Helen Butler understands organisation. A working mother and the mastermind behind Clutter Rescue (a business designed to take mums from busy to balanced), this professional organiser, teacher, blogger and speaker shares with us some of her profound organisational insight.
Where’s the most common place to get started?
“I think most people in their homes pick one or two areas that cause them grief; that can be the pantry, the office, the kids toys – my suggestion is to start in one of those areas. It may actually feel difficult because you might feel overwhelmed with the task ahead, but if you break it down into small steps and you start in that area that’s causing you the most grief, you may well find a domino effect in other areas of your life; it motivates you to continue.”
How long should we allocate to each project?
“It will depend on the size of a task. Take the junk drawer for example – we all have one. We might procrastinate; think it’s going to take us two hours to do when really it’s only going to take us 10 minutes. It’s all about biting the bullet and getting started.
The larger projects where you’re facing complete chaos, like the office or your wardrobe, may take longer to do, but the rewards can be greater. Simply break it down into smaller tasks for yourself or call in a professional to break the back of the project, to kick start you.”
What does it mean to go from Busy to Balanced?
“It means having enough respect for yourself to realise you don’t have to live in a busy, chaotic world. We can still be busy, but in a balanced way. It’s a real choice. It’s a decision and it’s saying ‘I’m actually going to pencil me time into my day’, whether it’s going to the gym, playing with the children or dinner with your partner. Whatever that looks like, that balance; it’s making that conscious choice to respect yourself that is important.”
Why is this so important?
“What you’ll find is when you do step back and you do those things that give you joy, you’re in a much better headspace to deal with whatever is going on in your busy life. In some ways, once it’s part of your weekly schedule, you defend it. For example, I do a meditation class on a Thursday evening and my husband often has work functions on a Thursday evening. For three weeks in a row I didn’t go to my meditations, I looked after our child and did my meditations at home. By the fourth week when he said he had a work function on Thursday night I said, “I’m calling a sitter”. It’s important for me to live my balanced life so therefore the sitter can come for 2 hours, I can go and do my thing and everyone is happy. And I wake up the next day a better person!”
What’s your approach to organising?
“When I work with my clients I really try to drill down into three specific areas.
- What is the actual problem that’s going on in the space. Is it bad storage or perhaps there’s no system?
- Are there external reasons why goals are not being reached?
- What are the internal influences?
All three need to be considered to help a client achieve their organising goals. I’ve had people saying ‘my office is driving me nuts’ but they’re busy, they’ve got no management around their money and there’s all these other issues going on, so we look at the external factors that are fanning the flame. Maybe you’re working 60 hours a week, maybe your partner is away a lot, or maybe you’ve got 12 children! There’s lots of external factors that influence us.
It’s also important to look at what’s impacting us internally which reflects on our mindset; maybe we’re suffering from an illness or an injury; maybe we’re caring for elderly family members.
It’s about looking at the practicalities of what the problem is within a holistic framework to work out what you want from your home.
In my experience people want their homes to be their sanctuary. To achieve that goal, it’s really helpful to work out what it is you want from your life taking into account external/internal factors and then live your best life with what you’ve got. If you can work on your mindset, you are half way there. It’s about making a positive and realistic choice.”
What’s the knock on effect of being disorganised?
“Feeling overwhelmed. If you are disorganised you’ll likely feel frazzled and out of control, as though nothing’s going right for you. So even if you choose a small area to be organised (such as the process of getting out of the house on time; having your wardrobe sorted so you can get dressed quickly) you can reduce that feeling of being overwhelmed. Then you’ll be much happier.”
How easy is it to make changes?
“Often we over complicate things. Often I hear my clients’ say that they thought that getting organised was going to be more difficult, or take longer than it really did. Making it overcomplicated makes it harder for us to make the change.
Also it makes it much easier to focus on change if your goal is not an idealistic perfection that’s unobtainable. It makes me think of the “I want to get organised” New Year’s resolution that sits alongside losing weight and getting fit… Big picture perfection might not be what is needed… focus on simple systems that work for you, that’s all that matters.”
So where should we start?
“I think most people have one or two areas in their home that cause them grief; my suggestion is to start in one of those areas. If we look at any project, no matter what it is, and break it down into small steps, it’s much more manageable and achievable. This is particularly true if your whole house is overwhelming you and feels disorganised. It can be hard to start, but trust me, once you start you’ll create momentum and you are away! So again, break it down, start somewhere, start anywhere. Just start.”
“A lovely example of a simple task you could tackle is sorting through dry goods and tin cans in the pantry, weeding out food that’s out of date and taking up valuable space. Once you’ve achieved your goal, you’ll be encouraged to do the other sections of the pantry and even your whole kitchen!”
What’s one life-changing organisation tip/gem you can offer?
“A place for everything and everything in its place; and while it might sound old and clichéd, for me organising is about retrieval. It’s not about putting items away it’s about how you get them back. Stuff can be put away and stacked high into tubs but if you don’t know how to get it back you’re still not organised.
I also have a saying; if you want your kids to grow up and move out you have to teach them to organise themselves and because I come from a teaching background, I think the earlier you can start the better. Kids can help from two or three years of age; even putting their kindy bag where it’s supposed to go or putting their clothes in the washing basket, whatever that looks like. If you start young and you teach them some of these life skills, before they turn hormonal and want to argue with us or not do anything we say, then hopefully they will come out the other side of those teenage years with some life skills!”
For a lot of people, getting organised can feel overwhelming; what your advice for them?
“It’s making the decision that’s important. If we look at our space and we know it can be better, it’s a matter of saying, ‘I’m going to start now, over there in that small space and I’m going to get that sorted. Then I’m going to step back and work on that again and maybe work on another small space’. You don’t have to start big. That’s the thing… People often look at projects that they set themselves and say it’s way too overwhelming, it’s going to take me six weekends to do and I’m not going to do it. So sometimes it’s a matter of saying just start small in this space that’s causing me grief and move on from there. Sometimes it’s putting it in your diary and saying ‘I’m going to schedule that on Saturday afternoon and hey, I’ve got the whole family here and this space relates to the whole family, so let’s get everyone in to help’.”
Why is ‘starting’ so often the hardest part?
“Starting can be the hardest part because two things will stop people; perfectionism and procrastination. Perfectionism is dangerous because what is perfect? It can be debilitating and stop us just as much as procrastination. People think they’ve got to have display homes. But we live in our homes and yes, there might be a cushion on the floor or the newspapers stacking up under the coffee table, but at least they’re stacking up there because that’s their home.”
“When people start to get organised or set up a system they think they’ve got to catch up with everything that hasn’t been done; think of the office and you might have 20 years of paperwork; you think you’ve got to do the back catalogue – maybe you do – maybe you don’t – maybe you can start from today and set up a great system and move forward. The trick is to get a system going so that the problem won’t be getting worse, it will be getting better. With a system in place, maintaining order is so much easier. I’m all about ‘start with what works for you and your family’. Start from here. Start today.”
So Why does an Organised New Year Start with Me?
“…Because you have the power to make a difference in your own life. The reality is no one else is better positioned to know what’s important to you. Give yourself permission to take control and take action to reach your goals. Get inspired with the Howards New Year catalogue, invite a friend to come over and de-clutter, ring a Professional Organiser if you need impartial help and make this your most organised new year yet!”
Special thanks to Helen Butler from Clutter Rescue for sharing her wisdom, experience and practical advice. We encourage you to visit Helen’s website at www.clutterrescue.com.au
© Copyright Howards Storage World, 2015.
Accurate as at January 2015.