book case

Why We Hold Onto Things?

Helpful Organizer BlogA common discussion I have with  my clients when we’re working together is why they are holding onto something. The more information I can gather about the item in question the easier it is for me to understand “the WHY”. What I’ve discovered over the past 10 years in assisting my clients is that although there are several reasons we hold onto things, those reasons fall into one of three basic categories, the past, the future, or both.

We hold onto things from the past, because they were significant and important to us in our past. They help us remember and honor a past event or memory. Some examples may be a bride’s maid dress that was worn at a friend’s wedding, paper products from a child’s birthday party, or Dad’s wood carving tools.

We hold onto things for the future, because we think they will be significant or important to us in our future or the future of someone close to us. Some examples may be furniture our children will use in college, papers that have resources we think we’ll need in the future, or dishes our children will use in their first apartment.

A combination of the two is when we hold onto things from the past for the future. For example I have two cool swivel chairs in my living room that were originally in my grandparent’s front parlor. They were saved and used by other family members before I inherited them, and I plan on passing them along to another family member in the future. Another example is my old photographs and scrapbooks. I enjoy sharing them and reminiscing about past events, holidays, and special occasions. It also makes me smile to think that they will bring joy when shared in the future.

As you may be able to tell, things that have an impact on both the past and the future, are usually the most sentimental items, and thus the one’s we cling to. If this is what my client and I discover in our conversation about an item, then it’s usually a keeper. Otherwise we discuss some qualifying questions to determine whether it’s worth holding onto.

  • How much joy and happiness does it bring you?
  • What amount of regret or disappointment would you feel if you let it go?
  • How would you feel about keeping part of it or a token amount?
  • Who values and treasures this and in what way?
  • Where does it reside – on prominent display or hidden away?
  • When is it used, shared, and enjoyed?
  • Why do you want to keep it?

Whether it’s a keeper or not, answering the above questions help establish some objectivity to the sentimental attachment we me feel about our things.

Want more help letting go? Here are three blogs that offer more assistance.

  1. Clutter Excuses
  2. Keep quiz
  3. More Clutter Excuses

©February 2018  Janine Cavanaugh, Certified Professional Organizer  All Rights Reserved

cool door

Innies or Outies

Helpful Organizer BlogHave you ever heard the terms innie and outie? If so, you may be looking at your belly button right now, because these words refer to the shape of it. Are you wondering what that has to do with organizing, and why I would write a blog article about it? It’s because a friend of mine, who is also a Professional Organizer, mentioned that she uses these terms when organizing. She uses the term innie to describe situations where clutter and mess are contained behind closed doors and outie for when clutter and mess are visible. I have found in my 10 years as a Professional Organizer that the projects with which I help my clients can be categorized as one or the other.

Innies stash clutter in drawers, closets and file cabinets. The surfaces of the counters, desks and tables may be clear, but the real issues lurk behind closed doors. Here are four solutions that may help control the clutter and create order in the hidden areas.

  1. Practice the one in one out guideline to keep the quantity of stuff manageable.
  2. Devote some time to answering the question, “When is enough?
  3. Follow the 3 step organizing process on the clutter that’s stashed away.3 steps to organizing process
  4. Schedule time to edit items from your space.

Outies have piles of clutter everywhere, which can create stress from the constant visual reminder that something needs to be done with it. Here are four solutions that may help lessen the stress.

  1. Schedule clutter aerobics at least 3 times a week to attack the piles.
  2. Practice the confirming process to help continually remove what is no longer used, needed or wanted.
  3. Mark off time on your calendar to reclaim order in your home. I’d recommend at least two hours twice a month.
  4. Incorporate one or two daily organizing routines into your day.

Which term would describe your home situation? Whether your answer is innie or outie the solutions above will help you remove clutter, establish order, and feel less stressed. I would like to hear of your progress, please email me with details.

©January 2018  Janine Cavanaugh, Certified Professional Organizer®  All Rights Reserved

finish line

Reaching the Finish Line

Helpful Organizer BlogDuring my class on Conquering Clutter With Confidence we discuss reaching the finish line. In order to do this, we first discuss what it means to reach the finish line. It means doing things from start to finish, and knowing when that finish line has been crossed. For example, in my house, the finish line has been crossed, while doing dishes, when there are no dirty dishes left unwashed, and the sink and counters have been wiped clean. In your family, when is the finish line crossed while doing dishes? What about the laundry? When is it reached with new purchases or gifts that have been received? Where does the receipt go, and what do you do with the box? What happens to the gift bag, tag, and tissue paper? Establishing when the finish line has been crossed will help reduce clutter.finish

Reaching the finish line also means completing the organizing process and reclaiming order. Putting things away and picking up after ourselves are important parts of reaching the finish line. It is what helps us maintain order, and is best accomplished with practice. For example, upon returning home after being out, I spend time putting things away. My keys and coat go on their hooks, my shoes go on the mat, and my pocketbook goes on the desk. Practicing reaching the finish line with this daily organizing routine helps me maintain order. Other daily organizing routines that can benefit from practice are dressing for the day, processing the mail, undressing at night, project clean up, and picking up toys.

In your home, do you want to reduce clutter and maintain order? You can by reaching the finish line. What finish line is waiting for you to cross it? Will you know when you’ve crossed it? Also, take a closer look at your daily organizing routines. Can you improve them with practice? If you think you’d be more successful with a little help from me, please ask.


©December 2017  Janine Cavanaugh, Certified Professional Organizer®  All Rights Reserved

clutter in basement

Where Does Clutter Come From?

Helpful Organizer BlogWhat does clutter look like to you? Is it piles of mail on the counter? Maybe it’s stacks of papers on the desk? Could it be that every drawer is a junk drawer? Perhaps it’s the layers of stuff that are hiding the dinning room table? Or maybe, it’s the garage that cars can’t fit into? Although clutter looks different for everyone, it is usually a result of two things, indecision and inaction.

Clutter, as indecision, looks like this:  We bring the mail in on Monday, and can’t decide what to do with something. So we put it to the side to decide on later. On Tuesday, the same things happens, and then the same thing happens on Wednesday. It keeps happening until there is a mountain of mail that we don’t know what to do with.paper clutter

Clutter, as indecision, also looks like this:  We just received a new coffee maker as a gift. The old one is still good, so we put it in the basement for now, with the intention of making a decision on it later. Next thing we know, 5 years has gone by and the coffee maker is still in the basement along with a bunch of other stuff that is waiting to be decided upon.

Clutter, as inaction, looks like this:  When getting dressed in the morning the zipper breaks on the pants we want to wear. No time to deal with them now, so they get tossed on the bench at the end of the bed. At then end of the long day, we undress. To tired to deal with the dirty clothes, so they get tossed on the bench. Before we know it there is a pile of clothes on the bench.

Clutter, as inaction, also looks like this:  We bring home the groceries, but we’re having trouble fitting them into the pantry, because it is already stuffed with food. We know some of that food may be old, outdated, or expired, but we haven’t taken the time to weed it out. So the new groceries gets left out on the counter or kitchen floor.

clock for organizingNo matter what clutter looks like for you, one of the best ways to combat it is to schedule time to make decisions and take action. However, making decisions and taking action requires discipline, brain power, physical stamina, and emotional effort. That is why it’s best to devote some time daily to dealing with clutter. Instead of trying to squeeze it in, schedule time to attack it.

Another way to combat clutter is to continually weed out what we don’t want, need, or use so that it doesn’t get in the way of what is useful and important. A helpful way to do this is to have an exit strategy for the items we’re getting rid of. There are many places to donate, recycle, or re-purpose. If you need some suggestions, please ask me.


©November 2017  Janine Cavanaugh, Certified Professional Organizer®   All Rights Reserved

storage units

Storage Units – Good or Bad Solution

Helpful Organizer BlogWould you consider your home to be an average American home? Do you think you have just as much stuff as your neighbors? Do you rent any storage units? Would you believe that there are 300,000 items in the average American home? (Becoming Minimalist) That’s a large number of possessions to have, store, maintain, and organize.

Where are people keeping all their stuff? Two of the most common options are in their own homes, or in a rented, off-site storage facility. Actually, the average American home has converted 3 or more spaces into make-shift storage units. (SpareFoot) On the other hand, the self storage industry is a booming business, reaching an annual revenue of 22 billion dollars in 2016. (Statistic Brain Research Institute)$22billion According to an LA Times article, there are 51,000 storage facilities in America, which is more than four times the number of McDonald’s.

Before considering another option, let’s ask the question, “Are storage units a good or bad solution?” Do they just allow us to acquire and hold onto more stuff, or do they serve a helpful role in storing our belongings ? In my opinion, I think there are two legitimate reasons for using storage units.

  • Storage units are a good idea when they help us through transitions in life. Some of those transitions may be when we’re selling a house, moving long distance, or cleaning out an estate.
  • Storage units are a good idea when they are used as temporary holding place for belongings. Some situations when a temporary holding place is needed may be when we’re dealing with a flooded basement, undergoing home renovations, or making decisions on inherited belongings.

Unfortunately, most storage units start off as temporary but become long-term. So, is there another option? I think there is. Live with less stuff. It’s estimated that we use 20% of what we own, 80% of the time (Pareto Principle). That leaves plenty of room for editing and reducing. I know it can be difficult to make decisions on what to keep or not keep, so here are some helpful suggestions:Live with less = less stress



©October 2017  Janine Cavanaugh, Certified Professional Organizer  All Rights Reserved