Are You Organized for the Unexpected?

posted by Andrea | 02/18/2013

Working as a professional organizer for many years, I’m sure you can imagine some of the “sights” I’ve seen!

While I never disclose personal information or names of any of my clients, I most definitely have many, many stories to share of extreme hoarders, shopping addicts, and even a few downright lazy slobs.

Of course, I had many fabulous clients that hired me once or twice a year just to help with bigger projects or to get another perspective on their spaces. These were the fun clients — however, they were NOT the majority.

I was always suprirsed by how the majority of my clients lived in complete chaos, under piles and piles of clutter, with no rhyme or reason to anything. And I have a feeling (based on how popular organizing books and TV shows are) that there a millions of homes across the country that would also shock my socks off and make my jaw drop after walking through the front door.

There are many other homes that might look nice and neat from the front door, but open any drawer, any closet, any cabinet, and you’ll find mass amounts of stuff just shoved inside.

I’m not saying this to judge or belittle these people, I’m saying this because it’s the truth — and I’ve seen it!

If you live in a cluttered, disorganized home, you might be thinking “who cares, it’s none of your business what MY house looks like”.

But I’d beg to differ. 

As you’ll read below, there are many situations where someone might need to step in and run your home, pay your bills, care for your children, or manage your life… and if your home is out of control and completely unorganized, there’s a good chance the people who are trying to help won’t be able to.

Are You Organized for the Unexpected?

Email from a loyal reader who says it better than I could: 

A few years ago, the father of a dear friend died unexpectedly. In attempts to bless this family, several of us decided to clean my friend’s home while she was out of town for the visitation, funeral, etc. We opened the front door and it was like a tornado, and not just a tornado that had happened in the 24 hours since her dad died and they left town, but really just a way of life.

I literally picked up 27 loads of laundry off the floor between the upstairs and downstairs, there was no way of knowing what was clean and what was dirty, so I washed, dried and folded all of it. Someone else cleaned the bathrooms, two others did the kids’ rooms, some did the kitchen, etc. We were there for 3 hours with 10 people and it was just starting to look “picked up”, but not spotless or deep cleaned (I took all the laundry home and brought it back later.)

More recently, my daughter and I went over to babysit for a family that has a newborn in critical condition and 4 other children at home. We took them a meal, but we had to move things on the counter and in the refrigerator just to fit anything in. The house was a disaster — and again, not a disaster that just happened, but a permanent disaster. They had a filing cabinet with every drawer labeled “STUFF” and the mailman had to bring the mail to the door because their box was stuffed full and no one could find the key to open their box. There was a Social Security card in the mail for their brand new baby, which they were waiting for to sign up for Medicaid!

Why am I saying all this?

Because you never know when your life is going to change and someone else will have to take over paying bills, getting your mail, watching your kids, doing your laundry, making your meals, or living in your house.

These two experiences have made me more aware of how being a disorganized slob doesn’t just affect you,  but so many others as well — especially when no one can figure out your system or find ANYTHING in your house.

I just think that sometimes we live self-absorbed lives and think, “Who cares, it is my mess.” But in reality, as I have personally seen several times, it DOES affect others and is something to consider in the way we keep our homes.

Can any of you relate?  

I know I can!

Last month, I shared how we keep all our important paperwork organized “just in case” something would ever happen to Dave and I. I feel so much better knowing that it would be relatively easy for someone else to come in and run our home and finances if the situation ever arose.  I also feel confident that since we work hard to keep our home relatively organized at all times, anyone would be able to find almost anything they needed to keep things running “as normal”.

If you can’t say the same thing about your home, it might be time to get to work.

It’s not going to happen over night, and you most definitely don’t need to keep things perfectly organized all the time. Just neat and organized enough that someone else could find the things they need to run your home, life, finances, kitchen, etc. in the event of an unexpected illness, death, or anything else that prevents you from handling these tasks on your own.

Plus, wouldn’t it just be nice to live, eat, work, play, and sleep in a more organized home?

Have you ever had a similar experience?

photo source

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  1. Megan C.


    I thought this was a great post. Sometimes people need to hear the truth directly and realize they need to get their act together.

    A elderly friend of mine passed away in December and listed me as his executor in his will. I cared for him until two years ago when we moved away. Thankfully, when I went back to his home, it was pretty-much how I had left it which made it easy for me to take care of his estate.

    None of us knows how long we will live. I, personally, would much rather have things in order for my own sake as well as whoever may have to take over where I leave off someday. Whenever there is a mess, someone, someday will have to go through it all and clean it up.


    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Megan — my mom is actually in the same situation as you (with one of her elderly relatives). This relative is extremely organized though, which is making it SO much easier for my mom.


  2. Caitlin


    I have to agree with Becky that while I usually enjoy this blog very much, this post (and many of the comments) felt extremely judgmental. I agree that it is important to have your life in order enough for people to take care of the basics if you are incapacitated and understand that that was the point of the post. However, it also seemed to imply that if you are messy and disorganized and your friends come over to help and are overwhelmed, you are being selfish and inconsiderate toward them. That did not sit right with me at all. If you are going over to help a friend in a crisis, especially without being asked, how can you complain that she made it more difficult for you because of the way she lives her life?

    And the use of the word “lazy slob” was judgmental. Clutter and messiness can be the result of laziness, but there is also an emotional or even mental component to it for many people. Would their lives be easier or even of a better quality if they were more organized. Most likely yes. But scaring or shaming them into doing it isn’t going to work. And I definitely felt a tone of shaming in this post and the comments. And you said it yourself that many of your clients were extreme hoarders or shopping addicts. They are behaving in certain ways, not because they are lazy or extravagant. Rather, they are trying to fulfill a need in their life. Their method of coping might not be healthy or helpful, but they came to you for help with it. I would be mortified if someone I hired spoke of me in that way, even if in the vaguest terms.

    Again, I enjoy your blog, but felt the need to comment about this. As someone who struggles with clutter and works daily to overcome it, I read your blog for tips and inspiration. I will admit that I personally felt judged. And I fully understood the purpose of your post. I hope that you will consider the comments of those who were concerned by some aspects of this post. I believe you care about your clients and readers, and hope you will understand my point of view. Thanks.


    Lee Cockrum Reply:

    I think you articulated what I was feeling better than I was able to do a few comments back. This is the only post that I have read in all the time I have been reading that made me feel as if this is not the blog for me. I am hoping that it is just a one time aberration, and I can get back to appreciating the recipes and implementing the ideas that work for me. Thanks so much for your comment.


    Lisa Reply:

    A couple of things here:

    Please note that Andrea said “even a FEW downright lazy slobs”. She was not stating that everyone who has a messy house is a lazy slob. I agree with Andrea…there are some lazy slobs out there. I also agree with you that there are some people who have mental and emotional problems, and are coping in unhealthy ways (shopping, clutter-collecting, etc.). However, please remember that these people are still responsible for their actions.

    My father-in-law freely admits that he is a clutter-collector (he can’t throw anything away and will pick things out of the trash that we throw away for him), and says he “can’t help it.” But in the end, he is being selfish, because when he dies, guess who “gets to” sort through all his stuff? Am I being judgmental? I guess so. I’m judging that he is selfish as evidenced by his actions.


    Lisa the Farm Lady Reply:

    Well spoken, Lisa!
    I never got anything “judgmental” from this post. Why is it that as soon as a blogger gets right down to the root of something and speaks the truth, there are super-oversensitive people who immediately comment that the post is judgmental?
    We’ve lived in our new house now for 4 years-myself, my hubby, and two teenage boys.
    I made the excuse EVERY DAY that because we live in the country (mud/dirt) have 4 dogs and lots of farm animals (fur and stinky) and because I worked outside the home till recently with an hour-long commute each way, that it was simply not possible for me to keep our house clean and get it organized.
    Well, I agree with Andrea here. I was acting like a lazy slob and on top of it all, I was blaming our surroundings and my loved ones (I know she didn’t say that, that’s just me sayin’) for the fact that our house was dirty and disorganized.
    Since I have found this blog, it has given me not only super-easy to implement cleaning and organizing ideas, but it’s also given me that extra prod in the bee-hind to stop making excuses and just take small steps cleaning and then getting everything into place. I can’t believe how far I’ve gotten in the 2 weeks since I started reading this blog!
    People need to be more open-minded and be willing to see/read another person’s point of view. Not immediately jump on things written in a post in a negative, over-sensitive way.
    Because doing so would be, you know, judgmental.


  3. Cindy


    To follow up, last night WE tackled the unnecessary foot tall pile of papers on our kitchen counter! 1 purge down, 99 to go. I thank you for the prod! :)


    Andrea Reply:

    yay — so glad you both got in on the organizing action! I’m sure it felt great to cross one project off your list! Progress… not perfection (keep reminding yourself of that).


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