Fay Wolf / New Order: Ask Me Anything Answers 2018
Thanks to everyone who asked questions. Feel free to print out anything that resonates here, as this webpage may disappear down the line... Happy decluttering! xx FW
NL from Missouri asked:
How can I dig out? I have years of accumulated clutter including memory clutter and just stuff plus things from my parents home. I feel overwhelmed. Is it hopeless?
Not hopeless! Not even close. ...How can you dig out? Bit by bit. And the hardest part is always just to START. The first question to answer truthfully for yourself is: ‘What have I already tried?’ Really be honest with yourself about what steps you’ve already taken, what worked, what didn’t, and how that process made you feel. What are you WILLING to try, or try again? What are you willing to BELIEVE is possible? I've seen incredible transformations and it may take a very long time, but as long as you consistently do SOMETHING, you will start to see a change. It takes faith, patience, and small, imperfect steps. If you haven't already, I invite you to read Chapters 1 and 2 of my book New Order. (Available at many libraries if not in your budget.) And even if you allot 10 minutes a day, or 2 hours on a weekend afternoon, a little better will be... a little better, yes? As far as memory clutter, or memorabilia, ask yourself as you dig through: are there SEVERAL items that all remind you of the same memory or time period? Are you able to pick 2-3 things instead of the 25 you might still have? Are there things you can take photos of -- especially things that belonged to your parents -- that would bring you an equal amount of joy to see in the form of a beautiful frame on a wall (or even a digital photo album) instead of taking up so much square footage in your home? And if you're saying, "I couldn't possibly part with that" then you must remember how overwhelmed you're feeling right now. Which is worth more to you? The inanimate thing or your peace of mind? You simply cannot have it both ways. But the road will be imperfect -- let it. You do not have to give up everything. While you are decluttering, you can have a Maybe pile, in order to keep the process moving. (You can revisit the Maybe pile later in the day.) Lastly, you can ask for help. No shame in that. If you have it in your budget to hire a local professional organizer--even for a few sessions--then of course their expertise and accountability can help considerably. Visit napo.net to search for local organizers--or virtual ones who can Skype with you. You might also ask a friend to sit with you for a few hours while you attempt to make a change. Even if they don’t physically dig in with you, the presence alone of another person can provide accountability and help dissipate the feeling of hopelessness. Little by little, harness that power to dig yourself out. With you in spirit!
Britta from Los Angeles, CA asked:
My closets are full of storage in the form of big rubbermaid bins. My old historic house doesn’t have much storage so this works and keeps things organized and out of sight but it is impossible to get anything back out again because they’re heavy and hard to get to the bottom of a stack of bins. Should I just get rid of stuff if the very idea of getting it out of my closet is painful?
No more pain! How many bins are we talkin? What's INSIDE OF the bins? Your instincts about the bin size are correct: those huge bins are rarely good for storing anything other than larger items or really specific categories, e.g. holiday decorations, blankets. If there are multiple categories in there that you need to regularly access, then it's going to be a challenge. And if there are multiple categories in LOTS of bins period, chances are you don't need 80% of that stuff. So--regardless of what you've tried before, I want you to go in and declutter AGAIN. One bin at a time, in small amounts of time if your schedule feels tight. (As I’ve suggested to other readers, Chapters 1 & 2 of New Order explain precisely how to do this. If you don't own or want to, grab it from the library.) The question is not simply to chuck it all without looking at it. It's not all or nothing. But be brutal about what you NEED in your life. Only AFTER you've decided what out of these things you absolutely must keep, then you can decide on better ways of storing. What's your wall space like? Are you able to add more shelving and vertical storage elsewhere? Or in place of the bins? (Think really cheap Ikea shelving.) Even smaller stacking bins or bankers boxes might be preferable, keeping the most accessed items towards the front or top. Regardless of which type of storage you end up with, I want you to label everything as specifically as possible. Feeling any resistance here? Push through it, start that decluttering (or decluttering do-over), and then gleefully go from there. Bye bye, impossible bins.
How would you recommend setting up a decluttering business? I do lots of freebie work but have yet to figure out how to start getting paid to do it despite taking professional training and being good at it.
I’m so excited for you. The great news is there's not much to figure out. Starting to get paid is often as easy as ASKING to get paid. You make the rules--and it’s time. For any current freebie clients who would continue to engage your services, I suggest notifying them and saying that you have decided to open the doors of your business and will be charging X/hour effective immediately -- or the 1st of the following month or whatever. If you have already given them your time for free, you owe them nothing else but a kind, clear notification of this. But if you really feel you need to, you can even say: I'm offering one more 2-hour session free of charge, which would need to be scheduled by X date. You can make this language in your own voice, but people will APPRECIATE the professionalism, the honesty, the clarity, and they'll be EXCITED for you to spread your wings. Plus, if you've given them great value, which I'm sure you have, they will naturally want to spread the word to their friends. As far as the three next steps after that: 1. look into joining NAPO or at least attend a few meetings of local or virtual chapter...this organization and network of folks will help guide you! 2. send out a mass email to everyone you know (with no apology) announcing your business and the way it works -- and offer a coupon or discount for the first session or session package 3. get some business cards printed with an easy-to-type email address (nothing too long or hard to remember) and start handing them out and leaving them around town. (Don't print too many because as your business blossoms, things will change -- like if you don't have the website up yet, for instance, and later you’ll need to add the site address to the biz cards.) You have to start somewhere and you cannot wait for it all to be perfect to get yourself out there. But these things can legitimize you immediately. And it’s all scary. And there’ll be missteps. And it’ll be awesome too.
With my work schedule I have a hard time keeping things clean and organized. I love organizing/decluttering but it seems like it just gets messy again and then I don't necessarily have the energy to do a big organization.
I hear ya. I, of course, love decluttering too. But it is SO challenging to find the time to do the huge projects. Do you have the energy to do some small steps instead? Have you tried to take 10 minutes to whip up a to-do list of bitesize (or broken-down) decluttering/organizing tasks? Are you crystal clear on what you DESIRE from each space? Do some quick visioning of what you WISH each space could look like and then do a written “brain dump” of what you think the tasks would be to get there. You might also come up potential rules, e.g. ‘I don't want papers EVER to end up on the kitchen counter.’ For the areas you feel get messy again, have you created those types of rules in the past? And if so, have you given the category of thing another clear place to land? For instance, if you don’t want incoming paper to land on the kitchen counter, have you hung up a paper tray on the wall for them to land instead? Things also tend to get messy again for two reasons: a) we're bringing more stuff in the house and haven't stopped buying; b) it's just real life, and even decluttered houses look messy when things are being used. Last point: I always find that there are so many things that don't take as long as I think. Decluttering one kitchen cabinet; clearing off the bedside tables and throwing some books in a donation box; attaching some of those sticky hooks to the bedroom wall for all the scattered clothes. All those things take 5-15 minutes each. So the question changes from this huge HOW DO I GET IT ALL DONE? to these teeny tiny questions of ‘What specifically do I want to get done and what's priority?’, ‘How much can I break it down?’, and ‘When can I fit in 5-20 minutes at a time to take a crack at it?’ ...So do the brain dump/visioning/task list, get clear on the 'rules' of your space, and embrace that ‘Small Steps’ mantra throughout. Action + Imperfection!
Mi-Ri from Sherman Oaks, CA asked:
What does your morning (or evening) daily routine look like when you've decided to incorporate learning a new skill/tool/hobby? I feel like every time I try to add something new, it throws my whole schedule out of whack! Thank you!
I hear ya! So I feel like 99 times out of 100, incorporating something new has to throw the schedule out of whack. You've made a shift, so something else has to shift to make up for it. Therefore, I have found that the first thing to do to combat the feeling that my schedule is going out of whack is to acknowledge that it will always be changing...to sink in to that mindset shift. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attempt to plan out and stick to our routines--if I didn’t have a plan, nothing would get done. But you gotta work with your life like a puzzle sometimes. My morning routine ideally includes songwriting 5 times a week. But say I've recently decided I want to work out 2 times a week. Something's gotta give here. Do I forgo songwriting those other two days? Do I change the schedule so it’s 15 minutes of songwriting and 15 minutes on a treadmill out of a 30 minutes time slot? Do I try it a few different ways until I find a groove? Sure, all of those are options. You may find a groove for a few months and then your heart needs something else and it’ll change again. The seasons may change and your body feels differently. Now of course, there’s something to be said for discipline and the continued pursuit of a new skill. How non-negotiable is it to add to your routine? Is there anything else in your routine that you’re not as passionate about anymore that can go? (Sometimes our old routines are so ingrained that we can be blind to our loss of passion or necessity for something else.) Also -- is there another chunk of time that’s not daily, but weekly, where you can carve out a few hours and add it in there? Sometimes it feels more overwhelming at first to find a longer window to work on something. But depending on your schedule, it might actually be easier to give it its own dedicated slot once a week instead of each day. So try different things... and know that any way you slice it: if you’re adding something new, something old may suffer. And that will have to be okay. Rejoice in the fact that you’re someone who learns new skills and is trying to do anything at all with this one, glorious life. Cheers.
Melissa from the USA asked:
I am a creative person and I'm fortunate to have a studio! However, there's so many tools that I keep and use. How do I go about decluttering my studio when I use so much paper, paper trimmers, scissors, washi tape, stamps, inks, rulers, etc.?
Amazing that you have a studio. Amen to that. If we were working one-on-one, I’d surely ask you the following in order to dig deeper: What kind of art do you make? How big is your studio? Are you also storing finished work there? When's the last time you tried decluttering the studio? Were you able to purge anything at all? Are you fairly confident that each and every tool, trimmer, set of stamps, etc. are ones that you'll continue to use? Aside from tools and supplies, is there ANYTHING else being stored in the studio? What type of storage are you currently using? I’d be curious about the specifics on things like shelves, bins, drawers, etc. With the types of items you’ve listed, I’d be sure to take full advantage of vertical space. Simple pegboards make my heart flutter, allowing such easy access and visual beauty. And now there are so many modular products as well that piggyback off of the pegboard idea. Any less-used items or absolutely-necessary overflow would be stored higher up and perhaps require a ladder/stool to access. I know as a fellow creator that sometimes you just never know what you'll be creating and what you'll use, but are there any tools or materials you've held on to for years because you think you might do a project with them, but you just...haven't? If that rings true, I'd suggest one of two things: 1) a time limit on using those tools/materials; or else donation/discarding by the deadline b) immediate donation/discarding. And if at the end of the day, you’ve found that you truly use everything all the time, then simply see if there are any doubles or high quantities that you can cut down. (e.g. keep two reams of paper instead of five, keep three extra specific-type-of-ink instead of seven, etc.). Happy creating.
I would like advice on what I will call personal and family memorabilia, especially letters from my late father and from friends from when we used to write letters; unattractive but handmade quilts made by I don't know which relative; my scrapbooks from childhood, and photos, so many photos. This last is a struggle for me -- what are your clients doing with hard copy photos? Sending them to legacy box? There are so many I don't think I can go through them all. I would like to follow your guide of "display it if you are going to keep it," but am having trouble. I have made some progress getting rid of childhood things, much of my grandmother's sheet music (I kept some even though I do not play an instrument), and family dishes. I will admit to keeping some things that make me a little sad, but the people attached to them were important, including "the younger me" if that is not too weird to read. I am 53, unmarried, have no children, and am not saving these things for anyone else. A basement room (I am lucky to have one) where I could set up my sewing machine -- and just live my life without passing clutter on my way to the laundry -- is at stake. Thank you for the messages you send. I like your gentle but firm emails and read every one.
Firstly, congrats on the progress you’ve made. And kudos for acknowledging that. So important to pat ourselves on the backs and remind ourselves it’s all possible. Also, I support and understand keeping a small amount of certain categories if you’ve gotten rid of most of it (i.e. your grandmother’s sheet music). As you may have heard me say in the past, I err on the side of keeping some letters and scrapbooks that are truly meaningful. I have held on to letters from loved ones, some old childhood papers, and even a few items of clothing that I don’t care to part with. So I am not saying to let it ALL go. But when it’s impeding on that joy, you gotta be brutal. So the first thing that jumps out at me is that the quilts are a great candidate for donation. Two things you say make it pretty clear you don’t need them: 1) they’re unattractive, and 2) you don’t know who made them! So even though there’s a feeling a family attached to them, it’s not a specific enough connection AND they’re not beautiful to you. So if there are any other items you own that have the same traits--the connection with the person is vague and/or the actual items themselves are not incredibly special to you--then those can go, too. Secondly--can you use the family dishes? Do you use them? Can you replace your current set with them? Even if they’re really “nice” and feel like they shouldn’t be used everyday…I say, why not? Thirdly--for the things that make you sad--can you take photographs of the items instead and start a digital album of memorabilia? Maybe not for everything, but for those things you maybe don’t need to bump into and bring up those feelings? (We could go deeper here and get into why those items make you feel sad, but I know it could be myriad reasons.) I know it may not be easy to say goodbye to things, and it may take a lot of time. But great news: you’ve got several decades of life yet to live and new chapters to discover...so you have the time! And how wonderful it is that you have the awareness of what is at stake. You acknowledge your luckiness and gratitude at having a basement room that is full of possibilities. So in order to access the joy of it, your only option is to decrease the amount of this memorabilia. Or at least keep engaging with it. There are also ways to make it better and relieve some of the stress without having to go through every last thing. Simply changing the way it’s stored can make a vast improvement and open up a lot of space. For example: switching from mismatched dusty boxes spread out on a floor to airtight, labeled bins set up on a shelving unit can make such a difference! So if something like that rings true and it’s in your budget to upgrade the storage itself, it’s okay to do so. I don’t think that’s wasted time or money if the quantity is overwhelming and it’s unrealistic to go through every box quickly. And then when you are decluttering each box, they’ll be easier to grab. Now, as for photos: yes, they are a doozy. I won’t sugarcoat it. I am not a photo organizing expert and suggest going to appo.org to find tips and blogs of those who are. But I will say for myself, I’ve made broad strokes and done upgrades to storage without going through each and every photo. I used to have cardboard boxes, shoeboxes, and other odd-size falling-apart containers storing photos. I finally dumped them all into transparent bins with great-fitting lids and labeled them very generally (“Family Photos pre-1970”, “Friends & College”, etc.). My new bins aren’t even archive-safe, even though they ideally should be. But I’ll get there on the next round. Because I don’t work with photos a lot with clients, it’s been a long time since I’ve recommended places that digitize. It's a great idea and I know some are happy with that service. As far as I know, you still have to do some basic organization before sending photos off and it can be pricey. But whether it’s taking action to eventually digitize, or simply making clear sorting piles, or taking a few trips to the donation center this month, I can promise that anything you do is going to be worth it. There's joy in the attempts! Thank you for being a faithful reader. Godspeed.
Barbara from Southern Wisconsin asked:
How to organize clothes in a 35" wide, 30" depth. 8' high clothes closet? You guessed it- we have a 100 year old bungalow.
Ah yes, a bungalow that is surely adorable--but not equipped with sensible storage. So first things first: always declutter like your life depends on it. When’s the last time you made brutal decisions about each and every piece? Is everything in there an absolute keeper? (Or at least 90% of it?) Now: even with massive decluttering, there’s still a reality to face if you have a small or awkward space. Sometimes there’s simply not enough room. Unless… you can get really creative! Feel free to reply and let me know the height of the current closet rod (if one exists), and if there’s a shelf above it. And what’s happening on the floor of the closet? A laundry bin? Room for any stacking bins or perhaps a freestanding shoe rack? Can you hang shelves or hooks outside the closet on nearby walls? What about an overdoor shoe holder that could store underwear, socks, scarves, ties, toiletries, you name it. Look around your entire bungalow... Where else have you tried to store clothing? Could you install a closet rod in the corner of a room? (Here a visual example of that.) Is there space for a freestanding wardrobe or garment rack somewhere in your home? Sets of drawers? Perhaps a simple Ikea bookshelf where clothes live in folded form? (Product purchases aren’t always necessary, but can really help after you know exactly what you have.) Could you get even more creative and store overflow clothes in kitchen or hall cabinets? (I know! It’s odd. But there are no rules!) As for the space inside the closet you do have, it really depends on what type of items need to live there. Dresses can store differently than t-shirts can store differently than hats. But hopefully some of these alt ideas can get you thinking. I’d love to know what you’ve tried and if any of this stuff ends up working.
Jennifer from Cape Town, South Africa asked:
I'm struggling to find the balance between getting things out of the house and selling them (which means they're there longer). We could really use any extra cash we get, but I wonder if it's really worth my time. We don't have lots of options like consignment here, so everything has to be sold on Facebook or Gumtree (like Craigslist) and it's a pain, but again, we could really use the cash. Which should I prioritize?!
I totally hear this struggle. Now: you say you wonder if it's worth your time. One of my questions back to you would be: How much is your time worth? Have you ever put a dollar amount on your time, i.e. what you usually make in an hour, or what kind of money the work you do could generate from an hour's work? You can also feel out that answer energetically or creatively. For example: is it worth more to me to sell these items that will make, say, $150, OR spend that same amount of time finally doing that project I’ve been putting off for years that will bring me more joy than $150 ever could? The formulas may not feel perfect, but whatever you decide is true for you--is true. For instance, if you decide your time is worth $100/hour, and you estimate it would take 3 hours of your cumulative time for the entire process of selling five items for which you could easily make $600 (which is double that), then perhaps it's worth it. So that's one way of looking at it and making a quick decision. Now of course I don't know your exact financial situation, but I have certainly been in life chapters of needing any extra cash I can get. But if you're not truly desperate for the money, then I might suggest letting go and starting fresh--and redirecting that energy toward the possibilities of what can come next. All this said, there's probably a little voice in your head that already knows whether this is worth it or not. If you'd feel immense relief just to get this stuff out of your life and move on, do it. If your family's well-being depends on these dollars, then make the selling project a top priority every day until it's done. First step of that? Create a detailed to-do list of each small step (taking photos in good light, uploading photos, writing descriptions, setting prices, etc. etc.), and schedule specific times in your calendar over the next month to attack each of those steps. Enlist a friend who will hold you accountable for the next 30 days. After that 30-day mark, your time's up either way. Anything left gets donated. ... There's no perfect solution to this. So choose an imperfect one. And do it wholeheartedly.
Besides referrals how do you attract more clients? (this question from a relatively shy organizer who doesn't like public speaking)
My first bit of advice would be to answer the following questions for yourself, in writing: What are you doing now? What have you already tried? How far did you get in those tries? Get really specific. For instance, if you left business cards at coffee shops, record how many shops and how often you went back to replenish the cards. Make sure you have a tracking system so you can eventually see what’s worth your time and what isn’t. When you launched your business, did you send out an excitement-filled mass email to everyone you know announcing your new venture? Did you offer a discount code for people to use? Did that discount code have a deadline to it? (Urgency works really well.) Have you gotten a second pair of eyes on your website to make sure that when people do find you they have a clear and inviting path to hiring you? Have you considered enlisting a marketing expert to run FB ads that target your ideal client in your location? Do you send regular emails to an email list and have an easy opt-in on your website? Have you joined NAPO and started connecting with other organizers? (If you don't live near a chapter, there's also a virtual chapter.) Are you a member of a local chamber of commerce or other membership group where you can position yourself as the expert in your field? If you don’t like public speaking, that’s totally cool. Alternatively, would you feel comfortable creating video or audio content from the comfort of your own home that you might share with an online audience or with newsletter subscribers? All of these questions reflect some of the many ways you can get clients to come a-knocking. Personally, word-of-mouth has been my #1 over the years. But that was only after I spread the word by doing a lot of the aforementioned things. Whatever you choose to try, know that you’ll likely have to invest some money and a lot of time in finding what works for you. Some names to Google for additional marketing know-how: Marie Forleo, Amy Porterfield, Fabienne Fredrickson. They offer a ton of free, valuable content. I also adore Paul Jarvis as a resource for all freelancers, and his course is recommended at the end of my current newsletter. Best of luck!
Cara from Brooklyn, New York asked:
Despite my initial inclinations to ‘rebel’ against structure, I actually thrive with it as a freelancer. After decluttering my space and giving ‘homes’ to my most treasured items; I am now applying this concept to my time and money as well, so that I can focus on the most important things in my life! There has indeed been a learning curve with creating my own time structures and budgeting (though YNAB helps a lot, thanks to your suggestion!). I just read a book The Power of When about chronotypes and our biological rhythms. Dr. Breus is a strong proponent for waking/sleeping and eating at the same times each day. I love this concept and the changes I have been able to adopt have improved my situation so much! But, that being said, the life of a freelancer can still be pretty amorphous at times, and trying to have ‘set times’ without a 9-5 is proving a bit of a challenge. Do you have set times of the day that you do certain things (i.e. songwriting)? How do you setup your daily schedule as a fellow freelancer who juggles different creative avenues?
Hurray for structure! And congrats on making changes that are helping. The first thing I'll say is that my schedule is always changing. Indeed, the freelancer's life. But setting up the structure is what helps me the most--even when I deviate from it. Lately what works for me the most is a weekly schedule by day: assigning certain things to certain days--and then trying not to worry about the things that aren’t assigned to that day. (I’m hoping Dr. Breus would approve.) For example: Songwriting on Mondays, Clients on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Admin on Fridays, etc. Now again, this doesn’t always work out. But if I had zero structure in place, I’d go off the deep end. Two things that also help tremendously are my Sunday Policy and my Business Hours Policy. My Sunday Policy: No clients on Sundays. Never, ever. So even if I have to move around some puzzle pieces during the rest of the week, I give myself Sundays free from any in-person obligations. (For some, ‘No Sundays’ may sound like a no-brainer. We all need a day of rest, right? But I see SO many freelancers who are “open for business” 24 hours a day 7 days a week, and it’s such a recipe for burnout.) My Business Hours Policy: Communication (that is non-time-sensitive) gets replied to M-F 8-6. Again, this may seem normal for some. But for many creatives / freelancers, we’re responding to texts, emails, social media comments, etc. at all hours. (You wouldn’t expect to reach a dentist’s office at 9pm, so why the heck should you be able to reach me?) Keeping these policies in place allow me to feel freer when switching things around and deciding when to do certain other things at specific times. More examples of the kinds of things to assign to certain days of the week: Grocery shopping on Thursday evenings, Dance Class on Tuesdays, Laundry on Fridays, Prospective Client Calls on Tuesday and Thursday mornings only, etc. etc. ... So you create the structure around the recurring tasks, and then roll with punches when needed. If a new three-month project means that Grocery Day has to switch to a different day, fine. Or maybe for that three months you pay to have your groceries delivered, because you're just too underwater. In the same way David Allen suggests a weekly review of your to-do list, a regular review of your schedule is a related goal. Change will always happen. But laying that groundwork can allow for a little less confusion and a little more relief. Hope this helps and is something worth attempting for you.
Beth from outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania asked:
How do I keep it from coming back? It always does, no matter what!
On the one hand, it’s supposed to come back. (Sorry!) We can declutter the crap out of a clothes closet, for instance, but we still might have the habit of throwing our clothes in various piles around the house. We may give our mail pile a stellar look-through, but we’re still going to get more mail every day. So regardless of the next points I make, I think it's a daily practice to accept that life keeps going and going in these ways... There will always be another load of laundry. There will always be another surface to declutter. (And what relief in this acceptance!) Now. On the other hand, using those same examples… if you declutter a clothes closet, choose homes for the items you're keeping, and then you’re pretty good at the practice of putting things away, and it still feels like it’s all “coming back”, then I’d be really keen on defining your "no matter what". I’d love to know what you’ve tried thus far. How deeply have you decluttered? How brutal have you been with donations? Can you go even further? Have you curbed your shopping habits? Accepted gifts you don’t really need? Have you unsubscribed from paper mail? Do you have a trusted budget set up? (That will bring you face-to-face with any spending that results in more “stuff.”) I know: this can feel like a long list of overwhelming tasks. And I'm not expecting that you've ticked all these boxes. I also realize: sometimes we can’t control it... Without your knowledge, a family member throws something somewhere it doesn’t belong or you get added to a new mailing list without your consent. It just ain’t perfect. And this practice isn’t always easy. It's a life direction that can take weeks, months, years to feel like you're ahead of it. But if you break down the steps and get brutal about it, it does get a little better... and then sometimes a little worse again... but then even more better after that. (P.S. If you haven't already read, Chapters 1,2 & 3 of #NewOrderBook outline specific how-to steps for physical clutter and paper.)