Expert Interview with Geralin Thomas on Getting Organized

When you think about the job of a professional organizer, chances are you imagine someone who will help you clean out a closet or organize your pantry. And Geralin Thomas, owner of Metropolitan Organizing, LLC, says she gets plenty of clients who are overwhelmed by the stuff in their closets, basements and other storage spaces. But by far the biggest frustrations for clients isn't an un-alphabatized spice rack - rather, it's the stacks and stacks and stacks of paper filling their homes.

"It doesn't help that we have SO much paper in SO many forms - receipts, coupons, junk mail, magazines, legal documents, permission slips, gift certificates, etc. The list is endless," says Geralin, who helps clients in the Raleigh, N.C., area and coaches other professional organizers.

Geralin teaches her clients about what they should keep and what they can throw away, then finds a paper management solution that will fit their lifestyle. Sometimes the simplest solution is just keeping a trash can near the door for junk mail, she says.

We recently checked in with Geralin to get her insight on how staying organized can help make your life easier and to learn some best practices for getting your family finances on track. Here's what she had to say:

Tell us about Metropolitan Organizing...when and why did you start your business?

In 2002, I created Metropolitan Organizing to provide real solutions for real people. My team of professional organizers emphasizes simplicity and excellence while helping women and homeowners transform their lives through organization.

What services do you offer, and who should be using them?

Metropolitan Organizing offers residential organizing services in and around the Raleigh area. We cure closet chaos, declutter basements and organize everything from pantries to garages. We also sort, categorize and file paper clutter.

I coach and train new professional organizers - people who want to start an organizing business or put together teams of professional organizers for larger projects.

How did you come to be so passionate about organization?

I was born organized. And I come from a very organized family. I knew from a young age that I think clearly and function optimally in an orderly environment.

In school, I loved assignments that categorized things and called for stuff to be in a specific order, like diagramming sentences and creating timelines. In college, I majored in art history and learned to organize and keep track of a lot of information - historical details and perspectives.

How do you think getting organized can improve people's lives all around?

It will save you time. Think about how much less stressful your mornings would be if you always knew exactly where your car keys were as you're running out the door.

Organization saves you money. You'll never have to pay another late fee or miss out on expired coupons and gift certificates.

It can actually save lives. Especially if you're a parent, you need to be able to locate life-saving prescription medications or critical-care documents in the event of an emergency.

You'll be a happier person! In stressful situations, you'll be able to maintain your sanity and avoid a meltdown. If you're organized, a crisis like having your purse or wallet stolen won't send you into full-on panic mode. Instead, you can simply go locate your copy of your credit card numbers and call your banks immediately.

What are some of your best practices for organizing your home?

  • Create a system. Review and refresh it every two or three years. Life changes and what worked for you when you were 25 isn't necessarily going to work 15 years later - especially if you've had children and own real estate.
  • Create a place for everything you own. If every item has a "home," clutter is much less likely to accumulate.
  • Make sure similar items are stored together.
  • Things need to be kept where they'll be used. When possible, arrange them according to proximity and utility.

What do you think is the biggest culprit/most common reason for your clients' disorganization?

Not being mindful when purchasing.

Today, it's easier than ever to shop. We rarely use cash, so it often doesn't "feel" like we are spending money because credit cards distance us from our debt.

In addition, we have access to online shopping 24/7/365. We buy and buy and buy without thinking about storing the stuff we buy.

How can getting organized help people save money and/or prevent financial mishaps?

An organized pantry is one of the biggest opportunities to save money. You could have six cans of pineapple sitting on your shelf, but because you can't find even one, it goes on the grocery list. It's a waste of money, space and time. Organization can prevent you from buying duplicates and help you avoid throwing out expired food.

What are your favorite tips/tricks/tools for creating a smart system to manage a family's finances?

  • Open a separate savings account and make an automatic payment into it every time you get paid.
  • Open a 401K immediately after getting a job. Put as much as possible into it annually.
  • Avoid using high-interest credit cards.

You were named the Best Chronic Disorganization Expert in 2013 - what is chronic disorganization?

Chronic Disorganization has three hallmark traits:

1. Past attempts at trying to get organized have failed.

2. Disorganization is affecting your quality of life.

3. There's an expectation of future disorganization.

Often someone with Chronic Disorganization needs a professional organizer to help him or her clear all the clutter and create a completely clean slate. After all the extra "stuff" has been removed, I help clients figure out which organizing systems will suit their lifestyle.

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