and hats - are they key parts of your wardrobe or just sometimes pieces? The answers to all these questions will determine which closet elements you need and the appropriate proportion within the space.

Step 4: Save space and flexibility.

Closet companies have developed modular options that are specifically designed for particular items. But sometimes, those mods actually aren’t the most space efficient way to store things! For example, regular old flat shelves fit more shoes than angled shoe shelves.

Also, don’t be afraid to move things around or ask for more pieces! In most systems, the shelves and hanging bars are all adjustable, so you can custom fit each shelf height to the items it stores and add more to maximize the space.

Photo by  Kelly Vorves

Photo by Kelly Vorves

Step 5: Add finishing touches.

It’s the little things that truly make a closet feel perfectly organized. I generally don’t believe in cluttering a closet with lots of labeled containers, especially when you’ve been able to design the space to your specifications. But one thing I do highly recommend is starting with a complete set of matching hangers. This allows the hangers to recede into the background of your visual field and puts your focus where it should be: on the clothes!

I absolutely love the process of designing a beautiful closet for a client - it’s such a gift to the client every time they get dressed! If you want to create your own dream closet but feel stuck or overwhelmed, I can help. Click here to contact me or schedule a complimentary in-home consultation.

LMW