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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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« What Wonderful Change Is Emerging Beneath Your Surface? | Simple Ways to Embrace Your Fresh Start With Power of Two »

When Scared and You Want to Make a Change, Where Is the Best Start Point?

As a professional organizer and coach, my work centers around helping people facilitate the changes they want in their lives. Change doesn’t just happen in one quick moment. It takes time, contemplation, and bravery to get to the point of action. It’s at that time when I’m usually contacted. My clients’ desire for change related to organizing issues has been percolating for some time. They got to a certain point on their own, and they want my help to continue. They might feel overwhelmed, stuck, afraid, or unsure of how to get from where they are to where they’d like to be.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with many new and long-time clients. While each person and their situation are different, there are certain similarities with how we work together. Understanding these could be useful for you as you pursue the changes you seek.


So where do we start? . . .

1. Acknowledge Thoughts and Feelings

When we face things that are challenging for us, we think and feel a variety of ways. We might feel like we’re going to fail, especially if we’ve had a history of unsuccessful attempts. We might feel anxious that we are beyond help. We might feel scared to let go of stuff, thoughts, and feelings even if they are no longer serving us well. We might feel overwhelmed because there’s so much to do and we can’t imagine that we will ever get everything done. We might be ruminating about the negative comments other people have said to us. We might be generating our own negative thoughts and beating ourselves up for what we didn’t do in the past.

Guess what? This is all completely normal. It’s helpful to say these things out loud and just let them land. It’s OK. It’s part of the process. We all come to the table with “stuff.” We bring positive and negative stuff.

We give space for these thoughts and feelings to be heard. We acknowledge them without dwelling on them. I listen for the forward-moving ideas to help us shift the energy and perspective to the next stage.



2. Get Clarity

Notice that we’re still talking here. This is an essential part of the change (and organizing) process. We’re in the curiosity and discovery phase. I keep listening and asking questions. We’re learning new things that will inform what happens next. We’re digging down to what the client wants to accomplish in a more significant way and also during that particular session. We talk about expectations and outcomes. We get on the same page with where we are heading. We’re building trust.



3. Prepare Tools

Once we’ve discussed thoughts, expectations, and direction, we gather the tools necessary to do the work. If needed, we set up recycling, trash, donation and shredding bins or bags. We gather markers, tape, sticky notes, folders, or a pad of paper for making notes. We make the supplies easily accessible, so they’ll enhance the flow of the action phase. It’s OK if along the way you need to grab additional items. That can happen. We don’t always anticipate everything in advance. Organizing is a fluid process. However, if you can begin with the basics as you set-up, it will make the decision-making process more efficient.



4. Dive In

It’s time. We talked. We outfitted the physical space with the tools we’ll need. Now it’s time to make decisions that align with the changes you want. Where you start isn’t as important as the questions that get asked. What stays? What goes? What is useful? What has overstayed its welcome? It helps to set a few decision-making boundaries. These can expand as you work. For instance, you might decide that all of the empty shopping bags can go without looking at each one. You might opt to recycle magazines that are older than two years without looking at every issue or page. You might decide that small size clothes that no longer fit can be donated without trying on each piece. These types of parameters help things move along more quickly. It allows you to make some global decisions without having to look at every, single thing.



5. Check-In

Guess what? Making decisions can be exhausting and emotionally draining. Check-in occasionally is important. I watch for decision-fatigue. When the quality of the choices start to deteriorate (as in keeping everything or letting go of everything), the client is probably experiencing decision-fatigue. At this point, I’ll suggest a short break. Maybe they need some fresh air, a quick stretch, a snack, a cup of coffee, or bio break. It’s also an excellent time to assess where we are, check on our timing, and see how they’re doing overall.

There are other aspects of changing and the organizing process such as reviewing and relishing in your accomplishments and determining next steps. However, they aren’t as relevant to getting started, so I’m not going to elaborate on those now.


Change can be energizing, but starting can be scary. Some of the ideas that I shared can help you move past the challenges so that you can create the changes that you want. If you’re having difficulty on your own, reaching out for help when you’re stuck, afraid, or overwhelmed is an excellent choice to make. 

When fear inhibits the change process, where do you begin? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Join the conversation!






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Reader Comments (14)

These are wonderful points, Linda. Many clients let me know that they are embarrassed to admit they need help and ashamed to have someone in their home when it looks the way it does. While it may sound trite - I let them know they are not alone in feeling this way, that most of my clients have said the very same things. I also tell them they are brave for taking these steps - admitting they need help and inviting me in.

February 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDiane Quintana

@Diane- It's a beautiful thing that you're able to normalize your clients' embarrassment and shame. It's not trite at all. If it helps establish trust and enables them to relax enough to begin the process, that's a positive approach to take.

February 4, 2019 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Clarity is an important early step to any type of project! So often we get an idea and dive in without a clear picture of what the outcome should look like. Is it any wonder we don't make any progress?

February 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Barclay

@Janet- I'm with you 100% on this one. It's important to slow down enough to have those "clarity" conversations. It's not that progress won't or can't happen without them, but it will be much harder to recognize successful outcomes.

February 4, 2019 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Regarding Clarity: The more I can get a client to visualize and articulate their goals for their life and the space we are organizing up front, the more successful I can be, in a moment of indecision, at reminding them of those goals, which helps them make a decision they can feel good about.

February 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterHazel Thornton

@Hazel- That's an excellent point! Clarifying goals through visualizing and articulating plays a key role during decision-making. In that moment of indecision, it can be helpful to give gentle reminders of what the client said they wanted. As you mentioned, that can often be the tipping point to bring clarity and some "feel good" emotions to the decision they were struggling with.

February 4, 2019 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

My clients have a tendency to judge themselves when we start the process. I try to get them to focus on the action of doing and not on the negative thought to show them that they are making changes to their space. We get stuck in the mind too often which inhibits us from moving to make a difference in our lives. So, sometimes, it is OK to say to yourself, "Feelings, we are going to put you aside right now so we can get things done."

February 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSabrina Quairoli

@Sabrina- Judging can be a big hindrance, but it is something that exists so we can't ignore it. While it sounds like we have slightly different ways of addressing it, ultimately, we're doing something similar. We're acknowledging their existence and then helping our clients move forward anyway. It helps to have a non-judgmental person (professional, friend, or family member) help focus on the actions for change.

February 4, 2019 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Well said! Clients are often surprised by the amount of talking and listening at the beginning of a project or session. But it's invaluable for a successful project and relationship.

February 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie L Juedes

@Melanie- Your comment made me think about I had a recent experience with a new client. As is typical, we spent some time at the beginning of our session "talking and listening." The client understood the value of this, but her partner made her feel badly and thought she was talking too much. I reassured her that the talking was an essential part of the physical work we'd be doing soon.

February 4, 2019 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Hi Linda,
This is really great. I love how you work with people and I would like to think I am the same especially with those who are dealing with chronic disorganization. They certainly need more time to really be able to process their feelings, to have more clarity with their decisions and think about what their goals are for the future. You have such a beautiful, gentle approach.

February 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKim

@Kim- So many of my clients have emotional attachments to their belongings. The stuff represents other people, other times, or aspirations for how they'd like to be. Letting go can be more challenging when the attachments are strong. So helping people by listening to their thoughts and feelings as they are working their letting go muscles is a valuable part of the work. Thank you for your kind words.

February 4, 2019 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Great post, Linda! Helping clients process their thoughts is such an important part of what organizers do. One of your comments reminded me of a client who talked about her "aspirational" clutter. Such as, craft supplies that she had been keeping but had never used. She realized that she aspired to the idea of being a creative person who does that kind of craft, and she wanted the products of that craft, but hadn't prioritized the time needed for actually making the products.. Talking about it helped her figure out if it was worth keeping the supplies or not.

February 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCarol Jones

@Carol- I love the story you shared about your client's "aspirational" clutter. Challenges (and sometimes clutter) happen when we keep things because of who we'd like to be or what we might do in the future. It falls into the "someday I might need/want this" category. Those can be tough possessions to let go of, but as you said, talking through these can help bring more clarity to the client's decision of keeping or releasing.

February 6, 2019 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

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