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Key Learnings from Searching for My Keys, A Professional Organizer Recalls

Years ago, I went to South Africa to visit one of my favorite people in the world, Cara. We had met in one of my past careers as an auditor in San Jose, CA, but I swear we knew each other in a past life as well. Her easy laugh, razor sharp wit, and adventurous flair instantly drew me to her. I also had so much admiration for how kick-ass she was at her job. She could handily run audit committees, confidently look powerful (often male) executives in the eye, and respectively tell them how to get their *ish* together and bring order to their businesses.

Her ability to create order into her personal space was a different story, as I came to find out during that trip and on subsequent ones to meet Cara in whatever exciting part of the world she lived. On the surface, her home was perfect. The countertops were clear of clutter. Her throw pillows and blankets effortlessly adorned her couch. Each room was tidy as can be. But the innards of her drawers betrayed the neat appearance of her home.

When looking for a wine opener one evening, she struggled to open an overly stuffed drawer. When she finally yanked it open, I discovered that the drawer was a mish-mosh of unopened mail, half-opened products, batteries, business cards, hair brushes, you name it. I guess you could call it a junk drawer, but what struck me as odd was that her home was filled with junk drawers and junk cupboards. It didn’t make sense to me, given how picture perfect the rest of her home was. And that’s when I learned that Cara had a housekeeper, who in order to complete her job of cleaning all the surfaces, would tuck everything away in drawers or cabinets. She didn’t have a systematic way of putting the items in locations where Cara could thoughtfully come back to them because Cara herself didn’t have a system. This created an endless cycle of Cara losing track of paperwork she had to take action on, her rummaging through all her drawers and cabinets each time she tried to find things, and her buying duplicative items because she either couldn’t find them or because she forgot she already owned them.

Cara’s lack of systems was something she just learned to live with, and when I became a professional organizer later on, I would learn that many people have a similar mentality: “Yeah, it’s a pain to constantly be looking for things, but this is how I’ve always been and this is the best things are going to get.”

I almost accepted this line of thinking for my friend, until on another evening during my trip, we got all dolled up to enjoy a night on the town, but we couldn’t leave. Cara couldn’t find her car keys. We turned her house upside down. After frantically looking in all the obvious places (her purse, her other purse, between her couch cushions), we started looking in less obvious places (the fridge, under her bed, the outdoor planter). It was ridiculous. We must have spent 30 minutes searching for her keys and then another five minutes recovering from the chaos and commotion. From that moment on, I rejected the idea that life had to be like this.

Funnily enough, I cannot remember where we ultimately her missing keys, but the lessons were clear:

  • Life is too short to be held hostage by your clutter

  • Your organization or lack thereof affects not only you but also the people in your life

  • Systems and habits don’t limit you. Instead, they free up you to spend time and energy on who/what really matters to you

  • You need a process in order to make progress. Your ability to reach a goal is not determined by the fact that you have one (e.g, feeling calm and collected in a beautiful house), but by the quality of the system you have in place to get you there (eg. having a designated home within your home for each of your items).

If you need help designing systems to keep your head and home organized, I’m here to support you! Set up a consult to determine if in-person organizing or clutter coaching is appropriate for you.


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