Book review: One Year to an Organized Life

When Regina Leeds’ publicist contacted me about doing a review of One Year to an Organized Life, I hesitated. I knew that an advanced copy of Peter Walsh’s new book was already in the mail to me to review for the site, and I didn’t want to be overwhelmed with books in such a short period of time. Leeds is a master of home and office organization, however, so I ended up agreeing to read the book.

In hindsight, I’m very glad I decided to read it.

Leeds knows home organization. She has been a professional organizer for more than 20 years, and this book is the most realistic book on organization I have encountered. She is methodical in her presentation, and her book touches on every aspect of a person’s home. The book is broken into 52 weeks of organization activities, grouped into monthly themes (kitchen is January, bedroom is February, etc.), and is based on the idea that sustaining organization doesn’t happen overnight.

That being said, I’m not certain this book is for everyone. She includes monthly touchy-feely personal affirmations that were a bit much for my taste. Additionally, I don’t agree with the need for journaling and creating a “dream board” collage to envision organization goals. The majority of the book, though, is grounded and full of practical advice. Plus, I’m certain there are many readers who will benefit from the journaling and collage making.

Here are my thoughts, in no particular order, on the book:

  • I fear that people may not pick up the book because the title suggests a year-long commitment to getting your life organized. For people already overwhelmed by stuff in their life, the title may seem overwhelming. This perception is a shame because the book can be used as a resource even if the yearly program isn’t followed. Also, her year-long method is exactly how not to be overwhelmed by the process.
  • I like that she makes suggestions for activities that can become chores for children. Her advice is good for helping to teach children how to be responsible for their belongings and to the family.
  • There is a terrific resource section at the end of the book. I am already researching more about these organizations.
  • The month of May has too many rooms/areas assigned to it (attic, basement, garage, guest room, and laundry room) for the average reader. In my experience, these spaces are often the most cluttered areas of a home. If following her system, I would make this a two-month theme.
  • Many of her tips include options for people who rent their homes, which is rare in home organization books. I was glad to see the inclusion of this advice.
  • She acknowledges a lack of caring as a reason for disorganization. Many self-help authors attribute disorganization only to jarring life events, time management problems, etc., and overlook a simple lack of caring as a possible cause. Not only does she say that a general lack of caring can be a cause, she offers advice on how to overcome it.
  • Her advice is filled with concrete examples that show how different people may interpret the same information. The real-world strategies will appeal greatly to pragmatic readers.

My favorite piece of advice comes in the first section of the book. In this dialog, she frankly discusses reasons why you shouldn’t hold onto random items just because you inherited them from someone who has passed away. This piece of writing is also a good sample of her advice-wielding style:

“Consider tossing grandma’s ancient potato peeler. If she were alive today, she’d have a new one. She’d also wonder what the heck was wrong with you for saving that rusty old antique.”

If you’re in the market for a comprehensive, concrete, methodical guide to home organization, Leeds’ book One Year to an Organized Life is an excellent place to start.

12 Comments for “Book review: One Year to an Organized Life”

  1. posted by Craig on

    If you remove the journaling and the dream board collage, would you recommend the book?

    I’d love a no-nonsense book that helps organize a house and takes into account both a lack of storage — no basement and no garage — and yet a strong attachment to items of sentimental value (meaning we’re not throwing everything out).

    Still looking for such a book.

  2. posted by Allison on

    While I take your point, I have to wonder if you or the author have ever actually surveyed grandmothers about throwing stuff out. Most people from that generation were more likely to continue using something until it broke, then repair it and use it some more. This idea of throwing something out and getting a new one is a modern attitude (and one which leads to clutter because of the associated sense of entitlement to new/better/more things).

  3. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Craig — In my mind, there are two types of uncluttering books … 1. Tips and nothing but tips books, and 2. Getting to the real root of the problem books. Each of the types have their place and can be valuable resources. Books like Heloise Conquers Stinks and Stains would fall into the first category, and Peter Walsh’s It’s All Too Much! would fall into the second.

    This book is in the second category, but it includes many concrete suggestions typical of the first category. As a result, it is definitely in my list of top ten favorite organization books.

    I recommend checking out a copy from the library or perusing it on the shelves at your local bookstore before buying it. If you like it, I do recommend buying it because you’ll probably be moved to write in it, dog ear pages, and … well, it is a year-long method, which would make checking it out repeatedly annoying.

  4. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Alison — I disagree. I think that most grandmothers would not want their grandchildren to harm their families with rust and iron shards in their food. A swallowed piece of iron broken off of a damaged potato peeler could potentially harm someone’s esophagus and intestines.

    Beyond that, however, it’s the meaning behind the statement that is important. You shouldn’t hold onto something just because someone close to you owned it.

  5. posted by amy on

    Quick question – there are links to this book, and the Peter Walsh one on your site which I assume are linked to your amazon account and, if I bought though this link would earn you money… can you add a link with your details in it to as well for us brits?

    I want both these books at some point, I see no problem with you earning some money from the transaction as well 🙂 You deserve it after everythign you’ve done for me! >>huggles<<

  6. posted by Mary on

    When my mom died (and she was the ultimate minimalist), I chose a few of her things to keep, respect and treasure. In my mind, I let them represent the “potato peelers” that I let go. One of the keepers was a wonderfully made rolling pin. I use it often and think of her when I do.

  7. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Mary — You restated the intention of the advice marvelously.

  8. posted by Amie Ragan on

    I am reviewing this book on my site tomorrow. Boy, the marketing person at Da Capo Lifelong Press is really doing her job. Anyway, I find it interesting that, while I also enjoyed the book, we took very different things from it. I think that possibly means that there is something for everyone.

  9. posted by Gina on

    Thanks for the review, Erin. I love organizational books for the simple reason that they typically motivate me to get at least one area of my life organized – albeit, temporarily. 😉

  10. posted by Christine on

    I was looking for a book just like this! However, I can’t find it anywhere for sale! Really frustrating. Group of friends and I have formed an accountability group to help encourage each other to organize & unclutter starting in February and this book was going to help guide us…

    I guess we’ll have to come up with our own schedule.

  11. posted by Julie on

    I’m interested in possibly getting this book. My reason may be a little different than others. I have A.D.D. It is very hard for me to focus and finish any project (especially cleaning/organizing) because of distraciblity.

    My only hesitation, as I think the week-by-week structure would be helpful for me, is that I’ve read elsewhere that this book is “new age-y.” Is that a big component of this book, or is the structured aspect of this book worth its purchase?

    Thanks so much.

  12. posted by denise on

    what are your top 10 organization books. denise

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