Liberated by the knowledge that her only job was to sort, with no pressure to purge or find homes for objects, Barbara sped through every container in her closet. On impulse, Barbara moved all comfort items into a small sitting room, dubbing it her Hellhole Room. The room wasn't in anyone's way—no one could nag her about its appearance. Now she was free to take on the rest of her house and then decide, in her own good time, what to do with her comfort objects. It was a powerful strategy: Create a shrine to her buried grief, separate it from the rest of the house so she could see it, honor it, and give it its proper place apart from the stuff of life.

Our final task on this organizing journey was to establish a home information center for the supplies. She'd clean out her spare kitchen cabinets and then divide the space into zones: financial, communications, tools, gifts. Two days later, I opened my e-mail to a brilliant display of her work. The results blew me away. One by one, I clicked open the photos. Barbara was a born organizer! In- and out-baskets for bills? Beautiful! Color-coded financial supplies? Gorgeous! Eight nail clippers in a designated drawer divider? Yes! If she needed something now, she knew where to look, and it was there every single time. In less than two weeks, Barbara had emerged from under a 28-year-old blanket of clutter.

Whether your mess is visible or hidden, organizing is rarely the hard part. Knowing what's holding you back, and recognizing that it's a part of you to be embraced instead of condemned, is the key to a breakthrough. If you, like Barbara, have been shoving things into containers for years, try taking the lid off—there could be an organized person inside you just waiting to see the light of day.


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