Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Young Man in the Table

table manHe fell to the floor, fluttering like an autumn leaf, end over end. The photo was tiny,  – almost like a large postage stamp, easily slid between the cracks in the wood. When my client picked him up off the rug she caught a first glimpse of the dark, sepia tone image – a face lost in time, not seen for many years? I had been decluttering my client in preparation for her move form the family home. The huge dining room table had ample crevices, rarely jostled. This time the photo fell out. She had never seen it in all the years she owned the table.

After taking a snap I Photoshopped up the image to bring out the hidden face. I could not do him justice. It once more made me think of the passage of time, of times and lives past. Here was a young man, alive and vibrant staring back from the early 1800’s. Obviously well off as few could afford their portrait taken in those times. It makes one reflect on the proliferation of selfies in our modern times, how taken for granted and easy to save a moment.

Now and then clients give me a pile of photos, whole albums of family members, friends and even total strangers with forgotten names – all long gone. Few care about that loss of history, of lives come and gone. Nobody archives the photos nobody cares about. All those moments vanish forever. If only we had a database to input into – snaps and portraits with as much information as possible simply archived in memory of all of our stories and the passage of time. YouPhoto for all those faces staring back from their moments alive in time.

It makes you appreciate each moment and not waste it on bad movies, useless video games, reality TV nits – hour after hour, year after year when you can be out appreciating good friends and family while they are with us.



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The Domestic Archaeologist – Stephen Ilott – Talks paper, paper, paper…


Life is a relentless dump of stuff. Filing, even small amounts, is usually deferred.

What starts as a couple of flyers, a few torn articles to read, post-it notes to attend to, bank statements to file and/or bills to pay on the desk can become, over the short period of one week, a depressing, sliding pile of things you just can’t deal with. So the cycle begins. Too much stuff equates to depression and the feeling of being out of control. Fortunately the clutter monkey can be tamed with small changes in habit.

An Organizer will tell you not to have a work space in the bedroom or kitchen. The best is to carve out an area of the home that is dedicated to office tasks. A kitchen or dining room work area is also seen upon entering the home. When cluttered it looks bad and gives you one more thing you feel the need to apologize for.

Daily purge habits:
For any office space give yourself the ergonomic ease of flow that will induce habit. By ease of flow I mean you need to have, within an arm’s reach, a temporary and very simple filing system that is easy on the eyes and from which you can later cull the good from the bad for “final filing” elsewhere. The best one for a kitchen or dining room office is a short, portable file bin usually on rollers. This is readily moved out of the way to convert the kitchen/dining room to primary use as needed. They come in manageable plastic and metal with sizes that can house many hanging file folders into which you can store labeled file folders.

The hanging folders can house all of your temporary reference and items to attend to. One folder can be labeled “bills”. Into that you slip the single manila folders – one can read “Bills to Pay”, another “Bills Paid to File” and yet another “Receipts to File” etc. Another hanging folder can contain “Ideas” or “Contacts” and so on. Write down what your common transactions are or as you need them during any given week and that will dictate what you need to file regularly. Not just file but FIND regularly. A good, alphabetized filing system will save you hours of frantic tearing about looking for that note you wrote or name you just gotta have NOW.

Direct mail and flyers;

On first entering the house I recommend a single wire or clear plastic bin. I don’t recommend the stack-able black plastic horizontal file storage units. They are too easily knocked over and will quickly fill up and hide what’s been stuffed in there. When you are settled in there is a simple thought for direct mail. One look to determine usefulness, then toss it into recycling or into temp hot zone bin for later perusal and filing.
A ‘hot zone’ is a temporary dump box giving you both freed up surfaces and one single localized place to concentrate your searches, culling and filing from at some point in the day. Once a day clean it out for 15 minutes to prepare you for the next day. The hot zone box can be a plastic flip-top bin or cardboard banker’s box type – whatever works for you.

Never allow junk mail on your work surfaces from the get go. See De-Cluttering Step by Step for more.

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The Psychology of Clutter – The Domestic Archaeologist – The Dom Arch Speaks up

Emotion and getting blocked

For a growing number of Canadian home owners household clutter has become an emotionally charged reaction to overwhelming pressures and expectations. The pressures are many; the pressure to succeed at work, to pay relentless bills of all kinds, family pressures to be the perfect parents, commercial expectations to own all the trappings of modern life – just like everyone else etc. etc.
The increased acceptance of Professional Organizers, for the most part by the women in the household, has opened the door to this common psychological problem. Many don’t want to regard clutter as a psychological problem but what is emotional distress caused by overwhelming disorder if not psychological?
The good news is that people now know they are not alone in being “messy” and that there is a cure.

__________________________________Time and Motivation

There is no doubt that, for many, time plays a key role. There’s never enough of it and cleaning up after a less than stationary child can become numbingly relentless. So what does it take to stay organized in your home, keeping up if not ahead of the game? Generally the answer is moot, pick it up when it falls down. Specifically and more productively, carve out moments from the day to re-focus to dedicate to zeroing in on one small piece of the concern at a time.
More on that in a moment. But whenever possible clean it up when it gets dirty. If you knocked over a potted plant wouldn’t you be inclined to vacuum up the dirt? If you knock over a glass of cranberry juice don’t you feel the urge to scramble for a cloth. Extend that thinking to a few fleeting moments of maintenance each and every day for junk mail, laundry, toys.

But what if you’re overwhelmed by the immensity of the work. Where does one start? How does one start?

What happens is that inertia sets in and the world stops at the doorstep. It’s a case of stop the world I want to get off. Less and less gets picked up and the flow of the home – the Feng Shui ceases. To walk in such a home feels as though you are wading through molasses. There is no lightness, no breathing spaces from which to draw energy. One of my clients whose home was similarly and alarmingly cluttered was prompted to seek my help when her four year old daughter asked her if, “Daddy could move us to a neat house?” My new client’s motivation suddenly became crystal clear – her children’s health, mental and otherwise.
Restoring the flow requires guidance, patience and a few tricks of the mind. Read on for a good way to ‘re-perceive’ and start you on your way:

_________________________________Escape Mechanisms

With the help of a good organizer one can be guided to live life less large and reclaim not only breathing space but peace of mind. It first it has to be recognized that one has a few mental avenues of escape that become ingrained habits the moment those suffocating feelings of being overwhelmed start to tighten the chest and weigh the mind down. Some look at the entirety of the clutter then instantly do an about face, have a sandwich or watch some TV or call a friend or have a little lie down, anything but “tackle the problem”.

_________________________Answers and small exercises

Let’s get past the nature of the things we own and how we simply own too many things we don’t need. Let’s concentrate on doing something small to get you over overwhelmed. Let’s use the psychology that’s been blocking you and make it work for you to return flow one open space at a time. It works Trust me.

The answer is not to look at the entirety of the whole mess whether it’s a pile of laundry or papers or toys or tools or lots of everything under the sun jumbled in a pile in your room of shame.
One has to refocus, change one’s perception. Develop a new outlook, a paradigm. Reinvent your viewpoint. Stand back and shake your eyes and when you look again see only one single item to work on. And as the Buddhists say, “if you’re going to do the dishes, DO THE DISHES.” Make it tactile. Enjoy the feeling of the water on your hands, the small exhilaration of each cleaned dish, dried and put away as a triumph. Pat yourself for each small victory. Make a point of it.
Enjoy the moment in time as if it’s a meditation. It means drawing the experience into your life. It has to be done anyway so instead of making it an onerous ‘away’ experience make it a ‘toward’ experience. Bring it into the present moment, don’t dwell on all the other pressing tasks that await you.

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The Healthy Home – Thread of Life

zen1“I’ve lost the thread of my life. Help me find the thread”. So lamented a client of mine. Piled around us in her suburban home were heaps of laundry, toys, tools, magazines, sports equipment, pet products and more, all spun together in vague, collected shapes like some forgotten Aztec ruin long since reclaimed by the jungle. More importantly, hidden among the jumble was dust, mold, pet hair and worse. All of it quietly and adversely affecting her health.

Even in less cluttered homes I find one or more family member is afflicted by allergies or worse asthma. Even the dog was sneezing. As a Professional Organizer I dip in and out of many lives guiding, giving perspectives and rescuing homeowners from clutter and sources of health issues.

To have that healthy HG ‘magazine’ home you have to have less stuff. There’s no getting around it. Zen gardens are peaceful for a reason – less to afflict disorder on the mind. Peace comes from space. Clear surfaces invite cleaning. Piled objects repel the mind, overwhelm the spirit. Purge and eliminate. “purge it!”. Organize what you have left effectively, the things you really want and need. Make due with less and you will live longer, liberated, healthier lives and have a healthy home.

 People are hurting physically and psychologically by their stuff. If it doesn’t serve who you are now – purge. Older Canadians already know life is more about services and quality of life and less about the gathering stuff. With years comes wisdom.

 Sometimes clutter is the result of a life numbing incident – a bad relationship or the loss of a loved one. Cleaning up loses its meaning and the hoarding of things becomes a buffer to fill the void.

 Many women have daily schedules timed to the minute with little personal time to live or de-clutter. “My house never used to be this way,” is a common apology. The psychological effects on children of a cluttered home cannot be under-stressed. One client contacted me because her little daughter asked her if, “Daddy could move them to a neat house”. A sweet but blunt wakeup call.

One client’s home had water damage to walls and carpets two years previously that resulted, over time, in a mold and allergen hazard. Mold, indoor pollutants and dust exposure in many homes is resulting in an increasing number of bronchial reactions among children including asthma. The largest growth in emergency room cases in North America, in children under five, is asthma related.

 The air in that home had a languid, musty heaviness. In the basement dark patches of mold covered several walls, an area doubling as the TV room. To move about one felt breathless and weary. It was no wonder the woman shuffled and spoke with weariness beyond her years.

In winter the effect is compounded by the sealing of windows and doors with the resulting rise in exposure to indoor pollutants from furnishings, cleaning products, building materials, malfunctioning appliances or dehumidifiers, dust mites, formaldehyde from pressed wood, glues and textiles such as drapes, pollen, mold, hobby supplies, exhaust from attached garages, back-draft from chimneys etc.

Indoor pollution is often two to five times higher than outside. The air circulating from the basement is the worst offender in almost every home. With improper air exchange rates, especially during colder months cumulative pollutants can take their toll.

 Eliminate sources; old couches, carpets, cardboard containers and wood. Empty standing water sources. Don’t smoke. Replace cardboard with plastics. Switch to natural cleaners such as lemon juice and vinegar.

 Common reactions to poor indoor air: eye irritation, fatigue, sore nose, throat, dizziness or recurring headaches – reactions similar to colds or flu. Everyone has their own level of sensitivity but children are especially vulnerable. Good web sites to find more at The Canadian Environmental Agency site or the US Environmental Protection Agency site. Or my web site at:

 The effect for the cluttered home owner is a distinctly overwhelming. The word ‘lost’ neatly defines the feeling and is a common lament. Finding yourself and home again takes time, time to adjust to a new normal and let go of old ways and stuff and become someone new. But starting a little at a time is better than the slippery slope of never starting at all. An organizer can help. I can help.


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