The Pyramid Effect of Getting Organized

You can’t do “a” until you get “b,” “c,” and “d” done.  And sometimes that’s a short version – since there are times you have 10 things to accomplish before you can work on the thing that you most want to work on.  This is one of those common struggles we all face.  It doesn’t necessarily correlate to how much space and stuff you have.  Nevertheless, a series of things need to happen before you can achieve your goals.

First, it’s most helpful to make a plan before you dig into anything.  This can feel counterproductive – you want to use the energy and motivation to jump in and start getting things done, not to be still and think about the process.  It will save you time and energy in the long run since you can avoid making more of a mess in an area that needs to wait until further into the process.

Often this means making a list, which some of us do better than taking action. 🙂  For instance, if you have furniture that needs to be shifted between rooms, it can help to figure out what needs to happen in order for the space to be made available.

  • You know you want the dresser to be moved into the spare bedroom.
    • The spot for the dresser in the spare bedroom has a reading chair and a desk.
      • The reading chair needs to be moved to another space in the spare bedroom.
        • The only other space in the spare bedroom is filled with random, full bins – they need to be moved somewhere.
          • The bins need to be sorted and organized.
    • The desk needs to go to the corner in the dining room.
      • The corner in the dining room has spare chairs for the table; those need to go to the basement.
        • The driest place in the basement for the chairs has boxes that you need to break down to make space for the dining table chairs.

This is a relatively simple example of the pyramid effect just to get the dresser into the spare bedroom.  It’s even easier because it deals with large items that are fairly clear-cut.  And you know that you it will be simplest for you to break down boxes in the basement as the first step, then to move the chairs from the dining room down, and then you will be able to move the desk into the dining room.

Making these types of plans only work when you know what you want to do with each of the items in question.  It can be further simplified when you are getting rid of things – if you were getting rid of the desk – then all that would be left is dealing with moving the reading chair.

Second, when considering the pyramid effect of getting organized, you might need to think about the big picture and avoid small picture thinking.  Thinking about planning for the small details will be important, although you’ll be more effective if you wait until the time is right.  So, like those bins from the example above – it would make the most sense (probably – since there can be variables to change that!) to wait to dig into them until after the furniture has been rearranged.

Initially, think about broad categories (or zones, activities, etc.) that relate to your life and stuff.  These will vary from person to person as well as be different depending on what and how much you’re working on.  You might need to consider the relevance for life right now – are there things that you need to keep quite accessible versus things that can be buried a little deeper (though still with related things)?

Sometimes it makes the most sense to make bins, piles, whatever in a specific, available space related to a broad category and leave it for a while.  If you have all your gift wrapping supplies piled in a corner, bin, etc., even without any further organization – you still know where they are when you need something.  This can apply to any category – office supplies, recipes, financial papers (not needing your attention), tools, exercise equipment (small ones), art supplies, articles of interest and everything else.

The degree that you apply this can vary – a lot will depend on the space available as well as the “homes” you already have set up.  If you already have a place for office supplies, even if it’s full, you’d put all other office supplies as close as possible to the ones you have.

The initial steps are to get everything that’s in the same category together.  It’s challenging to create good organization for things when you don’t have all of it available to you.  Once you have all the like things together, then you can begin to organize it – you can see that you will need more space for tools (or whatever), that you need to make space “here” for this, the subcategories you need for these papers, and then consider what containers and organizing tools will support you.

If we continue with the pyramid analogy, you need to create a strong foundation to build on – which means waiting to make decisions about the small details until you get the big stuff (categories) together.  There’s no arguing that it can make things feel more tedious  – especially if you’re eager to get organized.  Yet in the long run you will find more success that you take things slowly and methodically.

Hoarder? More Likely Challenging Disorganization.

With the proliferation of television shows about hoarding, many people see hoarders around them.  Or think they do.  It’s a pet peeve of mine that every person who has “too much stuff” is now deemed a hoarder.  Never mind that “too much stuff” is extremely subjective, hoarding is quite a bit more complex than to be simply about too much stuff.  Therefore, let’s explore different aspects about stuff and see if we can clear up these misconceptions about hoarding.  (If you want the more technical information about hoarding, see my post, “Defining Hoarding.”)

As I already stated, it’s about more than stuff.  I’ll admit it; I have a lot of stuff.  Even “too much stuff.”  As my husband and I have gone through various rooms, I’m amazed by the amount of excess we find hidden away, forgotten about.  And the large piles that I set out to be donated have shocked me and we have more to go.  The people I work with have varying amount of stuff; some quite a bit and some hidden away in closets and drawers where it doesn’t “look” cluttered.  Yet, we each want something different from our spaces – from the desire to be surrounded to the desire to have the open space (see my entry, “Envisioning Your Space”).  Believe it or not, there’s no one right way for a space to look and that means someone somewhere will think that there’s “too much stuff” there.

What is your relationship to your stuff?  This is one of the features that help to distinguish what is happening with the stuff around you.  I laughing cringe at the idea of getting rid of my media – those books, CDs, and movies and yet, that is exactly what I have been slowly doing.  My movie collection has been cut by more than half and it feels good.  Removing all outside obstacles, what happens to you when you decide to get rid of things?  Those obstacles can be:

  • minimizing the sense of being overwhelmed
  • the absence of someone judging or trying to tell you what to do
  • the freedom to take your time and think through your choices

Finding the space where these pieces come together can be challenging, yet what happens then?

It breaks my heart to hear about people being told they are “hoarders” and I know from my knowledge and experience that they aren’t even close to being hoarders.  From what I can tell, it’s more about someone in their life thinking that they know better than the client.  They believe that they “should” get rid of this or that; that they “should” not struggle with making decisions; that they “should” be able to easily change long time habits after a “clean sweep”; etcetera.  This is probably a large reason that having your family help you with your stuff often backfires.

There’s a different term than hoarder, for people who have struggled with stuff for a long time, that may or may not have clutter around them and that’s chronically disorganized.  Since this has a rather clinical sound to it, the Institute of Challenging Disorganization prefers to refer to it as challenging disorganization that can also be applied to the situational disorganization some people can struggle with after major life events.  They define chronic disorganization as:

Chronic disorganization is having a past history of disorganization in which self-help efforts to change have failed, an undermining of current quality of life due to disorganization, and the expectation of future disorganization.

Hoarding is about much more than the stuff – however subjective – and relates to how we deal with that stuff.  The chance is that your grandmother/uncle/brother-in-law is not a true hoarder.  That doesn’t mean that organization isn’t a tremendous challenge for them.  When there’s lots of stuff around, however hidden it may or may not be, it requires a lot of work and effort.  Simply modifying the behaviors is an extreme challenge and takes time.  Try to keep in mind your own biases – your own view of what makes up “too much stuff.”

Defining Hoarding

You might have heard that hoarding is being added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) and hoarding has been approved as a separate listing in it (due to be released May 2013). I will refrain from a commentary on the issues with the DSM in general and simply point out that from a scientific perspective, they designate a series of criteria in order to prevent the definition from being applied too broadly. The very thing many people seem tempted to do with all the media attention hoarding has been getting in recent years.

In the case of a hoarding disorder, these are the proposed criteria:

A. Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with personal possessions, even those of apparently useless or limited value, due to strong urges to save items, distress, and/or indecision associated with discarding.

B. The symptoms result in the accumulation of a large number of possessions that fill up and clutter the active living areas of the home, workplace, or other personal surroundings (e.g., office, vehicle, yard) and prevent normal use of the space. If all living areas are uncluttered, it is only because of others’ efforts (e.g., family members, authorities) to keep these areas free of possessions.

C. The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (including maintaining a safe environment for self and others).

D. The hoarding symptoms are not due to a general medical condition (e.g., brain injury, cerebrovascular disease).

E. The hoarding symptoms are not restricted to the symptoms of another mental disorder (e.g., hoarding due to obsessions in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, lack of motivation in Major Depressive Disorder, delusions in Schizophrenia or another Psychotic Disorder, cognitive deficits in Dementia, restricted interests in Autistic Disorder, food storing in Prader-Willi Syndrome).

Specify if:
With Excessive Acquisition: If symptoms are accompanied by excessive collecting or buying or stealing of items that are not needed or for which there is no available space.

Specify whether hoarding beliefs and behaviors are currently characterized by:
Good or fair insight: Recognizes that hoarding-related beliefs and behaviors (pertaining to difficulty discarding items, clutter, or excessive acquisition) are problematic.

Poor insight: Mostly convinced that hoarding-related beliefs and behaviors (pertaining to difficulty discarding items, clutter, or excessive acquisition) are not problematic despite evidence to the contrary.

Delusional: Completely convinced that hoarding-related beliefs and behaviors (pertaining to difficulty discarding items, clutter, or excessive acquisition) are not problematic despite evidence to the contrary.

Since these are simply the proposed criteria, it remains to be seen what the specific wording will be. This also doesn’t clarify how many of the lettered criteria need to be met for someone to qualify as having a hoarding disorder. With all DSM diagnoses, a person has to meet specific criteria. The purpose is to limit the subjective diagnoses – the possibility of someone to judge someone else based on their own viewpoints.

This is critical in my opinion as I see too much of someone (often a family member) deciding that this person is a “hoarder.” It’s not simply about having a lot of stuff around – even having severely cluttered living spaces – is not enough to qualify a person for having a hoarding disorder, that’s only one piece of several that need to be met.

One of the shocking and disturbing aspects of the hoarding television shows is the amount of trash that surrounds them and than how excruciating the thought, let alone the action, of throwing those things away is for them. This is one of the defining characteristics as defined by a number of presentations I have attended in the past years from psychologists. It’s more than struggling with making the decisions, there’s a terror about having those things removed. Although we might focus on the “obvious” trash that cannot be removed, someone who struggles with hoarding saves virtually everything, and it’s painful to consider getting rid of any of it.

I’ve briefly touched on the idea that hoarding is more complex than the media conveys. In a future post I plan on getting into more details as it applies to the general public. In the meantime, I hope this helps to clarify that hoarding is a true disorder that is often simplified by television.

Reorganizing and Remembering

Have you ever had a time when you’ve been looking for something and can’t find it?  Of course, this is part of being human.  Let’s add another piece – you can’t find something that you know you “organized”?  This too is quite common.  Many times over the years I’ve had clients call me after an organizing appointment wondering where we put this or that.  Frequently I’m able to tell them – within one or two possibilities.

Nevertheless this can be supremely frustrating.  “Oh my, I went to all this trouble to make things logical and get organized and now I feel even more lost.”  Believe it or not, I’ve been there and done just that.  It can happen to anyone – from the most organized (which isn’t me by the way, I’m only mostly organized) to those who struggle more chronically with stuff.  The reason no one is exempt from dealing with this has to do with several factors – and these factors can give us insight into steps we can take to minimize this happening.

First, when do you work on an organizing project?  This is something to plan – design things with a clear intention.  And to be completely clear, that doesn’t mean you can’t sort and purge in the meantime.  It does mean to make intentional decisions, ones that you have thought out and considered for a while. There are times when our mindset can hinder our efforts – so if you’ve suddenly decided to reorganize those shelves, you might forget where you moved that one thing to that you didn’t want on the shelf after all those years.

Have you heard how it takes a minimum 30 days of doing something consistently before it becomes a routine?  Consider the impact of moving one thing somewhere else after all the years you’ve lived in your home.  You’re likely to automatically go to the shelf (or wherever) and be surprised that it’s not there.  Then you run the risk of not quite remembering where its new home is.

Choosing to change things is something to do only when you’ve had time and energy to consider your options.  If you’re tired, this probably isn’t when you are your best nor is it when you are making the best decisions for yourself.

A good example of this can be when dealing with papers.  How many names can you think of for your car?  Car, Auto, Make, Model, His/Her Car, Old Junker, etc.  This can be applied to most papers, and the title needs to make sense to you or the person doing the filing.  It’s amazing how one title can seem logical in one moment and completely illogical the next – it becomes hard to locate the correct piece of paper.  This can be avoided by taking time to think about what makes sense to you and let it marinate – see if something better comes to mind.

Second, if you cannot wait to organize and don’t have time to make a plan, make a map.  You can create essentially a cheat sheet of where things are; it can be as simple as a list, i.e. 3 ring binders – lower right shelf in bookshelf in spare bedroom (behind doors).  This can be helpful too when your memory isn’t as good as you’d like.  I have a list of our files – the category, the file name, which drawer – and it’s in order so I can always find it even when it’s slipped down and looks like it walked off!  The map can even be more literal – a sketch that lays out what your space looks like and what lives in each space.

Another option is to label everything.  My husband and I joke that it could be so easy for me to take labeling to an extreme – where the cat would walk around with a label – “cat”.  Nevertheless, creating labels can be a good solution to help track where things have been moved.

Here’s a potentially disturbing truth – there’s no absolute answer for escaping our forgetfulness.  There are many factors that affect our functioning and therefore our effectiveness when we reorganize.  Keep these points in mind when you decide to tackle your next organizing project and minimize the chances you will need to send out a search party for that moved item.

Organizing Jewelry

It’s always interesting to me how even I approach some organizing projects.  I’ve been working my way through our home, room-by-room, doing some rearranging and deep cleaning.  I did the bedroom quite a while ago now and pulled the jewelry boxes out and set them aside.  I left room for the 2 I knew would go back in and continued on my room journey.  When I finished with all the rooms, I went back to the jewelry.

I figured that it would take me between 1-2 hours to go through it and get it set up.  I don’t even wear much jewelry.  So, I sat down and spread the 9 jewelry boxes around me, all opened up.  And suddenly I felt overwhelmed.  Ugh, where do I start?  Bah, maybe I don’t really want to do this after all.

Yet my motivation from the outset prodded me – remember you don’t want 8 jewelry boxes, that’s too many.  Then I jumped in and I won’t mislead you, it didn’t suddenly become easy.  It was still with dread that I moved through the various pieces, struggling with feeling overwhelmed.

Depending on your situation, it can be helpful to know how you are going to arrange your jewelry.  I knew there was a minimum of 3 jewelry boxes I was keeping and each of them had a distinct purpose for me.  There are times that this isn’t possible or practical – and getting a sense of what you are keeping can lead you to deciding the best way to keep them.

Even though I know better in general, when I started I didn’t empty those 3 jewelry boxes – I tried to move the pieces around.  This rarely works – in any situation – as it’s most effective to completely empty the receptacle (whatever it is you’re working with) – and in this case, jewelry boxes.  I quickly realized my mistake and emptied all 3 of the ones I was keeping.  From there it was relatively easy to put some things in their places, as those loved pieces weren’t even being considered for donation.

Consider what sub-divisions there are with the broad category of jewelry.  These will vary from person to person.

  • Sets: necklace and earrings, bracelet and earrings, and all 3 (necklace, bracelet, and earrings)
  • Watches
  • Bracelets
  • Necklaces: independent and then pendants (that I put onto chains to wear them)
  • Rings
  • Earrings
    •    Dangly
    •    Non-dangly (or studs)

I started at the top of the list, with my sets, and looked at each of them.  Although I often ask how often is something used, I knew that most of my sets were extremely rarely worn.  This didn’t mean that I got rid of them – a couple of them are from our honeymoon in India and likewise important.  Yet, by evaluating, I found one set that I had no sentimental attachment and little appreciation for – and I simply set it aside. Then I moved on to the next subdivision and then the next.

With each grouping I would gather them together.  From there, sometimes I would grab a piece I knew I wanted to stay and move it off to the side.  Other times I would grab a piece that I knew could go away and put that into the give away pile.  Often it’s easiest to pull out our favorites and least favorites.  It’s those things that fall into that middle ground that can stymie us – uh, how do I decide about this other piece?  Those can be easier when those are the only ones left – although I leave the favorites close by so they can be seen as I evaluate the ones that bring more ambivalence.

With each group I needed to ask myself how realistic it was that I would wear it and what I was saving it for.  I have a whole group of jewelry that I couldn’t bring myself to part with – they were too sentimental while I know that I will never wear them again.  Sometimes it’s important to challenge yourself – would you be able to wear and appreciate all your jewelry?  I know I tend to re-wear my favorites, in order to fully appreciate them.

It ended up taking me about 4 hours to sort and organize my jewelry – double from my high-end expectation of 1-2 hours.  I ended up getting rid of 3 of the jewelry boxes and have limited myself to using those 3 jewelry boxes I’d already decided on keeping.  You can see from the jewelry box below with jewelry in it, what I am getting rid of.

2 empty jewelry boxes and 1 filled one

2 empty jewelry boxes and 1 filled one – all being donated

There’s no point in my saying it was easy or fun.  It wasn’t.  It feels wonderful to have done it and to be more consolidated.  The more we can break an organizing task into sections, the more successful we can be – maybe even more so when it comes to jewelry. And remember, it’s easiest to regain order by completely emptying the thing you are organizing.  Does your jewelry need to be sorted and organized?

Making Progress?

Recently I was talking with a client and she commented that she “should be more positive.”  This came after her sharing that she was struggling with feeling depressed and overwhelmed.  What people might not know is that I have felt this way more than I would care to admit.  So I shared with her that first, we need to eliminate “should’s” from our vocabulary and to allow herself to feel her feelings.  But is that all there is?

Frequently the people I work with have a tendency to neglect taking care of themselves.  This is an area that is important to make time for – if you are struggling with feeling down and to make progress – look at how much time you are spending on things you enjoy.  It’s surprising to see how much we think that I’ll make time for this once I get caught up, once I get that all done.

Our bodies and mind need time to rejuvenate.  If we push ourselves to only be “productive,” then we actually become less productive.  We struggle to get things done.  We end up feeling down and overwhelmed.

This isn’t the end all, be all answer though.  Just because we make time to nurture ourselves, it doesn’t magically cheer us up or make the work easy.

We could use successes.  Our struggle to make sufficient progress leads to another possible culprit to our feelings – depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, etc. – we try to do too much.  We want the whole basement to be organized and expect we can do that in one weekend of dedicated effort.  This is an extreme example – what is “too much” varies from person to person.  It’s important to figure out what is reasonable for you, and only you.

Therefore, as you work to discover what is realistic for you personally, do small things – those things that you can start and finish with a little effort.  By focusing on an area that you can finish in a short amount of time, you can begin to see the effects of your working.  As most people I know struggle with paperwork to one degree or another, I would recommend choosing something other than papers to organize – it’s hard to make enough progress in a short amount of time.  Do something small and feel rewarded with your efforts by seeing your success.

One of the first things I ask myself if I am struggling in this area is, “what do I see that would take less than 5 minutes to do?”  Often it’s those things that are small enough I put off, for whatever reason, – thinking, “they’re so easy, I’ll just do it later.”  Yet, by simply doing them, I see the small successes.

Another thing to consider is a contained space to work on – a single shelf or drawer.  It can be other things as well, as long as it’s relatively simple.  Or consider what else you might be able to break down into a smaller piece to work on and finish.  Shelves and drawers are great options since their space is defined and limited – therefore it’s clear when you are done.  It also means that you can see the effects of your work.  Here’s a link to what I wrote a while back on Diving into a Small Organizing Project.  Consider where you have a clear vision of what needs to happen – you know how and where to organize your photographs, your jewelry, your music, your office supplies, and etcetera.  This is a potential direction for your efforts.

An additional benefit to working on those small pieces is that it frees up the spaces around us – seeing if we have more space here or not enough space there.  We have the potential to see how to break other projects into smaller pieces.  It’s rarely a good idea to set aside a whole day to working on one of our projects – it easily leads to burnout – rather than building up the energy to work consistently, which is more effective in the long run.

Sometimes, we just need to walk away from our projects.  Not for months – yet to step back and let it be for a while.  Whatever it is that you are dealing with, it likely didn’t get that way in the last week, and will take time to work through.  When emotions are running strong, it’s generally hard to make progress, so consider what you can manage.  Then give yourself permission to do only what you can handle – even it’s nothing at the moment.

Those Random Items

Do you have a ”junk drawer”?  Or several?  It’s these places where things collect that don’t have a better place to live.  We all have items that don’t quite fit in with another category.  These things can eat away at us or simply accumulate in a particular space (or everywhere).  They can cause a lot of frustration and might even stymie us from moving forward on those things we could deal with.

There’s no question these things are annoying.  It can make us feel stuck and sometimes stupid – why can’t I figure out how to deal with them?  And we all have these things – we get to a point that we aren’t quite sure what to do with them.  What do I do with this?  Where do I put that?  Often we then just throw them altogether somewhere – hence the junk drawer.  Or, in my case, I have a folder in my file cabinet called “Etcetera” and no junk drawer.

The first question to ask yourself is how do you behave when a space starts to get cluttered.  We all have a different approach.  I tend to become bothered by it and find time to go through it.  I regain control of that space fairly quickly.  On the other extreme, some people are either rather blind to it or are so frustrated by it they ignore the growing mess.  And we easily keep adding things to that pile or file so it does keep growing.

Most organizers are adamant that you never have a junk drawer or an “Etcetera” file.  Although I understand their point, what is more important is how you responded to the question above – “How do you behave when a space starts to get cluttered?”  If you avoid dealing with that space and keep adding to it, then it is a better idea to find a different way to handle those random items.

I don’t recommend a junk drawer generally – even if you are someone who deals with it promptly when it starts to fill up.  Undeniably, figuring out what to do with those things can be frustrating – for all of us.  Before you tackle handling these random things, organize the things that are more clear and straightforward.  The oddball things are best saved to the last in the organization process.

So, you want to figure out how to deal with those random things?  Ideally you want to pull them all together.  Also, if you have other things that need organizing, deal with that first.  You want to avoid having too much around you when you work on the puzzling, random things.

  • What kinds of things are they?
  • How many do you have like it – i.e. can it be grouped with any other category of things?
  • How many have commonalities between them – i.e. do you have 2 like items among the pile of oddball things?
  • What is the next action that you are going to do with it – i.e. you need to make a phone call or are waiting until you see someone or you simply want to save it?
  • What is this things purpose for you?

As with all organizing, it’s about figuring out various factors that I sum up with the term categories.  This is defined by how we use things, where we use them, how often we use them, and on and on.  The idea is to have the categories “big” enough to make it worth making a category – for instance, it rarely makes sense to have a folder in your file cabinet with 1 piece of paper in it.  While on the other hand, you want it to be “small” enough category that things won’t get lost amid all the other things – for instance, a work file is often too large since there are so many different facets and it would be more effective to have it subdivided.

When you are looking at those random things, consider what categories they might fit into.  Sometimes this means thinking more broadly – you didn’t consider that this could be memorabilia or whatever.

There is value in walking away sometimes from trying to figure out the place for these random things.  When we are frustrated, it’s more challenging to think clearly – and it’s better to set it aside for a while.  You can make a list of these things and look at periodically and consider options.  Or ask a friend or two for their ideas on how to categorize them.

I recommend a basket or bin for those unknown electronic components and items that belong to something else but you can’t remember or find – then they are all together when you figure it out.

Don’t let those random things stop you from organizing what you can.

Paper Retention

A while back I was working with a social worker and had to write up case reports on the progress being made with the client.  Early on in one of them I talked about the continuing struggle with papers and how common this is.  After talking with the caseworker, she requested I rewrite my report – saying that the struggles with papers would make the client seem incompetent.  Huh? Apparently, her superiors are under the impression that struggling with papers is uncommon and a sign of greater challenges.  I offered to speak with all of them to explain how extremely common it is and I was completely flabbergasted that anyone could think that way.

Struggling with papers is quite possibly the most common thing I encounter with my clients.  This doesn’t necessarily mean bills or mail, although it can.  Papers are virtually endless, there are always more of them and we cannot be rid of them all ever.  Also, they can be difficult to organize in a way that makes them easy to find when you need them.

Papers are also extremely important.  We need them for taxes and for work and the list goes on and on.  Sometimes they are unique and finding them again – like on the internet or library (i.e. if we got rid of them) – isn’t simple or possible.  We’re not always comfortable with the internet – accessing financial information – and that doesn’t mean the information you’d need is available.

I’ve done research on how long it’s recommended we keep our important papers.  It’s surprising how there are different opinions on various types of papers while there are agreements about others.

For papers that relate to taxes, the IRS has guidelines (of course!).  It’s gotten more detailed since the last time I reviewed them, scroll most of the way down the page to “How Long to Keep Records.”  In general, it’s recommended that you keep your returns indefinitely, although you can discard the supporting documentation eventually.

When we’re dealing with other papers, here’s several resources with their recommendations.  The best idea is to ask your tax preparer for their advice, as they know your personal situation.  You can always make a list of questions for the next visit if it’s not convenient to contact them more frequently.

Everyone handles their paperwork differently – from keeping bills of everything for a while to throwing away bills as soon as a new one comes in.  When it doesn’t deal with taxes, it really is up to you how you handle them.  If papers plague you – know that you are not alone.  It does not make you incompetent either, despite what some people might believe!

Safety – consider your beauty products

Just before I got married, I decided it would be fun to get a makeover and test make-up out for the wedding.  I eventually bought a handful of items.  Then I resumed my typical make-up habits, wearing little to none most of the time.  Yet, one day I put more on.  And the strangest thing happened, my eyes swelled up and became quite red – the skin all around them.  I’d reacted to the make-up.  It wasn’t me as it turned out.  Make-up expires, I discovered after calling the manufacturer.

The thing was that this wasn’t the first time that I used make-up that I had purchased a while back.  I also tend to buy the same brands.  It was the first time I ever reacted to make-up.  I’ve always tried to use common sense – does it look and smell funny?  Yet this last time, it hadn’t been that long and nothing raised the warning flags.

Make-up is easy to collect – it’s pretty small and is easy to have in different locations.  I find that it can be challenging to part with – “I spent all this money to buy it, I should use it.”  Yet, how much do you use all of it?  Does it sit there waiting to be used?  Here’s a picture of the pile of make-up I dumped out of a bag a while back – before I went through it and purged my collection.

Pile of make-up before sorting

Pile of make-up from a bag I found as I’m about to go through it

There are two ways they measure the time of make-up expiring – from the production date and the period after opening (PAO).  Unfortunately there’s no real regulation on cosmetics though the FDA does oversee it somewhat.  Although the smell can indicate something might no longer be good, it’s not as clear as the perfume that’s gone bad and is suddenly quite stinky.

Although it’s often convenient, storing make-up in the bathroom can contribute to it’s going bad more quickly.  The moisture and humidity can shorten the life expectancy of make-up.  Ideally, temperature and humidity will be controlled to maximize how long the make-up lasts.

Some people struggle with the feeling it’s so wasteful to toss those beauty products that have been around – “I’ll use it soon.”  After my puffy eyes for a week, I’m more reluctant to push the limits now – even though this was several years ago now.  That’s why when I found another bag of make-up, I emptied it out and threw most of it away – here’s what I kept, mostly brushes and a pencil sharpener.  It was challenging to face the waste I’d inadvertently created and throw it away – yet red, puffy eyes are not something I want to risk again. 🙂

Pile of make-up after purging

Pile of make-up after purging – mostly brushes, mirrors, and pencil sharpener remaining

Consider your own beauty products – how many do you have that you don’t use regularly?  If you’re not using them, use the money to get something else you will actually appreciate and in the process avoid any risk to have a reaction to products that have gone bad.

Donating Process

Last week I talked about how organizing is really a process and therefore is never finished.  There’s always more to be done.  If we don’t continue the process of keeping things organized, our homes easily become overrun with clutter – in the purest sense of the word.  We need to discover the process that will work for each of us and for each thing that needs a process – creating the routines for organization.

For many people the process of getting rid of still good things can be the most challenging – especially once you’ve reached that relatively organized state.  Also, making it part of the flow of life means continual work.

“How do I know it’s time to get rid of this?”

Sometimes I struggle to get rid of things – they’re not broken, or torn, or worn out, or stained – they are still quite usable.  Yet, do I use them?  I’ve gotten to the point that if I am not actually using them and cannot imagine using them (sometimes from trying to force myself to make it usable) they go into my donate pile.  The thing is that if you are not using it, is there a good reason to keep it?  I find that I am using things I love and appreciate, so if something isn’t getting used, it’s more likely that I don’t love it.

“I won’t have time to drop this off at a nonprofit for a while.”

If you’ve ever heard me present, I talk about how we’re not finished until we get the things out of our home, out of our garage, out of our car.  This is true – if it’s still in your possession you are not free from the things.  Although this is not a good reason to stop yourself from moving things further along in the process of getting it out of your space.  More important than being able to quickly get it out of your space is to ask how much you’re accumulating that’s waiting to leave?  If you have a lot (and you get the define that for yourself), then you need to make time – schedule it – to get the things out of your space.

“I don’t have time to go through [insert space in your home] to purge things.”

First, theoretically your spaces aren’t in need of a major overhaul – we’re talking about maintaining organizing as part of the normal life.  If we integrate the process of organizing into normal living, we find a way to naturally purge things that are ready to go to their next home.  If you are standing in front of your closet and recognize a shirt that no longer fits, is stained, you now dislike, whatever the case may be – pull it out right then.  The same thing applies in any space – when you see something and recognize that it’s no longer useful to you, it’s time to remove it from that space.

“I can’t believe how much has accumulated so quickly.”

First, congratulations on noticing – that’s great and means that you can take steps to deal with it.  After noticing, the next step is to deal with it and create systems to help limit the accumulation in the future.  This is when systems are important – a way to create a flow for things to leave rather than collect.  From my experience, things collect – period.  If we don’t stay on top of it, the next time we look, it’s grown: kipple is the name I always think of (and wrote about).


The way that I deal with the process of getting rid of things is to have a box in one room – near a door, yet out of the way.  Each time I come across something that is no longer used or loved it makes it’s way to the box.  Once the box begins to fill up, I spend time listing the items in the box for tax purposes and close the top of the box.  Often I do this after I get a call from a charity that is scheduling pick-ups in my area – and I do this regardless of how full or empty the box.  If we’ve been busier with the purging, it really is once the box is full and then I evaluate whether I want to wait for the next phone call for a pick-up or if I want to drop it off myself.

It’s a great way to help kids learn the process – put a box in a corner or in the closet and involve your kids in deciding what they’ve outgrown – both clothes and toys.  I find a box placed strategically the easiest in helping the process of moving things out – whether that is one box or a box per room or per floor.  Remember, whatever works for you and helping you keep things moving through.