To The Mothers

Most of my clients are women - moms - who feel stuck, stressed, and overwhelmed. The idea of ‘having it all’ sounds great but all too often it also means having all the cleaning, all the cooking, all the scheduling appointments, all the organizing kids’ activities, and oh yeah - let’s not forget working. Decluttering may not be the ‘life-changing magic’ solution to drowning in overwhelm but there are a few things you can declutter to make a real difference in your life.

First walk through your home and notice the things that give you a little kick of negativity. That jacket you hate but keep because it was a gift? The dishes you’re saving out of mother-induced guilt? Take a deep breath - and let it go. If you’re thinking, “But April – what if my mother-in-law asks where’s that ____ she gave me?”. Are you ok with giving up space for something that makes you feel bad every time you look at it? If so, carry on. If not – get ready to get real; tell people you’re trying to clear space, that something isn’t your style anymore – even better, ask them “Why do you ask?”. Start devoting your space to things that make you feel good.  

Speaking of devoting your space, do you have a second wardrobe of aspirational ‘skinny clothes’? Box ‘em up and store them in the garage. Better yet, donate them, and if you lose weight reward yourself with clothes that rock the new you. Clinging to the past means you’re not living in the present; let that stuff go and embrace who you really are.

And while we’re time travelling, let’s stop fearing the future. Anything you’re keeping ‘just in case’ falls into this category. Ask yourself just how likely is ‘just in case’? How dire will it really be if your stuff is gone if ‘just in case’ happens? Let’s face it, your kid isn’t Picasso – keeping every piece of art “just in case” they want it someday is burdening them and you! It’s time to live in the now. 

And now that we’re in the present, declutter obligations. Busy is not a badge of honour. You’re not a bad mom if your kid is not in every activity imaginable. You don’t need to volunteer for every committee at work. Repeat after me – “No, thank you”. Declutter your schedule and reclaim time for simply living. 

Finally – get ready for some in your face life advice. It’s time to declutter the idea of being a martyr. Is there really one right way to wash the car or sort the recycling? Do you really have to be the family CEO micromanaging everything? I’m a hard-core believer in the roommate approach – your kids and spouse need to be good roommates. This means sharing the load, on everything from cleaning the toilet to picking up their stuff. Shared space = shared responsibility. Stop taking it all on yourself, and rinse the bitter taste of resentment from your mouth!

Women always seem to be last on their own list. Try making yourself a priority by decluttering the things that drag you down. And while you’re at it, stir up some good karma – donate your decluttered items to a local charity or women’s center, and use it to lift another woman up. 

Host a Clothing Swap!

A little while ago I was working with a client on organizing her wardrobe. Instead of the usual keep, donate, toss piles, she mentioned she’d like a fourth pile for clothing swap items.  A clothing swap lets participants exchange clothing that’s in great shape but is no longer used, for clothing they will use. They’re a great way to declutter and refill one's wardrobe, and, as an added bonus, are environmentally friendly. They're becoming more popular in Newfoundland with regular events popping up - see herehere, and here. My client hosted her clothing swap a short while later, and agreed to share some tips for clothing swap success! So for my first blog post of 2016, here is Carly Ainley, a recent organizational enthusiast and Newfoundlander by choice, with her tips for hosting an awesome clothing swap!

The new year is a time of renewal and the colder temperatures are a great excuse to tackle household projects, cozy up with friends, and refresh in a budget friendly way. Clothing swaps are a great opportunity let go of the past and embrace the future.

Here are my top tips for successful swaps:

1.     Save the date with time to spare: A closet clean out can be a time consuming task, so I give 4-6 weeks notice of an upcoming swap. Many friends have told me that the swap was the perfect chance for them to get around to the task they were ‘meaning to get to’. A deadline can provide focus and motivate us to let go of items we used to love if we know another will enjoy them!

2.     Encourage a diverse group of guests: Swaps work best when there are lots of options as well as different sizes, so I encourage folks to bring friends. Do you have friends who are starting new careers who could benefit from the professional wardrobe your colleagues are ready to be rid of? Are there new moms whose bodies have changed or who are looking for breastfeeding friendly options? The more the merrier!

3.     Set up the Space: My top tip is to designate 3 areas of your home for different sizes (S, M, L) and encourage your guests to distribute their items. Many women have clothing of various sizes and it’s most efficient to ‘shop’ in the area that fits your body now. Items like jewellery, shoes, scarves and bags that aren’t size specific can be in a central location open to all.

Depending on the volume of items and size of your space, consider providing multiple private change areas or mirrors in different rooms to help ease traffic.

4.     Share the love: Even the most successful swaps will have items leftover. Consider local community organizations that would benefit from items that might not work for your guests but still have lots of life in ’em! Confirm with your local women’s organizations which items would be most helpful for them. Smaller sizes and accessories like backpacks and messenger bags can work for youth organizations. Professional clothing could be especially helpful for employment programs.  Toiletries and warm outerwear can work well for housing programs.

5.     Let the structure set you free: In general, I recommend a free flow rather than a 1:1 structure. Some folks might bring more than they take, some might take more than they bring, but the right balance will emerge.

I’ve had swaps expand to include books, toiletries, men’s and children’s clothing. You’ll know best what will be most helpful for your friends and stages of life.


Five Lessons about Stuff from The Walking Dead

Over the past few weeks I’ve been re-watching The Walking Dead on Netflix. I started watching the show when I had a newly teenaged nephew and I needed something to talk about with him. We established ‘Bonding Monday’ and each week we got together to watch the newest episode. Relationship goal – check!

But since re-watching I’ve had an epiphany: everything you want to know about organizing, you can learn from the zombie apocalypse. In honour of Halloween, here are the top lessons about organizing, courtesy of Rick and the gang.

1.     Minimalism. If you’re fleeing from a herd of zombies what do you really need in your pack? Your sword, your guns – nothing else matters. The more you have, the more you have to carry. In this life and the one in the show stuff weighs you down.

2.     Kids add stuff.  Once Judith came along, so did the need for more stuff. A playpen, formula, even toys when they were at the prison! But your house doesn’t have to become toy land – Judith slept in a cooler for a while and, other than having a psycho threaten to break her neck, made out ok.

3.     No waste. From planting seeds to drinking toilet water, Rick and friends make use of everything. They aren’t dropping off clothing to Goodwill with each new trend; the only things these guys throw out are shell casings and zombie brains. 

4.     You can get more stuff. You’ll always find a house someone hasn’t picked over, a food bank someone hasn’t raided. Travel light – you’ll find more stuff.

5.     Let go. If there’s one thing Rick has taught us, it’s how to let go. He lets go of his wife, his kids (for brief periods), and heck even his sanity. If Rick can let go of all that, you can let go of your 1998 tax returns.

While the post-zombie South doesn’t exactly resemble pictures of minimalist Zen dens, we’re constantly reminded of what really matters. Carl, Michonne, Maggie – they have no homes, no choice of outfits, no Costco-sized grocery stockpile. But again and again, we see what’s most important - being together with the people you love. The Walking Dead’s greatest lesson is the same reason I started watching it in the first place – time with the ones you love is worth more than any stuff you can buy. 

Spring Clearing

Spring is here and with it the urge to throw open our windows and clean up our winter caves. But before starting to clean this year, de-clutter your space – less to clean, and clean around!

 And spring clearing does more than just making cleaning easier. It changes the energy in your space, allowing room for new things to come in. Defining the purpose of your space and choosing which items to keep focuses your intent, helping you live a curated life!

     1.      Start fresh this spring by looking around to see what no longer serves you - physically, emotionally,        and spiritually. Are your rooms and belongings relevant to your current life?  

2.      Set the intent for each room. Who should use the space? What should the room be used for? What should it contain to support that purpose?

3.      Clear out one space at a time to avoid overwhelm. Within each room, start with a manageable area – a corner, a closet, or a drawer. Divide surfaces like tables into quadrants, and clear one at a time.

4.      Use several containers as you work room by room – “Keep in this Room”, “Put in Another Room”,  “Donate/Give Away”, “Sell”, “Trash”, and “Recycle/Repurpose”.

5.      Make a decision about everything. It stays if you answer yes to these questions: Do I use this? Do I love this? Does this serve the room’s purpose? Will I remember to look for it here?

6.      Be ruthless. Give yourself permission to let go, no matter who gave things to you or how much they cost.  Asking yourself questions like “Would I rather have the money or the item?” or “Could someone else use this more?”  to make this easier.

7.      Be honest with yourself, and acknowledge who you really are.  Are you someone who uses a rice maker to make rice? Someone who wears pink clothes? If no, then let it go.  

8.      Get it out of your house ASAP to prevent it from migrating back into your space.  Find a friend who would love the items or a charity you feel great about supporting. Only sell the items if it’s worth your time and energy.

9.      Stop acquiring more stuff. Set shopping rules like 1 in, 1 out – if you buy something, a similar item must leave your home. This sets intent for shopping and ensures you only have things you love. Remember, spending more money on something you don’t need isn’t a good deal!

10.   Let yourself enjoy the freedom of organization, and the ability to breathe in your home instead of ‘stuffocating’! Allow yourself to bask in the luxury of empty space.

The Hard-to-Shop-Fors

I’m an organized gift-giver. I have an Ikea Expedit shelf with a basket for each person I give gifts to – when I see something they’d like, I pick it up and pop it in there for the next gift-giving occasion. I have a list app I use to keep track of ideas for each person I give gifts to – every time they say something they’d like, I put it on their list. I love finding the ‘perfect’ gift – the gift that puts a huge smile on the person’s face. The icing on the cake are their exclamations of “How did you know?” or “How did you think of this?!”.

But like everyone there are a couple of people on my list who are hard to shop for. They don’t seem to need anything and they never say anything they want. This is stressful for anyone during the holidays and especially for someone who loves giving gifts that fit the person!

A few days ago, the texts were flying about what to get the Hard-to-Shop-Fors in my family – texts that were addressed to me since I’m typically the gift ideas gal! As I wracked my brain for ideas to suggest, I thought how often I’ve heard people complain about their loved ones in the same manner –“You’re so hard to shop for!”.

And then I realized something – these are people in my life who never say anything they want. They’re not greedy or materialistic. They don’t walk through the world like it’s a shopping mall filled with things for them to acquire. In fact, one of them – my Dad - I’ve known my whole life and I’ve never heard him express anything he wants. These people are made happiest with one simple gift – spending time with the people they love. Their greatest pleasure doesn’t come from something under the tree but from the people gathered around it. It occurred to me that people who are the hardest to shop for are the easiest to please – they just want to spend time with those they love.

This was a simple moment that changed my whole perspective on Hard-to-Shop-Fors. The people in my life who are hard to shop for don’t deal in the commodity of stuff – their currency is love.

Merry Christmas to you and to all the “Hard-to-Shop-Fors” in your life. 


Why Organizing...

I've been organized since childhood - I swear my bookshelf was alphabetized as soon as I learned what the alphabet was! I've always been soothed by an organized space - I was that kid in university who had to tidy my room before I could study. My organizing style has changed as I've gotten older - from seeking control of things to seeking freedom from things. Freedom from cleaning hours (more stuff = more cleaning), from time wasted searching for things, and from the negative emotions that are often tied to our stuff - guilt, shame, and sadness for starters. 

Career-wise I spent a lot of time feeling like I was searching before finding organizing. After finishing my undergrad degrees, I worked as a permanent English teacher - I loved my staff and working with students but still felt like something was missing. One day I googled professional organizer wondering if it was 'a thing'. To my surprise, it wasn't just Peter Walsh on Clean Sweep - there was a whole world of organizers out there! But I was still scared to take the plunge. After dabbling in some different jobs and a lot of soul searching, I realized what I enjoyed most about each job I held was organizing - when I was teaching, I'd even received notes from students thanking me for being organized! When I took the plunge to pursue organizing, I felt like it 'fit'. When I took my first classes from the Professional Organizers in Canada, I exclaimed to my husband that I had found 'my people'. 

Since then, I've attended multiple national conferences, been inspired again and again by what organizing can do for people, and have loved every second of working with clients (and no, your house is not the worst I've seen!). I often say when you deal with your stuff, you deal with your 'stuff', and I get to be inspired daily by people who are bravely facing their stuff. So yes, I've always been organized. But it's no longer about putting the right thing in the exact right place. It's about finding the right place for me.