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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 APDO member 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.

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.

 

Click here to read more blog posts from APDO

Foliage in a glass jar signifying recycling and environment

Decluttering when someone has died

Sentimental items are without a doubt the most difficult things to deal with when decluttering. Emotions around objects can be incredibly strong, as we link feelings and memories to physical objects and this is especially true when someone has passed away. In this post, Zoe Berry of Life/Edit gives her advice on decluttering a lifetime of possessions after someone dies.

sentimental flowers

Decluttering when someone has died: How to deal with a lifetime of possessions

Recently I have worked with two clients for whom this is a huge issue: they are responsible for decluttering after someone has died, and they find themselves hanging on to far too much stuff because of an almost paralysing inability to make decisions on what to do with it all. There are varied reasons for this: in these particular cases, the sheer volume of it all was overwhelming. Where do you start with a whole house or the contents of someone’s entire life that’s ended up in boxes in your loft? But perhaps greater than this is the associated guilt. When someone has died it can be so hard to part with their belongings: knowing how hard the person worked for them, knowing what the items meant to the person, worrying that you are being disloyal or disrespectful by simply ‘getting rid’ of them, or not knowing who to give them to or where they should go if you do want to part with them. This post explores how you can respectfully and thoughtfully keep someone’s memory alive without having to be the keeper of all of their belongings.

First: ask for help

This is going to be hard. You probably can’t do it on your own, so allow the people who are offering help to work through it with you. Or if this isn’t an option, look up a professional declutterer here: https://www.apdo.co.uk/find-an-organiser/. We are trained to help you, and can help to guide you through the process.

Start with the ‘least difficult’

In the case of post-bereavement decluttering, there probably isn’t an ‘easy’ place to start, but whatever you do, don’t start with the most emotional things. You’ll know what these are. For some people it’s about their mum’s clothes, for some it’s their husband’s precious collection of books which were his pride and joy. For some people it’s about something that may seem entirely random but you will know what is going to be the most difficult for you. Leave that until the end.

Do I really want to keep this?

Look at the item and ask yourself: what precisely am I sentimental about? Chances are, it’s not the object itself but its association with a person, place, or time. You will retain that memory without a physical object to remind you. However if you look at the item and love it, then it’s not clutter.

pile of photographs letters and memories

Let go of guilt

Often people keep items not out of love or nostalgia, but guilt. It could be because it feels ‘bad’ to get rid of something, or it could be because you had a difficult relationship with the person who has died and you’re subconsciously trying to make it better. Allow yourself to realise that your complex relationship with your aunty will not be fixed if you keep hold of her hideous set of figurines now that she has passed away.

Take a photograph

If you have your grandparents’ table and chairs and you know you can’t keep them and won’t use them, take a photo of them as part of the process of letting them go. Use the same logic as you do with other parts of your decluttering life (you wouldn’t keep all your kids’ toys for example) and apply it to the post-bereavement decluttering.

Pass it on

Do some quality research before passing your items to charity. Some charities only take specific things (for example, no electrical goods) and you don’t want to be turned away after the difficult and emotional process of sorting through, loading your car and driving to the charity shop. Recently I donated a whole lifetime’s worth of clothes which had belonged to a client’s mum. Going through these clothes was so difficult for my client, she spent hours in tears remembering the stories that went with them: where her mum wore them and how they summed her up. I made sure these clothes went to a charity shop local to me which specialises in vintage clothing. For this client, the idea that the next generation of vintage-loving young women would be soon wearing them filled her with joy and pride.

Foliage in a glass jar signifying recycling and environment

Family

You may not want something or have room for it, but you can always offer it to others in the family. Remember to check with them first before packing an object off to somewhere outside the family.

Upcycle

To hold onto your connection with something, create something new that retains its sentimental value. An example of this recently was an antique chair belonging to a client’s beloved great aunty. I encouraged her to upcycle it so it fitted more in to her house décor and she covered it with some beautiful fabric bringing it right up to date whilst still retaining the nod to her family member.

Dealing with collections

It’s very difficult when dealing with the possessions of an avid collector. Your dad may have loved his thousands of model cars, your brother loved his rooms full of books, but it doesn’t mean you have to absorb them into your home. Choosing one or two keepsake items to represent a collection, person or era can allow you to let the rest go.

Memory Box

Just as you’d keep a memory box for your children with their precious school drawings, first shoes and other sentimental items, you can also do this for someone who has died. It doesn’t matter how off-the-wall these things are – if an empty margarine tub makes you chuckle thinking about your gran, then pop it in the box. This is a good way to preserve memories without taking up too much space. It also keeps the items all together, so you can choose when you want to look at them, particularly if grief is still very raw.

Most of all be kind to yourself. Take time, acknowledge that this is one of the hardest things to do, accept help and reward yourself when you make progress.

APDO Spring Clearing Week 2019 logo

In conversation with BuyMeOnce

Tara Button, CEO & Founder of BuyMeOnce, is at the forefront of the global movement to change the way we shop and live forever, championing the longest-lasting and most sustainable products on Earth. 

In the spirit of Spring Clearing Week 2019, professional organiser and APDO member Caroline Rogers spoke to Tara, to find out more about the movement, the website and how we can all benefit. 

 

You can find out more about Spring Clearing Week 2019 here!

A vase of daffodils on an organised coffee table

Help is on hand, and it’s OK to take it

‘I should be able to do it on my own.’ As professional organisers we hear this, or a much harsher variation, on a regular basis as we work with people to transform their spaces. Claire de Boursac, psychotherapist and professional organiser at The Art of Clearing, examines our self-critical voices and discusses some ways to dispel them in this helpful and sensitive guest post.

Headshot of Claire de Boursac APDO member standing under a tree

Is self-criticism stopping you?

It always saddens me to hear people speak unkindly to themselves, often reflecting impossibly high expectations which usually don’t take into account the reality of their lives. It’s something I also hear a lot in my work as a psychotherapist, where clients feel they should be able to face challenges alone. Why? Humans are social beings. We live in community, we’re programmed to work together and support each other. We each have our unique skills and ways of being in the world. I don’t believe anyone masters every area of their life – and more importantly, I don’t think they need to. It’s a responsible and courageous thing to know our strengths and our weaknesses and to enlist support where we need it. There is no shame in asking for help.

Although these self-criticisms are as varied as the people who live with them, there are some common threads.

I hear clients make their clutter a character flaw, as if it is central to their personality. They might call themselves ‘messy’. No, the space is messy.  You are human.

I also often work with people who tell themselves they are ‘lazy’ because they haven’t tidied or haven’t unpacked those boxes from the move several years ago. I then discover they have very full lives, investing huge amounts of time and energy in work or family and quite rightly choose to spend their weekends resting and enjoying hard-earned time off.

bright decluttered organised sitting room with the letters HOME mounted on a brick feature wall

The organisation myth

There is a myth that it is easy to be organised and to keep a tidy home. It may be for some people.  But there are many more for whom it is challenging. There may be a number of reasons for this: physical or mental challenges or an emotional element to the items to be managed. ‘Stuff’ is often more than just ‘stuff.’ Objects can come into our lives through choice, gift and obligation. It can be complicated and emotionally charged to deal with them. That vase you hate but was given by a friend you love, the belongings of a loved one who has died, an object or clothes that are past their usefulness but are so deeply connected to a joyous time in your life that saying goodbye to them feels like saying goodbye to those delicious memories. Sometimes there is simply so much stuff that the thought of decluttering is overwhelming, seemingly impossible to know where to start.

Recognising your own critical voice

Whatever someone’s particular challenge is, there are doubtless hundreds, if not thousands of people thinking the same unkind thoughts and criticising themselves and their homes. A nasty inner critic is incredibly common, so much so that most people think it’s just part of them, something they need to put up with. I disagree.

You might recognise your own critical voice by its harsh tone. We typically speak to ourselves in a manner that we would never speak to someone else. What do you say to yourself from that place? Would you speak to your friend or loved one in that tone, with those words? The critical voice usually attacks us in an area we are already tender about, in this case our clutter or keeping our home a particular way. Because of this vulnerable quality, it can be helpful to ask ourselves ‘Would you speak to a child in that way?’ The answer is inevitably ‘No.’ We might then ask, if a child you care about was facing the feelings you’re dealing with right now – embarrassment, fear, overwhelm, whatever it is – how would you respond to them? I’m guessing with something like compassion, understanding, reassurance. You deserve the same.

Open notebook and pen next to a mug and plant on a white desk

The role of the professional organiser

Although I suspect it may be true for my fellow declutterers, I can only speak for myself. I have never felt critical of a client for how their home is. In truth, I am actually not so interested in the physical appearance of the home and whether it is tidy or messy. What matters to me is how my client is impacted by living there and how near or far it is from their wishes for the space. I see my role as being a skilled and supportive guide along that path and it matters not a jot to me what that path is – be it reorganising a tidy house or creating order from utter chaos.

I said I’m saddened when I hear the harsh self-criticism of my clearing clients and I am, but I am saddened even more by the realisation that there are probably clients I work alongside who have that critical voice running wild but don’t share it with me, and therefore don’t give me the chance to challenge it with them, and that there are doubtless many more people for whom the strength of this voice stops them even booking a session. If that is you, please know that it is absolutely OK that you want some support with this. You don’t have to do it alone. Now take a deep breath and drop me or one of my APDO colleagues a line. We’d be delighted to help you.

If Claire’s post has encouraged you to seek guidance from a professional organiser, you can find your nearest APDO member here.

Home Staging Association logo

Organising and home staging: An unbeatable combination!

Paloma Harrington-Griffin is the Director of The Home Staging Association UK, a source of information and support within the Home Staging industry. In this guest post for APDO, Paloma examines the relationship between organising and home staging, and how you can use both activities to increase the sale price of your home.

Organising and Home Staging: The perfect combo

Organising. Does the word alone make you think piles of boxes, chaos and runs to the charity shop? For the average homeowner that might be the idea, however, for professional organisers and home stagers, that same word can mean an opportunity to change someone’s life.

Organising and decluttering are usually the first items a homeowner needs to tick off their list when putting their property on the market, followed by handyman work, a thorough clean and the ever-so-efficient Home Staging.

There are several ways of improving a home to sell it faster – and better. Some can prove to be extreme and expensive, but others are quite straight-forward, practical and, most importantly, budget-friendly. Decluttering and Home Staging are a powerful combo for those wishing to achieve a quick sale and the highest offer value possible – which is the main goal for every Home Stager.

The effective techniques not only clear a property of excess items and personal belongings, they also prepare the homeowners for their move, getting the property ready for potential buyers who come for viewings in the hope of putting an offer down on their new lifestyle.

An organised, clutter-free home with the right pieces of furniture and accessories is ahead of the competition in the property market game.

In the Home Staging Profile 2018, research conducted by the Home Staging Association UK, 62% of property professionals mentioned that home staging has a great effect on the buyers’ view of the property, whilst 95% of the interview sample said that staged homes sell faster than non-staged ones.

In addition, 100% of estate agents and property developers said that home staging makes it easier for a buyer to visualise the property as their future home, meaning that while organisation is important, staging the home for potential buyers is key to securing a sale.

How can a professional organiser implement a few styling hues to their work?

According to Susie Batista from Cheshire Home Staging, there are some really stylish ways to be organised. It doesn’t always mean old tired cardboard boxes gathering dust, but clean purpose-built shelving with rows of wicker baskets, plastic containers for food items with trendy black labels.

Susie also suggests updated solid pine toy boxes, and stylish laundry baskets. The list is endless, and this type of organisation not only helps clear the mind and energy flow in the house but also looks aesthetically pleasing. It’s a win-win.

Before and after decluttering photo of home staged bedroom

Elaine Penhaul from Lemon and Lime Interiors suggests taking control and working strategically to eliminate the mess when decluttering a house for sale. It can be an exhausting task that sometimes seems never-ending, however, with the right approach it can be done in a very efficient manner.

Elaine likes to group her clients’ items into three categories: skip, store, show. One of the goals is to prepare for the move, so get rid of anything that isn’t needed for the new home. This is a lot more effective than storing and sorting later.

Before and after decluttering photo of a sitting room

The Home Staging Profile 2018 showed that 23% of the properties that were sold had the reception room staged, followed by 22% of properties that had the master bedroom staged. Therefore, if you need to choose a room to organise and style, these should be the ones to prioritise.

Whether it is to improve one’s quality of life, or to secure a sale which will allow a lifestyle upgrade, organising and staging walk hand-in-hand and can achieve great results when combined. It is proven to work, and the benefits are real – so what are you waiting for?

You can download a FREE Step-by-Step Guide to Home Staging at the HSA’s website 
and find your local professional organiser here.