Getting organized in the face of KID CHAOS

Deborah was at a crossroads in her life. She had been working as a freelance fashion designer, but that work wasn’t satisfying her anymore.

She wanted to find a more family-friendly career, so she thought, “What can I do on a freelance basis and still be a full-time mom for my two boys?”

Deborah had always been an organized person. Finding the perfect, most efficient arrangment for things came naturally to her, and it was a skill she’d honed in her life as a designer. When someone suggested she try pursuing a career as a professional organizer, she was floored.

Not only did she not know that job title existed and that people made money doing it, she didn’t realize her organization gene was exceptional. She assumed that since it came so easy to her, it must be easy for others.

Looking into it a little more deeply, Deborah discovered a whole world of organizationally-challenged people out there who could use her help. She joined NAPO, which is the National Association for Professional Organizers, went to a meeting, and began building her business as a professional organizer.

“Before I started a business of my own, I volunteered and worked for other organizers,” she said. “It was an incredible learning curve. Organizing for yourself is one thing, but making it a profession and organizing for others is something else.”

“When I first talk on the phone with clients, I tell them not to clean up, because that’s not going to help me,” she said. “I have to see what my client has created, in its natural state. At that point, I am able to zero in on what’s bugging them the most. For most people, it’s the piles of mail or their kids’ toys.”

Then she just jumps right into making sense of the madness. She creates a plan based on the six essential steps of organizing:

1. Sort your items.

2. Purge, or get rid of what you don’t need.

3. Assess the situation. Ask yourself questions like, “What is this room going to be used for? Who’s using it? What’s my organizing style?”


4. Contain your items in the places you’ve created for them.


5. Label containers and areas where things are supposed to go.


6. Maintain the organizing system you’re working with.

Deborah insists that what some think is a gift is really just a habit she has.

“Organizing is a learned habit,” she said. “Everybody can learn it, but you have to be dedicated. You have to create a system that works with your personality. If the system works for you, it’s because it’s working with you. ”

Two personality types that Deborah encounters often are pilers and filers. Pilers tend to create little stacks or clusters all over the place, where as filers tend to tuck things away in a special space.

“If a right-brained person loves to pile their paper, you can’t force them to have a filing system,” she said. “For a person like this, we figure out a more open piling system that they’d be able to stick to.”

In addition to working with innate personalities to create organization solutions, Deborah also considers lifestyle — especially when it comes to clients with kids.

As the mom to two boys, Deborah understands the havoc kids can wreak on organizational systems. In fact, the only way she found a way to make hers work was bringing her sons in to help solve the problems.

“I try to include children in the decision making — what to get rid of, where should something live,” she said. “You want them to own and understand the process. You want them to feel like they’re part of it even if they’re just helping you sort. And believe me, they’re big helpers with sorting, because they know their toys very well.”

Creating routines and giving everything a place has helped Deborah’s own family lead a more manageable life and has helped her clients find more time for their own families. A 15 minute clean up before bed each night keeps your weekend free to go on a bike ride with your kiddos. Giving order to the pantry helps you get kids fed and off to school on time. According to Deborah, those little bits of effort go a long way.

“If everything is settled and has a place, your life is no longer about your stuff or your lack of time,” she said. “Your life has purpose, and it becomes about doing the things you want to do.”

For help getting organized, plan a visit with the Organizing Junkie, a WAHM mom to three whose enthusiasm for order is infectious and helfpul. Also, take a look at these links:

Neat or Not?
HGTV organizing guide will help you control your clutter, once and for all.

Regain Your Sanity with NAPO
Contact the National Association of Professional Organizers to find a specialist who’ll help you get your life back in order!

Lillian Lends a Hand
At the Lillian Vernon online home store, you can buy attractive yet functional organizing accessories for all parts of your home.

Thinking inside the Box
Tap into every professional organizers’ handy bag of tricks by taking a tour of the Container Store.

The (not really) Lazy Organizer
Lara Gallagher publicly wages war with a tendency toward laziness and disorganization, and we get to be all the better for it.