Worth repeating: Why decluttering is so important

8 November 2019

The importance of decluttering

I was browsing my blog this morning and came across this post I published in 2016. I’m always amazed at how I have no recollection or writing, or having written, so many of my posts. But I guess that’s to be expected with well over a thousand posts. This one really struck a chord with me today and I thought I’d put it out there again. I hope it strikes a cord with you too.

I met with a client recently who explained all the storage solutions she and her husband had attempted in an effort to create order. They have three kids and a small house and it felt to them like their home was bursting at the seams. Yet their storage solutions hadn’t solved the problem.

My comment to her was that one way to get things to fit better into their home was to have fewer belongings.

Decluttering is an important first step in the organizing process.

Decluttering should be embraced, not skipped, because when you let go of those items that don’t serve you, it is so much easier to organize what remains.

I was reading some old blog posts this morning and came across one from eight years ago in which I detailed some organizing projects in my own home. My 2016 self started twitching when I read this sentence, “Last weekend, I started doing some shifting of closet contents in order to help alleviate some clothes storage problems.” No, I thought! Don’t shift things around. Get rid of things! I know that in 2008 I had a lot more clothes than I have now. And I know I still have more than I need.

When we own fewer items we have less to manage. When we distill our items down to those things that we use and love, then we can easily find what we need and put it away. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

Life is easier when you have less stuff.

Next time you have the itch to organize, see how much you can let go of before you start the actual organizing. Don’t move things around, move things out. Resist the temptation to buy organizing supplies or storage solutions before you declutter.

If you declutter prior to organizing, you set yourself up for success. When you have fewer items to organize (and manage), everything becomes easier.

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Worth repeating (again): Feel like writing a novel?

24 October 2019


I first wrote this post on October 29, 2009, when I was about to embark on my second attempt to write a novel in a month as part of National Novel Writing Month. I repeated it on October 31, 2014, when I wrote a third novel. It’s clearly a pattern that every five years I write a novel (none of which have barely been re-read, let alone published), so I’m gearing up for my fourth attempt, starting next week.

If you’re intrigued by the prospect, I encourage you to listen to Episode 72 of our podcast, Getting to Good Enough, in which Shannon and I discuss how we’ll both be writing a novel this year. We’re inviting listeners to join us and discuss the process on the Getting to Good Enough Facebook Group where we hope to provide mutual support. Please join us! This is a fun challenge and I’m really looking forward to it!

National Novel Writing Month is about to start and I’m on board. NaNoWriMo is a worldwide event where people commit to writing a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. (As a point of reference, Catcher in the Rye is about 50,000 words.)

I did it back in 2004, just to see if I could. That year, I wasn’t part of the online community, because I didn’t do it until December. But this year, I’m chomping at the bit to start on November 1 like everybody else.

Why am I doing it? It’s not for that challenge, since I know I can do it. This year, I just think writing a novel sounds like fun. And if I can get a crappy first draft written in November, I’ll have something to work with.

I’ve been on a binge of reading books by Jeffery Deaver. I love his books, which have great plots, great characters and are written in a clear, non-self-conscious style. I think reading his books have made me want to write one of my own.

But why in a month? I love having a deadline like this. I love the accountability. I love that by month’s end my novel will have an end. I love having a daily writing quota and knowing I’ve achieved my goal for the day.

I’ll have a victory on a daily basis. It’s a great example of breaking a big project down into small tasks and working at it on daily. It’s a great use of Mark Forster’s concept of little and often.

When I wrote my first novel (which, incidentally, I’ve read only once), I wore a special hat and wrote in a room where I didn’t usually write. (At the time, I was a professional writer.) This time, I’m knitting a special scarf that I plan to wear when I’m working on my novel, just to put me in the mood. I intend to write early in the morning, first thing, even if it means getting up extra early. I haven’t decided where I’ll do the writing, but chances are good it’ll be at my desk.

You can expect some updates here through the month of November. If you’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo, leave me a comment or an email and let me know your registered name on the site. (I’m janinea.) I’ll make you my writing buddy!

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Decluttering my {knitting} WIPs

21 October 2019

In knitting, WIP stands for Work-In-Progress. In my knitting reality, almost all my WIPS are actually stalled and/or abandoned projects. They languish in (mostly hand knit) bags in my knitting area creating clutter and a little bit of stress. That area was like a graveyard for knitting dreams.

But then I came across the book Untangled: A step-by-step guide to joy and success for the modern yarn lover by Shelley Brander Untangled and its chapter The WIP-It Challenge inspired me to go through and declutter all those bags.

It took the better part of a Sunday and it was so liberating! Here’s how I did it.

I gathered up all those bags. Here’s a photo of them—I had no idea there were so many.

I ended up taking them to the dining room table and where the light was good, I went through them one by one. I started a little spreadsheet of each project, what yarns and needles it called for, the progress I’d made and what I wanted to do with it.

In all, I counted 15 WIPs. I let go of six of them, five of which I took off the needles and unraveled the yarn. That felt so good because that beautiful yarn got a new life, instead of being cooped up in a bag. I have a ball winder, so I had some very satisfying time winding all that yarn into neat balls. (See the picture below of the yarn I reclaimed in this project.) One of the abandoned projects was a toy I’d started making as a baby gift five years ago. I’d knit the component parts but before seaming them together, I realized that it wasn’t cute enough to give to the baby. I put it away thinking I’d finish it some day, I guess. Instead, I threw away all but the body and gave the body to my standard poodle, Bix, who thinks it’s a great toy.

Here’s a photo of Bix with the toy. He doesn’t care that it’s a reject. (In case you’re wondering, the finished toy was supposed to be Yoda.)

Here’s the reclaimed yarn! The photo doesn’t include the yarn that doesn’t thrill me, which I’d set aside to give to friends.

Of the remaining WIPs, four were fingerless gloves or mittens, with one finished. (There was also a pair of yoga socks with one completed.) I decided to hang on to those and finish them. There was a hat whose yarn I purchased to make a gift. I unraveled it and will start again. And there was a sweater whose yarn and pattern I had bought but had not actually starting knitting. I had completely forgotten about it (it’s very cool). So I’m going to evaluate the pattern and see if there was a reason I walked away from it.

One of the projects, was so close to being completed. It just had a tiny bit of seaming left to do. It was a striped cowl that I literally worked on for years. But when it didn’t end up as expected during construction, I walked away from it. But in the weeks after the big declutter, I actually finished it and now I have a cozy-warm cowl I can wear.

This process was absolutely rejuvenating. Not only did I get rid of a bunch of unsightly clutter, I let go of projects that were weighing me down, even if I didn’t realize it. I liberated yarn and needles to use in other projects. And I got excited about knitting again.

The day after this exercise, my co-host Shannon Wilkinson and I recorded an episode of our podcast, Getting to Good Enough, called Restarting that was all about this little adventure. If you’re interested in any more details of the knitting-project decluttering and its implications, please give it a listen!

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Worth repeating (again): Small irritations

17 October 2019

I originally wrote this post back in 2010 and repeated it in 2013. When I read it again today, I decided to run it again because the message rings so true. Often, little bits of friction are enough to keep us from moving forward with our goals. I had taken a bit of a hiatus from my knitting but became rejuvenated when I decluttered my knitting projects last summer. (I’ll post about that soon!) So this post resonated with me today. I hope you enjoy it.

Sometimes the tiniest things keep us from doing things we want to do or think we should be doing. If we can identify those things and modify them, we can get more done.

I was thinking about this as I contemplated my knitting. One of the projects I’m working on is this cool bag, the Garter Stripe Square Bag. (The pattern is in Japanese, but you can find it in English on Ravelry.)

This bag was created (and photographed) by LKolarik on Ravelry.

To make this bag, you knit 22 striped squares, seam them together in a particular way, sew the sides of the bag, create handles and throw the whole thing into the washing machine to felt it. The knitting part is easy, the construction perhaps a tiny bit complicated. But overall, it’s a very cool result for minimal effort. Good, mindless knitting.

I started knitting the striped squares on my favorite knitting needles, Harmony interchangeable circular needles from Knit Picks. I love the Harmony needles because they’re smooth and light and just feel great. (I’m not crazy about the way they look, but I’ve gotten past that.)

But as I researched this project more on Ravelry, I saw that other people had knit it on double-pointed needles (DPNs), picking up stitches on the side of finished squares to minimize the seaming. (If you’re not a knitter, the takeaway is that I thought I’d try different needles.)

So I bought some bamboo DPNs at my local yarn shop. They’re perfectly serviceable needles, but they don’t have the smooth finish of the Harmony. (I could have purchased Harmony DPNs, but they’re only available mail order and I didn’t want to wait.)

When I started to knit a square with these new needles, it was less pleasant. There was a certain drag to the needles, making the knitting more laborious. There was some friction in the combination of the wool and the bamboo that felt yucky. I would do just a couple of rows before putting the square down.

Eventually I decided to give up on the DPNs and go back to the Harmony needles. Now I’m buzzing along on my squares.

The lesson here? It took me awhile to figure out the reason I was resisting knitting that bag was that I hated the way the needles felt. They transformed the knitting experience from something enjoyable into something irritating.

This happens all the time in life. Maybe you’d be more inclined to put a certain item away if it were stored in a more accessible place. Maybe you’d handle your mail every day if you had a clear, designated space in which to do it. Maybe you’d put your laundry away promptly if the drawers weren’t so full of clothes.

Think about an order-related task you’re resisting. Is there some small change you could make that would make doing it easier? Some little irritation you can identify that you could remove or modify? One little change can make a big difference.

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Becoming a Certified Professional Organizer®

10 October 2019


Recently, I received a comment on my popular blog post Are you interested in becoming a professional organizer? that reminded me that there’s a certain amount of confusion among new or aspiring professional organizers about the Certified Professional Organizer credential. I’m a proud CPO® so I thought I’d take the opportunity to try to clear up some of the confusion.

First some background. The Certified Professional Organizer credential was created by and is governed by the Board of Certification for Professional Organizers® (BCPO®) which was started by NAPO, the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals®. It came about through the hard work of dedicated volunteers who wanted to create a meaningful credential that furthers the mission of advancing the credibility and ethical standards of the organizing industry. BCPO follows the accreditation guidelines set forth by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCAA). It’s the real deal.

I’ve been around long enough to remember the thrill of a large group of brave organizers sitting for the inaugural exam at the NAPO conference in 2007. I was not one of those organizers, because at that point I didn’t qualify to sit for the exam. (But I did hang around outside the ballroom where testing was taking place to congratulate those who took it. That’s how big a deal it was to me.) I qualified the following year and earned my CPO in 2008.

Here are some things you need to know about becoming a CPO:

  • In order to qualify to take the exam, you must have 1500 paid client hours or 1250 paid clients and 250 qualified educational hours in the past five years. (Note: the eligibility period for those 1500 hours was raised from three years to five years in 2019, making qualifying for the exam more attainable for many. I applaud that change.)
  • Once you’ve qualified, you must sit for an exam at a testing center and pass it. The exam consists of 125 multiple-choice questions.
  • You’re responsible for keeping track of your qualifying hours. A certain percentage of people who pass the test are audited and asked to show the documentation of their hours. If their hours aren’t documented, they don’t earn the credential.
  • To maintain your CPO status, you must take an average of 15 continuing education units (CEUs) every year. You recertify every three years with 45 CEUs.
  • There is a cost associated with taking the exam (currently $450) and a cost associated with maintaining the credential (currently $100 a year).
  • You do not have to be a member of NAPO to be a CPO.

It’s pretty simple, really. One thing that seems obvious to me but isn’t apparently obvious to those new to the field is that you don’t have to be certified in order to work as a professional organizer. In fact, you can’t be certified until you’ve had substantial experience as a professional organizer. So the CPO credential is something to aspire to (if you’re into credentials) and work toward. It’s not something you start out with.

For a deep dive into the exam itself and preparing for it, check out the BCPO Handbook for the CPO exam.

Certification vs certificates

You can, however, earn certificates (not certification) early on in your career. NAPO offers five specialist certificates. As of this writing in October 2019, NAPO is currently offering the following specialist certificates:

  • Residential Organizing
  • Household Management
  • Life Transitions
  • Workplace Productivity
  • Team Productivity

The Institute for Challenging Disorganization® also offers certificates of study and specialist certificates. And they have a separate, completely different certification credential, Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization® that’s also very rigorous to achieve. I attained the CPO-CD® credential in 2009, though I chose not to recertify in 2015. The CPO-CD credential is not the same as CPO. (Obviously, an organizer can have both.) See the Certification page on ICD’s website for an overview of their program.

If you earn NAPO’s specialist certificates (or certificates from other organizations), that’s fantastic. But you can’t call yourself a Certified Professional Organizer unless you qualify to sit for, then pass, the CPO exam as outlined above.

Is it worth it to become a CPO?

I took the exam as soon as I qualified, which was a year after the credential became available. That meant I was the first CPO in the St. Louis area and remain one of only three CPOs in St. Louis and four in the state of Missouri. (There are approximately 350 CPOs in the world. Fourteen of them are from outside the United States.) That puts me in an elite group that I am proud to be a part of. When I got my CPO, I raised my rates with confidence. So for me, it’s worth it for the marketing value and the confidence it gives my clients and prospective clients in my abilities and ethics. I consider it very prestigious.

Is it necessary for a successful professional organizer to become CPO? Absolutely not. I know many, many excellent organizers who have either not had the hours to qualify or simply did not care to pursue the credential. I do admire those who invest the effort and expense of getting certified and staying certified, however.

To learn more about becoming a Certified Professional Organizer, check out the Certified Professional Organizer page on the NAPO website for loads of information and resources.

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Downsizing advice: My interview on Generations Cafe podcast

3 October 2019


Amy Johnson Crow, a well-known genealogist, blogger and speaker, is one of my favorite genealogy luminaries. She offers fabulous advice. And I’m delighted to call her my friend.

So I was thrilled when Amy asked me to be a guest on her podcast, Generations Cafe. She and I had a great discussion about downsizing and figuring out what to let go of—both our own items and those of our parents. As genealogists we are both very sensitive to the value that family possessions might (or might not) have for future generations, which can make downsizing especially tricky. I was able to share my perspective as someone who’s spent a lot of time helping people let go of stuff.

The episode is called Downsizing and Family History. It’s a 36-minute interview. If you have a spare half hour, I urge you to give it a listen. I may be a little biased, but I think it’s interesting and enjoyable!

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Completing a jigsaw puzzle five pieces at a time

30 September 2019


I enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles. One-thousand-word puzzles are just the right size and my favorite kind to do are collage puzzles. I think I like collages because of all the easy sorting that can be done.

Last month I completed a 1000-word collage puzzle five pieces at a time and mentioned it on Episode 68 of Getting to Good Enough, the podcast I host with Shannon Wilkinson. I’m just about to finish another puzzle using this method, which I devised for myself, and I find the method so successful (and relevant to other parts of my life) that I thought I’d share.

I do jigsaw puzzles at the end of our dining-room table. There’s room there, since there are only two us of eating (unless we have guests). But I don’t want a puzzle to languish there untended. I also don’t have hours a day to devote to doing puzzles. And I don’t want to wreck my productivity on a workday by getting sucked into a puzzle. So here’s what I do.

I start by connecting the edge pieces of the puzzle, which has always been my favorite part of the puzzle. (I can’t imagine working on the interior with the edges set up…I wonder what that says about me?)

Once I have the edge pieces connected, I tell myself that I will connect five puzzle pieces and then I’ll stop. That’s it. It’s that easy.

Much of the time in the early stages of completing a puzzle is spent sorting. With collage puzzles, I sort pieces into likely sets. I use empty boxes for the sorting. (At last! a use for those Apple boxes I can’t seem to throw away.) To achieve my pieces, I will connect pieces within those sets and/or I’ll connect pieces within the puzzle itself. If I connect a group of already-connected pieces into the puzzle, that counts as one piece.

This is the puzzle I’m currently working on (The Games We Play from White Mountain Puzzles), taken a week ago.

Here are some of the boxes of sets.

And here is the puzzle this morning. I’m almost finished! This puzzle has been particularly enjoyable.

As I see it, here are some of the benefits of my five-pieces-at-a-time method:

  • It makes the puzzle feel very achievable
  • The goal is so small I can easily grab a little pocket of time to do it, so the puzzle doesn’t languish
  • I get to enjoy working on the puzzle many times a day
  • I don’t get so caught up in the puzzle that I don’t go to bed or work (it’s kind of like setting a timer)
  • I get the pleasure of watching the puzzle emerge slowly
  • I get to enjoy little achievements over and over again while doing the puzzle

I think that last point might be most important and also really relevant to other (non-puzzle) tasks. By setting tiny goal after tiny goal, I get the thrill of achievement each step of the way. I am literally never frustrated by a puzzle because I can always find five pieces to put together. (That might be because I like collage puzzles…I think I’d find puzzles with vast swatches of monochromatic areas frustrating.)

Next time I get stalled or frustrated while working on a project, I’m going to think about how I might make it more like a jigsaw puzzle and just set my sights on connecting the next five pieces.

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About Janine

Hello! I’m Janine Adams — a certified professional organizer based in St. Louis, and the creator of Peace of Mind Organizing®.

I love order, harmony + beauty, but I believe that the way that you feel about yourself and your home is what truly matters.

If you’re ready to de­clutter with a purpose and add more ease to your life, you’ve found the right blog — and you’ve found the right gal.

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Recommended *

  • Getting to Good Enough podcast

  • NAPO Golden Circle