My One Organized Mama perspective is unique in the professional organizing world.

First, I’m not a natural born organizer and have had seasons in my life where I was very disorganized. If this is where you are….I’ve been in your shoes. I had to learn how to get organized through some hard-knock-life-situations.

Secondly, for years I have worked in the trenches of home organization. I have held the hands of someone who recently lost a loved one, had to move quickly because of a divorce, or who simply couldn’t face those boxes in the garage alone.

Organization isn’t always about neat little drawers.

There is a very difficult emotional side that few in the industry acknowledge either because organization just comes naturally to them or they aren’t aware because they haven’t actually worked in the profession.

The heart-wrenching emotional side of getting through the clutter.

First, I’ll share a very personal story about my own journey.

The boxes.

I was a military spouse who moved eight times in thirteen years. I certainly had moments where I realized how much I loved to organize. From coordinating overseas moves to making tiny temporary housing quarters cozy for our family.

I really enjoyed the challenge of making our home wherever the military sent us.

For those unfamiliar with how the moving process works for military families (or at least how it worked back in my day). Once you receive a new assignment the military sends a moving company to pack your household goods and ship them to your new duty station. You can certainly choose to do it on your own but I took full advantage of the help and allowed the professionals to do it for us.

Once you’ve arrived in your new home those boxes get delivered and quite honestly I never opened all of them because the clock was already ticking and I knew we had less than 24 months in our new abode so why completely unpack only to pack it up again so soon. (That was my thought process anyway…).

As you can imagine those boxes grew in exponential volume over thirteen years!!

As life happens, my ex and I decided to end our marriage and file for divorce. I found a two-bedroom apartment for the kids and I and awaited my last delivery of boxes from the military movers.

The shipment arrived and let me tell you…the amount of boxes that were delivered completely overtook and dwarfed my little apartment. I remember the movers chuckling and saying, “good luck” with a not-so-encouraging-tone when they left. The haul was indescribable. Keep in mind, the military isn’t going to divide the boxes up for us so they were ALL delivered to my apartment and it was up to me to then decide who gets what. Think about it….I was opening boxes that were packed 5, 10+ years earlier when my life was completely different. Now I had a full-time job, two kiddos that I was nurturing through a divorce, learning a new city, AND trying to deal with my own pain.

I had no idea how or where to start. My apartment looked how I felt on the inside. A total and complete mess.

Eventually, I had to start somewhere. My kids needed their stuff, I needed to cook, and our new life needed to be lived. So I began opening one box at a time. With each box opened,15% of the stuff had a home and the other 85% was put into a pile until I could figure out what to do with it. That’s what my life was like for MONTHS. The kids and I survived life surrounded by piles of stuff that I had no idea what to do with or how to handle. I would have been a great candidate for the show Hoarders.

I started to research, “How to get organized” and back then there wasn’t the KonMari method or the explosion of information there is now. I discovered a few tips that made sense and started creating my own process of going through one box/pile at a time. I made a promise that I would find a place for every item inside that box and if I couldn’t it had to go to my ex or be donated.

This is where Step 1: Declutter & Sort was born. I started KEEP, TRASH, DONATE, SHRED. I used my new system on one box and pile at a time.

It was truly one of the most emotionally difficult projects I have ever done. I cried, I laid on the ground in a catatonic state, I laughed, I “gave up” a thousand times, I got super motivated and worked like a maniac until 2 am, I got really pissed off, I found every excuse and distraction to not go through those piles, I drank a lot of wine, cried some more, and eventually got through it all.

If you have boxes, piles, or a life-changing situation I know from personal experience that it is not easy.

This is where the mess gets ugly before it gets better.

Going through those boxes and piles forced me to deal with closing previous chapters of my life and gave me hope on creating new ones. It was incredibly healing to go through the artifacts of my life.

It didn’t take away the pain that my divorce caused. It did make me realize I was stronger than I had realized.

This is the side of organizing that few are sharing but it is the reality in 99% of the homes I’ve been in and clients I’ve worked with. It is a painful and stressful process decluttering and dealing with those boxes and piles. I don’t care who you are, or what your situation is.

Most importantly I don’t want you to have the shame that I did. I want to empower you to have the courage to start wherever you are without judging yourself or allowing the judgment of others derail you.

If you find yourself in a similar situation no matter what the circumstances were to get you there it’s time to begin now.

First, get some sorting signs. (I still use these to this day with each and every client.) I have some to download and print for free. Click here to get yours. 

I want you to find ONE pile, box, drawer, or shelf to begin with.

Set out your sorting zones: KEEP, TRASH, DONATE, SHRED, RECYCLE.

Grab a couple of trash bags for your TRASH and DONATE piles and begin by taking ONE item at a time and place it in one of your sorting zones.

If the item is a KEEP then simply place it in KEEP until you’ve placed every item in your space into one of the sorting zones. Do NOT leave to put an item away…..it’s important to stay put and place it in your KEEP zone. Stay with me and trust the process.

Now, once that box, drawer, or shelf is empty I want you to bag and take out the TRASH and RECYCLE. I want you to take the DONATIONS to your car and place them on your front seat so that you will take them to a donation center. For SHRED I want you to put those items in your shredder. If you don’t have one I want you to tear the paper into tiny pieces and throw them away. You’re not the CIA so no one is going to take the time to dig through your trash and piece together your bank statement from 1992.

Now, for that KEEP zone. I want you to put EVERY SINGLE ITEM away. If you don’t have a place or space for it then you need to ask yourself why you’re keeping it.

Is it for sentimental reasons? Then make a home for it.

Don’t overthink this. Just find every item that is important to you a home in your home. It doesn’t matter where it is. A temporary home is fine until you find or create it’s a permanent one.

Another quick tip is to group all like-items together. This will help you find a home for everything and find it again when it’s time to use it.
Now I want you to look at that clean shelf, drawer, or empty box and literally tell yourself, “Good Job!”

You’ve done it and you can do more but only one at a time.

Why?

Because I want you to give yourself time to deal with the items that trigger memories and emotions that you’ve been hiding from.

  • The fear of not being able to afford this again.
  • The pain that your baby once played with this and now they’re grown.
  • The sadness that you felt so loved when you bought this and now that love is gone.
  • The embarrassment that you once could fit into this but now you can’t.

Give yourself a moment with each item and the emotion it brings then make a decision on where that item belongs. Give it a home or give it to someone who will appreciate it in their own home.

Schedule one area at a time a few times a month.

You’ll be surprised at how much progress you will make!

Lastly, let me give a shout-out to my fellow professional organizers who are in the trenches of working with clients and would love to have the time to blog, dream of having their work recognized in a national magazine, or wish they had the time to post on their Instagram business page to build a huge following. These are the unsung heroes running businesses and they are working through the tough stuff with their clients. Their time is limited because they are wearing the many hats that entrepreneurs do and helping others live a more organized life. They rarely get the recognition they deserve so I want you to know that I see you and I’ve been in those trenches with you! You are doing GREAT work!!

If you find yourself in those tough life situations remember there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes you just need to clear the clutter so that you can see it.

I invite you to share this with someone who could use a little encouragement in their journey.

Best,
Janel
One Organized Mama