Donna LaRoche became a professional organizer when she retired from teaching but finds her teaching skills apply to her second career as well.
Professional Organizer Offers Tips For The New Year By ANDREA F. CARTER/Enterprise, Jan 5, 2018
Heralding in the new year for many means committing to a new round of resolutions.
Organization is a popular goal this time of year, sending people to the book store or library for advice from professional organizers. Those in Falmouth do not need go far for some tips. Donna LaRoche of Energize and Organize in Falmouth can offer some guidance for bringing in the new year with less clutter.
Ms. LaRoche describes her role as a facilitator, working with people in their homes and offices to develop organizational systems and habits. Keeping clutter at bay not only can free up space but also time, bringing a sense of ease and renewed productivity to a person’s life.
“We all live very busy lives,” Ms. LaRoche said. “At the end of the day, wouldn’t we all like more time for pleasurable pursuits.” The first step going into the new year is to do away with the idea of a “resolution.” Ms. LaRoche prefers the terms “goal” or “intention” which have more positive connotations.
Often resolution can refer to an action people failed to meet the previous year she said. Establishing a goal is more hopeful, looking forward instead of back.
“That’s what makes goals and intentions so exciting.” Ms. LaRoche said. “It’s pursuing a new adventure to bring calm and harmony and balance to your life.”
Her advice, however, is to start small. Goals must be realistic and attainable. She offers the acronym, “SMART” as a guidepost. An intention should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound.
For example she may suggest that clients begin with organizing a closet or even one cupboard. Or if they are tackling a larger space such as a garage or basement, she helps them break down these areas into zones.
“Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that the clutter didn’t accumulate overnight and that it won’t unclutter overnight,” she said. The idea of working in zones refers back to her 35-year career as a kindergarten and 1st grade teacher with classrooms that had different stations for reading, writing, painting and block corners.
“If people think in zones, they are very successful,” she said.
One of the more common concerns among her clients is handling paper clutter. “Paper management is always big, piles to files,” she said.
Even in the electronic age, an abundant amount of paper mail is going through houses and offices each day. “Literally some clients have bags of mail unopened,” she said. The more paper builds-up, the harder it is to get started. Her recommendation is to create a three-tiered filing system where papers are organized based on those that need some sort of action, reference materials, such as owners’ manuals, and archived records such as birth certificates or marriage licenses. She also suggests that people stand by the recycling bin while opening mail to toss out the junk mail or empty envelopes immediately.
“It’s as simple as those three systems to bring order to all that chaos,” Ms. LaRoche said.
“Clutter is really about postponed decisions.”
When going through a space such as a closet or cupboard she has the client takes everything out and divide items into categories to keep, recycle or toss out. Bringing the clutter out in the open, however, can be overwhelming.
“Getting organized is hard work and requires persistence,” Ms. La Roche said.
She also suggests placing like items together in a space, such as a refrigerator, pantry or closet. This allows clients to visualize supplies they need or have enough of. If a client has multiple pairs of black slacks, it is not time to buy more but perhaps time to donate pairs to a clothing drive or to an organization.
This can also be a good lesson to share with children. After a birthday when they receive an abundance of new toys, donating items they do not need or use can feel good and teach them generosity and organization as well, Ms. La Roche said.
Being organized can save people money. People tend to buy more when they cannot keep track of items at home. She mentioned one client who had eight staplers strewn about the house. Certain clients have run into credit issues because they have lost track of unpaid bills in a paper pile.
Ms. LaRoche also lends her expertise to students, whose lack of organizational skills are inhibiting their success at school. She mentioned one student who had received Ds and Fs on a quarter report card. When she met with him, they found a majority of his work still stashed in his backpack. His grades improved after she helped him develop a system to keep track of his assignments and turn them in on time.
“This was literally disorganization for this child, who was struggling when he could have been thriving,” Ms. LaRoche said. Her work with elderly clients often involves downsizing from a family home to an apartment or condominium.
Ms. LaRoche realizes that one size does not fit all when it comes to solutions. Techniques must fit the personality and lifestyle of the client. Ms. LaRoche added that she is not there to judge or tell a person what to throw away. Just as building on students’ strengths was something she employed as a teacher, she now uses this idea as an organizer to help people develop organizational habits that work for them.
“Part of what I am doing is a lot of listening,” Ms. LaRoche said. “The client is telling me what works and doesn’t work for them, and then we devise a plan.”
Her suggestions can be a less extreme alternate to some celebrity professional organizers such as Marie Kondo, whose method, which ask if items spark joy, can cut people’s stash by three-quarters or Peter Walsh, who suggests that people discard anything they have not used for 12 months.
“That may be too much for some clients,” Ms. LaRoche said.
Ms. LaRoche said that patience is required in developing a new habits or behavior, such as storing an item in the same place each day. It can take about 30 days for a behavior to become a habit she said. And there are times when people may backslide but that is expected and okay.
A motto she brings from the classroom is “Working toward excellence not perfection.”
The variety of people she works with keeps the job interesting. She recommends that people who are pressured to seek her service from family or friends or are not ready to dig into the job should wait for the right time. Often these clients call her back when they are ready.
“You need to have ownership for yourself, so it matters to you,” Ms. LaRoche said.
Ms. LaRoche always had organizational skills and they were noticed by her siblings when she was growing up. Her sister suggested this second career path to her. Teachers Ms. LaRoche worked with in Belmont also asked for her organizational advice in their classrooms regularly.
After discovering the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals online and joining the New England chapter, she took coursework through the organization to become a professional organizer.
“I am a lifelong learner,” she said. “The transfer of teaching skills to organizational skills was right there in front of me. For me there is joy in helping people and seeing their joy in attainment.”
Ms. La Roche said she also knew that she wanted to move to Falmouth for retirement. She had visited family here over the years. Since arriving she has bought her first home and has become involved in various organizations such as the Falmouth Newcomers club and is playing pickleball. “It feels like coming home to me because I have been coming here all my life,” Ms. LaRoche said.