The Clutter Coach


Getting Organized

By Cynthia Estes, Mountain Democrat columnist
June 11, 2010
Reprinted with permission of the Mountain Democrat, Placerville, CA

You’ve seen the TV shows. They take a house filled with 30 years of clutter (sound familiar?)  and transform  it into a model home in two days, without breaking a sweat or a hair out of place. So, you think, how do they do that? I can’t even organize my desk! If that’s what runs through your head when you look around your house, keep reading, because hope is on its way.

As a professional organizer, I hear many reasons for keeping clutter. I’m sure you can add to the  list.  Whether you use the excuses below, or have just given up, we can do this together, and it’s easier than you think.

1. “I don’t know where to start”.
So you never try. You just close the door on the mess and hope that you don’t have to go in there too often. Or, you can try this: Walk through your house with a pen and paper and write down the areas that need organization. Decide which area of clutter chaos affects your life the most. Then call a good friend whose organizing skills are better than yours and ask them to help you reorganize this area. (Don’t ask a spouse, a child or any other resident of the house; you need encouragement, not condemnation!). Start small and once you’ve sorted, purged and re-organized that area, move on to the next one on your list.

2. “I don’t have the time”.
What about the time you’re spending each morning looking for your glasses, keys, purse or wallet, etc.? You seem to find the time to go through piles of papers and files to find that bill that needs to be paid,  the car registration renewal (don’t you just hate those late fees?), or that proposal that you were working on yesterday.  What if I told you that it wouldn’t take that much time to get organized, and even less to stay that way? Start small. Assign a permanent place to keep your keys, glasses, briefcase, etc., and practice putting them there. Start putting all incoming papers, bills, mail, etc., into a letter-sized box. When it gets full, make a file folder for each category of papers. Keep these folders in a stand up file on your desk. From then on, instead of putting the papers in the box, file them in the file folders. This will give you a start on paper organizing and keep papers off your desk.

3. “I’m not ready to deal with it”.
Many of us have a room or even a house full of possessions that we’ve inherited through death, divorce or gifting. Going through it is painful, so we leave it for another day, another week, another year. We’re afraid that if we don’t keep the items,  we’ll feel guilty. This is a project to do with a loving friend who doesn’t have any emotional attachment to your stuff. Here’s how you do it. Sentimental clutter: take a picture of the item, put it in an album and pass the item itself along to someone who can really use it. Or give things to other family members or friends. Divorce clutter: I know from experience that you don’t need all that stuff you fought so hard to keep. Go through it and ask yourself if it’s useful and if you love it. If not, donate, sell or give it away. Gift clutter: People seldom remember what they gave you. So get rid of it and start a new tradition. Give gift cards or a personal gift certificate, or even better, no gifts at all and hope it catches on. So, what do you do about guilt? As a very wise therapist once told me, “No matter how you received the item, it now belongs to you,  and you are free to do with it what you wish”.

Let’s conquer your clutter together. Send in your organizing questions, and I will answer one or more of them each month. Send your questions to:        

Cynthia Estes is the owner of Uncluttered for Life, and a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers. Contact her at

Call (530) 957-2975 for a free 20 minute phone consultation and estimate!