It’s easy for people to become overwhelmed with clutter. Things pile up and become a burden to deal with. But when you have specific guidance, decluttering — and even just starting the process — becomes much easier.
In this episode, Marc Bautis welcomes guest Maria Diaz, owner and founder of Order & Ease, to discuss ways you can start decluttering your home today. This is a must-listen conversation for anyone who would like to boost their organization and help their parents improve the level of safety within their homes.
In this episode you will learn:
- What organization system Maria used to help Marc declutter his garage
- How clutter affects people’s mental and physical health
- Decluttering advice for baby boomers whether they’re moving into assisted living or aging in place
- Action items for adult children who want to help their parents get organized
- Creative ideas for commemorating sentimental belongings that are taking up too much space or can’t be taken into an assisted living facility
- And more!
Tune in now and get inspired to start decluttering today!
On today’s show, we have a special guest with us. We have Maria Diaz, a professional organizer and the founder and owner of Order and Ease. Welcome to the show Maria. Thank you for having me Marc. I guess we can start off if you could tell us a little bit about what you do as a professional organizer.
Absolutely. It’s our mission to help people go from chaos to calm and we help them regain control of their time and space to focus on the things that matter most to them. I love helping people find better ways to cherish and honor memories of special people in their lives, instead of keeping them stored away in boxes in the attic, or finding ways of letting go of what no longer serves them.
We are a financial podcast, and someone might be thinking, well, what does organization have to do with finances? And actually I think it has to do a lot with it.
Can you go over some of the benefits of what organizing and decluttering brings to someone? Oh, absolutely.
Benefits of Organization and Decluttering
Clutter affects your health, and I don’t think people really realize that as much. Clearly it’s stressful. There was a study in Personality and Social Psychological Bulletin that claimed those with cluttered homes, unfinished projects were more depressed and more fatigued. They had higher levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone.
It also, it affects your brain. If you live in a chaotic, cluttered home, it limits your brain’s ability to process information. You become distracted easier. You’re unable to process information as well. You get frustrated easily. So even when you’re trying to organize, let’s say you’re looking at your finances for your taxes, for instance, for the year. You know, you’re going to get frustrated that everything’s not in order.
You tend to just get that anxiety feeling in your body. Things like papers is a huge one. People call me and they are like, I have stacks of paper everywhere. I don’t know what to do.
You’re looking at this clutter around you, and even if you’re not paying attention to it, or you say that you’ll get to it later it’s in your brain. It’s always sitting there and hard to fully relax.
You mentioned paper and organization. One of the things I promote as a financial advisor is how important organization is and whether that’s going from paper to digital. I remember a couple of months ago, I had someone come in and and they brought in decades worth of paper in three large bins that we helped him organize. Like you mentioned, getting organized is a stress reliever. Knowing where your stuff is in your house is, is important.
How do you start a process? So let’s say someone comes and says, I need help organizing. What do you do to even begin to help?
I always say clutter happens. I don’t want anybody to feel embarrassed or anything like that because it happens to everybody on one level or another.
Some people are very good at hiding it away. Are your closets completely filled with things and you don’t even know what’s in there? Sometimes it is many years of things, or you end up inheriting things from other people.
Then there is the guilt factor of what you’ve held on to, how do I get rid of this? How do I possibly get rid of this? So and so gave this to me and I never use it. But there’s also a lot of maybes and some days that people hang on to. And by that I mean, well, I don’t want to throw this out.
I don’t want to waste it. I might use it someday. So they hold on to it, not realizing that it’s taking up space in their home. And that’s real estate, you know? That’s expensive. What I like to do is whenever anybody calls me, I, the first thing I have them do for me is just give me a tour of the home or the area they are looking for help with. It helps if I could see where their problems, what their storage areas are like. I see things a little differently sometimes than they might, so that way I could point out where we could start first and how we can begin to tackle the process.
It can be very overwhelming. I break it down to smaller projects, for example, it’s something that then they’re like, Oh, I didn’t realize, and they don’t realize how much I can get through in a by session either.
Do you see people having more success if they do it in smaller projects over a longer period of time, or is it better to just rip the bandaid off and go full blast at it. It really depends on the person. There’s no one way that helps everybody. So when I meet with you, I like to see what your personality is, how you like to do things. I love seeing what someone feels is their most organized spot in the house.
And it could just be your purse. It could be one drawer that you’ve organized. I want to see, what you feel is organized and why you feel that way?
I had a woman, she was very sweet and we’re going through her house and she’s like, I can’t let go of this. And she’s like, I’m ready. You know? Cause they always say they’re ready. I’m ready to let go, I’m ready to move on. And we start working. And sometimes they’re like, Nope, Nope, Nope, Nope. I finally just sat with her and we talked about it and she realized it was things that she didn’t want to let her mother down who had passed away. So we started talking through why she was holding onto these things, and then it was, let’s find a way for you. She didn’t want to feel like she was wasting it. So I said, you’re not using it. So it is being wasted by sitting here. How about we find someone who can use it and she felt better about that.
Sometimes they realize that they are not using something but they still don’t want to be wasteful or they don’t want to throw something out. They just emotionally can’t fathom that they spent money on something and now they are going to get rid of it.
That really is a huge one. Sometimes it’s, let’s find ways to use it then as you’re not going to use it if it’s in a box in your attic. So we bring it downstairs or we put it somewhere.
Usually a lot of times it’s donating it and I think you know this, there are tax benefits to donating. People feel better about that, especially if it’s going to be out of your house and it’s out of your hair and it’s fine. The other thing is, and this is something I always say, this item served its purpose to you.
If you’ve used it, if it’s done, what has had to do, it’s okay to let it go. Let’s see if he could do that for someone else. So donating is a huge one, especially the ones that come to your house and pick it up for you. I mean, that’s, that’s great. And you don’t have to really worry as much about it.
And as far as selling, can you, can you look at something and say, okay, this might have value and be able to be sold. Yes. Then I also go through the headaches that can come from selling things and it might not be worth selling. Let’s look at how much this is worth, and how much of your time it will take to sell it.
And if that’s worth it to you, then we’ll talk about it. But most of the time it’s not. People hold on to things and it’s more emotional value than monetary value. I had an attic full of toys. Old toys from when the kids were growing up kind of thing. And I had a a collector friend of mine come and look at it, cause they’ll come in and evaluate it for you.
And he tried to explain to them what things were worth. If it’s in the box and mint it’s going to be worth more than if it’s just out and about and how much it was actually worth versus how much they thought it was worth. And really the space in the attic was worth a lot more than the items in it.
If basements get filled up, maybe the attic. And it goes to the garage. Maybe people who live in apartments, you know, it’s closets, it’s places where they have limited storage. And then after that, people are going for storage units. I mean, that’s a $30 billion industry in this country.
Wherever you look, you’re seeing another storage unit being built because people don’t have the room. They have more stuff then they have room for. There was an LA times article, I want to say it was 2011 maybe the average American household has 300,000 items in it. Wow. You know? So there’s a big movement for minimalism because people just have too much stuff. Yeah.
I also want to talk a little bit about how you helped me out in my garage, and I was only there maybe five years, and just the amount of stuff that overtook the garage couldn’t even, you couldn’t even walk through it. Your process was great in that, how you separated it into different stations. That really helped with the organization, but also going forward, it was easy for me. Anytime I saw anything, I could just automatically know, okay, this goes to this part of the garage. And I think we did like sports equipment, lawn, outside equipment, decorations.
Yes, I do like working in zones. Like you said, like I had different zones in your garage and it helps you because it was clear it was something that it was easy. If it’s not easy for you to put it away, you’re not going to put it away. It’s kind of like kindergarten. I remember being in kindergarten and everybody had their bin and everybody had their color coded areas. It was easy. You knew where to hang your jacket. You knew where to sit down. It’s really, just kind of making it easy for your brain to go, oh that goes over there. It’s fine. Otherwise you’re just going to leave it right by the door.
Organization for the Elderly
The, the other area I wanted to transition to is organization for the elderly and I think you can look at this type of organization from a couple of different perspectives. Some seniors as they age may go into assisted living or nursing homes, but also a lot of seniors want to stay in their home. But they have 40 to 50 years of living there accumulating stuff. How does the decluttering process work or someone who is aging and needs or wants to stay in their home.
I would like to talk about a couple of different things leading up to that.
Clutter affects your health in many different ways., I love helping the elderly.. But, clutter affects your diet, but this is something that they’re living on, on their own. They’re not eating very well.
A lot of them aren’t. You know, even my friend’s parents, they yelled at us to eat well, and yet they’re not doing it now. It overwhelms your brain, this clutter around you. You’re most likely to start using coping mechanisms. People start either overeating or seeking comfort foods, Also, there can be respiratory issues. If there’s more clutter it seems to go hand in hand with more dust. There’s these dust mites, these microscopic organisms, and they trigger allergy and asthma attacks.
As people start getting older, they can’t necessarily put things back where they came from. So if they are getting something out of the closet, they’re not going to be able to reach back up on the shelf to put it back up there. They’re not going to be able to go down to the basement and put it away again.
Because fo that things start accumulating in their living areas. And these are things that are now on the floor, in the hallway, in the doorways, and the entryways to their bedrooms. It starts blocking things entries get blocked. And to me that’s that very scary.
If there’s a fire, you need to evacuate quickly, you can’t. Now there’s things blocking the doors, the hallways. When firemen have to go into the home, it’s harder to find you. An ambulance, for instance, has to go in. How hard is it to get to you? These things are also fire hazards and just to be able to walk through your home.
Recently I was working at a homeI had a home where the daughter had called me for her parents because she was very concerned. They were in their 80’s and using walkers in the house. There were hazards all over the floor. She thought how are they going to be safe when she wasn’t there. That’s a lot of stress for the child. I think I saw a stat recently that said half of all seniors age 80 or over fall at least once a year.
I had a woman who called me, made an appointment and she’s like, I need help. I have clutter. She acknowledged it. She said she has health issues and was getting to the point where she can’t take care of herself and needed help getting things out. The day of the appointment, I didn’t hear from her. I called her to confirm, didn’t hear from her. I didn’t go. I left her a message and said, call me cause I’m thinking what happened?
I followed up a few days later, still hadn’t heard back. The following week, she called me and she’s like, you know, thank you so much for calling me. I just, I had fallen in my house and I was on the floor for 12 hours and nobody heard me. I ended up in the hospital and that’s why you didn’t hear from me for several days.
But that’s a real life situation and it’s something where she didn’t have the help. She didn’t have the family members around to check on her.
Do you see that a lot where a senior may come and say, I need help, or do you see a lot of times it’s initiated by the, the children.
I find that more adult children are calling me. Either that or they’re saying, my parents are trying to give me everything in their house and I don’t want it. They’re saving things that I know that no one else is going to use and they need help now. I want them to live more comfortably and I’m concerned about them.
They’re still living alone and it’s a safety concern. I don’t want them living that way. I hear that a lot. Also downsizing when they’re going to be moving to an assisted living or a smaller place. They have a lifetime, 30 40 years worth of things in this home.
Usually then it’s the person calling me and not their children. And there’s a dynamic of having children and the elderly parent involved. You probably have to get int he middle of it trying to maybe calm the children down from being so aggressive with pushing their parents and then vice versa, trying to motivate the parent to take action. I’m sure they resist where they have attachments to their stuff.
Absolutely, it just can be very emotional. The whole process can be emotional for anybody. But when it involves multiple family members, I like to sit everybody down if I can and talk to them and see what they’re going through one-on-one.
I like to sit with them just to see where they are so it’s not in front of the other person. Sometimes they just don’t want to say. . So they don’t say anything at all, and then they hold it in. It’s a lot of talking sometimes through it. And even as we go through everything, I like to be very clear about what the process is going to be that day.
Let’s just work on this small area and start there. Sometimes it just to start with your medicine cabinet. And sometimes once they get started, everything else becomes easier.
Let’s look at the scenario where someone is moving to an assisted living or a nursing home. I’m sure this is can be a lengthy process, when should they engage you for help? If they know they’re going to move, if they know it’s happening, it’s a good time to start thinking about it and start working on it if you can.
One of the easiest things to do is if you have things in your home that belong to other people. Set a deadline. Your cousin left this five years ago, just because he was moving and now it’s still sitting here. Call him up and be like, please pick it up by the end of the month or else it’s going to the vets. Give them that deadline because that’s really the easiest way to start.
Or if your kids left your home, but they still have a lot of items that they left behind. If they have been okay without living with those items for like 5, 10 years, then have that conversation with them to get it or it’s got to go. That’s really where you could start.
Some people are ready. I worked with one lady and she said, you know what I’m much more comfortable in a smaller space. I don’t have to worry about shoveling, mowing the lawn, any of those things. She was happy to just be able to let go. Other people, not so much. They don’t want to let go of these things. These are where all of their memories are and they’re resistant to moving. So it depends on the situation of where that particular person is and each process is different.
Tips for Getting Started
Take the path of least resistance. Find an area of the home that may be not be as emotionally charged for them. Start there. Even if you’re just going through kitchen cabinets, getting rid of food that’s expired. Medicine cabinets are huge. Just get rid of any medications, anything like that.
People tend to hold onto things a little too long. That might not be as emotional as family heirlooms or gifts. It’s a little bit easier that way. Where there’s dates on items where you can say, look, mom, this expired in 2011 we can let this go.
We all have attachments to things, and. For the elderly, one thing I heard, which may help is if they have something that the have an emotional attachment to and they can’t bring it with them if they are moving is to give it to their child. The child could put it out when the parent visits and it’s kind of like the children honoring that memory.
Yes, or they could create something else with it. Create a coffee table book with all the pictures of those things that way it’s something they can look at while they’re in the home, in their new home, and they’re like reflecting back.
Do you help at all with this? I may make sense to look at the furniture and whether something should be reorganized to just provide a easier way of, of living for the, for the elderly. Absolutely, a lot of times too, it’s what is easier for you to work with? Is this too tall for you? Is it easier now for you to have something that’s a little lower in your home?
Can we repurpose this item? I love trying to find better ways of using the things that you already have instead of going out and spending more money. But maybe we can do things where we can make it a little more comfortable for you. Move the furniture around so it’s easier for you, those kinds of things.
Will you actually help with with them packing? Yes, definitely. We’ll go in and physically pack for them. Sometimes people just either don’t have the time or they don’t have the energy.
Recently we had someone who was downsizing. She was actually born in that house. Born, grew up, married, everything. Her husband had passed away. It was just her now, and she acknowledged that she was better off in in this condo that she decided to move to and would be more comfortable there. But it was going through a lot of the things that were memories of her since she was little.
It was deciding what to go through and in her case, she wanted a little more time. So she did get a storage unit. and said, I promise it’s only temporary. I’m putting it on myself to do it by this date. She set a time limit. Because she wants to just go through some things. The place that she found, it went quickly, like the sale of the house went faster than she thought, and she called me.
She’s like, you know, literally the, the closing’s happening like in three weeks. So we did a lot of, a lot of quick packing for her, but everything was very clearly labeled. This is what you need to go through. This is where this came from. This came from this closet in this room. So she would know as she was looking through like, Oh, this was in my spare bedroom, or this was wherever.
Okay, great. So we’re just out of time. Thank you so much for being on. How best can people connect with you? Our website is www.orderandease.com and you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, just to look up Order and Ease. Or you can simply call us (201) 463-7726 and we’ll be happy to help you.