The 5 times that organization helped me in my 30s
Today, June 1st, I turn 40. I am closing out my most challenging, rewarding, and life altering decade. I have been contemplating this blog for a while and didn’t know if I would do it because it seemed very personal, but after being asked about it (and encouraged by so many to write it), I have decided to let it all hang out! I figure that if what I experienced in my 30s can help at least one person through their experiences, then it is worth sharing with you all that even the professional organizer doesn’t totally have her sh*t together and is organized all the time, despite what it might look like on the outside. And honestly, people always ask me if my house is perfectly organized or my to dos are always in neat rows and the answer is...NO! I have had so many days, weeks and months in my 30’s where things were far from organized. And then there were some days that I was actually practicing what I preach! So, while the details of all of our lives are different, the challenges we all face when it comes to getting and staying organized—especially when life happens - are all too similar.
In my 30s there were at least 5 major life changes where organization helped me...and when I say “helped” me at points, being organized actually saved me. Saved me from having to focus on the unnecessary and waste time, saved my sanity so that I could just stick to the routine and saved me money because I knew what I had and didn’t overspend which saved me lots of unnecessary stress. And when I talk about organization, I am NOT talking about keeping things color-coded all the time or having things in neat rows (I would be lying if I didn’t mention color coding makes me smile)! I am talking about systems, routines, and creating a physical space that reflects how I want to feel on the inside, which is calm, put together, modern, and in charge of my future.
HOW ORGANIZATION HELPED ME IN MY 30s
MOTHERHOOD AND KIDS. At age 30 (literally on my birthday) I found out I was pregnant. Then I was given the shock of my lifetime which still to this day remains the best surprise and joyous, life-altering gift I have ever received: I had identical twins. At first, I thought it was a joke that I was having twins and everyone who knew me thought that as a type-A planner I had somehow planned this and was being efficient (getting two children with only one pregnancy, ha!) but no, it was not planned and I always joke that I would be a good person to bring to Vegas! With twins, I had to create systems, systems, and more systems. Everything from the clothing, diaper changing stations, bathing and feeding items were set up and had a system to maintain. I tried to make it as easy on myself as I could to feed, clothe, and just keep the girls happy, healthy, and alive! I knew that I couldn’t control most of what happened (when they woke up, spit up (acid reflux!), rolled over, etc.) but I could control my surroundings to keep it as organized as possible. Being organized helped with daily care of the girls and easing some (not all, because let’s face it, I was a new mom) of the anxiety that comes along with being a new parent. I was even so relaxed due to all of my systems (HA!) that I allowed The Washington Post to come into my home, six weeks after the girls were born, to do this photoshoot and story on organization for twins! Then, as the girls grew, I adapted my systems and created others to keep up with their growing needs like toy storage, potty training and preschool art that came home. It was always about creating systems that made my life easier to manage while being able to focus on raising them. I didn’t want to waste my time looking for things or spending money unnecessarily; I wanted to be raising my girls.
CREATING A BUSINESS. I didn’t graduate college with the intention of starting an organizing business. I actually went to law school and realized early on after graduation that using my JD in the “typical” way wasn’t going to be my future. It wasn’t fulfilling me like I had hope it would, so I started exploring other options based on my interests (hello organizing!) and built my own business on the side that I worked on at night until I took a leap of faith and left my full-time job (um, wise?!). Growing my business wasn’t easy (and still isn’t) and I had to create physical organization in my home office that set me up for more success. I created a home office set up with paper filing systems, dedicated areas to store my supplies, and calendars to keep track of every client appointment, to-do, and goal that I wanted to achieve. I was dependent on my schedule (and still swear by my planner to keep me in check and on time) and I spent countless hours trying out different projects and systems--even if they didn’t make me money. I was 30 and I was dedicated to creating a business that I was passionate about and I loved that I was able to help people as a professional organizer. I was told, “if you love what you do, the money will come” and I took this to heart. There were plenty of trials and errors that knocked me down and made me question my decision to leave the stability of my previous career, but each successful idea, project and achieved goal reminded me why I made this change. Everyone always asks me how I created a business and my answer is, I just did, because I love what I do. And that isn’t the best, “business-minded” answer but it is the truth! I enjoy the people we work with as clients (many have become good friends) and it has been a privilege all these years to continue to do what I do. I have been able to build my business because I am organized (most days) with how I spend my time and the physical systems and space around me. Don’t get me wrong as I have my moments often, but my team is phenomenal (Lindsey is my rock!) and we just keep on going. We have had tremendous recognition in the press which is truly humbling but what matters to me is that our clients continue to recommend us to their friends, family and co-workers so that 90% of our business is referral. I believe that our referrals continue because we have shown our clients how getting and staying organized does change their lives for the better.
DIVORCE. When I was 36, I decided to separate from my husband. As you can imagine, this wasn’t a quick and easy decision for me, but one that I knew I finally had to make and it was scary. For anyone who has gone through a divorce, you know there is no such thing as an easy one, especially if you have children. For a year I spent my days in and out of court and living as a full-time working, single mom, for officially the first time. My time was limited and had to be completely organized, which was very hard to do at points. Juggling all the time (court appointments, kids’ schedules, and business-related appointments), paper, preparation, emotional energy that comes with divorce is insanity at times, but having systems for the priority things made making smaller decisions much easier. There were times when I was running on little to no sleep and just always knowing where to reach for the backpack in the morning or the paper that I needed for my client or my lawyer was crucial for my sanity. And while today my girls rarely have overnights with my ex and are with me most of the time, there was a period where I had to get the girls into a routine with the items that went back and forth like clothing, stuffed animals, etc. and how we kept their belonging organized (and not left behind!) at the other parent’s house.
MOVING...A LOT! From age 36-39, I moved three times. And honestly, people always put moving and the change that it creates at the top of the hierarchy of stressful life events and I get it, but this area of my life hasn’t created a ton of extra stress and I know that is due to being organized about each move. My first bigger move was when I left my marital home and moved into my childhood home with my parents and girls. Let’s just say this was a surreal moment for us all (reliving my childhood glory days!) but in the end, was the greatest most rewarding gift of my divorce for me, my girls and my parents. Yes, the three of us were not living in our own home and couldn’t “spread out” all our own stuff because we now lived with my parents but you know what, it was wonderful! I realized we didn’t need as much of all the stuff I thought we needed. The only things we had with us were our clothing, daily necessities, sentimental items and my business things. The rest of it all-the furniture, china, dishes, home accessories, etc., was all just stuff..and in the end, clutter! We were living with all that we truly needed and we were so much happier not having the space to collect what we didn’t need. We kept all the common spaces, like the kitchen, organized and easily accessible for all generations needing nourishment in the fridge and pantry! This move was where I truly realized the value of the “things” that were in my life. And while that might sound weird to be saying in my 30s--and I know we are beyond privileged with what we have--I internalized the greater meaning of what we keep ourselves surrounded with and the effect our physical clutter has on our emotional state. Next, the three of us packed up for a home of our own which gave us more space to create our daily routines in like drop off zones from school, homework stations and more and we discussed it with The Washington Post here. Before we moved, we decluttered our belongings and of course labeled and created an inventory of what would go to our new home during the packing process. It became a fresh, new beginning for the three of us and I was determined to keep things organized but not spend time (it is very limited) on keeping it up!
COMBINING HOUSEHOLDS + GETTING MARRIED. Life took an unexpectedly wonderful turn when in my late thirties I met, fell in love, got engaged and moved in with my fiance, Jon. When Jon and I decided to move in together, that of course meant combining households and when you have been set in your ways for a long time and love your stuff (what happens with you get married later in life and have had more time to collect!), there had to be new systems set up, a garage sale, and parting of items that we had double of, instead of just keepings to have “just in case of X”. I worked my magic of getting a home unpacked and organized (lucky Jon) and began to think of how I wanted our new home to feel for our new family of four. I was in a new stage of my life and wanted the organizational systems to reflect the aesthetic that now brought me joy when I used it on a daily basis. Oh, and then we decided to plan a wedding because we wanted to make things official and didn’t think that life with two children, two businesses and a new life was chaotic enough! So, again, getting my to-dos organized took first priority and I made sure to organize my those that went along with the wedding (coming up on Sunday!!) were getting accomplished while not interrupting everyday life’s to dos. I also had to face it that my priorities NOW were very different than a few years ago and my time was much more limited.
All in all, my thirties were extremely eventful and packed some pretty extreme highs and lows emotionally for me. I wouldn’t wish the decade away because it taught me so much about myself as a person and for that I am grateful, but I can say I am really looking forward to my forties and all that it has to offer. And while organization has helped me through many big life changes this past decade, I can’t image organization and all its benefits will not be there for me in my forties! The sky’s the limit and I am really looking forward to what is next to come!
In celebration of my birthday today I would love to help YOU become more organized in your life to aide whatever life has thrown your way: 15% all Poppin and Organized in a Box (OIAB) purchases on our site from today through next Thursday. Use the code BDAY2017 to shop our most popular home organizing products and The Playbook (now offered in a digital format!).
WHAT'S ON MY BIRTHDAY WISHLIST
FOR MY OFFICE
FOR MY HOME
FOR MY NEXT ADVENTURE
Rachel and Company is a professional organizing firm based in Bethesda, MD, serving clients in the Washington, DC area including: Potomac, Maryland Georgetown, the Palisades, McLean, Arlington, and Alexandria, Virginia.