Just Get Rid Of It! - Couple Struggles Part 4

For more on organizing for couples and the issues that come up, check out the earlier posts in this series!

  • Part 1: Every Couple Struggles

  • Part 2: Who’s Really “The Organized One”?

  • Part 3: Whose Responsibility Is It, Anyway?

Today, we’re diving into what happens when partners have very different levels of tolerance for the sheer amount of stuff in their space. Some people prefer a really minimal environment, containing only a few objects that have been carefully chosen. Others like to be surrounded by a bounty of things, all of which have personal meaning and aesthetic appeal.

Just like we talked about in Part 2, neither one of these approaches is necessarily the correct one! A minimalist may be missing out on memories, connections with loved ones, or even experiences that they aren’t prepared for. A maximalist may lose time and energy trying to find and use things that they may actually prefer to spend somewhere else.

The commonality is that these types frustrate each other! In particular, I often find that the maximalist partner wants to work meticulously through a space in order to organize it, while the minimalist partner believes that if they just throw everything away and start from scratch, all their problems will disappear.

Now, if you’ve read anything on this blog, you know that I do believe very strongly in the concept of less is more! It’s so important that I start each and every organizing project with the decluttering process. This is a critical step, because it opens up storage space and ensures that the client is surrounded by only the things they love and use.

However, this process is also crucial for a reason many of my clients don’t expect. By going through all of your things and making decisions, you can piece together the story of how you got to this place where the level of disorganization really frustrates you. You can see patterns: what you hold on to that you don’t actually use, the types of things that cause you guilt, the patterns in consumption that have led you to waste things. Decluttering can be incredibly eye opening.

On the other hand, if you were to just throw everything away, you’d avoid that entire critical learning process that informs and motivates behavior change going forward. Also, in the case of a couple, the person whose stuff got tossed might feel betrayal and distrust towards the person who talked them into it!

I worked with a wonderful couple living in a one bedroom apartment in San Francisco. He definitely leans minimalist, while she forms a stronger attachment to things and has trouble decluttering. When we first started to work together, he expressed that he just wanted to see her “get rid of” a large percentage of her stuff.

This client’s beautifully organized “command center” - everything neatly organized, with just the most meaningful inspirational touches she needed.

This client’s beautifully organized “command center” - everything neatly organized, with just the most meaningful inspirational touches she needed.

So, I carefully guided them through a middle ground. By respecting the wife’s attachment to things and being willing to take the time to talk through each and every object, I was able to get her comfortable with reducing the amount of stuff in the space in order to accommodate their larger goals for their home. And by discovering the true meaning and intention behind the things she decided to keep, I was able to help the husband understand how to incorporate those things into their life in specific ways so that it didn’t just feel like “more stuff.”

So if one of you just wants to toss everything and the other can’t bear the idea, know that there is room to meet in the middle if you’re both willing to commit to the process. After all, there’s more to each of you than just being a minimalist or maximalist!

Stay tuned for the final post in this series: strategies you can start using immediately to find common ground on the often-fraught topic of organizing your home with your partner.


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.


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!


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?


How To Create More Space In Your Garage

Readers of this blog know I take a very conservative approach to organizing products. I only tell you about something when I have used it with clients and know it works. Here is one of those things: Monkey Bars Garage Storage. If your garage is driving you crazy, please read on... today's post was written by Meghan Harris over at Monkey Bars. And, if you're in San Francisco or Marin, please contact my friend Joe O'Neal of Golden Gate Garage Storage, our local Monkey Bars dealer, and tell him I sent you!

It is a natural human tendency to fill the space you have so that your house looks and feels like a home. Should the same idea go for your garage? Usually you don’t try to fill your garage with a bunch of stuff you rarely use ... it just happens.  

Generally speaking, this happens because the more space we have, the more “junk” we hold on to, and the more often we shop for more stuff because we can’t find the “junk” we could actually use. It is hard to get rid of our “stuff” because who knows, we might need it someday! So, if you don’t want to throw it away, what happens to it?  It gets stored in the garage.

The first step to having an organized garage is: Getting rid of all the clutter and unnecessary items.

After doing this, your garage most likely will still feel unorganized and small. So, let’s talk about how to make your garage feel bigger.

LMW 1.jpg

A major factor that contributes to the available room in your garage is the walking space. If you are parking your car in the garage, you need to have enough room on either side to open the door and get in. If you have an extra fridge/freezer, you need to have enough room to walk around it and grab something out. It would even be ideal if you could walk your bike out to ride without carrying it over the multitude of boxes that permanently live on the floor.

The best way to create more walking space in the garage (and make it feel bigger and more organized) is by implementing a vertical storage system.

LMW 2.jpg

Vertical storage means that you are optimizing your wall and ceiling space through garage shelves, cabinets, or racks. This triples the size of your available space and, as long as items are contained within these systems, frees up your walking space and makes your garage feel bigger. When things are up and off of the floor, you make a huge step towards garage efficiency and creating more space.

LMW 3.jpg

The most critical part of an organized garage, though, is the upkeep. Take 15 minutes once a week to tidy up the garage to make sure you are putting things back where they should be. It’s easy to overlook this with your busy life but will make everything work more effectively if you do so. It will also prevent the junk from piling up again.

Thank you, Meghan!  -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?


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 (I Heart Organizing)

Photo courtesy of (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!


Seasonal Rotation: Not Just For Clothes!

An old friend and high school classmate has turned his passion for education into a business consulting on parenting to busy moms.  And he knows of what he speaks: a few years ago, he had twins!  One of his articles from last year uses an approach I know from the land of closets but have not seen discussed for kid stuff: seasonal rotation!  Check out his full step-by-step guide: How To Reduce Toy Clutter in Six Easy Steps.

Photo courtesy of

Seasonal rotation is a popular concept for clothes.  The idea is that you store half your wardrobe and rotate it out when temperatures change.  It doesn’t work for me personally because the San Francisco climate is so consistent: it’s pretty much always between 50 and 70 Fahrenheit.  Instead of having a wardrobe divided by season, I have a wardrobe divided by things I can wear at home in SF and things I pretty much only wear while traveling!

For example, I hardly ever wear a heavy coat, but I ALWAYS need a light jacket.  So, the jackets live in my closet within easy reach, and the coats hang in the linen closet that’s a little harder to access.  And shorts are pretty much vacation-only items for me, so I hang them on skirt hangers on the highest, farthest bar in my closet so they don’t take up valuable real estate.

When it comes to toys, I recommend that you think about whether or not the rotation system will work for you in much the same way as you consider seasonally rotating your clothes.  If you and your family have annual habits (heating the pool, putting up Christmas lights, back to school shopping are all good examples) and these are easy for you to maintain and follow, toy rotation might be a great solution for you.  However, if you’re more of an “out of sight, out of mind” household, rotation might lead to a situation in which the stored toys never re-emerge from storage!

As with any organizing strategy, rotation will work for some families and not others, and that’s perfectly ok. Have you tried toy rotation and found it worked for you?


What I'm Reading

Clutter Stresses You Out, According To Science

Of course I'm going to toot my own horn first!  Brute Storage, a valet storage service, recently featured a slightly edited version of one of my previous posts on their blog.  They also featured me as one of their recommended organizers.  Thank you, Brute Storage!

Photo courtesy of (Patrick T. Fallon)

Meet the Republican Party's Makeup Artist

Sometimes things like political conventions seem like giant impersonal machines, but this is a good reminder that ultimately everything happens thanks to individuals doing their jobs well.

Photo courtesy of

Therapy Pig Roams San Francisco Airport

I've seen therapy dogs at SFO before, and there's nothing like a good snuggle in golden retriever fur on a travel day. But I didn't know about the pig! How sad am I that I don't have to go the airport again this calendar year??

Photo courtesy of (Patricia Wall)

"The Revenge of Analog:" See It. Feel It. Touch It. (Don't Click)

This one is courtesy of my dad, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the content of the New York Times.  While I haven't read the book, I think the review could take the analysis a step farther: I for one am seeing not only analog perceived as better, but analog used to signal luxury and wealth.

Recognition is Sweet

Check this out: I was named one of the 10 Best Professional Organizers In San Francisco by the San Francisco Moving Guide!  I’m honored to be in the company of several great organizers as well as Omni, the on-demand storage company I'll be sharing more about soon.  If I could be summed up in a blurb I didn’t write, I think this one is pretty accurate about my approach to organizing and how I try to best serve my clients.

Screen shot from - note the ad placement to the right!

Now, full disclosure: the San Francisco Moving Guide is a publication of Spare Foot, a storage company providing a full service storage experience for the price of self storage.  They’re employing a very smart strategy: publish quality content on an in-demand topic that will drive readers to their core product.  Even astronomical housing prices aren’t slowing the constant flow of people moving to San Francisco, and they’re all looking for this info!

I don't think this list is a comprehensive summation of the best the organizing community has to offer in the SF Bay Area?  I've been fortunate enough to meet and interact with several highly experienced organizers with stellar professional reputations through my involvement with the SF Bay Area chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers, and not all of them are represented here.  However, it’s always nice to be recognized, and I have to admit I appreciate the publicity!

Thank you to the San Francisco Moving Guide for including me in their round-up, and for supporting the organizing profession.



Living With What Doesn't Work

Let me state for the record that I’m in love with our new house.  It’s cozy, cute, and traditional, with everything we need and nothing we don’t.  It’s the kind of place where I know we’re going to be happy here for many years, and I can see a lovely future of family, friends, dogs, celebrations, and quiet moments unfolding within its walls.

Well… it doesn’t exactly have EVERYTHING we need!

You can learn a lot about your organizational needs by living with something for a little while, and that’s exactly what has happened with our kitchen.  It’s a beautiful, airy space, done in a traditional style I adore – and can you believe that floor?  However, we quickly discovered that the way it’s organized doesn’t work smoothly with our lifestyle and the way we cook.

First, my husband is a really nerdy cook – he likes to use the latest devices and we own all kinds of ridiculous machines and gadgets.  This works out well for me, since he’s always working on something new, inventive, and delicious.  However, we’re finding that there isn’t room in lower cabinets for all these fun toys, and not nearly enough counter space to spread out on.

Second, I’ve always had the feeling that I wouldn’t like living with transparent upper shelving and it turns out that I don’t.  Especially now, when I have to put things in upper storage that I’d prefer to hide behind closed doors like smaller appliances, baking dishes, water bottles, and food storage. This post was oddly prescient!

Third, I grew up with double ovens and a separate cooktop, and I have found the transition to a range with single oven to be cramping my style.  I know these gourmet Wolf ranges are all the rage, but for the way we cook (especially for entertaining) we just need more than one oven!

We had wanted to start our renovation project immediately after move-in, but I’m now grateful that the process has taken long enough for us to be able to live in our space and truly understand what works and what doesn’t.  I think we made a mistake in our previous place of waiting too long to do work we knew we wanted to do (we started after 3 years and moved at 5!), but I do recommend taking some time so that you get the best possible results once you do start making changes.  Our plans have gone through significant revision between move-in and now, so I’m already confident that time was priceless!