If you’ve ever seen the TV show “Clean Sweep” or any of the
other organizing shows on television, you’ve seen weepy couples
agonizing over decisions of what to keep and what to toss.
Usually, the show’s organizing guru points out that their house
is X square feet and their stuff takes up Y square feet so Z
percent needs to go. After the “clients” have been shamed into
dumping Z percent of their belongings, they are often awarded a
framed swatch of fabric from something precious — a wedding dress,
sports uniform, baby blanket or what have you. The viewer might
wonder, “Will they have any regrets?”
I admit, I wear a big smile on my face when I see clients
readily letting go of years of accumulated clutter. But organizing
and decluttering are not one and the same. You can have quite a bit
of clutter yet still be organized.
Longtime professional organizer and author Julie Morgenstern
states that, “Organizing is identifying what is important to you
and giving yourself access to it.” That doesn’t mean that you have
to get rid of anything. It means that you put in place a system
that is easy to maintain so that you can find what you need when
you need it, quickly and effortlessly. Purging can be completely
left out of the organizing process, Morgenstern says.
Decluttering needs to happen when you are in transition. You’re
switching careers? You may not have to hold on to paperwork from
your old job and could just keep a few items to support your
résumé. Your kids grow up and move out of the house? It’s time to
get rid of the baby clothes, high chairs and car seats. Morgenstern
believes it is impossible to organize someone who is in transition.
A person transitioning from one path to another can declutter and
refocus, and then, when on the new path, get organized.
Whether organizing or decluttering, one should never feel shamed
into throwing out or donating something. A good organizer will help
the client find a storage system that works, no matter the size of
the space. I often work with storage the client already has — with
some clever tweaks.
A word about clothing: I usually encourage clients to keep
clothes that fit and flatter them now, not the size 2 dresses from
high school, etc. But this rule also has to be tailored to the
individual. I was talking with a colleague in New York who has a
female client with a wardrobe of clothing ranging from size 6 to
14. The client’s weight fluctuates widely and she knows that about
herself and has come to terms with it. Therefore, her wardrobe very
practically reflects that fact.
There are a few things that I will strongly encourage clients to
part with: broken items that have been laying around for over a
year, old newspapers and magazines, junk mail and catalogs, and
garments that are stained or irreparable. And definitely get rid of
food, meds and cosmetics that are past their expiration dates.
Otherwise, you got memorabilia, collections, craft supplies and
closets full of clothes? Bring it on, we can organize it and you
don’t have to part with a single baseball card, glue stick or pair
of jeans — unless you want to.