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Organizing As A Way Of Life

QlubbHouse Expert Series —
Organizing As A Way Of Life

Welcome to the QlubbHouse — a place were we will share tips, best practices, and stories related to starting, managing, and growing groups. Today, we’re pleased to discuss how to get your group better organized with NAPO Golden Circle Member and veteran Professional Organizer Ramona Creel.

How did you get into the organizing business?

I was a Social Worker in my previous life. I ran a welfare-to-work program at the Atlanta Housing Authority, and I found myself in the position of “all-purpose go-to resource gal” -– when my clients needed education, health care, transportation, job training, child care, whatever, I could find it for them. I’ve always been drawn to the “helping” professions, I’ve always enjoyed being a problem-solver, and I’ve always been naturally anal retentive (a defense mechanism after years of living with a slightly-hoardy packrat mother) — so when I decided to start my own business in 1998, organizing was the perfect match.

What is your organizing philosophy?

I take a very holistic view of organizing — it’s more than just having a tidy desk or a neat closet. Getting organized is about getting your priorities straight. It’s about deciding what you want most, structuring your life so you can have that, and being willing to let go of the rest. It’s about making those hard immediate decisions that lead to a better quality of life in the long run. It’s about learning to draw healthy boundaries and say “no” in order to protect your peace of mind. It’s about regaining control over your finances, eliminating debt, and releasing yourself from the compulsive need to acquire.

When should you consider hiring an organizer?

When you’re struggling with the paper piles, you’re buried in clutter, your day is eaten up by time wasters — you wish you could be a little more productive, a little more in-control, a little less stressed, and you can’t seem to make it happen on your own. There’s no point in continuing to bang your head against a wall, when you can have a professional teach you the right kinds of systems and get you there faster than you would on your own. Hiring an organizer is like hiring a personal trainer or a nutritionist or even a psychiatrist. If you can make the changes necessary to achieve the results you want on your own, great – if you can’t, you ask for help.

How do figure out which solutions will work best for each client?

Part of my assessment process is paying attention to the physical, verbal, and non-verbal clues that person behind, telling me where the real problem lies — and quite often, the core cause of their disorganization is something totally different than what they think! The other part is experience — having seen that situation before with different kinds of clients, knowing what works and what doesn’t for each personality type and lifestyle. That’s the value of bringing in a experienced professional instead of a newbie — they don’t have to play the “trial and error” game to find the right system for you.

What are the basic steps you go through every client?

The first is purging — getting rid of any unnecessary paper/stuff and appointments/responsibilities that are clogging up the system and creating clutter. Then we separate whatever we’re dealing with into meaningful categories — whether it’s types of stuff that need to be stored together, creating systems for tackling “action items,” setting up filing for the piles of paper, organizing emails on your computer, dividing up your day into blocks of activity, or breaking a big project up into bite-sized steps. There’s usually some sort of consolidation — combining those 93 different to-do lists into a single master list, pouring four partial bottles of shampoo together, gathering up all the shoes in the house and storing them in one place. Containerizing is huge — putting like items together in a set place where they can be easily located (whether that’s a tub or a drawer, a paper/electronic folder, a document or a to-do list). And finally, tons of asking — lots of questions about everything. When did you last use it? When will you need it again? What purpose does it serve in your life? Is it replaceable? What’s the worst thing that would happen if you got rid of it?

What is your clients’ biggest obstacle to getting organized?

Disorganized folks aren’t very good at carving out space in their schedules for themselves. They can cram in 53 different committee meetings, work late every night for the boss, and take their kid to a dozen extracurricular activities a week — but ask them to block off some “me” time and they go into guilt spasms. Many haven’t taken a day off (much less a full-on vacation) in years! So asking them to see the value in setting aside a couple of hours to improve their own lives can be a challenge. However after that first appointment, they understand how vital this is to their mental well-being. They get hooked, they get greedy — and I never have to twist their proverbial arms in the name of self-care again!

What’s your advice for folks who can’t find time to get organized?

What if I said, “Gee, I just can’t seem to fit in brushing my teeth, what with all my other commitments?” Organizing is the same way. You don’t find time, you make time. It isn’t something you fit in after all of your other commitments — it’s a habit, something that you build into your daily routine. “Getting organized” may be a one-time activity, but “staying organized” is a way of life — like healthy eating or frugal spending or daily exercise. Eliminating frustrations, reducing stress, maximizing your productivity and sense of satisfaction, these are vital to your quality of life. If you’re doing it the right way, maintaining order and simplicity should become as ingrained a behavior as remembering to breathe.

What has been your toughest job so far?

A single mom with ADD who had two young sons with ADD. We could set up every fabulous easy-to-manage system in the world, we could simplify her life until the cows came home — she still had too many responsibilities on her plate to be able to manage them all on her own. This client illustrated the fact that sometimes you need more than organizing — some folks require ongoing help (like coaching or a housekeeper or an administrative assistant) to stay on top of it all.

Have you ever met anyone who was too organized?

I’ve worked with folks who were compulsive, but that’s not the same thing. Continually rearranging your stuff or obsessing over unimportant details isn’t organized — it’s a waste of time. Organization is about figuring out what works. Once you have a solution, there’s no reason to keep fiddling with it, trying to make it better. Being organized also means knowing when to STOP organizing.

How do you know when a group of people are organized?

When they function effectively enough to allow them to do the thing they actually gathered for instead of always dealing with administrative details. The right systems allow a group to spend their time on their work or play or whatever their purpose is, without chaos or confusion. If that’s happening and little details aren’t falling between the cracks, they’re organized.

Any advice to help a struggling group be better organized?

Communicate! The biggest cause of disorganization in a team is failure to speak up about what’s working for you and what isn’t. Folks are so scared of sounding like a complainer or insulting another person or making the leader angry, that they aren’t honest about what they need — but if you don’t speak up when a system isn’t functioning properly, it hurts everyone. Learn how to open your mouth when something about the group dynamic is dysfunctional, and everyone will benefit.

How can one group member get another to be more organized?

They can’t — you can offer suggestions and assistance, you can serve as a positive example, but you can’t MAKE someone else get organized. They have to a) see the benefits to getting organized, b) see that their current situation isn’t working, and c) be willing to change — if any of those factors is missing, don’t waste your time.

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Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream. Learn more at and

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