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Sarah Gregg

Find Your Flow and Choose Happy: Interview with Sarah Gregg

In August, the APDO Book Club hosted an online workshop led by Sarah Gregg, the author of Find Your Flow (Rock Point, 2020) and Choose Happy (Rock Point, 2021). In it, Sarah shared her 1-2-3-Flow method and discussed how we can use positive psychology methods and her journaling system ourselves and with our clients. In this blog post, Sarah answers five questions put to her by Book Club Co-organiser Anne Welsh (Beginning Cataloguing – Tidy Beginnings).

Growing up in Belfast, how did you picture your adult life would be?

I struggled to picture my life. The wrestling match between what I wanted and who I should be seemed to create a messy blur. I certainly didn’t imagine that I’d be almost forty, living out of a backpack and traveling the world as a published author. But that’s the beauty of life – sometimes you need the messy blur to create a brilliant masterpiece that surprises you.

When did you realise that you wanted something a little different?

The draw towards something different has always been there. It was something myself and others told me to ‘Get out of my system’. I kept the unconventional part of me entertained with travel, new hobbies, and experiences. But once I was married, had a house and a good job I tried to silence it. I wanted to fit in and to belong – so I paid more attention to who I ‘should be’ and not who I was. 

I remember going to bed at night just feeling that something was missing. I now realise that ‘something’ was me. In being everything to everyone else, I’d lost myself. 

In 2016 when we decided to sell our house, all our stuff, and quit our jobs -t hat was the moment I realised it wasn’t just about ‘wanting’ something different, I ‘needed’ it. 

What’s been the biggest surprise you’ve had since you ‘found your flow’?

I’ve realised that it’s really challenging to be yourself. But it’s also the most liberating and exciting. Finding your flow is about becoming who you are, fulfilling your potential and that will look different for each of us. The more we can shed who we think we should be, the closer we can get to the core of who we are.

Is minimalism and traveling a ‘forever lifestyle’ for you?

I have no idea. It feels right, right now. I love the freedom it gives and that it’s in line with our values. But I also know life can change, nothing is really ‘forever’. If we did stop traveling that would present a new challenge for a minimalist lifestyle but I’d hope we keep it up. I feel lighter without the clutter and ‘stuff’.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about yourself in your journey to ‘choose happy’?

I’ve learned that I used to treat negative emotions as a sign that I was failing or as a form of punishment from the universe. Choosing happy has involved learning how to sit with negative emotions, to understand and value them as much as the positive emotions. After all the greatest ‘ah-ha’ moments in my life have come from negative emotions. They can act as a real clarifying force when we know how to work with them.


You can keep up with Sarah’s latest publications, workshops and travels on her instagram, @thepowertoreinvent.

We are also very grateful to Sarah and to her publisher for offering us three free books as member giveaways. Sarah made two random draws on the night, and we ran an instagram competition for APDO members. The winners were Lesley Gault (Declutter for Calm), Jo Lubbock (Perfect Order), and Victoria Nicholson (My Wardrobe Zen).


The APDO Book Club is one of the many benefits of joining APDO. You can find out more about becoming a member here.

 

 

Summer reads

APDO Book Club Reads 2021

One of our most popular blog posts has been Sarah Howley’s ‘Recommendations from the APDO Book Club’, which discussed Sarah Tierney’s Making Space (Sandstone Press, 2017), Margareta Magnusson’s The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning (Canongate, 2017), Sarah Krasnostein’s The Trauma Cleaner (Text Publishing, 2017), James Clear’s Atomic Habits (Random House Business, 2018), Lisa Jewell’s The House We Grew Up In (Penguin, 2020), and Beth Kempton’s Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year (Piatkus, 2019).

In today’s blog post, book club founder Sarah (Organising Solutions) and new co-organisers Anne Welsh (Tidy Beginnings) and Nicola Austin (Life of Libra) highlight key themes from the books the club has been discussing in 2021.

It’s August already, so we’ve had 7 meetings so far, discussing:

 

APDO is a growing organisation, and our members work in a wide range of situations, using both general skills and diverse specialisms. In the APDO Book Club, we try to select from quite a broad pool, and you can see that in this list. Decluttering has featured in both our fiction selection (Nancy McGovern’s cozy crime) and one of our classic titles (Dana K. White’s account of how she won her “never-ending battle with stuff”, full of tips for how other people can too).

Other classics included Van Nieuwerburgh’s Introduction to Coaching Skills. Suggested by members of our training and development team, it provided not only a text but also video content on key techniques coaches use – all of them relevant to our work as professional organisers. We also read Cal Newport’s Deep Work, which provides a range of ways that we can change our habits from multi-tasking. As Newport advised: “Don’t take breaks from distraction. Instead take breaks from focus.”

Productivity and decluttering both feature in Marie Kondo’s latest publication, Joy at Work, co-authored with Scott Sonenshein. Each bestselling author took responsibility for separate chapters, so if you’re a fan of both of them, you will love this book. And finally for this update, there’s our first business book – Mary Portas’s Work Like a Woman. It highlights systemic sexism in big business and suggests ways of building a work life that works – not only for women, but for us all.

The APDO Book Club is one of the many benefits of joining APDO. You can find out more about becoming a member here.

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.

 

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.

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)

APDO Conference 2021: “The Future’s Re-Organised” – What’s it all about?

The APDO Conference 2021 “The Future’s Re-Organised” is on 20 May 2021, and booking is open! If you have been wondering whether you should attend the event, APDO member Mel Carruthers (More Organised) spoke to APDO’s volunteer Conference Director Sian Pelleschi (Sorted) to find out more about the annual event for anyone interested in decluttering and organising.

APDO member and volunteer Head of Conference Sian Pelleschi

Sian Pelleschi

Who is the APDO Conference for?

The APDO Conference isn’t just for members of APDO. It’s for anyone who has an interest in the decluttering and organising world. Whether you do it for a living, just for fun or don’t do it all but would like to try, the conference offers thoughts, ideas, interaction and learning all under one roof – or in this years’ case, on one platform.

How does the APDO Conference work?

Initially intended as a day to get together with other professionals to learn from each other, the APDO Conference has become a talking point and annual focus for many a professional organiser. The event has grown from 20 attendees to 120 in just a few years.


So how will it work this year, with the pandemic restrictions still in place?

While we had every intention of holding a conference last year, sadly COVID-19 had other ideas. With the world stepping up to go virtual, we decided APDO Conference would do just the same for 2021.

However, this won’t be your average sitting on bottoms and having a zoom call. No! The APDO Conference Team has been working hard, and is taking virtual events up a notch.

Sounds interesting! What will the virtual event include?

Investing in the tech we are using, and utilising a new event platform founded here in the UK, we’ve focused on making sure legs are stretched, conversation flows, and connections are made.  We’ve put together a varied and interesting programme, covering topics that are relevant to anyone who is either in business, wants to be in business or has an interest in the decluttering and organising arena.

There will be the opportunity to network one-to-one, listen to speakers from the UK and around the world, and learn new ways to work and do business… all whilst having regular breaks and plenty of opportunities to step away from the screen when required.

Tell us more about the programme?

There is so much in this year’s conference! The team has worked hard to put together an exciting conference programme that has something for everyone. PR and how to get your business seen, diversity and inclusion, using digital tools to reach ideal clients and research on the link between clutter and wellbeing are just some of the topics we’ll be covering during the day.

Despite multiple workshops going on simultaneously, you won’t miss a thing from those you don’t attend, because all of the sessions will be recorded with the option to listen and watch back for up to six months following the conference.

We have a number of additional little surprises up our sleeves too that will help you forget that you’re sat at home or in an office and make you feel like you’re there in a room with a whole load of other people.

A graphic showing headshots and names of conference speakers, and the topics they are speaking on

One of the benefits of attending conferences is the networking. How will you be covering that in a virtual event?

If socialising is your thing, we’ve thought of that too! There will be an after conference ‘party’ and the opportunity to catch up and discuss the conference the following week in a special follow-up session.

Don’t worry if you’re an introvert – you can happily sit and watch it all happen without having to speak to a single person if you don’t want to.

There really is something for everyone to enjoy.

Thanks Sian – this all sounds like it will be a great event! Have you anything else to add?

I’d like to challenge readers to ask the question: Why shouldn’t I attend the APDO Conference 2021?

You’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain, so come along and join us for what’s set to be an exciting adventure of fun, knowledge and learning for your future decluttering and organising, whatever that looks like for you.

If Sian has encouraged you to find out more about this year’s APDO conference, head to the conference page for more information and booking.
We hope to see you there!

a bookshelf of organising books

Recommendations from the APDO Book Club bookshelf

APDO’s Book Club was launched in the summer of 2020. Whilst the book club is for APDO members, we wanted to share our thoughts on the books that we have read with a wider audience, in the hope that some of these titles might find their way onto your reading list too. In this post, APDO Book Club co-ordinator Sarah Howley of Organising Solutions reviews some of the books that have made it onto the APDO Book Club bookshelves so far. Over to Sarah…

Headshot of APDO member Sarah Howley

APDO Book Club

When I heard that APDO Association of Professional Declutterers & Organisers wanted to introduce a book club, and that they wanted me to be involved in running it, I was overjoyed. As a librarian and life-long book enthusiast, I was thrilled to be given such a golden opportunity to immerse myself in industry literature. This was a chance to expand my reading list, identify new favourites and get together with other organisers to seek out the most interesting finds – I couldn’t volunteer quickly enough! Working alongside Mel Carruthers of More Organised, a plan was formed and before we knew it, the first meeting arrived.

With one book per month taking the spotlight, it’s been difficult to choose between all the amazing books we’d like to feature on our reading list. However, in the spirit of professional development and acknowledging key industry themes, Mel and I aim to curate a diverse and interesting selection for our fellow APDO members to enjoy. You can find a brief review of the first six APDO Book Club choices below.

“Making Space” by Sarah Tierney

This debut novel by Derbyshire writer Sarah Tierney explores themes of mental health. Miriam is fed up with her lacklustre life and purges her belongings in hopes of a fresh start. A chance assignment introduces her to Erik, a troubled artist with hoarding disorder. Their story demonstrates how emotional wellbeing and trauma can affect our attitudes to clutter and decluttering. APDO members were impressed with the author’s handling of the subject matter and found Lisa, the fictional professional organiser, to be a relatable character. Find out more by reading our interview with the author.

The book "Making Space" by Sarah Tierney on a white background

“Dostadning:  The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” by Margareta Magnusson

Margareta Magnusson, a Swedish-born artist, offers this practical handbook on getting things in order before you die. Having death cleaned for many people, she pulls together her most useful anecdotes, interlaced with the dry humour of an elderly matriarch who has seen it all. At times, the author seems to eschew sentimentality, yet at others her words are resoundingly beautiful. During the book club meeting, we acknowledged that we all know at least one client, friend or family member who could benefit from this best-selling introduction to the concept of death cleaning.

“The Trauma Cleaner” by Sarah Krasnostein

Sarah Krasnostein’s telling of Sandra Pankhurst’s story is shocking, funny and compelling in equal parts. The author reveres her subject, and you can’t help being a little in awe yourself as you discover more. A terminally ill transgender woman with a tumultuous and often traumatic past, Pankhurst is dedicated to spending her remaining time helping others clean away their own pain. The group discussed how organisers often find themselves in the role of confidante, and shared techniques for dealing with sensitive conversations.

“Atomic Habits” by James Clear

Packed full of exercises, explanations and examples, James Clear makes a convincing argument for swapping big goals for small steps. He emphasises the importance of building good habits and presents us with four laws: make it obvious; make it attractive; make it easy; make it satisfying. Prior to our meeting, several book club members had even felt inspired to create their own good habits! We reflected on the effects of internal and external influences on habit creation and considered how Clear compares to other writers on the same topic, such as Gretchen Rubin (author of Better Than Before).

The book "Atomic Habits" and a notebook and pen on a desk

“The House We Grew Up In” by Lisa Jewell

Lisa Jewell has long been a household name associated with best-selling fiction. In this novel, the children of a woman with hoarding disorder revisit the family home to clear it after her death. Multiple timelines and voices reveal a charmed beginning threaded with moments of unease. A shock event blows the family apart and this is compounded by Lorelai’s attempt to hold tightly on to everything and everyone she can. APDO members often witness how hoarding disorder impacts the loved ones of those who live with it, and in many cases it can be impossible to maintain a close relationship. Together, we considered minimalism and hoarding behaviours on a spectrum, where the level of compulsion can be strong in both extremes.

“Calm Christmas and a Happy New” Year by Beth Kempton

In this festive treat, Beth Kempton combines charming narrative with checklists, cherished memories and contemplative exercises. The book is split into three sections: anticipation (before Christmas), celebration (during Christmas) and manifestation (after Christmas). While religion is mentioned, it is not central to the guidance given. Our book club members were lucky enough to receive a short video from the author, in which she advised on applying Calm Christmas concepts amid a pandemic and entering 2021 with a positive mindset.

What’s next?

Look out for another blog post this summer, featuring a review of our next six books:

  • Joy at Work by Marie Kondo and Scott Sonnenschein
  • Introduction to Coaching Skills by Christian Van Nieuwerburgh
  • Death & Decluttering by Nancy McGovern
  • Decluttering at The Speed of Life by Dana K. White
  • Two more great choices which are soon to be announced.

 

The APDO Book Club is one of the many benefits of joining APDO! You can find out more about becoming a member here!

a headshot of APDO member Lynsey Grundy

Spotlight on members’ professional development: Becoming a hoarding specialist

In this series of posts on our members’ professional development, we are interviewing APDO professional organisers who have undertaken additional qualifications or training, to find out how their clients and businesses have benefitted. In this next post in the series, Moira Stone of Uncluttered Wales talks to Lynsey Grundy of Tidy Homes, Tidy Minds about becoming a hoarding specialist. 

Lynsey and her assistant are employed to provide tenancy support for Southway Housing Trust, a social housing landlord in South Manchester. In addition, Tidy Homes, Tidy Minds – a service within the Trust – provides hoarding support to private and other clients. She also works with other housing providers and as a consultant.

What is a hoarding specialist and how did you get interested in hoarding?

I’m a specialist now but it’s taken a long time to get here.

I’ve worked in crisis management and social care for about 25 years. I came to work in social housing on tenancy support, to help our tenants with any aspect of their lives that’s causing them difficulty and is impacting on their tenancy. It could be drugs, alcohol, gambling, mental health, illness. This is a free service to our tenants.

The reason for tenancy support is that we want to help our tenants to sustain their tenancies and manage their homes. On a purely financial level, it’s much better for us to keep tenants rather than have property voids with the associated costs. But it goes beyond that.

In 2014-15 we did a review of all tenancies looking at things like the number of working families, under-occupancy and over-crowding. It was a bit like a general census and we made some interesting discoveries. We knew about tenants who we had regular contact with about tenancy matters like unpaid rent or anti-social behaviour, but we didn’t know much or anything about people who we weren’t regularly in contact with. They might have been paying their rent and allowing someone in to check the gas, but some of them also had hoarding behaviour.

Bringing these tenants to the surface highlighted that the Trust had no policy or strategy about hoarding. If there was an extreme case of hoarding (which was actually very rare) the only tool we had was under the terms of the tenancy agreement and enforcement action which could lead to eviction. I asked other housing trusts and the City Council – nothing. That there was no policy or strategy just didn’t sit right with me.

I went on a few courses and, with a solicitor, to a housing provider event about anti-social behaviour (“ASB”) cases. All this got my juices flowing and I wrote my ideas up for my boss and ultimately the CEO agreed for us to start working in a different way. Statutory services, NHS and social care were all interested and we came up with a hoarding offer. Southway Housing Trust saw the benefit and provided funds to make it work.

What makes a good hoarding specialist?

It’s not for the faint-hearted. Not everyone wants to wade through someone else’s belongings.

To start out, you have to have a genuine interest and relevant knowledge. That might come from, say, a background in counselling or something similar.

You have to know your limits. I won’t work anywhere with fleas, for example, until they’ve been eradicated. I’m not taking fleas home to my animals!

You need to be able to clear your mind. You need a poker face, an unshockable face! And you need a lot of patience and understanding to work together with the client to solve the problem together.

Building your expertise to become a specialist requires detailed knowledge and experience of hoarding in all its different manifestations. Think about it, ask questions about it!

And I’d just like to say how good it is that potential clients can now click on ‘hoarding’ as a specialism on the Find An Organiser page of the APDO website.

Hands around a mug

Tell us about training

There’s quite a bit of training out there now, some courses more expensive than others. Look at what hoarding training is available. Jump on it!

Different courses are run by, amongst others:

And there are so many basic online courses available now on relevant subjects like mindfulness, CBT and so on. Adding to your knowledge and experience with short courses all builds up your understanding and gives you tools to use.

Read books! I recommend Understanding Hoarding by Jo Cooke (founder of Hoarding Disorders UK) and Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee.

How is your business benefitting?

Tidy Homes, Tidy Minds and Southway Housing Trust are providing a service that wasn’t there before.

Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. People really don’t choose to live in a hoarded environment; something happened in their lives to make it like this. We try to get beyond the behaviour to the root cause of what’s causing it, by building up a relationship so clients feel comfortable. We try to ask the right questions and then provide information that will help. The client doesn’t have to be a victim for the rest of their life and we aim to be part of the solution.

We aim to cover our costs and last year, £12,500 went back into the service from private clients. We also save housing providers money. Not having to evict tenants who hoard can save landlords like us around £45,000. That’s the costs of eviction, cleaning, damage and voids. So paying around £2,000 for a service like Tidy Homes, Tidy Minds is a no-brainer. The cost is so much less and there’s a very much better outcome.

We benefit hugely from joining forces with other public sector agencies across the ten Greater Manchester local authorities. I’ll just give you three examples of how we all benefit from access to different learning and resources.

  • The Fire Service refers potential clients to us when they do safety checks. And we were able to use their premises free of charge to start a new peer support group. (We had to move elsewhere because we had so many members, and then COVID struck … but all the same!)

 

  • Tidy Homes, Tidy Minds is an approved provider with social services. As hoarding is classed as self-neglect in the Care Act 2014, potential clients may be eligible for a personal budget. We can provide a report assessment outlining their need, the service, required funding and the hoped-for outcome of an improved life. This can often unlock a personal budget of perhaps around £2,500.

 

  • Finally, and excitingly, I’m learning about ACE – adverse childhood experiences – and the trauma-informed way of working. ACE refers to four or more traumas occurring during someone’s childhood. Examples are abuse, domestic violence, prison and death. ACE is a big part of why hoarding can occur. I’m now part of ACE’s team working in a nurturing, trauma-informed way with schools and community centres. We’re planning to roll the approach out to the ten local authorities in Greater Manchester. I’m passionate about getting this launched.

Thank you Lynsey for sharing your work with us and explaining more about the help that is available for people who hoard.

If you would like to find out more about APDO members and their specialisms, take a look at the Find An Organiser directory.