12 Surprising Ways Clutter Is Ruining Your Life

The leaning tower of pot lids that spills every time you open the cabinet door, that stash of unworn shirts taking up precious real estate in the back of your closet, the intimidating mountain of papers obstructing the view of your desk:  clutter: It happens to the best of us.

But if you think clutter is just a physical nuisance, it’s not. Studies show that sheer accumulation of stuff also takes a toll on our everyday lives.

All that mess can prevent us from relaxing and wreak havoc on our day-to-day mood. Too much clutter can also threaten our safety, seep into our professional lives, derail our careers, and drag us into debt.

And it’s not just us – that chaos can affect our loved ones, too. Those with hoarding disorder have significantly high divorce rates. And children especially are sensitive to severe clutter, which can continue to distress them even outside the home.

Curious to learn more about clutter’s negative impact on your life?

Take a look at the below infographic from full-service storage startup MakeSpace. They analyzed various international studies, and also interviewed psychotherapists and physicians.

The result: A comprehensive look at the very real, very tangible effects that clutter can have on all aspects of your life.

Clutter infographic by MakeSpace

via MakeSpace



7 Steps to Organize Your Health

woman with fruitIt’s the beginning of the year and most of us are working towards our New Year’s resolution. Not surprisingly, two of the most common goals are: loose weight and get organized. As an organizer and someone who has had “lose 20 lbs” on my list for the last 10 years (even though I was 15 lbs lighter back then) I always think about how doing both together might be the right combination to finally achieve my elusive ideal.

I can be organized about many things in my life: paperwork, household chores, party planning and running my business but somehow the key to weight loss is the brass ring I’m still reaching for. I do not like the idea of a fad diet or starving myself so I stick with the traditional approach: to burn more calories than I eat.

Here are seven tips that you can follow to get started on your weight loss plan, whatever that may be:

  1. Schedule your exercise for regular days & times: If you try to get exercise in whenever you have time, it’s probably not going to be a routine. Instead, look at your typical week and decide when you can exercise, then put it in your calendar. Better yet, find a buddy to go with you so you can motivate each other! My schedule fluctuates so I do this on Sundays. I look at the week ahead and find 3 one-hour slots or 5 half hour slots where I can go to the gym or do exercise at home. I know I’m better in the morning so I try to do it before work. But if your only option is after a full day of work, have a standard time to do this so you create a routine.
  1. Plan your meals: Go food shopping once a week but plan out your meals before hand. You may only want to do dinners but you can also plan what you will have for lunch each day, especially if you eat at home or pack it. Only buy what is healthy and on your eating plan. Create a list and stick to it! Resist those impulse buys at the supermarket.
  1. Put healthy food at eye level: Let’s face it, when we’re hungry we grab what is closest and easiest. So, after food shopping cut up celery, carrots and fruit and have them at eye level in small containers in your refrigerator. Or put a bowl of fruit on the table. It’s decorative and appetizing. With nuts or granola bars – put them in easy grab containers in the cabinet or pantry.
  1. If you can’t see everything in your refrigerator or pantry – clean it out. This may happen once a month or just before you embark on a new way of eating. Take everything out and categorize it: proteins, veggies, fruits, dairy, drinks, etc. Then wipe down the shelves and toss anything that has expired or that you know is not a fit for your diet. Put everything back in categories so all your choices are healthy!
  1. Create a medical file for every member of the family. It starts with immunizations for the children, and should include all test results, doctor’s recommendations, treatment descriptions and MRI’s and x-rays. Put the latest papers in front of each file so you have a chronological history of all your medical ailments and procedures. Keep medical bills separate. This file is for medical history, not cost. It should be a permanent file, as long as the person lives in your home.
  1. Make follow-up appointments while you are at the doctors and put them in your calendar right away. Put any prescriptions that have to be filled or test requests in your TO DO bin.
  1. Use apps or a FitBit to track your progress on movement per day, heart rate, calories consumed, weight, etc. There is no sense in setting a goal if you are not going to measure it.

For more tips on how to organize your health, check out my booklet, 52 Practical Organizing Tips for Busy Moms sold on the Products page of my website.

How do you organize your health? I’d love to hear your suggestions.


How Clutter Affects Your Mental and Physical Health

How Clutter Affects Your Mental and Physical HealthOverflowing closets and shelves, disorganized desks and tables and excessive amount of stuff can be overwhelming. Clutter affects most of us and can get to the point when it’s dragging you down .Many people fail to address the aggravating problem until they start feeling mentally exhausted. The negative effects of clutter go beyond the messy home and impact your physical and mental health.

More items mean more cleaning. The excess of stuff can cause allergies by attracting dust, dander and mold or it can impose a risk of household injuries. Clutter can also increase your stress levels by influencing your routine.

The Origins of Clutter

You collect clutter for a various reasons. Maybe it has sentimental value or you spent a good amount of money on it and you feel reluctant to simply throw it away even if you haven’t used for some time. In other cases, the items may serve to fulfill needs like security, self-worth, comfort or excitement. Your belongings may turn into a connection with the past or a symbol of being loved. Whatever the case, it can be literally painful to give up of your possessions.

According to a study at the Yale University the two areas of the brain associated with pain –the anterior cingulated cortex and insula, are invigorated when a person is faced with the situation to let go of items. This means that your brain perceives the loss of a valued possession the same way as if something caused you physical pain. The more financially or emotionally commited you are to an item, the more you want to keep it around. Don’t feel ashamed about being a hoarder or “clutter bug.” It’s your mind that plays tricks on you.

Effects on Physical Health

Clutter can have negative influence on your day-to-day activities. You will have difficulties finding what you need in the huge pile of mess and often be late for work or an appointment. It may sound surprising, but clutter also decreases the odds for exercising. Not only that, it can make you fat. Researchers have found a link between overconsumption of things and overconsumption of food. In general, the clutter drains your energy.

Effects on Mental Health

The excess of things in your surroundings can affect your ability to focus and process information. Physical clutter can overload your sense and weaken your decision-making skills, making you more stressed and less creative. The disorganization constantly bombards your brain with stimuli, informing it that something is not finished. As a result you get anxious or experience more severe mental issues. Clutter may strengthen existing bad habits like procrastination. It may also prevent you from living in the moment or block out new things from coming into your life.

The Solution

Try cleaning up the clutter one room or category at a time. It often helps to have another person do this with you, whether it’s a trusted friend or professional. When you’ve cleared an area, enjoy the feel of that room. Treat yourself appropriately. Recognize that disorganization is not beneficial for you and let go of the unnecessary. Ask yourself, do I feel better now that I’ve de-cluttered? If yes, move on to the next area. After cleaning the mess, it is essential to set up an ongoing organizational system to prevent the things from piling up again. A good habit is to put things back to their assigned places at the end of each day or at least at the end of the week. Most importantly, you should break the habit of accumulating things you don’t need. Only shop for what you absolutely need and what brings you joy.

This is a guest post by Ella Andrews. More on cleaning and organizing read at: dagenhamcarpetcleaners.org.uk

Living With Gratitude & Trust

G&T summit

Last week I had the unique opportunity to speak at the Gratitude & Trust Summit in New York City. This event was organized by Paul Williams & Tracy Jackson, the authors of a book by the same name. It was a different kind of speaking opportunity for me but I’m so glad that I got outside my comfort zone and took a chance.

Those of you who have heard me speak know that I can talk for hours on the “how to” of organizing. This event was more like a Ted Talk in that I had just 10 minutes to talk about the “why” of organizing. The common theme running throughout the day was how to change your life for the better. For some that means overcoming an addiction or a bad habit, and we had speakers who talked about therapy, fitness and meditation. Other speakers shared their own private experience with overcoming major obstacles in their lives from abandonment, to incarceration, to hitting rock bottom from a substance addiction. All, of course, wove the theme of gratitude and trust throughout their talks.

I was amazed at how unselfish some of these people are. One woman gave up a job as an attorney to open up two homes for women in recovery. She was inspired by her own recovery from alcoholism and every month she barely makes the bills but she has the strength and fortitude to go on. Talk about trust! Another man devotes most of his life to documenting the plight of the homeless in America. After suffering from addiction himself, he was homeless for a time. He now advocates on their behalf. He does have a day job to pay the bills but his cause: invisiblepeople.com is his passion.

I came away with inspiration from each of these people who so generously shared their deepest darkest secrets and raw feelings. The human spirit is amazingly resilient. With the right attitude and a belief in a higher being, we can overcome anything. When I got home from the conference I found out that my husband did not get a job he was applying for and that our health insurance plan will be cancelled at the end of this year. But I didn’t panic. These problems seemed minimal in light of all I had heard on Wednesday. Instead of complaining, I went to gratitude. We have until December to figure out our health insurance. My husband and I both have work and even though we may not have all the amenities of life that some of our neighbors do, we are blessed with three healthy kids, a nice community and loving family and friends.

I am honored to have shared the stage with this group. And although getting our homes organized may seem like a frivolous “nice to have” I hope that I conveyed the message that for some people, getting organized and de-cluttering their life is a way to change their life and often their relationships with loved ones. If we start with gratitude for all that we do have, we don’t have the need to keep buying more. If we trust that we will have all that we need when we need it, it makes it easier to let go of all the things that are not bringing value to our lives.

If you would like to listen/see the full summit go here: . http://livestream.com/accounts/1249127/events/4138114

Super Baby Food

Moms always say, “I wish there was a textbook for raising children.” Well, there isn’t one so most of us just “wing it” on a daily basis.

I like to think my book, A Mom’s Guide to Home Organization, is somewhat helpful in answering the question of how can mom’s juggle all their responsibilities and still maintain order in the house.  I even have a chapter on how to keep your baby on an eating and sleeping schedule. This little “how to” lesson was handed down to me from my mother who had a very authoritative pediatrician. He told her exactly what to feed us and when. This got me through the first year with my three children and I welcomed having more instruction than what my own pediatrician was saying, namely, “You can try a little cereal or some fruits…” She really left it up to me so I listened to my mother. Some people don’t agree with that schedule and that’s fine. It worked for me and my sisters and some of our friends.  My kids are healthy and awesome sleepers to this day.  But I have to say we did go through the picky eater syndrome that so many moms experience today. It’s a vicious cycle so how do you get out of that? I guess the answer is to never start with the fried, processed and salty foods that kids crave. Always give healthy options and they’ll have to eat something good.

If you have babies or toddlers it’s not too late for you! Try reading Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron. It is the most comprehensive healthy eating guide that I have seen on the market. While I don’t consider myself a “crunchy granola” mom, I do appreciate healthy, all natural food but I’m sometimes intimidated by the amount of time I think it takes to make everything by scratch. That’s why I loved Ruth’s simple charts and instructions. Not only is she healthy but she’s efficient too. Surprisingly, Ruth did not start out as a nutritional expert; she was actually a NASA programmer! But when her twin boys were born premature, she became a determined mom. She wanted to give them the healthiest diet possible so she did her own research on nutrition and cooking. The result is this complete guide on choosing the right foods, preparing them, storing them and when to feed them to your babies.

Although my children are grown, I plan use the recommendations in this book to keep preparing healthy food for my family.  Even if you pick up a few of her techniques, recipes or preparation tips, I think you and your kids will be happy and healthier in the long run.

Although this book was originally published in 1996, it has just come out with its third edition. For more information, go to www.superbabyfood.com.

Organize For a Cause

I write a lot about organizing your home, your time and doing so to reduce your stress, and have your life run more smoothly. But lately I have been struck by another type of organizing: Organizing for a Cause.

Talk about motivation. When a group of people get together for a common cause, magical things happen.  Events run smoothly and everyone leaves happy. I have seen it happen many times over the last year. Let me give you some examples of organizations who have organized for a cause and why I believe they were able to reach their goals.

 JDRF – Every year since 1996, my family has participated in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundations’ Walk for the Cure. It is held across the country in October. The amazing thing about this organization is that 93 cents on every dollar donated actually goes toward research for finding a cure for Diabetes. The next time you get a phone call from a charity, ask them what percentage goes towards the goal. They usually tell you “No less than 15%” At that point I say “no” and hang up. That means if I give them $100, the charity really gets $15. With JDRF it would be $93. And their goal is clear. They run efficiently because they depend on volunteers heavily. They also do the same type of fundraising each year which makes it easy to have the same volunteers and improve efficiency each time. Local news personal and celebrities also get involved to help publicize their events. This charity gets an A for efficiency in my book.

Relay for Life – I just participated in this fun event last Saturday. It was a 24 hour relay walk for the American Cancer Society. These walks also take place in several local communities across the country. Although I wish the turnout was higher, what makes this event successful is the fun and emotional aspect of honoring not only those living with cancer, but recognizing “in memoriam” those who have not beaten this awful disease, and those who are often forgotten, the caretakers. I was walking with people who represented all three groups. My daughter and her friends camped out all night in memoriam for a friend who recently died. They lit luminaries, sang songs and reminisced about the good times they all shared. What a wonderful tribute and not to mention a fun camp out! Each hour there is a theme and the hosts of the walk play trivia games with the walkers just to keep things lively. I have no doubt my daughter’s group will be back next year. This charity gets an A for appealing to the emotional side of a cause.

City Team Ministries – This is another efficiently run shelter and outreach program in the Philadelphia area. Their goal is to provide basic needs for people who are living on the streets. Homeless men are giving a place to stay, food to eat and spiritual counseling if they would like it. The center also has an outreach to local mothers and babies who are in desperate need of supplies. In one 2 hour luncheon this amazing team raised over $100,000. That is because they target an audience who is willing and able to give generously, they supply them with a nice event – usually golf, silent auction, or a luncheon. And then they appeal to their sense of community by having the benefactors themselves speak to what City Team has given them.  I give City Team an A for targeting the right audience.

Soles4Souls – Last year the National Association of Professional Organizers was involved with a charity challenge to collect the most shoes for the needy. We are a competitive bunch so needless to say many chapters across the country got busy and collected over 168,000 pairs of shoes for the needy. What I love about this charity is its simplicity. They collect one type of item and deliver them directly to the people in need. They were smart to challenge an aggressive bunch of organizers to do their collecting for them. As a prize the members of NAPO who collected the most get to take a trip to Haiti to see the fruits of their labor first hand. I give this charity an A for simplicity and focus.

So you can see that when a cause is emotional, when the right people are approached and asked to help and the situation for the fund-raising is appropriate & fun, the group will succeed in their cause. I find that my clients are more willing to give up their abundance when it is going to a worthy cause.  I’d love to hear about what other charities are organized and efficient, so leave a comment!

Organize to De-Stress

Professional organizers often get called when a person is overwhelmed, at their wit’s end or when a situation has reached critical mass.  Their disorganization has caused them stress and they need an object third party to come in and tell them what to do. Everyone’s situations are different so my solutions are as varied as my clients.  However, there are some general rules or “absolutes” that I have found which organized people follow and disorganized people don’t.  I discuss these in my book “Absolutely Organized – A Mom’s Guide to a No-Stress Schedule and a Clutter Free Home.”  My reason for writing this book was to illustrate to people (specifically busy moms) that “You don’t have to live this way!”  If you are constantly running and never have time for yourself, if your house is in a constant state of disarray, if you are winging it every day without a clear idea of what happens next, know that it doesn’t have to be this way and you can change your situation.  Let’s talk about how and where to start.

The first thing you have to do is identify the worst or most out-of-control area of your life and start there.  Finish this sentence, “If I were more organized I could…” and let that become your goal and your motivation.  Write this down and post it somewhere you can see it every day. You may be motivated to have more quality time with your children, or have more time to yourself, or you may just want your house presentable enough to have company over, or organized enough to find what you need.  So decide what you want.  That’s the first step. Organized people are not afraid to make decisions and move on.

Secondly, make a plan. Mary Kay Ash said, “Plan your work and work your plan.” Jumping into a project without a complete plan is really just setting you up for failure. I find that even a few minutes of planning each day, saves a lot of anxiety and run-around in the long run.  If it’s time management – plan your week. If you have a house project or work project to tackle – plan the steps and write a list of what you will need.  Include other people to share the workload whenever possible.

Third, make an appointment and schedule enough time to work on this priority. Do you need a few hours every week? A few days set aside? Whatever time you need, schedule it in your planner. Nothing is going to happen by accident.

Fourth, remember your goal. When you are in the midst of a project and you are feeling disheartened, remember the goal.  It’s also a good idea to visually post your goal so you can remind yourself all the time what you are working towards.

Fifth, finish working on your project and move on. Don’t be a perfectionist. If it’s time management you need help with, try adapting one good habit at a time. Don’t try to change too much at once. If it’s a physical project, get the big stuff done first and then the finishing touches. Finish one project before you move onto the next.   Check something off your list and feel proud that you have accomplished it.  Reward yourself by doing something fun and relaxing.


Organize for Your Health

People often assume that the goal of being organized is to have a nice house, or to be productive. But did you ever think about how your organizing skills can help you live a healthy life? I’m sure you have noticed that the opposite is true. Those who live in a cluttered home with no organizational skills can’t clean or cook a meal from scratch for obvious reasons. I mean, did you ever see the people on Hoarders? Do any of them look healthy?  So I started to think about what organizing can do to improve your health. I know it has helped me and my family in many situations. Starting with the most basic, leading to more complicated situations here are some motivations to get organized for your health:

  1. An uncluttered house is easier to clean. Clutter collects dust, holds heat and attracts grease in the kitchen, mold in wet areas. Some clutter can actually be a fire hazard. The less you have, the less you have to dust! And if you can’t see your rug, you can’t vacuum it either.
  2. A refrigerator that is packed so full you can’t see anything is not a healthy place to store food. Leftovers become moldy if you forget they are there. If grabbing a healthy snack from the frig is difficult, you may just go for chips. Not to mention you are probably buying too much of what you already have. Keep like things together so you can see what you have. Label clear square containers of leftovers and use them fast. Make it easy to grab a piece of fruit or make a salad.
  3. For kids with food allergies you’ve got to be organized about where you put food and who has access. When my son was younger and had 21 food allergies, he had his own snack drawer down low.  We also maintained a rotation diet with a chart on the refrigerator, and had clear instructions printed out for any babysitter.
  4. If anyone in your home has a chronic illness where medicine is required, it is vital to know when and how much to take on a daily basis. It’s also important to know when prescriptions need to be refilled. If you buy things in 6 month increments, you can mark your planner way in advance on when to restock or refill prescriptions. Expired medications should be tossed and all current ones kept together for easy access.
  5. For children with chronic conditions, medicinal and emergency instructions (especially for diabetics) should be printed up and carried with them and their supplies at all times. I know this from taking care of my sister who was diabetic and from my son’s friend in preschool. Taking blood sugars and dosing out insulin is a precise science.
  6. As far as preventative maintenance of your health, routines really come into play. Exercising, taking vitamins and going for check-ups all fall under healthy routines. If you don’t plan it – it’s not going to happen! With the summer months coming, add to that list:  using sunscreen (that has not expired) and checking for ticks are other healthy routines we all should adopt.
  7. When you do have a major illness or hospitalization your paper organizing skills will be challenged! Believe me, I had a heart operation last year and had to deal with the bills and paperwork a month into my recuperating. My husband’s idea was to sit on the bills for a few months. That wasn’t making me feel comfortable so I laid them all out on the table one night, put them in chronological order, got rid of duplicate bills and started to add up what we had to pay. Once my deductible was met, I didn’t pay anymore bills but rather called my insurance company and asked them to handle it.  It would have been very easy to just keep writing checks, but we would have paid way more than necessary.  I even called the hospital to get a sizeable refund which they were sitting on!

On a final note, when I was hospitalized and out of commission last year, it was nice to know that my family continued our weekly routines and my kids know how to do laundry, make a meal and take care of their own hygiene. If a mom does everything, the house falls apart when she is not there. It’s not perfect, but it is functional. I was proud that my kids and husband could function without me and I could just focus on getting well.