Organization: The key to self-discovery
By Lisa Ann Williamson

Staten Island Advance
March 28, 2004 Lifestyle coach and author says spring cleaning freshens perspective as well as one’s environment

Perhaps you resolved earlier this year to get organized.

You had visions of pared down and neatly stacked files, kitchen counters with a clear and clean sweep and perfectly arranged drawers.

Maybe you purchased plastic containers of various sizes in which to store your stuff. And you bought heavy-duty trash bags to clear away the excess of your life. You opened closets to sort through clothing and advised your children to do the same. You sighed a labored breath and vowed to make time to see a movie with the kids.

Now it’s spring and after three months of planning, you’re still tangled up in day-to-day living. Office projects are due. Errands need tending. To-do lists ramble on. Your clutter has mounted to new heights and you’re feeling discouraged and overwhelmed. Time set aside to diffuse the clutter was gobbled up by other things.

Well, here’s a radical message: “There’s no such thing as clutter,” says Sunny Schlenger, professional organizer and coach, co-author of “How to be Organized in Spite of Yourself” and author of a brand new how-to, “Organizing for the Spirit.”

One issue in getting organized is that most of us lose sight of ourselves and become overwhelmed by stuff and to-do lists that have little to do with who we are or what we value, Ms. Schlenger said. The key to becoming organized is to connect our belongings and activities to who we are today.

“I would like for people to feel empowered,” said Ms. Schlenger, from her Fair Lawn, N. J. office. “I want them to increase the pleasure they get from their lives, learn what makes them special so they can make a contribution they had not thought about making to their immediate family or the world at large.”

In that light, getting organized means making way for nourishment of our true self or spirit. It is a process for both adults and children.

In “Organizing for the Spirit,” Ms. Schlenger guides readers through the self-examination process. It’s an exercise designed to help individuals transform their surroundings and lifestyle in ways that inspire, encourage and support the true self. Once the inner work is done, maintains Ms. Schlenger, freedom, increased productivity and harmony are the rewards.

So instead of dreading the stress of uncluttering the living room, Ms. Schlenger suggests starting with a notebook and pen and learning about yourself.

“Organizing for the Spirit” began as a series of weekly e-mails to encourage support group members. In just 135 pages, Ms. Schlenger leads you through a series of exercises designed to determine what you desire in life and offers advice for getting what you want.

You are asked to write about your perfect day — listing things that make you smile, recounting a wonderful or absurd experience, targeting things that bring you joy, pinpointing your values, identifying energy drainers and uncovering your dreams.

Throughout the book, Ms. Schlenger includes stories and examples from clients — even her own personal experiences — to illustrate points.

Clutter is not clutter, Ms. Schlenger says, but a means to self discovery and ultimate potential. In short, organization is an opportunity.

“A lot of times, the way we define a problem becomes the problem,” said Ms. Schlenger who has been an organizational coach for 25 years and helps people stay productive and happy. “Organizing is definitely a means to an end, and not just an end in itself.”

The book’s first exercise asks readers to make two columns — ME and NOT ME. In 30 minutes, readers are asked to go through their home, look at the furniture, artwork, clothing and accessories. List what you see under the appropriate column headings.

Complete the same exercise with the to-do list. Often, daily to-do lists are missing an important thing, Ms. Schlenger said — things a person really wants to do. But including things you really want to do helps give you added energy and honors you as an individual, Ms. Schlenger said.

Yes, there are still groceries to bu, laundry to clean, floors to scrub and dogs to walk, but getting organized will allow you to see where you need assistance and to budget time for personal favorites.

“Organizing the Spirit” is not simply a guide to getting organized; it’s a life lesson and journey to joy.

Organizing is very individual, Ms. Schlenger said. That is why we can only do it for ourselves she points out, taking issue with a recent home improvement show that brought in neighbors to decide what items should be kept and which should be tossed away.

“People need to make their own decisions about what they care about and what has meaning in our their lives,” she said.

Ms. Schlenger also shares some basic methods to the organizing process.

Take going through the closet, for example. The activity gives us a chance to look at clothes that no longer suit us because of style. Decisions should only be made on the basis of how each item makes you feel, not how much it cost or how long it was in the closet, Ms. Schlenger said. This exercise can also be applied to toys and other belongings.

Since we are constantly changing and evolving, an assessment of belongings and activities should be done seasonally, said Ms. Schlenger adding “You can look at things with a fresh eye.”

The bottom line is that organizing is not onerous. Rather, it’s a way for people to feel good about themselves, Ms. Schlenger said. “When your belongings reflect who you are today, there is a certain peace and feeling of being more whole and more together.”

Lisa Ann Williamson is a feature reporter at the Staten Island Advance. She can be reached at

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