Anyone who has ever hiked in the woods knows it is so much more difficult to see where you are going if the trail is overgrown with brush and overhanging branches obscure your vision. Think how much easier it would be if your path were cleared and you could see where you were headed.
This is a metaphor for what happens when you de-clutter your life, and cast off the “stuff” from the past that weighs you down like so much heavy baggage. Clearing out your personal space, whether it’s your home or your office, can reap tremendous rewards mentally and physically by giving you a sense of freedom that makes it easier to see and achieve your goals, according to celebrity personal organizer Karin Saldana.
Saldana is a professional organizer who has organized homes and offices for high-profile and celebrity clients on both coasts. She will conduct a workshop at the Center for Relaxation & Healing at 666 Plainsboro Road on Saturday, January 28, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Another organizer, Princeton-based Suzanne Neilson, will host a workshop Monday, January 23, at 7 p.m. at the Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street. (See below for more on Neilson.)
Participants at Saldana’s workshop are encouraged to bring a photo of a space in their home or office in need of help and will receive a free mini-consultation. Among the issues Saldana will address:
Visualizing and manifesting your ideal space.
How to eliminate clutter and clear your space.
How to organize and categorize important “things.”
Motivation and a plan for taking immediate action.
In the middle of winter, when your mental health is already challenged by being trapped inside home and office, clutter can be hard to escape. “January is a great time to organize because it’s an opportunity to start all over again, fresh for the new year,” says Saldana. “I’ve never seen anyone go backwards or regret they did it. The only thing they might regret is that they waited so long.”
Like health and finances, organizing is always a hot topic as the calendar turns to the new year. In fact, the January/February issue of Whole Living magazine tackles ways to detox your workspace. It cites research conducted by the Princeton Neuroscience Institute [an interdisciplinary program at Princeton University that recently received a $15 million gift from the founder of Amazon] that shows that having a disorganized work space makes it difficult for people to process information efficiently and that even the smallest effort to straighten up your work space — including sorting items such as notes or paper clips — can make a satisfying difference.
“I’ve seen it,” says Saldana. “The less cluttered your space, the clearer your thoughts and the more efficient and creative you can be.” She cites the example of one client who underwent a deep personal transformation after organizing her home and office.
“She looked like she had lost the weight of the world from her shoulders,” she says. “This woman was a stylist and makeup artist but she was unhappy with her job. She had a beautiful home office, but couldn’t make her way past the door because there was so much clutter in the way. She was so unhappy with her job that instead of making a change, she made it impossible to get into the room to do her work.
“I helped her clean out her work space and clear up her life and that opened a whole new path for her literally and figuratively. Today she is a life coach and that room is now a space where she meditates.” Because of confidentiality rules, she cannot reveal the names of her well-known clients, but from her home base in Edgewater in northern New Jersey she travels all over the country helping high-profile people get rid of unwanted clutter and gain a sense of calm and a whole new perspective on life.
“People in the music industry, designers, and actors, some of these celebrities might have 18 people on staff and the funniest thing is that none of their closets, laundry rooms or other rooms are at all organized. They throw stuff in and so does their staff; they have the same problems with clutter that a lot of people do.”
Saldana relates the story of another client who was a borderline hoarder. “She had grown up with money, but her father was tight with it so she felt like she could never have enough. She had a beautiful home but you could walk in and feel the heaviness and if you opened a cupboard, food was falling out. She wanted to be in an exclusive relationship, but when people start collecting things they are often blocking out what they really want. I started clearing space but she had to be part of the process. It was hard for her to get on board. But once she did, she got into it and she said you could feel the openness walking in the door.”
Saldana, who is from Spokane, Washington, says she feels that she was born to do this job, which requires the right personality and a huge amount of patience. She is the fourth in a family of six girls. Her dad was a pipe fitter at Kaiser Aluminum and, at home, a man who liked everything in its place. “His clothes, garage, fishing and tacklebox, everything was in order,” she recalls. “If you moved a hammer he would know.”
Her mother was a homemaker until her youngest sister was six, and then she went back to work as a seamstress. “She was very clean and organized and she would laugh when I was little and would line up my clothes according to color. I was always organizing something, and some of my sisters would pay me to organize their closest or drawers.”
Saldana studied liberal arts at a community college in Spokane and then moved to Seattle, where she trained as an ophthalmic technician, “which requires you to be neat and precise and was perfect for me,” she says. “I really believe it all just falls into place.”
Along the way, she got married, gave birth to a daughter, and then was divorced. As a single mother, she started doing volunteer work with inner city kids, and then was hired as a case manager to develop after school programs. And then, suddenly, the program lost its funding and everyone lost their positions. But the connections she had made proved invaluable, because some of the more affluent families she had met saw her skills with organizing and invited her to work in their homes.
“I remember the closets. Those are usually the first things people want to weed out. Then attics, basements, children’s rooms, and home offices. It’s always too much stuff. But why we hold onto what we hold onto is individual for everyone. It can go back to childhood: they didn’t have enough so they are afraid to let things go. Or maybe they had too much and they’re afraid of losing it so they don’t want to let go.”
Saldana’s career as a professional organizer was launched. About seven years ago, she decided to move to the east coast when her daughter enrolled at Pace University in New York. Her daughter, now 25, works for ESPN.
Saldana’s fees start at $50 an hour and can go to $150 an hour for the most extreme cases. If her client lives close enough, she will go in for a complimentary consultation; if it’s far, she has clients send pictures of their problem areas. Saldana says it’s not just sanity that can be saved through de-cluttering, but valuable time.
“If a person is looking 10 or 15 minutes for keys or a bill, there’s a lot of wasted energy. If you have things in place, you can spend quality time with things that are important to you, your family, and friends.”
She recognizes that people can feel overwhelmed and scared. “I’ve had people who have set up appointments and then cancel saying they’re too busy,” she said. “A good first step is to get a journal and write down what you want to create for yourself. Have a vision. Start with one room, one drawer. Start small but start somewhere.” Other tips:
Everything should have a home and go back immediately after use.
Sort mail right away; decide what gets recycled or filed.
If you buy a new pair of shoes, get rid of another.
Every month, go through your pantry and refrigerator. Toss expired items or duplicates; you don’t need five bottles of the same thing.
Every year, go through your attic and basement and purge what you don’t use.
With children’s artwork that has sentimental value, frame the most precious. Let older children have a hand in deciding what they want to keep. Get a scrapbook and turn it into a family project.
If you’re afraid of throwing away something valuable, have it appraised.
Suzanne Neilson, a Princeton-based organizer, concurs that living in a cluttered house is mentally exhausting.
“A home should be a sanctuary, a beautiful place where we can relax and entertain friends and family. Everything we see should make us smile. When we walk into each room, we see pictures of our loved ones and that stunning statue on the mantel. There is nothing else on the mantel. The statue is striking and draws a pleasured eye to it. It is the same throughout the house. There are well-chosen pieces in each room, things that have meaning, that remind us of a wonderful trip to Italy, or a child’s eager efforts and our delight at receiving their gift.”
Neilson says it is widely acknowledged that a cluttered house can create a great deal of tension and make people feel their lives are out of control.
“Home should be a place to retreat and recharge. We want to walk into a well-appointed kitchen to cook a little breakfast, and it is efficient and easy, as everything has a place and is there. No rummaging around drawer after drawer to find the can opener. The counters are clean to work on. It is calming and happy to be home in this wonderful place we’ve created.”
Neilson recommends starting with the place that bothers you most, for example, your office and then to follow these next steps:
If it’s too hard to begin, set the timer for 15 minutes. Say to yourself, “Anyone can do just 15 minutes — I can do that.”
Start with your desktop because the results will be apparent immediately and will lift your mood considerably upon entering the room.
Remove everything to a container and put back only the items that should be there, the supplies you use every day: pens, stapler, paper clips.
Choose designated spots for the rest, such as a drawer for tape and business cards.
Toss unneeded items and donate the 50 extra pens and the 10 boxes of post-its.
The timer rings. You’re not finished; some stuff is still in the box, but the desktop is clean, and you feel better. Later on — since you’re encouraged — you decide to do 15 more minutes.
Neilson can trace her proclivity for order to her childhood growing up in an immaculate home in Dobbs Ferry, New York, a small bedroom community north of Manhattan. Her father was a metallurgical engineer, and she had a stay-at-home mom.
“We did not have many things, but those we had were well-chosen and delightful,” she recalls. “Everything was in its place. My parents had a great eye for decorating and making things look good. I remember my mom paying me a penny a minute to shine the copper pipes under the sink. I loved it!”
She majored in fine arts at the University of Pennsylvania and went into publishing immediately after graduation. After having three children, she turned to freelance writing and had a part-time job on the side, but the office where she worked went under and closed.
“I thought about what else I liked to do and was good at. Every office that I had worked at I had organized and got running efficiently. It was beautiful, and people liked what I did, and so I thought, well I love to do that and I’m great at it, so I’ll put an ad in the paper and see if anyone is interested in that kind of service (this was in 1998 before anyone even had heard of an organizer). The calls rolled in and my business took off like a rocket.”
She says what makes her good at her job is that she is sensitive to people’s needs and to their feelings. “This is often a hard process for them. I can sense when they’re overwhelmed. Because of my background in fine arts and my natural inclination, I can make any room look terrific. Everybody feels like a weight has been lifted from their shoulders.”
Saldana describes the lifting of that weight as a result of creating a divine order through organizing. “I have a strong belief that we all deserve to create our own divine order,” she says. “I get to experience the actual life changes that happens when one commits to taking control of their clutter. It is truly amazing.”
Suzanne Neilson, The Organized Life, Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street. Monday, January 23, 7 p.m. Free. 609-924-9529.
Karin Saldana, Center for Relaxation & Healing, 666 Plainsboro Road. Saturday, January 28, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Workshop. Bring a photo of a space in your home or office in need of help and receive a free mini consultation. $25. 609-750-7432 or www.relaxationandhealing.com.