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I love words. They can evoke such an incredible emotional response just by their very sight. Words can transport you into a different time or location. They can enrich your knowledge base and they can provide you with hours of satisfied entertainment. As an organizer, there are peculiar words that I hear from my clients when they first contact me that I hear nowhere else. In describing their clutter condition, the words they evoke are overwhelmed, paralysis, drowning, and suffocating just to name a few. Clutter or too- much-stuff has an ability to invade minds with an incredible power. I’m not sure I can explain the reason behind this, I just know this is true because I hear it most everyday from clients seeking release and freedom from the chains their stuff has over them. Is it any wonder that from magazines and newspapers, to most forms of media, clutter and the desire to be organized has become an obsession in our country?

“Stuff has power, and the stuff we own has power. – Power for good or power for ill” said Peter Walsh, famed organizer and author. Our consumer-oriented society measures the health of our economy by the spending of consumer goods. A hard lesson I try to teach my clients is that “It’s (life) not about the stuff.” I learned that lesson many years ago when I first began my organizing business.   

One of the many defining moment as an organizer came when I was called to help a 9/11 widow take care of her husband effects in the home.  Dealing with the raw emotions was, shall I say, incredibly difficult. But with great care, I thought we could maneuver enough of his stuff to allow her to move on with her life with her two girls. Hardship forces one to look not only at the quantity of one’s stuff but at the quality of our relationships and one’s life.

Discarding and donating his stuff I thought would be easy enough. I was so terribly wrong.  Among the hats, record albums, tools, sports memorabilia, fireman articles and clothes, lay an incredible power to memories. However, my client was intuitive enough to understand that fond memories deserve honor and respect. Stuff is just stuff, but stuff becomes a person’s life when we hold memory to the stuff. Preserving his memory with love was what she needed, not a bin to house it in. After my client and her girls selected the objects that brought them the most joy we decided to create several shadow boxes so that they could display them on a wall. Keeping the memory alive was what allowed her to heal, and the same time, those few items kept in honor allowed her to let go all of the other articles that held a place in his life. She was free from the chains of clutter.

Organization is truly transformative. When we take our clients out of the context of the stuff and put them into the context of their life, all of a sudden, instead of making decisions about stuff based on price, availability, etc., we help people make decisions about the stuff based on the life they want. Our homes are metaphors of our lives. It is truly impossible to make your best choices…emotionally stable choices, in a clutter and disorganized home. It simply can’t happen. Organization is not something you do, it’s a way you life your life. It is not about simply cleaning up; it’s about making mindful decisions about the life you want. By asking my clients their visions for their space, we create a room environment that transforms not just the space but the family. When we change a family, we can change a community…a nation…our world.

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The professional organizing industry is no stranger to the mantra, reduce, reuse and recycle.  In almost every business/home we enter, one if not all of these actions are required to ensure the success of a project.  In reducing the object/paper within a space, new life enters a room. When reducing responsibly through reusing or recycling many of my clients are highly motivated to continue with this new lifestyle process.

These three words, reduce, reuse recycle is slowly gaining momentum as the world finds itself in uncharted territories of insecurity. Paradoxically, these uncertain times are when the professional organizing industry excels. Because, it is through these uncertainty periods that most people need to create environments that emphasize a greater quality of life.

I would like to introduce three more verbs to our professional organizing arsenal; refuse, repair and repurpose.

Refuse. Our way of life, supported by the misguided concepts that spending will make us all healthy is now being replaced by the view that we can refuse the latest trends. Yes, people will still spend hours in line for the new IPhone, but I believe that the vast majority of us secretly abhor the belief that newer must be better. We are beginning to wake up to the fact that we can refuse Madison Avenue’s religion and we can refuse to put into our brains that which is making us sick. We can decide to refuse, but this takes a new community mindset and one I am passionate about creating.

Repair. Gone are the days of the neighborhood cobbler. Instead when our shoes wear out, we toss and go to the China factory of endless shoe choices.  We have bought into the lie that says it’s OK for our stuff to break in a matter of months but still have enough faith in the brand to continue to buy. Here’s a bucket of water to throw on your head. It’s time to wake up and demand better from manufacturers to stop making subpar products. When items do break, bring back those jobs that will repair them instead of tossing more garbage into the landfill.

Repurpose. —to reuse for a different purpose on a long-term basis, without alteration. Example: The town common was repurposed as a practice field.

Who said an item has only one life? In a world filled with creativity, many new artisans are combing landfills to create art from cast-offs. Books are now serving as coffee tables, and the list is virtually endless in the way we look at what we already own and can use in a different way. The issue is this; how willing as a society are we to begin adopting these changes into our life? I still have hope that our future generations will use the verbs refuse, repair and repurpose as naturally as breathing.

In the words of Jane Goodall “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”  And that’s the major point. Change is hard! People only change when our backs are against the wall, or we see benefit for the long term. Our society is on overwhelmed so any change is difficult to embrace; I get that. However, doing what we have always done and trying to make a difference is just insanity. We MUST change, if not for the present, then for future generations. In this new phase of living, remember to take it slow. Adopting one new principle and then adding on will ensure you stay authentic and motivated.

You, who are on the road must have a code that you can live by.

And so become yourself because the past is just a good bye.

Teach your children well, their father's hell did slowly go by,

And feed them on your dreams, the one they fix, the one you'll know by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,

So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

~ Crosby Stills and Nash

I’m ready for Change! “R U?”

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As a certified professional organizer, I become more and more aware that organizing is not just about alphabetizing the spice rack. As the the professional organizing industry continues its prominent media placement on TV shows and magazine covers, another movement, “eco or green” is becoming more and more mainstream. This eco-lifestyle trend is becoming more of a necessity than just an alternative lifestyle.  Complementing the organizing field, the eco-movement fits like a hand-in-glove with the organizing profession. Reduce, reuse, and recycle has always been the mantra of organizers, and many organizers already tout this eco philosophy; however, they fall short utilizing it to its full potential. What makes an “Eco-Organizer” stand out in the industry is one that will promote lifestyle changes that revolve around healthy eco- friendly products and behaviors.  Understanding consumer habits and what and why we buy is a passion of mine.

Organizers are a witness to the impact of consumer goods within our homes. If approached with a creative and realistic plan, the organizing industry can have a powerful effect on present and future consumer habits all across the world. What we buy and how we live is all connected.

When we change an individual we change a room
When we change a room we change a home
When we change a home we can change a family
When we change a family we can change a community
When we change a community, we can change the world.
People don’t just buy stuff; they assume responsibility for the stuff.

When I attended a NAPO conference several years ago and listened to our keynote speaker, Peter Walsh, explain in detail the story of the plastic bottle.  He explained that we might want to start examining our buying practices because they have incredible global ramifications. This really got me thinking that there must be a better way to take my business to the next level.

As an environmentally aware organizer, or eco-organizer, I teach clients that they are also responsible for their consumption patterns. These patterns not only have an impact on their home, but also on the planet. I believe that in the future, our organizing industry will be at the forefront of changing societies consumption behaviors. Currently, organizers tend to be very involved at the back end, after the damage is done, people call us in. In the future, organizers will have an increasing role at the front end, impacting our client’s consumer choices and habits.  Already, buying in bulk is a trend that is getting less and less attention, and we see the many benefits in terms of found storage and items no longer thrown away due to expired or unwanted goods.

Organizers teach our clients that organizing is a systematic process that builds new habits, and that daily lifestyle changes occur when we feel good about what we are doing. Getting our clients to adopt a deeper level of responsibility by introducing eco lifestyle changes can and does have direct global implications. This may not be the right approach for every client, but for those clients that resonate with the concept, it can bring about a greater respect for our industry.

One hurdle to get past our client’s mindset is the misguided notion that going green costs more and complicates one’s lifestyle. The greatest resistance I face in any session is resistance to change. I can help by showing my clients that by eliminating excess, not only with their physical clutter but also in electrical and water usage, money can be saved. They can wrap their heads around “what’s in it for me” a lot more than why it’s good for future generations. Approaching eco philosophy from this angle has generated a lot more interest.

One other misconception is that people think they will be giving up one’s lifestyle by going “green”. As an eco-organizer, it is my responsibility to promote that the change is not something they must do all at once, but as a process, very much akin to an adopting an orderly lifestyle. Small steps create big impacts. It is my greatest hope that in the future, the professional organizing industry can promote green in many shades, to meet our clients desire in adopting a more responsible future for generations to come.

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When I first learned of the story of the Great Garbage Patch, thoughts of Charlie Brown raced in my brain. As I began my own investigation into this murky topic, I found little humor to connect the two.

What sounded to me more like science fiction than science fact, I began my own investigation into the world of plastics. For 3 glorious years, 1979-1982 before children, I had the wonderful opportunity to live in Hawaii. The sights of such beauty will never leave me, and one of my top sights were the amazing coral fish swimming in the most blue /green waters you will find anywhere. Years ago while I was reading Rolling Stone's magazine, and an article that caught my eye was titled An Ocean of Plastic. The article begins "The world's waste has formed a vast floating garbage dump that's twice the size of Texas – and it's working its way up the food chain. I was born in Houston Texas, so here's something to wrap your head around. When the article states that this floating garbage dump is "twice the size of Texas", this literally means you can begin from Houston and drive all-day and all night and still be in Texas. It takes about 1 1/2 half days to make it from Houston to New Mexico. So, imagine if you will, something 2x's that! The article continues "Welcome to the future", says Capt. Charles Moore, the commander of the 25ton research vessel call Alquita. He's standing in Kewalo Basin Harbor on the south shore of Oahu, holding up a jug filled with murky yellow liquid. Tiny bits of debris swirl in the jug, a cloudy mass of trash. Most of it is plastic. "This is what our oceans are like now...this sample was taken 1,000 miles southwest of LA. So it's not just one place - this is the whole ocean."

You can do your own research on the Great Garbage Patch. I do not recommend it however, it you have jut eaten a heavy meal. You will find that 40% of albatross chicks on Midway Atoll die from being fed bits of plastic waste that float ashore. Birds cannot distinguish between real food and plastic; but more disturbing to me was what this plastic is made from. These plastics contain concentrations of toxic chemicals, including DDT and PCB's. The birds and sea turtles are making this plastic their main diet staple and they are choking to death.

Here's a quick breakdown of plastic resin types:

#1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE)
Product examples: Disposable soft drink and water bottles, cough-syrup bottles

#2 high-density polyethylene (HDPE)/
Product examples: Milk jugs, toys, liquid detergent bottles, shampoo bottles

#3 polyvinyl chloride (V or PVC)
Product examples: Meat wrap, cooking oil bottles, plumbing pipes

#4 low density polyethylene (LDPE)
Product examples: Cling wrap, grocery bags, and sandwich bags

#5 polypropylene (PP)
Product examples: Syrup bottles, yogurt cups/tubs, and diapers

#6 polystyrene (PS)
Product examples: Disposable coffee cups, clamshell take-out containers

#7 other (misc.; usually polycarbonate, or PC, but also polylactide, or PLA, plastics made from renewable resources)
Product examples: Baby bottles, some reusable water bottles, stain-resistant food-storage containers, and medical storage containers

Now that you know what each of the numbers represents, here are the kinds you should look for at the store:

Safer Plastics

#1 PET, #2HDPE, #4LDPE and #5PP

These three types of plastic are the healthiest. They transmit no known chemicals into your food and they're generally recyclable; #2 is very commonly accepted by municipal recycling programs, but you may have a more difficult time finding someone to recycle your #4 and #5 containers, but more and more recycling centers are accepting these now.

#1 PET

#1 bottles and containers are fine for single use and are widely accepted by municipal recyclers. You won't find many reusable containers made from #1, but they do exist. It's also best to avoid reusing #1 plastic bottles; water and soda bottles in particular are hard to clean, and because plastic is porous, these bottles absorb flavors and bacteria that you can't get rid of.

PLA

PLA (polylactide) plastics are made from renewable resources such as corn, potatoes and sugar cane and anything else with high starch content. The starch is converted into polylactide acid (PLA). Although you can't recycle these plant-based plastics, you can compost them in a municipal composter or in your backyard compost heap. Most decompose in about twelve days unlike conventional plastic, which can take up to 100 years.

Plastics to Avoid

#3 PVC

#3 polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is often used frequently in cling wraps for meat. However, PVC contains softeners called phthalates that interfere with hormonal development, and its manufacture and incineration release dioxin, a potent carcinogen and hormone disruptor. Vinyl chloride, the primary building block of PVC, is a known human carcinogen that also poses a threat to workers during manufacture.

#6 PS

Extruded polystyrene (#6 PS; commonly known as Styrofoam) is used in take-out containers and cups, and non-extruded PS is used in clear disposable takeout containers, disposable plastic cutlery and cups. Both forms of PS can leach styrene into food; styrene is considered a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. It may also disrupt hormones or affect reproduction.

#7 PC

#7 Polycarbonate (PC) is found in baby bottles, 5-gallon water bottles, water-cooler bottles and the epoxy linings of tin food cans. PC is composed of a hormone-disrupting chemical called bisphenol A, which has been linked to a wide variety of problems such as cancer and obesity.

Knowing just a sampling about the Great Garbage Patch is enough to understand the seriousness of this situation. Knowing that birds and wildlife are endangered is important, but this affects me directly. I love ordering fish, and some my favorite eating fish comes for the Hawaiian area. These fish have been ingesting PCB laden particles, and as I eat the fish, I also will be ingesting small amounts of the chemical. Over time, this can have serious consequences on my health.

So what can you do?

1.Contribute to organizations like Project Kaisei http://www.oceanvoyagesinstitute.org/project-kaisei/

that support growing awareness of this issue.

2.When possible buy materials not made of plastic if another material such as cardboard will do.

3.Learn about your communities plastic recycling. The most important thing you can do is to recycle your plastics and learn which plastic symbols are not recycled and stop buying those.

4.Tell you children, your friends and your co-workers that if they want to have a future with blue/green waters anywhere on the globe, then the fight is on.

A favorite website!!!!

Green website Highlight

www.greenopia.com – highlighting more than 50 categories on green activities from coast to coast. Look toward the bottom of the site for your city.

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Several months ago I had a potential client discuss with me the need to locate a “Green” desk. No, not the color green, but one that she could feel good about being environmentally responsible. This you see was her first attempt to change her buying and thinking habits.

I begin every organizing job taking inventory to see what my clients already have, but I know that there are going to be times when I will need to purchase products. So, purchasing now comes with an array of ethical considerations when I am faced with options that address my client’s needs.

The following is my process:

       I look what I call the triple bottom line.

As business owners I know you already understand the “bottom line” as dollars and cents, and we usually refer to money as the bottom line, when I look at sustainable business practices it is not the bottom line but the TRIPLE bottom line. There are three issues that I am interested in:

1.      People

2.      Profit

3.      Planet

 The Money element now is only 1/3 of what I am considering. So, looking at the desk question I look at all 3 elements, People, Profit and Planet.

Planet

When I think of planet first I think of “green or eco-friendly.” Can I get my client to buy what the earth has already paid for in the manufacturing process? If a product already exists then the object has already harvested the resources and consumed the energy to produce it. Some options are:

A.    One can then look at used office furniture stores, antique stores,

B.     Craig’s list or free cycle.

C.     Can we recycle it from something? For instance, the desk can be reclaimed from a spare wooden door. Repurposing or finding new life from what you already have is another great way to keep it simple. Re-cycling is something that becomes itself again, like the aluminum can that gets processed and becomes a can again.   

There are many examples to help you reach your desired level of eco-awareness. The following are to motivate and to inspire your thinking:

Reduce what is already in our lives – Conscious consuming citizens (people who contribute to society) vs. consumers- people who take away from society.

Buying happiness. (The promise) When we buy a product, seldom are we actually buying to meet the products intent. We buy the product to fulfill a promise of something wonderful. The new cookware is not just cookware; it’s the tool that will get the family around the dinner table building closer relationships. Becoming mindful of why and what you are purchasing is a great first step! 

Understanding that when you purchase a product, any product, even the water bottle you are purchasing the cost of water to make the plastic, the ink on the label, the transportation costs and the advertisements that made you buy that brand.

Reuse or repurpose. Imagination can really kick in when we give new life to objects that have more than one life.  This summer, before I trashed my wheelbarrow, I decided to use it to grow vegetables in it. What a great salad container!

Recycle. As an organizer, while working one-to-one, I have a unique opportunity to educate my clients on the benefits of a simpler and greener lifestyle.

Items that can be recycled:

  • Clothes
  • Chemicals
  • Plastics
  • Glass
  • Papers

Did you know that even though we have extensive recycling program in most major US cities 78% of all aluminum and plastics find there way back into the landfill? 50% of all paper and 95%of all glass is there too.

I always ask about chemicals. Does my client have chemical sensitivities? Wood is often treated with formaldehyde with is not a healthy chemical and sometimes the glues used to attach the veneers to wood are made with things that are also not healthy for people or the planet.

Is it from something that is bio-degradable? Plastic bins are not biodegradable. Look at the substance and see if it is reclaimable or recyclable. Consider that if at the end of the products use, can it be reclaimed?

Look at the wood. Was the wood harvesting managed or is it clear-cut? With issues with clear cutting we run into erosion problems. Trees are equally big under ground as they are above ground. I’ve noticed that when an area is cleared for development, all of a sudden there are more floods in the area because there is nothing holding the soil together. Trees are also the lungs of the earth and they clean the air for us. Are the trees being replaced?

Packaging. Everything we get comes with some sort of packaging. At least cardboard is recyclable, but no packaging is best. Plastic packaging is almost always trash, so I take a look not only at the object that I am purchasing, but also the packaging. Can the packaging be reusable?

Transportation. When something is moved from A to B it takes energy. It’s not just that you are bringing it home from the store; its how many miles did the object have to travel to get it to the store. Where is the distribution center, where was it manufactured? For instance, you can couple local businesses that are close together. For example, if you have printing needs, are the printer and the binder close by? When you flip something over and it says “Made in wherever” is that close to where you live?

People

People make things. When considering what does “green” look like in this category. I have several criteria.

  • What is the condition of the workers?
  • Are they exposed to chemicals?
  • Is the object labeled as Fair trade? (Such items like food and handcrafted items have        been paid fairly for the work done). In the US that constitutes the living wage VS the minimum wage.

Profit

As stated we all need to be profitable. I hear a lot of protest from my clients early on in the organizing process when I suggest we use Eco-paper.”It’s more expensive,” they say. I then always address the economic component to what we do.

Shop Local- economics of how business is conducted.

Small Business VS Big Chains For every $100.00 that is spent in a local business the local business will pump $45.00 back into the local community; the chain business will only put by $14.00. The rest of it is going back to chain store headquarters. That could make a huge economic impact. When chain stores move in even under the disguise of lower prices; they are not only taking profits away from the local stores, but it is also having local economic implications. Local businesses owners also care in a way that you will not find in larger chain establishments. Quality of service; small business owners know their clientele and they take care of them on multiple of levels.

When purchasing products for my clients prior to my “green” awareness, I always considered three components; the purchase price, maintenance and the storage price for the items.

Now I consider four, and that being the cost to the Earth. 

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"Dear Eileen:
We want to thank you for your invaluable help in getting our house ready for putting on the market. You were so good about getting dirty, along with me, setting up the kitchen to look less cluttered.

The list of “to-do’s” was also very helpful. We made our master bedroom look much more appealing and the king-size bed idea was great.

We put the house on the market last February (right after Super Bowl weekend), and had an offer the next day. That was very encouraging, but we did not take the first offer. Thankfully, two days later, a young couple with two children came to look, and fell in love with the house.

We highly recommend hiring a pro, especially to get started. Thirty nine years of stuff and clutter makes moving nightmarish. We took your advice and cleaned out the cellar and painted the floor and walls. Since the house is 105 years old, it was dramatic to have it so clean.

Our real estate agent remarked that he never saw a house so well prepared to sell.

Thank you again! Sincerely,"

- Philip & Sally Snyder