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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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5 Big Surprises About Professional Organizers & The Things They Collect

It may surprise you that many organizers are also collectors. I’m one of them. I collect many things including Pez dispensers, cobalt blue glass, trinkets, floating pens, sparkly things, and beautiful Pinterest images. I no longer collect rocks, cat-related objects, pins, or leotards. Tastes change. Focus changes. Letting go happens. I was interested in knowing more about organizers’ collections, the influence it had on their organizing work, and letting go issues. To understand more, I reached out to several of my colleagues (Janine Adams, Ruthann Betz-Essinger, Nancy Borg, and Karen Fulks.) They shared a range of perspectives about the “stuff” of life, collecting it, managing it, and letting go of it. My deepest gratitude goes to each of them for exploring their collecting and letting go experiences with us. Keep reading for some insights about the path of our possessions.

I asked my colleagues . . . 

  • What do you collect?
  • How has your organizing work influenced your collecting habits?
  • What letting go challenges have you experienced with your collections?


Contained Collections

“When I was in my twenties, I traveled internationally for my work and I started collecting fountain pens, which were abundant and affordable in other countries. I added to the collection for a few years and when I stopped traveling so much, I stopped collecting.

The collection lives in a fishing tackle box in the basement. Today, I literally had to dust off the box before opening it (for the first time in probably 20 years) and inside I found 43 neatly stored fountain pens. 

The organizer in me just had to consider letting go of the collection: I certainly don’t use these pens. Heck, I don’t even think about the collection. But looking at the pens, they bring back memories of my travels and, yes, of my youth. Should I let them go? Perhaps. Are they worth enough to sell? I have no idea, but it’s conceivable. Will I sell them? I sincerely doubt it, unless I find myself with a whole lot of time on my hands.

For now, I have plenty of room to store this small, contained collection. Perhaps I’ll give the pens away to a fountain-pen-loving young person one day. In the meantime, I appreciate the opportunity to reacquaint myself with these lovely pens!”

Janine Adams, CPO®, CPO-CD® – Professional Organizer, Blogger, Speaker & Blogger


Useful Collections

“I collect books and anything with Vera Bradley’s name on it.  Since becoming an organizer I have learned that the best collections need to be visible and/or useful. What is the point of something that is unseen or not used? Today, I give away any fiction books I have read, either to a friend or a library. I have also started buying more e-books.  My Vera Bradley collection is a little trickier, but I do rotate my purses and totes on a monthly basis. If I don’t use something within the year, it’s gone. I limit the number of Vera items to the volume of the storage container in which they are kept. Letting go is hard but the more you practice, the easier it gets. Also, knowing that another person might get the same thrill over an item that once thrilled you, makes it easier to give up.”

Ruthann Betz-Essinger, CPO®, MBA – Business & Residential Organizer & Speaker


Memories-Inspired Collections

“When my parents retired and downsized their “giraffe” figurines (both large & small), it was with great sadness that I watched them ‘let go’ of their lifelong collection. It was storytelling at its best. It signified wonderful days gone by and so it felt very heavy-hearted to bid them farewell.

When I married, while I loved the ‘idea’ of starting a collection of something, I understood that interests change and so too would our collections of ‘things.’  I recalled that my parent’s passion had faded though the years, and that those great long-necked treasures had eventually become even greater dust collectors.

35 years later, it is artwork, home décor, and treasured photo albums that fill our home and rekindle memories. We used to collect matchbooks from every restaurant, near and far. Although no longer an active (nor displayed) collection, I still delight in digging into a Ziploc and discover the favorite places that retell our stories.”

Nancy Borg – Professional Organizer & Blogger


Organized Collections

“Fact:  In our house, there are 40+ collections and 10,000 books. Working for years with ‘collectors,’ the easiest way to start with collections is to use the motto of Organizers worldwide: Like with like. And break it down again. For my/our obsessions: alphabetize books, put found money in by date, vintage knit potholders on kitchen walls, group cigar boxes by size, etc. But...snowglobes, the largest collection? After building narrow shelf units, groups formed – states, countries, animals, strange. The collection grew, as did the groups. We moved recently, (ok, 7 years ago), were undecided as to location, so all went to the attic and haven’t been looked at until…today, writing this – yep, still in attic, still undecided, and most fairly intact. I pretend I’m my client. I loved these unique snowglobes. Ha! Past tense & there’s my answer. Easy? No, but if I take pictures, I won’t have to dust them.”

Karen Fulks – Professional Organizer since 1984 & Collector since 1951


Passion, control, loss, and inquisitiveness reside in these stories. We experience unusual relationships to our objects and collections. How do we choose what to keep or to let go of? Our “things” can have a unique hold on us and therefore we create parameters and boundaries around them. These come in both physical and emotional forms such as fitting them into a specific containers or questioning the value of our emotional attachments. What resonates with you? Are you a collector, or do you know one? How do your attachments to “collected” objects influence your letting go habits? I invite you to share your thoughts about collecting, letting go, and boundaries. Come join the conversation!

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Reader Comments (22)

What a powerful perspective! Having organizer share their collections, why these are important, and how they have organized them gives insight into why and how anyone collects anything. It is truly about honoring a collection, regardless of the size.

From my own perspective, the only collection I have is a set of photographs of my husband and I on special occasions and on special trips. I have it on a small table and there are about 25 photos. These photos are a collection of experiences to me, rather than physical objects. I only add the most cherished of experiences to this collection, rather than adding a photo every year. What speaks to me about collecting is knowing what is truly a "precious addition" rather than letting go of what later becomes less "valuable".

What a great conversation to start!

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Delap

@Ellen- What a great way you've chosen to display and cherish your collection. And different from what we've seen in this post so far, while your collection has a physical nature by way of framed photos, they represent "special" experiences. Just lovely. I also love what you say about "honoring a collection." By giving our collections a "home" we're able to see, enjoy and even use them, which Ruthann talked about too. So happy you joined the conversation and shared about your collection, Ellen!

April 1, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I started collecting postcards when I was a child, and I continue to add to my collection. They are organized into two photo boxes: one for Canada (with a section for each province), and one for everywhere else (also sectioned by geographical areas), plus a third box for oversized cards (unsorted). Although they remain tucked away for the most part, I enjoy bringing them out from time to time and reminiscing about places I've been and people who have sent me cards of their travels.

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Barclay

Linda, this post turned out beautifully. I love this conversation too! As an organizer, I can relate to each of these stories. When I first was introduced to the idea that our things have a purpose in our lives, it changed my perspective. I used to have more books than my house could hold. After becoming an organizer in 1999, I joined the local library and over the years have cut my books by 75%. (But I still have a lot!) Love this topic! Kelly

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKelly Hipkin

Love this one, Linda! It shows that professional organizers are living, breathing personalities with similar tugs as our clients. I have a major thing for shop vacs, band-aids, and office supplies. Maybe they do not meet the definition of a collection because they are constantly being used or dispersed to others, but I have to be very diligent when it comes to buying, storing, and using things in these categories.

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Hale

Don't ask me why, I used to collect rosaries, I was raised catholic and now have faith but don't really follow any religion. I always admired and still do, the religious art and iconography but as art itself, not as means to be closer to God. The rosaries never were to pray with, I think they were the affordable way to have some "religious art" in my hands although they are more handcraft than art.
Now those rosaries lies inside a cookies tin box, I stop acquiring them. It's funny because that brings me a memory, another things I used to collect were tin boxes, you know those with some image printed on like Hershey's or Danish cookies, phew that's maybe the reason I like to organize, all the pretty boxes that served the purpose of giving things a place.
Really fun reading about what other people collect. Thank you Linda.

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNacho Eguiarte

You have no idea how much I enjoy reading your collections and how you manage and feel and about them. Thank you all for joining the conversation and sharing.

@Janet- Postcards! Contained, organized, and brought out periodically to enjoy people and places. Beautiful!

@Kelly- Books, books, and more books. I totally relate and admire your 75% reduction. I grew up in a house of books and have continued that tradition. Books are the hardest things for me to let go of. Most don't "spoil" and always have something new to offer.

@Susan- Vacs, bandaids, & office supplies are definitely collections. Among my clients, shopping bags are common collections (some get reused and others saved just because they're beautiful.) I used to collect bandaids with designs on them. I was always thrilled when someone would get a cut (sick, isn't it?) so I could offer them a cornucopia of bandaid options. With the girls now grown, I've reduced my collection down to one small box. Less cuts. Less takers.

@Nacho- Rosary collection in a beautiful tin box! Isn't it interesting that you stopped acquiring and found a way keep the collection in a meaningful way? And tin boxes- you reminded me that was something I used to collect, which I displayed in our kitchen. When we repainted, the tins came down and I opted NOT to display them again (felt too cluttered.) I let go of some at last year's garage sale, while others are still being stored.

Great stories! Keep 'em coming...

April 1, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I really agree with Ruthann's point about having collections be visible so they can be enjoyed. I know one client who collects corkscrews. He has them displayed on a very large wall in the kitchen, and they are a wonderful source of joy, memories and conversation. If a collection only takes up space in a box in an attic, I think it isn't serving its full purpose.

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSeana Turner

Seana- Visible collections sure make for daily enjoyment. However, as we've seen from some of these stories, even collections that are visited less frequently (like Janet's) still function beautifully. Like most things, it's about finding what makes sense for you.

No one has spoken about it this yet, but am wondering about what visual, tactile or other "senses-related" aspects correlate to collecting.

Any thoughts?

April 1, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I loan all my books from the library except the JD Robb series. I collect all the hard covers and I am searching old book stores for older ones. My husband like to collect things as well, but we keep a limited space available for each collection.

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJill Robson

Call me boring or uncreative, but I've never found any one thing that's attracted me enough to want to gather more...or perhaps I've just been too resistive. Oh, it's not that I don't have 'stuff' - just no 'collections.' I agree with Susan's comment about how we (professional organizers) are just as attracted to certain things as our clients are! We are human too (imagine that)! Things do trigger fond memories and evoke emotions. Two things I recognized that are so beautifully demonstrated here, are mindfulness and balance. In each of the scenarios I see that the item's value is honored in the 'where and how' these collections are stored or displayed, and how much joy they bring...versus how a collection might also dominate a person's life when mindfulness and balance go amuck. True "collections" are well managed, cared for and appreciated. All of the scenarios shared here are a reflection of just that. Thank you Linda for opening my own mind more on this subject. Hummm...I DO have an attraction to miniature nature animals - your influence may have just set me free!! Ah-Ha!

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSheila Delson, CPO-CD

Fabulous and so relevant for Professional Organizers to personalize their issues with collecting and letting go. I was thrilled to be asked to participate and initially, I was regretful that I didn't have a collection, lol. But the interesting thing that I've noticed since I've been organizing is that most collections have a shelf-life. Typically, when we "uncover" a collection, they "discover' that it no longer provides them with same passion and value it once had. The struggle then becomes how to "let go" of the old "joy" they once felt. As we know, it's never really about the "things," it's about the relationship with the things. So it begs the question, when we start a "collection," is there any thought to "how much, " or for "how long?"

What I failed to mention in my post is that although I don't see it as necessarily "collecting" photos, I do have is a very organized photo collection. It is something I cherish and get continuous pleasure from (for myself, and to share it with my family). To me, this feels "forever," and something I know I will never outgrow.

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Borg

Love this continuing conversation! Wonderful to "hear" your voices!

@Jill- Ah…another book collector…specific ones. Nice. So your husband is a collector too? So is mine. I like to say that I collect small things and he collects big ones (like large porcelain signs.) Hard to "contain" those! :)

@Sheila- Thank you for finding the "mindfulness and balance" thread that weaves throughout these stories. As organizers we understand all too well how "things" can overtake our lives and spaces. But in moderation (self-designated) they also can bring great joy and delight. Perhaps there's a collection in your future? Miniature nature animals?

@Nancy- I love your contribution to the post and how you talked about the sadness you felt when your parents let go of their collection. But it also highlighted the specific questioning about whether or not to even have a collection. As a collector, I've definitely experienced varying levels of interest at different times. And when the time came to stop a particular collection (brought on by a variety of reasons,) there was always a slight feeling of loss…that one phase of life had ended. And yet, when I've let go, that loss has been accompanied by lightness. Interesting.

April 1, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I enjoyed reading this post and all the comments! I think that being a PO has definitely changed how I view belongings and have a little trouble imagining starting a new collection. But that doesn't mean I have to let go of my fountain pens! <g>

Thanks for another great collaborative post, Linda!

April 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJanine Adams

I'm a professional organizer who collects floating pens as well so this article really made me chuckle. I tell my clients if you have the space for a collection and it brings you joy then go for it. I try to encourage clients to display their collections then get rid of them when you no longer enjoy having them out in public view.

@Janine- Thank you for being a collaborator on this post. I love the thought process you shared about keeping your fountain pen collection safely contained, even though it's no longer a pursuit and that you're storing it out of sight. It brings to light the options we always have: keep or let go. An individual choice.

@Jerilyn- So nice to meet another "floating pen" collector. Have you noticed it's getting more difficult to find them? I prefer the old style (as shown in this photo) and they just aren't as readily available. Your "collecting" philosophy is grounding: consider space available and joy factor. Great boundary setting!

April 2, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Another fun read! Love getting a glimpse into other's lives, especially other Professional Organizers! I no longer have any tangible collections, but collect memories of life thru photography which is a hobby for me. I am a bit ruthless when it comes to deleting the digital images only the best remain and of those a select few make it to a digital album.

April 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Schlesinger

@Lisa- As Dr. Suess says, "Fun is good." Glad you're enjoying the conversation and view of your fellow Organizers as collectors. Interesting that you wrote you "no longer have any tangible collections." Does that mean you used to? If so, what did you collect? What made you stop? Several people have talked about collecting memories through their photos (digital or print.) I recently discovered MyPublisher for making beautiful digital albums. How do you make yours?

April 2, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

At first, when I started reading this post, I thought I only collected one thing: Newbery award-winning children's books. Since most of them are used paperbacks, the 80-some of them only occupy two shelves in my book case. The way I controlled it budget-wise was, if purchasing on line, the cost of the book, including postage, could not exceed $4. When I started volunteering at my local Friends for the Library, I got most of the rest, over time, for $1 each (+/-). But only winners (to control the size of the collection). No honor books, which in many cases are equally as good as the winners. Then I started collecting Caldecott award-winning picture books for an elementary art teacher friend. Oh, and I've collected salt and pepper shakers for my brother (nostalgic for both of us, as my mom collected them and sold her collection before she realized we would have liked to keep it...we didn't know until they were gone that we wanted them!) So, I guess I do collect things -- collecting for others certainly cuts down on the appearance of collections at my house! -- but nothing that costs much, or takes up much time, space, or effort...magnets from my travels on the "hidden" side of the fridge...small baskets on a shelf, co-mingled with my mom's own basket collection...that's all I can think of right now.

May 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHazel Thornton

Hazel- How fun! It seems as though you're in good company. There were a number of people that didn't consider themselves collectors until they read this post. I guess the definition is quite broad from hardcore to casual and from singular to multiple. It's so interesting the relationship we have with our things- their meanings, their joys, and their burden. It sounds like you've figured out how to set boundaries using space and budget for your collecting habits. Great to "hear your voice." Glad you stopped by to join us.

May 6, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Linda, wonderful and relatable post! I think you and I combined have the biggest Pinterest image collection there is!
As an organizer myself, this subject has always been of interest to me! As I child, I collected "collections"! You name, coins, stamps, baseball/football cards -all because I could!
Wow-things have changed! None were that "special" to me-so I let them go...all but one! My first, and current, collection I love is keychains. It started when I was a Girl Scout, and needed to earn my "collector 's" patch ( so NOT an organizers patch of choice, in hindsight!!)
My dad noticed I , a typical 7 year old, carried around one key with 10 keychains attached. He suggested that would be a great item to start collecting. Almost 40 years and about 2000+ keychains later, my collection is still going strong. This collection is a storybook of my life! I love to travel, so I have a keychain from every place I've ever been! Every event that sells a keychain, I got one! Keychains are relatively small ,not terribly expensive and easy to store. Yes, I did say store. I have them in bins-and I do have the space in my house to do so! I know, I know...they aren't out to enjoy, but I do take a peek and enjoy them and could never part with them :)
Now, if this organizer could just find the time to better organize said collection into categories...!!! Someday, once all my client's collections are in order!😃

May 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTracey Hall

Tracey- How fun! I can hear the passion in your "voice" about your spectacular keychain collection. And how cool that your collection carries with it your story of places traveled and events experienced. Just lovely. So if you were going to organize it differently, how would you do it? Just curious.

And yes…you and are are quite the Pinterest images collectors, aren't we? So many lovely pics to capture, organize, and "collect!"

Let the fun continue!

May 13, 2014 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

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