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Linda Samuels, CPO-CD®

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In The Other Side of Organized, Linda Samuels, CPO-CD® will encourage you to get organized enough to reduce the stress of life’s details and make time to embrace your passions. Already, thousands of clients and readers have found help and inspiration in her advice, personal reflections on change and connection, and vision of what can be accomplished when you find that sweet spot between chaos and perfection.

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« The Power of New | Is Hope in The Equation? »

Ask the Expert: Sue West

Sue West, Organizer & CoachLast year the “Ask the Expert” feature was introduced on The Other Side of Organized blog! It quickly became a big success as we enjoyed inspiring conversations with industry leaders such as best-selling author Gretchen Rubin, time management guru Julie Morgenstern, and organizer and coach extraordinaire Denslow Brown. For 2013, the interview series continues with another dynamic group of experts. I’m thrilled to begin this year with author, coach and organizer, Sue West to share her wisdom about fresh starts.

Sue and I met several years ago through our professional organizing association, ICD. We’ve had many wonderful conversations about organizing, coaching, writing, life balance, and transitions. I am honored to know her as a friend and colleague. My gratitude and thanks goes to Sue for taking the time to join us. Before we begin, here’s more about her.

Sue West, CPO-CD, CPO, COC is a professional organizer, coach, and the author of Organize for A Fresh Start: Embrace Your Next Chapter in Life. She specializes in helping clients with life changes and transitions. Her clients have called her insightful, wise, inspiring, filled with hope, and gentle yet productive. Working primarily with people at mid-life or beyond, Sue works by phone or in person and holds workshops. You can connect with Sue on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, website and blog.


Linda:  You’re an expert on helping others navigate life transitions. What is your favorite tip for negotiating uncharted territory?

Sue:  I've always loved Oprah's column, "What I know for sure."  If you think about a big life change you've gone through, remember that feeling of being off-kilter?  We often focus on what we don't know, what's sad or uncomfortable, or seemingly impossible. So I always ask my clients, "What DO you know?" Focus on what's to be appreciated, what's working, what you know for sure (or almost sure, if you're feeling like a perfectionist). Once we start feeling stronger, we can move on.


Linda:  Fresh starts can be enervating or draining. What are a few strategies to help minimize overwhelm?

Sue:  Think "chapters" of time. Say you're starting a new business. This change affects your finances, sleep, exercise, nutrition, time for other interests, and many aspects of your life. Overwhelm can set in. Brainstorm with yourself or a coach, and get it all out of your head. On a second pass, break up your list by chapters in time and tackle one round of changes at a time.  A chapter could be when you start up, but still have a full-time job. A next chapter is when you decrease your full time hours, and so on.

Ask, “What's giving and what's taking my energy?” Hit the "pause" button for a few minutes daily and ask yourself those two questions. You'll gain perspective and able to change things for the better. 

Clear some physical space such as a desk, a shelf, or your home. Clearing the visual horizon clears your mind, is cathartic and energizing. People gain clarity and even control as they go through their things.  

More now than ever, use your preferred method of organizing your life. There's normally some mental or emotional fog, whether it's a positive or difficult life change. To mitigate its impact, take extra care to keep up your to do list and calendar. It is empowering in a time of change.


Linda:  A clean slate is an opportunity. How can we prepare physically or emotionally to experience positive results?

Sue:  When you've felt this way before, what strategies did you use? What strengthens and supports you? Similar strategies are likely to work now.  One of my clients had been using a lot of her time caring for her mother – visiting, errands, paperwork, finances, medical appointments, etc. When her mother died, my client was at a loss as to what to do with her newly found time… but lack of purpose.

My client worked with both a therapist and me to move forward, letting go of some of her past. She returned to what she had done before during difficult times, writing memories and stories about her mother. To her, it was useful to process her emotions, but also this reminded her to share stories with family, to honor her mother. By letting go, my client was less pulled by the past, and more open to what lay ahead. 

We incorporated her parents' things into her home, without overwhelming her space with too much of the past. Keep items that signify your strengths, your values and key memories.

Then we worked together on ways to fill her time with new purpose. She returned to hobbies and volunteer interests she had given up a long time ago - a wonderful and comfortable place for a new start.


Linda:  Do you have a philosophy about new beginnings?

Sue:  Our lives are a series of chapters. As you move to the next chapter, bring some of the past forward; don't ignore it because you feel the need to "start over." Build on what you know such as your strengths, your interests, values and your tried and true ways to bolster yourself. My parents taught me to look for the best in each person and for what I could learn. The same is true here, for our own selves!


Linda:  What has been your biggest personal challenge around second chances?

Sue:  I was raised to be self-motivated. I went through a set of big life changes about 10 years ago, and had a fresh start right in front of me. And yet, my closest friends believed in me more than I did.  Thank goodness for my temporary life preservers!  Reliance on other people didn't mean I'd become dependent on them or lose myself again. We need life preservers sometimes; it's a sign of strength and wisdom to invite in assistance.


Linda:  Is there anything you’d like to share about fresh starts that I haven’t asked?

Sue:  If something seems impossible, ask, “What is one small part of this that could be possible?”  If you're intent on a particular outcome, you'll miss the thing you needed to see along the way.

Thank you, Sue for your insights about transitions and fresh starts. There are so many nuggets of wisdom here, along with messages of hope. The idea of respecting and recognizing what you DO know as a focus for embracing the next chapter, resonates with me. I also responded to your idea of using our “temporary life preservers,” particularly when we’re going through major life changes. Your perspective that reaching out for help is a show of strength and wisdom, is refreshingly positive.

I invite all of you to join Sue and me as the conversation continues. We’d love to hear your thoughts about transitions, chapters, fresh starts, or anything else you’d like to share. Which ideas are you thinking about?

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Reader Comments (17)

Thanks for sharing all these new perspectives. I love the idea of chapters of life! What a great way to frame transitions in a positive light, with a beginning and end. Adding this new perspective makes transitions easier.

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Delap

I'm with you, Ellen. I love Sue's description about "chapters of time." As you said it frames the concept with a beginning, middle, end and flow to what follows next.

January 22, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Great interview. Love the life preservers metaphor!

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJanine Sarna-Jones

I feel the same. the chapters of time really resonated with me. For most of our clients who overwhelm easily by the enormity of it all, the chapters of time really helps to frame it out and put structure and parameters around it. WOnderful insight!

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie Josel

enjoying this dialogue between two dynamic agents for change. Change can be hard without a clear process and a knowledgable partner. both are nicely illustrated here.
thanks both of you!

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCameron Gott

So much of what Sue said in her interview spoke to me. I love the idea of life preservers. I think it's so important to reach out to trusted friends, knowing you can count on them to hold you up. I also loved what Sue said about letting go of the past but still honoring it - learning from it - and then creating a new purpose or interest in your life.

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDiane Quintana

I love Sue's gentle approach. What really resonated with me in this interview is the notion of not turning your back on the past when you make a fresh start. Rather, bring some of the past forward and benefit from it.

I think that's one of the great things about professional organizers, in general. At this point in our industry's history, we're all typically coming into it with another career under our belts and we all bring so much of our past experiences in to help our clients.

Thanks, Linda and Sue!

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJanine Adams

Linda and Sue thank you for this interview. Sue, I so appreciate the chapters metaphor. It is so simple, yet so powerful and I look forward to considering it in upcoming days.

Sue and I trained together and know her to be a wonderful coach. She demonstrates her abilities in the thoughtful questions she puts forth in this interview. These questions help individuals explore alternate viewpoints and create new perspectives for themselves. These questions remind individuals that the strength they've exhibited in the past can be of great support to them in their future. These questions demonstrate Sue's strength as a coach and agent of change.

Best to you both.

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea Sharb

Wow oh wow you amazing people! You each have added to this conversation in such a beautiful way. You are generous sharers. Sue's ideas about "life preservers," "chapters of time," and honoring the past by carrying our strengths and knowledge forward seemed to resonate with many of you. The value of having a partner for the change process was also mentioned along with the power of asking thoughtful, perspective-shifting questions. Do you have an effective or favorite perspective-shifting question?

January 22, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

It's interesting for me to read what resonated most, as I sit down at the end of today. After working, I'm with my parents tonight and tomorrow as they begin a walk towards their own next chapter.

Perspectives, chapters, blending past/present. Life preservers - not life savers, but people whom we reach out to help us preserve what we know to be important to us. Love to hear what's useful to you.

And, yes, simple strategies, but oh, so powerful when we're overwhelmed with changes. Simple is sometimes more powerful and useful ... and grounding.

Thank you, from me as well for joining the conversation here. I look forward to more.

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSue West

Such great info. Thanks to the both of you for sharing your espertise.

January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterColette Robicheau

Sue, you raise some excellent points, that a fresh start doesn't have to mean leaving it all behind, that we can hold on to those memories, objects, and activities that will continue to serve us well as we begin the next chapter. Thank you!

January 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Barclay

Wow! What a superb interview! Sorry I'm late to the conversation! You can tell by her use of precise analogies & metaphor in her writing that Sue was brought up to be self motivated; her answers appear to be borne out of much experience, and she is able to distil thought processes into accessible frames so not only can we grasp them firmly, we also know how to move forward. Her parting comment about possibility resonated with me; indeed, as as I read recently, the word " impossible " actually says " I'm-possible ", so if you start with the proactive base that Sue mentions, you'll be taking focused action in no time.

Bravo Sue & Linda - great takeaway value here!

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGrant Willcox

Grant - I love the "I'm possible!" I'll have to borrow that one!

I know we organizers often work with our clients about leaving Things behind, by focusing on what's coming up for our next chapter. (Things I capitalize sometimes; I saw this first in Cindy Glovinsky's book, Making Peace with our Things. It makes so much sense at times of overwhelming change. They take on importance in such different ways from our usual life.

But we also leave behind people. We hopefully leave behind beliefs about ourselves which no longer make sense to who we are becoming. Ideally, we leave behind habits, attitudes and feelings which don't fit anymore.

A client who had been through several major life changes in just a few years commented that she didn't realize how empowering and liberating this organizing process would be. She changed, as her environment changed. Her house was filled with her parents' Things, but her life and her mindset were filled,too. As she moved through the Things, she opened up possibilities she hadn't been able to 'see" before.

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSue West

@Sue- I love the distinction you made about life preservers not being life "savers." Essential difference. Interesting too that you were working with your parents on their next chapter. That same day I was helping my Mom with transitions. Many of my client experiences have enabled me to be sensitive to my Mom's needs now. Talk about bringing the knowledge forward! I appreciate your insights about the changes that can occur when we allow ourselves to let go of things, beliefs, situations, that no longer reflect who we are. Then the blooming begins.

@Colette- Great to have you join us. Glad to know that you found value from the conversation.

@Grant- You're not late. And you're always welcome to join in. The comments feature remain active, so that if at any point someone reads a passage that resonates with them, they are always able to join in and share. Just love your "Im-possible" gift. What a great mindset to bring to our fresh start conversation.

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Samuels

I, too, loved the idea of looking at life's ups and downs as "chapters." Chapters of our life's story that succeed one another but are not independent of one another. Our story goes on and we dance back and forth through the chapters, looking at our experience through a different set of eyes each time and growing and changing through it all.

I also loved the reminder of hitting the "pause" button and taking inventory of what's giving or taking our energy. We know this strategy, yet how many times do we remember to do it when it counts the most?

One more meaningful and solid conversation! Thank you Sue and Linda!

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterYota Schneider

@Yota- So wonderful to have you with us. As we age, perhaps it becomes clearer how our "chapters" relate to one another. It's like any good story where we can see the red threads and the characters develop. I'm glad that you brought the "pause" button concept back to the conversation. It is an essential strategy, yet so often missed. The pause affords us the chance to just slow down, reflect, and then move forward with more clarity.

January 25, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

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