February is normally the month when New Year’s resolutions come crashing down, and good intentions fall apart.
The self-imposed promises to stay tidy, be more organised, keep up to speed with emails, and clear out a bulging office in-tray become so much harder after that initial burst of well-meaning energy and real life kicks in again.
But thankfully there is a growing army of professional declutterers on hand – ready not only to help us sort out our work and personal lives, but also to give us pointers to stick to it. Highly organised, firm, and clear-minded, they come with an array of solutions to sort out our messy lives.
The simple life
“I think it would be fair to say that most households in the UK, if not businesses as well, could benefit from having a professional organiser come in and see where they could be making things a bit easier for themselves,” said Katherine Blackler, a professional organiser and founder of SortMySpace Ltd.
“It is helpful having someone objective coming in who challenges you gently and firmly to see whether you really need everything that you’ve got.”
Blacker begins all her client interactions with an in-depth conversation to draw out what their goals are and where they are trying to get to.
“I think a lot of people feel a sense of overwhelm and are struggling with making decisions. There is such a thing as choice fatigue and if you have too many choices then you don’t even get started,” she said.
Blackler pointed to successful celebrities like Apple Inc co-founder, the late Steve Jobs, and former US President Barack Obama, who simplified their wardrobes so that they could focus instead on the things that really matter.
“If you actually pare things down so that it’s much clearer to see what you’ve got, where to lay your hands on it, you therefore start drawing out what’s important and what you have to do,” she said.
Blackler helps her clients by introducing systems and processes that will make their lives easier. In the home, it’s often just a question of rearranging kitchen cupboards, or focusing on the bedroom.
What do your mornings look like?
“If you wake up each morning and the first thing you see is your bedroom, if that is under control then it’s easier to get out of bed,” she said.
If you’re working from home then “it’s important to have a dedicated space that is your productive space and you try to keep it separate if at all possible,” she said.
“Even if it is just a dedicated desk that you can ideally shut the doors on,” she added. “Having a dedicated space with what you need in order to be productive, then when you’re sitting in that space you’re in work mode.”
Creating systems and habits
With a history of 15 years working in an office environment, Blackler is also primed to help professionals become more organised, through processes like annotating documents online.
“I have a convention where I label it based on the year, month and day in reverse,” she said. “Everything is in chronological order so you can find things really easily, if it’s a quote or an invoice or a receipt.”
And when it comes to sticking to your new, improved habits, then the “art of forgiveness” is key, she stressed. Forgiving yourself for spending money on something and letting it go to waste, or for failing on a pledge, is crucial.
“It takes a while to create new habits..so people will backslide and that is very likely part of the process,” she said.
“If you look around and it’s gone awry again that’s ok, because you know what you can do about it, and you’re in control. Rather than it overwhelming, just take a deep breath, put some music on and actually get things back to where they need to be.”
Does it bring you joy?
Rachel Burditt, who runs The Declutter Darling, works with a range of clients, from helping to sort through wardrobes, to bringing order to the domestic chaos of working parents.
She first establishes the lifestyle issues at the root of the problem, before working with them to end the clutter.
“I’m very ruthless. I really go through things and say do you really need three of these? We will charity it or sell it and do whatever we can before it goes in the refuse,” she said. From that point, she puts a system in place to find the best way to organise a room, while discussing how to maintain it.
Burditt recommends her clients follow the methods of Japanese lifestyle guru, Marie Kondo. “It’s about letting go – picking up items, do they bring joy in your life? If it’s something that you use on a day to day base and it excites you then keep it. If it doesn’t then let it go,” she said.
Add an extra 15 mins
Burditt also advises a few quick, simple steps that can declutter your life to give you a greater sense of wellbeing.
“A lot of people come home and just want to put their feet up at the end of the day, but just spend that extra 15 or 20 minutes putting away what you need to put away,” she said.
“It’s just about keeping on top of your lifestyle. Because your life does run away with you, everybody’s does.
So whether it is just getting up ten minutes earlier, or not watching your favourite episode of Emmerdale until you’ve cleared the kitchen counters down, make yourself a routine that you can stick to.”
Kate Ibbotson, the owner of A Tidy Mind, said successful decluttering was all about asking the right questions.
“When doing paperwork, for example, it’s asking – do you need to retrieve this again? A lot of people keep things just in case, they delay the decision about keeping it.”
Teaching new habits and systems, like filing and setting keys in the same place every day, also helped to develop organisational skills, she said.
A third important ingredient was time management, making a plan for the day and tracking how time was spent. Ibbotson also deals with a variety of clients, but for overwhelmed professionals, she often looks at a specific category of possessions, like paperwork, books or clothes.
“I have a 12-step decluttering process. Then we go through it step by step. One suggestion is that we gather everything together and then categorise the items,” she said.
“I’d get them all in a pile and would go through those and ask them questions like, how much do you use that, have you got duplicates that do the same job? The fundamental question does this add true value to your life?”
When it comes to sticking to a newfound organised lifestyle, Ibbotson recommends taking small and specific steps. “What I find is that people set themselves goals that are far too big. They will just say that they need to be more organised, and that’s really huge,” she said.
“It’s about acquiring one habit at a time, and once you have that committed to autopilot, moving onto the next one.”
Nicola Smith has spent a decade reporting for The Sunday Times on both the European Union and South Asia.