Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Professional organizers say some people can’t stay tidy, even with help

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As a professional organizer, Cheryl Larson knows the appeal of giving your home a major overhaul. Clients who are overwhelmed with things come to her hoping that a good organizing session is all that stands between them and a clutter-free life. The dream is real: all you need to do is empty out that crowded closet, haul 10 bags to Goodwill, and figure out where to put all those odds and ends that don’t have a home.

She also knows that it’s not that simple. It’s one thing to get organized, and another to stay organized. This is why some people maintain long-standing relationships with professional organizers or, in some cases, hire them again and again.

“With one man, it took us four years every week to organize it,” says Larson, whose company, Cheryl’s Organizing Concepts, is based in Washington, D.C. and the Baltimore metro area. “He’s probably my greatest achievement because he keeps it that way.”

It started with some window treatments. Before working with Larson, the client, who had been living alone since his wife died, hired an interior designer to help him, but there was only one problem: She couldn’t get around the batteries boxes to access the windows. The designer called on Larson, who immediately understood that it was a huge job; the basement alone would take years to sort through.

“He had no idea what was there,” Larson says. A big part of the solution was simply scanning his files and setting him up with personal finance software. Fortunately, he was an enthusiastic learner. “He’s so proud of what everything looks like now,” she says.

Some people seem to naturally excel at maintaining systems and routines at home. For others, it’s an ongoing problem that even hiring a professional won’t solve. What differentiates these two groups? While it may be a simple matter of time and willpower, there may also be a deeper issue at play. For example, traumatic life experiences can create a tendency to accumulate possessions. And staying organized presents specific challenges for neurodivergent people. This includes more than 8.7 million American adults who live with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In any case, understanding the reasons for your organization’s difficulties can help find solutions.

Larson likens the organization to other major lifestyle changes, including adopting healthy eating habits or even quitting smoking. Indeed, research shows that changing behavior can be extremely difficult. Most of our behaviors are governed by habits, actions that we take without really thinking about them. This includes habits at home, like recycling mail promptly or putting your keys in the same place every day. When we are not used to a routine, it can take a while to get to a point where behaviors become automatic. As psychologist Mark E. Bouton writes in the journal Preventive Medicine, “behavior change can be an inherently volatile and unstable process; Failures and frequent relapses are to be expected.

Yes, messy people can learn to be tidier. Here’s how.

All this change takes motivation, and Larson says she can tell when a client’s heart isn’t in it. Sometimes it’s because a spouse or parent pressured them to get organized. “If you’ve decided to make the change yourself, you’re more likely to stick with it,” she says. This applies to all members of the household. If a spouse or children don’t want to participate, it will be difficult to stay the course.

One of Larson’s clients couldn’t convince her three daughters to organize their rooms. Exasperated, she paired them with Larson, who could see that the eldest, a teenager, was not interested in the project. However, a few weeks later, a transformation seemed to have occurred: all three girls kept their rooms spotless. The adults later discovered that the older one was paying the younger one to do the cleaning for her. For the mother, if it meant a tidy house, it worked for her. After all, a system is only effective if everyone respects it.

“One of the things we do when working with a client is to verify that they are maintaining everything we organized during the previous visit,” says Larson. “If not, we need to understand why. »

Even though this family’s solution was a little unorthodox, it’s essential to figure out what makes each person tick. Some of Larson’s clients hire her on a recurring basis because they like external accountability, like the woman who had her come in four times a year. When Larson arrived, the house already looked tidy, but the client said that was only because she had made the appointment.

When motivation is low, a simpler system may help. For example, rather than trying to arrange DVDs alphabetically or sort clothes by color, it might be more realistic for some to put everything on shelves or in bins and count that as a success. After all, continually feeling like you’re falling behind can lead to avoidance and kill motivation: you might feel guilty, then distract yourself to feel better, then feel guilty again when the goal is not reached. Recognizing negative self-talk and practicing self-compassion is the first step, says ADHD coach Camil Aponte.

Rather than trying to prepare for a big task, Aponte advises, set your timer for just five minutes to see what you can get done in that time. Starting with small tasks also allows you to accumulate small victories to help you feel good. You can even write down each achievement as you go. (Some call this practice a “ta-da” list because it is essentially the opposite of a “to-do” list.)

Either way, hiring a professional is not a panacea. If you don’t follow the systems they teach, or if you keep bringing home more stuff than you have room for, you’ll soon be back to square one. Larson says his most successful clients follow the “one in, one out” rule: Every time you bring something new into the house, you have to get rid of something else. This can be difficult if you’re sentimental or grimace at the thought of tossing your child’s artwork in the recycling bin. Setting parameters, such as saving one article per month, can make this task easier, Larson says.

The relationship between mental health and the organization

Sometimes the challenge goes beyond a simple lack of time or willpower. For example, when a person seems to have an emotional attachment to everything they own or moves their items to another location, such as the garage, attic, or basement, instead of getting rid of them. . “It’s a big red flag,” says Tiffany Smith of Simply Put Organizing in Indianapolis.

Sometimes Smith refers her clients to a mental health professional when she feels they have a more complicated relationship with possessions. “Maybe they didn’t have much growing up, so they overcompensated, or maybe they lost things, or they lost people, and it all became emotionally attached to them in one way or another,” she says. “So yes, some people definitely need more in-depth help.”

Others may have difficulty sticking to routines due to the way their brains work. Aponte says creating novelty – or making tasks feel new or fresh – is crucial to maintaining motivation.

“If you have ADHD, things tend to lose their luster after a while,” says Aponte. Because she lives with ADHD and autism herself, she applies a personal perspective to her advice. She helps her clients add sparkle to tasks they don’t want to do, perhaps by purchasing attractive organizational products or playing fun background music. Most importantly, she says, don’t be too hard on yourself, because that can lead to a vicious cycle of avoidance and guilt.

“Just say, ‘Wait, this is how my brain works, but it’s not that I’m lazy,'” Aponte says.

Annie Midori Atherton is a writer in Seattle who covers culture, lifestyle, business and parenting.

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