Expert Interview with Maureen Nuccitelli on Being Clutter-Free

If you're the type of personal who ruthlessly stockpiles old magazines because you plan to go back and read them one day or who can't pass up a sale whether you need a particular item or not, it might be time to examine how all that excess stuff lying around is affecting your mental health.

According to Maureen Nuccitelli, founder and owner of Ask the Organizing Diva, clutter is not only distracting, but it can also sap our ability to do more creative things.

"Clutter creates situations where people spend precious time looking for lost items, which leads to them feeling frustrated," she says.

What's more, it actually costs people more money when they end up buying duplicates of items they can't find (not to mention piles on feelings of resentment and defeat).

Finally, Maureen adds, those whose homes are overloaded with things can often feel ashamed about their lives and be unwilling to have guests over because of the lack of organization.

"They would like to live differently, but the thought of tackling their clutter feels too overwhelming, so they learn to live with it," she says.

Luckily, there are people like Maureen around, who are passionate about tackling all kinds of clutter to pave the way for a happier, more stress-free and fulfilling life. Here, she shares her journey to becoming The Organizing Diva as well as offers her top 10 de-cluttering tips and advice on how to organize your financial records.

Tell us about did you become The Organizing Diva?

I've come a long way in the world of organizing. In fact, years ago (well, many years ago) I wasn't especially organized. I just kind of let things be and let things happen as they would, which wasn't always optimal. Today, I'm completely different. I'm The Organizing Diva.

What changed? What happened? Well for one thing, it's a "pain in the arse" being disorganized. Being disorganized sucks up way too much time, effort and money.

Sound familiar? I had had enough. So I made a concerted effort to learn all there was to know about organizing, de-cluttering and productivity. This was my new life's mission. And guess what? I started to learn new habits, new ways and new tools - all in the pursuit of knowing everything about organizing.

Then as the years went by I started to help others with their organizing challenges. I taught them how to be more organized. Whoa! You mean you can learn how to be organized? You bet your life, sista (and brotha)!

And then I helped clients, friends and family; I taught classes, wrote newsletters and articles; and I was quoted on blogs and websites. I lived and breathed all things related to organizing. It became my passion. Eventually, a friend referred to me as "The Organizing Diva." Given my sassy attitude about life, I accepted the title with relish and a wink. "Let's have some fun," I thought.

But wait a minute, could learning to be organized be fun and not so stressful - well, at least some of the time? Of course it can! How about a little humor when life gets crazy? How about the fact that we're all in this together to a lesser or greater extent? How about while we're laughing, we roll up our sleeves and learn how to do things differently?

Well, if I can learn organizing skills, then so can you. And I'll teach you everything that I have learned over all these years with a joke or two thrown in just to make you smile.

How has learning organization skills changed your life?

I spend a lot less time looking for stuff, and finding items is almost a mindless task. Some people think that being organized means being anal retentive and rigid. In reality, organized people typically have more free time, which allows them to spend time on their creative projects, activities and more time with friends and family.

Being organized with my finances has really given me peace of mind. I also know exactly how much money I have and where I spend it, save it or invest it. And then I can make informed decisions about making purchases and about the future.

Why do you think we have such a big problem with clutter?

We shop too much and think that we need to buy things, or we forget that we already own certain items and then buy duplicates. Then we don't have the space or the time to put everything away. Every time we buy something, we have to remember that the item will require some sort of maintenance: cleaning, storing or preserving it in some way. We should ask ourselves if we want to make that sort of commitment - otherwise our possessions will eventually just become our clutter.

What are some basic rules/best practices for de-cluttering?

Here are my top 10 Organizing Tips:

No. 1: Label stuff

Consider getting a label maker. Then label everything, even shelves in the pantry (e.g., "pasta, rice, beans" on one shelf; "flour, sugar, baking stuff" on another one).

No. 2: Find a "home" for everything

Figure out a "home" for every item in the house. It helps that all family members agree on the "home" and then remember to put it there (e.g., tape measure goes on top shelf in the utility closet).

No. 3: "Corral" everything

You'd be surprised at how stuff just seems more organized when grouped in a container (e.g., putting under-sink products in a bin keeps that area tidy).

No. 4: Create a landing station for all members of the family

E.g.: Have a bin ready for each family member so they can drop in their phone, keys, sunglasses, etc.

No. 5: "Shop" in your own home for organizing containers

Look for items to repurpose as containers before buying new items (e.g., that vintage letter holder from your aunt to corral return address labels, letter opener and stamps).

No. 6: Create and share conventional and electronic calendars with family

Learn how to use iCal (Apple) or Google calendar so everyone is on the same page as far as daily family events. (Contact me to learn how to do this.)

No. 7: Keep a par on all household and pantry items

E.g.: Your family likes tuna sandwiches, so have on hand, say, four cans of tuna on your pantry shelf. When someone grabs a can and now there is less than four cans, s/he puts "tuna" on the shopping list.

No. 8: Keep a memo board in the kitchen (and possibly elsewhere) to record items for shopping

As you deplete your established pars of grocery and other items, write them down on the memo board - which can be a dry-erase or chalkboard.

No. 9: Create "action steps" for all your To-Dos. Then schedule them in your day planner/calendar

E.g.: "Paint guest room" might have steps: choose color swatches, move furniture, prep room with painter's tape, paint trim, paint room, move furniture back - all could possibly go on different days.

No. 10: Get support for any projects that seem to overwhelm you

Consider hiring a professional organizer.

What should people do with their excess/unwanted clutter?

People should consider donating their excess items to charity. There are so many great charities that could really use the items or resell them to support their foundations. Or they should recycle unwanted items - such as bringing old, outdated electronics to the recycling program at Best Buy.

You say that being disorganized sucks up way too much time, effort and money...what are the most common ways you've found that being disorganized affects people financially?

Unfortunately, disorganized people have a tendency to pay their bills late, which means they oftentimes pay penalty fees and fines. They typically don't know how much money is in their bank accounts and sometimes overdraw on them.

Disorganization can lead to loss of personal items and the necessity of repurchasing them.

What are some easy ways individuals or families can improve organization of their finances?

People can pay their bills online. They can schedule the payments of their bills, complete with alerts on their mobile devices, in their electronic calendars. People can also use software like BudgetSimple, YNAB or Mint to create personal budgets to manage their finances with relative ease.

How often should individuals or families sort their financial paperwork?

I think that people should be making an effort every day to be on top of their financial papers. But that could mean just a few minutes, sorting receipts, paying a couple of bills, balancing the checkbook, etc. During the month of January, people should pull out the previous year's files (utility bills, credit card and bank statements, other receipts), sort, purge and archive them if need be. Some should be set aside for tax preparation. Then they should have empty folders for the new year's incoming financial papers. There are also some papers that should remain in a permanent file, such as car titles, insurance assessments, outstanding loan or mortgage agreement.

What are some of your favorite tools for helping to stay organized?

  • iCal or Google Calendar for keeping your schedule organized
  • Tabbed file folders within hanging file folders stored in a file cabinet or file tote for keeping files and papers organized
  • Label maker to label stuff
  • Day-to-a-page day planners to list to-dos and action steps
  • Shelf doubler
  • Paper shredder to minimize paper accumulation
  • Slim velveteen hangers to organize clothes
  • Actually almost any container or vessel can be repurposed as an organizing container

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