Probability, not Possibility

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As I write this blog entry, I am flying back to Tennessee from Colorado. This is a flight I am fortunate to make semi-regularly. With my older daughter Emma in graduate school in Fort Collins, my husband Eric and I look for any opportunity to travel to Colorado. This time, Eric was presenting at and attending a developer’s conference in Denver. My younger daughter Lydia and I jumped at the chance to come along. I love this part of the country for so many reasons, but chief among them is the chance to hike again in Rocky Mountains National Park. The beauty of these mountains never ceases to amaze me. It was particularly enjoyable to see Lydia enjoy them for the first time.

As we set out on our hikes, I chose the items for my backpack very carefully. The essentials were easy to determine: water, snacks, sunscreen, a trail map, and my phone (for taking pictures). Beyond that, anything else that I *might* need was considered optional. I considered a raincoat. There was no rain in the forecast, but by this time I am well aware of the extremely unpredictable weather of that area. I decided to chance it and didn’t take my raincoat. Thankfully, the weather was absolutely beautiful. I could think of many other items that I could have taken on the off chance that I might need them: a first aid kit in case of injuries, a walking stick, a mirror to signal a plane in case of getting lost, a compass, a hammock, freeze-dried food, salt tablets, a change of clothes in case I fell in the lake, an Ace bandage in case of a twisted ankle, etc. You get the idea. For every item I chose to take, there was a distinct cost involved. Every item increased the weight of my backpack. Even though our hikes were short ones, I valued a lightweight backpack over being perhaps overly prepared.

As we hiked, I thought about how carefully I had chosen what to put in my backpack and how thankful I was that my backpack was so light. Then I started thinking about the items in my suitcase, and how that same principal applied. If I stuffed too many items in my suitcase, I would have had to pay an extra fee because the weight was over the 50 pound limit or I would have had to take two suitcases. I didn’t want to face either of those consequences, so I made my selections carefully.

What if we evaluated every item in our home just as carefully? What if we were just as discriminating in our choices? I am betting that a large percentage of items wouldn’t “make the cut”. In the case of the backpack or the suitcase, there was a clear negative consequence to taking too much (heavier pack to carry, cost of overweight suitcase, inconvenience of carrying two suitcases). What about the consequences of keeping too much in our homes? You may be thinking that this doesn’t “cost” you anything, I am sorry to break the news to you, my friends, but you are wrong. Anything that we keep when we don’t need to is clutter. And our clutter definitely costs us. As a country, 1 in 10 of us pay a monthly fee to rent storage space because we have more than we can fit into our homes. 1 in 4 of us have too much stuff in our garages to fit our cars. We buy things we already own because we can’t find them amidst the clutter. We don’t have the peaceful home environment we crave because of the clutter. I could go on, but you get the idea. Clutter costs.

You might be thinking, “But most of the things I have kept are because I might need them!” That might be true, but let’s look at that reasoning a little more closely. I believe that you need to go a little deeper. First of all, you need to be able to separate the possibility of needing something from the probability of needing it. For example, one of the items I decided not to pack was salt tablets. If we had drunk all of the water we brought and needed to use salt tablets to decontaminate lake water to make it safe for drinking, this would have been extremely helpful, perhaps lifesaving. But I was counting on the fact that our hike was relatively short and that we had all brought sufficient water. While there was definitely a possibility that we might need them, the probability was extremely low, so it was an easy choice.

Now, think about an item in your home that you have been debating about whether or not you should keep, and let’s use those same principles. I’ll use an example from my own home. My daughter Lydia just went back to school for her junior year at MTSU. She is living off-campus for the first time, and her apartment has a full-sized bed. In her previous two years, both her dorm and her on-campus apartment had a twin-sized bed. When we were getting her things together to take back to school, we realized that she would need a full-sized comforter and sheets and would no longer need her twin-sized ones. What did I do with the twin-sized comforter and sheets? Because we were in a hurry to get her ready to go, I just set them aside. But when I get home, I will most likely sell or donate them. Although there might be a possibility I could use them in the future, I think the probability is extremely low. We haven’t had a twin bed in our home for about 10 years. I don’t foresee either of the girls going back into a living situation where they would have a twin-sized bed. Even if we did somehow need one, it wouldn’t be that expensive to buy a new one. Yes, I have room in my linen closet for that comforter, but just because I have room for it is not enough reason for me to keep it.

The next time you are considering whether or not to keep something because you might need it, take a few minutes to consider it more deeply. In what circumstance would you need it? What is the probability of this circumstance occurring? If it did occur and you no longer had the item, what would it cost you to replace it? Be ruthless in your decluttering. Everything you keep costs you in some way.

Getting rid of unneeded things can be incredibly freeing. Trust me—I’ve seen it in my own life, and I have seen it in many of my clients’ lives. You can start slowly, one space at a time. You will be so thankful for making these hard decisions when you see the benefits in your home.

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Two Different Perspectives

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As a writer, I am often inspired by ideas in unusual settings. Who thinks about organizing while hiking? Apparently I do, because so far, hiking trips are a frequent source of inspiration. This one came on a hike in Rocky Mountains National Park. My family was fortunate to travel to Colorado in August, and by far our favorite outing on the trip was this particular hike. The trail from the Bear Lake post to Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake is definitely one of my favorite hikes I have ever completed. After relaxing for a little while at Emerald Lake, we gathered our belongings to prepare for the trip back. I usually prefer a hike on which you can come back on a different trail so that you can enjoy different scenery on the return trip. Since that wasn’t a possibility that day, we started the trip back down the trail.

I noticed that although we were hiking exactly the same trail, the two experiences weren’t identical. For one thing, we encountered a few elk on our way back, which was quite exciting. And of course we encountered different hikers than on the way there. But most noticeably, the scenery looked quite different this time. Sometimes all it takes to see something differently is a change in perspective.

Are you wondering what this has to do with organizing? Once we own an item, that sense of ownership often causes us to value it more than we should. It’s difficult for us to assess it objectively because there are often emotional ties associated with it. But what if we could see that same item from a different perspective? Perhaps that would help us make a more rational decision. How could we do that? Here are 3 practical suggestions that might help you:

  1. Does this item represent me now? While decluttering my attic for a garage sale this summer, this question was eye-opening. Several home decor items that I had treasured years ago were no longer appealing at all. My taste in decorating is completely different now. It’s not just that styles have changed. I have changed, too. The same principle holds true even more so when considering articles of clothing. My favorite shirt from 5 years ago is vastly different from one I would proudly wear today. Again, it’s not just a change of clothing styles, but also a change in my own personal preferences.
  2. Would I buy this now? When looking at an item you are on the fence about keeping, try to imagine that same item for sale at a local store. Would you buy it? Would you pay full price for it, or would you only buy it if the price were greatly discounted? Does this help you see the item’s value a little more clearly?
  3. Revisit the decision in a few months. If you are still stuck on this decision, put the item in a container of some sort and put a date on it a few months or a year down the road. Give yourself some sort of reminder to look at it again on that date. Given a bit of time, you may feel completely different about it. You may wonder why in the world you weren’t ready to get rid of it the first time. If so, promptly get rid of it. Or if you are happy that you still have it and immediately have a use for it, put it in its rightful place and enjoy it.
  4. If you’re feeling really bold, try asking a friend their opinion about the item. You should only ask a friend who you know would speak honestly without worrying about hurting your feelings. Choose someone who’s not afraid to say, “Seriously? You’re keeping that? You know I love you, but honestly, if I were you, I’d probably just go ahead and donate that.” I hope you have a friend (or several) like that, because their input could be extremely helpful, and I bet they could use some help with their decisions as well.
  5. Imagine someone else’s reaction when finding it in your absence. It may be a little morbid, but it’s not a bad idea. I have had more than one client tell me that their primary motivation when decluttering came after having to spend many hours going through a house full of stuff that belonged to a family member. They made a firm resolution NOT to leave the difficult job of going through all of their clutter for their children.

A Peaceful Home or a Stressful Home?

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“Your home should be the antidote to stress, not the cause of it.” —Peter Walsh

I recently discovered this powerful quote by Peter Walsh, a famous organizer and author. As someone whose profession is helping people organize their homes, I am well aware of how much stress our homes can cause us. We long for our homes to be a place of peace and rest, but so often that is not the case. The reasons are numerous and diverse. But I would venture to guess that the most familiar reason is because of disorder, most commonly as a result of clutter. 

It doesn’t have to be that way. Whether the issue is one isolated space or your entire home, getting organized can be life-changing. I can tell you confidently that bringing order to your home can drastically reduce your stress level. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here are a few comments from my clients:   

“With the piles of clutter disbursed, there is a calm here that has been lacking. She is great!! I appreciated her gentle manner, her non-judgmental acceptance and the hard work she did to help me regain that sense of peace a home should have.”

“Are you stressed out that between job and family you don’t have the time to organize your home the way you wish? Do you have “presentable” rooms and others filled with clutter that haunt you because you know you’ll never get to around to organizing them? That was me, until Angie stepped in.”

“In small and big ways, Angie’s organization skills are helping our home run more smoothly, and she is equipping me with tools that are making our family’s life so much more fun! Thank you!”

“I just didn’t realize how out of control my STUFF was until I saw clean organized spaces. She gently guided me in what to keep, donate and trash. I now to go to all the different areas of my home and just marvel at how good it looks and feels!”

“Angie is amazing! I needed to completely organize and declutter my garage which had become the central zone for so much clutter. Trying to organize it myself and rid it of the clutter became overwhelming and daunting…to the point of paralysis. Angie helped me not only work through the clutter but also come up with a solution for what to keep out and what to box up since we were going to be moving in the next month or so.”

Yes, you can organize your home on your own. But you may have reached the point where there is just so much to do that you are completely overwhelmed and you don’t know where to begin. You may know exactly what you need to do, but you just know that with your schedule, you literally don’t have the time to put into it. You may have attempted to organize on your own, but either weren’t able to complete the organization or weren’t able to maintain the order. You may be thrilled with the idea of getting help with organizing, but are uncertain whether you would be able to afford it. Whatever the situation, I can help! My passion is helping you get organized so that you can be at peace in your home and can spend more time doing the things you love. I offer a free, no pressure assessment visit where we sit and discuss your needs and how I can help. It could be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made. 

 

Hire an Organizer or See a Dermatologist?

time-481445_1280I bet you’re wondering about that title. Organizers and dermatologists are completely different, right? An organizer helps people bring order and efficiency to their lives. A dermatologist diagnoses and treats diseases of the skin. What in the world do they have in common? Why would I be writing a blog entry comparing organizers to dermatologists?

Let me explain. Frequently when discussing with someone what I can do for their home or business as a professional organizer, they express initial interest. They admit that they need more order in their life, and that it’s not something that comes naturally to them. They might describe certain sections of their home that are particularly troublesome and how much they would love to get it organized. However, when I pursue the idea of working together, the most common response is something like, “I wouldn’t want you to see my house like that.” I reassure them that I understand, I won’t judge them, I most likely have seen much worse, and that it’s what I do every day, but they are still reluctant. It’s very difficult to get beyond that mental and emotional barrier.

On the one hand, I totally understand. As a former full-time homemaker and full-time mother for many years, I remember that right or wrong, much of my self-image was directly related to the state of my home. It’s always difficult to admit that a skill that comes so easily to many could be so elusive to others. You may feel that you should be capable of keeping an orderly home, and when that proves unattainable, you feel like a failure. We are our own worst critics, and we have such high standards for ourselves. But the truth is that everyone struggles with something. We all need help with something. The ability to organize a space and keep it that way isn’t entrusted to all. In addition, there are certainly seasons of life when we simply don’t have the time or the ability to do it. There’s no shame in admitting that and getting help.

I have thought so many times of the proper response to the statement, “I wouldn’t want you to see my house like that.” One day I thought of this parallel. Bear with me, because it’s going to sound a bit strange at first. Imagine that I had a very painful, unsightly rash. I tried a few home remedies to no avail, and I was desperate for relief. My well-meaning friend might say, “You should go see a dermatologist. I know they would be able to diagnose and treat that rash, and you would feel so much better.”

While internally I would admit this was the truth, what if I was unwilling to go because I was embarrassed? I might say something like, “My rash looks terrible. I wouldn’t want the dermatologist to see me that way.” My friend would probably be very frustrated and might point out that in order to treat the rash, the dermatologist has to see it. That’s what dermatologists do. They look at rashes, diagnose them, and treat them every day. My friend would probably try their best to convince me to look past the embarrassment so that I could be healed.

Now do you see the similarity? As an organizer, I specialize in helping people transform their spaces from chaotic to ordered. But I have to see the disorganized space in order to help bring order to it. I help with this very problem every day. It’s what I do best. I work with kindness and compassion, realizing that taking the step to get help is not an easy one. But it is certainly worth it.

If you can relate to this scenario or know someone who can, I would love to help. Peruse my website and see some of the projects I have worked on. Read the testimonials of clients that I have helped. We can talk on the phone first, or meet at a neutral location to talk about your needs. Take that step today. I feel certain that you’ll be glad you did.