The Shoemaker’s Children…

Ask the Organizer

By Mrs. Devora Farrell

So guess what I’ve been doing these past few weeks? No, the laundry’s already done. No, the lottery did not skew in my direction. Bzzzzz. Time’s up. I invited a Professional Organizer to help me with my office. Besides me.

As much as I did not want to admit it, my office had gotten out of control. It wasn’t that I lacked the training to address it. My brain just felt like it was in a blender anytime I spent more than five minutes digging through the paper. The categories began to swirl together, with new categories announcing themselves and then disappearing once again into the maelstrom. No label maker was up to the task. My hundred or so books on organizing offered plenty of workable solutions, but I couldn’t move forward. Why not?

Each person’s “stuff” goes way beyond its parameters as inanimate objects. Wha??? What made my papers insurmountable for me was the fact that they were mine. In the same way that that vase on the table is not merely a vase (“Aunt Tilly received this cut crystal bud vase as a gift from her mother-in-law for her 3rd anniversary”), my papers each had their own story (“This handwritten testimonial from a delighted client should really be posted on my website”). The challenge is that I couldn’t turn the volume down on the cacophony of stories to figure out how I wanted to sort the papers to be found later.

In other words, the reason I couldn’t organize my own office successfully was because it was my own office. I needed a kind but dispassionate viewer to help me sort: someone with enough objective distance to quiet the confusion and help me stay on task. We organizers are a methodical lot. My dear colleague was more than happy to attack this project with patience, fortitude, flexibility and a non-judgmental approach (qualities I believe are required in this business).

What did we do?

·        We cleared my desk and part of the floor into piles set aside for us each to have a staging area as we sorted

·        We cleared one bookshelf at a time to do a “rough sort” of papers, books, client supplies, office supplies, etc., labeling and binning as we went

·        We designated each bookshelf to store each category, depending on how frequently items needed to be accessed

·        We created appropriate file folder categories, e.g. To Do; To File; To Pay; To Pray; ASAP; To Dream (Great Big Ideas) for the vertical files on my desk, and other appropriate categories (Car; Health Insurance; Child A; Publications; etc.) for my file cabinet (a goal, of course, is to convert as much as possible to computer files)

·        I let go (!) of all magazines that were not the current issue, while saving only those articles that could easily be retrieved and were clearly, immediately relevant for organizing work (“Toy Storage,” “Kitchen Pantry Layouts,” “Gift Closet”)

·        Ruthlessly discarded anything that left any shelf or drawer too tightly packed

·        Left one shelf empty for “room to grow,” or just to remain empty – helps prevent the mantra of “what can I put here?” and replaces it with “I’m leaving room for potential”

·        Filled four (count ‘em, four) tall garbage bags with never-to-be-regretted-or-reacquired detritus

Did a “happy dance” around my newly rediscovered floor

So, how do I feel now? I can’t wait to pare down further. Somehow the emotional weight of the contents of those garbage bags felt like a physical weight on my shoulders. I feel lighter, freer, less encumbered. Were any of those discards useless or clear trash? Very few. But I didn’t need them in my purview. I now have room to write my articles (!) and breathe creatively all at the same time. My eyes can rest on different parts of my office, (really a walk-in closet) without all the visual clutter stealing my peace of mind (or pieces of my mind – both were true).

What next?

The organizer and I scheduled another appointment. I recognize that this is not a one-and-done project. There will always be other parts of my home (and my life, and my scheduled) that need an additional objective, dispassionate re-evaluation. Why should I deny myself help living a better life? No, not just shameless self-promotion; find the organizer that’s right for you…everyone is different. I’m happy to answer your questions.

Mrs. Devora Farrell, of can be reached at or directly at (973) 919-7761.

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