Expert Home Organization Tips from Lorie Marrero

Lorie Marrero
Lorie Marrero

Lorie Marrero teaches people how to get organized for a living. The professional organizer literally wrote the book on organizing that features steps on how to get organized, how to stay organized and how to teach organization to family members and children. Love To Know Cleaning sat down with Lorie Marrero to get the skinny on organization, getting rid of clutter and making your life easier.

The Clutter Diet: How To Get Organized

Love To Know (LTK): How accessible is The Clutter Diet to the everyday man or woman?

Lorie Marrero (LM): Anyone can certainly enjoy and follow the guidelines in our book, and anyone who can use the Internet can benefit from our online program. We have over two hours of multimedia tutorials that instruct members in basic organizing concepts, a searchable knowledge base of reference articles, and a team of organizers consulting in our message boards daily. We are really proud that our program is so affordable, too. We provide access to a team of organizing experts for unlimited support for a whole year for the same price you'd pay for a couple of hours with us in person.

LTK: Are your clients more likely to be men or women?

LM: The majority of members in our program are women. Regardless of the progress we have made in the workplace and the world at large, women still feel a lot of ownership for the state of their households and seem to carry those responsibilities. It's the same reason that women are the primary readers of Good Housekeeping magazine and other home-oriented publications. The Clutter Diet program is geared more toward women than men, but men can certainly benefit from our program too.

LTK: What are the top three hardest areas to organize?

LM: The three areas people want help with most often are closets, garages, and home offices. Wardrobe closets are difficult because they provide a limited amount of space for contents that are constantly growing and changing. Garages are challenging because they are often what we call "Clutter Cemeteries"-where things "go to die." It's a place for delayed decisions and actions to accumulate. Home offices are challenging because of the sea of information in which we find ourselves swimming. Every sheet of paper and byte of electronic information represents more decisions we need to make.

LTK: What is a clutter-pound?

LM: Clutter-Pounds are our fun way to measure your progress on our program. They are units that track how many bags of trash and boxes of donations you have left your home, and they credit our members for doing their weekly projects. Each Thursday when getting the new weekly plan, they first "weigh in" and check off what they got done the previous week, and the system calculates their totals. Many people like to have a way to measure what they have accomplished, and that is important in continuing to keep yourself motivated.

Teaching Yourself and Your Children

LTK: When planning to 'de-clutter' - what's the biggest mistake most people make? How can they correct that mistake?

LM: The biggest mistake people make is not approaching their efforts comprehensively. We use weight loss as a fun metaphor because both organizing and dieting require a program of Prevention, Reduction, and Maintenance. Most people dive right into "Reduction," meaning tackling their closets or garages without thinking through how they got that way in the first place and thinking through systems that will help them maintain the work they have done long term. They can correct this by simply starting with the right perspective, considering the functions of the space and how to accommodate each one, and looking for patterns that provide clues to creating better systems.

LTK: How can these tips help children 'learn' to organize?

LM: We do provide some tools that are easy to teach to your kids. We teach people how to establish homes for their items based on frequency of use and accessibility, using the simple letters A-B-C-D. "A" things are used most often, like your toothbrush, and they need to be in the most handy "A" spaces like right out on the countertop. "B" things are used often but not quite as often as "A" things, like a blender or iron. They can be stored in cabinets or behind or above "A" things-slightly less accessible.

"C" things are used but only rarely or seasonally, like holiday decorations. They need to be put in even less accessible "C" storage places, like an attic, high shelf, or extra closet. "D" things are items you're not using at all but feel you need to keep, like tax records or spare furniture. They need to be completely out of the way of your daily living space.

If kids understand something like this simple A-B-C-D concept, it not only changes the way they think about their stuff forever, it gives you a very useful communication tool for discussing and deciding about things throughout their lives. We have other tools like this that we teach our members and readers.

Personal Change and Commitment

LTK: Do you have a pet peeve when it comes to organizing?

LM: My pet peeve is when people don't accept that organizing is about personal change-and they want to just "clean up" a space and expect it to stay that way forever despite their continued habits that got them in trouble in the first place. Getting organized means that you continuously work on changing habits that are contrary to your goals, like dealing with the mail regularly instead of letting it pile up, or remembering to write things into your calendar instead of trying to keep them in your head. It's like losing a bunch of weight and then expecting to stay thin while you go back to eating donuts and chips every day.

LTK: When designing a weekly plan for members of the website, are these based on specific needs?

LM: Our weekly plans are just suggested projects that help people keep on track. It's just like if you were on a diet and there is menu plan of food for the week-it's a guideline but you are certainly welcome to substitute whatever meal works for your family and your needs at that time. We make sure the whole house and all aspects of it get covered over a year's time, and we design the plans based on the North American lifestyle, holidays, and seasons. The plans are not individually created, but our members do get unlimited individual consulting in our member message boards.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

LTK: What are three common ways people get in their own way when it comes to basic organizing?

LM: One way is letting fear control their decisions. Often when not wanting to discard an item, the root of the protest is "but I might need it someday," when objectively anyone can see that the item has not been used in years and it's just not that important. Yet it's taking up valuable space. People are afraid to let go. Usually if you play out the scenario you're afraid of, it's not that bad, like buying a $10 item again or calling your bank for a piece of documentation. It's not worth agonizing over.

Secondly, people don't think through what they purchase, acquire, and allow into their homes in the first place. We teach that prevention is a very important part of this endeavor. To help people with purchasing decisions, we have Clutter Prevention Wallet Reminder Sleeves that they can print, fold, and use to keep their favorite debit or credit cards in their wallet. On the front are the five questions you should ask before making any purchase, so that you can keep clutter from coming in the door.

Third, procrastination is really at the root of almost all clutter. Clutter results from delayed decisions and actions, so when people put things off, they are definitely getting in their own way. Everybody has the same number of hours in a day; we just have to be wise about how we use them.

Ten Minute Tip

The Clutter Diet program identifies three kinds of organizing: planning, projects, and systems and routines. Systems and routines are the foundation of home organization, and if you have only ten minutes a day you should definitely focus on maintaining your systems like dishes, laundry, and household administration. Projects, unless they are small like organizing a junk drawer, generally take more time to execute. Planning is something you can also do daily, like prioritizing which tasks you'll do the next day.

Expert Home Organization Tips from Lorie Marrero