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Buttoned Up > Life Essentials > Emergency Plans > Six secrets to organizing difficult things

Six secrets to organizing difficult things

posted by Sarah on September 26, 2012 | print article | e-mail to a friend
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  • Carolann McCain Morykwas

    Wow, Sarah, very thoughtful. I love your steps and I’m so sorry for your loss, if I read this right….as time goes on it is easier to look at lost loved one’s stuff…

  • SarahButtonedUp

    @facebook-100002940263436:disqus – I honestly don’t know.

    I do think that the distance gave me time to absorb the shock and come to terms with the loss. By the time I went through the things of hers I had brought home, I wasn’t numb or angry or despondent anymore. I believe that enabled me to see each item for what it was – not as a substitute for her, which naturally made it easier to part with things I didn’t want or need.

    But perhaps I would have been able to do that had I faced it the moment I brought them home. I won’t really ever know. Regardless, I DO think I could have tackled the mess a full year before I actually got around to it. I was making it such a big deal in my head…and as usual, my imagination was worse than the reality.

  • Amy Suardi

    Thank you for this, Sarah. I really felt for you when you described the process of dealing with your mother’s memories. I’m so happy that it ended up being an overall positive experience, and that you felt a sense of relief and even joy.

    This is nothing like your pain, but I have 26,000 digital photos on a rickety computer in the attic, and until I deal with them, I cannot give my parents a photo book of the grandparents for Christmas. I owe them one from last year too. The idea of dealing with the mess is so painful that I continue to avoid it and find other “more important” organizing tasks to do.

    Thank you for helping me see why I’m putting it off, and how I can help myself tackle it, so I can bring joy (and relief) to more than one member of our family.


  • Meggin McIntosh

    Oh, my…I had no idea you had lost your mother and other family members in this tragic way…too much loss. So sorry. And thank you for sharing. Having recently had to “clean out” my mother’s things… it is so very difficult. Thank you for sharing.

  • Ola Otto

    Very powerful post – thanks for sharing.

  • Maggie

    I’m so sorry, Sarah. Thank you for sharing this tragedy with us, with a positive spin.

  • SarahButtonedUp

    Thanks Maggie.

  • SarahButtonedUp

    @twitter-23538435:disqus – I’m so sorry to hear about your mom too. No matter how old, expected or not, it’s simply the worst club to have to belong to. XO

  • SarahButtonedUp

    @twitter-71154359:disqus – I’m breaking out in hives thinking about those photos!! Now go have some fun making those albums. XO

  • Daree

    I moved 2 months ago and despite giving several totes of items to Goodwill beforehand, I still have crates of magazines and VHS tapes that I never got around to sorting. I am taking this month to do that and every time a pile goes away, I see more of my living room floor and hope increases. 🙂

  • SarahButtonedUp

    Smiling for you @Daree:disqus!

  • Kielie

    This was a very good article. I am so sorry for your loss.

    I am a pack rat. I recently lost my home in a foreclosure and at 53 find myself living with and taking care of my Mother.

    My room is filled with “stuff” I went from 3 bedrooms to a room.

    I think it’s psychological but everytime I get rid of something. I feel like I have nothing and it makes me feel even more like a failure.

    I like the just take 15 minutes.

    Thanks for sharing this with us.

  • TJ

    I too am sorry for your loss. Every situation can serve as a learning experience. Good to hear that you were able to derive a lesson from this tragic occurance.
    I am the daughter of a hoarder and I sometimes feel like I am heading in that direction also. I find the most difficult thing to organize are my papers. They come from many sources: school work, junk mail (that I must remove the addresses on before I discard), notices from my daughter’s school, magazines, and bills. It gets overwhelming dealing with all of the paper that I accumulate but I believe that I put it off mostly because I do not have an established place for them. How should I tackle this issue so I do not get overwhelmed or just plain let the junk take over my space like my mother does?

  • SarahButtonedUp

    @0d1c077452c257abd50a172039ecf05b:disqus – My heart goes out to you. It must be very difficult to have a parent with a hoarding problem. Has she sought treatment? If you are concerned you my be heading in that direction, have you sought treatment? Intensive treatment has been shown to be effective.

    Your particular paper problem appears to me to have three root causes:
    1) Lack of clarity on what is important and what is trash. For example, why must you remove the addresses on the junk mail you get before discarding? You may benefit from putting some new rules in place that define junk and how you deal with it. We recommend putting a bin right underneath your main mail drop that you can literally just dump junk mail into without even looking at it. Then once a week move what is in that bin into your main recycling bin to take you.

    2) Lack of filing system. While you certainly do NOT need to keep that many papers (see our free printable tool for important financial docs to keep), you will need some kind of system for organizing them. Are you a pile person naturally or a file person? If a pile person, go with tools like stacking boxes that enable you to pile in an organized fashion.

    3) Lack of routine. As I note in the post below, one of the most powerful things you can do is establish one or two routines that you do on autopilot once a day or once a week to keep the mess from becoming overwhelming. Since you are in the process of digging out from under, I would set a time for each day, say 8:30pm, program it in to your alarm clock so when it buzzes you know what to do. Then at that time, you set an egg timer for 15 minutes or 20 minutes and force yourself to go through and toss/file all of the papers that have accumulated in one spot, like your desk or the kitchen counter.

    Does this make sense? I hope it helps.

  • Brandy D

    I’m very sorry about your tragic loss. That’s just terrible. 🙁 I hope as time passes, your family’s grief gets a little less difficult to bear. xo
    I have issues similar to those of TJ- both relating to paper overload, and to having a (unfortunately very extreme) hoarder parent. These tips are very helpful & insightful, so thanks for being so thorough in your response to TJ!
    – Brandy (big fan of Buttoned Up, and desperately trying to change my disorganized, messy, lazy, chronically-late-self!)

  • Jeri Dansky

    Sarah, I’m so very sorry for your loss.

    And I think putting your mother’s things in The Waiting Place for all those months was probably the exactly right thing to do. As a professional organizer, I see this a lot; many people just can’t cope with going through things right after a loss. Putting them aside and waiting a year or two is quite common. I’m glad that worked out for you.

  • Marie

    Thank you for this article. I have just finished emptying my mother’s house following her unexpected death a year ago. Most of the sorting of stuff is finished, but many boxes and bundles remain to be dealt with. I loved your term, The Waiting Place. Sifting through the history of one’s mother’s life is the most painful yet the most amazing process, as we gain a perspective on what was important to them. Deciding what to let go of and what to keep can be overwhelming, and I know that many things will continue to occupy waiting places in my home and my heart until I am ready to take another few steps forward.

  • SarahButtonedUp

    XOXO @disqus_nla453QtEk:disqus – sending love your way.

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