The Profession of Organizing

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

Ask A Professional Organizer #2 - Is my home as organized as you think?

I introduced my video series to you a couple weeks ago, and the second installment is here! Please enjoy my dorky self answering another question - or really, a statement - that I hear a lot. If you like the video, I would so appreciate it if you would subscribe to my channel, click the thumbs up to like it, and potentially even share with friends you think might also like to peek inside the world of professional organizing.

I Don't Go It Alone... And Neither Should You

For the entire history of LMW Edits, I’ve been a one woman show.

I’m a smart person. I have the talent and skills for the service I provide, I have real world work experience, and I even have a couple of fancy degrees including an MBA. It would stand to reason that you’d assume I could start and run a business all by myself.

You would be wrong.

Of course, there are the intangibles that help, like having a supportive husband, family, and friends who will listen to me expound at length about my business and offer helpful suggestions. And I consume an awful lot of content on a regular basis about entrepreneurship and business strategy. But that, my friends, is not enough.

When you operate solo, you don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off in order to problem solve or grow. You don’t have anyone to prevent you from having to reinvent the wheel every. single. time. And you definitely don’t have anyone to tell it to you straight if you’re heading down the wrong path.

Planning exercise with Leo from January - pretty crazy to see how far I’ve come in less than a year!

Planning exercise with Leo from January - pretty crazy to see how far I’ve come in less than a year!

Well, guys, I believe in practicing what I preach, and I’m always telling people that if they need help, they should have no shame in hiring it. So a few years ago, I hired a business coach.

First, I did a six month individual program with Debbie Hoffman. Debbie gave me the basic structure I needed to level up from an idea that was kinda working to a real business taking in actual revenue. One example: this MBA didn’t realize that she needed to implement a CRM (customer relationship management) system instead of trying to keep all her clients and their needs stored between her head and a simple to do list!

Then, I signed on for a more long term coaching relationship that could grow with my business. Leo Manzione was recommended to me by another entrepreneur, and he’s been making a concrete difference from our first meeting. Leo has helped me refine my business practices so that I can deliver my best work to each and every client. And most important for me, he continually helps me focus on what needs to get done now so that I can keep moving forward without getting overwhelmed by my larger vision for my business. I’m doing better work, for more clients, and earning more money in the process - so I’d say coaching works!

There are a lot of coaches out there, just like there are a lot of organizers, and you find them in pretty much the same way: asking friends and contacts, doing a little research online, and ultimately going with the person who fits best with your needs and personality. It can feel like a giant leap of faith to pay another person to help you with things you technically could do yourself - but it’s also a shortcut to the places you really want to go.

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!

Organize a Closet for the Present: How To Handle Changing Sizes

Like many women, I hate clothing sizes. I hate how inconsistent they are from brand to brand, I hate how they tell you absolutely nothing about fit or proportion, I hate that only a certain range is considered normal for an adult woman, and more than anything I hate the power they have to affect my confidence and self worth.

I know I’m not alone, because in my years of organizing, the subject of clothing sizes continues to be one of the most delicate, emotional things I handle with my clients. An awful lot of women (and many men!) have a visceral hate-hate relationship with the size tags on the clothes in their closet. 

IMG_1089.jpg

Body dysmorphia can come at you from every angle. I’ve worked with thin, fit women who see a much larger person in the mirror and can’t really believe that their old clothes are falling off them. I’ve worked with women who have gained weight suddenly and still try their old clothes every morning hoping against hope that they’ll fit again. And pretty much every woman whose closet I’ve worked in has recited a laundry list of things she hates about her body and how it looks in clothes.

How do I help? I encourage my clients to love themselves now, just as they are, and curate a wardrobe that makes them feel their best today. After all, the entire purpose of organizing a closet is to make sure that getting dressed is an easy and pleasant experience! 

And clothing that doesn’t fit doesn’t exactly arouse pleasant feelings. Clients who have made a weight change that’s positive for them dread a return to their old size, while clients who have made a weight change they perceive as negative feel guilt and shame that that they can’t wear their old clothes.

So, I recommend that if a weight change has been recent and/or sudden, that clients do store a wardrobe of things they love at a size they are likely to return to within the near future. I suggest that they give themselves a reasonable time limit, and if the clothing still doesn’t fit at that time, to donate it.

 However, if the weight change has been maintained for a longer period of time, I do encourage my clients to donate all clothes that no longer fit, even if they were once loved. This process is usually difficult, but it allows the client to focus on the present, and living with and loving the person they are here, today.

After all, that’s what I’m trying to help my clients do: be present!

LMW

My Most Difficult Organizing Job

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

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

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

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

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

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

LMW

One Small Taste of Success

My sister and I are close. Not physically - although we live in the same city, we often go days or weeks without seeing each other or talking on the phone. But emotionally, very much so - we’re really open with each other about everything from gossip to family conflict. We HATED each other as children (something something sibling rivalry something), but a switch flipped some time in high school, and I’ve been proud to call her one of my very best friends ever since

All this to say: we were chatting the other day, while my not quite two year old niece tried on all my costume jewelry and harassed the dog, and got to talking about work. She’s a bigwig at a financial services startup, a relatively recent promotion for her, and has been on fire about it since the day she got the gig. She has always been incredibly smart (much more so than I) and the kind of dedicated, hardworking employee anyone would want to have, but this is a whole new level of passion that I’ve never seen before.

Except… I kind of have. In myself.

When I started LMW Edits, I knew that it would be fun and a challenge, but I didn’t know if it would really work as a going concern and I had pretty minimal goals.  I wanted to have a full roster of clients in the San Francisco Bay Area, and serve them well.  That was it!

Where the work gets done.

Where the work gets done.

For the first three years, I worked towards this relatively modest goal. I loved the work and I loved my clients, but I didn’t feel an inner drive to make my business my life. I still treated it as a job, relishing my time off and feeling a little big of a drag on Sunday nights as I faced the work week.

And then, last year, I started to see a shift. It started with the local conference put on by the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) SF Bay Area Chapter, where I saw Debbie Hoffman speak. Debbie is a former Wall Street rock star who shifted her focus to coaching small business owners on the finer points of follow up. I really connected with what she was saying, scheduled a consultation with her the next week, and signed right up for her one on one coaching program.

Getting out there on behalf of my business!

Getting out there on behalf of my business!

As I started to work with Debbie, two things happened. First, I began to see more success: more clients coming in, more interest in my blog, and yes, more revenue in my bank account. Second, I began to dream bigger. The experience of working with so many varied and wonderful clients had started to give me the confidence to express my views on all things organizing related (as many of you have seen here on the blog), and I began to think about how to connect to a larger audience.

LMW Edits is still very much a work in progress, but I’m more passionate about my business and its potential than ever before. I have lots of projects in the pipeline, think about my business constantly, and work more hours than I ever thought I had the capacity to work. And this is all organic and intrinsically motivated - no one is standing over me telling me what to do, I’m just so fired and up and inspired that I absolutely have to get it all done. And all it took was reaching out to someone who inspired me and getting that first small taste of success!

LMW

Shift Your Productivity

When I’m working, I have a lot of tabs open. There’s personal email and calendar, work email and calendar, all my work resources like accounting, blogging, CRM, and social media, and then whatever else I’m clicking around on doing research or finding product links. It gets really overwhelming and cumbersome to manage all that within one browser!

In a stroke of perfect timing, a blogger I follow wrote a post recommending an innovative solution to the multi-tab disaster: Shift. He raved about the ease of use and how it streamlined his workflows.

However, I was hesitant, because the tier of service you really need to run a business costs $99 per year, and as a small business owner I’m trying to make sure that every nickel and dime I spend makes an impact.

Finally, after another day spent clicking back and forth between tabs, I’d had enough. I looked over the options one more time and downloaded Shift, the Advanced version.

Not my inbox - image courtesy of tryshift.com

Not my inbox - image courtesy of tryshift.com

You guys, I totally love it. I have three Gmail accounts, and Shift makes toggling between the mail, calendar, and drive windows a total breeze. My personal favorite touch is that when you open a document in your Google Drive account, Shift pops it out into another window automatically. So helpful to be able to tile Google Docs and Sheets across a computer screen - it really makes the Google Drive experience feel a lot more like traditional word processing.

Image courtesy of tryshift.com

Image courtesy of tryshift.com

I’m really glad I chose the Advanced version, too, because I’m using the crap out of those features. Shift accommodates super helpful Chrome extensions including Boomerang (which is actually changing my life, scheduling emails ahead of time is my new favorite thing) and Lastpass (which I’ve raved about before and makes life so much easier). It also tiles some of my favorite services right inside the app, like Xero, my accounting software; Hootsuite, where I manage social media posting when I’m really feeling on top of my life; and even iCloud which makes grabbing all my iPhone photos for blogging a breeze.

Shift is a new product, so there are certainly some downsides that come with the growing pains of any new technology. For starters, it's definitely a Google and Cloud driven software solution. They do offer support for a limited group of other email account types like Outlook, but my lame old Yahoo email address that I use for junk mail is still out in the cold. Actually… maybe that’s not such a bad thing…

The other thing is that there are still plenty of really useful apps that don't work with Shift. I would be over the moon if they could provide seamless integration with blogging software and my CRM program, for example. However, the good news is that they’re adding linked apps and services all the time, so the functionality is only going to get better over time.

Bottom line: Shift is well worth the investment if you live your digital life in the Cloud, appreciate high quality design, and want to level up your productivity.

What other great digital productivity solutions have you found?

LMW

***This post contains referral links, which may earn me cash back or service credit on the linked sites.  All opinions are my own.**