Meet the Minimalist: Liz Ferris

Meet the Minimalist is back with Liz Ferris of Organized by Liz. We were volunteers on a human resources board together and both managed to find our way to the magical world of tidying and organization.

Not only have I worked alongside her on an organizing project, but I had the chance to have her come into my own home and help me address the corners that needed an overhaul that I just didn’t have the energy to tackle on my own.

I was thrilled when she accepted my request to chat about organizing, minimalism, and why she chose this work.

 
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Before we jump into questions, I want people to know a little bit more about you. Tell me more about your IG introduction - you eloped on your ten year anniversary!


Yes! It was a kickstart to a lot of things! Once we realized that we wanted to get married but not have a wedding where we were the center of attention and spending a ton of money, eloping seemed perfect. We had booked a trip to Copenhagen and Stockholm to celebrate our anniversary and then we thought "could we get married there?"

I had never thought about doing something like this. But it is indeed possible and there is even a website called Getting Married in Denmark that tells you how!

We decided not to tell anyone in advance, it felt like a very personal and special thing to keep to ourselves.  We got cute outfits and simple wedding bands in advance then I found a photographer on IG and booked that sight unseen. The day of, we had a beautiful Danish breakfast then walked in the rain (a good luck sign!) to the courthouse to get married in a quick but beautiful 15-minute ceremony. We took pictures in the courthouse and around Copenhagen; by the end of the photos we were drenched from the rain but so happy and in a bit of disbelief over it.

We were originally going to wait until we came home but we had to tell our families to make the moment feel real!  We called them over FaceTime and they were surprised, excited and really happy for us. My mom immediately said she loved it and was happy that we did this “for us”. When we returned home, friends and coworkers asked if we were having a reception but we were perfectly happy with our small ceremony and didn’t need to throw an expensive party in the name of getting gifts (also read above - we don’t like being the center of attention!) Overall, we have no regrets about it and highly recommend eloping!

 
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I love this minimalist approach - vacation + courthouse ceremony sounds awesome! Have you always had a minimalist viewpoint and how did you first get into decluttering?

I guess I always have! From what I remember, as a kid, I never thought it was a punishment to clean my room. I recall enjoying taking out my desk drawers and categorizing like with like, then putting things away. I would clean our Tupperware cabinet periodically, finding the matching lids and putting things back in a neater way. I loved turning items around in the supermarket so their labels would be aligned and I even dreamed of working at Home Depot so I could sort things! As I got older, I would help friends with their closets, finding the things they loved, making new outfits, and making it their closets more accessible for them.

My Junior year of college, I moved away for the first time and it was my opportunity to really assess my childhood bedroom and delve into editing my material items.  I knew at that time I didn't want to leave my room intact, so what I decided to keep, I boxed up accordingly (labeled of course) and snuck in a closet for my parents to store for me.

When I read Marie Kondo's book a few years ago, that was the lightbulb that went off. I realized the missing step from my years of organizing was that it was OK to get rid of things. Since then I've been reading a lot of books on organizing and minimalism like Soulful Simplicity and The Joy of Less. These have been great resources and I recommend them as a good place to start exploring these topics.


How do you practice this for yourself / how do you stay organized at home?

The first place I truly started was Konmari-ing my closet - it's an easy place for me because I'm not super attached to my clothes. With clothes, it's an immediate relief when the closet isn't so overstuffed.

I also pared down quite a bit in the bathroom (realizing how much waste there is I began finding more eco-friendly replacements). I used to buy pretty soaps on vacation and never use them until I realized I should relish in the lovely scents and memories of vacation. Now I love asking for and using eco-packaged bar soap instead of plastic body washes. When I first moved to Seattle and started a career, I was always buying new hair and beauty product; it's so easy as young women to amass all these products when you are bombarded with advertisements for them. It’s been such a relief to realize I don't need fifty products when I I only use and like five things, minimizing my beauty routine is very liberating.

For kitchens, having lived in tiny apartment ones, I just have to ask myself what I value more - do I want all the gadgets & gizmos to fit crammed in the cupboard or do I want to have more space / breathing room around and get creative? I donated many one-use knickknacks and now my friends and family laugh at how I prefer to squeeze my own lemons or mash potatoes with a fork, maybe I just like making things hard on myself, haha!

In general, everything should have a home when you are organized. It's not like my home is perfect all the time - life happens, you run out the door without putting things away sometimes but if you know where the thing goes, you can put it back quickly when you have a spare moment. Even when life feels hectic, it's so easy to put things away neatly in your bathroom cabinet and feel like something is in order, it will also de-stress your morning routine!


What's your advice to people who want to declutter or overhaul a space in their home? (where do you suggest they begin)

If somebody is interested in it, I try to suggest being in tune with what your goals are, like "when I come home, all my surfaces clear" or "I don't want to be stressed out searching for clothes."

If you want to start, just start, don’t wait for the perfect method. If you want inspiration, there are a lot of great Instagram accounts to follow for challenges or books to get some guidelines. If the thought of doing it on your own doesn’t excite you, hire someone to help guide you and cheer you on. That’s how I knew I should be an organizer, clutter doesn’t feel overwhelming to me, it’s makes me excited to tackle it!

Lastly, like everyone will tell you, don't start with the hard sentimental stuff first (like a high school memory box). You’ll go down a wormhole and get frustrated you aren’t making progress. You get better at decuttering as you practice and it's really a muscle that you build up. So start with something you don’t have much attachment to, whether it’s your kitchen, clothes, or books.


 
 

What's your advice to people who share a space with someone (kids / partners) that aren't as tidy?

Don't throw any of their things away! That’s a quick way to turn them off from decluttering. My dad to this day remembers when my well-intentioned teenage self tossing a jar opener he loved (still looking for one to replace that with, Dad!)

Also, practice what you preach. Don't harp on anybody until your own stuff is in order. You may inspire others with the work you are doing with your own stuff. Be patient. It will come with time. And try not to talk their ear off about minimalism! As exciting as it will feel when you get started others may not be ready to jump on the train, but trust me, when they get bit by the decluttering bug, you’ll have a great network!


Who are your favorite type of clients to work with and why?

Good question! I’d say when people are committed to a change. They’re fed up and ready to transform their life! Also having a big life change - switching careers, starting over after a relationship - these are the people that I’m really excited to work with because it’s like turning over a new leaf.

When people see the impact of their downsizing, you can see that they feel the weight off of their shoulders and that energizes me to continue.


What else do you want people to know about organizing / decluttering / the process, the work you do?

Definitely that I’m not perfect,  no one is! I struggled with wanting to share only the pretty things on my social media but life isn’t always pretty. I have organizing challenges too! I also strongly believe anyone can be organized. You are not born “organized” or “disorganized”.  I personally think in a very organized way but have to buckle down to do the work sometimes, and it calms me down. Organizing can truly be a form of self-care.

I approach organizing from a minimalist mindset. The organizing community understands that editing is the first step. However, what I hear from minimalists often is that if you are thinking of organizing it means you have too much stuff. I try to strike a balance between the two. Yes, you need to edit, but I also sing the praises of the perfect bin or basket to keep you tidy. You don’t have to life in a square white apartment to be a minimalist.

Lastly, on the subject of organizing supplies, something I’m deeply considering is the impact on our environment. I struggle with encouraging people to get lighter and then introduce brand new products into their space. That’s why I’m exploring a more eco-friendly solution of sourcing organizing projects second-hand when possible. You won’t believe how many like-new products are donated (maybe even from a decluttering session!) that can be the missing piece to your organizing journey.  I’m excited to explore the principles of less waste and eco-friendly sustainability into my business.


What else do you want people to know about you - where they can follow you, how to get in touch?

My website is Organized by Liz and Seattle clients can reach me by email at hello@organizedbyliz.com to schedule a complimentary consult. This is a 20-30 minute walk through of your home or trouble spot where I’ll assess the space, determine what your goals are, and we’ll schedule your first session.

For the day-to-day, before and after pics of projects, and a glimpse into my own home, you can follow along on Instagram - I like to share challenges that I’m doing and tidying tips via stories and I love connecting with people through that platform, so please say hi!

Adjusting My Attitude with a Tidy-Up

A coworker told me they would clean to relieve stress. I remember thinking that was such a bizarre outlet but if that worked for them, why not?

I now understand this as a stress reliever - when I cannot control what is happening around me, I can control the grime on the shower tile or backlog of laundry. This reminded me of my first foray into the world of organizing; I started with building a capsule wardrobe to make everyday decisions easier and feel like I had more control over the stuff around me.

When I’m grumpy and need to snap out of it, I try to find something small around the house to clean or spruce up. I can focus my energy around that one task plus I benefit with tidied-up corner in my home. Sounds cheesy but it’s true.

I was feeling particularly frustrated last weekend and realized how annoyed/irritated I was when I walked in the door and flung my tote backpack onto the entry way table. It was heavy and I didn’t know why … so this was the perfect opportunity to swap it out for a newly acquired cross-body bag.

 
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After dumping everything onto the table, I cleared out all the little bits of trash, snapped pictures of crumpled work receipts with my Wave app, then began placing everything into the new bag.

I felt an immediate improvement and writing this now, don’t really remember what I was so grumpy about. In the past, I would mope a bit, watch TV or mindlessly scroll through social media, finding myself getting more annoyed/bored/angry. I’m going to work on choosing tidying up - it’s better for my attitude and my home :)

Let's Try This Again

I said the blog was back and that was nearly three months ago!

So this is me trying it again, attempting to let go of all the things I think I should do for this blog and just write quick posts about what is going on in the work and tips that (I think) are interesting. I may have an interview or two going up in the next month.

I’m realizing how much self-employment fluctuates; every day is different even when I have some routines in place. I love this aspect but also find it hard to manage at times when work feels either super hectic (lots of projects booked with clients and it doesn’t feel like there’s enough time for other things) or when it’s slow and I’m trying to motivate myself to tackle my own projects or To Do’s.

After talking it out with someone earlier this summer, I discovered that the only reason I really want to blog is to share what my little sprucing world is like. It can be lonely and isolating at times when you don’t have coworkers and you’re trying to navigate running your business while doing the work itself. For me, it’s fun to share what’s going on, what I’m learning, what I didn’t expect, etc.

So, this is yet another opportunity for me to take my own advice and start small to get into the habit I want to create and it starts right now!

Let me know what you do to create a routine or start a new habit. Often times this feels like common sense but I always like to hear what works for others and find ways to make it work for me.

 
 My favorite organizing tools - a Productivity Planner, my master checklist, and the weekly list pad I use for making my schedule (and a thank you card going to a recent client).

My favorite organizing tools - a Productivity Planner, my master checklist, and the weekly list pad I use for making my schedule (and a thank you card going to a recent client).

The Blog is Back!

Hi there! It's been too long ... four months and twenty-seven days to be exact. 

Now that I look back at my last post, The Mins Game Round Up, it feels like auspicious timing because I'm playing it again, this time with a friend and fellow organizer. More about that later.

I was posting pretty regularly last year, mostly space transformations, and felt like it was ok to dial it down once I hit the 50th post or so. I notice that when I get into these routines, I don't like to stray from them too much, even if it becomes more of a chore.

Once I did take a break from blogging, it was hard to make time for it again, especially when I was so busy in my work - projects, new consults, meeting referrals. This year has been incredibly busy in the best possible way. I'm discovering what kind of schedule I like for my project work (the sprucing), admin tasks (tracking receipts and mileage, email), and marketing (monthly business coaching, networking events/groups). I've been working with some amazing people on a variety of interesting projects and somehow the first half of the year has gone by in the blink of an eye.

I have a running list of all these great blog ideas from emergency preparedness to do's to identifying possession obsession to how we're addicted to busyness and being productive. If I schedule time on my calendar, it's more likely to happen so I'm going to commit to a weekly post of some kind - some may be more in depth, others may be interviews or tidying tips.

This felt a little clunky trying to get out all these ideas but there's no better time like the present to just do the thing and get it done.

I'll be back next week and would love to hear from you on what you'd like to see on the blog. Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

 

Transformation Tuesday: Mins Game Round-Up

How did everyone fare last month playing the Mins Game? 

I started pretty strong, actually setting aside many things for the first week or so. I started with items that I needed to return to people ... the things that had somehow become a clutter "fixture" in the house because I was done reading it or just never used it (we all know how this goes!) so it was a good  time to get these things returned.

Then I went through the kitchen pantry, reviewing duplicates of pans, bakeware, cake decorating items that I just didn't need to keep extras of. After that, I did a sweep of bathroom/travel toiletries, tools/hardware, then the storage unit in the garage.

I wanted to see how long I could play for and it was incredible how all the tiny things added up that were in drawers, shelves, cupboards throughout my home. I made it to about day 26 or 27 before asking my partner to help contribute some items to the purge (mostly the random hardware that I had no idea what they were from/had never used).

 
 

My biggest takeaways were that I need to review paper more often (quarterly at the least) and make a point to not let project donations end up in my home. I work with amazing people who I'm helping through the declutter and reorganizing process. Often times they will offer items they want to donate to me or if I have friends that might need it. Maybe 20% of the time I think "hmm I know someone who might be able to use this" or "this is cute, how could I use it" ... but I rarely end up using them unless it's a consumable or sorts (like paper cupcake liners or a notepad).

By the end of the month, I did experience some purging fatigue - it was harder to look at things with a critical eye and not just start tossing things to meet the number to purge that day. After making it through the month, I'm looking forward to my next challenge - the digital declutter and then emergency action planning.

If you have questions/ideas/comments on either of these topics, let me know! I'd love to hear what tips you have for tackling either of these areas or find out what you'd like to work on - we're in this together, friends!

Transformation Tuesday: The Minimalist Game!

After doing a major household purge and KonMari-ing my things over two years ago, I didn't think that I had too much left to let go of.

Think again! While I am much more conscientious about what I bring into my home, there were still little things I held on to without realizing it.

I decided it would be fun to play the minimalism game to kick off the new year. You can follow the adventures of purging on my Instagram and play along!

The quick run-down on how to play:

  1. Get rid of one thing on the first day of the month, two things on the second, and so on
  2. Anything can go! (this is helpful when you are purging over ten items a day and need to clear out paper/receipts)
  3. Whoever keeps it up the longest, wins

While I don't feel like I have big, bulky items taking up space, the small things really add up:

  • Baking accessories - frosting tips that were duplicates (or triplicates!), extra pans that I don't use (and I have a fabulous neighbor I can always borrow one from)
  • Tools - so many duplicates and random items that still need to be sorted (need to go through a bin with my partner in case he wants to keep any items)
  • Fridge - right after the holidays, it was great to feel like there's a fresh start and really think about using up what I have (and doing a clean sweep of expired stuff)
  • Office supplies - again, so much excess!
 
 

This challenge has also helped me get rid of a couple items I let linger in the garage, namely some shelving and a water filter that I was recycling for a client. I felt accountable to getting as much out same-day as I could so I made a point to schedule time to recycle the wire shelves at the transfer station and make my way to Whole Foods for their filter recycling program.

These were nagging tasks that were taunting me because they were staring at me every time I used the car! I'm also thinking more about my gut reaction toward things I'm keeping - do I really love it? How useful is it? If I need it again, can I borrow from a friend?

253 items have exited the house so far! If I keep this up through the 31st, the house will be 496 things lighter - WOW! 

Are you playing the Mins Game this year or have you played before? How long did you last? Let me know in the comments!

Meet the Minimalist: Laura Alger-Barkley

I’m so excited to share this month’s minimalist interview! I started following Laura Alger-Barkley, the organizer also known as the Domestic Unicorn, several months ago. I love her aesthetic and how she incorporates a lot of the KonMari practice into her own organizing yet maintains a realistic perspective on organizing real households, especially with kids.

We sat down to chat about how organizing has given her structure as someone who tends to be a bit on the messy side plus some great tips for maintaining your space.

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How did you first get into home design and decluttering?

My mom is my role model in that department. She was a home ec teacher and had a background in interior design and fashion.

I went to art school in Brooklyn and my background is in fine arts. I’ve always been helping people rearrange their apartment, pick things out, go shopping with them.

After I read Marie Kondo’s book, that was when it kind of clicked for me. I started incorporating her practices. I’m more of a messy person, I need these systems to keep the order.

 


I want to hear more about tending toward messy as an organizer!

As a kid, I was a collector and loved to organize them but definitely had way too much stuff. My life was trying to tame the mass amounts of things. I still have things I love, I just don’t have that same volume.

I would feel scatterbrained and just move on to the next project with some things left undone. Decluttering has changed my life - it’s given me structure, I can think more clearly, and it makes more sense to help others with their homes.

 
 Photo by  Charity Barkley
 

 

What was it that resonated for you when reading the Marie Kondo book?

I was feeling burdened by the sense of keeping things.

When I read that book, I was pregnant. I was really surprised and it was a big shock to find out I was pregnant with twins. After having my girls, my body was very different.

That’s when I dove into KonMari’s practices with clearing out my clothes. I felt guilty for holding onto clothes that I just couldn’t get back into. Then I started going through the rest of the house and paring down. I don’t need 104 ladles, I really need just a big one and a small one. It was very liberating! I also felt more in control.

 

What did your partner think of the KonMari paring down process?

My husband grew up in a family of six boys and his parents were like the original minimalist parents.

He was taught early on how to do his laundry and keep things organized. He doesn’t have a lot of stuff in general and maybe thought in the beginning that I was going a bit overboard as I started purging!

 

What's your advice to parents as they try to keep areas tidy with kids in the home?

I would see homes and think “this is really out of control, how did it get this way?” Now that I have kids, I totally get it!

The number one thing is that it’s easy for everybody to clean up, whether it’s parents, siblings, cousins, whoever is coming over. Kids can also easily clean up the messes with you.

I’ve heard a lot of things about rotating toys out for children. I don’t have a ton of stuff for my kids plus I have two of them so there’s generally more toys out in our home.

If you have a kid that’s 12 months and younger, I recommend having one bin to throw things into before nap time or at the end of the night ( keep one in the living room, the nursery). Make it simple. Then you can control more of what they are playing with and they can help put away.

I started to sort things out so my kids don’t get so overwhelmed, like activities sorted out - books, blocks, crayons and paper - these all sorted into different baskets which they can help with putting away.

 

What do you do with the influx of toys coming in from the holidays?

For little kids, let them open and play with the toys one at a time, keep some of the gifts hidden away and bring into the rotation when they are ready for a new one (especially when some of the toys might not yet be age appropriate).

That way you aren’t overwhelming them with all these new toys and you can also swap out old toys that are past their prime or that they’ve outgrown as you bring new ones in.

You don’t have to return all the toys to become a minimalist.

 
 Photo by  Charity Barkley
 

 

What kind of systems do you have in place at home to help your family stay organized?

Our house is always evolving with our kids!

I cook and clean the living room and my husband cleans up the kitchen after we put the kids to bed. I’m not sorting a million activities out - blocks to the blocks bin, puzzles into that bin.

We get the toys cleared up, wipe down the highchairs, run the dishwasher, and chill out. It’s really about maintenance every day. It feels like you’re always cleaning but those little things everyday keep your home much more in order.

My girls want to dump out their laundry bins if they are on the floor so I hang a reusable grocery bag in their closet for their laundry.

We go through and clear out anything damaged or that’s missing a lot of pieces, ripped items (the kids went through a recent “ripping book phase” which was stressful and totally weird because they do love books). It’s hard to do it as we go so once a month, I dump out the baskets and go through it.

Then I go through what’s age appropriate. I remind people that children get overwhelmed with all the choices. Paring down will help them play with the things they really want. Also think about other kids in your life that would like a game or toy, someone who comes over to play from the neighborhood, a cousin. I try to frame it like that as a way to re-gift some of the toys that can be passed along.

 

Who are your favorite type of clients to work with and why?

I like doing everything! What really excites me the most is creating personalized systems for people. Getting everyone involved and creating the plan together - diagnose the situation, help people create a specific system for their family. It’s all problem-solving.

Even in our own homes, it’s hard to “see” our own spaces and having someone come in with a fresh eye to look at the space makes a difference. A lot of what I do, someone is in a new space and old systems don’t quite work in their new homes, I help them find new solutions, or they have outgrown the system that they are using right now in their home.

 

What else do you want people to know about organizing / decluttering / design - the process, the work you do?

Once we declutter, figure out a good system for their home, I’m help them rearrange the space. I then reuse and repurpose the things they already own in different ways and then if there is a need talk about possibilities for new furniture and items for their home. I’ll also help them take measurements if they are looking to bring things into their home. We create a little game plan and I consult with them about designs.

I recently worked on an unpacking project and determined how to fit things in the new home. I create more of a game plan, revamp the space, and focus on using what you have.

Most people have something in mind or vision for their dream space and I consult with them to narrow down options and make that space a reality!

 

What’s your advice to people who want to start decluttering?

First, start really small with like a spice rack or a pantry to clear out old stuff, putting back in new and fresh items to see how much space there is. If you exceed the space limitations, that tells you that you need to pare down.

Next do a bathroom cabinet or a silverware drawer. You’ll feel good because you can easily work your way through a shelf or drawer and be successful.

For longer term and bigger projects, it’s not always easy to do in one fell swoop. There might be parts of your life that were not easy to do at the time. It’s all about maintenance and when you are ready, tackle that part of your life or home.

Remember that it’s all about maintaining. Go through things a couple times a year.

 
 Photo by  Charity Barkley
 

 

What does minimalism look like for you?

It’s very different. It’s the minimal amount of stuff that I can feel comfortable with. There are areas of my life that I don’t want to have a ton of stuff like I don’t have a lot of clothes but I have so many books right now! You can be extreme in some areas then still have collections. Those practices have helped keep things under control.

 

Any other tips you want to share - how do you stay organized yourself?

I keep a printed calendar on my fridge and I update it! I don’t do as well using apps (although the MinimaList is a fun one to try), and tried to do a family calendar but it just didn’t work out well. Every month we do our budget and talk about what we have going on and add it to the calendar.

I do meal planning and grocery lists which I keep all in the same notebook. It’s easy to have a million little things everywhere. Writing things done in one place works and the notebook fits in my bag.

I also keep a running list of things I want to do around the house (my dream list) to keep track of everything. I don’t ever write down the house maintenance tasks and incorporate those into my day so I never feel like they are a burden.

Maintaining your home is not a “to do” it’s just what you should do! Find the shortcuts that work for you.

If you come home to a messy home, you want it to be easily cleaned. Our master bath isn’t ventilated and I use the Method shower spray daily to keep it clean. This saves me time because I’m not spending an hour on my hands and knees scrubbing away.

Make it more enjoyable. I suggested to a friend who doesn’t have a dishwasher to spend more on a nice smelling dish soap, good gloves, and a really nice scrub brush. She said it doesn’t feel like such a chore because she’s using nice things to clean her dishes now.

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I could have easily chatted with Laura for a few hours! She had so many great tips to share that I’m going to incorporate into my everyday (like that Method shower spray!).

You can follow along on her organizing adventures on Instagram or get in touch with her through via her website.

Year-End Pantry Challenge

After coming home from work last night, I desperately wanted Mr. Gyro's Greek salad to take home and enjoy while watching some TV. However, I suggested non-takeout items to my partner when talking about dinner. He's pretty open to whatever so I figured I might as well eat at home while clearing out the pantry.

One of my biggest issues with cooking dinner is that I'm usually hungry by the time I need to eat. Since I didn't eat my little fruit-and-cheese snack pack at work, we had that as our appetizer while I scoured the pantry and fridge.

I boiled up some red potatoes then roasted them in the oven with broccoli. While that was going, I cooked up some quinoa on the stove and found some basics for a salad (mixed greens, tomato, onion, croutons). I wanted something creamy/saucy and used up the last few slices of bread to spread with a garlic butter and top with white cheddar and parm. 

It was great! Dinner was ready in maybe 25 minutes and I felt good about saving a trip out (and very slowly working toward a zero waste kitchen). I thought about events we have going on this weekend before the new year and need to clear out some of the excess treats and beverages. 

 
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I found some chocolate coins, caramels, Rice Krispies cereal (I really wanted Rice Krispie treats on Christmas Eve and have about half a box left) and searched out a few recipes that don't require marshmallow/fluff. You'll have to follow along on my Instagram to see how these turned out and what other recipes come out of this pantry clear out! 

My hope is to minimize year-end spending, use what I have, and then I can do a quick wipe-down and organizing of my fridge/pantry in the next week.

Please share your favorite go-to "kitchen sink" and pantry clear-out recipes!

Creating Calm through the Holidays

I am learning that I am enjoying doing less during the holidays. I know this is a time of year that gets chaotic for others, especially with family, travel, and everyone running around. 

Each year I end up dialing it back a little more. Giving myself permission to enjoy the quiet and cozy, rather than rushing through another To Do list. Spending more quality time rather than trying to run to every party or happy hour to catch up with everyone at once.

A friend suggested a holiday happy hour recently and while I wanted to catch up with them, I asked to meet after the holidays. There's so much pressure to squeeze everything into a short time frame and I want to savor it, let it linger a while. I'm taking a note from Gretchen Rubin, one of my favorite authors and podcasters who does a family holiday card in February (also check out her post on making lesser holidays special here). 

 
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There's always going to be a To Do list, a party I've missed out on, or something else that I don't even know I've missed, but I want to feel more engaged, energized, and less frazzled!

My "create calm" tips:

  • say yes to less - don't go to every holiday party, happy hour, show, etc
  • schedule down time - rest, relax, take a nap!
  • when making plans, make it count - what I mean is, stop scheduling stuff back-to-back and be thoughtful with your plans with others (it doesn't feel great to be squeezed into someone else's frantic schedule)

What are you doing to calm the holiday chaos around you? I'd love to hear your tips!

Handling Holiday Gift Clutter

For those of us that have been downsizing, minimizing, and generally decluttering the things around us, birthdays and holidays can be tricky to navigate. While you might be in the process of paring down so that you have less to maintain, your family and friends might still be eager to buy you the next best {insert whatever it is here}.

I've talked to several friends about my thoughts on giving and receiving gifts. It can be really hard to educate others on this newer lifestyle change of allowing fewer things into the household while respecting their generosity and desire to give. The biggest challenge I see is that those around us want to celebrate us and show they care through gift-giving while we are still trying to keep clear surfaces, continue purging closets and anything new in the house feels like a step backwards in the organizing process.

 
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If you are feeling anxious about how to handle the potential holiday gift clutter, here are a few tips:

  • Do a pre-holiday purge to make room for a few new gifts that you are planning on getting (or hoping that Santa will send your way)
  • Plan ahead with friends and family on gifting this season - is it an option to draw names in a larger group or do a holiday potluck or happy hour in lieu of gifts? Try to shift the focus to creating a fun experience 
  • Make your list and check it twice! Have a mix of practical and "splurge" items that you would be happy to receive so that you can share these lists with the people in your life that will buy for you no matter what you say (we all know someone!)
  • Accept the gifts with grace - thank the giver, take a picture of the item being worn or in use, and then let it go so that it can find a home where it will be enjoyed/put to use. Also check with the local homeless shelters in your area to find out what items are in demand.

It is 100% ok to let others know that you are more intentional about gets incorporated into your home, that you want to focus on creating less waste, use what you have, whatever your priority is with staying on top of clutter.

What has worked well for you in minimizing holiday gift clutter? What have been your favorite experiences that were gifted to you? 

Give the Gift of Hygge

As you may have noticed, I want to talk about all things hygge this week! I think it's a great reminder at the holidays, when things get chaotic, to focus on cozy, comforting experiences. 

I spent many years trying to do all the things, go to all the parties, buy all the right gifts. It was stressful. The last several years I have really come to enjoy spending more time with friends and family, focusing on experiences and activities versus things. Especially now that I'm organizing homes full-time, I'm hesitant to bring too many new things into my own (which is why I love consumables as gifts - I can always put treats, wine, coffee to good use!). 

Last week, I got together with my sister and our mutual friend (and also my amazing designer - she's helped me do some awesome work on this website and created beautiful print marketing). We had a holiday cocktail at the Rob Roy downtown which is super decked out right now, including a twerking Santa (though he was out of order when we were there). 

We had a great time and exchanged small gifts - all fun, whimsical, usable items which makes my heart soar (I love using things up, it's such a satisfying feeling). Vicki gifted us both these awesome hygge-centric goody bags which included:

  • sparkly hand-made ornament by a local artist
  • festive holiday socks 
  • vintage spruce scented candle
  • delicious chocolate/peppermint treat
 
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All of these things are pretty to look at and functional, not to mention the candle and socks are top of the list for creating hygge.

What are some of your favorite gifts you've given or received that are ultimate "comfort" items? 

 

Take a Break by Tidying Up

When I feel stressed or I don't know where I want to start with the never-ending To Do List, I like to do a quick tidy-up in a corner of my home. This makes me feel more in control of what's around me and helps knock a chore off the list. If my space feels more "together," then I'm more likely to be open to visitors stopping by (which I'm trying to be better about as I mentioned in last night's post about hygge-ing and getting together with friends more this winter).

Nothing fancy here - just my entry way table that very quickly accumulates stuff. I can tell how busy I've been during the week by looking at this table! I keep my work bag underneath, purse on top, along with mail and other notes or To Do's that come up.

In less than ten minutes, I cleared the surface (except for my purse that lives there) by putting things away, filing things away, and recycling a few pieces of junk mail. It feels so much more organized!

I love using Lapse It to capture these quick chores because it shows that it really takes no time at all to get the space a little more manageable (plus fun cameo by Walt/his tail!).

 
 

Do you have an area of your home that makes tidying seem like a break from your work? What task do you like to tackle before you get started on a bigger project? 

Getting Cozy with The Little Book of Hygge

I borrowed The Little Book of Hygge from a friend as a way to motivate myself to be more "active" this winter by getting cozy, spending time with friends, and focusing on comfort. So often when the weather turns colder, I find myself hiding away at home, finding excuses to not go out. 

This winter I wanted to recommit to being more active like walks around the neighborhood with friends, making plans like crock pot dinner parties, basically finding ways to be comfy and still socialize with friends.

How do you hygge? What are you doing this winter to stay connected to friends and family, how do you take care of yourself/take breaks, and what are your best "get cozy" tips?

I'd love to hear in the comments below! Let me know if you've read the book or have it on your list - clicking on the image below helps support this blog so thank you!

I'll keep you posted with tips this week on how to stay organized so that you can get your hygge on this winter.

 
 

 

 

Transformation Tuesday: Entry Way Closet

I've seen many clients struggle with these hall/entry way closets, laundry storage, and pantry storage - spaces that are supposed to help us contain all the things. Somehow, they turn into the place that you try to close (or shove it close, in some cases) the door on because they get out of control but are still necessary for us to use.

A recent client was dealing with minimal storage in an awesome three story townhouse. The home had a small entry way so this closet needed a serious revamp to better store household goods and tools.

It's hard to tell in this picture but there's a pretty deep, narrow space on the right that was working against us. The cool thing about getting organized is that we so often find other things throughout the home to get repurposed for these tricky problem areas. We were able to use a small utility shelf from the living room and it fit right into that narrow spot. 

 
 

Items that didn't need quick access (like paint supplies) moved toward the back, placed the utility shelf in front with arts and crafts supplies, then reorganized the shelves to hold all extra household items (batteries, light bulbs, paper goods).

We also cleared out/pared down bulky items like excess linens and comforters that were never used but were taking up precious real estate in the closet. In about an hour, we improved the functionality of this little closet!

Transformation Tuesday: Garage Tidy Up

What can I say? I love these garage projects! They can be just as impactful as a kitchen pantry organization session or closet makeover. This particular client mentioned on our call that spring and fall are optimal times to organize and I couldn't agree more! If you skipped the spring cleaning, this time of year is great so when the weather is crummy, you can get your home settled so you can really enjoy and feel super cozy (plus that whole knowing where everything is thing is great too!).

This garage was already in pretty good shape but the owner wanted to streamline a few things and make the gardening tools/lawn care products more accessible. Sadly, I forgot to take the official "before" picture but these give you a sense of what we were working with - the usual "line the perimeter" of stuff.

We have some storage accessories arriving this week to get the rest of the brooms/shovels/rakes together and some heavy duty utility hooks to hang the ladder horizontally on the wall. Official "after" pictures to come next week!

To kick things off, we started with pulling out all the cleaning and gardening products. The owner really wanted a better way to store the lawn mower and other bulkier tools and we realized that we needed to shift the shelving around to allow "parking" those items underneath. The back corner shelving became the main gardening center with related tools and products. The next shelf over will store all other tools (some of which we still need to consolidate from what's inside the house).

 
 

In three short hours, we filled up my car with donations and some items set aside for the transfer station (including a dead lawn mower which the transfer station will recycle for free!).

After our storage accessories show up, we still have a little bit of work with some non-garage items that need to get incorporated back into the house (artwork, furniture). 

Meet the Minimalist: Heather Fisher

A couple months ago, I was chatting with my friend Heather over coffee. We were talking about how my business was going and she shared some very touching words with me about how much the work we had done together in her home had such an impact for her. With Heather, it never felt like work - we were problem-solving the space and customizing it for her, from how she moves through the space to how to best organize so she can enjoy her hobbies, work on projects, you name it.

I wanted to hear more from her because she has been on an incredible journey of downsizing her stuff over time. I think this relates to so many people out there and illustrates how this is an ongoing process, it’s not just “one and done” with a space.

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When did you begin simplifying?

I attempted right before grad school but things sort of spiraled out of control during that time. I had less and less time to take care of everything.

You came over to borrow something and I had mentioned the KonMari book. We started talking about how simplifying can look different for everyone. You were really enthusiastic about it and offered to help me.

I related organizing work to the body trust movement - what works for one person isn’t necessarily a fix for someone else. I think there’s been several areas of my life that I had these long-held beliefs that I should fit into a box that other people seem to fit into. Food, career, school - when I started looking at the body trust movement, I realized that it’s totally individual. What works for one body doesn’t work for another and this translates to so many other domains in life.

 

What was the first domain you explored in the body trust movement?

Emotional. There’s this sense of shame about certain things you are doing that don’t match what you see on TV and you don’t ask for help, you hide things from the people around you.

My anxiety and stress levels were increasing and it had control over me. I wasn’t having people over because I felt bad about my home. That was what really helped me allow you to help me - there was no judgment and you really wanted to help find the best vision for my home. It wasn’t something you just said to get buy-in. You were gracious when I wasn’t ready to get rid of things. It was really helpful, especially as a therapist, the respect you gave me of talking through something on whether to keep or toss something.


What were the key domains you were able to focus on through the simplifying process?

My kitchen! I love cooking and it is really a form of self-care for me, making good and healthy foods. Attacking the kitchen first was great. You helped me get to the places I couldn’t reach and pull everything out to review and assess.

This allowed me to start cooking again and it’s something I really enjoy and love doing.


Has paring down the physical stuff helped in other areas of your home?

Now when I come home from work, I don’t see 15 things that I have to take care of. It feels easier and the on-going projects I have are more manageable. Having assigned homes for things has made a huge difference.

 

Do you still struggle with household clutter?

There are still areas that I haven’t gotten to yet. I also struggle with empty, flat surfaces. When I get home and am in a hurry, it’s so ingrained in me to drop things on a surface before I run off. I have to intentionally go through each week and put things back. It’s definitely a form of self-care to make this time because I know that otherwise, it will stress me out when I have even less time to take care of it and it gets back into a vicious cycle that repeats itself.

 
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What have been some of the biggest changes as a result paring down and reviewing all your things?

Being able to get a dog! I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do that with the clutter I had before.

In grad school, I had ridiculously elevated stress and cortisol levels. My doctor suggested getting an animal to help with this. The last couple quarters of school were so crazy and this seemed like something I just couldn’t do … and I didn’t want to add on to my current stress load.

I started looking at foster sites, but I would look over my computer screen and notice all the clutter, even unsafe stuff that could fall on a dog. Once we started clearing things, I was able to take the next step of actually meeting dogs.

I met Jules who was an older dog at a shelter, rescued from a hoarder’s house, ironically. The shelter staff hadn’t seen him connect with an owner like this before. At the home inspection, I felt really comfortable because we had decluttered so much and I knew my home would pass.

My stress finally leveled out and having him as a companion was so wonderful. I had someone to come home to, to sit by my side when I studied.


What do you want others to know about the process/experience of simplifying?

In your work and in my work as a therapist, we are facilitating the change, and our mentality and techniques make all the difference.

With you coming into my home, which is very personal and vulnerable to someone, and feeling shameful about my space, you were not judgmental, you were gracious, you challenged things needed to be challenged and backed off when I wasn’t ready to go there.

You came to my house and offered the “how” - I didn’t have to think about that. We identified the kitchen as the most powerful place. Once we did one area, I saw that it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be, things moved faster than expected, and it was a lot easier to move on to another area.


What do you feel confident about doing on your own now?

I had done a lot of purging using the KonMari method but then needed help going through the things that I thought I wanted but didn’t really have a home for. Now there’s an assigned place for these things to go. Once I clear off a surface, I know where to put things and don’t have to reorganize a whole system of things.

I just remind myself when I put dishes in the sink and am getting ready to walk away that it only takes a minute to do - and I’ll be a lot happier about having done them.


What advice do you have for someone who wants to start minimizing/paring down?

You have to make space for things you want in your life - time to tidy up your room, make healthy food during the week, go for a walk and not feel guilty you aren’t doing something else. This is key for designing the life you want.

It all boils down to a worthiness issue. This is especially true of people working in service-based jobs. We are quick and eager to make and hold space for other people, but we are pretty reluctant and resistant to doing this for ourselves. It feels almost selfish to do so. This is the shift - I’m worthy to do this important work for myself.

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It truly was an honor to interview Heather and hear her perspective on how a kitchen clean-out could bring about so much positive change. I’ve seen Heather get excited about tidying (!) since we first began working together. She took all my tips to heart and was able to identify so much on her own as she began to clear other spaces over time.

If you want to get more insight into Heather’s work, check out this interview with her and follow along with her 365 grateful posts on Instagram. A few years ago, she realized  she had been waiting for big things happen while all these “small moments” were going unrecognized. Seeing another friend’s posts about the little things in the everyday, happening all around us was a good reminder to be intentional, taking time to photograph it and be grateful.

 

Transformation Tuesday: Furnishing a Home

October has flown by and I have loved every minute of it! I spent the majority of this month on an interesting, non-traditional project - furnishing a home entirely from scratch! As a professional organizer, I don't often shop (and encourage clients to use what they have at home as much as possible) and this was the ultimate shopping project.

I didn't guide decisions around clearing clutter or haul donations off to Goodwill; instead, I was researching what was needed to furnish a space with all the basic necessities, put my scheduling and logistics skills to work, and got to try my hand at some light interior design.

This project also gave me the opportunity to set up the pantry, closets, and general storage organization tools in place to make everything easy to find and streamlined.

 
 

I learned a lot during this project, namely that ordering furniture generally takes 2-4 weeks so it's best to shop local and find products in store to schedule a preferred delivery date. I added white glove service for assembly/removal of any packaging for the items. I also realized that the lists I created are super helpful if you are moving into a space after high school/college, divvying up items with a roommate when you plan to move other places, or are setting up an Airbnb with all the basics to create a comfortable space for guests.

This was fun for me to see the transformation from a clear space to having some nice pieces to create a comfortable living room. Over time, they'll be able to collect art, add pictures to the walls, etc.

I hope to find more projects like this because it tested my problem-solving skills while allowing me to get creative in different ways from my usual projects.

 

 

Transformation Tuesday: Building a Capsule Wardrobe for Fall

Fall has arrived which means I need to swap out my tank tops and sundresses for navy knits, booties, and cozy layers!

Ever since I started Project 333 to create a seasonal wardrobe, I can grab items from my closet without having to determine what "matches" or worry if I have something dressy enough to wear for an event. Having fewer options takes away so much of the guesswork of how to dress plus I'm always wearing things that fit me well, are in good condition, and are pieces that I love!

So, back to my fall capsule ... I'm so excited to bust out my shoes and start wearing socks again, but realized that three pairs need some TLC. I'm taking them to my favorite shoe repair shop downtown on errands tomorrow to get them re-soled and give them new life to carry me through this season.

 
 

 

This fall, I whittled my wardrobe down to about 44 items (I mentioned in a previous post how I don't feel the need to get down to the suggested 33 anymore) and I'm so excited for layers! I was also able to let go of a few items - a Stitch Fix top that needs a long camisole underneath to wear with leggings ... but I didn't want to buy something new in order to feel comfortable in this piece) so off to Goodwill it goes! I also noticed two tops and a pair of jeans that I didn't wear or had a grease stain (boo!) but that I wanted to keep. I decided to launder these and pack into the emergency go bag that I'm putting together (more on this later).

I'm pretty pleased with the final closet of options. This also gave me a chance to do a quick Swiffer in my closet to catch up all the dust bunnies and cleared a few small items out that needed a better home.

I think the one thing I'm missing for fall/winter is a nicer lined coat. Something that's good for rain or (the threat of) snow, that's warm, but still has clean lines/chic. I haven't bought any new clothes since my trip to Hong Kong back in January (aside from some shoes on a recent jaunt down to Portland). If you have suggestions for great coats, I'd love to hear them!

Transformation Tuesday #63: Entry Way Closet

As a Seattle-area professional organizer, I love getting to travel to client homes, meet new people, and learn about what their organizing challenges are. I recently got the opportunity to work with Julie - she has a gorgeous home with some space limitations.

She and her family are very creative and have found ways to modify and make things work, but she wanted some extra help to get the entry way space more functional. She had already done some purging around the house and this space was deemed "the black hole" - I think we all can relate! I have a desk as an entry way table with a mail sorter, sunglasses holder, and small cabinet underneath. I know all about how these spaces can attract clutter.

We used the living room as our staging/reviewing space to see what was in the closet. We had the typical coats, hats, and scarves along with a tool box, vacuum, gift wrap, and some other miscellaneous items. I think its this last group that we all really struggle with because it's a random thing that usually doesn't have a designated home so it winds up in whatever dumping zone (hall closet, garage, etc).

After sorting through, we were able to clear out some pretty big items like extra backpacks and even a vacuum! With some extra breathing room in this space, her family can grab what they need with ease.

 
 

Check out the floor space - now visible - in the "after" photo! 

Transformation Tuesday #62: Garage Revamp

Tired of garages yet? Nope, neither am I! I had the pleasure of working with the owner of the mom cave again, and this time her husband joined our efforts in revamping and reworking their garage. We did a walk-through together to review the goals and focus on how we could divide up tasks for the big sprucing day.

They are an outdoorsy family with well-organized gear for hiking, backpacking, and the like. They want to better utilize the garage shelving for backstock of household items like paper goods, party supplies, gift wrap, etc along with a rotation of items for their children that are more seasonal or that they will grow into. 

We started with the kids' stuff and did the usual sort/purge, boxing items back up into plastic tubs. We moved these to a corner of the garage so we could keep the space open for our next round of sorting with household items. These didn't take up hardly any space at all on the shelves which is great to have a little bit of open space to add to/shift items around. We continued this process with the outdoor gear and the mom's work supplies (extension of mom cave items that are seasonal Montessori supplies and outdoor toys/games). 

 
 

Items from each main category were put back onto the same shelving unit so it would be easy for anyone walking into the garage to identify what's what (and of course, LABELS!). We filled up my car with donations and created a much more family-friendly space, where they can grab what they need and know exactly where to put it back. 

It was a super fun morning working with this couple. They were very excited to reclaim this space, making packing up the summer items and preparing for fall a little bit easier!