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Linda Samuels, CPO-CD®

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« 5 Quick Decluttering Tips | Letting Go of Perfection »

Ask the Expert: Sheila Delson

Sheila Delson - "Ask the Expert" interview about Letting GoThe arrival of spring brings more dynamic, inspiring leaders with the “Ask the Expert” interview series. So far this year, we’ve spoken with Laura Berman Fortgang about next steps, Judith Kolberg about change, and Sue West about fresh starts. This month I’m excited to share with you an outstanding leader in the professional organizing industry, Sheila Delson, to share her insights and wisdom about letting go.

Sheila and I have been friends and colleagues for almost 20 years. The first time we met, she arrived at my house bringing a delicious loaf of lavender-infused bread that she had just baked. The lavender had been picked from her beautiful garden. We talked for hours about the organizing industry, her newly launched business, life, and family. Twenty years later, our conversations and friendship continue. A trusted confidant, I have great admiration for her compassion, intelligence, dedication, creativity, and integrity. I also want to congratulate Sheila for being given just this week, the most prestigious honor in our industry, the 2013 NAPO Founders' Award. My deepest thanks goes to Sheila for taking the time to join us. Before we begin, here’s more about her.

Sheila Delson, CPO-CD®, is owner and President of FREEDomain Concepts, LLC, founded in 1994.  She is a Certified Professional Organizer specializing in Chronic Disorganization, ADHD and compulsive hoarding. Sheila is a co-founder and Past President of the Institute for Challenging Organization (ICD), a co-developer of the group’s Certification Program, a Master Trainer, and an original co-author of the ICD Clutter-Hoarding Scale.  An active member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), Sheila currently serves on the NAPO-NY Chapter Board of Directors, and is an award recipient from both organizations for her contributions to the professional organizing industry. You can connect with Sheila on her website.


Linda Samuels:  You’re an expert that specializes in working with the chronically disorganized population? What makes letting go particularly challenging for this group?

Sheila Delson:  What is particularly difficult for this population is their extreme emotional attachment to things, which is frequently fear-based and sometimes caused by a false belief system. The added struggle is the incongruence between what a person intellectually understands to be normal and acceptable, and what she or he intuitively understands may not be.  This is a frustrating scenario for most of the chronically disorganized population.


Linda:  What are a few creative techniques you use to encourage the letting go process?

Sheila:  I try to desensitize and normalize the object by asking the client to describe the importance of an item. I write down the answer (making it concrete), then together we reality-check the response to both their intellectual and intuitive senses. To do this process I try to formulate questions avoiding language words like you, your, they, and them. For example, “Can you explain to me what is so important about this item?” and ”Can you tell me how this item supports the plan we just developed? Does your response match that plan or hinder it?”  I do use the word “we” because it brings the conversation into the present time…not of the past because ‘change’ happens in the present. Minimizing the personalization factor provides the client with a perspective advantage because it minimizes the emotional connection.


Linda:  What has been the most surprising discovery about letting go?

Sheila:  How is it both painful and liberating all at the same time, and the fact that the process is so different for everyone.  Similar to an anesthetic, a qualified Professional Organizer provides direction, council, and ultimately relief to the process.


Linda:  Do you have a letting go philosophy?

Sheila:  It’s about being more mindful of the choices we make and of the things that surround our environment and their meaning to our lives today.  Just because it was meaningful once doesn’t always mean it has that same benefit today.  In fact it may have the opposite effect!  I like to use a modified version of the Tony Robins’ mantra (brackets mine): “The past doesn’t [have to] equal the future,” – unless we choose to allow it to be - for better or worse!


Linda:  What has been your biggest personal challenge around letting go?

Sheila:  You know it’s really the same as it is for my clients. Hey…we’re human, right?  We all get so busy, and the months, years pass by so fast that we don’t pay attention to the things that have accumulated. We get overwhelmed by daily pressures and then procrastinate deciding on how we should feel about an item or what to do with it. Instead of mindful choosing we procrastinate and mindlessly shove it into a file drawer, or onto a pile, or into a closet, and slam the door!  For me, learning to become more ‘mindful’ has been my salvation and is what I try to impart to my clients. It is a deliberate, conscious activity that can be learned and developed.


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

Sheila:  Yes…”Downsizing.”  With all the ‘Boomers’ now coming of age, I think this term has negative implications for many.  The very word “down” makes people want to avoid, avoid, avoid! It’s an old term that doesn’t have the same relevancy today that it did 50 years ago. Today’s boomer age group are still working and are active contributors in their communities and families.  For today’s boomers, it’s not about “DOWN” anything, but more about “RIGHT making and LIGHT making,” mindfully reviewing a lifetime of accumulation of things and letting go of the things that hold us (down) back by carefully choosing the things that continue to support where we are today, going forward. 


Thank you, Sheila for sharing your thoughts about letting go. You’ve identified many ideas that resonate with me like using desensitization to minimize emotional attachments to our possessions, getting past our past, and engaging in mindfulness. All of these are essentials in the letting go process.

I invite all of you to join Sheila and me to continue the conversation. We’d love to hear your ideas about letting go. What letting go challenges or successes have you experienced recently? 

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Reader Comments (24)

Love all these ways to get new perspectives on letting go! Having a mindful daily perspective is what resonates with me most. I always appreciate your Ask the Expert series!

April 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Delap

Thank you, Linda for this wonderful interview with Sheila Delson. I just loved the entire interview and several comments resonated with me. Sheila's remark about keeping the conversation in the present tense because change happens in the present is powerful to remember. I also appreciated Sheila's comment about using the term Downsizing for the Boomer generation. So much of what we do as organizers - so much of our ability to help our clients depends on how we approach a topic. So to avoid the term DownSizing and make it right sizing - helping them to choose the things that support their vision of their life now and what they are looking for it to be in the future - is the approach I will try!

April 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDiane Quintana

Great article! I agree that "downsizing" has negative connotations. I much prefer the term "right-sizing." As a military family, we go through "right-sizing" every few years as we move to a new home. It isn't always easy but it is always worth it!

April 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJacki Hollywood Brown

Hi Linda & Sheila,

What thoughtful answers with such insight - I love how you, Shelia, mentioned that downsizing is seen as a negative thing and I agree! The term "lightsizing" is much more positive and thank you for giving us that unique perspective! I agree that it is a process that is different for everyone - one person may have no trouble letting go of certain stuff but not so much with something else - and it is interesting to learn what people hold on to and why.

Thank you, Linda, for inviting me to join in a great interview!

April 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterElisa Macomber

What a wonderful interview! Sheila affirms my own philosophy (my egret-taking-flight logo represents the freedom of rising above clutter), while also giving me a couple of ideas to try with my clients. I look forward to reading more of your stuff, Linda!

April 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHazel Thornton

What an amazing group! It's wonderful to "hear" your voices. What a treat too, that I recently got to see many of you in person at the NAPO New Orleans conference.

@Ellen- Mindfulness is increasingly becoming my new favorite concepts to concentrate on.

@Diane- Isn't it fascinating how the words we use can affect our outlook? Slight shifts can alter our perspective in positive ways.

@Jacki- As an experienced mover, it's especially good to know that you prefer the term "right-sizing. Did I hear you say you're moving again soon? All the best...and thank you again for the Coffee Crisp. It was a welcome treat on my travels back to New York.

@Elisa- So important to bring a positive perspective to all that we do. Letting go can be challenging at times. The words we choose can make all the difference.

@Hazel- Your egret logo is powerful. Love that idea of rising above the clutter...perhaps seeing it from a different perspective? Just wonderful!

April 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Samuels

I love this article and I love Sheila. What a wonderful collection of insights! I don't work with CD clientele however these techniques are useful when assisting any client who struggles with attachment. As Hazel noted, reading what Sheila does taught me a few new things and also affirmed that I'm doing exactly what I need to be doing with my clients. Thanks for sharing this interview with me!

~ Monica :o)

April 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMonica Ricci

Talk about perfect timing. I don't think you could have planned it better to have Sheila as your guest on the heels of our annual conference and from winning the Founders award. Foremost, Sheila you have an uncanny ability to take what we are all probably thinking, synthesize it, put a smart and understandable spin on it and have us all go "Exactly!" Your opinion on "downsizing" really resonated with me as that word has left a bad taste in my mouth over the years. Your positive spin really gave me pause. Lots of nuggets from this interview to put in my bag of tricks. But I wouldn't expect anything less. And kudos to you Linda. I'm seeing a radio, tv or another book in your future.

April 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie Josel

Thank you so much, Linda! I so appreciate you sharing Sheila's wisdom with us all. I am so impressed by Sheila's point of view. Change happens in the present. Reframing downsizing as Right Sizing. Awesome! Sheila embodies every quality that the Founder's Award is based upon and I so appreciate her clear and cogent explanations.

April 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJanine Sarna-Jones

Sheila's response to why it is difficult for the chronically disorganized to let go could not be more accurate. What a fantastic universal truth that translates beautifully to multiple populations for anything that no longer serves us. As always, thank you, Sheila and Linda, for shining the light on deep rooted causes of disorganization.


April 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Hale

How wonderful to "hear" more of your wonderful voices. Thank you for joining the conversation and for your positive words.

@Monica- You're so right. Sheila is totally lovable! Having these kinds of conversations allows each of us to learn and also validate what we are doing right.

@Leslie- Sometimes the timing just flows. Your choice of words to describe Sheila is so accurate. She has that "uncanny" ability to "synthesize," assimilate, and explain in a way that makes so much sense. She's gifted.

@Janine- "Clear and cogent explanations." Beautifully shared.

@Sue- Nice highlighting of the "universal" letting go truths: emotional attachments and false belief systems.

Are there letting go challenges you are experiencing now?

April 23, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Just had to add this thought to the conversation....Dr. Shannon Reece shared her reflection with me about this post and wanted to pass it on to all of you:

"Too often we hold on too tightly to the irrelevant, at the cost of really doing something with the relevant in our lives." - Dr. Shannon Reece

April 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Samuels

The incredulous realization about these "ask the expert" conversations, is that as Organizers, we never stop learning! Sometimes it's a new phrase or a just a word that re-frames the way we think about our clients or their situations. For me, definitely my new catch phrase will be "light-sizing" replacing the negativity of 'downsizing." Love that!
In terms of aiding my client's in letting go, I'm in agreement with Sheila's writing things down because it brings on some objective perspective. The depersonalization is my most powerful tool and so I discourage the client from actually "touching" the item. I moderate both the discussion and the items. I find that once they physically connect, they emotionally connect as well, and it is those triggers that impede on the toss. In most cases, they are compelled to tell a heartfelt story and so, back in the "keep" pile it goes.

April 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Borg

Loving this thread of letting go. I have felt that I have been pretty good with letting things go but now I am looking forward to a probable move and along with "Do I need it and/or love it?" I am asking myself "Do I really want to move it?". It is surprising to me how much more I am letting go after asking this question.

April 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJonda Beattie

@Nancy- Continued learning is a wonderful thing. I'm so glad that you've discovered a new phrase to go forward with. "Kinesthetic sympathy' is a term that I think Judith Kolberg first talked about, where the touching of objects can increase our emotional attachment to them. Like you, it's something I'm also aware of when working with my clients. If I see the "touch" aspect impeding the movement, I will suggest that I hold while they decide. Telling the stories, however, seem to be an integral part of the letting go process.

@Jonda- Nice phrasing about "looking forward" to a possible move. I just love your question of, "Do I really want to move it?" to help ease decision-making. Can I borrow that one? Love it!

So great to hear from you both and bonus that I saw you in New Orleans.

April 23, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Linda and Sheila, what a great interview and gives me so much to learn and think about. Truly grateful for your sharing. I cherish long-life friendships so much and knowing yours goes back for such a beautiful time is really inspiring. May you share many more talks and lavender loaves! Sheila, congratulations on your award! Grateful, Helena.

April 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHelena Alkhas

This is a wonderful and truly helpful interview Linda & Sheila. Sheila's insights and your questions Linda are true organizing jewels. Our work with chronically disorganized clients is at times complex, so hearing different relevant techniques that work for each of us is incredibly helpful. Since many of us work alone, having our community of colleagues to share new ideas or bounce old ones off of is very helpful. How Sheila talks about "desensitizing and normalizing objects by asking clients to describe an items importance, and writing down the clients answer to reality-check the response to the clients' intellectual and intuitive senses" is brilliant! Thanks so much for this interview & keeping the conversation going.

April 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRandi Lyman

What a terrific interview! Thanks for the opportunity to learn from Sheila. I especially love the point about right-sizing versus down-sizing — a simple but powerful shift.


April 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAby

Great having all of you stop by to join our conversation!

@Helena- I'm with many more conversations and lavender loaves. Did you know that aside from being an extraordinary organizer, Sheila is also a Master Gardner?

@Randi- Sharing ideas with one another is what I love most about this community. I'm so glad you found value from the exchange.

@Aby- It's amazing how a slight "shift," as you said can make all the difference.

April 24, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Hi Everyone!

It is so interesting to hear everyone's responses here. I arrived home from the NAPO Conference late Tues. night and I'm still 'feel'in the love!' (~.~)

I'm delighted to see the positive feedback to this blog topic, and I am equally awed by Linda's wisdom in knowing just the right questions to ask her guests. In my case here, I found that answering her questions forced me to be more 'mindful' about my answers. Just the process of writing down the answers to her questions - making them more 'concrete - made them more relevant to the subject.

Linda, I've always admired your ability to think deeply and the resulting questions your intellectual mind produces. Guess that's what makes your blog posts so popular, powerful and inspiring. THANK YOU for the opportunity to be a part of it all, my longtime respected colleague and friend!

April 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSheila Delson

Sheila/Linda - My favorite answer was the first one because it beautifully illustrates the complexity of CD. A mixture of "extreme emotional attachment ...fear...false belief systems...incongruence between intellect and intuition ... and whatever is thought to be 'normal and acceptable.'" Well, with all that happening, how could an individual sort through these conflicting warriors. It's so much at once from so many different parts of ourselves.

Beautifully articulated and what an observer you must be, Sheila. I imagine your clients are thrilled to be working with you, and to know how deeply committed you are. Nice that it's acknowledged by NAPO as well as ICD over the years. Thanks for all you do; it's ennervating.

April 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSue West

@Sheila- So glad you're feeling the love-fest. You are always "mindful" and thoughtful in your responses. It's one of the things I love most about you. Thank you for your kind words. I'm so happy that you're here with us. You've sparked a wonderful conversation.

@Sue- You are a keen observer too. I love how you're able to focus on the essentials of a thought or conversation. A true gift.

April 25, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

What I love about Sheila's comments (and Sheila) is that she is just so practical, honest and so sincere not only with her clients, but with everything she does. She's a life mentor; we should all follow Sheila's advice and footsteps. Linda, love this blog, thank you for your commentary and sharing Sheila's insight with all of us.

April 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Palestine

Ellen- How beautifully you describe Sheila as sincere and as a "life mentor. You are absolutely accurate. I know life is especially full for you these days, and so appreciate you taking the time to join our conversation. It was great seeing you in NOLA!

April 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Samuels

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