Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Other Side of Organized

I'm in the middle of the book The Other Side of Organized by Linda Samuels. I heard about on professional organizer Monica Ricci's blog, and ordered it from Amazon recently as I wasn't able to get it from my library system. The slim book is organized by season and its subtitle is Finding Balance Between Chaos and Perfection. It differs from other books about organizing in that it doesn't focus on lots of concrete tips and specific ways to get organized, rather the author takes you on a journey about the different things being organized means.

A couple of things have stood out at me so far. One was about change. Samuels writes about her childhood being very stable and living in the same house for her entire life until she went away to college. She feels that this might be one reasons she says she has to work hard toward being flexible and embracing change instead of shying away from it.

I've been thinking a lot about how the things we see and do in childhood affect us as adults. People often ask me how I decided to be a professional organizer, and as part of the story I tell them that I have always been naturally disposed to being organized. This is true. I wasn't obsessive or extraordinarily neat, but I had a system for things and I was content when I had the clothes I wanted to wear to school laid out the night before, when I had my homework assignments all written out in a to-do list and every week I'd spend part of Sunday afternoon straightening my room and getting ready for the week ahead.

We moved every four or five years when I was growing up, sometimes more often. I think one gets used to saying goodbye to a space one has loved because you learn that you find different things to love about the new space you will inhabit. It makes you less afraid of change when you are exposed to it and it doesn't turn out badly at all.

Similarly, my mother never used the words "clutter clearing" or "purging," but every year or so we'd gather all the stuff we were no longer using or loved, from toys and clothes to artwork and furniture, and put it all outside for a garage sale. By the end of the day my mom would sell a book for 10 cents just to not have to bring it back inside the house! It was our version of clutter clearing and I always looked forward to it. It's funny to look back and realize the feeling of letting go, of renewal and finding the best in a changing situation is something I get to help people find through my professional life now.

My father is a different type, one who buys junk at garage sales and keeps empty (clean) peanut butter jars to store all his gnarly old screws he's picked up over the years, just in case he needs them someday. I feel lucky that I didn't inherit that inclination, but also glad that I've learned compassion for people who think like him.

Lelah Baker-Rabe is a Los Angeles-based professional organizer. To discuss your organizing needs, call her at 818.269.6671 or email

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