Without being a trained, certified Professional Organizer, and not intending to outshine anyone who has been doing Professional Organizing with years of experience, I can say that I have learned a little about organizing almost through osmosis. By being in so many homes and businesses, as a Feng Shui consultant, I have witnessed over and over, what appears to be working or not working in people’s lives. This includes how they use their space.
Back in the 1990’s I used to resent the barrage of pseudo-Feng Shui books that were really just about Organizing, and yet I have always held actual Professional Organizers in high esteem because what they do for people is a Godsend. Just because many people mistake clutter as the de facto definition of bad Feng Shui, doesn’t diminish my understanding that the separate field of Professional Organizing is a wonderful complement to Feng Shui advice.
My own impulses to be organized go way back as a child and I have even said that if somehow there was no such thing as “feng shui” and I had never pursued it as a profession, then I might have easily become a Professional Organizer. Being organized can influence every part of a person’s life and being chronically unorganized and/or overwhelmed with clutter can also seriously diminish a person’s potential in all areas of their life.
I also know that it is a relative experience, all this talk about organization and clutter. Like the saying, “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor,” we could also say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Circumstances will edit what we might otherwise view objectively as the same situation. For example, if a Hollywood celebrity and fashion moghul has 900 pairs of shoes, we might look in awe of that and even feel a twinge of jealousy. But if a “regular” person has 900 shoes and no way to elegantly display them, we might surmise that the person has a psychological disorder and be a hoarder.
I used to think that there could be a point where organizing can “go too far.” However, nowadays I would tend to disagree with my former opinion. By “going to far,” I could say that I might have formerly thought that organizing your spice rack in alphabetical order is a waste of time and an OCD trait. But for anyone who is pressed for time, knowing exactly where something is located and how much one has left of their basil or oregano, is actually a smart use of time and space. When you know where things are located, you save time. And time is money. When you know how much you have of something, especially if it has an expiration date attached, can also save you time and money.
One day I was just mindlessly cruising down the grocery store aisles and I thought I needed a new package of nori to make my next batch of sushi. I don’t make it very often, so I wanted to be sure to have the ingredients on hand. When I got home, I discovered that I already had two unopened bags of nori (dried seaweed). I scolded myself for not checking the cupboards before leaving the house. Why buy something so far in advance that it may go stale by the time you want to use it? By not being organized, I wasted time and money.
For the most part, I have always been a fairly organized person, to the point of generating awe from friends who marvel at how much I get done in a day or week or year. They say I am “focused” and “driven” and being organized just makes it that much easier to accomplish goals. And yet, I would always have my personal areas of “organizational shame,” such as the comparison between how efficient my business runs versus how my personal exercise and diet plans always seem to fall by the wayside.
This would fall into that category reserved for the emotional and psychological component to disorganization and clutter. And like most women, I save favorite clothing outfits that no longer fit me, in the hopes that one day they will again. I have often wondered if this kind of thinking helps or hinders weight loss.
Emotional-Psychological Component to Disorganization
It’s hard to technically separate what is emotional versus psychological, because they tend to feed each other. I would think that if one suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, that this could cause emotional distress and that most people with OCD are not all that comfortable with their OCD behaviors.
As a Feng Shui practitioner, I have entered homes and businesses where clearly the clutter problem outweighed the conventional Feng Shui flaws. Having a little bit of a mess is not “bad” feng shui and having some chaos and clutter in a happy home with creative people, pets and children, is to be expected and not necessarily viewed as a problem. That’s life!
Other times, I have seen extreme situations where I did not want to shame a client by saying what I really thought or pointing out the elephant in the room. In order to help a person be receptive to any kind of change and forward progressive movement, they need to be inspired and not ridiculed. Tough love might work for some people, but for the vast majority of people who I have seen with clutter and disorganization, they have procrastinated in getting professional help precisely because they did not want to be shamed or scolded for the mounting situation.
How could I leave a client’s home with massive amounts of clutter and make the person feel hopeful about their situation? Sometimes I try to come up with ideas and solutions right on the spot, as an amateur Organizer. Other times, I just point out when a totally cluttered area has great potential from a Feng Shui stand point. I would leave it up to the client to conclude that if they just moved some piles of their junk out of that prime location, they could take advantage of an area that might actually be really supportive for their health, well-being, or even financial luck.
Chronic emotional blocks, depression and a personality for procrastination may not ever go away. Clinical psychological disorders may not go away. We don’t tell a person with Attention Deficit Disorder to just “get over it.” You just have to work with what you’ve got. We see handicapped people all the time overcoming and compensating beautifully for their disabilities, and if being organized is not someone’s strong point, they can still benefit from doing something, rather than nothing. I personally believe that being compulsive is part of human nature. I think that everyone is at least a little compulsive about a few things and that this is embedded in our DNA. It might even be part of our primitive survival skill set. Give up too soon, and you may have been chased and eaten by a tiger!
We also have that saying, that if you continually do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result, that this is one definition of insanity. Over the decades we have had so many life coaches and gurus exclaim that failure to plan is a plan for failure. And also that the most successful people write down their goals. This level of organization, just in writing down your goals, may already sound like “going too far” for some people.
While I might offer a number of suggestions, one very basic organizing tip is to use what you need and get rid of everything else. But that could sound like advice that doesn’t fit your personality, circumstances or lifestyle. One time I had a person call me to say that she was sharing a 600 square foot apartment with her adult daughter and grandchild. The place was chaos. How much could I help her with Feng Shui? How much could anyone help her with organization? Some improvements can always be achieved and they are worthwhile doing. But we also have to be respectful of someone’s time, space and current limitations. Sometimes we just have too many people sharing a small space and no one really has too many possessions. It is just too small of a space.
Space Component to Clutter and Disorganization
Most everyone has some level of common sense when it comes to how they arrange their work space. If they don’t have this common sense to begin with, then there is actually that much more room for improvement when a person is eventually educated. For example, we brush our teeth in the bathroom, so I would bet that almost everyone stores their toothbrush in the bathroom and not in their living room.
If you have an office desk and use the stapler daily, it is likely going to be placed right on your desk. If you use a stapler only occasionally, then it is likely tucked away in a drawer or even a closet. So, with this mind set, a person can then begin to organize in a logical way.
Have the things around you that you use frequently.If you have seasonal items in your life, be it clothing or holiday decorations, let those items rotate in terms of where they are stored. If you are lacking space in a clothes closet to have both your summer and winter ensemble, then rotate them and store the out of season items somewhere else or higher up beyond easy reach. And by going through the motions of moving things around annually, you get the side benefit of being able to look over your stuff regularly, purge what you don’t want or need anymore and burn a few calories moving some boxes around.
Find multiple uses for things if your space is lacking.
One client of mine proudly lifted a tablecloth she had draped over a side table to show me that her earthquake kit was underneath her side table in the living room. Brilliant!
Time Component to Clutter and Disorganization
When I was in my twenties, I worked for a chiropractor and we always kept 2 hours open each day in the appointment book where we would not schedule regular patients. Ten o’clock in the morning was one of the sacred hours where the appointment book remained blank, even if the rest of the day was completely packed with six to eight patients per hour. By anticipating that new patients would be calling, we could always schedule them quickly, even the day they called, instead of having to wait for weeks to come in. If you a doctor never has time for a new client, then the regular client base will dwindle, so it is a vital marketing practice to make room for new business.
This was a discipline, mandated by the doctor and it worked out beautifully to accommodate the continual flow of new patients. When a person organizes their personal or professional time, this is a plan for success. Leaving time open and allotted for exercise or other goals one may have is a way of organizing TIME, which is just as valuable as organizing SPACE.
I have prided myself on running errands only on my way to and from my professional appointments, saving time, money and gas. I also try to not really run out of anything, just to replenish my supplies at my convenience. One person in my life literally runs out of toilet paper before they think to go out and get more, whereas I keep a 2-3 month supply of practically everything, so that I don’t have to run out for toilet paper, band-aids, tooth paste, food staples, etc. I used to think my mother was silly for having a drawer full of birthday cards and gifts, but she was saving herself from the panic of last minute shopping for a last minute invitation.
Of course, if you are going to store multiple items and supplies, then it is imperative to have SPACE organized so that you can have what you need without it turning into clutter. One memorable client in Utah had a basement level “bomb shelter” which looked like Smart & Final or Costco. It was very organized and a commitment to saving time, money and a command of emergency preparedness.
Author: Kartar Diamond
Company: Feng Shui Solutions (R) Since 1992
From the Tao of Organizing Blog Series