I have worked with many clients over the years to organize after the loss of a loved one. Living in the greater NY metropolitan area, I helped many 9-11 widows and widowers organize after losing a loved one in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. It is an emotionally draining process. My best advice is to take it slow and go at your own pace. After the death of a loved one, some people are tempted to sift through belongings and make decisions quickly. If this feels natural to you, fine (consider checking with a grief counselor before moving too quickly through the process). But most people need more time after a loss to organize a loved one’s possessions. So give yourself permission to grieve first, heal, and then organize later.

Some clients only needed a few months, while others waited years until they took on the task of organizing their loved one’s possessions. Indeed, some clients only took on the project due to necessity – moving, selling a house, clearing room for new family member to move in, etc. If you aren’t ready to handle the project but you must do so by necessity, then you may need to temporarily box up your loved one’s possessions. Label the boxes so that you know what the contents are, which will make it easier for when you are ready to sort them at a later date.

Although many organizing projects can be done alone, some people find it helpful to sort through a loved one’s belongings after a loss with another person – a family member, close friend, or professional organizer. I also recommend doing the project in stages, as it can be emotionally demanding as well as physical. Be careful not to make decisions too quickly and be sure to check in with other family members who may consider some belongings special that you are considering letting go of. You may want to sort into categories based on family members, friends, donations to charity, antique appraiser/estate sale (for valuable pieces that you are not keeping), archive/storage, etc.

I often tell my clients to choose items that embody the person’s spirit, remind you of details of his or her personality, or that carry special memories. There is no magic number of how many items to keep, but remember that sometimes less is more. You don’t want to be smothered by items that you don’t have room for, or that will drudge up painful memories. You want to be able to enjoy the selected items and let them serve as reminders of your loved one’s well-lived life. But don’t lose sight of the fact that our greatest treasures our the actual memories, not the “things” themselves.

Sadly, I recently lost my mother to pancreatic cancer. Many family members and friends assumed that I would quickly go in and sort my mother’s belongings due to the fact that I am a professional organizer by trade. But I recognize that I need time to process this profound loss, grieve, and heal before I can take on the task of going through her possessions. The only items that I am taking quick action on are the medications and medical supplies so that I can donate them before they expire and someone else can benefit from their use. I plan to take my time with the process, include family members, honor the possessions, and select items to keep and cherish. That way, my mother will always be with me.

Wishing you warmth and strength if you are organizing after a loss. Be kind to yourself.

Copyright © 2010 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

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Copyright 2010. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com.

As you start the organizing journey, you may suffer from what I like to call, Temporary Organizing Paralysis. This is when you start organizing, freeze up, stare at all of the stuff and think, “Where do I begin?” “What am I going to do with all of this stuff?”

Realize that it will get worse before it gets better if you are in the middle of an organizing project. The stuff will be out of the drawers, files, closets, etc. Come up with a staging area to sort the stuff, so it is not in the way! That will help keep your stress level down. Also, identify early on who and where to donate items: friends and family, thrift shops, places of worship, domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, etc. There are many willing homes for used stuff. Adopting a charity or a needy family makes getting rid of your clutter a whole lot easier.

Often, there is a domino effect of being disorganized. You may need to start somewhere else in order to clear space first before you can work on a particular organizing project. For example, let’s say you have paper all over your dining room table (a common clutter catcher spot!). You would think of starting on the dining room table. But the real problem is your home office. You haven’t cleared out the paper bins and filing drawers in so long that you can’t bring any new paper into that room. Thus, you started piling it on the table. Therefore, you need to start in the home office, clear clutter, make room, and then move to the dining room table. So, give some thought to the order of your organizing projects and how one may affect another. Of course, if you desperately need or want your dining room table back before your home office is organized, you can temporarily box up the papers on the table and move them to a staging area and work there while getting organized. If you have the space to create “organizing central,” then go ahead and do it. Get some boxes, bins, a folding table, and go to town!

In order to stay motivated while organizing, post your list of goals in a conspicuous place, especially if you are a visual person. Before and after photos also help many people get and stay motivated. Consider playing some upbeat music to keep you alert, or relaxing music if you are easily distracted. If you dread organizing alone, work with your spouse or a friend, involve your kids, or go pro and hire a professional organizer. And, don’t forget to reward yourself along the way as you would with any other behavior modification program. Getting organized is about making progress, not achieving perfection. Don’t be daunted by the prospect of getting organized. Just take it one step at a time. You’ll have more chance of success if you break the overall project into manageable tasks, tackling a little bit at a time. The key is to get started and stay focused. You can do it!

Copyright © 2010 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

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Copyright 2010. Lisa Montanaro, “The Solutions Expert,” is Principal of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC, a professional services firm created in 2002 that offers professional organizing, business and life coaching, and motivational speaking to individuals and organizations. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for the general public, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for professional organizers and entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com.  Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through LMOS, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how LMOS can improve your home or work environment, or help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com.

Ah, New Year’s Resolutions. They come but once per year, and cause quite a stir. Indeed, people talk about their New Year’s Resolutions quite freely. A small portion of people even write them down. But how many truly achieve them? The number is probably dismally small. Why? Because most people do a great job of talking about their resolutions, but don’t do such a great job of taking action on them. They often set themselves up for failure by biting off more than they can chew!

Take, for example, the most popular New Year’s Resolution: to lose weight (get in shape, exercise more, achieve greater levels of fitness, shrink a few sizes…any version will do!). What most people do is come out swinging. They join a gym and try to exercise 5 days a week, when they were formerly a couch potato and led a sedentary lifestyle (not only is this setting you up for failure, but it can be dangerous too!). They deprive themselves of every food they love, instead of eating a little bit of everything in moderation or learning their trigger foods and slowly replacing them with better choices. In other words, they try to do too much in too little time. They experience set backs, or fail altogether, which then leads to a defeatist attitude and they say “See, I knew I couldn’t do it.” They then give up.

Does this pattern sound familiar? If so, try a different approach this year. Try taking it slowly, one step at a time, and actually taking action throughout the year. How? Here are some tips:

Start Small & Grow Your Goal Little by Little
Instead of looking at your goal or resolution as a major project, think of just the first step. For example, instead of thinking that you have to get your entire life organized, try keeping your appointments for the first week, clearing out your email inbox the second week, saying no to some tasks and events you can’t handle the third week, etc. Get the picture? Take it step by step so each smaller goal feels, and is, more manageable.

Reinforce Goal Setting in Various Ways
Use different learning styles (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile) to reinforce goal setting. Perhaps you can journal about your New Year’s Resolutions (one of my favorite activities!). Maybe you prefer to set up a vision board to see your goals. Or you can listen to podcasts and audio programs that reinforce your resolutions. It doesn’t matter which you choose, only that you choose a way to reinforce goal setting that works for you!

Ignore the Naysayers
Often, you are making actual progress towards achieving your resolutions or goals, but someone tries to sabotage you. Try not to let this derail your efforts! You need to stay the course, despite what they say. The famous life coach Martha Beck talks about surrounding yourself with people who can be your “believing eyes.” I love this idea! Adopt it and use it as your own. Stay away from the Negative Nellies right now, and surround yourself with people who believe in your goal and will help you achieve it.

Be Accountable
Some of the world’s most successful behavior modification programs are successful partly due to the strong accountability factor built into the program. Find an accountability partner, join a mastermind group, or hire a coach. You need motivation and someone to share your trials and successes with. Having accountability systems in place can be a powerful aid in accomplishing the goals you set.

Celebrate Success
Make sure to reward yourself along the way for achieving success, no matter how small. Set up milestones, and as you achieve them, figure out ways to motivate yourself to keep going. The more successful you feel at each step, the more apt you are to keep moving on the path towards achieving your full goals.

Copyright © 2010 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

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Copyright 2010. Lisa Montanaro, “The Solutions Expert,” is Principal of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC, a professional services firm created in 2002 that offers professional organizing, business and life coaching, and motivational speaking to individuals and organizations. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for the general public, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for professional organizers and entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com.  Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through LMOS, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how LMOS can improve your home or work environment, or help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com.

For those of you that were in high school in the 1980s (that would be
me!), you may remember Joan Jett singing, “I don’t give a damn about my reputation!” Sure, Joan could get away with not caring about her reputation (indeed, one can argue that her image was, in fact, not caring about her reputation, but I digress), but can you?

The idea of projecting an organized image can be controversial. Why? Because as professional organizers, many of us teach that being organized has less to do with the way an environment looks than how effectively it functions. The goal is not to be organized, but for your life, home, and work to run more smoothly. In other words, we do not generally focus on the outward perception of organizing or the aesthetics of it, but more on the way it improves your life. We preach that it is not about being “neat.”

And that is all true. But I also truly believe that projecting an organized image will positively affect your life in a myriad of ways. Think about it. Who would you prefer to do business with? Messy Marvin, who always looks a mess, can’t find papers, forgets to return phone calls, and is late for meetings? Or Organized Ollie, who always looks put-together, returns phone calls within 24 hours, has an efficient paper management system, and is consistently on time for meetings and appointments? I would guess Organized Ollie (yes, maybe you would like to go to Happy Hour with Marvin, but that is a different story!).

Being organized can improve relationships and your reputation. You will be more productive at work, which will translate into returning phone calls an d emails quicker, showing up for meetings on time, etc. When you are organized in the workplace, you project a professional put-together image that people trust and are attracted to. At home, many families have disagreements that stem from disorganized systems and habits in the home. Therefore, getting organized almost always improves your family life. And there are many people that are disorganized at home and embarrassed to have guests over, which certainly curtails your social life. So getting organized at home and projecting that type of image will probably help you to be a better host.

Don’t confuse projecting an organized image with perfection. Perfection is not the goal here. But realize that your habits do affect your overall image and the way others perceive you. Start watching others that you admire and respect, and see what type of image they project. Emulate those that you think look put-together and project an organized image. I can’t promise you it w ill change everything in your life, but I can promise you it will help.

Copyright © 2011 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

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You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2011. Lisa Montanaro, “The Solutions Expert,” is Principal of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC, a professional services firm created in 2002 that offers professional organizing, business and life coaching, and motivational speaking to individuals and organizations. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for the general public, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for professional organizers and entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com.  Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through LMOS, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how LMOS can improve your home or work environment, or help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com.

I coined an interesting phrase recently when I was facilitating one of the teleclasses for my group coaching program, DECIDE to be Organized. I was speaking to the group about how so many high functioning, busy, successful men and women have all of these passions and get overwhelmed with trying to decide which to do and which to implement. I referred to the act of managing all of those passions as “Passion Management” (instead of Time Management, Project Management or Energy Management). Everyone loved the phrase and I realized I was onto something.

Passion Management acknowledges that we do, indeed, have multiple passions. I, for one, always refer to myself as a multi-passionate entrepreneur and person. Also, Passion Management is a much more positive way of describing our dilemma of what to do with all of these great ideas. Time management and project management are terms that are not only overused but, unfortunately, can be a negative reminder of our lack of time, as opposed to a motivating factor that leads to productivity.

Passion Management is the ability to manage all of the passions you want to tackle in business and life. Here are some tips to help guide your Passion Management.

Pick a Passion

Most multi-passionate people are swimming in a sea of great ideas, and often have the drive to make them happen. The conundrum is which passion to pursue. My advice — pick a passion and go for it! Author and life coach Cheryl Richardson talked about this when I heard her speak in NYC years ago. She said that so many of her clients get stuck because they have so many great ideas and passions, but don’t know which to pursue. So they wind up pursuing… yup, you guessed it — nothing. Don’t fall v ictim to passion confusion! It is better to pick a passion and allow it to blossom and flourish than to be trapped under a mountain of too many great ideas. If you pick a passion and it does not go well or does not take off the way you wanted it to, that’s okay. Regroup, learn from your passion exercise, and pick a new one.

Tap Into Your Passion

One of the best ways to determine what you should (and want to) focus on is to tap into your passion. Sometimes we lose focus with our business or personal projects and we need to take the time to remind ourselves what we value and why we are staying the course. It is all too easy to get bogged down in details and tasks. Try to ask yourself, “Why am I really doing this project?” and see if there is a reason that relates back to one of your passions, whether perso nal or professional. For example, maybe you are feeling the crunch of trying to blog several times a week. Ask yourself why you set this schedule and whether it taps into one of your passions. If your passion is to write, then write! Do you need to stay on a particular schedule? Will anyone, but you, notice if you only write when your passion strikes? Sometimes we set ourselves up for failure, or more likely, undue stress, when we remain too regimented. Yes, I am a professional organizer and see the value in systems, processes, and timelines, trust me. But it is vital to check in and ask yourself: “Is this tapping into my passion?” If so, it will help propel you forward and remind you why you are doing this particular task or project. If you realize this task or project does not tap into any of your passions, you may decide to abandon the project, delegate the task, or reevaluate whether you want and need to continue it.

Ignore the Naysayers

Often, you are making actual progress towards achieving your passions, but someone tries to sabotage you. Try not to let this derail your efforts! You need to stay the course, despite what they say. If you are truly passionate about the project, you will be able to withstand attacks. The famous life coach Martha Beck talks about surrounding yourself with people who can be your “believing eyes.” I love this idea! Adopt it and use it as your own. Stay away from the Negative Nellies, and surround yourself with people who believe in your passionate goals and will help you achieve them. Passion is contagious and can not only serve as strong motivation for you, but as inspiration for others. People notice passion. In fact, in my opinion, people often notice passion more than they notice productivity!

Celebrate Your Passion Successes

When we take on a project or task and successfully complete it, we often reward ourself at the c ompletion. But when we pursue a passion, we may not have any reward system built in. In some situations, it is hard to determine when we have “completed” a passion. Passions are often ongoing. They can be a particular way of approaching a topic, or a passion can be a mindset or belief. But it is important to come up with some way of rewarding your successes and milestones when pursuing your passions. Figure out ways to evaluate whether you have achieved a certain level of success for a particular passion. The more successful you feel at each step, the more apt you are to keep moving on the path towards achieving your passion goals. And most passionate people just want to keep the passion going! Copyright © 2011 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

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You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2011. Lisa Montanaro, “The Solutions Expert,” is Principal of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC, a professional services firm created in 2002 that offers professional organizing, business and life coaching, and motivational speaking to individuals and organizations. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for the general public, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for professional organizers and entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com.  Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through LMOS, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how LMOS can improve your home or work environment, or help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com.

Ah, procrastination. Most people experience it at one time or another. Procrastination can be a deep-seated problem involving fear of failure or success, or a natural result of overload. Regardless of why you are experiencing procrastination, there are ways to overcome it! How you choose to overcome procrastination depends on the task involved, the people involved, and the underlying reason for the procrastination. Take a look at the following strategies, and see which help conquer your procrastination the next time it rears its ugly head.

Get Started

  • Stuck on a task or project? Take a cue from Nike, and ‘Just Do It!’ Once you get started, you gain momentum and energy. Usually, all of the thinking about and dreading starting the task is worse than the actual task!

Don’t Start at the Beginning

  • Sometimes, you get tripped up on how to start an activity. Well, often times there is no rule that says you have to start at the beginning. Start somewhere else if that is easier and then work your way back to the beginning once you’ve made some progress and get a handle on the task or activity.

Take it One Step at a Time

  • Many people procrastinate simply because it’s too formidable a task or there isn’t enough time to do it now. But you don’t have to do it all now! Break the task into small, manageable segments, each with its own end in sight. This encourages motivation and discourages procrastination.

Involve Other People

  • Being accountable to someone else can be a very effective way to overcome procrastination. Collaborate by working with someone else to get the task or activity started and finished faster. Two minds (or pairs of hands) can be better than one! Or you can assemble an entire team if that is feasible. You can also barter with someone to do the parts of the task or activity that you don’t like or are not good at, and then in turn, do something you do like or are good at for him or her. Lastly, you can give the task or activity away altogether by delegating it to a family member, friend, employee or co-worker.

Set a “Finish Line”

  • Ever notice that we call the due date for a task or activity a “deadline?” We attach a negative concept to the tasks and activities we want to accomplish. When you complete a task or activity, it is not dead, merely completed. Think instead, or reaching a finish line, so that you view your task or activity as a game or race. On your mark, get set, go!

Cause and Effect

  • Use good old behavior modification tactics. Don’t allow yourself to do something else until you start or finish your project. Or set up a reward that you treat yourself to once you reach a certain milestone in the project or at its completion.

Copyright © 2011 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

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You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2011. Lisa Montanaro, “The Solutions Expert,” is Principal of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC, a professional services firm created in 2002 that offers professional organizing, business and life coaching, and motivational speaking to individuals and organizations. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for the general public, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for professional organizers and entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com.  Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through LMOS, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how LMOS can improve your home or work environment, or help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com.

Millions of Americans vow to be better organized every year. But did you know that being more organized can save you money? Yes indeed! Here’s how.

  • Organized finances – If your financial papers and systems are organized, you can easily assess your budget, track your spending and see where to cut corners if need be. It will be easier to access all the details of your accounts and finances. Knowledge is power and when your financial life is accessible and trackable, it usually results in more savings. An added bonus — you won’t have as many missed tax deductions due to your improved financial record keeping systems.
  • Effective bill paying system – Just imagine — no late fees or overdraft fees, your credit score goes up, and your interest rates go down. Sound like a dream? It is a reality for those that have an effective, and on-time bill paying system. By keeping track of your bills, and paying them on time, you can save a significant amount of money as finance charges and late fees can range from $1 to more than $35 per month. Setting up online bill paying and automatic bank account deductions can make financial organization painless, save you, money and protect your credit rating.
  • Donations = tax deductions – When clearing out your space, you may sometimes uncover items that you no longer need and cannot return to the store but are valuable to someone else. Charities need your excess stuff and you get a tax deduction.
  • Unwanted clutter for sale – You can sell your unwanted items (online, locally or through consignment) and cash in! Online services such as eBay and Craigslist are two ways to sell your items for fast cash. Consignment stores are another way to sell perfectly good clothing if you choose not to donate your items. Selling your items this way is usually quicker (and far easier) and results in more money than taking the time to have a garage sale.
  • No more duplicates – Many disorganized people buy duplicates or items in bulk that become obsolete due to expiration, failure to store properly, etc. Replacing items that have been “lost” or buried under the clutter is a big money waster because when the item has to be purchased again you are spending money you didn’t need to. By clearing clutter it allows you to see what you have and you don’t need to over buy.
  • Organized meal planning and shopping – By knowing what is in the refrigerator and cupboards of your kitchen, you won’t be over-buying and having food going to waste. Also, making a shopping list and planning out your menus in advance helps. An added bonus is that eating at home more frequently is less expensive than eating out.
  • Home and car maintenance – Keep on top of home repairs and car maintenance. If you take better care of the things you own, they will break down less frequently. Some examples include servicing your heating and air conditioning systems at home, changing the oil in your car, etc.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute – Another reason to be organized is to avoid paying a premium for things at the last minute because you are up against a deadline. Some ways to avoid late fees is to record due dates in a daily planner, sign up for email at the library to receive notices of overdue books before they incur a fine, buy gifts in advance, and book travel plans early. Also, you can save money by using your coupons, store credits, and gift cards before they expire, and sending in rebates on time.

The above tips are just a few ways that being organized can save you money. And who wouldn’t want to put some more money in his or her pocket in this “new economy”? So get organized, and reap the benefits financially.

Copyright © 2011 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

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You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2011. Lisa Montanaro, “The Solutions Expert,” is Principal of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC, a professional services firm created in 2002 that offers professional organizing, business and life coaching, and motivational speaking to individuals and organizations. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for the general public, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for professional organizers and entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com.  Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through LMOS, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how LMOS can improve your home or work environment, or help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com.

Professional Organizer + Disorganized Friend = Valuable Lessons

First, let me start by saying that, if it weren’t for my friend, Tracy, I probably would not even be a professional organizer, or at least, it would have taken longer to find the profession that is my true calling.  Tracy, demonstrating the intuitiveness that I have come to know is her classic style, guided me to the field of professional organizing in 1999.  I was living in Michigan at the time and working as a lawyer–the career I trained, studied, and prepared for most of my life, and which has never brought me real satisfaction–and expressed to Tracy that I wanted to do something more creative, hands-on, and that would directly help people.  My husband, Sean, whom I also must give credit to for helping guide me to professional organizing, used to tease that what I was really excellent at was planning lives.  Indeed, his slogan for my not-yet-created organizing and coaching business was “Montanaro, Inc. – We Plan Lives.”

Tracy was surfing the Web and discovered the National Association of Professional Organizers website (www.NAPO.net),  as well as that of the local New York Chapter.  She forwarded the link to me by e-mail and basically said, “See, what you do is a ‘real’ profession!”  This was news to me.  I thought, “People pay to have their lives organized?  There are ‘professional organizers’ who do this type of work for a living? Amazing. And awesome!”  I then spent a lot of time researching the profession, as well as brainstorming how and when I could “legitimize” my organizing skills by launching a business.

It wasn’t until the year 2000 when I relocated back to New York where my husband and I are originally from, that I seriously explored the organizing world as a profession.  I attended a one-day conference sponsored by NAPO-NY, “Putting the ‘Professional’ Into Professional Organizing.”   It was there that I learned what is involved in running an organizing business and what sets a professional organizer apart from someone who merely likes to organize.  I realized that I have been organizing people’s lives on an “amateur” level my whole life, and that my organizing and coaching skills transcended my work as a lawyer, educator, mediator, administrator, writer, public speaker, and performer.  Becoming more excited at the prospect of launching a business as a professional organizer, I decided to “practice” on Tracy, one of my closest friends.

Tracy and I met through our high school chorus, and were co-stars of our high school musical.  Our friendship blossomed over the years through college, graduate school, relocation, and marriage.  We always supported each other and considered the other a nice combination of a guardian angel and a tough cookie; hence, our nicknames for each other–Thelma (Tracy) and Louise (Lisa).  I had been providing organizing and coaching services for Tracy for years: assisting her with writing letters to creditors, planning her vacations, reviewing her resume and cover letters, preparing her for job interviews, etc.  It seemed only natural to start my career as a professional organizer with my number one consistent informal client, my disorganized, but brilliant and wonderful, friend.

Interestingly, some people thought this was not such a great idea.  “Don’t mix business with pleasure,” is the old adage.  “You don’t want to spoil the friendship if something goes wrong,” people warned.  As a lawyer, I often referred friends and family to other lawyers when asked to assist, often because the area of law was one that I did not practice in but, sometimes, because I did not want to mix business with pleasure.  Yet, I felt entirely comfortable doing organizing work for Tracy.  “Well, she IS one of your best friends, and you had been doing organizing work with her all along,” you may be thinking.  This is true, although the work I had been doing for Tracy all along was never part of an official professional endeavor.  No, the reason I chose to do organizing work for Tracy was because it just felt natural.  Not just natural; more like it was what I was supposed to be doing.

So we started.  My first task was to plan her wedding and honeymoon in 2001.  Success.  We then moved onto organizing some of the rooms of the newlyweds’ apartment.  Done.  In 2002-2003, I assisted Tracy and her husband Mike with the first-time home buying process.  Voila—they now live only a few miles from my husband and I in the beautiful Hudson River Valley of NY.  Over the years, I have repeatedly provided organizing assistance to Tracy.  We have delved into time management, space planning, bill paying systems, paper management , and organized the master bedroom, master bathroom and home office.

Tracy is an extremely intelligent, self-aware woman who has made great strides when it comes to organizing, and benefits greatly from working with an organizer.  You may be wondering why she needed an organizer in the first place if she is so smart.  It is a common misconception that an intelligent individual who has it “together” does not need an organizer, and would not benefit from professional organizing assistance.  My clients are intelligent individuals that excel at many skills and have many talents.  However, they need assistance with organizing.  Organizing is a skill, but it is not taught in schools (a fact that NAPO is trying to change – check out NAPO in the Schools on the NAPO site).  My clients may not have had the benefit of a parent, teacher, mentor, work colleague, or friend that could serve as a role model with regard to organizing skills.  Some of my clients are organized at home, but not at work, or visa versa.  Some are organized physically, but their time management skills are lacking.  In other words, there is no standard disorganized person profile.  My clients all have their own strengths and weaknesses, and that is why good organizing means tailoring the system to match the needs of the client.

Due to her background and intelligence, I knew one way to reach Tracy was by helping her to examine the psychological side of being disorganized.  She is an avid reader (as well as one hell of an editor, proofreader and writer!) and has digested a plethora of organizing books.  She approaches each book as a true researcher, going deep into the topic, highlighting the pages, and marking them up with notes in the margins.  She then discusses them with me, giving me the important client-focused perspective.  She is convinced that her lifetime of struggling with organizing her time, space, paper and possession stems from having ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).  Her light bulb moment has brought her a sense of clarity and understanding, as well as a renewed sense of hope that she can overcome these obstacles with the proper coping mechanisms and systems in place.  Furthermore, she is planning to write a book to share her story so that others can benefit from her knowledge and experiences with ADD and disorganization.

Indeed, that is what I have gained from this relationship.  While many outsiders may only see the benefit Tracy has received from being the guinea pig that I practiced on early on in my organizing career, I have truly benefited too.  I have been able to follow her struggles, research, revelation, and education process, while honing my skills and developing my unique approach to organizing systems.  This organizer-client relationship with a close friend proves that you can mix business with pleasure and not only have the friendship survive despite the business relationship, but improve the friendship and business because of it.

Copyright 2009 © Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

Want to Use This Article in Your E-zine or Website?

You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2009. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com.

It is difficult enough for one person to be organized and maintain that state of organization on a daily basis. Now imagine being thrust into a living situation with a person you have never met before, who is not a relative or even a friend. A person with different sleeping, grooming, eating, and studying habits, who may be from a different background or culture, and who has a different schedule and interests to boot. Enter the college roommate. When described in the abstract, the college roommate situation reads like a recipe for disaster. Yet, thousands of college students manage to live successfully and harmoniously every year with a roommate who, just days before the beginning of the semester, they had no contact with. Often times, this exercise in living is a wonderful entrance into the “real world” for college students and can serve as an example of the importance of compromise and flexibility that will serve the student in years to come.

Two such young women decided to work with a professional organizer and life coach, hoping to not only improve their living situation, but their overall lives and habits as well. Let their experience serve as an inspiration to all roommates, college or otherwise, who find themselves living in close quarters with a person they’ve never shared a space with before.

Meet Marta and Maria: So Alike and Yet So Different

Marta Anderson-Winchell and Maria Boere found out they were each other’s roommates about one week prior to heading to college. They had never met before.  In many respects, Marta and Maria have a lot in common. Both entered Pace University in September 2003 as freshman and reside on the Briarcliff, New York campus, in the suburbs of New York City. Both attend Pace on a soccer scholarship, are interested in pursuing a career in human services, maintain good grades, and consider themselves family oriented. Yet, there are many differences between the two young women. Marta not only plays soccer for Pace, but also basketball, which forces her to engage in some serious time management. Marta’s family lives within an hour’s drive from campus, which means being able to head home every two weeks to do laundry. Maria isn’t so lucky, as her family resides in Nashville, Tennessee. Maria shared a room back home with her older sister, while Marta never had to share her space before. Although in the same year of college, they are almost an entire year apart. Most importantly, however, is the fact that the two have very different habits when it comes to organizing and maintaining their space and lives.

When I first visited Marta and Maria, I was struck by how small their dorm room is, but isn’t that par for the course in college? What separates organizing a college dorm room from a traditional house bedroom is that the college dorm room must function as a lot more than just a place to sleep. If you split the dorm room into zones, you realize how multi-functional the space must be. There is the sleeping zone (bed and dresser), the dressing zone (armoire style closets), the food zone (mini-refrigerator and dry food storage), the studying zone (desk and bookshelf), and the hanging out zone (television and chair). That is an awful lot of stuff to cram into one space, but then you also need to double almost everything in order to accommodate two people. It’s no wonder college students are often disorganized – there’s too much stuff in one little space!

Maria is a self-professed procrastinator. She likes things clean but let’s the chores go until she cannot stand it anymore (sound familiar, all you procrastinators out there?). In fact, she will let her laundry pile up until she runs out of undies (if she runs out of clothing such as sweatshirts, however, she often steals Marta’s!). She admits that this stresses her out and she’d like to “change her ways.” Marta does more of the general straightening of the room on a daily basis, while Maria actually does more of the cleaning, such as sweeping and mopping the floors. Neither really likes to or has time to cook, so they usually eat in the cafeteria, but they do keep some food staples in their room (although not near the fridge, but we’ll get to that later).

Doing Better Than They Think But There Is Room For Improvement…

So how are they doing? Not bad. Not bad at all. For two people who have never lived together before, Marta and Maria have managed to figure out a way to make it work. Instead of working against each other’s weaknesses, they compensate for each other. Heck, some married couples could learn from these two! But before we give them a freshman-student-living-together-harmoniously-award, let’s focus on what can be improved.

The actual room set up and design is working. However, Marta and Maria have a huge bean bag chair in the middle of their room. When asked if either ever really sit on it, the answer is once in awhile. Do guests sit on it? Sometimes. How often do they have guests? Not that often. Thus, we discussed storing the chair under Maria’s bed where there was adequate space. That would give a sense of openness to the small room. When guests drop by, they can just take beanie out from under the bed. Interestingly, once we discussed moving the bean bag chair from its precious center room location, the two confided during a later visit that they have been using it more often! Sometimes, when faced with the prospect of purging or relocating an item, a person realizes its value and begins to appreciate it and use it. At least now, however, when it is not being used, it has a “home” to go to that is a bit more out of the way.

Another design flaw of the room organization is that the dry food and cooking supplies are stored on the sole shelving unit across the room from the small fridge. I recommended moving the food and cooking supplies to an open area next to the fridge, which is now unused space. It is a narrow space but there is a lot of room vertically. Often times, vertical space is sorely underutilized and can provide the answer to a storage problem.  So we used a narrow, but tall, clear plastic drawer unit with 5 smaller drawers on top, and 2 deep drawers on the bottom. All of the food easily fit in, as well as the few cooking supplies. Now, they have an actual “food zone.” An additional advantage to this reorganization is that it freed up the shelves where the food used to be for storing things like videos, CDs, photo albums, and their toiletry carts (the bathrooms are down the hall, which means carrying toiletries back and forth). We stored those items in pretty open wicker baskets of varying sizes with removable cotton muslin lining for ease of cleaning. The design provides easy access as the baskets are open, and add charm to the space. We used a matching, but smaller, wicker basket to store extra videos that they watch more frequently on top of the television.

The clothes inside their small armoire closets are pretty well organized. However, their shoes are actually on top of their armoires. They claim they can easily see and reach the shoes up there, and they do not want them in the bottom of the closets so the shoes can air out properly after use (remember we are talking athletes here…). One thing organizers know to do is to work “with” the client, so we left the shoes up there as the system works for them.

As for Maria and her laundry, I recommended setting aside one night per week after soccer practice as “laundry night”. Using positive association, I offered up Thursday night as she can put in her laundry before Friends begins, watch the half hour episode, and then switch the clothes to the dryer. She can then take an hour or so to check and reply to e-mail, and then fold the clothes while listening to she and Marta’s favorite radio show, the Delilah show (which they bonded over when they first moved in together and realized they were both huge fans) while winding down before bed. Using positive association will help Maria not dread laundry, but instead think of it in association with fun television shows, e-mailing friends and family, and winding down with music and perhaps a chat with Marta. Having her laundry done every week will also avoid the pile up that stresses her out and causes her to run out of clothing. She gave this a try and said it did help somewhat. I reminded her that it takes time to make new habits, so she plans to keep at it. I have no doubt she will improve her laundry situation as she is motivated to change this behavior, despite her tendencies towards procrastination.

What Does the Future Hold?

Marta and Maria plan to continue living together as roommates in their sophomore year. They already heard that they are moving to a different dorm. Their actual room will be smaller (yikes!), but it will be part of a suite with another room for two other students, and a common living room and bathroom for all four to share. I have no doubt that they will make the smaller space work, and I plan to check in on them to see whether they have been able to maintain the organized systems we put in place. And when I do, I imagine they will whip out the bean bag chair from under the bed for me to sit on. After all, I may be their professional organizer, but I am also their guest.

This article originally appeared in Balance magazine in 2003.
Copyright © 2003 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

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You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2003. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com.

While “green” and organizing may sound unrelated, promoting green consciousness is a natural extension of the organizing process.  Professional organizers enter homes and businesses on a regular basis, and armed with proper knowledge, a professional organizer can assist clients in becoming more Earth-friendly.  As the Chair of my Town’s Earth Day Clean Sweep for the past five years, I am well aware of the importance of reducing and recycling, and relish the opportunity to influence clients and the general public in this regard.

What can you do to get better organized in a “green-friendly” way?  Here are some tips.

  • Think Before You Buy – Try to transform your buying habits so that you are not accumulating too many items in the first place.  Most of the environmental damage is done in the manufacturing stage, so the less consumerism, the better.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans produced 254.1 million tons of household trash in the year 2007 alone.  In 2008, however, as a result of the economic recession and the resulting decrease in disposable incomes, landfills reported a 30% decline in waste levels.
  • Pay bills Online – According to Javelin Strategy & Research, 53% of Americans currently use online banking services, rising to an estimated 67% by 2012.  The report also estimates that Americans could prevent the logging of 16.5 million trees every year if all Americans switched from paper bills to Internet banking.
  • Repurpose and Reuse – Consider repurposing or reusing existing items in creative ways to avoid buying more and to give new life to forgotten items that are just taking up space.
  • Recycle – Throughout the sorting, purging, and organizing process, think of the benefits of recycling.  Often times, a person is unaware of the recycling guidelines in his or her particular area, or whether a particular item can be recycled at all.  For a list of lesser-known recycling programs, visit the Donation and Recycling Resources page of my website at https://www.lisamontanaro.com/donations.html.  Get educated so you can stop adding to landfills and recycle more.  Consider setting up an organized recycling center in your home or business to make it as easy as possible to recycle.
  • Donate – Remember, recycling includes donating items that you no longer love, need, or use often to those who could truly put those items to good use.  Adopt a charity, or even a particular family to donate to (check out www.TangibleKarma.com).  If you just want to unload items for free, consider giving them away on Freecycle (www.Freecycle.org).

Think “green” when organizing.  You will not only be able to reduce your clutter and find things more easily, you will be helping the Earth in the process.

Copyright © 2009 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

Want to Use This Article in Your E-zine or Website?

You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2009. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com.