5 things I learned when The Organizer paid a visit

The Orga­nizer takes stock

My friend Heidi is a pro­fes­sional orga­nizer, and when she heard that this month’s Life Exper­i­ment is all about Cre­at­ing Order, she offered to get me started.

I jumped at the opportunity.

She arrived promptly at 8:15 am, full of reas­sur­ances. “I don’t make judg­ments,” she said, more than once. “It’s about you and how you live.  My work is very per­sonal, and every­thing is confidential.”

I’d done lit­tle to pre­pare for the visit; Heidi wanted to see what things looked like when I hadn’t made a spe­cial effort. Before we got to work, I took her on a quick top-to-bottom tour—from my clothes– and book-strewn bed­room to my chaotic base­ment, a potter’s field for old elec­tron­ics, work files, and memorabilia.

Over the next two hours, we made sub­stan­tial inroads, far more than I would have thought pos­si­ble for such a short ses­sion. We started out by going through piles on my din­ing room table, where I’d gath­ered some of my most chal­leng­ing small orga­ni­za­tion projects.

For exam­ple: What do you do with that col­lec­tion of ran­dom screws, nails, and other mys­te­ri­ous hard­ware items?

Answer: Your throw it out.

Now this might not be the case for some­one who is handy and does lots of home improve­ment projects, but as soon as Heidi told me I could pitch this stuff, I felt instant relief.

And, as she explained it, that’s a big part of what a pro­fes­sional orga­nizer does: Gives you per­mis­sion to toss stuff that you can’t seem to toss on your own.  (Or, as she diplo­mat­i­cally put it, sur­vey­ing my liv­ing room: “It’s my job to get you to think about things, so this sort of sit­u­a­tion doesn’t ensue.”)

That being said, Heidi cer­tainly didn’t pres­sure me; she mainly just asked questions.

Why do you need the instruc­tions to your blender?” she inquired.

I skimmed through the lit­tle book­let. “Look! There are recipes! I’m going to put this with my recipe books.”

She gave me a long look. “Really?” she said. Really?

After that she let it go, except for one final obser­va­tion. “I’ll bet you never go to that blender thing to make a recipe out of it. (Chances are she’s entirely right, but for now, I’m still keep­ing it.)

This isn’t the first time I’ve made an effort to be more orga­nized (over the years, as I recounted in Salon, I’ve spent thou­sands of dol­lars on stor­age), and some of Heidi’s tips—such as the adage to “put like with like”—were already famil­iar to me.

But other truths came as either novel insights or much-needed reminders. For the record, here they are:

1. No one wants your old cas­sette tapes.

No one. Absolutely no one.  After a rejec­tion from Good­will, I’d been plan­ning to move on. Heidi told me not to bother.

2. You don’t have to be like your parents

I’m sort of like my mother,” I explained, as I dithered over whether to dis­card some melted-down can­dle remnants.

Heidi’s matter-of-fact response: “You don’t have to be.”

3.  Just because some­thing was once pretty doesn’t mean it still is.

I loved this,” I said wist­fully, gaz­ing at my one-time favorite Vera Bradley tote bag, now torn and stained.

I won­dered if I should keep it—until Heidi’s voice broke in. “You can’t donate that,” she said prac­ti­cally. “You have to throw it away.”

A scummy can­dle holder with a flo­ral pat­tern elicited a sim­i­lar response.

Me: “It’s sort of pretty.”

Heidi: “Not so much anymore.”

Bonus tip:  If some­thing has sen­ti­men­tal value but no cur­rent use, think of tak­ing a dig­i­tal photo and dis­card­ing the object itself.

4.  Projects take less time than you think they will …

It’s going to take me hours just to go through that,” I said ges­tur­ing to a pile of boxes on the stair­way land­ing as we emerged from the basement.

Heidi stopped me right there. “Why?” she said.

Oh, you know,” I said vaguely. “Lots of ran­dom things in var­i­ous places, have to go through it all.”

Well, let’s just see,” said Heidi.

And you know what? Most of those boxes were empty, except for pack­ing mate­ri­als. After five or 10 min­utes, only a small stack of papers and binders remained to be sorted.

5.  Unless they take more

As she gath­ered up her things, prepar­ing to leave, Heidi said: “You know you have a lot of work to do, right?”

The words brought me back to earth. I’d felt like we’d accom­plished so much! And yet, this was just a beginning.

How long do you think the whole house will take?”

Well, it depends on how much time you spend but, maybe  … a month or so?”

Hap­pily, one month is exactly the length of my Cre­at­ing Order Life Exper­i­ment. Three days down, 27 to go. Yes, I’m just get­ting started.

Spe­cial offer: Heidi—whose full name is Heidi Robinson—is offer­ing a two-hour orga­niz­ing ses­sion for $50—that’s 50% off her usual rate—to the first five Northampton-area Plan B Nation read­ers to con­tact her. You can reach her by phone at 413–219-7433 or email her at heidilisa43@yahoo.com.