by Stephanie Block
You don’t think it’s possible, and I don’t blame you. An organized life? You’d need a magic wand, the storage space of ten men, and besides, don’t hanging files and folders kill trees? Save a tree; watch your life slowly drown in a sea of junk mail.
Never fear, Emily Wilska is here! This genie in a clearly labeled, space-saving bottle is what every Diva needs, a rational solution to our complicated lives on and off the road. Founder of The Organized Life, Emily is convinced that we can all get organized, and she can help us, one box of old magazines and your first pair of ice skates at a time.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and having way too many roommates in a tiny rent controlled apartment led Emily to yearn for a room of one’s own, if not a little smidgen of one.
Emily finds that organization is 78% moral support, and guess who’s there for you? A lot of organizing is being able to organize the organization. As in, breaking down the bone-crushing overwhelmingness of getting organized into a series of manageable steps. Not jumping out of the airplane of your disaster, but leap frogging over the gently babbling brook of your mess. I am paraphrasing of course, and when I say ‘your mess,’ I’m really thinking about my mess.
One big problem we all have is mail. Gone are the days of perfumed love letters and invitations to the royal ball. Most of what comes in the mail has no imperial seal; it just wastes your majesty’s time with a bunch of mass-produced solicitations on cheap paper. I’m Jewish and somehow ended up with a weekly Catholic newspaper. That sort of thing. Why can’t mail be male? But I digress…
Emily advocates developing a system for dealing right when it comes through the mail slot. Otherwise it has that nasty tendency to pile up. As you sort out the wheat from the chafe (her lovely metaphor), you gain time.
Yes, TIME. An organized system gives you more time in the long run. Although it takes time to set up and to get used to, to discipline yourself and to purge it once in a while, ultimately it gives you time. Ever been desperate to find the car keys/ tax stub/ lover’s phone number? You tear through your house like a madwoman seething with stress and gushing time like you’re immortal. Well people with well-oiled systems don’t have to do that.
A Thought On Stuff
Stuff stresses people out. Yes, even those Louis Vuitton travel guides add to the chaos. And we have to take a look at ourselves- what’s with all our stuff? We acquire stuff hoping that it will make us happy, but now we have to find a place for it, and what is a logical place for Cambodian lacquer? How about a boomerang from Down Under or that empty bottle of Ouzo we brought home because it would make a pretty vase?
Now we have to care for our new stuff and dust it and worry that the cat/ small child/ alcoholic uncle/ freak natural disaster might harm it or take it away. Our relationship to stuff is complicated. And one that we’ve got to sort out.
Dominatrix or Doe-like?
How does Emily whip her clients into shape? She won’t make you go cold turkey: “I won’t Queer Eye your house.”
She never forces clients to give up stuff, and she never puts people on a system that’s too strict, unless that’s what they’re into. Some need a healthy dose of tough love, while others seek gentle encouragement. That’s it, now put the Muppet sheets in this pile. Good job!
One of the best ways to force her clients to prioritize their stuff is to put things into perspective by asking them, if the house was burning down, what would you grab?
What Emily looks for is what you use regularly and what is most important in your daily life. She won’t fall for the ‘I might need that/ wear that someday’ line.
Post Partum Depression
Emily finds that a lot of clients come to her around major life transitions, be it pregnancy, divorce, moving, and so on. “Any time of transition is a good time to get organized,” Emily says. An event that jars us is usually the impetus. Rarely would we wake up and go, oooh, I feel like alphabetizing all those CD’s.
The Packing Diva Speaks
Emily is a traveler like the rest of us. And when I followed her down into her perfectly wrought storage space complete with labeled, color-coded boxes and a hanging shoe rack, I almost choked on my own shame. But when I recovered, Emily forked over some packing secrets.
“People travel the way they function at home,” she says. “Often people have the ‘more is better’ mentality. But how can a big suitcase be handy? Bringing everything with you is not a source of comfort and convenience but a pain.”
Plus there’s the subject of our innate acquisition gene. Going to Iran? Gotta getta rug. Guatemala? Those woven tops. Scotland? A husband. And so on. Either discipline yourself not to shop till your suitcase drops, or else pack with room for acquisitions in mind.
1. Do Your Homework
Where are you going? What is the culture like? The weather? And what are the logistics- like will you have access to laundry?
2. Be Methodical
People hate packing, Emily has found. But they like filing or other organizational tasks. She says to pack neatly and to really consider what you need and what you don’t need. This extra investment of time and thought really pays off down the road on the road. “You’ll have what you need but not so much that it’s a nightmare.”
She says that she’s appalled by travel tips like, wear your worst underwear and then leave them behind. “Underwear can’t possibly be your biggest space problem,” she scoffs.
3. Try to Travel With Only Carry-Ons
Unless you’ll be gone for an unusually long period of time, a carry-on should be fine. They force you to keep your stuff to a minimum, and they save you the worry and hassle of checking bags and freaking out when the airline sends them to Zimbabwe and you have a big meeting in Seattle.
4. Eagle Creek Cubes and Folders
These handy devices force you to fold and organize and to be vigilant about what you’re bringing. They also come with boards to help you fold your shirts like you’ve been working at the Gap for ten years. By compartmentalizing your stuff into various cubes and folders (shirt cube, pants folder, etc.), you are forced to break down your items into categories. This way, you will be acutely aware that you plan to bring ten tops on a weekend trip. Talk about trippin’ girl!
Then, these thingies fit neatly inside your suitcase, making unzipping your suitcase like taking a walk through Emily’s amazing storage space- everything is in its place and you can breath and gloat over the state of your stuff.
Men Are From Mars, Women Are More Organized
The vast majority of Emily’s clients are women. She theorizes that we women are more attuned to the service industry and take particular pride in our surroundings. Men don’t usually think they need Emily’s services, and either stay out of the way of her and the Mrs. or else insist that they could have done that without spending the money to hire someone to do it. As if.
Don’t Hate Yourself Because You’re Disorganized
Blame it on your parents. Seriously, Emily insists that we disorganized people aren’t bad people. She likens herself to a personal trainer. It’s not that we can’t organize ourselves, it’s just that it’s much nicer and easier to have a motivator cheering us on, someone to help us use our time effectively and efficiently.
1. Initial Assessment
Give Emily a tour of your space, if you dare, pointing out every little problem you can think of. Be honest. Your organizational woes come out in your session on the couch with her, only in this session you’re talking about the couch. Show her where your storage spaces are, and tell her all the things that you’d like to do but don’t have a dedicated space for. Are you an origami enthusiast in a studio apartment? Does ‘storage space’ to you mean a corner of your bedroom?
She will, while trying to keep a straight face, offer you a list of recommendations and break your massive project down into bite size, easy to swallow morsels. You’ll discover what room needs new shelves and come to terms with the fact that you gotta weed out the lions and witches from your wardrobe.
2. Don’t Leave Me This Way
If you want her to come back on a regular basis and hold your hand through this process, then she will happily be there for you. She calls it “body doubling,” because she finds that people like having someone there. Just like a trainer, the mere fact that she’s on the clock with a bona fide appointment forces you to schedule time for your project.
Also, Emily finds that this process can be emotional for her clients. Lots of our stuff carries sentimental and emotional value, so sifting through it is kind of like limping down memory lane, things like inherited items, or stupid things that belonged to your deranged ex that now belong in a fiery incinerator along with your trampled heart. Maybe? It’s okay if you don’t want to face all the stuff that goes with your stuff alone. This is very poorly packed emotional baggage that definitely needs a re-sort.
“The most important thing I can do is be flexible,” Emily tells me. You, the client, set the pace, the tone, and your goals. Emily is there to construct meaning out of chaos and to provide a fresh perspective on the state of your affairs.
“Disorganization crosses every line- gender, racial, class.”
“Stuff has such power, good or bad. At the point that [my clients] call, their stuff has power over them, which is all sorts of wrong.”
“Even a small-scale purge is cathartic.”
“Give yourself a chance to say, ‘I have always hated this damn thing’.”
And remember, your ultimate goal is to give yourself a calm, inviting space that you can enjoy everyday. And more time to enjoy it. Visit www.organizedlife.org for more information.
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About the Packing Diva
Emily Wilska alarmed her friends, family, and
herself by leaving behind a cushy, stable corporate
job (and all of its perks) in 2004 to start her own
company, The Organized Life. Though she does miss the
free office supplies and health care, she loves her
new life as a professional organizer.
Years spent living in apartments with classic San
Francisco (read: insufficient) storage have taught
Emily to make the best use of space, to ditch the
stuff that just ends up as clutter, and to find
creative solutions to organizing problems. Various
jobs in the independent film, start-up, and corporate
worlds taught her to hone her paper, time, and
information organizing skills. (Among the lessons
learned: No, filing will never be fun, but yes, it can
be relatively painless.) A lifelong love of travel,
and numerous trips each year, have allowed her to
master the arts of packing light, preparing well for
traveling, and making the most of time in the air or
on the road. She has never been vanquished by a
suitcase and (knock on wood) has never arrived at the
airport without her passport.
In addition to working with clients, Emily writes an
organizing tip of the week on her website, articles for a variety of
publications and sites, and a blog, I Do Not Think
That They Will Sing to Me
(divert.blogspot.com). She also loves speaking
to groups large and small.