My Thoughts

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?

IMG_1390.jpg

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!

Web_Closet Shoes.jpg

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

4 Powerful Strategies for Getting Organized As A Couple: Couple Struggles Part 5

You may see yourself in one or more of my previous articles on struggles that couples face when trying to get organized:

  • Part 1: Every Couple Struggles

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

  • Part 3: Whose Responsibility Is It, Anyway?

  • Part 4: Just Get Rid of It!

If so, know that you are very much not alone! You’re also probably wondering how to tackle your organizing struggle with your loved one. Here are some strategies that I both use and recommend to keep the organizing process smooth and as low on conflict as possible.

Photo by  Kelly Vorves

Photo by Kelly Vorves

1) Acknowledge that it takes two to tango.

Both of you got your home the way it is today, and both of you are going to have to work together if you want it to change. This doesn’t necessarily mean that each of you contributed 50% of the mess or have to do exactly 50% of the work during the organizing project! It does mean that it isn’t productive to spend time and energy blaming one half the couple (whether it’s yourself or your partner!). Instead, team up as co-conspirators in the organizing process.

2) Avoid placing a value judgement on organizing skills.

Some people are good at organizing. And some people aren’t. That’s ok! Organizing is not an inherent trait, it's a skill that can be learned. So, if you’re already good at organizing, that doesn’t mean that you’re better or smarter than someone who isn’t - and the reverse is of course also true. If you can separate your feelings about your partner’s organizing skills from your feelings about them as your love and partner in life, it will be at lot easier to work together!

3) Give each person their own space.

I find that a lot of organizing struggles stem from objects being commingled at random. Of course, many items in a home are shared among everyone that lives there - kitchen tools being one of the most obvious examples! But by mixing up things that clearly belong to individual people, you muddy the waters about who is responsible for organizing those items and the spaces they live in. And in a vacuum of responsibility, nothing gets done. The more you can separate belongings and give them dedicated, designated locations, the easier it is to assign responsibility and the more control each person will feel over their own belongings.

Photo by  Kelly Vorves

Photo by Kelly Vorves

4) Think about how tradition has affected your approach.

In pretty much all the heterosexual couples I work with, the female partner is in charge of the home - whether or not she works and/or earns more than the male partner. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it’s of course up to each couple to divide responsibilities in the way that works for them. However, this traditional division of labor can become a problem when it happens by default and/or puts a greater total burden on the female partner.

(Note: this dynamic can also exist in homosexual couples where the partners have defined their identities based on traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity.)

So, I really encourage you to talk to your partner about the goals you share for keeping your home organized and how each person can contribute to reaching them. This keeps the focus off divvying up major, well known tasks like laundry and dishes, since this traditional approach can obscure the many smaller tasks that contribute to a home but are often automatically picked up by women and unnoticed by men.

In conclusion…

All of the above are strategies, but none of them can be implemented without a shared vision. So Step 1 should always be to get on the same page about what you want your home to look and feel like, and how you want to use your space. After all, it’s impossible to properly share the load when you haven’t defined it in the first place!

LMW

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.

LMW

Who's Responsibility Is It, Anyway? Couple Struggles Part 3

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”?

Today, we’ll explore what happens when one partner either doesn’t acknowledge that organizing is a problem, or doesn’t want to participate in the organizing process. It’s really tough to organize your home when one half of your partnership doesn’t want to get involved in the process or see any value in the result! I actually see quite a bit of this, and the pattern is fairly similar. 

One partner is responsible for the upkeep of the home, and they’re at the end of their rope. It might be because they don’t have enough time, they’ve outgrown their skill set, or life circumstances have added complexity to a routine that used to be comfortable. Either way, their home isn’t working for their family, and it’s stressing them out big time.

The other partner isn’t stressed at all! Their day to day experience hasn’t changed much, so they don’t see the problem as significant, or something that requires their input.

I’ve been working with one couple to declutter an all-purpose storage room and garage in preparation for a remodel to create a home office. The husband is really successful, driven guy whose career demands that he spend very little time in the home, so it falls to the wife to run the household. She’s also incredibly busy with growing her business and parenting two young children, and she feels a significant amount of guilt and shame that she’s allowed parts of her home to become cluttered.

IMG_0314.JPEG

At the beginning of our first organizing session, my client and I couldn’t walk very far into the room. About halfway through the second session, we started discovering boxes of the husband’s old school work, papers, and memorabilia, and by the end of that day we had cleared approximately 3/4 of the floor space.

I encouraged the wife to show him the progress, and ask him to take the time to go through his own belongings to contribute to the success of the organizing project. She was realistic - he doesn’t have time, she explained, and when he’s home he wants to be with the kids. All fair, I told her, and we’d organize the space no matter what happened with his stuff. But as I left, I encouraged her again to invite him to participate in his own way.

When I arrived for the third organizing session, the room was even clearer - the husband had been impressed by our progress and inspired to contribute! He had sorted through all of his papers and downsized the collection significantly.

This only happened because we showed him what was possible in the space, rather than trying to convince him of the value of organizing or forcing him to participate during the organizing sessions. We respected his ownership of his own things, and inspired him to engage.

As a matter of fact, I still haven’t met this husband, and that’s ok! The point is that the space that was completely stressing out my client is getting organized, and enabling her to move forward on the remodeling project.

It’s not for me to dictate who should handle what in a household - those sorts of negotiations are not in my scope of work! Instead, it’s my job to meet each member of a couple where they are, and to move the project forward productively while respecting each of their time, needs, and belongings.

LMW

Who's Really "The Organized One"? Couple Struggles Part 2

If you’re just joining us, take a peek at my introduction to this series on how differences in how people approach organizing their homes can cause relationship strife!

Today, I’m tackling the most common flavor of imbalance between partners when it comes to organization: the partners have accepted their roles as The Organized One and The Disorganized One, and The Organized One is in total control.

But, you might say, doesn’t this make sense? The person who’s better at something should be in charge of it! Well… not necessarily.

In many cases, the more organized person blames the less organized person for 100% of the clutter. Guys, if there’s one thing my mom taught me, it’s that it takes two to tango. Sure, it’s possible - even likely - that one person contributed more to the clutter than the other, but I have never worked with a couple in which one person was in fact perfectly organized.

This is a pile from a day of organizing in my own home - I never show my clients’ dirty laundry without permission!

This is a pile from a day of organizing in my own home - I never show my clients’ dirty laundry without permission!

One couple I worked with was dealing with what they affectionately referred to as “The Pile.” This was an ever growing and changing heap of things they didn’t know what to do with and didn’t have time to think about. The wife was suffering quite a bit of guilt about it and using humor to deflect… and the husband wasn’t exactly absolving her of that guilt! They both were totally devoted to the story that The Pile was her fault and hers alone to deal with.

Well, imagine both of their surprise when we found quite a few items belonging to the husband in “The Pile” - and not only that, but things that mattered to him that he had been looking for.

No one’s perfect, especially when it comes to organizing. And this is a key component of my work: showing my clients what’s really going on in their homes, and how everyone who lives there can contribute to creating a more organized environment no matter their natural organizing aptitude.

In the case of the couple above, the root of the problem was that they didn’t have designated homes for all of their stuff in places that made sense to both of them. During our time together, we edited their collection of belongings and created systems that both partners committed to using together. Was the process tension-free? Certainly not! But when I arrived at their home a year later to reorganize their spare bedroom for their new baby, most of the systems were still working.

So if you’re The Organized One and frustrated with The Disorganized One, it might be time for a little self-self-examination about how you might be contributing to organizing problems. And hey, Disorganized One - you might have more desire and talent for organizing your space than you thought!

Next up: what happens when one partner just doesn’t see what all the fuss is about?

LMW

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