White flowers

Spotlight on members’ professional development: Becoming a bereavement volunteer

In this new series of posts, we’ll be interviewing APDO professional organisers who have undertaken additional qualifications or training, to find out how their clients and businesses have benefitted. In the first of this new series, Moira Stone of Uncluttered Wales talks to Lisa Pantling of Clutter Free Living about becoming a bereavement volunteer.

What is a bereavement volunteer?

Bereavement happens to everybody. We all lose people. And there’s a huge demand for support.

I’m a volunteer with Cruse Bereavement Care, a national charity which offers free confidential bereavement support to anybody. No formal referral is needed – clients can just refer themselves. It’s a lovely charity to be involved with. (Cruse Bereavement Care also provides support in Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man).

Cruse usually offers introductory sessions on understanding your grief and then one-to-one support or bereavement group support. During the COVID-19 pandemic we’re mainly offering telephone and email support although some areas are providing 1:1 Zoom sessions.

It is very humbling to hear some of the difficult situations that our clients have endured. It feels such a privilege to be able to help in some way.

How did you get interested in this area of work?

I’m a registered independent social worker and I work mainly with people with hoarding behaviours. My clients are often people with disabilities or mental health challenges that lead to an accumulation of clutter.

When you start chatting to clients you can feel their distress. So many seem to have unresolved grief and might have experienced multiple or complicated bereavements. Many have never had any formal support. It all seems to make sense as to why they have difficulties with clutter.

I saw that Cruse were advertising for volunteers and I thought I would love to volunteer, and it would also help so much with my hoarding clients.

hands held in support

Tell us about the training

It’s a great course! You learn so much!

It’s five days, spread over several weeks. It’s often on a Saturday as some volunteers are at work in the week. On completion you get a foundation certificate from the National Counselling Society.

There are some really complex issues around grief. On the course we cover:

  • theories about grief and bereavement
  • practical listening skills
  • group work with lots of role playing (participants take turns to play different roles, listen or observe other people using an assessment tool)
  • different cultural beliefs around funeral traditions, bereavement and grief.

 

There’s homework too as a portfolio is required and this is assessed as part of your foundation certification. It incorporates a reflective journal for the duration of the course, and various pieces of work to demonstrate your understanding of the theories and information you have learnt.

Volunteers also undertake continuing professional development (CPD) by attending a number of study days a year. These include ‘sudden and traumatic death’, ‘death by suicide’ and various other elements such as safeguarding, as part of your volunteer induction. Last year I ran a session on the connection between bereavement and clutter.

How much does the course cost?

The course usually costs a few hundred pounds and is held face-to-face. During the COVID-19 pandemic though, Cruse has moved it online and if you sign up to be a volunteer, it’s free – which is an amazing opportunity.

Being a Cruse bereavement volunteer can be quite flexible. You could volunteer for as little as an hour a week, typically spending six sessions with each client.

What makes a good bereavement volunteer?

Compassion and empathy.

The client needs to feel that they are being listened to, that you are genuine and that you care.

A good rapport is important, and it’s essential that they feel they can trust you and that you will maintain confidentiality – similar skills to supporting people to declutter!

close up of hands holding a mug

How are your clients and business benefitting?

The roles of professional organiser and bereavement volunteer are very well matched. Undertaking the Cruse volunteer training has really enhanced my professional practice and my business. Since completing the course, I’ve drawn on it with almost all of the clients I’ve worked with.

Everyone goes through bereavement at some time in their life and it affects us differently, depending on the relationship with the person who died, and how we remember them. It’s also important to understand that we grieve over more than just people. It might be a relationship, a job or a previous home. We even feel grief about getting older and our lives changing in ways that we can’t control or reverse.

Even the most straightforward declutter and organise or packing and unpacking job can bring up many deeply buried feelings, when a client comes across an item that once belonged to a grandparent or something that reminds them of a special day or event. Having an understanding of this and the theoretical background, as well as the practical skills and counselling techniques, has been invaluable.

Being there to support a client through this process, giving them a safe place to talk, reassuring them that what they are feeling is perfectly understandable and giving them confidence to make choices for their future is a very special part of our job.

Finally, I feel that volunteer work is a wonderful way to build great connections and enhance my own wellbeing. When we give time to others, we get so much more than we give.

Thank you, Lisa, for explaining how beneficial your bereavement volunteer work has been for your clients and business.

If this is a topic that interests you, Margaret Ginger of Cruse Bereavement Care will be speaking at the APDO Conference on 20 May 2021. 
Headshot of APDO member Jo Cooke of Tapioca Tidy

An insight into hoarding behaviour

Jo Cooke of Tapioca Tidy is a leading expert on hoarding. She is Director of Hoarding Disorders UK CIC and author of the book “Understanding Hoarding“. In this post, Jo shares with us her insights into hoarding disorder.

Hoarding: is it a trait we all share?

Although hoarding is a relatively new diagnosed disorder, I believe that there is an inner hoarder in each one of us it’s just that some of us do it on a much larger scale than others.

My father was Polish, he grew up during the war and he remembers being hungry. In response to his upbringing he had his own hoarding behaviours, which my mother “managed” and were the backdrop to my own childhood. So it was a natural step when, a couple of years after my father died, I decided to set up my own business helping with hoarding issues.

Historical context

For centuries, as a result of deprivation and scarcity, both humans and animals have hoarded and accumulated not only foodstuffs but also objects. Just as squirrels hoard nuts to feed themselves through the winter months, and magpies collect objects for their nests, so do humans preserve and stockpile food, water and other essentials to see them through periods of shortage, recessions, war or natural disaster. Many of us were brought up by parents and grandparents who were wartime babies and who consequently hoarded to see them through periods of rationing and austerity.

Historically we have hoarded as a natural response to being unable to gain easy access to certain foods and essentials, or to being ‘stuck inside’ during bad weather. We stack and stock logs, tins of food, coffee, nappies, toiletries and medicines. There are generations of ‘just in case’ hoarders, hateful of waste and fearful of running out. Observe food shoppers panic buying just before bank holidays, at Easter and Christmas – loaves of bread and bags of potatoes fly off the shelves.

The throwaway generation

Nowadays we so easily and readily dispose of many items, abandoning clothes that are no longer in fashion, books we have read, household and technological items that are no longer cutting-edge, toys that our children have outgrown. With the ever-increasing urge to purge, and a growing culture of decluttering, there is a new throwaway generation.

Items can be so easily bought and accessed: shops are open on Sundays, buying online is easy and readily accessible. If we need a new winter coat, we don’t wait until Christmas, we can buy it here and now, at midnight, on our phone or our computer, and receive it in three or four days. We can even pay extra for next-day delivery. We have throwaway plates, disposable napkins, pre-chopped garlic, pre-peeled oranges, prefab houses, and electrical items that are not designed to be fixed or repaired. Invariably, if our washing machine, TV or dishwasher becomes faulty, we tend to replace it, not repair it.

Buy one, get one free – who can resist such a bargain offer? Shops in every high street sell products for a pound, charity shops are popping up everywhere – 50p an item. There are car boot and jumble sales every weekend. Stuff is readily accessible everywhere, and shopping and buying is steadily becoming a recreation, a social event. No wonder our homes, garages and sheds are crammed full.

Hoarding is a complex issue

In more recent times, it has been recognised that the reasons for hoarding are not just deprivation and the need to survive disaster, but are far broader, more complex. It is now widely acknowledged that hoarding can be linked to deep-seated psychological and emotional issues. We hoard as a way of seeking comfort and distraction from trauma and difficult life events, and hoarding is often connected with other mental health issues. Hoarding is a solution to a problem and can act as a comfort blanket, just as people may drink, gamble, exercise excessively or over-eat as a coping mechanism.

Possessions play an important part in people’s lives. They can define who we are as individuals, and provide us with pleasure, comfort, joy, convenience and opportunity. But accumulating possessions that impact adversely on our living spaces, put a strain on our finances, affect our physical and mental health, and challenge our relationships and our homes can cause significant distress. Hoarding can greatly affect a person’s ability to function and carries a high level of risk to those who hoard, the people they are living with and others. Excessive acquiring and saving, collecting items others have thrown away, and not throwing anything away ourselves, can all qualify as characteristics of hoarding.

Hoarding as a mental disorder

Hoarding is being increasingly recognised as a mental health disorder. The media has done much to bring hoarding into the limelight, but the subject is frequently portrayed in sensational terms. When the British Psychological Society (BPS) issued a perspective on hoarding, one of its recommendations was that ‘The national media should seek advice from experts including clinical psychologists about the portrayal of people with hoarding problems and desist from using mental health problems to entertain and shock the public.’

Hoarding disorder was recognised as a mental health disorder within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V (DSM-V) in May 2013. The five diagnostic criteria it uses to identify a case of hoarding disorder are:

  • Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their monetary value.
  • This difficulty is due to a perceived need to save the items and distress associated with discarding them.
  • The difficulty discarding possessions results in the accumulation of possessions that congest and clutter active living areas.
  • The hoarding causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or to other important areas of functioning.
  • The hoarding symptoms are not restricted to the symptoms of another disorder (e.g. hoarding due to obsessions in obsessive–compulsive disorder or delusions in schizophrenia).

Working with people with hoarding behaviours

When working with people with hoarding behaviours it is very important to ensure that you work slowly and sensitively, be mindful of the language that you use, and work towards their agenda and not your own.

Hoarding is complex and it is possible that a home may well present as a hoarded home, but there may be underlying issues to understand. It may be that there is a lack of life skills, or they may be impacted by executive  functioning which involves being challenged by organisation, planning and prioritising which presents typically with people who are neurodiverse.

For help and support, you can find your nearest APDO-registered hoarding specialist on our Find An Organiser database.

 

 

 

 

APDO Lynda Wylie professional organiser

Interview with a Professional Organiser: Lynda Wylie

We love to speak to our members and find out what a typical day looks like for them, to give a real insight into the life of a professional organiser, and their challenges, successes and motivations. Today’s interview is with Lynda Wylie of Tidy Rooms in Surrey. Lynda tells us about her business, and the impact that getting organised can have on a home.

Lynda Wylie of Tidy Rooms

What is your favourite thing or area to organise?

I love getting stuck into a kitchen declutter. It’s one of those places where I find small changes make a big impact. As the hub of most homes, there are a lot of comings and goings – people, post, food, paperwork and more. Whether you’re hungry, in a rush, or just looking for an important piece of paper, you usually need to lay your hands on something fast and easily.  Being organised in the kitchen reduces stress and frustration and makes it a pleasant environment in which to spend time with your family and friends.

NOW interview Lynda Wylie decluttered organised kitchen

What prompted you to set up your business?

I was looking to return to work after having children and, after lots of job interviews which didn’t come to anything, I decided to have a shot at running my own business – the question was, what? I was reading a book at the time where the main character helped her friend declutter her wardrobe and I thought, ‘I could do that, I wonder if anyone else does it?’. As soon as I googled decluttering, I came across APDO and couldn’t believe there was a whole professional industry blossoming in the UK. I jotted down a few ideas and Tidy Rooms was born! I even found a friend prepared to be a guinea pig, so I could try out my idea first. Nine years later and I’m still here and loving what I do!

Who has influenced you most in your organising business?

Julie Morgenstern is an American organiser who wrote “Organising from the Inside Out” in 1998. Her book was the first one I read after deciding to become a professional myself. Her SPACE formula is the basis of how I work with clients and formalised what I already did naturally. Her book really helped clarify my processes and procedures and I continue using it to this day.

What has been the biggest challenge that you have faced in your business?

One of the biggest challenges has been having the courage to give talks about decluttering. I get incredibly anxious about speaking to groups, but I’ve found that once I get started, I love the topic so much it flows very easily. The very first few talks I did alongside a colleague which helped my confidence immensely and since then I’ve given talks on my own and even enjoyed them!

What benefits do your clients experience through becoming more organised?

Clients often tell me how much quicker and easier it is to do day-to-day tidying once a room’s been decluttered. It’s much easier for them to find things and put them away again. Plus, it often saves them money: they can see how much they have of something so they don’t buy duplicates, they use up their supplies and they even sell things they discover they no longer need. They also mention a greater sense of calm because there’s less clutter and unmade decisions surrounding them. This helps them think more clearly, rest and enjoy spending time at home. It can impact the whole family and many clients have said it’s been a life changing experience for them.

When you are going to a client, what essentials are in your toolkit?

I always take coloured bags to help us distinguish rubbish/recycling/charity, a labelling machine for neat sticky labels, wipes/duster to clean as we go, sticky notes and scissors. Oh, and a cereal bar to keep me going!

What’s the most memorable collection that you have ever seen? And what did you and your client do with it?

I had a client who collected brand new £5 notes. She had a big pile of them, but the clever thing was she would give one to her nephews whenever she saw them, so although it seemed strange to collect current notes, she had a purpose for them and was gradually working through them!

What’s the best outcome you’ve ever seen?

It’s fantastic when you have the opportunity to declutter and organise a whole house. The impact on the client can be so far reaching, it’s even life changing. I’ve been working with a client for the past 2 years who relocated to London and needed help deciding the purpose of her rooms and arranging their layouts as well as contents.  Everything from the kitchen, to part of the garden, to the basement and the library. Seeing the whole house gradually evolve to meet her family’s needs and her excitement and delight as rooms were transformed, has been such a privilege and a pleasure. She’s been able to redecorate, make money from the sale of furniture, have guests to stay, even plan an extension. She’s grown in confidence to organise on her own, thinks differently about her space and finds living at home much less stressful.

NOW interview Lynda Wylie decluttered organised cupboard

Who’s your dream client? Who do you most like to help?

My dream client is someone who knows they need change but they’re not sure what or how to do it. Working together we look at how they live in their space and what changes will turn it into a home which meets their current needs. It’s a real honour to share this process with them and guide them through decision making, helping them reflect on how they live and what they have. Decluttering and organising is so much more than just the stuff, you really get to know your clients and often their families too. I think the clients who are open to trying new ways of living, whether that’s tackling their stuff, changing habits or developing systems, they are the ones who experience the most benefit from the journey and I love sharing it with them.

What’s your top tip to share?

There are so many, it’s really hard to pick just one! I’d say grouping similar items together is often a game changer for my clients.  This means storing all your similar items together. So for example, in the kitchen, it’s putting all your cleaning products in one place, all your cups in one cupboard, all your cookery books on one shelf. That way you can see what you have, what needs using up, what’s missing, how much storage you need and more. It’s a technique to use all over your home, in every room and will help define your spaces and rationalise your stuff so you can be more organised.

If you are considering a career in professional organising like Lynda, you can find out more about APDO’s training courses here – or sign up for the APDO Conference on 20 May 2021.
Or if you’d like some help to get organised at home you can find your nearest organiser here.

 

Headshot of APDO member Lou Shaw of Clutter Freedom

Spotlight on members’ professional development: Becoming a Home Sweet Home consultant

In this series of posts, we’ll be interviewing professional organisers who’ve undertaken additional qualifications or training and finding out how their businesses have benefitted.

Moira Stone of Uncluttered Wales talked to Lou Shaw of Clutter Freedom in London about becoming part of the Home Sweet Home network of professional organisers.

Becoming part of the Home Sweet Home network of professional organisers

Lou runs Clutter Freedom which covers south-west, south-east and central London. Lou herself lives in Battersea in south-west London near the Thames. It’s a very densely populated area but with a villagey feel. There are old Battersea residents, people who’ve moved to the area to bring up children, and a lot of people moving in and out. With its good transport links to central London, easy access to open spaces, family-sized houses and good schools, it’s a popular choice for people moving to work in London for a few years.

What’s Home Sweet Home and how did you get interested in being one of their contractors?

When I did APDO’s introductory training I met Louise Muratori of Be Clutter Free and we hit it off straight away, supporting and mentoring one another. It was through her Lancashire network that I heard that Marie Bateson, of Cut the Clutter, the APDO Director of Volunteers and UK co-ordinator for Home Sweet Home, was looking to build up the network of professional organisers who are APDO members.

Home Sweet Home was set up in Los Angeles in 2004 to simplify corporate moves and save companies money. Originally helping with internal USA and Canada moves, Home Sweet Home now operates in seven countries, serving Fortune 500 companies and their employees. I’ve worked with people from companies like Amazon, Apple, Netflix and American Express, for example.

I’ve always been interested in homes and moving so I love this work! I also believe in recycling and reusing and I’m keen to help my local community, so that fits in too.

Home Sweet Home sponsor logo

Tell us a bit more about Home Sweet Home

There are two main programmes:

  • Discard and Donate is for people leaving the UK to relocate to another country. In normal times, pre-COVID, we would help them declutter their home, working out what they would take with them and what they would leave behind. These are usually pieces of furniture and items with UK plugs like lights, hairdryers and tower fans. But it could be anything and often includes children’s toys and equipment. I then decide where the items can go, to charity or elsewhere. I like the challenge of getting things out there into the local community.

 

  • Quick Start is an unpack and put away service for company executives moving to this country. We will work in a team, unpacking all their belongings quickly and efficiently and organising their new home. When the executive and family come to their new home to find it ready for them, they’re thrilled! It not only makes the move to a new country less stressful, it also saves them a lot of unpacking time.

 

Marie organised a team of three APDO members to complete a Quick Start service for a family relocating to London from Spain who had to quarantine on arrival. I worked with Susanna Drew of Home Review and Gill Ritchie of Declutter Dahling, unpacking for a family of five into a large central London apartment. It was hard work and a logistical challenge but, yes, it was good fun too and it gave me a chance to meet other organisers.

Home Sweet Home services are offered as part of the relocation package and paid for by the transferring company. The company benefits because staff are happier and less stressed. They also save money as the number of goods transported is reduced and the amount the company saves on shipment covers the cost of Home Sweet Home.

Helping others

The service also helps the environment as less is transported, less packing material is used and there are fewer fuel emissions. And for every tree saved, Home Sweet Home makes a donation to plant three trees. The aim is for as much as possible of the donated items of furniture, household equipment and clothing to make its way back into the community to be reused or recycled.

I worked with a couple who were moving from a fantastic ninth floor apartment near the American Embassy in London to Tokyo. Almost all the items they left behind were donated to a grassroots organisation working to help get homeless people into new homes and other vulnerable people.

What makes a good Home Sweet Home contractor?

  • Being helpful, friendly and efficient while keeping a professional edge. I’m there representing Home Sweet Home and not promoting my own business.
  • Being a hands-on kind of person.
  • Being able to supervise, if required – packing, cleaning and so on.
  • Having a car is very useful.

 

Having the ability to think on your feet and having a certain amount of flexibility. There might be a suddenly remembered or discovered item to be dealt with immediately. Like the forgotten bike shed – which very quickly went on NextDoor. Or the two storage boxes of shoes found under a very low bed that the packers had missed – definitely wanted and needed by the transferee, who was in Frankfurt by then – that I was able to drive up to the shipping company at very short notice to join the consignment heading for Frankfurt.

Being resourceful with a good network. Covid has pushed us all to dig deeper and rethink our networks now charity shops are often closed. I’ve developed new contacts with Big Local SW11 and Wandsworth Mediation Services which supports very vulnerable families and gets homeless people off the street. There’s also Little Village, a children’s and babies’ clothes and equipment bank, which is great for children’s clothes, cots and buggies. I use my local NextDoor and a WhatsApp group and things go very quickly through them. I use a waste removal service for broken or damaged items, furniture without UK fire rating labels, mattresses and other items that charity outlets cannot take.

 

a room filled with packing boxes and a mirror standing against the wall

Tell us about training

Marie Bateson, our co-ordinator, trained with Home Sweet Home in Los Angeles so I was rather hoping that I could too! Unfortunately, I had to do it over Zoom…

The training is done by Jeff Heisler, Home Sweet Home’s President, and Marie. It’s free and takes a couple of hours. It’s very straightforward and there’s no commitment. There’s an introduction to Home Sweet Home and what it does, and then a description of the nuts and bolts of how it works.

When you join the network, you get all the help and support you need from Marie. Paperwork is straightforward. The Cost Saving Report, for example, is in an Excel spreadsheet which includes lists of household items, categorised by room/garden and their average weights. You simply list the number of items of a particular thing, for example, 1 three-seater sofa, 6 hand kitchen appliances, 3 large bags of clothing, and Excel calculates the overall shipping weight saving.

What are the benefits to your business of being a Home Sweet Home contractor?

It’s helping me to have a better knowledge of my own area and community and to build up a wider network of contacts. It’s really nice to get to know people. We’re all rubbing along together and are very loyal to the area. I’ve lived here for 20+ years. It’s like an extended family.

What’s your advice to someone thinking about joining the HSH network?

I’d say give it a go. You’re under no obligation, and you can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to any job you’re offered. It does help in quieter periods of your own business.

Clients are professionals who are friendly and appreciative of the service Home Sweet Home offers them. It does take a weight off their minds that the possessions they’re leaving behind are going to a good cause to help people in the area where they’ve lived for the last couple of years.

I’ve been to some amazing properties and recently it’s been nice to have an excuse to zip about London. I’m off to a house in Notting Hill next week. The transferee has provided a list of items so I can plan how to distribute them efficiently. There are always last-minute items, though, that the family decide to leave behind once the packers begin their job so there may be a few surprises.

Training is usually carried out twice a year but if you’re an APDO member and you’d like to get on the books, email Marie as she can often get you on board before the next training session.

Thank you Lou for sharing your work with us and explaining more about the Home Sweet Home network and its services. 

We are delighted to welcome Home Sweet Home as Key Sponsor of the APDO Conference 2021: The Future Is Re-Organised. For further details head to the Conference page!

A child running through water fountain

Letting go: Learning an essential life skill

So, you’ve decided it’s time to take action on your clutter.

A build-up of “things” can be a real burden. It’s not just the physical result of too much stuff, but also the emotional weight it puts on a person.

You’re aware of all the benefits that getting organised will bring – more space, easier to clean & maintain, quicker to find things, a clearer mind and just more pleasurable all round. Then just as you get cracking, wham, you’re hit with indecision and an inability to let go of a heap of things.

Letting go doesn’t just mean letting go of the past,

but letting go of an unknown future; and embracing NOW.”
Michelle Cruz-Rosado

In this post, organiser Jodi Sharpe of The 25th Hour contemplates a variety of issues surrounding the tricky topic of letting go.

Fortunately, letting go is a life skill that CAN be learnt.

Making room

“Letting go” makes more room for other stuff, and I don’t mean more things! When my teenage daughter shifted from a high sleeper to a regular double bed recently, she also had a pretty major declutter of her walls. Some of the pics, medals and “creations” had been around since she was in primary school. Yep, they are lovely but they’re not a reflection of who she is or the way she wants to be right now. Some bits we popped into a memory box, but most have been moved on. She’s now really enjoying flopping on her bed, reading and just chillin’ in there! There’s also plenty of SPACE to add meaningful bits and pieces as the next stage in her life unfolds.

Leo Babauta, author of “Zen Habits”, talks of letting go of possessions as “delicious and liberating”. He identifies a process that most of us follow in letting go:

  • Ask whether something is worthy of being in your life e.g. do you need ALL the artwork and crafts your child ever created in nursery?!
  • You realise it causes more problems than it’s worth.
  • You’re a tad concerned, but you manage to part with it.
  • You find that release and a touch of freedom.

Our own particular route might raise a few more questions, some nagging doubts and possibly some procrastination too. Some will find getting past number 3 easier than others.

Decision making

At times we’re afraid of making the wrong decision. “What if I let it go and then I NEED it?” is such a common thought. There is usually no WRONG decision. From letting things go we might learn how to find an alternative solution, how to go without or simply accept that it’s just not that important.

Why not think of it as an opportunity for growth, as well as an unexpected surprise? It’s OK if you don’t get it quite right. In fact, that can be a pretty desirable outcome.

Getting back to Babauta, he goes on to explain that every possession gives us something more than just practicality. What he’s talking about are the things like comfort, security, love and even self-image. It is NOT the items which have these properties – it is within YOU. When we understand this, it can help us to make those really tricky decisions.

colourful toys arranged on a white background

Untangling feelings

Let’s think of another example. Last year I worked with a single mum and son (aged around 8). My client had recognised for some time that there was simply too much stuff in most of the rooms in their house but she couldn’t quite pin down why she struggled to part with things. Together we decided that her bedroom would be the first room to be tackled and tamed.

Once we started, we moved surprisingly swiftly. Over just a few sessions, she started to untangle the feelings she associated with the items. There was make up she had held onto for security in case she couldn’t afford to buy more, not because she was actually going to wear it. There were partly-completed craft projects which she felt she SHOULD be doing, projects which added to her self image but were no longer important enough to be on her ‘to do’ list.

Then there were mementos from a very different period in her life which she thought she gleaned love from but which were actually dragging her back into the past. When thinking about what to keep and what should stay, it became increasingly clear to her that she no longer needed to hold onto physical items to feel safe or loved, or to bolster her self-esteem. Her bedroom was transformed.

With this new-found energy and insight we were then able to move onto her son’s room. Whilst this was a slower process, we still made substantial progress to a warm, comfy, fun and pretty well organised space. We used some tools to aid the declutter – taking photos of special stuff which was going, transferring the REALLY precious items to a memory box and focusing on the benefit to others of the donations which would be made. At the end of our work together, both mother and son said that they felt refreshed and happy with their “new” rooms. This is the joy of letting go.

With this new-found energy and insight we were then able to move onto her son’s room. Whilst this was a slower process, we still made substantial progress to a warm, comfy, fun and pretty well organised space. We used some tools to aid the declutter – taking photos of special stuff which was going, transferring the REALLY precious items to a memory box and focusing on the benefit to others of the donations which would be made. At the end of our work together, both mother and son said that they felt refreshed and happy with their “new” rooms. This is the joy of letting go.

Embracing the present

In conclusion, we are sometimes AFRAID to let go. We often focus on the past rather than being in the moment. When we embrace the present, we can find the courage to let go. Establishing our honest response as to “why” we want to keep something is not easy to do, but with practice it really does get easier! This in turn, allows us to move forward in achieving our decluttering and organising desires.

If Jodi’s post has interested you in the connection between our belongings and our feelings, Dr Sheryl Ziegler will be speaking at the APDO Conference on “How chronic stress affects cognitive abilities”. Find out more and book your ticket on the conference page.

Headshot of APDO member Diana Spellman of Serenly Sorted

A messy home is a stressy home

In this post, organiser Diana Spellman, Founder of Serenely Sorted, shares the results of her fascinating research into the connection between clutter and stress.

“Distracted.  Annoyed.  Anxious. Unhappy.  Can’t relax.  Irritated.  Stressful”

These are just some of the feelings evoked by mess stress.

Back in the Summer of 2019, my mess stress had reached a point where I knew something had to change.  I resented all the time I was spending tidying at the weekends.  Because nothing ever seemed to change – the house would be back to ‘mess town’ in what seemed like minutes.

This mess stress really affected me.  I worked from home, so I couldn’t get away from it, either because I could see it while I worked, or the nagging voice in my head was reminding me of all the piles I needed to sort.  Because I had a lot of piles!  I sometimes felt better if I merged several piles into one mega pile, but the problem was just getting bigger.

It may not affect you, or your clients, in an obvious way as it did me.  It may be just a niggle, or something you just can’t put your finger on, but it stops you being able to relax fully at home – the place that should be our haven.

APDO member Diana Spellman of Serenely Sorted organising a kitchen cupboard

Mess stress affects us all

My recent Kantar survey* found that the feelings I was having back then are not at all uncommon.  In fact, 82% of us have experienced ‘mess stress’ at some point in our lives, with nearly half (44%) at least weekly.  This figure is higher amongst women, and starkly, 98% of parents of young children have experienced mess stress, with 71% experiencing it at least weekly.  Even 72% of those who define themselves as ‘naturally tidy’ had experienced mess stress. Mess stress gets to us all.

“It makes me feel anxious and I can never rest as I am always thinking I need to tidy my home – never feel content fully” Male, 35-44

“It distracts me, I don’t feel happy at all when the house is messy” Female, 35-44

“I am bothered by the mess and even if I do not think actively about it at the time, my mood is low.” Male, 18-24

The survey also explored the impact of letting our mess get the better of us, and reveals that, inevitably perhaps, 62% of people do not love their homes as much as they did when they moved in, revealing that our day-to-day habits were leading us to not fully appreciate our homes as our havens.

Low take up of well-known systems: are the TV shows causing us to turn off?

Given that mess stress is pervasive, are we actually doing anything about it, or are we just accepting it as part of ‘our lot’?  From the research, it seems not many of us are using the well-known systems we see on TV.  Is this because of overwhelm as a response to Insta perfect homes and the expectations we have of such solutions?

Graph showing awareness and use of various organising methods

Thankfully, despite low uptake of the TV-worthy systems, there is high demand for practical solutions, with 76% saying that they are either very or somewhat likely to take up a realistic solution that isn’t intimidating and could be sustained over time.

Graph showing the likelihood of adopting realistic home organisation methods

With so many homes across the UK experiencing mess stress, the challenge for APDO Association of Professional Declutterers & Organisers and its members is to communicate what’s available, and how we professional organisers  support our clients with practical, sustainable approaches

Back in the Summer of 2019, I couldn’t find exactly that route, so I solved both my mess stress and reduced/eliminated the dreaded tidying by building my own practical, realistic and sustainable system. Initially just for myself, I now teach people the Serenely Sorted System via online programmes and install it in people’s homes through my business Serenely Sorted, enabling people to remove the daily debris from the surfaces in their homes and address the piles for the long term.  The system utilises my corporate skills of system and process improvement, involves methods through which people can become more aware of how their behaviour creates mess, and techniques to break the mess/tidy loop they are in – and help them get tidy in less time than ever before.

With over 59% of households spending more than 30 minutes per day tidying, there is huge scope for helping people reduce and eliminate some of this drudgery by finding better ways of tidying.  Fascinatingly, those who claim to be naturally tidy are spending the most time actually tidying (63% spending more than 30 minutes), so it’s reassuring to the rest of us that perhaps the ‘naturally tidy’ image portrayed is just that – an image – and in fact the majority of us are not in control of our homes!

* Source: Nationally representative survey of 250 respondents conducted by Kantar on behalf of Serenely Sorted

If Diana’s article has prompted you to get some help with your own mess stress, you can find your local APDO professional organiser on our Find An Organiser database.

an open diary on a desk with piles of notebooks

Decluttering our lives as we emerge from lockdown

Karen Eyre-White of time management business Go Do gives her perspective on how we can declutter our lives after a challenging year.

When we think of decluttering, we typically think of physical things and reclaiming the spaces in our homes to create a greater sense of calm and order. But it’s also possible to declutter our lives; to reclaim our time and remove from our schedule those things which aren’t serving us anymore.

This can be hard to do. We have long-standing commitments in our diaries, we go to the same places and see the same people we’ve always seen, and our habits are deeply ingrained.

Or at least that used to be true.

The last year has turned everything on its head. The COVID lockdown measures have forced many unwelcome changes in our lives – our movement has been restricted, we’ve been isolated from friends and family and unable to do many of the things we love.

But as we emerge from our third COVID lockdown, how can we make use of what has changed over the last year to take stock of how we want to spend our time? How can we declutter what we don’t need and bring in new ways of spending time which make us happier?

Here are a few ideas and questions to ask ourselves over the coming months.

Socialising

Lockdown and the Rule of Six has meant our social lives have been dramatically transformed over the last year. We’re not meeting up with friends, going out for dinner or drinks, or taking group holidays.

As we’re gradually allowed to do these things again, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the last year and decide what you want to prioritise.

Have you enjoyed spending more time at home with those closest to you? Has it been a relief not to try to have a conversation in a loud restaurant or bar? Have you kept in touch virtually with a smaller group of close friends, and not missed others as much as you expected to?

Think about what this means for how you could rebuild your social life post-lockdown.

people socialising around a table full of coffee cups and cake

Activities and commitments

Whether it’s a group exercise class, a book club or being involved in a local community group, over the last year we’ve all spent less time on commitments outside of the home. We can’t go to group classes and activities, so we’ve become more home-based. Perhaps you’ve taken up gardening or started sewing your own clothes. Maybe you’ve connected with like-minded people virtually in a way you haven’t before.

When we’re forced to stop commitments, it can be an opportunity to reflect and take stock.

Did you feel ‘off the hook’ of saying yes to everything? Have you been happier with fewer commitments in your diary?

What activities are you raring to get back to? Focus on bringing those back in to your life first.

Commuting

For many, 23 March 2021 marked one year of working from home.

If that was you, how have you spent the time you used to spend commuting? Maybe you’ve cultivated an exercise habit, perhaps you’re reading more, or are able to spend more quality time with your children. Or, conversely, maybe you’ve realised that your commute was vital decompressing time between work and home and you’ve missed that clear boundary.

How will your job change as lockdown eases? Are you being given the option to work from home more, or perhaps even permanently? Would that be a positive or negative thing for you?

We don’t always have control over how and where we work but thinking these things through in advance will put you in the best possible position if an opportunity arises.

clothes on a shop rail

Shopping

Remember last spring, when supermarkets were under huge pressure and you couldn’t get a delivery slot for love nor money? Now, online shopping and food deliveries are the norm. We aren’t spending our Saturdays at the local retail park or town centre, or in the supermarket aisles, and we’re doing a huge proportion of our shopping online.

Of course, this isn’t simply a time saver: researching purchases online takes time and returning items if they’re not suitable can often mean time spent queuing at the post office.

How have you found it? Has online food shopping been easier than you expected? Have you found it frustrating or liberating to shop for clothes online?

Our shopping habits can feel like a small part of our lives, but they can have a significant impact on how we spend our time day-to-day. Take a few moments to think intentionally about how you’ll shop as retail re-opens.

Our lives have changed dramatically over the last year. We can create something positive out of it by thinking through how we want to spend our time as lockdown eases.

We don’t have to resume old ways of doing things just because that’s what we used to do. We can, instead, seize the opportunity to reclaim our time and use what we’ve learned over the last year to create a happier and more fulfilled life.

 

upcycled shelf unit surrounded by plants

Upcycling: Design that won’t cost the earth

In the final post for Spring Clearing Week, APDO member Linda Cavallini of Tidy Me spoke to interior designer and sustainable living expert Lynne Lambourne about creative ways to reuse and upcycle our clutter.

Design that won’t cost the earth

There are so many ways we can make our clutter count, from donating unwanted goods to charity and friends, to selling them on via trusted eBay sellers, the list is truly endless!

Smaller items always seem to find a quick way out of the house but larger items like furniture often become more of a burden. You may want to get rid of them as you don’t like them any longer because your taste has changed but, think again. Could you repurpose the piece elsewhere in the house by changing the look of it?

Have you ever thought about UPCYCLING?

As a keen promoter of sustainability, I had the pleasure of meeting Lynne Lambourne, a Henley-based interior designer, uber-passionate sustainability advocate and waste warrior, and winner of the Interior Room Designer of the Year 2019, at a webinar she hosted on sustainability.

She is passionate about “inspiring people to live more sustainably in a home that looks fantastic, doesn’t cost the earth (literally) and that you truly love”.

With a wealth of knowledge about upcycling I have asked her how upcycling can contribute to making clutter count.

upcycled jars

Warriors on waste

Lynne is on a mission to educate people and provide them with the tools, knowledge, expertise and passion they need to become upcylers and warriors on waste. She inspires people to think differently and to question the need to buy new, thus helping to reduce the use of landfill and help preserve the Earth’s natural resources.

Her Warrior on Waste movement is going from strength to strength.

Lynne firmly believes that “making a stylish home does not mean rushing out and buying new”. In her words, “A home should be where you have the things you love, the original one-off pieces that you find that make you happy every time you look at them, the things customised to your style”.

I could not agree more.

Every year so much furniture in the UK and elsewhere is thrown away and ends up in landfill, so there is no better time to stop and think about educating ourselves on the importance of contributing to a circular economy by bringing sustainability to interior designs in our homes.

an upcycled chest of drawers

How can we achieve that?

The answer is simple: upcycling, recycling, shopping second-hand, and using sustainable materials whenever we can.

Updating and reinventing unwanted material into useful repurposed products, or transforming a piece of furniture into something unique and different, turning ‘trash into treasure’ by making good use of what we can already find around the house is what upcycling is all about.

Here in the UK, charities such as The British Heart Foundation are leading the way towards a more sustainable circular economy. Their free collection of unwanted goods (which will hopefully resume once COVID-19 restrictions are eased) makes it super-easy to get rid of things and get them back into the system – ready to be bought and used again and again by someone else, the result being no landfill and no waste.

The great news is upcycling won’t cost you the earth.

Lynne’s tips

Lynne has shared some fabulous tips with us :

  • Be sympathetic to the piece
  • Use chalk paint – she is a fan of Annie Sloan
  • Use techniques such as re-waxing, liming, decoupage
  • Be creative when repurposing things, so example turn ladders into shelves and crates into bookcases
  • Her best advice: don’t be scared to try! You didn’t love it as it was, so you have nothing to lose!

an upcycled garden bench surrounded by plants

Acts of care

Lynne puts the word CARE at the heart of everything she does. For her that also means “extending the love you have for your home and family to the planet through the choices you make”.

Making sure that what we put in our homes does not have a detrimental effect on future generations is the first act of care. Small changes can make a massive difference. We are human, we are not perfect, and that is OK. However, we can acknowledge that there are ways in which we can make our lives more sustainable for the planet, for our children, and for generations to come.

Professional organisers can help you see your possessions in a different light and suggest ways to reuse and repurpose items, encouraging you to think before you buy. From food to toys and everything in between, reassessing our needs as consumers and becoming more intentional buyers rather than impulsive ones is a big step forward.

I could not agree with Lynne and her ethos more. I strive to help my clients realise that looking at a simpler way of living will not only free up their minds and their space but is, in fact, the biggest gift for our planet.

For more advice and tips on what to do with your decluttered items, take a look at “Making clutter count: Decluttering during the pandemic” and “10 ways to donate your decluttered items that you may not have thought of!” where our APDO experts have been sharing their suggestions for Spring Clearing Week 2021.

someone packing charity donations

10 ways to donate your decluttered items that you may not have thought of!

With the usual avenues for donating decluttered things either closed or restricted, we’ve had to get creative and work a little harder at clearing out our clutter. In this post we look at interesting solutions from our APDO members for the more unusual items they’ve come across and the unexpected destinations they’ve discovered for their clients’ cast offs. Perhaps there is something here that already exists in your local area and would benefit from your Spring clearing clear out.

Donate to animal welfare

Many of us love to support animal welfare and Marie Bateson of Cut the Clutter is no exception. She takes any towels, dressing gowns, fleeces and sweatshirts to Chorley Hedgehog Rescue. Your local animal rescue centre, zoo or pet shop might have specific needs during the pandemic. However, it is best to check with them directly and find out the best way to support the animals in their care.

When Longleat Safari Park made a Christmas appeal for bedding for their chipmunk family., Amanda Terry of An Organised You seized the opportunity and donated a huge bag of client socks. The campaign was hugely successful, the park keepers were overwhelmed with donations so they’re no longer collecting, but one-off requests like this can be a fabulous opportunity for quickly clearing out of specific items in your home.

APDO member Di Kelly's organised dog

Repairing, re-using and borrowing

In Bath, Carole Reed of Happy Sort loves her local Share and Repair organisation. They run workshops manned by volunteers who mend broken items for free. You can also donate unwanted items to their ‘Library of Things’ which can then be hired out. The library has items such as power tools, camping equipment and event supplies. It’s very affordable to hire and they are always looking for more stock. Library of Things – Bath Share and Repair. There are similar organisations can all round the country.

Men’s Sheds are also a great place to donate all those bits in garages and sheds that you keep hold of, says Louise Simpson of Louise Simpson Coaching. ‘Things like old clocks, tools and lawnmowers will be fixed and sold on to raise vital funds to keep the charity going’.

Louise also suggests contacting your local children’s outdoor play or wilderness place. The one near her takes anything from bits of wood, kitchen utensils (broken or usable), bowls and much more to use for outdoor creative play.

Donate to people in need

In Surrey, Lynda Wylie of Tidy Rooms has been excited to discover the Save the World Club on her doorstep. It is a local charity which collects anything that can be redistributed to local people via their warehouse called The Circulatory. Keen to keep stuff out of landfill, they have an army of volunteers repairing bicycles, tools and electrical equipment for redistribution amongst local people. They even collect food from local supermarkets for families in need. The volunteers are very creative, even filling empty shipping containers to send to people in need in Uganda or creating art installations to highlight waste issues.

The Save The World Club van outside the depot with bags of donations

The Save The World Club in Surrey

Mel Carruthers of More Organised agrees with Lynda. Mel is a Trustee of her local refugee action charity Massive Outpouring of Love, (MOOL). MOOL collect clothing, camping equipment and luggage for refugees and asylum seekers in France, Greece and the Middle East, as well as clothing, furniture and household goods to support families in Scotland. Many towns and cities across the country have similar organisations, or you can check the Care 4 Calais map for your nearest drop off point.

Donate clothing

Clothing is one of the largest categories that we declutter. Anne Welsh of Tidy Beginnings is interested in what happens to our clothing and textiles once we donate them. “The most sustainable way to donate clothing is to give them to clothing banks”, Anne explains.  “I.e. those that collect clothes to be distributed to those in need, and where they will actually be reworn – as opposed to being sold as rags and pulped”. To find your nearest clothes bank (and other recycling facilities), Anne recommends checking out www.recyclenow.com, where you enter your postcode for a list of options in your community.

Furs are often difficult to dispose of. Sue Spencer from A Life More Organised once came across a full fox stole (complete with head and feet) whilst working with a client. “Luckily the client had prewarned me that we’d find it somewhere” says Sue.  “We discussed several ways to pass this on to someone who would really love to own it.  My client wasn’t interested in getting any money from selling it, so it was donated to the costume section of a local amateur dramatic society. We knew that they would look after it well and make use of it in their productions”.

someone holding a pile of donated clothing

Solutions for paper

For your paper waste, Esme Fisher of Tidy Coaching recommends First Mile, an environmentally-conscious recycling and shredding company which is keen to keep all waste out of landfill. “If you are decluttering your papers and need a secure shredding service, you can sign up for shredding bags to be sent to your door” says Esme. “Fill them up with your confidential papers and they will be collected for free from your door by DBS-checked operatives (in low emission vehicles) and taken to the First Mile secure industrial shredder”.

And finally, The Great Diary Project is a wonderful initiative accepting diaries from ‘ordinary’ people at the Bishopsgate Institute in London. Anne explains, “There’s a simple deposit form to complete but it’s straightforward and the institute is a great final resting place for family diaries”.

Hopefully this article has given you some ideas of places that you could donate your own decluttered items to, or similar organisations and projects in your own community. It’s always a good idea to contact them first to check what they need and can accept. And for more tips on how to declutter during lockdown, our recent post “Making clutter count: Decluttering during the pandemic” is packed full of advice from APDO experts!

 

If you’re ready to have a Spring clear out but not sure what to do with your items, maybe there’s a local initiative you could support or a national organisation ready to accept your donation. Your local Professional Organiser will be able to support you with your decision making and can be found at www.apdo.co.uk.

A warm hearth in a cosy home

Why is Home so fundamental to our wellbeing?

Caroline Rogers set up Room to Think in 2013. She recently achieved a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology where she completed research into the association between clutter and wellbeing. This has been published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.5

“I think that when you invite people to your home, you invite them to yourself” – Oprah Winfrey 

I believe that home could be given far more attention than it currently receives in its contribution to wellbeing. Positive psychologists continue to debate exactly what ‘wellbeing’ is, but they do agree it’s much more than just feeling a bit chipper. It’s about having meaning and purpose in life, good relationships, health and a sense of achievement and belonging. How – and where – we live is rarely a consideration.

Yet if you trawl through the scholarly literature on home, there are constant references to home as a place of sanctuary. It’s the one place where we can really be ourselves and – hopefully – feel safe. One scholar used words like ‘womb’, ‘nest’ and ‘cradle’1, almost as if home (could) provide a sense of being perfectly parented. Where else can we feel secure enough to dance like nobody’s watching, behave badly, get naked, be private or say things we wouldn’t put on Twitter?

Home and self-identity

There is one predominant, permeating component within all the home literature. Home’s connection with – and expression of – self-identity: who we are, what we do and where we’re going. That quote above attributed to Oprah Winfrey nailed it in a sentence. She’s absolutely right. Consider the background in our Zoom calls. Google is full of endless debate on what messages are being delivered and received about us. Such messages are interpreted based on choices to show things like bookshelves, ironing, clutter, or the use of virtual pictures and video off. There’s a reason that TV programme “Through the Keyhole” had such a long run. (The host Lloyd Grossman would invite panels to guess the celebrity owners of specific homes). We’re good at making those guesses – and more often than not we’re correct.

Whether it’s through the keyhole or on Zoom, the message that our homes portray us is backed up in scholarly study. Imagine how much fun it would have been to be one of researcher Sam Gosling’s study participants. You’d have been asked to make inferences about people’s personalities based on looking at photos of their rooms. It’s notable that Goslings’ participants not only made inferences consistent with each other, but that their inferences were “often accurate”.2

In the 1980s Russell Belk wrote a seminal academic paper about possessions being ‘extensions of the self’3. I’d join Oprah in going as far as saying that homes are extensions of the self – they represent who we are, where we’re going, what we’re like and, possibly most importantly, they deliver that message to the rest of the world – and to ourselves.

Whatever that message is, it’s either helpful or unhelpful to our wellbeing. And the good thing is that when it’s unhelpful, there’s something we can do about it. And if it’s too overwhelming to do it alone, then there are hundreds of APDO members out there who can help.

Caroline Rogers and family at home

Caroline and family at home (Photo by Nina Sprange)

A home that is “more me”

When we can look around our homes and feel they communicate who we are, chances are that our wellbeing will be higher than it is for people who feel their homes are “not me” or “not how I want to be”. A US research study about to be published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology4 backs this up. These researchers collected data from people at early stages of the pandemic lockdown and found ‘a clear relationship between an individual’s attachment to home and positive mental health’. Those who have created homes that express who they are exhibited higher wellbeing than those who haven’t.

I’m disturbed that the same researchers found “considerable variability” in home attachment among their respondents. It feels wrong when people don’t live in homes that express their identity’ especially when curating a home in line with self-identity is so possible. In the professional organising industry, we witness change. And yes, the changes can be seen in clients’ homes being less cluttered and more organised. However, the more meaningful change is in the homeowners themselves. I’ve worked with people who start new careers, take up exercise, change their relationships, socialise more, communicate better with their housemates, eat better, sleep better and have richer, fuller lives. All of them would attribute this to having a home that’s more them.

Creating a home that is ‘more me’ is a fruitful – and essential – thing to do. And perhaps that’s more important than ever during this time when we’re at home more than usual. I know this in my heart, I see it in my work, and it’s verified in the research I carried out into the association between clutter and wellbeing. I was able to analyse data from 1,111 kind people who completed ‘a battery’ of questionnaires telling us about their clutter, wellbeing and their homemaking ability/habits. We identified that almost a quarter of the variance in wellbeing among our participants was explained by their home making habits and feeling ok about their clutter5.

Just as it’s already been empirically established that our actions and behaviours (such as being kind, grateful, healthy etc.6) can substantially contribute to our wellbeing, let’s now give ourselves permission to allow ourselves to invest some time and energy into curating self-identity in our homes. Please let me share the last sentence of my research with you:

Home is a platform for wellbeing.

We are delighted to welcome Caroline as a Keynote Speaker at the APDO Conference “The Future Is Re-Organised” on 20 May 2021. You can find out more about Caroline, her research and her contribution to the conference programme on her conference speaker page.

Refs:

  1. Ginsberg, R. (1999). Mediations on homelessness and being at home: In the form of a dialogue. In G. J. M. Abbarno (Ed.), The Ethics of Homelessness: Philosophical Perspectives (Vol.86, pp. 29-40). Amsterdam: Rodopi.
  2. Gosling, S. D., Ko, S. J., Mannarelli, T., & Morris, M. E. (2002). A room with a cue: Personality judgments based on offices and bedrooms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(3), 379–398.
  3. Belk, R. W. (1988). Possessions and the Extended Self. Journal of Consumer Research, 15(2), 139–168.
  4. Meagher, B. R., Cheadle, A. D., College, H., & College, K. (2020, in press). Distant from others, but close to home: The relationship between home attachment and mental health during COVID-19. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 72, 10156
  5. Rogers, C. J., & Hart, R. (2021). Home and the extended-self: Exploring associations between clutter and wellbeing. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 73(April 2020),
  6. Bolier, L., Haverman, M., Westerhof, G.J. et al. Positive psychology interventions: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies. BMC Public Health 13, 119 (2013)