Clutter takes up space. Whether it is physical, emotional, or mental, clutter takes away the time and place that we would rather have to be more productive. Laurie Palau, the author of the book, Hot Mess: A Practical Guide to Getting Organized, sets us up for a more organized life as she motivates us to become more organized through her advice and tips. As a mother herself raising teenagers who also juggles being the host of the weekly podcast, This Organized Life, and the Founder of Simply B Organized, Laurie is very familiar with the struggles women have of trying to integrate multiple roles in their lives. She shares her own way of achieving work-life integration and keeping her time organized in the midst of it all. On the parenting side, Laurie lets us in on how she makes her kids stay organized – from parental controls to keeping their stuff.
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A Mom’s Practical Guide To Getting Organized with Laurie Palau
I am going to be bringing you a very special guest, my organizing friend, Laurie Palau. She is going to come on and we’re going to talk everything from organization to raising teenagers. Welcome to the show, Laurie.
Thank you so much for having me.
Laurie is the author of the book, Hot Mess: A Practical Guide to Getting Organized. She also is the host of the weekly podcast called This Organized Life. She’s the Founder of Simply B Organized where she speaks, teaches and works one-on-one with clients to help them reduce clutter and increased productivity. Laurie’s advice has been featured in the New York Times Parenting Section, Family Circle, Home & Table Magazine. She can also be seen sharing tips on 6ABC and WFMZ in addition to other radio and podcast interviews. When she’s not organizing the world, Laurie can be found at home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania with her husband, Josh, same as mine, two girls, two dogs. She loves coffee and Tito’s Vodka. In her spare time, she is actively involved in St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which raises funding for pediatric cancer research. We already knew that we had a lot in common, Laurie. I did not know that you have a husband named Josh like me and loved Tito’s like me.
Those are two things we did not discuss. I don’t know which was the bigger shame. I think it’s probably the Tito’s.
We met through another organizer, Jen Kilbourne I think the first time we talked on the phone and it’s just one of those things when you meet somebody and you’re like, “Where have you been my whole life?” I want to talk about your book. I want to talk about organizing. I love having other organizers on the show because although we are very similar, hopefully there’s another spin on something that the audience can know from you. I think you’ve been doing organizing for several years.
As my day job, I’d be doing it for several years but like so many other people, it’s something that you’ve been doing for a lot longer. I’ve had Simply B Organized. I started the end of 2008 and made it official. In 2009, a totally different landscape of the industry but I love it.
Tell me why did you get into professional organizing?
I’ve always enjoyed working with people. I was an executive recruiter for several years. I always found it very fascinating and interesting to figure out why. What motivates people, whether it’s for a job change or whether that’s dealing with stuff that they’re dealing with in terms of clutter and struggles that they’re having in their home. For me, I had a husband who traveled when my kids were little and I needed to have some structure, order and routine in my life in order to stay sane. These habits that I was establishing were a way for me to try to reclaim as much time as I could because I know with little ones at home it was so precious.
I was like a single mom with a paycheck because my husband was gone quite a bit. He left early, came home late and traveled a ton. In order for me to get all of the things done, I needed to be structured. I saw so many of my friends struggling with the day-to-day tasks to keep up with them. Forget about your deep dive spring cleaning and purging, just life in general. I saw them struggling with that. Certain things came naturally to me. In 2008, 2009, a girlfriend of mine who’s an interior designer said to me, “People hire me to make their spaces pretty and they think that’s going to be a cure but it’s not.”
I think that you have a lot of value that you could bring in. I started helping her with her clients consulting, giving them some strategies and it evolved from there. People thought it was crazy because for those of you who are reading, if you remember that time period when we were going through a recession and people were losing their jobs and we were right in the middle of the housing crisis. I was starting a luxury business during this volatile time in the industry. I looked at this as allowing people to recycle, repurpose, reuse things. Whether it was, “How can we convert a changing table and make it a bookshelf for your kids?” or if people were struggling, what’s a way for them to make money from their clutter? It’s evolved over time for sure. That’s how I got started and it’s grown organically from there.
We mentioned how different the industry is and I know that I’ve talked on the show and some other organizers about this and I find it very interesting. One of the things that I have seen is I feel women especially have found that it’s harder than ever to achieve balance in their life. Do you agree with that statement and if so, what do you think we can contribute that to?
I think that’s super relevant and I will find myself falling into the trap of using that word. I’ve been made a mindful switch to talk about what I call work-life integration because I think balance is something that’s difficult to achieve. I know it might seem semantics, but if you can reframe it and start thinking about how am I integrating these different aspects of my life as opposed to trying to balance it and have it be even? That’s not realistic. It’s unrealistic to say I’m going to be able to do 50% work, 50% home or 25% work, 25% kids, 25% this. Life doesn’t work that way. For me, the better question is how you can integrate these things? We all see the snapshots of people’s curated lives on social media. I use social media for my work. I go on it recreationally.
I think we all have to be mindful and put it in perspective that we are looking at a very one-dimensional side of somebody else’s life that we can then create this narrative into our own lives and tell ourselves these stories of how we’re not measuring up. Seeing people at different points of the journey from where they are can be damaging. I think that there’s a real epidemic of us being overworked. In my podcast, I finished up a series where I was talking about what I identify as the five main clutter pitfalls. The last one that I ended with is about time and that’s the one commodity that we are all on the same playing field with. How can you reclaim time? What does that look like for us? If you can look at the clutter, whether it’s physical clutter, emotional clutter, calendar clutter, digital clutter, whatever that is, how is that sucking us from the time that we would rather be spending with somebody else or doing something else that’s more productive?
That time is that precious commodity that we have to guard. Have you ever read that Boundaries by Henry Cloud, Laurie?
No, but I will.
He talks about how a boundary isn’t about keeping the bad out, like a fence around your property line. It also keeps the good in. We need to have those boundaries around our time. We need to be okay with saying, “No, this isn’t going to take my time but this is.” Not feel guilty about it as women. A lot of times women, if you look at their schedule or you look at how they’re spending half of the time, it’s not even the stuff they want to do but they feel guilty or they feel they have to do it. I think time needs boundaries just like so many other areas of our life.
I think for your kids, but specifically for your teens to be leading by example because there’s so much expectation on them for all of the things to do that if you are trying to juggle it all and you know that eventually some of those balls are going to drop. What is the example that you’re setting for your teens as they are trying to navigate life, extracurriculars and a job and all of the things that they have to do? I think that’s important from a messaging standpoint as parents, for us to be able to not just for ourselves but for the people that are in our world that are watching.
We talk about moms trying to achieve balance or work-life integration. I am scared of these teenagers because we’re talking about time. You and I are both mothers of teenagers. You have two girls: eighteen and sixteen. I have a daughter, seventeen and a son who’s fourteen. One of the things as a professional organizer that I’m very sensitive to and maybe you are too is wasting time. I feel like, “Is it me? Am I crazy or do kids struggle with time management?” They’re wasting a whole lot of time on those little devices called cell phones where when I was a kid, I remember doing homework in my room. It was silent. I wasn’t allowed to take phone calls in the middle of homework. They’re using their phones for homework and it’s a constant distraction. There’s this world of constant notifications. I can’t even imagine the number of interruptions that provides our kids on a daily basis. I’ve noticed that with time management, what have you seen in your home? Have you noticed it that it’s getting harder and harder for these kids to control their time?
It's unrealistic for parents to think that kids are going to be able to function the way that they did. Click To Tweet
I have a lot of opinions about this whole subject. I think that there are a few things. First of all, the big yes is I agree. There are many distractions that are in our kids’ faces at all times. Their mode of communication is through their devices. I feel like my grandparents, where they’d be like, “Back in my day, we used to do it like this.” I think it’s unrealistic for us to think that kids are going to be able to function the way that we did it. The bigger question is how they can adapt? I think understanding your kids’ personalities and motivations is a key component. I’m sure you can attest that your kids are different and they respond differently to different stimulation and motivation. When my older daughter was younger, she’s a rule follower. She’s an obliger and will come home from school, would do her homework, have a snack, and would play or watch TV or whatever she would do. My younger daughter, God bless her heart, she’ my ADD kid. I have her permission. She allows me to talk about this and she’s very open about even talking to other kids about this. I would try to force her into this model of having everything off and everything quiet and to sit down to do her work. I found it to be counterproductive.
For me, I think you need to be able to understand the balance of how your kid’s going to function the best, but not abuse that. I know for my daughter, Logan, in her case when I would force her to reduce those distractions, it made the process that much longer because she’d be drifting off into somewhere else. When I was able to figure out a way for her to maybe listen to music versus watching TV, she was able to use her device in a way that was actually productive and more efficient with her time management. Understanding how you can use your device to your advantage, knowing your own strengths and weaknesses is important. It’s important to have those honest conversations with your kids. Ask them where they feel they’re struggling, but also sometimes they don’t have the perspective to say, “This is where I could use some guidance.”
It’s important as parents to not helicopter by any stretch of the imagination but to observe and guide and provide tools for our kids to say, “We’ve got to figure out something that works because what you’re doing currently is not productive.” The other thing that I also think when it comes to that whole time management piece or priority management is allowing your kids to develop some life skills. I’ve had this conversation with friends of mine. I’m a believer of my kids’ both work whether they babysat. They both have part-time jobs and I’ll probably get some push back from this. It’s important for kids to have responsibilities around the house. It’s important for kids to be able to manage a part-time job or have other responsibilities because one day when they go off on their own, they’re going to have to be able to integrate getting their job done or their schoolwork is done and doing their laundry. At some point being able to teach them the skills that they’re going to have to maybe not go out on this night or maybe do something at a different time allows them to develop those skills of learning when to say no.
If you’re reading this and you have little kids, this seems like so far off in the distance, but take it from Laurie and me, you’re going to blink and you’re going to be right where we are. It goes so fast. You go from constant reminders because they’re little and they forget, and then you start to phase it. I always tell myself, “I’m raising somebody’s future spouse, somebody’s future employee.” Now that we have teenagers, you have to start holding back a little and seeing what they’re going to do on their own. Once they leave and they’re out there, they’re going to have to figure out how to juggle all the things that are going to be part of their life, whether it’s college, homework, a job or taking care of their bodies and eating healthy. Making sure they have time to exercise or their friends are going to say, “Can you go out?” They’re going to have an exam to study for. It’s a fine line in this in-between stage where right before they leave your house, you have a small window to get it all in there and you’re last parenting lessons. Also taking a step back and saying, “What would they do in this situation?” As far as what your rules are, do you use parental controls on their phones? Do you limit their screen time? What do you do in your home?
What’s your reasoning?
I’ve limited their screen time, but I have to say I’ve gotten a little bit more relaxed. My kids being sixteen and eighteen, they didn’t get smartphones until ninth grade and maybe seventh grade. Nowadays, kids are getting smartphones in fifth grade and they’re playing with their parent’s smartphones when they’re two. My kids were still a little bit older. My husband and I believe that we were trying to teach our kids good boundaries and to make smart choices. I don’t read my kids texts. They know that I can, but I try to respect their privacy. I’m not afraid of letting my kids fall on their face. When they were younger, I did keep their phones downstairs and say you have to be off your device at a certain point, but now it’s sixteen and eighteen.
They have them in their room and they know that they have to get up for school in the morning. If they are going to be up late texting with their friends or Snapchatting, they’re going to be the ones to pay the price, but that wasn’t always the case. When they were younger, I definitely managed it more. My kids, when they first started, they had flip phones and it was a way for them to communicate with me if I was working and they had an afterschool activity and needed to be picked up. It was used for a different purpose than it is now. We have open and honest conversations about what is acceptable and what our belief system is. I know all kids do, I’m sure they make mistakes. I’m sure they do things that are testing the waters. I would like to believe that we have this, we’re going to give you trust until you break it. That’s how we have chosen to parent our kids.
Since you’re a professional organizer and you have these two girls, what are some of the things that you have found that maybe another mother can implement to teach your kids how to be organized with their stuff? Not necessarily their time, but their stuff.
There are a couple of things. I wanted to answer the questions starting with the device since we’re on it and then we can talk about the physical stuff. I know that you do some speaking to kids and I do a teen workshop as well as early as elementary school kids. I think because kids are getting devices younger and younger, it’s important to be able to say that this device is there as a tool to help you as well as it is a recreational device. We use family-centered apps. I use AnyList for my shopping. I use Wunderlist as a note-taking app. These are shared apps that we use within our family for different things. I use Google Calendar, which our family also has. I make sure that if our kids get themselves an afterschool snack and they say, “I finish off the milk or I took the last milk out of the container.” You have to add that to the grocery list. They have accountability to be able to manage stuff for the household as well.
What was the app you said you use for groceries?
I use AnyList. I’ve tried a few, but I like them because as soon as you add, it automatically zones the grocery store for you. It will group your dairy together, your canned goods together, your meats together. It’s free and it’s a shared app and you can cross it off and customize it. It’s super easy. My kids are older, if they’re like, “How come we have no more fruit snacks?” I’m like, “I don’t eat fruit snacks. If you’re the last one to take fruit snacks, it’s your responsibility to put it on the list and I’ll happily buy it. If it’s not on the list, I’m not going to go in there and do a deep dive necessarily.” They have ownership of that. As well as with their calendars. If there’s something going on and if we make an appointment, it’s on there and it’s their responsibility, especially that they’re teenagers and they have their own social life before they make plans to do something to make sure that there isn’t a conflict. It is so easy in this digital era for us to be able to have these checks and balances, there’s no excuse.
My younger one who has struggled with a lot of executive function and she’s struggled in school with that. Using apps like the myHomework has been great for her to be able to write down and check her homework and allow it when she was younger for it to be shared with me so that I could keep a pulse on it, but not have to micromanage the process. We talk about how quickly kids grow up, where do you draw the line? That was a big thing that when I talked to a lot of moms, they say, “When do I start having my kids get involved? When do I have them start making their beds? When do I have them start cleaning up their rooms around the house?”
From an occupational hazard, I’ve always had my kids getting involved on a smaller scale even when they were younger, whether it was, “You read this book, you put it back on the shelf. You play with your toys. When you’re done playing at the end of the day, you put them away.” Those are the things that we instilled. What I’ve seen with my friends who were a little bit more controlling over the situation where they wanted to make their kid’s bed because they would make it nicer or they would pick up the toys because they could do it quicker. Things like that. All of a sudden, they were faced with a teenager that didn’t know how to do anything because it wasn’t second nature.
To answer your question on a broad scale, the best thing you can do for your kids is start to empower them early in spaces that they have control over. Assigning whatever task is something that is in their wheelhouse, and it could be something that contributes to the overall family help. Whether it’s taking out the trash or it could be stuff that’s in their own spaces. The key to a lot of people is to be very specific. All the frustration that I see that parents have is they’ll say, “I told my kid to go up there and clean their room and all they did was shove all of those stuff under there bed or in their closet and shut the door.”
One of the things that I talk about is the power of setting a clear expectation. What does a clean room look like? What does that actually mean and what are the steps that you need to take to get there? Organizing is a learned behavior. For people like you and I, it is something that comes a little bit more intuitively to us but for many people out there, it doesn’t. They need strategies. For me, I always say start small and be very specific. If it is, “I want you to take this basket of toys and I want you to go through the ones that you no longer play with. I want you to put them in a pile for the kids who are less fortunate that we’re going to donate or take all the ones that are broken pieces and put them over here so that we could put them in the trash.”
You need to be very specific over what your expectation is for my “clean room.” Our clients primarily are adults, many times other moms and we see the overwhelm that our clients have. It’s understandable that our kids are going to face that same overwhelm. Starting small by doing a drawer or a shelf in their closet. Ask them to do their shoes or their clothes if you want to work with them to do that. Give them specific strategies of what is it that you’re looking to do. Arbitrary, “Go up there and clean your room,” could leave somebody’s head-scratching like, “What does that even mean?” The feelings of anxiety and stress and overwhelm, “I want this to be done. I’m going to get it out of sight, out of mind.” That’s not solving the problem.
It’s wonderful always to hear advice from other moms how they’re doing things. Even if people don’t adopt everything that you suggested, we as parents filter through what works for us and what doesn’t, what we would like to improve on, what we feel comfortable. Where are you doing a great job at? I’m going to ask you as a mom, what do you think is the thing that you excel at and what do you think is the thing that you would like to improve upon?
It is so easy in this digital era for us to be able to have these checks and balances that there's no excuse not to do them. Click To Tweet
I’m a Google Sheets master. I am super productive when it comes to organizing stuff and being able to retrieve it quickly because that for me is the biggest priority. When I talk to people about organizing their stuff, I always say go with the intention of how easy is it going to be for me to retrieve it when I want it. I have to say when it comes to all the things that I juggle, whether it’s my personal life or with my business. Being able to be organized to keep all the ducks in a row, I use Google Sheets a lot and I happen to be loving that. I’m strong in that productivity area.
Where I’m struggling is giving myself permission to have a little bit of downtime for my own self-care. I know that sounds a little hokey, but it’s true. I find my most productive content that I’m able to generate for my audience. Some of the stuff that I’m proud of comes from the moments that are quiet. I don’t often carve out enough time in my own schedule to have those moments. I cherish them and I need to be more disciplined to be able to create those pockets of margin in my own life because I preach it all the time to people, but I don’t always subscribe to it.
You feel you want not just to talk the talk. You want to walk the walk too. It’s healthy always to want to improve upon something in our life and we get better as we get older.
That’s what I’m hoping.
I want to let everybody know that the name of your book is Hot Mess: A Practical Guide to Getting Organized. They can find it on Amazon. The cover is hilarious. Any women when they see the cover, I’m not going to give away, but you can totally relate. The name or your website again is SimplyBOrganized.com. If they want to find out more about you, they can go to your website. You also have a podcast that is called This Organized Life. Check out Laurie’s podcast. Check out her website, check out her book. If you liked this show, as always, please leave us a review. Podcasters like Laurie and myself, that’s what gets the word out about the show. That’s what makes it worth our time. If you have liked this episode, if you like The 29 Minute Mom, please make sure you tell all your friends and leave us a review.
I will be reading reviews that come through on the show. If you have a specific question or you want us to give a little love to your business, make sure you put all the details in the review and I will be reading them. I want to say thank you so much, Laurie. I appreciate it. I’m grateful that God brought you into my life. I’m grateful that we’ve had these awesome times to connect. I think that a lot of the moms are going to get good advice, not only on raising teenagers and keeping them organized but how to get it all done themselves. Thank you.
Thank you so much for having me and letting me share this time with your audience. I’m so appreciative of you and everything that you’re doing out there. I can’t wait to hug you in person.
Thank you, moms, for reading. We know we’re going to have a lot to get done, so I’m going to let you go. Once again, thanks for reading The 29 Minute Mom. Have a great day.
- Laurie Palau
- Hot Mess: A Practical Guide to Getting Organized
- This Organized Life
- Simply B Organized
- St. Baldrick’s Foundation
About Laurie Palau
Laurie Palau is the author of the book HOT MESS: A Practical Guide to Getting Organized, host of the weekly podcast, This ORGANIZED Life, and the founder of simply B organized where she speaks, teaches and works one-on-one with clients to help them reduce clutter and increase productivity. Laurie’s advice has been featured in The New York Times Parenting Section, Family Circle, and Home + Table Magazine.
She can also be seen sharing tips on 6ABC, and WFMZ, in addition to various radio and podcast interviews. When not organizing the world, Laurie can be found at home in Bucks County, PA with her husband Josh, 2 girls, and 2 dogs. She loves coffee and Tito’s Vodka (not together), and in her spare time, she is actively involved with The St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which raises funding for Pediatric Cancer Research.
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