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Organizing in Reality

I was visiting my friend Jan one night and helped her install Ikea legs on a board she wanted to turn into a craft table. While I drilled 20 little holes on the underside of the future table, we chatted.

She often recommends me to people who need help getting organized, and she shared with me how she describes the process. “I tell people that you’re very respectful of their stuff. You always ask if you may throw things away, or whether they’re okay with where you want to move something.”

Clean House ad

What Jan said made me think about how people seem to be afraid that I’m going to show up and throw all their stuff away. They act as if giving me permission to work on their projects signs over an irrevocable, non-negotiable right to pitch anything I want, no matter what they might wish.

I guess that idea comes from watching too much Style network. When you sign up for a “reality” television show like Clean House or Clean Sweep, you get a lot, but you also give up a lot. The producers bring loads of free furniture and free decorating, but you don’t have much input, and you can be sure they’re coming for your collections to put in the yard sale. But the process that makes for a successful and entertaining show is not much like the organizing process in real life.

I tell my clients all the time: I don’t care what you keep, it really doesn’t matter to me. I’m going to point out what you already know—you own more than can fit in your space. I’ll help you make tough decisions about what to keep and what to divest, but I’ll do it based on what’s important to you, not what’s important to me. First I have to figure out your goals for the space, and then we can begin the work of deciding what you’ll keep and what you no longer want or need.

In other words, you invite me in, and I behave like a house guest. Throughout the process, everything I do is with your permission. I may push you or challenge you, but I’m doing it to find out what you value. I encourage you to justify keeping something by making your case to me first. I’ll call you on your lame excuses for keeping things that are no longer useful. But don’t misunderstand my goal. It’s not to steal away as much of your stuff as I can, it’s to make sure you’re keeping only what you really want. It’s helping you fit in your house again.

So when I show up, you’re not on HGTV. I won’t redecorate your whole house over the weekend. I’ll help you get clear about what you want in your life, and we’ll use that as a guide for choosing the stuff that deserves to share your space. With your permission. 


This article was featured in our August 2010 e-mail newsletter. To subscribe to our newsletter, please use the “Subscribe” form, above right.

The Clutter Fairy is available for one-on-one organizing sessions tailored to your needs. We’ll visit your home or office to perform a free assessment of your space and its potential. Call 713‑816‑9505 or send e-mail to schedule an appointment.

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5 comments to Organizing in Reality

  • Neitra

    This is a great article. I really enjoyed reading it.

  • Thanks Miss Neitra! I hope to see you at the Sept meeting at Cornerstone. I thought I’d see you more now you’re on the board, but with summer off it hasn’t been true. Miss you! Gayle

  • Loretta McCarthy

    Thank God you are not like those reality shows. I know what needs to be done, it’s getting started that I have problems with. Shoving it all in storage would de-clutter my apt faster. But, that wouldn’t solve the long-term problem. I am reading your notes & going to try some of your ideas in organizing small areas first. Headed to the kitchen to organize the counters. Re-organized the shelves during the summer. Tomorrow, I can re-organize the bathroom. Hopefully, picking up 19 items a day will help me de-clutter small areas…1 step at a time.
    Thanks for the tips.

  • Go for it Loretta! I know you can do it if you just keep taking steps every day towards the goal. Eventually, you’ll be in maintenance mode instead of clear-out mode!

    Best of luck, Gayle

  • Helaine

    I love the message that respect is most important. I think that this will help break down the barriers that keep some people from starting the organizing journey.

    The part about the TV magic we see on shows like Clean House is funny and so true. Thanks for sharing your expertise.

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