When you need to unclutter, getting help from someone else can make the task seem less daunting. Sometimes, all you might need is another person who can be in the room with you while you actually do the sorting and categorizing of your items, which in the industry we refer to as an accountability partner. You might even be very willing to assist when you’re called upon to help a friend, family member, or colleague with getting more organized. Though it’s helpful to keep rules of thumb in mind, you’ll also want to remember that organizing another person’s items is not exactly the same as sorting through your own belongings.
To give yourself the chance to offer the best help possible, first …
Before embarking on any uncluttering project, you likely come up with one or two goals and then figure out the steps needed to achieve them. When you’re helping someone else unclutter, you will also want to establish goals — not yours, but theirs. Having a goal (or goals) gives you both direction and a path to follow. Since you are there to be supportive, you first need to know what the desired result is (clear the floor around my bed, get rid of paper clutter from my desk and create a desktop filing system, get my car back in the garage).
- Get a clear picture of what they want to accomplish and consider having a quick meeting over the phone or in person to discuss it. Talking it through can help you both make a solid and reasonable plan of attack.
- Find out if he/she has a deadline in mind. This will help you understand how much needs to be done and figure out if indeed you have the time to help.
Understand that uncluttering can be an emotional process
When you’re organizing your things, there are times that you probably find yourself feeling motivated, surprised, productive, overwhelmed, and everything in between. You can go through a range of emotions at varying points in the process. Chances are, the friend or family member you’re helping will also take a ride on the same emotional roller coaster. And, those feelings may be heightened because they now have another person (you) present. Yes, they know you care about them, but by sharing the experience with you, it can feel as if they’re exposing their deepest, darkest secret (and perhaps they are).
- If the person you’re helping begins to feel vulnerable or uncomfortable, reassure them you’re not judging them and you genuinely want to help.
- If emotions start to run high, stop and take a break so you can both regroup. Before jumping back in, re-focus on the goal(s) that were established. Pause after a reasonable amount of time so you can see which action items you’ve completed and which ones you will move to next.
Be patient as you facilitate the process
When you’re working with someone else, you’ll likely want to exercise more patience than you’re expecting to, particularly if the process doesn’t move along as quickly as you would like. For example, although you may know the person you’re helping very well, you’ll still need to ask if you can throw things away, even if those items seem like trash to you. To help keep yourself from immediately acting on items, think about how you would feel if the roles were reversed and someone else (seemingly) took ownership of your belongings. That’s not the impression you intend to give, but that may be how it is perceived.
- Before you be being working, come up with ground rules that you both can follow (all magazines prior to August 2012 can be recycled). This will help speed up the process a bit and be in line with the parameters you both agreed to.
- Be aware of how you’re feeling and take breaks when you need to so that any frustration you may be feeling isn’t conveyed in your actions or words.
Remember that backsliding is possible
Keep in mind that organizing is a process, not an end point. Systems may be created to keep things in order, but they have to be kept up with on a regular basis to make sure that clutter doesn’t return. It will take some practice to do things differently and there’s a possibility that there may be some backsliding. This is not unusual or necessarily a reflection of something you did or didn’t do.
- If you intend to continue helping, don’t be discouraged. It’s possible that backsliding is situational (something traumatic or dramatic happened) or that they need more time to practice a new way of doing things.
- Consider using mantras to help you both stay motivated and in a positive state of mind.
Helping someone else unclutter is a very thoughtful thing to do. With a bit of planning before you begin working, patience, and reasonable expectations, you’ll likely end up with more organized space while keeping your relationship intact.