As we move in and get cozy with 2017, one of the first things we all want to do is look at how we can make New Year’s resolutions a reality. Evernote is all about digital organization and productivity, but our physical spaces matter, too. That’s why we invited Sam from Simply Organized to join us in a Facebook Live event to talk about how to begin organizing at home.
Sam, whose specialty is working with families, goes into homes and helps people arrange their space in ways that make sense to them. She’s an expert when it comes to shelving, drawers, bins, and boxes, and says she reaches a state of zen when folding items to put away. Though she works primarily with mothers with small children, she’s also helped empty-nest families with downsizing once the children have grown.
“Organization is really about simplifying things,” Sam told Josh Zerkel, Evernote’s Director of Community. “It’s about solving a problem, and being able to find what you need easily.”
Sam advised not to strive for perfection when you’re organizing your space. “Social media makes you think everything is perfect,” she said. “But those photos are art-directed. Nobody lives in those spaces. You need to live in your space, and living is sometimes a little bit messy.”
Know the difference between organization and tidying up
Sam tells her clients that one of the keys to conquering home organization is having systems that will help you keep things in order. “Organizing is solving the bigger problem,” she explained. “You have to have a place to put everything to tidy up. But, as she told the thousands of live viewers, organization doesn’t have to mean buying more things to contain your clutter.
“I love to organize with no containers,” she said. “You have to learn to fold certain ways. (Organizing) is not about the container. You do have to have the right shelf or cubbies. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune.” When she does have to buy new containers,, Sam likes to follow retail stores’ sales cycles. She knows when storage items will have the deepest discount, and buys the items then. Until then, she reminded the audience, “you can reuse boxes you already have, or get great stuff at the dollar store.”
Where to start
One of the biggest challenges anyone faces when starting to organize their home is just that—knowing where to begin. You may be overwhelmed by the sheer number of rooms you’d like to tackle. Is it the kitchen? A bedroom? A closet? The living room? Sam suggests thinking before you start—what room is your pain point? Often, Sam said, it’s the garage. “It’s your point of entry,” she explained. “It’s the first thing you see; it’s what you’re coming home to. For most homes, the garage is this collection area. Maybe you want a gym or an art studio, and changing a garage can be really satisfying.” Though not everyone has a garage, the point is, she recommends starting at the first thing you see when you walk in the door. Seeing clutter when you first walk in can cause stress, and your home should be a sanctuary.
There’s no need to get overwhelmed by the enormity of the task at hand, Sam advised. Set a timer for just a small amount of time—15 or 20 minutes should do it—grab a trash bag and start finding items to throw away. “There are so many bags of trash you’ll collect,” she said. “I don’t mean donations. I mean actual trash.” Before you can organize, she said, you need to “edit” your home. Remove items that you won’t want to keep. Focus on one area and stay within your timer.
Josh, who’s a Certified Professional Organizer himself, added that building organizational skills is really the same as developing a new muscle. You can’t get it all at once. It takes a lot of short-duration practice sessions to build the muscle, but the key is to stay focused, and not to start too many projects at once. “Start with one project at a time, and don’t start another one until you’re finished.”
When emotional baggage is physical
Both Josh and Sam agree that emotion is at the heart of any organization project. Many people run into a problem with what Sam calls “sentimental clutter.” These are the things you’ve collected in the past that have no purpose but bring back happy memories. You’re not using these things, but you can’t justify getting rid of them, either. They are, without a doubt, useless clutter, but they trigger an emotion. “Start by understanding the trigger,” Sam suggested. “What is it that’s bringing up those feelings for you? These are items of clutter that are based on memory. With items like this, go easy on yourself.”
This is where Evernote comes in,” Josh added. “You can take pictures of those things. Tagging each item by the memory they trigger can be as valuable as having the actual thing. That’s a good way to bridge the gap between keeping everything and running out of space.”
“If they can do it at school, they can do it at home”
Sam, a mother of three, says that school teachers are some of the most powerful organizers in the world. “There is no chaos in a classroom,” Sam said. “There are systems. Kids know that if they take something out, they have to put it back. Everything is always clearly labeled. If the kids know how to do this at school, there’s no reason they can’t do the same thing at home.” She tells moms to look at their children’s classroom for inspiration, and follow the same system.
When to get help
Live viewers wanted to know when you know it’s time to hire a professional organizer. People are often reticent to bring organizers into their homes for a variety of reasons—they understand they have a problem, but they have mixed feelings about allowing a stranger to see and even touch their home and belongings. Clients often feel they’re being judged.
“When you feel the stuff is taking over your life, it may be time to bring in an organizer,” Sam said. “If it’s taking you forever to get out the door, you’re late—that’s a good time.” She points out that the process doesn’t have to be invasive. “Professional organizers don’t have to touch your stuff. We can do a consult.”
“It’s not like you see on TV,” Josh laughed. “We don’t come in and throw everything you own out and make jokes. That’s television. We give you the time and space you need to make decisions.”
For more tips from Sam, follow Simply Organized on Instagram, Facebook, and her blog. Though Sam’s practice is limited to parts of the Bay Area in California, you can find an association of professional organizers anywhere in the world. the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) can connect you with organizers all over the U.S., and at www.organisemyhouse.com/need-help/ you’ll find a list of associations who can help you find the right organizer for you in the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the Netherlands, and Germany. Professional home and office organizers are also just a Google search away in Asia, South America, and Africa.