By: Alison Hogdson
My friend Jane is one of those peculiar people who gets energy from pulling order out of chaos. She owns and runs a bed-and-breakfast in her home, a hundred-year-old Georgian mansion. Her kitchen is a wonder of organization; even her label maker is labeled. After we completely remodeled our kitchen, I told her I would love her expert help in organizing it, but it was only years later, after my epiphany about decluttering, that we actually made it happen.
My kitchen wasn’t even in terrible shape. The counters were clear, there wasn’t a ton of clutter, and I actually had some systems in place, but I knew Jane would help me maximize the space. Eleven hours later, the kitchen was completely reorganized, as was the tiny pantry and small linen closet down the hall as well as my bathroom vanity, because this led to that and that and that.
At the end of the day, I was exhausted, but I knew I never wanted to even consider organizing a room without Jane leading the charge. She was a force of nature, but effective. After that we went room by room, every few weeks or so, decluttering and reorganizing until the day my house burned down.
Jane and I couldn’t be any different if we tried, but we worked well together for a variety of reasons. Here are the qualities I recommend looking for in a gifted friend or professional organizer.
The organizer “gets” you. Jane is a reader and has a huge personal library, so I knew she wouldn’t fight me about my books. Her butler’s pantry is larger than many kitchens and is filled with crystal, glass and china. She loves antiques and understands sentimental attachment to things, so there again I knew she wouldn’t pressure me to get rid of everything, but help me to prioritize and organize.
Indefatigable energy. Decluttering is exhausting work, physically and mentally. As I said before, some people get energy from pulling order out of chaos, and this is a nonnegotiable. There will be moments (hours!) when you want to crawl into the fetal position because the job is so overwhelming, but this is just when a naturally organized person is getting fired up and gaining momentum.
A sense of humor. This is for all parties involved. If there is ever a time you need to be able to laugh, it’s when you are knee deep in bags and boxes and the end of it all is nowhere in sight.
Creativity and flexibility. Jane’s passion is “systems,” which are personal routines that establish and maintain order. We had to find compromises between her suggestions for an ideal world and our day-to-day living as a family with several members not naturally organized — one of whom is me!
Basic respect and kindness. To put it delicately, Jane is not a social worker, and her attitude is often, “What is wrong with you?” — which isn’t always helpful. I came into decluttering with a healthy self image; I knew I was bringing many things to the table, but organizing was not one of them. I also knew that Jane cared about me and thought a lot of me in general. Mutual respect overall is imperative.
Just as important as finding a good fit with a friend or professional is making sure you’re ready. Ask yourself a couple of questions:
Am I willing to try something new? If you meet every suggestion with, “That won’t work,” you aren’t going to benefit from the other person’s wisdom. You may think you’re being practical, but it’s really a form of defensiveness. “Try it on,” as the life coaches say. Before you reject a new way of doing something, try to imagine how it could work and then refine it for you and your family if necessary.
Am I willing to get rid of a lot of stuff? Of course there are exceptions to this; you know who you are, and please carry on. But by and large, most of us have too much junk. It doesn’t matter how much you paid for it or how priceless it is, sentimentally speaking. If it’s covered with dust and stacked in a pile — and you are overwhelmed — you need to get rid of it or a lot of other things to create adequate space.
If you can’t emphatically answer yes to both these questions, it’s a sign you aren’t quite ready to get outside help. It is what it is; just don’t expect someone to help you rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s OK to be nervous and not quite sure you’re going to be able to get it all done. That’s normal. Recognizing you need help and being willing to ask for it is an enormous step.
In the beginning it may be stressful. You’ll be making a lot of decisions and may be feeling ashamed of the condition of things. This should pass. As you gain momentum you should feel hopeful, more confident and even excited. If the tension is only increasing, this is a sign that the person helping you isn’t a good fit or, again, you just aren’t ready yet.
Special tip: if you can possibly avoid it, pick a helper other than a person to whom you gave birth or who gave birth to you. The dynamic between parent and child when one is neat and organized and one is … not can be very trying.
Hire a professional or call on a friend and, unless it’s a dire emergency, leave your parents or your children out of it, other than to put dibs on family heirlooms.
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By: Alison Hogdson