Commonsense Organization with Lucy Wahl – Episode 31

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[00:05] Jenna: Hello, happy people, and welcome to Office ADHD. Welcome to office, ADHD. I'm excited to introduce you to Lucy Wall. She is a professional organizer. I know a professional at the thing that we are all the worst at. She exists, so she's going to be here to help us out. Thank you so much for being here today, Lucy.

[00:38] Lucy: I'm so happy to be here. Thank you for having me, Jenna. As you were saying that, I was so like, no, wait, anyone can be good at organizing, no matter what your brain chemistry is doing.

[00:50] Jenna: Yay, we can do this.

[00:53] Lucy: Exactly.

[00:55] Jenna: Okay, now the curiosity level is just high. I have to know, how did you get into being a professional organizer? Because I'm sure you weren't, like, sitting in your grade school class going, this is what I want to do when I grow up.

[01:07] Lucy: No, in grade school, I thought I was going to be a marine biologist. That was very popular in the 80s. No. So I had a previous career. I used to work as a nonprofit fundraiser, and then I went to graduate school, and when I graduated, I was going to go back into that career, but I was sort of uninspired because I just had this amazing educational experience that sort of blew my mind. And all of my fellow cohorts were starting businesses. I did an MBA program, and so it's like, well, can I start a business? Yeah, sure, why not? And what business this should I start? What am I good at? What do I not have to go to more school for? Talked to friends and family and everyone was like, you're really organized. You should make something out of that. So did some research on the industry, and I thought, you know what, not only can I do this, but I think I can bring a sort of unique perspective to home organizing. This was back in I started my business in 2014, and at that time, Marie Kondo's book had not yet come out in the United States, and organizing was sort of more like Susie homemaker sort of thing rather than a very functional thing for everybody. And so I thought, I can be part of this conversation.

[02:14] Jenna: I love it. And yes, I love the very functional because especially, like I said, I love that you have this opinion that we can all do this because we can. We can all do this because especially those of us with Add, we are just not only do we lack the natural skills towards organization, we generally don't have the motivation to do it. And so to start off, I love that you tie this into a whole self improvement goal and things tell me about that.

[02:48] Lucy: Yeah, so the thing is, sometimes people think that organizing is a thing that you should do or that it's part of being a good person or a functional person or a successful person. And I think that's a lot of pressure to put on somebody, a lot of pressure to put on yourself. I always ask people, what's your why? What's the whole point of getting organized? What difference is it going to make in your life to get organized? Because ultimately, the inside of your house, not that many people see it unless you're some sort of major entertainer or you're posting your life on Instagram, which even I don't do that. So it's really for you. So what are you going to get out of it? And when people are struggling with motivation, I always say, let's tap into the why. Let's figure out what difference this is going to make for you. And it sort of can be a self referencing feedback loop because I find with some of my clients who want to get organized but aren't really sure how that's sort of my bread and butter is when people know what they want, but they're not sure how. As soon as we make a little progress and they start to see the impact it has on their daily lives, they become more motivated because they've had a little taste of it, and they think, I want more of that. And then it becomes a little bit of something that they're looking forward to rather than something where they're dreading.

[04:07] Jenna: I love that because, yes, like you said, looking at it from a perspective of I need to do this to be worthy or a good person is, like, too much. But if I'm just like, oh, I wish that my space was clean. I don't know, so that I could find my things or that I could walk through my house so that things wouldn't fall over and I wouldn't get scared in the night because I didn't know what the sound was.

[04:35] Lucy: That's a great why. I love that one.

[04:42] Jenna: I love that because yeah, even just as you were talking then I was like, oh, it was just changing my perspective, looking around my room.

[04:50] Lucy: Yeah, it's really all about the why. There's a lot of performative organizing that happens in the world right now, especially on social media. And while I can always organize a space that looks very Instagram worthy, that's not really what I'm about. I'm all about making life easy. I just don't think it has to be that hard. There's so much that's hard in life. Let's make this one thing easy.

[05:16] Jenna: I felt that when you said that. I was like, okay, so now that I'm motivated, what are some of your let's dive in. I love how you said, I was looking up some of your things. You talk about having this common sense approach. What are some of your approaches? How do you help us?

[05:36] Lucy: Well, I always tell people, especially people who are prone to maybe being a little distracted, who have trouble with motivation, I always recommend to start very small. So there's this thing that happens with scope creep where you sort of go, all right, this weekend I'm going to organize my whole life and by Monday I'm going to be a different person. Maybe that sounds familiar. That doesn't tend to work because you'll burn yourself out. This is certainly work to get organized and you want to be realistic about how much you can handle. And again, to get that positive feedback loop going, give yourself a little mini taste of success. That's going to make you want to come back for more rather than overwhelming yourself with a project that's too big that's going to make you think, I am never doing this again. So small bites. I literally mean organize one drawer, organize one shelf, just a little bite to give you the taste and the less trouble you're going to have. So I always approach every project with the idea that let's be open to letting things go. Let's be open to figuring out what's really important and letting go of the rest. So when I'm organizing with a client, I ask about everything. I tend to sort of take the space at hand, sort things into categories, and then I go through each category with the client. Do we need this? Do we need only some of these or all of them? Then love rather than a lot of extra stuff just in case.

[07:07] Jenna: Okay, so I love this idea that we just start small. I love that idea of that you get that good positive feedback loop going and so that you're not just overwhelmed because yes, I definitely get like 50 projects I'm going to do in the weekend in my brain and they don't get done.

[07:29] Lucy: Yeah, absolutely. When you start something, it's important to start small. It's important to give it a boundary. So, you know, when you're done, that's a really important thing because if something is open ended, then it just feels like a lot of pressure that never lets up. So something with a boundary and then it's just a really simple process of removing everything from that space, sorting it into categories, and then going through category by category and asking yourself some really simple questions. The first question is, do I even need this? Because there's so much that we keep by default. For example, if you're organizing a junk drawer, I mean, those are so fun because I start pulling stuff out and sorting it and the client is watching me going, I didn't even know I had that. That's expired. That restaurant doesn't exist anymore. So asking ourselves that question is really helpful. I mean, that eliminates like half the job right there once you get rid of the things that you don't even need. And then it's about, do I need this many of this thing? Should this thing even live here? Should it live somewhere else? What other things do I use this thing with that I could store together to make my life easier? So it's very practical and resisting the impulse to put anything in a container until you're done asking the questions. Because once it's in a container, your brain shuts off and says, there's a container full of stuff. I don't need to think about that anymore.

[08:57] Jenna: That's true. Because, yes, once it's out of sight, it is out of mind.

[09:02] Lucy: It is. And there's this thing that our brains do called chunking where it's sort of how it's easier to remember a phone number in chunks of like three, three, four digits. Our brains can group things together. A pile of clutter. We do the same thing. So instead of seeing individual pieces of paper in a stack of mail, our brain says Stack of mail? No, thank you. Bye.

[09:25] Jenna: Oh, that's interesting. Okay. That is a good one. Do you have like a tip for all of that paper?

[09:35] Lucy: Yeah, for paper. I'm really big on eliminating things before they even come in the door or right after they come in the door. Because like I said, once that wet pile starts to chunk for you, it becomes really overwhelming to think about dealing with it. So some people have like a drop zone in their front hallway. Some people have a station on their kitchen counter. Whatever it is, make sure there's a recycle bin right there. So you can just take the junk right off the top and drop it in there. That's so much easier. And then the pile that piles up will be so much smaller because if you think about it, the amount of actual mail you get that you should probably open up is pretty small these days.

[10:17] Jenna: But I love that idea too, because it goes back to kind of what you were saying. Taking things out of the drunk drawer was put things that you're going to use together. So put the recycle bin next to the mail inbox thing. Exactly.

[10:32] Lucy: Make it easy. There's no reason that trash cans only have to live under the sink or whatever. Whatever you grew up with that you think, this is the way that things always are. There's no reason behind that. Let's make it functional. There's another example that I love saying where sometimes people will be frustrated with the laundry process. It can be really overwhelming. And the fact that there's like the chair that's piled with stuff or there's the closet floor that's piled with stuff. And I always say, put a laundry basket anywhere you take clothes off, there could be three or four between your closet, your bedroom, your bathroom. That's okay. Put a basket there and make it almost easier for yourself to drop clothes in the basket than to drop them on the floor.

[11:19] Jenna: That's genius because honestly, laundry baskets aren't that expensive and they don't take up that much space.

[11:26] Lucy: No, they're not. And there's this thing that I sometimes see, too, with people who are very focused and very creative, where if something isn't the perfect thing, they don't want to even try. Perfectionism is a real beast. And so I'll sometimes get something like, well, I don't like the look of that many laundry baskets out in my primary bedroom. And to that I say, do you like it more than you like the look of a floor covered in clothing? Because those are the two alternatives we're talking about. We're not talking about the alternatives are your present state and a perfect state that belongs in a magazine. The alternatives are your present state or a state that's a little bit easier for you to live in, that's creatively sourced for you.

[12:12] Jenna: I love that very that is a very good, very practical view to say that, you know what? That these are your two very realistic choices. Yes. Because often I'm saying, no, this is the goal and we're going to push through to this, but the goal isn't going to happen unless we take these steps, for one thing.

[12:33] Lucy: Exactly. And maybe once you and your family are sort of self training to use laundry baskets in the places where they are, and if that starts to bug you, maybe you can take one away and see what happens. It's always an evolution. Whenever I'm working with clients, when I leave a session, I always say, all right, so this is how things are now. I walk them through what we've done and I say, let's live with this. When I come back next time, I want you to tell me how it's working for you. Is it working? Is it not? And the information you give me about how it actually works in your lived daily life will help me continue to tweak the system for you. So it's not about like, there's this goal at the end. I have to push myself to get there. And once I get there, I'm done. And I'm happy. It's more about figuring out what works for you to again make life easier. That's what this is all about.

[13:23] Jenna: I love it. Well, and I love how, like, you said, that you have to take your family into account because even when we were talking about the mail, bringing in the mail, I was like, oh, yes, then my son won't just drop it all over the floor and I have to find the important letters.

[13:39] Lucy: Yes, exactly. Involving the whole family is something I'm really big on because I do see a tendency for us as women to take on more of this work and to feel like it's all of our responsibility. And when you involve the family in setting up the system, you give people some skin in the game. And when we ask somebody to help us fix a problem, they're invested, and they're invested in being part of the solution. So when you talk to your whole family about like, what are we going to do with this male issue? Let's brainstorm together. Let's figure out something that works for all of us now everybody's invested. This isn't something mom has to fix for us or Wife has to fix for us. This is something we're all part of, and it's not perfect. This is not an absolute panacea that's going to fix all of your interpersonal conflict over mail, but it's a step in the right direction.

[14:31] Jenna: I love that. And like you said, then it's not just one person saying, okay, this is the way that it's going to be. I need you to adapt to this.

[14:39] Lucy: Exactly, because we all know how well that works.

[14:44] Jenna: Yes. This is the best approach ever. No. What are some things that you do when you first walk into somebody's house?

[14:54] Lucy: When I first walk into somebody's house, I'm very focused on the person. I think everybody is expecting me to look at the space and immediately form some sort of judgment and tell them that they're terrible and they need to be fixed. And that is absolutely not what I'm doing. I need to get to know the person first. I need to know what their pain points are, what works for them, what's worked for them in the past, what's not working for them now. And like I said at the beginning, what's their why? What's the goal that they're trying to achieve? And once I get to know that, then I can have them walk me around the space and show me what's going on. And I always ask permission first if I'm going to open a cabinet or if I'm going to open a closet. I always ask permission because this is a very intimate thing that people are doing, inviting someone into their home. If you think about it, who's looking inside your closet ever in life, it's you and possibly your spouse and possibly your kids. That's really it. And so inviting a total stranger to do that is a really big step, and I really honor that. And I'm really grateful that people allow me to do that because it's really a sign of trust, and I'm always very grateful for that.

[15:59] Jenna: Well, and I love how you started out with the I'm not here to judge you. I'm here to help you and teach you, because I know for me, when I look around, because this episode is.

[16:12] Lucy: For me as well, amazing that's the most fun word is for you is.

[16:18] Jenna: That I sometimes look at my ***. I'm like oh, no. When I let somebody in, I think of all of the things that they're going to think. And obviously we pretend things we shouldn't pretend in our heads. It's very empowering to feel like, yes, when I invite you over to my house, it's going to be more about how can we make this more livable for you? How can we reach your wives? Exactly.

[16:45] Lucy: And it's really all about the client and what they want, because I am here to tell you, someone's before is another person's after. And vice versa. So I can't tell just by looking what you need done. I need to understand what is bothering you and what you want to have happen, because it's not about me. It's not about what I think. It's about me helping you reach your goals.

[17:09] Jenna: That's awesome. That's amazing. And just for people to know, do you ever do virtual consultations just over Zoom and stuff? If I walk?

[17:18] Lucy: I sure do. Okay, awesome. I sure do. Yeah, absolutely. I love working on Zoom, actually. It's something I started doing during the pandemic because there was that whole lockdown situation, and I actually found out that it works better than I thought it would. It's for a specific kind of client, and when the fit is right, it works really well. I had one long term client all throughout the lockdown phase of the Pandemic, and this gentleman had lost both of his parents about five years previously, and he was living in their apartment and hadn't changed anything for those whole five years, and he wanted to get some renovations done. And the architect happens to be an architect in my network. And the architect said, look, we can do this, but you've got to get the space cleaned out. We can't come in here and work with all of this stuff here. And so the architect connected me with this lovely gentleman, and over the course of about a year, I sort of helped him. I was the cheerleader. I gave him the resources. We talked every week, and he got that apartment completely cleaned out. The architect was amazed. So it absolutely works, and it's really good for somebody who can't devote a lot of time at once. My regular organizing sessions in person are 4 hours. A meeting on Zoom is about half an hour to an hour. It's good for somebody who's got maybe a little bit lower budget, because, again, you're using less of my time, so it's less expensive. And it's also good for somebody who's a little bit more concerned about privacy or a little bit more nervous about letting someone into their home, because I can only see what the camera shows, and so the client has complete control over what I see, and that often helps people feel a little bit more comfortable about the process.

[19:02] Jenna: And I love that idea of bite sizing it, because then it's also more like, okay, I can do this one thing. I can bite size. This organization idea.

[19:15] Lucy: Yes, exactly. It's good for somebody who wants to do it a step at a time, which for people who really want to feel like they did it themselves, feel that success, but also know that they can't handle a lot at a time. Baby steps every week, slowly, over time is really going to really get you there. After the first couple of weeks, it may not look like much, but after six months, wow. Can make a really big difference.

[19:40] Jenna: I just have to say this whole time, I just keep hearing, what about Bob saying, baby steps, baby steps. I love. So one little thing at a time. We can do this.

[19:58] Lucy: Yes.

[19:59] Jenna: All right. That's amazing. And I'm going to put all of your contact information and put things in the episode description and on our Office website so people can connect with you. And then I wanted to ask you, what encouragement would you give to people listening right now that are just looking around their house, looking at their space, and they're just like, I don't even know. Can I do this? Can I even start?

[20:25] Lucy: The thing that I always say is organizing is a skill. It's not a personality trait. So you do not have to be a self professed, organized person to get organized. It's just about learning very simple skills. There's a lot of ways to learn skills. You can watch YouTube videos. You can hire someone to help you. You can read whatever your favorite mode of learning is. You can learn organizing skills that way. So it's really thinking about it like something transactional, something that is to be learned and then applied. It's not about your worth as a person. It's not about your personality.

[21:04] Jenna: I love that. Thank you so much. And Lucy, thank you so much for coming on the show today. This has been amazing. I honestly now have some ideas. I'm like, okay, I think I can start. I think I've got it.

[21:16] Lucy: You can?

[21:17] Jenna: I love that I am empowered. Thank you.

[21:23] Lucy: You are very welcome. Thanks so much for having me. This has been a really fun conversation.

[21:30] Jenna: Thanks so much for listening. To learn more about anything we talked about today, head over to Office Remember to, like, subscribe and share and have a great day. We'll see you next time. Our.

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