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an overhead photo of a woman typing at her laptop

Virtual organising: What is it, and how does it work?

Since the start of the pandemic, virtual organising has become more and more popular and many of our APDO members are working with their clients in this way. But what is “virtual organising” exactly, and how does it work? In this National Organising Week post, five APDO professional organisers tell us about their virtual work with their clients.

Karen Eyre-White of Go Do

I help busy, overwhelmed people get back in control of their time and learn new habits to stay productive, both in their work and personal lives. At the moment I’m working with a lot of people who are working from home due to COVID-19 and struggling to focus and stay productive. We look at what’s stopping them from getting things done and put in place new routines, structures and techniques which help them to get the most out of their time. This can be a lifesaver, especially for those in busy, demanding jobs, perhaps with a team working for them and often an extremely high workload.

I work entirely virtually (via Zoom), and this works really well for productivity coaching. The client generally joins meetings from their normal workplace, at home or in the office, and they can share their screen when we discuss their inbox, diary, or other documents. We might also work together on screen to create a new daily or weekly schedule, or to brainstorm work objectives or priorities. The client will then go away to try out their new habits, and we’ll discuss how they got on at the next session, providing both support and accountability.

I love working virtually because it means I can work with clients across the UK (and the world!) and can be flexible with sessions depending on what the client needs.

 

Tilo Flache of ClutterMeister

These days it is challenging to meet clients at their homes, and I have shifted a good portion of my business to virtual organising. In the process I have found that there are great advantages to using the virtual method.

For one thing, I don’t consider decluttering and organising a client’s home ‘just an emergency measure’, but a necessary learning experience. My involvement with the client is no longer hands-on, and that makes any physical activity a little more time consuming – after all, there is one less pair of hands around to get things done! With virtual organising, the client is required to do all the work themselves, which allows us to use the tactile memory to reinforce the process and ingrain it in their body memory. This makes it much easier to remember and repeat the steps I guide them through in our sessions.

The fact that I can only ever see either the work site or my client’s face can make the work a little more challenging: part of my job is to keep my clients safe, both physically and mentally. Keeping an eye out for unusual reactions often requires a lot of creative camera work to stay connected with my client. The switch between work and face allows for bursts of productive work, followed by a short break with a different, more relaxed focus, before returning to the job at hand. On the plus side, separating the practical activities from the mental and emotional work can be a game-changer, especially if the client tends to be unfocused and easily distracted.

I firmly believe that there are a good number of typical organising projects that actually work better virtually than they do with in-person assistance. If the job does not require a second person to be in the space, or the client is worried about the state of their home and wants to show me only the space they are working on right now, virtual assistance can work wonders.

Tilo Flache's desk

Kate Galbally of Better Organised

I recently worked with a client who approached me about improving her time management and her productivity. She has a management role within the NHS with a very heavy workload and rapidly shifting priorities. Over the course of a few sessions, we explored how she can manage her priorities, minimise procrastination and avoid overwhelm. I introduced her to some tools and techniques that are simple to implement and easy to maintain. We also worked together on decluttering and organising her emails and her diary, so that both are manageable and work more effectively for her.

At our last session, she said that working together has definitely made a difference to how she manages her time, that her emails are the most manageable that they have been in a long time and that she feels confident in the way she has planned out her time going forward. This has reduced procrastination and meant that she is able to focus better on deep work and not have to bring work home with her.

 

Lisa Pantling of Clutter Free Living

Before the pandemic, I hadn’t particularly considered working online even though many people do so,  but I gave the option of working virtually to a new client whom I was going to visit at home, but had to cancel due to COVID-19. They were actually delighted with the possibility of still being able to address their difficulties with their ‘stuff’ and felt physically able to execute the actual decluttering and organising themselves.

My client had a recent diagnosis of Asperger’s and this had explained for them the reason why they struggled with sensory overload, and often felt ‘frozen’ in terms of working through some processes and seeing projects through to fruition. It also explained their feelings of being overwhelmed by all the decisions and options available.

The next step for the client was to understand how they could manage their needs and put some systems in place that they can maintain going forward.

We talked through their priorities and where they felt ‘stuck’. Then we cracked on by just grabbing a pile of items piled on a dining chair. It was a total mixture of items:  bills, greetings cards, work documents, old receipts, leaflets, junk mail.

We addressed each category in turn, making decisions about how to deal with them in the moment and moving forward. The client took notes, including on any future actions they were going to take. Part of the success of this method involves agreeing ‘rules’ about how to deal with certain items, for example,  greetings cards. I generally ask questions such as what value does the card hold: is it a beautiful image, was it from a special person, does it hold a special message or memory? The client felt that most of the cards they had held on to did not feel important and that they did not want or need to keep them so many could be discarded. We continued with this method and the client was able to carry out lots of work independently in between our sessions as they now had a way to rationalise their decision making.

a hand using a laptop - keyboard

Sian Winslade of Inspired Living Cheshire

The idea of being in my client’s home virtually, sitting on the side dresser on her device with me in Manchester, UK, and my client is in Memphis, Tennessee, is somewhat strange, but also brilliant.

I have spent several hours virtually sorting through my client’s belongings. I’ve guided her through the steps needed to make her closet space somewhere she loves going into, not a place where she feels uncomfortable.

Sorting through over 20+ years of clothing can be painful. Asking ourselves the questions of why we keep the clothes we do is often difficult. Are we clinging onto the memories of when we wore them last, or mourning the fact we no longer fit into dresses and jackets two sizes too small? Whatever the reasons, if dealt with in an understanding way, 4241 miles apart as the crow flies made no difference at all: the job got done.

We laughed, we shed the odd tear, we were productive, often silly. The end result, virtually or in person, was the same. We spoke the same language literally and figuratively. Although more physically challenging for her than me, the end result was an uncluttered organised space. A full 50% of the clothes were donated, as well as a multitude of belts, scarves, and accessories.

During all the hours I spent guiding and supporting my client, she continually said,

“It’s like you are here with me”.

And, ultimately, that was all that mattered.

If you are interested in finding out more about virtual organising, you can find our members who offer this service in our Find an Organiser directory.

a family gatherered around a cardboard box marked "donations"

Organising your home: Getting other householders on board

“It’s a case of the old, ‘You can lead a horse to water…’ problem!” says Amanda Manson of Orderly Office and Home.

Encouraging other household members to declutter and organise alongside you, or for themselves, can be a real challenge but help is at hand from our members who have some suggestions to help get everyone on board.

Follow my lead

Laura Gutowski of Everything In Its Space says, “The person who has committed to getting more organised needs to start with their own things”. Lynda Wylie of Tidy Rooms agrees. “Lead by example. When other people in the household see and experience first-hand the difference decluttering and organising makes to a family member, they often become interested in what the individual is doing, sparking positive conversations and feedback”. Laura continues, “They’ll notice how much happier and more relaxed the person doing the organising has become, thus opening themselves up to giving it a go”. Lynda is convinced this gentle, patient approach can be a real recipe for change.

For those of us with more people than usual working in our home, Karen Eyre-White of Go Do says, “If you’re finding it stressful that your partner or other family member isn’t keeping a good work schedule, or setting good boundaries when working from home, find small ways to show them what you’re doing. For example, pin your schedule to the fridge, or cover up your work area at the weekend. They’ll soon start wondering what it’s all about and you’ll find them asking you questions, or simply following your lead”.

A comfortable sofa in an organised room setting

Think of others

Involving others in your decluttering journey is a key part of success.  Laura Williams of OrganisedWell explains further: “Think about the reasons, benefits and vision for the space and really engage all parties in these. Also understand any concerns others might have and talk about boundaries. It may be necessary to leave items or areas that family members aren’t comfortable with organising until they’ve seen the results elsewhere and can follow the great example their family members have set”.

Decluttering coach Suzy Kell, who specialises in helping couples to work on their organising together, agrees. “After organising my own possessions, I waded into joint ownership territory and I hit a wall”, she remembers. “But then I realised it was unfair to force conversations and decisions on my husband without warning”. It was only when Suzy’s husband watched the documentary ‘Minimalism: a film about the important things’ about a year later that he was ready to have those conversations with her – and by that time he was all in! “We then did a mega clear out and we started changing our relationship with belongings forever”, Suzy recalls. “Together we were unstoppable!”

A newly renovated white kitchen

Involve young people

Sian Winslade of Inspired Living Cheshire reminds us that children and young people need a positive role model to follow so they can develop habits they’ll take with them into adulthood. “My youngest daughter is 12 and is forever making changes to her bedroom and her drawers. She is aware that in order to keep her tiny room neat, everything needs a place. I am so proud of her.  Since I started organising professionally, she could see that the changes made in our own home were hugely beneficial to a smooth-running household. Getting her involved with tasks such as with making labels has made all the difference”.

Shelly Moss of Kewniek agrees. “With children and young people it’s important to get their buy-in from the start. Explain what you are doing and how they can help. For example, you might explain how somebody less fortunate would love to have some of their special toys”.

A pile of children's books

Keep talking

The presence of a professional organiser in your home can often help promote conversation where it might previously have been a difficult topic to broach. Amanda suggests highlighting the discretion of a professional organising service, emphasising the fact that they will never touch someone’s stuff without their permission. She says, “Speak to them and explain what is causing you an issue and why. Explain how things could change with their support and perhaps how much involvement, if any, you expect from them. Focus on the positive outcomes as a result and why this is important”.

Focus on the benefits

There are fantastic benefits to getting everyone in your household on board so keeping these in mind will encourage you to keep going. Not only can being organised reduce arguments over lost things or increased spending on duplicates that can’t be found, it can get everyone working together on a shared goal. Living in a more organised space can really ease the pressure on family dynamics, reducing stress and giving everyone more time with each other. Tidying and cleaning routines become easier to manage as a team, so it helps to share the load with everyone in your household.

If this post has encouraged you to talk to your family about organising your home, why not show them Monday’s post on getting started on your organising project to kick off the conversation. 

a yellow organising bag

What’s in an organiser’s tool kit?

When your professional organiser arrives at your home, they will have our bag of trusted tools with them, as well as a skillset built up over their years of experience. Both are personal to each of them and the way that they approach their work. In this post, our members give a sneak peek into their toolkits. 

What’s in your bag?

Nicky Davie of TidyGirl lists out the contents of her toolkit:

  • Marker pen for labels. They’re not always used but some clients like to label items.
  • Pen and diary to schedule further appointments and follow-up phone calls.
  • Mobile phone for taking project photos and showing my clients ideas and inspiration.
  • Phone charger and power pack so I can be organised, even when my phone runs low.
  • Re-usable boxes for sorting items in a systematic and environmentally conscious way.
  • Biodegradable bags to remove donations, recycling, and rubbish.
  • Business cards to leave with the client if they want to recommend me to family and friends.
  • Marie Kondo’s children’s book “Kiki & Jax” to help parents understand how to help their children organise their rooms.
  • A snack and drink to maintain momentum and help me keep my energy levels up!

 

Shelly Moss of Kewniek has a similar list. “My good old Mary Poppins bag has everything you would expect”, she says. “It is a proper bag of tricks!”:

  • Label maker
  • Sellotape
  • Packing tape
  • Mini toolbox
  • Clean indoor shoes
  • A candle to help wooden drawers run more smoothly
  • A pair of socks to slip on my hands for wiping over blinds

 

A label maker on a desk

Marie Bateson of Cut the Clutter includes a small step ladder in her list of essentials, to help reach higher areas, and to sit on if sorting on the floor.

Amanda Manson of Orderly Office and Home adds to the list:

  • Tape measure
  • Sharpie pens
  • Plastic wallets
  • Scissors
  • Elastic bands & bulldog clips

The power of Post-its

“I couldn’t live without Post-it notes!”, says Laura Gutowski of Everything In Its Space. “They remind us which piles are which when doing the first run-through of decluttering (keep, mend, donate, sell, recycle, and so on)”. Laura also used Post-it notes as temporary labels while her clients make sure that their new, tailored organisation system works for them, and can be easily maintained and enjoyed. “Quick to make, easy to use, and guilt-free to scrap if the system needs tweaking!”

APDO member Laura Williams decluttering signs

OrganisedWell’s customised sorting cards

Custom signs

Laura Williams of OrganisedWell has a fun way of labelling sorting piles. “My customised signs travel everywhere with me”, she says. “They make it super-easy to allocate the things we’ve sorted through into For Sale, Recycling, Shredding, Bin, and so on”.

Timer

Laura also recognises how helpful it can be to have a deadline to complete a task. She uses a kitchen timer to help her clients work in bursts to focus, or to break down a project into smaller, more manageable tasks.

Sian Pelleschi of Sorted adds to the list. “I bring a number of things with me when I’m working with clients: my physical toolkit and my mental toolkit”, explains Sian. “My physical kit has everything from my screwdriver set to bin bags, cleaning cloths to my favourite tool – my label maker!”

APDO member Sian Pelleschi's organisers toolkit

Sian Pelleschi’s work bag

Mental toolkit

Sian’s mental toolkit includes bringing a calm but positive mindset, a practical approach, and an eagerness to help. “It’s so important to have this mindset”, she says, “as a lot of my clients are either nervous, worried, feeling a little down in the dumps and have generally hit rock bottom before calling me. They need me to help pick them up and get them going and if I’m not in the right mindset, how can I help them?”

Claire Lawrence of Let’s Get Sorted! agrees. “In terms of mindset and skills, it’s all about keeping clients positive and feeling that they are making progress. So, mini goals, lots of encouragement, a list to tick things off as we go, and rewards for getting through the list. Well, a cup of tea and a biscuit anyway!”

Privileged position

“A professional organiser must be non-judgemental, patient and an active listener”, says Lynda Wylie of Tidy Rooms. A large part of being an organiser involves working alongside someone in their personal space, helping them make decisions about things which may be deeply sensitive or never previously shared or expressed. “It’s a very privileged position”, explains Lynda. “As for physical tools, I wouldn’t be without my labelling machine, coloured bin bags or polish!”

APDO member Lynda Wylie's organisers toolkit

Lynda Wylie’s organising kit

Flexibility

Karen Eyre-White of Go Do is a productivity coach who helps her clients to be more productive when they work from home. “I bring flexibility and adaptability with me when I work with my clients”, explains Karen. “I make sure my solutions are bespoke for each client. It’s vital that we find new habits and work patterns which work specifically for the personality and preferences of each client”.

If you enjoyed this insight into our organisers’ toolkit, did you see yesterday’s post outlining our members’ Top 10 organising products?

a mug on a table top with "begin" written on it

Organising your home: Getting started

Sometimes the hardest part of an organising project is getting started! So in this first of our daily posts for National Organising Week, we’ve gathered up some expert advice from our members to help inspire you to get started.

Mindset

“Mindset is everything”, says Sian Pelleschi of Sorted. “If you’re not emotionally ready to declutter and organise you will struggle to do so. It’s about getting your head and brain ready to take on the challenge. This is easy for some, but less so for others”.

Laura Gutowski of Everything In Its Space agrees with this approach. “Anytime you feel motivated or inspired is a good time to start, even if you have only ten minutes. The right headspace is the most important thing!”

Sian goes on to explain her method. She suggests that if you are easily overwhelmed, take a step back. Breathe. Then sit and write down everything you want to do, getting it all out of your head and onto paper.

Start small

Pick one area, preferably one that’s small and easy to work on. Once you’ve tackled this, pick another small space and gradually build up until you’re ready to work on the area that will take the longest and will potentially be the most difficult. Hopefully, by the time you’ve enjoyed success with some of the smaller spaces, your head will be ready to tackle the bigger space.

Claire Lawrence of Let’s Get Sorted also recommends starting small. She suggests breaking down each room into small areas/categories, either on a list or in your head and starting with the “easy wins”, e.g. the bookshelves, the linen cupboard or the bathroom shelves. Claire also suggests starting with  rooms you don’t go into very often, or categories of belongings which are not emotionally tricky.

A hallway or a single kitchen drawer are both good starting points, explains Nicola Davie of TidyGirl. “I recently had a client who was so overwhelmed that when we went into the kitchen she became really anxious. So, we just stopped, chatted for a short time and then just started with one drawer… and we were then able to complete the whole kitchen in three hours. She was absolutely delighted with the finished result!”

an organised, open kitchen drawer

Mel Carruthers of More Organised describes this as “warming up your organising muscles”.  “It’’s easier to tackle the big areas once you have warmed up with smaller, easier projects”, she explains. “And if it isn’t, get someone to help you. There’s plenty of help out there, all you have to do is ask!”

Change starts with a single step

Elizabeth Gresson of All Organised For You agrees. “All change starts with just one step”, she reminds us. “So I suggest starting small. I don’t advise turning out every drawer and cupboard because you’ll just create more mess. Clearing one room, or one type of item, at a time will produce better results”.

Elizabeth also recommends removing items as you go, whether it’s putting things in the recycling bin, or taking things to a charity shop or the tip at the end of the session. It’s also important to get rid of surplus containers; nature abhors a vacuum – if there are empty containers sitting around, the chances are they will get filled up again!

Declutter first, then organise

Most professional organisers suggest that you should declutter first, and then organise what you are keeping. This way you won’t waste time organising items you will later decide you don’t need and you will also avoid falling into the trap of buying “organising products” that you will never use… and which will become more clutter!

Just start!

Elizabeth starts by asking her clients which area is causing them the most anxiety. It could be that one room is so full of stuff that they can’t use it. It may be that their paperwork is out of control, causing them issues with missed payments and appointments. Or they may have lots of clothes in their wardrobe but still can’t find anything to wear.

“For me, the important thing is just to start. It can be one type of item, e.g. books or clothes. It can be one particular room. Wherever you start, every action you take will make a difference and you will feel the energy in that space lighten and, hopefully, you’ll be encouraged to continue”, she says.

organised bookshelves

Practical steps you can take now…

It may be that because of the pandemic you have a little less to do each week and a little more time to dedicate to you, says Amanda Terry of An Organised You. “So this week, declutter a commitment you felt you obliged to say ‘Yes’ to, and make space in your diary to invest in a little YOU time. This  will help you feel organised and ready for the future, and this will also benefit your loved ones”. Amanda recommends turning off the TV,  putting down your phone, cancelling the Zoom meetings and putting on some favourite music (or you might choose to use this time to be quiet and mindful instead).  She suggests trying to dedicate 1-2 hours decluttering a space that is cluttering your mind, then STOP.  Diarise this small slot every week and you will soon create the habit and feel stronger and able to do more.

Professional organisers tips for getting started:

  1. Switch off your phone and other distractions
  2. Write down your objectives
  3. Start small – a space at a time
  4. Declutter first, then organise
  5. Ask for help

This post is the first of a daily series for APDO’s 2020 National Organising Week. Come back tomorrow to read APDO member Rosie Barron‘s advice on organising your home in the current times.

If all this great advice has inspired you into getting started, you can find your nearest APDO professional organisers in our Find An Organiser directory

ADHD Awareness Month logo

ADHD Awareness Month: APDO members share their experiences of ADHD

To mark ADHD Month, APDO professional organisers share their experiences of working with clients with ADHD. In this article, which follows Sarah Bickers’ article on ADHD published earlier this month, Cherry Rudge, Lisa Pantling and Anita Fortes each give their insight into ADHD from their own experiences.

Cherry Rudge

Cherry Rudge of Rainbow Red – Professional Decluttering, Organising & Project Management Services is also a Trustee of the Fastminds Adult ADHD Support Group in Kingston-upon-Thames, having received her own ADHD diagnosis in November 2019.  She is an expert on hoarding behaviours and is proud to deliver regular training which develops the next generation of Professional Hoarding Practitioners, in association with Hoarding Disorders UK CIC and Clouds End CIC.

Cherry created the Hoarding Ice-Breaker Form, which has been recognised by the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD) and translated into various languages, for use around the World.

Headshot of Cherry Rudge of Rainbow Red

What does ADHD mean?

I originally went along to the Fastminds ADHD Support Group about five years ago, to find out whether it was suitable to refer my clients to – which it most certainly was, and still is.

It’s common for my clients and members of the support group to have:

        received a late diagnosis of ADHD, Autism, or other neurological disorders

        a diagnosis of or exhibit symptoms of ADHD (or Autism), and/or other neurological disorders where Executive Dysfunction is present

        been treated for mental illnesses such as Anxiety and Depression, without getting to the root cause of their issues, which – in my experience – can often be explained by an underlying neurological disorder

        been incorrectly diagnosed with mental illnesses such as Borderline Personality Disorder, and later diagnosed with a neurological disorder (such as ADHD), which more accurately describes their symptoms.

 Often, they have low self-esteem, lack confidence, and can suffer with extreme anxiety, depression, and self-harming.  Many experience feelings of anger, grief and frustration for the difficulties and challenges they’ve faced throughout their life, and how different their life might have been if only their condition had been diagnosed sooner. 

Personal experience

When people ask me about the benefits of receiving a diagnosis, I can personally vouch for the fact that even without taking medication it improved my understanding of myself and why overdoing things too much sometimes lead to burn-out and stress-related illness over the years. 

I chose to go for a private ADHD assessment, as unfortunately NHS waiting lists are so long in some places that it can take between 2-3 years before some people get assessed by their local Neurodevelopmental ADHD service.

Medication has been great for me, as it’s not only suppressed my appetite and enabled me to lose over a stone in weight (in almost 11 months), it’s also helped me stay focused, become less easily distracted, and concentrate much more on self-care instead of focusing on helping others as much as I did before.  

Citizen Advocacy work

What I especially love about being involved with an ADHD support group is that it’s full of wonderfully creative neurodiverse people who can all empathise with the difficulties each other experience on a daily basis.  Sadly, many of the members experience so many problems with Executive Functioning and mental/physical health issues that they’re extremely vulnerable to abuse, have employment issues, or struggle to get support from social care. 

So the founder of the support group and I do a lot of Citizen Advocacy work – accompanying members to virtual and in-person appointments (medical, employment, Citizen’s Advice, social care, etc), helping them fill in forms, encouraging them to be really mindful about their strengths and weaknesses in terms of Executive Functioning (for example, for PIP claims or Care Needs Assessments, to explain in detail what works for them and what doesn’t), appealing benefits decisions, and so on. Otherwise these experiences can be overwhelming and confusing for them, and they’re likely to forget what was discussed or agreed.  Especially if they have what I describe as the multiple ingredients for a “Cocktail of Clutter Chaos”, i.e. a variety of conditions such as Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, ADHD, Autism, mental health issues, physical health issues, or carer responsibilities, and so on.

 

Lisa Pantling

Lisa Pantling of Clutter Free Living also works regularly with clients with ADHD.

Headshot of Lisa Pantling of Clutter Free Living

Whether a client has known they have ADHD since childhood or are newly diagnosed in their 40’s (or even 70’s for some!) they can still often describe feelings of failure and low confidence around their abilities and their presentation to others.

The benefits of working with a professional organiser

Working with a professional organiser can help in many ways. On a practical level it means there is 1:1 physical support available to sort, declutter and organise items around the home, positive psychological effects in the form of a listening ear, a ‘cheerleader’ who is on your side, encouragement to stay focused and finish tasks and someone to help notice and celebrate your wins!

Decluttering and organising are all about making life easier and less complex, and this can be an amazing support for people with ADHD. Less stuff to sort, organise, tidy up, lose…. and find again.

We help our clients with ADHD to find homes for their important items, as well as suggesting ways to help them maintain the system. For example, open shelving, transparent storage boxes, labels, and schedules/ images to encourage routine. We can also work with family members as a team effort.

 

Anita Fortes

Anita Fortes of A Neater Life works with clients with ADHD too, and shares her thoughts.

Professional organiser Anita Fortes of A Neater Life organising a wardrobe

Anita considers her clients with ADHD to be some of her most creative, energetic, and passionate clients. But they often struggle to maintain attention when we are decluttering. To help with this, I find  it works really well to define small areas at a time that have to be completed before moving on.

Anita suggests strategies such as separating the project into rooms, then areas within the room, then parts of each piece of furniture, like the shelf on a bookcase. It helps if it’s an area where the client can see an immediate difference before moving on.

If you would like to find out more about ADHD, you can find your nearest APDO professional organiser with experience of working with people with ADHD on the Find An Organiser directory, or in Sarah Bickers’ blog post on ADHD published earlier in ADHD Awareness Month.

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

APDO Book Club: “Making Space” by Sarah Tierney

APDO members chose Sarah Tierney‘s novel “Making Space” to discuss at a recent APDO Book Club meeting. APDO volunteer Mel Carruthers of More Organised caught up with the author after the book club meeting, to ask some of the questions that were raised by the group. 

“Making Space”

First, a brief synopsis of “Making Space”: Miriam is approaching 30 but her life hasn’t turned out how she expected it to, and she gives away all her belongings in an attempt to reimagine herself. Erik lives amongst a stifling hoard of books and magazines, a cocoon and protection from the parts of his life that he doesn’t want to remember. Fate throws these two main characters together, and Sarah has cleverly used their opposing relationships with their possessions to examine their personalities and lives. A diverse ensemble of secondary characters reinforce our relationships with our possessions… making this the perfect read for anyone interested in decluttering and organising

An interview with Sarah Tierney

I was delighted to catch up with Sarah Tierney to ask a few questions about “Making Space”, following a number of questions raised in our discussions of the book. Our industry isn’t often featured in novels and film, so it was interesting to see decluttering and organising portrayed in the novel.

Did you work with a professional organiser and what research did you do?

I didn’t have the opportunity to work with a professional organiser, though that would have been really useful. Instead I read some books about working with hoarders – including Digging Out by Michael A. Tompkins and Tamara L. Hartl, and Stuff by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee. I also did quite a bit of research online – looking at websites of professional organisers and reading articles about the subject.

I also used my own experience of having Cognitive Behavioural Therapy when describing some of the techniques Lisa uses, and when writing about Eric’s avoidance of confronting the past. I’ve known a few people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and this fed into his character too.

I also talked to people with experience of hoarding. I found that when you tell people you’re writing a book about hoarding, they inevitably have a story to tell you about someone they know who hoards, or they confide that they’re a low-level hoarder themselves. I think a lot of people struggle to keep on top of their possessions nowadays – it is hard to throw things away, and yet very easy to buy things.

What prior knowledge of the professional organising industry did you have and what prompted you to include it in the plot?

I wrote Making Space back in 2012/2013 when the industry was much more established in the US than it was here. I think the fact that it was a relatively new industry in the UK gave me the freedom to ‘make stuff up’ a little bit and imagine what a professional organiser might do. I’m really pleased to hear that real-life professional organisers can relate to it because I didn’t know whether I’d managed to make it convincing or not.

What role did the professional organiser play in the plot:

One reason I included a professional organiser, Lisa, in the plot was because I wanted to get Miriam out of the position of being Erik’s ‘therapist’ (because that’s not a good basis for a romantic relationship!) Primarily though, I wanted to give a sense that both Miriam and Erik had moved forwards in their lives by the end of the book.

I thought professional help would be the logical next step in tackling Erik’s hoarding. And when Miriam gets a job with Lisa, it showed she had grown as a person through the experience of working with him, by gaining confidence, skills, and a new career direction. I also liked the idea of having a professional organiser who wasn’t particularly organised herself.

What’s next for Sarah Tierney?

I’ve written a new novel about two sisters on holiday in a remote cottage in the Scottish Highlands. I’ve only just sent it to my agent so I don’t know yet what will happen to it from here but I’ll keep you posted!

Thank you Sarah for taking the time to answer my questions. I loved the book and can’t wait to read the next one!

If the novel or the interview with Sarah Tierney has inspired you to find out more about becoming a professional organiser, find out more about the benefits of joining APDO Association of Professional Declutterers & Organisers, or take a look at the available training.

October 2020 - ADHD Awarness Month

ADHD Awareness Month (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

October is ADHD Awareness month, but what does this have to do with decluttering and organising your home? APDO member Sarah Bickers of Free Your Space explains in this insightful post.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

You probably already know something about ADHD. Most people immediately think of the ‘naughty boy’ who couldn’t sit still in class. You might also think of ADHD as a recent diagnosis. But descriptions fitting ADHD are found in medical literature from the early 1900’s onwards, and many people recognise ADHD in historical accounts of famous people such as Leonardo Da Vinci (who is believed to have had ADHD & dyslexia).

We often believe ADHD is over-diagnosed and an excuse for poor parenting, diet, not enough exercise or too much TV. However, in the UK and mainland Europe, around 90% of adults with ADHD are underdiagnosed, especially girls and women. In England only 0.35% of girls and 1.5% of boys are receiving treatment, compared with a global average of 5.3% of children. This may explain why we professional organisers often get calls from adults who describe long-term difficulties with organisation.

Sarah Bickers

My own experience

I only realised I might have ADHD when my 15-year-old son was diagnosed with the condition. During his assessment I realised we shared many of the same challenges: difficulty focusing consistently, a high level of distractibility and a poor memory. Things had to stay out to remind me to do it – if it was out of sight it no longer existed in my mind. My husband’s well-intentioned tidying away could be disastrous!

On the plus side, I had spent 30+ years developing some pretty effective strategies to deal with those symptoms. Learning to be organised from scratch, I then started working as a professional organiser, so that I could help others get organised. My ADHD means I still drop the odd ball – and because of that I put off starting my dream job for far too long! Now I work mainly with clients with ADHD and find that my ‘lived experience’ of ADHD reassures my clients, as well as equipping me be more ADHD-friendly!

So what is ADHD exactly?

The main three traits of ADHD are:

  1. Inattention (difficulty focussing)
  2. Hyperactivity (including both physical hyperactivity and mind-wandering/daydreaming)
  3. Impulsivity (including risk-taking behaviours).

People with ADHD usually also have difficulties regulating their (often strongly-felt) emotions, taking criticism especially hard, as well as empathising deeply with others. All these factors may result in under-functioning at school, home and work, and difficulties getting organised, often despite others recognising their obvious potential. Undiagnosed children and adults may often struggle with low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, and may even develop addictive behaviours – from over-eating to misuse of alcohol/ drugs.*

a scultpure of a head representing ADHD

A brain-based condition

Rather than being a modern invention to excuse bad behaviour, ADHD is actually a brain-based condition. A brain scan of an ADHD brain actually shows differences in structure, as well as function, compared to the average. Neurotransmitters (the chemicals which pass on messages in our brain) help us get motivated and stay motivated to complete a task. In ADHD they don’t work effectively. The stakes need to be much higher for us to get started on something. This is why we may often leave things to the last minute… we need that kick of fear to get started. It’s also why we’ll manage pretty well if we’re really interested in something, as our motivation is high enough to get activated. And indeed, once activated, we may find it hard to stop to eat meals or sleep!

ADHD is therefore not so much about difficulties paying attention, so much as finding it much harder to moderate attention and manage priorities in time. People with ADHD may often be thought of as lazy, messy, disorganised and chaotic. However, some with ADHD compensate by working really hard to manage their internal chaos. Outwardly these people appear ‘hyper-organised’. Everything has a place, and often (somewhat quirky) systems are developed. These systems may seem rather inflexible and even military to others, but they are an attempt to stay in control of things. This organisational perfectionism comes at quite a price: the extra unseen effort needed to stay in control may result in burn out, and those around them may suffer due to those often inflexible standards.

“Living with ADHD is like walking up a down escalator. You can get there eventually, but the journey is exhausting.” – Kathleen Ely, Helena, Montana

So now you can see why getting organised might be quite a challenge if you have ADHD.  Standard organisational approaches often won’t work for you. You may have pored over countless books hoping for that ‘silver bullet’ which fixes the problem. You may even have had help from super organised and well-meaning friends, but this has left you feeling even worse when you don’t manage to maintain the new ‘system’. You may even have judged yourself harshly for not managing life as well as you think you ought.

This is where working with an ADHD-friendly organiser can really help. Working alongside you as your non-judgemental ally, we’ll help you find the best approach and systems for you. We’ll help you ‘re-boot’ your home, so reducing that sense of overwhelm. We won’t expect perfection and will explore strategies with you to keep more on top of things as you move forwards.  And should you need further help, at any point down the line you’ll know you can come back for a top-up.

For more resources on managing ADHD:

https://www.additudemag.com

www.freeyourspace.co.uk-ADHD resources

*If you think you might have ADHD, try this simple screening test. If you get a high score it doesn’t prove you have ADHD but does indicate that assessment may be worthwhile. You may want to take the results to your GP and ask to be referred for an ADHD assessment. https://add.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/adhd-questionnaire-ASRS111.pdf

A number of APDO’s members are experienced in working with clients with ADHD. You can find them by searching our Find An Organiser database, and selecting “ADHD” under specialisms.

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

Professional organiser Anita Fortes of A Neater Life organising a wardrobe

A day in the life of a professional organiser: Anita Fortes

Have you ever wondered what it’s really like to be a professional organiser? In this post, Anita Fortes of A Neater Life takes us behind the scenes of her business and guides us through a typical day in her life as a professional organiser.

Anita’s day

One of the things I love about running my own business is choosing my working hours. That said, I’m an early riser, usually up before 6 a.m., when my Labrador Retriever takes me for a walk on Overstrand beach.

After showering and breakfast, it’s time to deal with admin tasks.  After moving to a new house last year, I’ve progressed from using the kitchen table to an office on the first floor. I check emails and add a little more to a feature on organising which I’m writing for a local magazine.

Then I prepare for my in-person work with my client, Eva*. I look through the notes from my last visit, make lunch for later and pack up a few resources. I see my job as supporting people to make a change in their lives. It just happens to be focused on belongings and clutter.

Living in rural Norfolk invariably means a long drive, but it’s a good opportunity to think about how I will support my client. When I arrive, I unpack storage boxes, stationery and a labelling machine and, after a quick cuppa, we get started.

Open notebook and a pen next to a pot plant

Eva is a young woman with a busy family life and a demanding job. She’s accomplished, intelligent, and hoards paperwork…lots of it.  Documents, magazines, newspapers and notebooks are in piles everywhere.  The sheer volume had become overwhelming, so she asked for help. We’ve been working together regularly for several months and she’s made amazing progress. Our agreed aim is to reduce the paperwork sufficiently to create a contained filing system of documents, stored in one place. To make progress with this, it’s important to work to a structure.

I help her to prioritise and organise her thinking by sorting documents into categories. To encourage decluttering I offer new perspectives: Is it essential to keep that? How will keeping it benefit you? I check that she is not becoming too absorbed reading each document. This keeps the momentum going and makes the best use of the time we have.

I’m aware of Eva’s rising anxiety levels, so we take regular short breaks to diffuse.  If it becomes tricky, I mention her ‘clutter free’ ambition – she would love to set up a business consultancy. I’ll definitely help her to achieve this.

Five hours of decluttering is enough because it’s quite intense.  We finish the session with a cup of tea, highlight our achievements and chat about the aims for next time. I give her a small task to focus on until then, for example, clearing her desk daily.

An organised white desk with a plant, vases and gold A ornament against a wire grid noticeboard and white wall

On the drive home, I call in to see a new client. She wants to declutter and reorganise rooms to create a spare bedroom. She tells me that she is taking medication for depression. We arrange a session for the following week.

Once home I feed and walk the dog. Later, I check emails and catch up with invoicing. If I can cope with the frustration, I might do some social media marketing.

Or I might just enjoy a large glass of wine.

* Names have been changed to protect clients’ confidentiality. All APDO-registered organisers adhere to the APDO Code of Ethics.

If Anita’s post has inspired you to start your own professional organising business, APDO offers regular training and support for organisers. Visit the training page to find out more!

yellow and white flowers arranged in a vase on an organised wooden coffee table

Finding your motivation during lockdown

Have your decluttering efforts been stalled by the COVID-19 lockdown? Are you struggling to find motivation to get organised? Help is at hand! APDO member Lynda Wylie, owner of organising business Tidy Rooms, shares her tips on overcoming procrastination and getting that project finished!

Starting (and finishing) a decluttering or organising project during lockdown

If I’m honest, it’s taken me a while to write this blog about motivation. I’ve been lacking the impetus to get going during lockdown. The idea of writing the blog made it straight on to my To Do list (Colornote for Android), but without a specific deadline, and with a growing list of priorities and glorious weather tempting me outside, it just didn’t move any further.

I know from talking to clients that this is similar to what can happen when you decide to start decluttering. Other things suddenly become much more appealing (even jobs you’ve been putting off for ages) and you can quickly lose your initial enthusiasm to get stuck in. Feelings of overwhelm are very common and you may wonder where and how to get started.

The talk of lifting the lockdown finally got me focused again on writing. Having a deadline is a powerful force for getting your project underway.

a tidy organised decluttered kitchen counter with white cupboards

5 ways to overcome procrastination:

Here are 5 established ways to get your decluttering off the ground during lockdown:

1 Set yourself a clear deadline

Deadlines don’t just apply to big tasks, like decluttering the garage or setting up a filing system. Smaller tasks  such as clearing the ironing basket or changing the beds respond just as well.  You could tell someone about your deadline, even asking them to check in with you as it approaches. Promising yourself a reward once you’ve done the task can also inspire you to get going.

2 Break a bigger job down into smaller chunks

Start with a small goal.  Setting out to file a handful of papers will feel more achievable than tackling the entire bagful. Once you’ve done it, you’ll feel great. Plus, once you’re underway you’ll often do more than you expect. If your goal is to tackle one shelf and you keep going to finish the whole bookcase, you’ll feel fantastic. Remember to step back and appreciate your hard work when you’re finished.

3 Schedule a time to get started

Making a decluttering appointment with yourself, just as you might to see the GP or go for a run, shows it’s important to you. Allocating a slot in your day helps move it from “To Do” to “Doing”, and encourages you to start. Schedule more time than you think you might need too so you know you can finish the job and maybe even have bonus time at the end for a cuppa.

4 Invite a virtual body double along

This is a great technique to try during lock down. A trusted friend works alongside you from their home by video call, whilst you work away on your task at the other end of the camera. Their presence is stabilising, helping you to concentrate and keep going when you might otherwise have got distracted or given up.

5 Focus on the end result

When you’re doing physical decluttering, focus on the space you’re gaining and how you’d like to use it for the things you’re keeping, rather than what you’re getting rid of. Planning how you want to use your new clear spaces can be really exciting and provide the incentive to get you going.

 

If you’re still wondering how to get started on your project, why not try a fun ‘Show and Tell’ video call with your friends? One of my clients has been inviting her friends each week to show and tell a category such as shoes, scarves or bags. In preparation for these weekly calls, everyone has been decluttering and organising their belongings and storage ready to show. Lockdown creativity with great results!

Many APDO professional organisers are working remotely during the COVID-19 lockdown, offering “virtual” sessions over the internet and phone. If you are looking for support or accountability you can browse APDO’s “Find an organiser” page to find an organiser to help you.

 

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