Get a Team and Clean the Garage!

Jobs are sometimes better suited for a team. Usually I work with a client alone, but increasingly I find the benefit of multiple hands. Garage organizing, for instance, is a prime example of work that is enough for 3 or more people to keep busy and productive.

Garages need to be addressed at least once a year, as things tend to collect in the large open space, beginning with a box for recycling that doesn’t get taken out and ending up with an assortment of things brought from other places. We put one thing to the side, and then another, planning to address it at a future date. When that date is finally declared, help makes all the difference!

I encourage you to set a date and organize your garage. I’d love for you to set the date with me, as I love decluttering and organizing garage spaces and have a few tricks for storing and using things that do not cost a lot of money. But this is also something that can be done with family or with a friend. (You help your friend one weekend and they help you the next!)

There are different kinds of friends available and each type offers specific pros and cons. Availability and willingness are not always the best criteria for choosing someone with whom to work in a space. Consider these types and their individual value to you:

When you work with a team, there are several things to keep in mind to have the day run smoothly.

First, have a positive mind set. Work through any ambivalence you have toward the work. Be on the same page with others in the house about the work you propose to do. Know what you will and will not discard, but be open to changing your mind.

Second, have a few tools that make the job flow. A good ladder, for instance, makes all the difference in reaching things easily and storing rarely used items up high. Furniture slides are also helpful, even to move a partially loaded shelf to another wall if you change your mind about placement. If you are moving big-ticket items, have the necessary dolly and truck. Renting equipment has saved more than a few relationships with the friends with trucks.

Third, have a general plan that will keep people busy. Some work needs your direct attention, but other work can be done with a few simple instructions and time. Consider the type of workers you have and let them help you out of their strength.

Finally, be sure to take water breaks to refresh and regroup. A glass of lemonade or cup of coffee and a brownie are also a nice touch! Allow around 6 hours to make a big difference in a big space.

Working with another person or two keeps up momentum, allows for collaboration on some decisions, and multiplies exponentially the change that can occur. If you need a team, let me and my assistants come to your rescue!

All the best,


Decluttering Jenga and Organizing Tetris

I get to play two games while I work: Jenga and Tetris. If you know the games, skip to the third paragraph down!

In the game Jenga, rectangular wooden blocks are placed three across with another set of three stacked on top of the first crosswise. Continuing this pattern, a tower is built that is 18 levels high. The challenge is to remove a block from the stack and place it on top without the tower falling. The trick is to touch the blocks slightly to find one that is not load bearing and can be removed without consequence.

In the electronic game Tetris, a patterned series of blocks fall from the top of the screen and must be placed by moving it right or left and rotating it in such a way that they form complete rows of blocks, which then disappear after every space on the row has been filled. When the screen is filled with uncompleted rows, the game ends.

I liken much of my work to these two games. Either we are trying to remove items from a “tower” and relocate them safely, or we are taking diverse items and trying to place them compactly into a defined space. Especially when working in a cluttered home, I remember and teach the basics of these games as we remove items from a pile without creating an avalanche and find a space to place it.

With a hoarded house in mind, I offer the following pointers about how to play Decluttering Jenga and Organizing Tetris.

When I began working in hoarded homes, my goal was to start from the top of a pile and work down to the floor or table or sofa beneath the accumulated things. However, two dynamics became obvious after doing this a few times: chronology and accessibility.

First, chronology: we’re dealing with cubic feet that have archaeological layers and the items on top are the things most frequently or recently used. When starting from the top of the stack and working our way down, the least used things become most accessible and the most used items hidden. We can’t always shift things to the side while we remove the less used items because there simply isn’t room. How do we maintain daily use of important items while removing the bulk of things which can be more easily considered for discarding?

I offer a few tips:

1.  Plan the movement of items to safe and open spaces for discarding and saving. Allow at least 4 hours of uninterrupted time to:

a.        set up tables and shelves for sorting,

b.        remove and review items,

c.       organize and return items to storage or usability.

Be prepared to remove discarded items at the end of that day. If possible, work outside, but otherwise, find stable places inside to work. For instance, an origami shelf can be unfolded in a tight space. Four shelves quadruple your surface space.

2.  When possible, target large items for removal and work your way toward them. For instance, if there is an unused fitness machine, work a path toward it. When removed, you will have opened functional space. (Of course, you have potentially lost a clothing rack!!!) When you remove a sofa, you’ve hit the motherload!

Second, accessibility: we need to use all available space to increase movement. This means choosing function over aesthetics until a hoarded home is under control. For instance, the use of a big shelving unit allows more organization and containment than a smaller, more “homey” shelf. The bulkier shelf usually looks better than the current piles, and they make the space safer from avalanches. Another way to make space is to use the walls. Do you have pictures that you want to hang? Hang them now and you can get used to seeing them on a wall, even if not on the perfect wall. They are also protected from damage. Find your birth certificate or car title? Put it in a Ziploc bag and tack it on the wall.

Sometimes people can have both unusual amounts of things and increased safety in their space. For instance, imagine that you have an enormous, much-loved wardrobe of clothes, shoes and accessories, hanging across every doorway, draping across sofas, and filling half of your bed. At the same time, you have a spare bedroom that is partially filled with things of less importance. My recommendation is that you organize the entire room as a closet for clothes and accessories, including a portion for storage of other things. When things are accessible it becomes easier to make good decisions about long-term value. Take one full wall and turn it into the ultimate place for your clothes and accessories. Don’t think 12-inch-deep shelves either – think 20 inch– large enough to hold handbags or hats two deep. Use this stepladder to easily reach.

Discarding for change is challenging because of the nature of hoarding disorder. One trick to discarding for change is to get to the things that have been lost over time and have been functionally replaced with other things. This entails making our most used things easily and safely accessible, but moved so we can get to the items buried. Significantly, the first expectation of this excavation is to compare items for better decisions about discarding.  

While moving and arranging things without the expectation of discarding, we gradually notice the relative difference between things and learn to ask multi-layered questions the deeper we go. By the time we get to the seventh hammer and we have put the first six together, it can seem absurd to keep seven. Discarding from the bottom of the stack doesn’t work well with gravity, but it does work with emotional and psychological thinking, well-being, and decision-making.

Hoarding disorder makes discarding tremendously difficult, but with conscious understanding, good therapy and a realistic game plan, life inside the house can steadily improve. Find emotional “Jenga” blocks that can be removed and watch things begin to fall into a “Tetris” row that disappears before your eyes!

All the best,