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14 Simple Secrets of Professional Organizers

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Tidying up is currently trendy, but professional organizers have long promoted the benefits of getting rid of unnecessary possessions and organizing your space. Whether they’re tackling a messy car, chaotic closet, or cluttered bedroom, professional organizers help people simplify and unclutter—and no, they won't judge you while they're doing it. We spoke to a few professional organizers about the realities and misperceptions of the job.

1. THEY’RE NOT TRYING TO MAKE YOU GET RID OF ALL YOUR STUFF.

People often think organizers want you to pare down your possessions to as few items as possible. While some people subscribe to extreme minimalism—and challenge themselves to limit their belongings to just 100 items, for example—most organizers care more about how your stuff complements your life than how many items you have.

“Some people believe that an organizer is going to come in and make them get rid of everything,” professional organizer and productivity consultant Jennifer Lava tells mental_floss. “The truth is I just want people to be able to not be overwhelmed and to get to a level of stuff that is right for them.”

2. HOARDERS ARE THE EXCEPTION, NOT THE RULE.

According to Lava, people with hoarding tendencies make up only two to five percent of the population. “Many people seem to think all we do is work with people who have a hoarding disorder, when in fact, it is only a small part of the population,” she tells mental_floss.

Rather than wade through ceiling-high piles of old magazines and mounds of dirty clothes, most professional organizers work with non-hoarders who are simply overwhelmed by their possessions. “Americans tend to have a lot of stuff and feel like they don’t have a lot of time. But by reducing the stuff they have to what they need, use, or love, and then creating an effective system to manage these things, they spend less time dealing with their stuff and more time doing the things they want to do,” Lava explains.

3. THEY BURN A LOT OF CALORIES.

Organizing is a physically demanding job. As professional organizer Rachel Seavey of Collector Care tells mental_floss, organizers spend a good chunk of their time lifting, bending, carrying heavy items, and building cabinets or shelves. “New organizers are always exhausted when they first start out. Clients are usually tuckered out as well! It’s not easy work,” Seavey says.

Suzanne O’Donnell of My LA Organizer echoes Seavey, adding that organizers can expend a lot of calories. “I’m constantly moving during a session, and because I track my heart rate and calories burned, I know I am getting a great workout,” she says.

4. DRAWERS ARE THEIR NEMESIS.

No matter how neat your home may appear, you probably have a few messy drawers where you stash random trinkets that you’re not sure where else to put. Because drawers help people conceal messiness, organizers detest them.

To keep drawers orderly, organizers suggest that you clear out unnecessary stuff and insert drawer dividers. “Whatever tool you use to divide the drawer, put like things together in those dividers. If you need extra help getting things back in the right divider, you can label them too,” Lava suggests. That way, drawers have designated spots for specific items, and you’ll be able to quickly locate what you need.

5. THEY’RE NOT JUDGING YOU.

According to professional organizer June Bell, most people think their homes are messier than they actually are. “It’s kind of funny, but every time I enter a new client’s home or business for our first appointment, they always say, ‘Oh, my home/office must be the worst you’ve ever seen. I’m so embarrassed because it’s so messy!’” she says in a Reddit AMA. But good organizers leave their judgments at the door, so don’t feel bashful about your messy home on their account.

Bell admits that even some of her friends worry that their homes aren’t orderly enough for her to come over for a social visit. “I tell [my friends] that when I visit them, I’m there to see them. I value them for who they are, not the tidiness of their stuff."

6. THEY STRIKE A BALANCE BETWEEN PRACTICALITY AND STYLE.

Unlike most interior designers, who focus more on aesthetics than function, professional organizers put more emphasis on their clients’ specific lifestyle needs. For example, organizers may put commonly used items in shelves that are easily accessible and stash bulkier or rarely used items out of reach.

But while function is key, organizers don’t completely ignore design. As professional organizer Jeffrey Phillip explains, making a room stylish yet also practical requires a balancing act. “I bring in my influence of blending style and efficiency, so everything has the right flow and function and sings as one cohesive space,” he tells Brit + Co.

7. THEY HAVE A VARIETY OF SPECIALITIES, SOME OF WHICH YOU MIGHT NOT EXPECT.

While some organizers are generalists who work in typical home and office spaces, others specialize in emergency preparedness, genealogy research, digital clutter, or collections and memorabilia. Some organizers also get extra training to help clients who suffer from physical disabilities, ADHD, OCD, or hoarding. Still others—who often refer to themselves as productivity consultants or time-management coaches—help people organize and manage their time more effectively. These professionals encourage their clients to avoid procrastination, plan their tasks for the next day, and take enough breaks.

8. THEY OFTEN HELP PEOPLE UNDERGOING MAJOR LIFE CHANGES.

Many people hire professional organizers during times of stress and upheaval, such as a divorce, death in the family, or move to a new residence. Even positive life changes—a child moving away for college, the arrival of a new baby, or someone losing a large amount of weight—can be stressful times that prompt people to call on a professional organizer. Good organizers are empathetic and encouraging, knowing that in some cases clients may be grappling with feelings of frustration, shame, or anxiety. As they help clients tackle an empty bedroom or redo a closet, organizers also help clients sort through their emotions and adjust to life changes.

9. CAMERAS HELP THEM DO THEIR JOB.

While organizers certainly use their keen eye for detail to assess a space and figure out how to improve it, they rely on cameras more than you might think. Cameras come in handy in a variety of organizing situations, from encouraging people to donate old stuff to making shopping trips easier. For example, organizers may encourage clients to take photos of sentimental items (and then donate them) rather than keep them in a closet. Additionally, some organizers take photos of the space they’re working on. Referring to the photos while shopping for boxes and bins helps organizers pick the right size and quantity of organizational tools.

10. THEY CAN HELP YOU SAVE MONEY.

Because of their insider knowledge and relationships with vendors, professional organizers can save you dollars on everything from junk pickup to closet shelving. They can also help you find reputable appraisers for the paintings in your attic or the coin collection in your closet. Organizers may even help you find forgotten cash. When Bell and a client were organizing files in her office, they found a forgotten bank account worth $7000!

11. THEY WISH YOU’D HOLD OFF ON BUYING STORAGE CONTAINERS.

At the beginning of a big organizing project, most people rush to a store to buy containers, bins, and dividers. While these tools are useful, organizers wish you’d wait to purchase tons of containers. Their advice: Before bringing more stuff into your home, first go over the stuff you currently have and determine what you can get rid of. Once you know how much stuff you want to keep, you can shop for the appropriate number (and size) of containers.

12. WHEN THEY BECOME CERTIFIED, THEY’RE CALLED CPOs.

Forget CPAs and CFOs. CPOs—Certified Professional Organizers—are professional organizers who have completed 1500 hours of paid work and passed the Board of Certification for Professional Organizers exam. CPOs must also renew their credential periodically by participating in continuing education courses or attending conferences. Four thousand professional organizers and CPOs belong to The National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), an organization that provides education, networking, and professional development opportunities to organizers across the U.S.

13. YOU PROBABLY WON’T FIND THEM WITHOUT A LABEL-MAKER.

Because electronic label-makers are lightweight, portable, affordable, and versatile, they’re a must-have tool for the majority of organizers. Label-makers also print labels quickly, making them a handy tool for labeling boxes, office supplies, and items in kitchen cupboards. Besides label-makers, organizers often travel with soft tape measures so they can easily determine the dimensions of the space in which they’re working.

14. THEY LOVE HELPING PEOPLE.

Although organizing a space gives them a sense of satisfaction, organizers ultimately love working with people and helping them achieve greater productivity and peace of mind. “I love seeing the relief on my clients’ faces at the end of a session. They are already feeling more at ease in their home or office knowing that they can find their stuff,” Lava says. Good organizers also teach people the skills and knowledge to be able to organize their stuff on their own. “There is nothing like doing something that I enjoy and comes easy to me, and sharing all the wonderful benefits with others,” Lava adds.

All photos via iStock.

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Weird
Creative Bar Owners in India Build Maze to Skirt New Liquor Laws
June 20, 2017
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Facing a complicated legal maze, a bar in the southern Indian state of Kerala decided to construct a real one to stay in business, according to The Times of India. Aiswarya Bar, a watering hole that sits around 500 feet from a national highway, was threatened in 2016 after India's Supreme Court banned alcohol sales within 1640 feet of state and country-wide expressways to curb drunk driving. Instead of moving or ceasing operation, Aiswarya Bar's proprietors got creative: They used prefabricated concrete to construct a convoluted pathway outside the entrance, which more than tripled the distance from car to bar.

Aiswarya Bar's unorthodox solution technically adhered to the law, so members of the State Excise Administration—which regulates commodities including alcohol—initially seemed to accept the plan.

"We do [not] measure the aerial distance but only the walking distance," a representative told The Times of India. "However, they will be fined for altering the entrance."

Follow-up reports, though, indicate that the bar isn't in the clear quite yet. Other officials reportedly want to measure the distance between the bar and the highway, and not the length of the road to the bar itself.

Amid all the bureaucratic drama, Aiswarya Bar has gained global fame for both metaphorically and literally circumnavigating the law. But as a whole, liquor-serving establishments in India are facing tough times: As Quartz reports, the alcohol ban—which ordered bars, hotels, and pubs along highways to cancel their liquor licenses by April 1, 2017—has resulted in heavy financial losses, and the estimated loss of over 1 million jobs. Aiswarya Bar's owner, who until recently operated as many as nine local bars, is just one of many afflicted entrepreneurs.

Some state governments, which receive a large portion of their total revenue from liquor sales, are now attempting to downgrade the status of their state and national highways. To continue selling liquor in roadside establishments, they're rechristening thoroughfares as "urban roads," "district roads," and "local authority roads." So far, the jury's still out on whether Kerala—the notoriously heavy-drinking state in which Aiswarya Bar is located—will become one of them.

[h/t The Times of India]

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