How Did It Get Like This?

Written by Karen Jessee. Posted in Organizing.

What a mess!

We all have that spot. It’s a desk top, closet, bedroom, office, garage, a basement; a space so cluttered, so unorganized, so filled with stuff and nonsense that it is no longer functional. And one day, for some reason, we look at it all with new eyes. A new reality sets in; we gasp in dismay and wail out loud, “How did it get like this?” 

Let me tell you: it’s called the “Stuff of Life”…all those dramas that take our time away from our home and the things in it. Did you go back to school, get divorced, get a promotion, or have a baby? Are you working long hours? Did you move, find yourself on a dozen committees, get married? Did someone get sick, have an accident or pass away? Don’t several of these dramas happen at the same time? If we’re coping with all this, something has to give, and usually it’s how we treat our home and the things in it. We develop some bad habits along the way. 
We fling mail onto the kitchen counter, drop things on top of the dining room table, shove things under the table, store new purchases in the corner of the closet, toss things into the basement, hang clothes on the exercise machine, drop clothes on the floor, pile up the laundry, stack the magazines and newspapers into corners. We’re forgetting things, losing things, buying more of what we can no longer find. There isn’t time to go back; we’re too busy trying to keep up with everything else.
All that piling, tossing, dropping and flinging eventually costs us dearly. We promise ourselves “we will get back to this some time later,” but when we don’t, we encounter massive clutter and constipated spaces that no longer have a function or purpose. We feel overwhelmed and anxious; we don’t invite friends over anymore. Worse, we can’t stand to be in our own homes. 
Professional organizers will get you through two basic phases of reclaiming your space: honesty and strategies for success. Honesty begins with questions. If the dining room table and the area around it resemble a time capsule it’s time to think if you really need a dining room at all. Could it be something else? If we want the dining room, what’s the new strategy for maintaining one? 
If the kitchen is strewn with paper, the question is, do you want to deal with your mail and your bills in the kitchen? If so, how will you manage that paperwork so you can still cook? If the kitchen needs to be a kitchen, then how do you get the paper out to where you want it? How do you cope with the daily onslaught of mail, junk, bills, and magazines?

If that spare room is a towering mountain of things, think how you need to use this bit of real estate. Do you want this spare space to be an organized storage room or closet instead? If so, then a strategy for success might mean attractive shelving and storage units or clothing bars mounted to the wall.
If clothing is hanging from the exercise equipment, are you really using this equipment and if not, would it be handier to have clothing racks or hooks and shelves here? Be honest. Don’t pretend you’re going to use that equipment if you prefer long walks outdoors or the gym. *
Will you continue buying in bulk? Did you set up a spare pantry in the basement? Do you use all those kitchen appliances? How many plastic containers without lids do you need? Toys; is there a rule about where they live and when it’s time to recycle or donate? Is there really a life-changing article that you’ve missed lurking inside those 200 magazines you’ve saved? 
We’ve all heard about the woman who saved $10,000 a year using coupons. $10,000 a year is a part-time job. This woman created a daily, organized routine to get those coupons from the newspaper into her purse, out to the car and through check out before the expiration date. Do you really use coupons? Have a strategy for success or toss them. 
My favorite ad came out years ago and said simply this: “There are the bras that you have and the bras that you wear.” It was a revelation; isn’t that true of just about everything we own? 
There is nothing anyone can buy to keep clutter at bay that is better than a good habit: think of the coupon lady. There’s a woman with priorities. What routines or rules would make a difference for you? 
I know; it’s a lot to ask of yourself when you’re looking at a home that has come to resemble a landfill. But a little honesty about how you function in your space and how you want it to look will go a long way in helping you find successful solutions to coping with clutter and feeling welcomed in your own home. 
*To donate used exercise equipment: Contact Charles Darling at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. He’ll take it apart, carry it away, and donate it to clubs and organizations that need it.

Karen Jessee is a professional organizer and founder of Simply Organized. She is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers and the Philadelphia Chapter of Professional Organizers. She encourages people to simplify their lives and works with those who need to downsize and get organized. Karen helps clients make the decisions and create the systems that are best for them. She also teaches the strategies to help clients gain greater clarity, control, productivity and peace. Karen is a public speaker on these topics. Visit her website at:


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