It’s easy to become overwhelmed with clutter. Things pile up, and become a massive burden to deal with. But when you have specific guidance, decluttering becomes significantly easier. In this episode of The Agent of Wealth Podcast, host Marc Bautis is joined by 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 improve their organizational systems, or help their parents improve the level of safety within their homes.
In this episode, you will learn:
- How clutter affects mental and physical health.
- Specific decluttering advice for baby boomers, whether they’re moving into an assisted living facility 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.
- And more!
Welcome back to The Agent of Wealth Podcast. This is your host, Marc Bautis. For today’s show, I brought on a special guest. Maria Diaz is a professional organizer, and the founder and owner of Order & Ease, a professional organizing company based in Lyndhurst, New Jersey. Welcome to the show, Maria.
Thank you for having me, Marc.
To start off, can you could me a little bit about what you do as a professional organizer?
Absolutely. It’s our mission to help people go from chaos to calm. We help people 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, so some of our listeners may be thinking, ‘What does organization have to do with finances?’ Actually, quite a lot. We’ll get to that later.
Can you go over some of the benefits of what organizing and decluttering brings to someone? Oh, absolutely.
The Benefits of Decluttering
Many people don’t realize that clutter affects your health. A study in Personality and Social Psychological Bulletin found that those with cluttered homes and unfinished projects were more depressed and fatigued. They also had higher levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone.
It also affects your brain. If you live in a chaotic, cluttered home, it limits your brain’s ability to process information.
You become more distracted.
You’re unable to process information as well.
You get easily frustrated.
For example, when you’re trying to organize your finances for your taxes, you’re likely to become frustrated that everything is not in order. A lot of people tend to clam up with anxiety.
When you’re surrounded by clutter — even if you’re not actively paying attention to it — it’s still taking up space in your brain. This makes it hard to fully relax.
You mentioned organizing your finances. One of the things I promote to my clients is transferring from paper documents to digital. A couple of months ago, someone come into my office brought decades of paper documents in with them. I helped them organize everything, and like you mentioned, it was a massive stress reliever. Knowing where your things are is important.
Absolutely. As I always say, clutter happens. I don’t want anybody to feel embarrassed because it happens to everybody — on one level or another.
Some people are very good at hiding clutter away. I ask those people: Are your closets completely filled, so much so that you don’t know what’s in there? Then there is the guilt that comes with what you’ve held onto. People think, ‘How do I possibly get rid of this?‘ By that I mean they don’t want to throw things out for a variety of reasons:
- They don’t want to waste it.
- They think they might need it someday.
So they hold onto things, not realizing that they are taking up precious space in their home — real estate.
So true. So, how do you start a process? So let’s say someone calls you and says, “I need help organizing.” Where do you start?
Where to Start: Decluttering Your Space
When anybody calls me, the first thing I ask is for them to give me a tour of their home, or the area they’re looking for help with. It helps to see the problems, and see what their current storage areas are like.
We do this because I see things differently, as a professional organizer. I can pinpoint where to start, and how to tackle the process.
One of the ways I may do this is by breaking down one big space into smaller projects, for example.
Do you see people having more success with small projects over a long period of time, or is it better to rip the bandaid off and do it all at once?
It depends on the person. There’s no singular process that works for everyone. When I meet with clients, I like to get an idea of their personality: How they like to work, how they want to use their space, and what they feel is their most organized spot in their space. It could just be their purse. It could be one drawer that they organized. I want to understand their perception of organization, and why they 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.
Organizational Tips 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.
And do you help people pack?
Yes, definitely. Some people don’t have the time or the energy — we can help them.
Recently, we had a client who was downsizing. She was actually born, grew up, married and everything else in the home. Her husband had passed away, so she acknowledged that she was better off moving to a condo. But there was a lot to go through in a home the belonged to her for so long. So many memories.
In her case, she needed a bit more time — there were items she couldn’t part with — so she got a storage unit. But we set a time limit, so it’s only temporary.
The sale of her home went faster than she thought. She called me saying the closing is happening in three weeks. So we did a lot of packing for her, and we did it quickly. Everything was very clearly labeled — with items going to the condo and the storage unit.
That’s great. So we’re just out of time. Thank you for being on The Agent of Wealth Podcast. How best can my listeners connect with you?
Great, we will link to all of that in the show notes. Thanks again for joining us, Maria. And thank you to everyone who tuned into today’s episode.