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Organization experts give advice at Cranberry Library talk

Jill Yesko of Discover Organizing discusses strategies to deal with clutter. Julia Maruca/Butler Eagle

CRANBERRY TWP — Mountains of clutter inside a home can make even simple cleaning tasks daunting.

A presentation Tuesday night by two professional organizers at the Cranberry Township Public Library about “How to Deal with Clutter Overwhelm” sought to clear away some of the complexity from addressing the buildup of “stuff” inside a home.

The event, led by Jill Yesko of Discover Organizing and Jackson Township resident Vickie Dellaquila of Organization Rules, was attended by more than 60 people and provided advice on what to do when lack of time time, scattered paper or other stressors are piling up.

Yesko and Dellaquila identified four factors as major contributors to clutter: paper, time, inherited clutter and chronic disorganization or hoarding behaviors.

Putting the pieces together to deal with clutter can be difficult, they said, and different strategies work better for different people. Parts of everyday life, whether serious issues or more regular responsibilities, also can get in the way.

“What we understand the most is that you think you’re going to have a day like X, but it turns out like Y,” said Yesko. “You think you’re going to be able to get that closet organized, and then your friend calls and says, ‘I don’t feel well, I need somebody to talk to, I need a friend.’ You get interrupted.”

Yesko encouraged people dealing with clutter to be kind to themselves and to not bite off more than they can chew.

“Please do not say you’re going to do your garage this weekend,” she said. “Please say, you know what, there’s a work table in my garage, I think I’m going to tackle half of that on Saturday. That’s the right answer — that’s you loving yourself, and that’s you being realistic.”

Inherited clutter

For many homeowners, clutter can originate from a family member passing away and a relative taking on their belongings.

“This is so hard, and I bet there are a ton of people in here that have somebody’s stuff in their basement or attic,” Dellaquila said. “The big thing is feeling guilty about throwing away family members’ stuff.”

Adult children often do not want all of their parents’ belongings, Dellaquila explained, and some possessions that may have sentimental value may be difficult to make decisions on.

“(A client of mine) feels like he is throwing away everything of his mother’s, and just getting rid of it, and he feels terrible about it,” she said. “But I said, how much would you really look at this stuff is one thing, and if you want to honor your mother, by keeping all this stuff, is it really honoring her to keep it in a box in the closet? I don’t know.”

Dellaquila said organizing is a process and can’t necessarily be done all at once. Sorting, deciding and acting on clutter in separate steps can help.

“Doing a small project can really help you move forward,” she said. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.

TV not what it seems

Both Yesko and Dellaquila have appeared on clutter related TV shows, including TLC’s “Hoarding Buried Alive” and A&E’s “Hoarders.” However, they cautioned audience members against thinking everything they see on TV is accurate to the experience of dealing with clutter or chronic disorganization.

“People who have hoarding issues are really lovely, intelligent people who have a terrible problem,” Dellaquila said. “People like to make fun of it — they think it’s so funny that they have all this stuff, but it’s not funny, it’s a horrible thing for someone to live with.”

The word “hoarder,” she said, tends to be avoided in the organizing industry.

“I had a client once who had very severe hoarding disorder and other mental health challenges, and she said, ‘You know, when I die, that’s all they’re going to think of me as, is that H word,’” she explained. “’They’re not going to think of me as being a wife, a nurse, a mother, a person who likes to play bingo, they’re just going to think of that H word.’ And it’s just heartbreaking to hear that. I think it is really important to try and use language around people, and we definitely do, and it’s something that takes time.”

Dellaquilla added that mental health issues, including ADHD, depression, anxiety and trauma, can affect a lot of areas of someone’s life. Working with a therapist alongside a professional organizer can have a positive impact, she said.

Published works

Yesko’s books — “I’m Right Here: 10 Ways To Get Help for Hoarding and Chronic Disorganization” and “Chronological Order: The Fine Print for a Large Life” and Dellaquila’s book “Don’t Toss My Memories in the Trash — A Step-by-Step Guide to Helping Seniors Downsize, Organize, and Move” — were on sale at the talk.

The organizers also recommended the Institute for Challenging Disorganization online for virtual resources.

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