It’s been a while since I’ve posted a “before and after” on an organizing project. The story around this one applies so broadly to many of my clients, and many people who just struggle with their space, I had to! I wanted to share this story of what my client was facing and what we did about it to make an enormous change in her home and her life. I hope her story will feel relatable, and others will see that they, too, can conquer a room that seems unconquerable.

Conquer the Room You Hate - Woman Screaming

 

My client’s home office is in a sunroom with tons of great windows and it gets beautiful afternoon sun. Of course, she didn’t feel that she could open the blinds because she was afraid the neighbors might see this space, this most-hated space in her home. She was too embarrassed that someone would see it, and so instead she sacrificed these great windows and the sun she loved. I can’t tell you how often I work with clients who say the same thing: 

“I hate this room. I’m embarrassed. I just want to close the door and run away.”

 

She was finally feeling ready to do the hard work and end this feeling! We blocked a day to tackle this space, and I knew we could find a way for her to love this space again. Well, I knew we could find a way for her not to hate it so much anymore, which still felt like a win. Want to see what were we starting with? 

Sun Room Home Office Before picture

 

Sun Room Home Office Before 2

 

Her struggles with the room are really common, and I think many relate to them:

  • She hated the room because of what it had become but still dreamed that it had some potential, which was both a positive and a negative. It was a place to just close the door and ignore. In some ways, when people know a room could be something more and the only thing standing in the way of that happening was this effort, it can make people feel like failures. A room that already gives you stress then further stands to make you feel bad about yourself is just a space NO ONE wants to spend time in. But the fact that she still imagined the potential meant that she could conceive that work could be done (with help!) to get it where it could be. 

  • The room had served too many purposes, that the real function was lost along the way, which means no real zones or functions were established with boundaries. This should have been a home office, and it had a desk, a computer, a printer, and some storage space. There were some building blocks in the room that showed that there was a vision at some point that had gotten lost along the way, like a paper sorter which genuinely had different kinds of paper and envelopes in it. But the room has a lot of other things in it, too.

    • Toys to be given away that she doesn’t want the kids to see.

    • Gifts for hiding before the holidays.

    • Wrapping paper stored in the filing cabinet, instead of files.

    • Markers and crayons that could have been in the kids’ room, but it was more convenient to end up here.

    • Holiday decor, or the empty boxes while a holiday is being displayed, will stay in here until that season wraps up.

    • Books to read, papers and drawings the kids created, recipes to try live in here, in different spots.

    • Hobby and craft supplies, a favorite pastime for my client, were in a few different spots in the room.

    • Someday projects landed here, and artwork that had come down from walls elsewhere, but she didn’t know what to do with them now.

    • Some LEGO and other toys that are current but just ended up here.

    • And, remember that great sun in the sunroom? This room is also the prime real estate for starting and growing some seedlings… if the space actually could accommodate this great plan. 

  • Once the space and the stuff got overwhelming, it was easier just to give in and add to face it; in fact, sometimes, it was even a good thing for the rest of the house. Like lots of rooms like this, this became a convenient spot to drop items from other rooms when clearing out *those* spaces. It was close to the dining room, so clearing off the table might mean moving items from there out of the way into this room, and shutting the door. Whether this was important paperwork or the latest LEGO creation from the kids, this room’s convenience (and ability to continue to hold things that wouldn’t normally be found here) ended up being key to helping manage other spaces in the house. 

  • Sometimes, things got lost, including important things. The room should be functioning as a home office, a place where important papers have homes and a workspace where dedicated tasks could take place. Because it was lacking these key aspects, it was easy to dump items and count on knowing and remembering where it would be later. Not surprisingly, the memory wasn’t always reliable, or the next item came in on the pile, erasing the importance of whatever was covered. 

  • The idea of starting, working through it, and finishing just seemed unattainable, and so it always stayed on a “someday” list. It was too overwhelming, she had no idea where to start, and she knew herself well enough to know that she’d get distracted or find a thousand other things she’d rather do with her time than to work on this project. She needed a partner that was going to keep her focused, and she needed to see progress to continue her motivation to finish. 

 

Look familiar? Sound Familiar? Well then maybe our approach will work just as well for you! 

 

First, organize the stuff: 

  • Every good project needs to start by establishing goals. Why? Two reasons. First, it helps guide the work you’re about to do. Second, more importantly, when you start to waver on your efforts or focus or decision, you can ground yourself back in what you stated your goal is. Is it to be able to accomplish certain tasks in this space? Is it to generate a particular feeling when you walk in here? Know your goal, and work towards it!

  • Before you start, consider the fact that you might need to find more room to work. We were able to gather and move handfuls of paper into the living room, where we could spread out and make some piles. When you’re working in a crowded room, you may not have the luxury of sorting and creating piles, an important part of this process. Keep in mind that if you don’t have enough time to finish your project in one sitting, you’ll want to be able to tidy up until next time when you stop for the day. 

  • Work through one category or one “zone” at a time. I like to call it an “archaeological dig,” where we’re focusing on one area or category, working through it entirely, and then moving on to the next. It helps to keep focused, not get distracted by something else along the way. Make meaningful piles of your sorting as you go; think groupings like “need to file” or “someone else has to look at this” or “this needs an action” or “donate this”. If you’re working on a clothing closet, your meaningful piles might be “needs to be hung up” or “needs to be folded” or “this needs to be dry cleaned” or “this belongs in someone else’s room” or “donate this“. The meaning of the piles should relate to the next action that needs to be taken with all the items in it

  • Look for easy decisions first – Hunt for the Trash! One of the easiest ways to make a dent quickly is to look for the obvious trash or recycling that is out and about. Harder decisions will come later, but finding things that are obvious trash or even things like dishes that belong in the kitchen can be easy ways to start to feel like you’re uncovering the rest of the items you actually have to think about. 

  • Work in small groups of stuff, and make fast decisions. I prefer giving my client a handful of about 10 items, 5 different times, rather than 1 pile of 50 things. It allows for focus, not being swayed by the sheer size of the pile ahead. When you are making decisions quickly, as often as you can, you can get into a groove that allows for real progress. Sure, some items need a pause and a thoughtful discussion, but if a particular item is stumping you, put it aside and keep working through the pile. Don’t be afraid to say “PASS” on occasion so that you can keep making progress on the bigger task at hand. (But don’t forget to come back to that pile!)

  • Test your excuses. I prefer You may find resistance as you’re working through your decisions. Listen for the patterns around what you feel and say, and stop to think through whether those excuses are true. “I might need this someday” or “I’m not sure what I need to keep, so I’ll just keep it to be sure” or “But this is still good” are all answers to why hold on to things, but the reason your room that you HATE may look like it does is because you’re holding on to too many things. Test your reasons to see if you’re just making excuses or if your reasons are legit. (And read Clever Girl’s Guide to Living with Less if you need to work on this!)   

  • Make piles, not trips. With a few exceptions, I had my client stay where we were working. Often, people can find something that belongs somewhere else and be tempted to return it right away. This can lead to further distraction once you get to another room, or just disruption from a processing groove you gain while going through piles. Make a “goes in another room” pile to help you stay focused on the task at hand. For many of my clients, helping them battle the Distraction Monster and keep them focused can be my biggest value! 

  • Look where missing things lurk. Check behind furniture, under items on surfaces, take drawers out and see what gets caught and stashed behind them. There is often treasure, or at least trash to discard, in these spots. 

 

Then, organize the systems: 

  • Identify the critical activities and purposes, and create their zones. What are the key activities and verbs that have to happen here? What are the key groups of items that will live in here? Create the zones, clear and distinguished from each other, where each will live. When you have established zones and boundaries, you can fight against the “too much happens in here” creeping that happens!

  • Make the furniture and accessories work for you, not against you. In the case of this client, she had a great piece of furniture that could function as a filing cabinet, but she had never installed the metal bars that hold file folders. As a result, things were more piled than filed in here, and the files in a separate drawer in the desk (that did have the bars) was more jam-packed. By converting one of these drawers to file-holding furniture, we were able to establish “fingertip” zones for some files inside the desk, and “occasional access” files in the newly-converted cabinet. We also redesigned her filing system, creating new, more intuitive file folder names, and grouping like-categories by color. This will help her learn her new system, and help others who may need to access it navigate through it more quickly. We also moved OUT a piece of furniture that did little more than hold the printer and made the room feel more crowded unnecessarily. Finally, we created a clear workspace on top of the desk and cleared out shelf under the windows (for the seedlings!). 

  • Establish homes. For Everything. Every professional organizer will tell you: You can’t hit the reset button if you can’t return things to their homes. When you’re organizing a space and putting stuff in it, for each item, ask yourself “Where will this live?” When you don’t have answers, that invites items to surf from space to space, the desk to a counter to a chair to the floor, because you never really know what else to do with it. My client already had this great paper sorter in the room, and while some of the slots were designated for specific things, it wasn’t 100% obvious and so it might be harder for someone else (or her!) to find what she needed when she needed it. By setting up each slot as a home for something in particular, it is making the most out of this helpful tool. She also determined that the wrapping paper didn’t need to live in this space anymore, since she’s not doing as much present wrapping as she did when her kids were younger. That stash now has a home in a completely different room!

  • Live with it a while, and then tweak what needs tweaking. Any system may seem great on paper, but then in real life, it may fall apart a little. When that happens, when you start to notice that following through on the systems or the activities that are supposed to happen in this space aren’t happening, stop and look around for a culprit that can be fixed. Did you set up a zone that just didn’t have a natural flow? Do you have some tools in an area that’s not near where they need to be used? Don’t be afraid to step in and make some changes to get the system back on track to where it’s really working for you, and working for the space to do what it needs!

Ready for the “Afters”? 

Sun Room Home Office After 1

 

Sun Room Home Office After 2

 

I mean, WOW, right?? 

And, PS – she opened up her blinds after we took these and let in all the sun! 

What does my client say NOW after the 4 hours (that’s right — just FOUR hours!!) we put into this room? 

 

“I woke up early and instead of turning over to try to fall back to sleep I came down and stood in my office . . . It’s Life-Altering!”

 

I couldn’t be happier than to hear my client fall back in love with her most-hated room in her home! Are you ready to take YOURS on??

PS – Want more tips on tackling a home office? Check out my interview over on Dumpsters.com 

(special thanks to my client for generously letting me share her photos and story!)

 

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