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.


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.


Harsh Criticism?

Marie Kondo is still hitting the news and one article in particular that came out last summer really galvanized a lot of chatter within the organizing community.  Taffy Brodesser-Akner took a much more critical view than we usually see of the entire professional organizing industry in her piece for the New York Times: Marie Kondo and the Ruthless War on Stuff.

Many National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) members reacted strongly to the central paragraphs of the story, where Ms. Brodesser-Akner describes attending the annual NAPO Conference.  They feel misunderstood, attacked, and mocked.  I can see why.  There are some biting cheap shots in there.

But – and I’m going to say this as delicately as I possibly can, so as not to diminish the effort, talent, and good intentions of many wonderful people – I rather agree with some of Ms. Brodesser-Akner’s assessment of the organizing industry and the people who claim to speak for it. 

I’ve been a member of NAPO, both at the national level and the local San Francisco Bay Area chapter, for a couple of years.  There’s a lot of good there: continuing education, mentorship opportunities, a strong referral network, advocacy on behalf of the industry, and support and good humor in the face of what can be a strange and intimate business.  The members of NAPO, as a rule, are kind, welcoming, generous with their time and expertise, and dedicated to helping their clients.

However, professional organizing in the United States was an industry waiting to be disrupted when Marie Kondo came along.  There are a few core reasons for this. First, apart from a few franchising companies (Neat Method is perhaps the most well known), most professional organizing businesses are single proprietors working out of their homes.

Second, professional organizing is quite literally an aging industry.  This is both because it’s a learn-on-the-job type of career that rewards longevity in business, and because it’s often a second, later in life career that accommodates a person’s interest in working in a way that fulfills them while allowing them to maintain a flexible work/life balance.  I feel the demographic quite acutely in my involvement with NAPO: I’m 34 and sometimes feel like everybody’s kid sister. 

Finally, to address the elephant in the room: professional organizing is dominated by women, and shares both the strengths and weaknesses of other female-dominated spheres.  The spirit of cooperation within the industry is truly legendary.  But as Ms. Brodesser-Akner noted about the NAPO Conference, majority female organizations can trend away from professionalism and towards the crafty, folksy, and touchy-feely. 

What does this mean for a potential customer?  This means that, more than in many other service industries, the experience of interacting with an organizer will vary wildly.  Some have a comprehensive online presence and others have websites out of 1995; some use online payment processing and others only accept checks; some keep abreast of the latest innovations and some are quite distrustful of new organizing trends in pop culture. 

What does this mean for the industry?  It means a long history of stagnation and late adaptation to changing cultural trends and technologies.  For all the cooperative spirit between individual organizers, the industry as a whole lacks cohesion, standards of service, and most importantly, capacity and support for innovation.

Professional organizing is an incredibly valuable industry, especially in our fast paced modern world where not everyone learns to organize and doesn’t have the time or energy to start from scratch alone.  But it will not stay relevant if it can’t grow and adapt to our changing cultural, technological, and financial landscape.   

And that’s where I find myself: trying to start a larger conversation about organizing our lives, what motivates us to acquire and de-accession, how we consume, the ways in which we can use technology to help and in which it can hold us back.  With appreciation and respect for the capable organizers who have gone before me, I’m trying to kick the professional organizing industry into the twenty first century where it belongs.

Change is good.  Come along!


Where Does The Decluttering Go?

Decluttering and rearranging only form one side of the organization coin.  The other side is consumption.  For so many of my clients, the true root of their struggle with disorganization stems from the speed, quantity, and quality at which they purchase objects.

As straightforward as this concept may seem, it’s really hard, for me at least, to tell a client they’re buying too much.  There is shame attached to shopping, especially for women – we often see it as a guilty pleasure and as financially irresponsible – and calling out a client’s shopping habits means acknowledging the negative aspects of what may be one of their favorite or most frequent activities.  I have to walk a delicate balance of calling their attention to the cause of their ongoing disorganization, while at the same time ensuring that they understand that I’m not judging them.

And believe me, I’m not judging them.  I love to shop, too, and I have plenty of complex and uncomfy feelings attached to the pastime!

If you, too, struggle with acquiring too much, too fast, check out Rosie Spinks’ article for The Guardian earlier this year: Marie Kondo tells us to ditch joyless items, but where are we sending them?  Spinks reminds us that when we get rid of things we don’t use, it’s not just out of sight and out of mind – that stuff takes up space in the universe and it has to go somewhere.

What I don’t want you to take away from this article is that you shouldn’t get rid of things when they no longer serve you.  You’ll never achieve a level of organization that’s satisfying for you if you keep a lot of stuff you don’t need out of guilt.

Rather, I want you to take away that there is a direct connection between what you buy and what you get rid of.  The more you buy, the more often and more thoroughly you have to declutter.  And the lower the quality of the pieces you purchase, the more you accelerate this process.

The great thing about buying fewer, higher quality things is that, as Spinks points out, they can be fixed.  I definitely do this – most of my shoes have been re-heeled and/or re-soled multiple times, and I’ve just spent a month going back and forth with a designer to try to get a dress I love re-pleated.  Yes, this does take some time, effort, and… wait for it… organization.  But because I don’t have too many things and I love (most of) them, I’m more motivated to put in the work so that I can keep using and loving them.

So, buy less.  Fix the things you love. And wear and use the absolute hell out of the stuff you love, because that’s the whole point of owning it!


Unmasking the Legend

This is Marie Kondo.  She’s thirty-one years old.  And although she has been a successful professional organizer since her mid-twenties, she rocketed to fame because she submitted the idea for The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up to a writing contest.

Photo courtesy of newyorker.com (Diarmuid Greene / Web Summit / Sportsfile via Corbis)



I’m not!

I think that in his article for The New Yorker, The Origin Story of Marie Kondo’s Decluttering Empire, Barry Yourgau is attempting to ground what seems like an organic, lucky break story in the banality of hard work and drive to achieve.  It’s like he wants to yank away the curtain to expose the magician’s tricks.

Personally, I don’t think this unmasking of Marie Kondo’s career takes anything away from her success.  She’s a young female entrepreneur – and we need more of those, not fewer!  In fact, we need to know that our young female entrepreneurs set goals, work hard, and face ups and downs, rather than expecting that they emerge fully formed out of a magical fairy mist.  

If anything, I’m a little jealous!  After all, Marie Kondo is younger than I am, and vastly more successful.

I still maintain that although there is no one size fits all solution to getting organized, we owe a debt of gratitude to Marie Kondo for taking the conversation about organization mainstream, and for changing its focus from how to store to what to store.  As I’ve said as long as I’ve been an organizer, even before I read her book, being organized is about the stuff and not the containers!


The Concrete Benefits of an Organized Closet

When I tell people that I’m a professional organizer, a common reaction is a distant look, a sigh, a slump of the shoulders, and the comment: “I should really get organized.”

The key word there?  SHOULD.  We’ve all received the message that in order to live our best life, we should be organized.  This connection between a tidy life and being a good person traces back to our Puritan roots and, whether we like it or not, is a fundamental part our culture.

I am here to tell you that getting organized will not necessarily make you a better person, but it will improve your life in very concrete and often surprising ways.  I could go on, but I’ll let someone who’s recently experienced the magic tell you in her own words.  Cate La Farge Summers KonMari’d her house last year and shared her experience for One King’s Lane: 8 Lessons Our Editor Learned From the Decluttering Bible.

Photo of Cate La Farge Summers courtesy of One King's Lane (Tony Vu)

You’ve read similar stories before, but scroll all the way to the bottom for La Farge Summers’ most powerful practical take-aways.

I’ve seen these results first hand with my clients – including my very first one!  I basically conned my mom into letting me organize her closet when I was in the initial stages of creating LMW Edits, as a test case to see if I really did like doing this work.  (Spoiler alert: I did.) 

Photo of my mom's closet by my husband

My mom’s closet presented classic issues that I see with so many of my clients: too much stuff in not enough space, too many pieces that never get seen or used, lots of items that were worn out or in disrepair, and a constant state of minor disarray that never quite got resolved.  I guided her through my core process, and 6 trash bags later (no one was more shocked than she!), some different approaches to folding and hanging, and some rearranging to a more logical layout, her closet was picture perfect.

More great closet detail by my husband!

And then her closet stayed organized… first for days, then weeks, then months.  My mom was delighted with the results (as was my neatnik dad), and reported gleefully that she was wearing pieces she hadn’t used in years, and having fun pairing things in brand new ways.  Plus, the holes in her wardrobe became obvious, which has made recent shopping trips both more focused and more productive.

I strongly believe that organizing a closet, when done right, is an exercise in refining style.  Cate La Farge Summers agrees, and so does my mom!


Why Does KonMari Work?

Photo courtesy of theatlantic.com (Natsuno Ichigo)

Our cultural fascination with organizer Marie Kondo and her Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up continues.  there has been a lot of conjecture about why people around the world find her so compelling - is it her otherness rooted in Japanese culture?  Is it her bold claim that her method will change your life? Is it her wacky way of comparing objects to friends and family?

All the fans of Freakanomics out there should check out Bourree Lam's article in The Atlantic: The Economics of Tidying Up.  It turns out that there are serious economic principles underlying the KonMari method that explain why it feels so revolutionary and works so well. Essentially, what Marie Kondo has done with her method is not to create an entirely new method of organizing, but to reframe process in order to incentivize a more organized outcome.

Ms. Lam also recounts the anxiety that utilizing Kondo's method can bring, and this is a stage in the organizing process that I definitely recognize in my clients.  Generally, when clients come to me, they are at the end of their rope and eager to fix their problems fast.  This is great - they're ready to hear my advice and make real changes!  However, it also means that they often get impatient and frustrated by the initial phases of the process.

And those initial phases are not aesthetically pleasing.  In order to truly get organized, we have to get into every nook and cranny, look at every object, and make a decision about everything. I always tell my clients: it's going to get worse before it gets better, but it's worth it in the end!  And it's my job to guide them through the process, support their decision making, and reassure them that even though it may look like a tornado just blew through their house, we're moving in the right direction. Even if you go full on KonMari, there's no quick fix for getting truly organized, but I can help you stay sane and on track throughout the process!


More Proof of Organization in Action

I have a stack of articles written about Marie Kondo, and I’m going to share them with you because I find the conversation about her method of tidying up so interesting.  I see a lot of genuine surprise in how well her method works and delight in a life of living with fewer things that truly “spark joy.”

Photo courtesy of Today.com

In The life changing magic of tidying up: How this 1 tip changed everything on Today.com, MIna Hart Duerson talks about feeling like she needs permission to get rid of things.  I see that in action with so many of my clients.  Recently, I worked on the walk-in closet of a woman around my age (that would be early 30's thank you very much!).  As we were going through her wardrobe, she would occasionally say about a particular item “I don’t feel super comfortable in that, but I keep it for dating because I know guys like stuff like that.”

This woman happens to be very pretty and slim, has a well developed personal style, and always looks fashion forward and polished when I see her out and about.  In fact, I loved working with her wardrobe because we have some similar style points of view and she gave me great ideas about how to pair things!  So, that comment kind of broke my heart. 

I always think back to something my mom told me at a very young age: if you're uncomfortable with your clothes, you will "futz with" them, and whatever you "futz with" will draw people’s attention.  (I'm unsure of the origin of the mysterious verb "to futz with" but the general meaning is rather onomatopoetic: to mess around with.)  Think of a girl tugging down a too-short skirt or a guy fiddling with a too-loose belt.  You aren’t looking at that person’s face or the sum total of their presentation, you’re staring at the constant movement near the thing that makes them uncomfortable.

I encouraged my client to think not about what she believes guys want to see, but about what makes her feel great.  Sure, one can make sweeping statements that "guys like short skirts" or "guys like cleavage," but it has been my humble observation that men are drawn to women who are comfortable in their own skin and style.  If showing cleavage makes you cringe, your discomfort will telegraph loud and clear.  I was able to give her a good reason to not hold onto pieces that made her feel uncomfortable, and the permission to actively get rid of them.  She ended up putting most of those items in the donation pile, and I think her wardrobe is all the better for it!

Many of us are holding onto things for complex reasons that ultimately don’t help us feel great about ourselves.  What could you free yourself from if you gave yourself permission?