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Linda Samuels, CPO-CD®

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« Are Your Pants Too Tight? | 11 Change Indicators »

Ask the Expert: Judith Kolberg

Judith Kolberg, FileHeadsThe 2013 “Ask the Expert” interviews continue with a dynamic and inspiring group of people! Last month, organizer and coach, Sue West, talked with us about fresh starts. This month, I’m excited to have with us the extraordinary pioneer and innovator in chronic disorganization and the organizing industry, Judith Kolberg, to share her thoughts about change.

Judith and I met in 1995 at the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) conference in Dallas. She was running a panel called “Is This Your Client?” It was the first time I heard anyone talk about chronic disorganization, and immediately identified that most of my clients had similar challenges. Since then Judith and I have engaged in many wonderful conversations about organizing, publishing, family, and even cowboy boots. I’ve always admired her intelligence, warmth, directness, and fabulous sense of humor. I am honored to know her as a friend, mentor, and colleague. My deepest gratitude and thanks goes to Judith for taking the time to join us. Before we begin, here’s more about her.

Judith Kolberg pioneered FileHeads Professional Organizers in 1989. She founded the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization, the precursor to the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD) and is credited with launching a field of professional organizing dedicated to helping individuals challenged by chronic disorganization. She is an industry-futurist, innovator, and recipient of the industry’s highest honors including the Judith Kolberg Award. Several of the books Judith authored, such as Conquering Chronic Disorganization, are required reading for industry certification programs. Her books have sold over a quarter of million copies. She is a popular speaker and a featured organizer on the “Buried Alive” hoarding series. A native of New York, Judith lives in Atlanta, GA where she takes care of her Mom, sees clients, writes, and publishes. You can connect with Judith on Facebook, organizing or publishing websites, and blog.


Linda Samuels:  You’re a pioneer in the professional organizing industry and an expert on helping others creatively navigate change. What motivates people to change?

Judith Kolberg:  Money, sex, getting someone off our back, desperation – lots of things. In the organizing context a person changes from not-so-organized to more organized usually because they see getting organized as a means to another end. Yes, there is its own reward, but usually they make the effort to change because it will result in a living environment they enjoy being in more and that they want other people to enjoy more. Really, it is that simple.


Linda:  Change can be scary and overwhelming. What strategies can we use to help move past our fears?

Judith:  My favorite is to draw on their experience. If they are an adult, somewhere in their lifetime they’ve made a big a change and survived it. Maybe they moved, ditched a spouse, left a job and started a new career. If people can remember that it was difficult but they made it, that’s helpful to them. If I can help them identify what strengths they used that can be re-used, that’s good too. Are they persistent? Maybe they’re strong decision-makers? Perhaps they are realists? Anything can be leveraged.


Linda:  How can we identify when it’s time for change? Are there change indicators?

Judith:  Change indicators, an interesting word. At the dawn of my 60th birthday, I realize the life I am living is just not right. It does not suit who I am well enough. I know I could be happier. Lots of changes ahead. I’m not sure if there are indicators so much as there are gaps, inconsistencies, disconnects. For my clients, changing what they are doing organizationally often is associated with other changes or transitions. What’s new that has put the change on the agenda now? I often ask.


Linda:  Do you have a philosophy about change?

Judith:  If you toss a cat gently in the air it may twist and turn slightly but it will land on its feet. That’s the closest I can come.


Linda:  What has been your biggest personal challenge around change?

Judith:  My biggest personal challenge with change is that I tend to wait too long. We do what we need to do when we’re ready, and sometimes to make a change it’s the wrong time, but you do it with your knees knocking.

Thank you, Judith for your insights about change. There are several things you said that resonated with me. I love how you talked about leveraging strengths and prior experiences as a strategy to move past our fears. Then there’s the idea about “knees knocking.” While change can certainly be exciting and energy producing, it can also scare the pants right off of us. However, being able to push past that fear in pursuit of different, as our knees are shaking and heart is palpitating, is often how change and growth is experienced.

I invite all of you to join Judith and me as the conversation continues. We’d love to hear your thoughts about change or anything else you’d like to share. What are you thinking about?

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Reader Comments (29)

It is refressing that Judith follows her own advice. I appreciate all that she has shared here.

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJonda Beattie

I love Judith's succinct wisdom. Her question, "What’s new that has put the change on the agenda now?" is an important one to ask. Thanks for the opportunity to hear from her, Linda, and thanks for your time, Judith.

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSue Becker

I just LOVE these answers!! They make so much sense and ring true. Sometimes we think there must be some magic or an "ah-ha" moment to take place to create change, when really as Judith mentioned sometimes it's just that they're simply ready.

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Zechini

Wonderful to hear from all of you!

@Jonda- "Refreshing" is the perfect word choice. Judith is just that!

@Sue- I loved Judith's question too: "What's new that has put the change on the agenda now?" What a great question to help us help others more effectively.

@Deb- I also appreciated the clarity and directness with how Judith sees change. Sometimes the reasons are "that simple."

February 19, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Where to start - Of course, I tuned into the connection between organizing and transitions, leading to new chapters. I especially appreciated the insight around asking ourselves and our clients how we made it through the last big change.

In the "knees knocking" moments, we forget our own reservoir of strengths and strategies. Remembering how we handled a big change in the past is educational and useful, but mainly, it would remind us of our forgotten strengths and capabilities. It's a positive endorsement of who we are and what we are made of.

I wish Judith all kinds of good things for her own next chapter. Thank you, Linda - great questions create a thought provoking conversation for all of us.

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSue West

Love the 'gentle cat tossing' metaphor. Underline gentle. We 'change partners' have a responsibility to our clients to embrace a change process that is meaningful but measurable. Co-creating actions and outcomes that moderate the 'tossing' so it is a 'good struggle'. If it's too rapid or scary, then all new learning will be lost. And we all know its about the learning. Thanks Judith and Linda!

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCameron Gott

I love Judith's openness: "At the dawn of my 60th birthday, I realize the life I am living is just not right. It does not suit who I am well enough. I know I could be happier. Lots of changes ahead. I’m not sure if there are indicators so much as there are gaps, inconsistencies, disconnects." I have felt that way many times over the years, and it's those very gaps, inconsistencies or disconnects that have led to changes, whether big or small.

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Barclay

This is another great interview. Judith is always so direct and upfront in her responses. I love when she said that people make a change in their living environment because they want to enjoy it more and want others (their friends or family) to enjoy it more also. It's that simple. Maybe an end to the Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome? This resonates with me because I like to look for the simple answers which often provide the best and simplest solutions.

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDiane Quintana

Feeling the warmth with all of you gathering. Love hearing from each of you.

@Sue W- It's all in the questions, isn't it? The handle that opens the door.

@Cam- Appreciate the reminder about the right pacing for change...too "rapid or scary" negates the learning process.

@Janet- I also loved Judith's openness. What a gift to share so personally where change sits with her at this moment...on a precipice.

@Diane- We can overcomplicate things sometimes. Great to know when "simple" is appropriate and the way to go.

February 19, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

First and foremeost, I am so honored to be a part of a conversation with the critcially acclaimed Judith Kolberg. Period.
I love Judith's strategy in tapping into one's defining moments to inspire change. Often our core competencies are obvious, but I feel the "discovery" of a more obtuse strength is the most exciting part of the journey. It can be the most powerful instigator of all.
I think it's also quite interesting to recognize that sometimes the organizing process comes first, and then the change emerges. Often our clients are ready to improve their spaces by merely ready to commit to the time and to the work, but they have no idea that they themselves will be transformed. I love that kind of surprise, don't you?.

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Borg

Change can be initiated or imposed upon us. It can be viewed as positive or negative. Regardless, we'll have to face our fears and beliefs about change, and deal with emotions and resistance we didn't think existed within us.

This is where life experience comes handy and that's why I love Judith's point about using past life experience with change to negotiate what comes our way. What do they say? Practice makes better . . . or at least more patient, accepting, and open to hidden opportunities of even the most challenging situations.

Thank you Judith and Linda for yet another thought provoking entry!

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterYota

I'm always interested in watching what changes are in store for Judith. I think I may have a few in store for myself, too. I'm not convinced mine are due to "gaps, inconsistencies, disconnects." Maybe they're more tied to wanting to grow, to enter the next phase. I'm going to be on the watch for "change indicators."

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterValentina Sgro

Great to "hear" your voices as you weigh in on change.

@Nancy- I also enjoy the positive "surprises" our clients encounter when they trust the action part of the change process.

@Yota- Your words are so wise..."practice makes better..." Exercising our change muscles by tapping into our strengths.

@Val- Excited to see where your "next phase" brings you. Sounds like you're on the lookout for your change indicators.

February 19, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I love Judith's voice. It is very real and concise. The desire to change is not always sexy, but when someone is truly ready, hold on. Today I worked with a woman who said she is "sick and tired of being sick and tired of [her] home and life having too much stuff!" Her pain threshold had been crossed. There seems to be a fine balance between high reaction to create a change and the steady resolve needed to face it.

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Hale

I love Judith's strategies to help move clients past their fears--surviving a huge change in their past and utilizing their strengths in the organizing process. I'll be working towards embracing and applying those ideas in the future. Linda, thanks for offering all of us a venue to challenge our thinking and learn from a 'master.'

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterStacey Agin Murray

Love this post! There is so much depth to it! Most especially I connected with Judith's strategy to help clients embark on change, that is to draw on their experience and how this worked in the past. I can't wait to learn about Judith's next chapter!

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Delap

"What's new that puts change on the agenda now?" is a great line for getting our clients to open up about their transitions and what wasn't working in their lives. Totally going to use it.

February 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Dennis

Great to have all of you here with us! Love your contributions to the conversation on change.

@Susan- You're so right that when "someone is ready" to change, the speed with which things can happen can be awe-inspiring.

@Stacey- How wonderful that you found something here to add to your toolkit.

@Ellen- You and me both. I too am excited to "read" about Judith's next chapter.

@Melanie- That IS a great open-ended question, isn't it? Always new things to learn. Love that!

What questions do you like to ask to open up the change discussion?

February 20, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I love Judith Kolberg! Always wise, direct and innovative. She sets the standard.

February 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJanine Sarna-Jones

Tis human nature to be risk averse. We’d rather sit in complacency than jump into risk, even when the rewards are great. This makes me think of the statistics of pilots going down with their planes instead of strapping on parachutes and jumping out into the unknown.

Here's to knees-a-knocking + leaving our comfortable cockpits! <cheers>

February 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGeralin Thomas

Oh Wonderful Women! Great to "hear" your voices!

@Janine- Setting the standard, indeed! That's why it's so exciting to think about what Judith is cooking up for her next chapter.

@Geralin- What a thrilling metaphor you gave us of "leaving our comfortable cockpits." I suppose there are times when those first steps require that we take a giant leap towards the unknown...knees knocking, parachutes strapped on, and a dose of bravery!

February 20, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Change doesn't always require adding something new; sometimes it's about subtracting something old.

February 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterValentina Sgro

So wise, Val. Change often begins with letting go. That letting go comes in many forms from the physical stuff, to the calendar clutter to the thoughts that no longer serve us. When we take away that "old," we make room for change which includes new opportunities and ways of being.

February 21, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I absolutely loved the honesty and the wisdom that comes from this interview. Thank you both Linda and Mrs. Kolberg for your words and your open heart in sharing your personal and professional experience with us. As a person and organizer my biggest take away is how I can remind myself and my clients to draw from their successful experiences to empower them in the current changes. Great!

February 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHelena Alkhas

Helena- Drawing upon personal successes! Such an "empowering" tool, isn't it? And so often we forgot how resourceful we've been in the past. Our clients forget too. What a wonderful strategy to have and remember! Always great to have you join the conversations. I appreciate you being here with us.

February 22, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Hi Linda,
I could hear Judith's voice as she responded to your questions. One of the things I admire about Judith is her consistency in wisdom, her candor and her very quck whit. I too love her thought provoking question: "What’s new that has put the change on the agenda now?" I can't wait to try it out on a new client I'm seeing tomorrow.

Many thanks to you both for an enjoyable discussion - and to all those others who have contributed as well.

February 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSheila Delson, CPO-CD

Sheila- Judith's voice certainly comes through...humor, wisdom, candor & all! How fantastic that you have the opportunity to try out Judith's "change" question tomorrow. Would love to hear how it sits. Keep me posted. It's always great to "hear" your voice.

February 24, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Many fascinating insights from both Judith and Linda, and great comments from readers, too. Thanks, all. I agree that people have to be ready for change - no amount of sticks or carrots can produce lasting and effective change. Owning one's goals and embracing risks are therefore vital elements of strategies to produce change. It;s also important, I think, to explore ways of maintaining change rather than just creating it.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJuliet Landau-Pope

Juliet- Wonderful to have you join us. I appreciate the distinction you made that it's not just about creating change but also "maintaining" it.

March 18, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

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