Tag: Professional Organising

Seven Elements of Organising

Our view of organising tends to be quite concrete, focussing on discarding objects and sorting the remainder into containers. Its true that organising does involve these activities. However there is a bigger picture. We may be able to recognise a mess when we see one, but its not always obvious why things build up as they do, or what to do about it. Before we start searching for solutions, it would be helpful to understand what is really going on. What would it look like if we stripped organising down to its essential elements?

Drawing on ideas from science and spirituality, organising can be stripped down to some essential aspects, that I am going to call Objects, Structure, Flow, Space, Time, Energy and Consciousness.


Objects are things in themselves, created for a specific purpose. They may be part of the physical world and have physical characteristics such as size, shape, colour, texture, materials, and so on. When we talk about clutter, we are usually referring to objects that have become detached from their place or their purpose. Seen more broadly, objects could be any form, such as a thought form, that has its own unique qualities and identity.


The function of structures is holding, containing, limiting, setting boundaries. Some structures have a high degree of Containment, meaning they hold other things without allowing overflow or movement. Other structures are designed to Direct Movement, rather than limit it altogether. Structures  may be literal physical structures, such as scaffolding on a building. They may also take the form of mental constructs used to guide thinking, such as categories, lists, rules and guidelines.


In this context flow refers to the movement of objects, through a space or a structure. Fluids are so called because they flow easily; flow is in their nature. Solid objects also move, and this can also be regarded as a type of flow. The flow of thinking is influenced by our mental structures such as ideas and beliefs.


Space is the emptiness within which activity takes place. Objects and Structures occupy Space, and Flow through it. Without space, movement isn’t possible. In this sense it represents freedom and potential.


Energy is the impulse to move, the strength to move. Inanimate objects can’t move – people are the main supply of energy which causes objects to move within a space. Movement results from, and creates energy. Movement of thoughts can translate into physical movement of the body, and of objects.


Organising is not something that happens once, but a continual process, it occurs over time. Our bodies never stop operating while we are living, even in sleep. In a similar way, we are always in the process of orienting ourselves in relation to our environment. Time brings factors such as birth, change, decay and death into play.


Consciousness refers to the self aware intelligence that allows active decisions to be made about how all the other Elements fit together. Unlike simple organisms, humans are aware that they are organising their living environments and their internal life, and can make active decisions, and this is a significant difference. We can decide what objects to own, how to organise them, where to locate them. We can also influence our own thoughts and feelings. We need to apply our time and energy for this to happen. Its our capacity to act consciously that draws all the elements together.

Distilling organising back to these essential elements may seem very abstract when faced with a specific task that needs to be done. However it does provide a way of viewing a situation that is stripped of labels, judgements and assumptions.  It allows us to view an organising task according to first principles and to see a situation with fresh eyes. From here we can begin to think about the interactions between the elements, and how they work together to create a harmonious and life supporting envirnoment.

For the visually inclined, I have added images exploring some of these themes to the To Live Light Pinterest Board.

Niagara River Downstream

The Balance of Structure and Flow

When we think about organising in terms of natural systems, there are two factors that contribute to how things unfold. One is structure, and the other is flow. Structure is about the level of containment, and flow is about the level of movement. Managing our living environment effectively requires a healthy balance of each of these factors.


Structure is like the banks of a river. It defines the space and provides containment and separation. The walls of our homes create a boundary from the outside world and rooms further separate areas by function. Inside our living spaces is a sense of safety and containment which can lead to the possibility of intimacy. In managing our belongings, furniture and storage options help us contain our things within a defined space so we know where to look for them. This could be in the form of of a bookshelf, a wardrobe, or a jewellery box. These containers can also act as limits to the volume to be kept of a particular category of item.


Flow is like a water moving in a river. It is about movement and energy. The river has its own momentum and finds its way from source to its destination.  Although it is fluid, a stream has a lot of power and can travel a long way quickly. In organising we can think about how objects flow into, around and out of our homes. Objects cannot move themselves, but contain stored energy from their manufacture, and once in the system their presence and movement needs to be managed.


Structure and flow are not good or bad in themselves, but work together. In order to flow, the river requires the containment of the river bank. If there is too much water, the river bursts its banks and floods. This illustrates how difficulties arise when the levels of structure and flow are out of proportion. Too much structure, and the situation feels rigid, restrictive and inflexible. Too much flow becomes chaotic and out of control.

What we call “clutter” or “mess” may reflect an imbalance of structure and flow in relation to our belongings. Perhaps the flow of objects into the space is greater than the flow out, so things are piling up. Or there maybe there is a lack of structure, so things are not contained and become difficult to find.


The art in organising is to find the level of structure and flow that suits your specific needs. Thats not necessarily in the middle. Some situations benefit from a high degree of structure, and at other times a more fluid arrangement is helpful. A healthy balance offers enough containment to provide clarity, and enough flow to allow for flexibility and comfort.

The Yin and Yang of Cleaning and Organising

Whats the relationship between cleaning and organising? Cleaning brings a surface back to its original condition by removing foreign particles that have stuck to it due to use, or the passage of time. Organising is about the arrangement of things, what you have and where you put it.

Cleaning and organising are not the same thing, but there is a relationship between the two processes:

Its easier to clean an organised space.
Its nicer to organise a clean space.

They are different processes, but they contain a little of each other. I think of this as the yin and yang of cleaning and organising. If you are doing a routine clean of the loungeroom, that’s likely to include a tidy up and put away step. This is the maintenance aspect of being organised. If you are organising a wardrobe, you might get out the vacuum and clean up the wardrobe floor while the shoes are all out on the carpet. This reflects a natural relationship between managing your things and looking after the environment in which they are kept.

If you are working alone, you don’t need to think to much about this distinction. If you want to hire someone to help you at home, its important to be clear about what you need. If you are generally OK at knowing where things go and putting them away, but have trouble keeping up with routine cleaning, then a cleaner would be the person to help you out. If you want to avoid the “cleaning up the cleaner” scenario you might be looking for a housekeeper, who could put things away in designated places and as well as do the cleaning. A professional organiser is the person to call when you want support with decisions about what to keep and where to keep it and setting up systems for managing your things.

When organising I like to bring the two processes together in a “clean up as you go” system.  This means cleaning the area you are focussing on so that its a comfortable space to work in, wiping down shelves that have been cleared for sorting, and vacuuming up after the  job is finished.


Four Reasons to Change Your Relationship With Stuff

We all deal with the material objects in our lives every day, and much of what we do is habit or routine. It needs to be, because our things are there to act as tools for living and enjoying life. However every now and then its helpful to take time to focus our attention on our belongings and how we are managing them. This allows us and create a fresh relationship with our stuff that is better able to support our current lifestyle.

A New Perspective

Even if we are generally fairly organised there are times when our relationship with stuff feels stuck or bogged down. Things my be running fairly smoothly, but bothersome clutter troublespots lurk unattended. Often these areas are out of sight, but not quite out of mind. They represent “unfinished business” with things that might be out of style, out of date, or just plain boring. A clutter troublespot might also build around things that are “too hot to handle” due to sentimental attachments or the strong emotions that they trigger. Tackling these tricky areas gives a sense of achievement and frees up physical and mental space.

A Fresh Start

Change is a natural part of life. Our belongings need to change with us so that they continue to meet our needs and reflect our current lifestyle and priorities. There are times in life such as marriage, birth of a child, divorce, downsizing for seniors, and death of a loved one, when the change process is particularly intense, and can challenge our ability to adapt. Feelings of overwhelm arise when we need to make a lot of important decisions quickly, while  feeling tired, confused and emotionally vulnerable. Working through the decisions about what to keep, what to let go, and how to move forward helps to restore a sense of balance and harmony, and paves the way for a fresh start in a new phase of life.

Creating Order

We aren’t all naturally good at organising and managing of stuff. For some of us its a challenge to get going on routine organising tasks and keep track of physical objects. Things get lost, appointments are missed, and stress builds. This may be more to do with the approach taken to organising tasks, rather than having too much stuff, but can still lead to a sense of clutter chaos. Traditional organising solutions don’t work for everyone, but customised organising strategies can help calm the chaos and restore order.

Letting Go

They say “its only stuff” but most of us develop strong attachments to at least some of our physical belongings because of their usefulness, beauty, or the memories they evoke. For people who have a strong appreciation for the potential of physical objects these attachments can be very strong, to the point where its difficult to make a decision to discard things. Letting go also evokes concerns about making mistakes and getting it wrong. The flow of objects into, around, and out of our homes is a natural one, and we each have our own ways of dealing with this. However holding on to too many things can become an obstacle  to getting on with our lives.

Generally if we are feeling bogged down and overwhemed with stuff we aim to navigate these challenges on our own. However if this approach isn’t working, and the situation is stuck or deteriorating, enlisting support from friends, family or a professional organiser’s can provide an outside perspective and help to restore order, balance and space.


Where Do I Start?

Traditional approaches to decluttering have limitations when it comes to an extremely cluttered environment. Working room by room is a slow process if there is a large bulk of items in every room, and choosing a category such as books or clothes to work with is difficult if belongings are jumbled together or inaccessible. The slow decluttering approach which involves removing unwanted things wherever they are found lacks the focus required to make headway in a large project. This post discusses a harm minimisation approach to decluttering which focusses on problem issues first.

Addressing clutter is important because of the negative impact on health, safety and wellbeing that can result from excessive clutter in the home. These negative effects can act as powerful motivators for change, and can also be a starting point for defining decluttering projects. Rather than focussing on tidiness or organisation as goals, projects can be developed which address specific problems or risks associated with too much stuff. The objective is to minimise the harmfull consequences of clutter by addressing the most serious risks and dealing with them first.

Harm minimisation projects could include:

1. The Safety First Project
Identifying and addressing hazards caused by clutter or hoarding such as limited access to important exits, removal of obstructions in walkways, removal of trip hazards, reducing the height of piles at risk of falling, and clearing areas around stoves, heaters and other potential fire hazards.

2. The Healthy Home Project
Cleaning up food and drink scraps, taking out the garbage, clearing out the fridge, establishing a routine for cleaning up and removing food waste, washing up crockery and utensils, general cleaning, addressing pest infestations, reducing dust exposure, removing items affected by mould and mildew, addressing damp and its effects, removing old medicines and toxic chemicals, and putting poisons out of reach of children and pets. In a heavily cluttered environment this project may need to be repeated as additional areas become accessible. However attacking the obvious health risk early in the process creates a safer and more pleasant living and working environment while the larger project goes on.

3. The Financial Survival Project
This project involves identifying any immediate financial risks from a cluttered and disorganised lifestyle such as unpaid rent or bills, or excessive debt. If mail has been unopened or ignored, it can be useful to run through the regular expenses that need to be dealt with and develop a realistic financial picture. If excessive debt has become a problem, stemming spending and working out a financial strategy could be important considerations. Being proactive about financial problems may prevent a crisis such as power cuts or evictions.

4. The Family Friendly Project
If one person in the family tends to collect and acquire a lot of stuff, this can impinge on the space and comfort of other family members. The family friendly projects involves finding out the needs of individuals in the family and making it a priority to create some space and sense of order in the areas of the house that affect them most. This might mean making decluttering the kids rooms a priority so that they have space to study and play. It might mean having an agreement with a spouse about areas that are to be clutter free. The Family Friendly Project aims to acknowledge the needs and preferences of everyone in the home, so that clutter doesn’t rule the roost.

5. The Reaching Out Project
Feelings of hopelessness and isolation can be debilitating consequences of a cluttered situation. Changing long term patterns of thinking and behaviour can be difficult and stressful, and may require the support of counsellors and doctors. Reaching out can also involve enlisting the help of sympathetic family and friends. Professional organisers are available to assist with the practicalities of sorting and organising. Reaching out brings hope for real and lasting change by drawing on the knowledge, experience and goodwill of other people.

These projects are an example of an approach to a major decluttering effort which aims to address the most serious consequences of the cluttered environment first. Which you choose will depend on which issues are causing the most risk or distress. Of all the harm minimisation projects, reaching out is probably the most crucial, as it will change the dynamics of the situation and give the other projects a better chance of success.

A specific harm minimisation approach is outlined in the book Digging Out  by Michael A Tompkins and Tamara L Hartl.

The links to the book are affiliate links with Australian online store Booktopia.  A small percentage of the purchase price is paid to Live Light if you buy the book through this link

When Clutter Matters

Recently I read an article about people who collect things from the roadside to recycle and sell. The collection process was ahead of the recycling process and they were accumulating a large volume of stuff. They were happy and in tune with each other. The work was obviously meaningful to them. Yet there was some speculation as to whether these people were in the recycling business, or “hoarders”.

It might surprise you, but I don’t mind if you have a garage full of stuff, a storage shed full of this and that, or an attic full of treasures. After all, this is what these storage spaces are for. Up to a certain point, whether you choose to live with a lot of belongings or very few is a matter of personal preference. Collecting and recycling are a lifestyle choice that many people find rewarding and its important to respect that. A cluttered storage space is not sufficient information to label a person as a hoarder.

There is a point however, where collecting, acquiring and hoarding go to far, and at that point clutter matters. Clutter matters when it puts your safety at risk. Clutter matters when your living environment has become so contaminated that it poses a health threat. It matters when you can’t perform the normal tasks of living such as sleeping in a bed, showering in the shower stall, or cooking in the kitchen.

Clutter matters a lot when the people you live with feel overwhelmed and despairing because of the lack of space, and having no control over their living environment. Clutter matters when you feel like it is controlling you, and you are powerless to do anything about it. When collecting and keeping stuff has become a compulsion, then its no longer a lifestyle choice.

Sometimes it can seem like people who don’t have an issue with managing their stuff are judging those who tend to collect or hoard. It can feel like non-hoarders want to tidy up the world so that its neat and organised and manageable. But thats missing the point. The point is not whether you are neat enough, or organised enough to meet other peoples expectations. The point is whether you and everyone who lives in your home are safe and healthy and happy in their living environment. If excessive clutter is compromising your safety and quality of life, that’s when clutter matters.

It can be difficult to change habits of a lifetime, however your safety, health and happiness are good reasons to get motivated. Help is available through counselling programs that address the reasons for compulsive hoarding and acquiring. Professional Organisers can help restore the home to a safer and more comfortable condition. If you are feeling shy about asking for help, you could take a look at a wonderful book called Buried in Treasures, which tackles the reasons for compulsive hoarding and acquiring and how to start restoring the balance.

The links to the book are affiliate links with Australian online store Booktopia.  A small percentage of the purchase price is paid to Live Light if you buy the book through this link.

Clear the dining table of clutter to enjoy relaxed meals.

Keeping Things Small and Light

One of the factors that can make a home feel cramped and cause problems with storage space is the actual size of your belongings. We sometimes think that “bigger is better”, but if you always choose the largest option, you may sacrificing valuable space without any real gain.

Particularly for people who live in smaller spaces, such as home units, big items can get in the way very quickly. If you have a big family, or enjoy entertaining, then a big home and big items may be right for you. However if there are only one or two people living in the home, or you have limited space, you may not need a lot of large furniture or family size equipment.

One principle that I find helpful is to choose furniture in keeping with the space available. A large coffee table or super-sized dining table can make a small room feel cluttered. Also assess the number of items of furniture that you have in each room. A little clear wall space does wonders to make a room feel lighter.

If space is limited, avoid large pictures and decorations. Huge paintings and photographs take up a lot of visual space, and need a large room to be seen to advantage. Choose images that compliment rather than dominate the room. Large decorative objects can also take up a lot of space, whether on display or in storage. Large size vases and coffee table ornaments can overwhelm a small space and take up limited surface area.

I find it helpful to keep heavy items to a minimum. Objects such as chunky bookcases and tall steel filing cabinets can be difficult to move on your own. If you have the option, consider buying lighter and more portable versions from the choices available. If you have a small space consider smaller and lighter versions that you can easily relocate yourself, such as a lightweight bookcase or a smaller set of drawers on wheels.

Sometimes big things enter our lives through the backdoor, generally in the arms for friends and family who no longer need them. If this happens, remember the Keep it Small and Light principle and say no thank you if the object is too big and bulky for your needs.

Its easy to take our possessions for granted as a permanent fixture in our homes, and retain things for a life we used to have, wish we had, or hope we might have one day. You can give your home a less cluttered feel by taking a fresh look at your lifestyle and living space at it is today, and adopting a smaller, lighter approach.