Issue #120: Ask Yourself This Question Before "Editing" Your Home
Out of overwhelm and into action with Shira Gill.
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🎥 ‘May December’ on Netflix: While studying tabloid photos of Gracie (Julianne Moore), Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) ponders if she looks “Mechanical or just removed?” Elizabeth is studying Gracie for a role in which she plays her—a woman who had an affair with, then later married, a seventh grader when she was 36-years-old. The lurid is almost lost in the mundanity of the couple’s life together, as parents of high school twins and “beloved” members of their community, drawing Elizabeth into their strange (and manipulative) orbit as she shadows her.
🎧 “Culture Study” Podcast: Chances are you’ve noticed, or read, that your sweaters are garbage. For the most part, the quality of (even expensive) clothes has declined rapidly, a topictackles in her first podcast episode spinoff of her excellent newsletter. Each episode addresses a big—okay, maybe not “big,” but certainly interesting—question with an expert at the helm. Looking forward to next week’s!
📺 “Watchmen” on HBO Max: It’s been a while since a TV show has really gripped me, so I went back a few years to watch this 2019 miniseries based on the graphic novel of the same name. Holy cow, I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so sucked into a show. In case you also missed it the first time around: It’s set in roughly present-day Tulsa, where the entire police force wears masks to protect their privacy and the world is still reeling from an alien attack on New York City in the ‘80s. The show delves into intergenerational trauma and racism, as Angela Abar (Regina King) uncovers an insidious white supremacist plot in this super-watchable modern allegory.
Also really enjoyed ‘Leave the World Behind,’ the Netflix adaptation of Rumaan Alam’s popular 2020 novel.
Over the past two years, I’ve regularly, publicly shared my most personal moments, but as I photographed my junk drawer, I wondered if I was finally crossing a line. There’s nothing specifically embarrassing about its contents: A tin of probably stale weed gummies sits nestled against reusable candy cane straws, and there are far more rubber bands than anyone could reasonably expect to need in a lifetime. Fairly universal stuff (at least in Portland). Still, it feels especially vulnerable to share the spaces and items we all pretend don’t exist on social media. If cabinets are opened at all, it’s usually in the form of a painstakingly crafted shelfie or pristine pantry.
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Given those images, it’s easy to fetishize home organization as the cure-all solution to our endless stress. The truth is more nuanced. Sure it’s nice to have rainbow-colored bins and beauty products that resemble little works of art, but they can often distract from the real draw of an organized home: It creates more time for things that matter.
This is a long email, so you may have to hit “Expand” or read it in your browser!has made a career of delving into junk drawers and personal spaces, as a professional organizer and the author of and several books, including Minimalista: Your Step-By-Step Guide to a Better Home, Wardrobe, and Life. Her approach to home organizing—as a process that’s mindful of consumption—is one I can fully get behind: It centers her clients’s values and dismisses the myth that we need to buy more in order to be happy or organized. Below, I share our full conversation and her steps for home organizing, including the first question we should all begin with and, yes, photos of my junk drawer:
You can watch the clip below and listen to our entire conversation in the audio player above, and on Spotify in a few weeks!
The first thing I did after speaking with Shira was go through my pens. Since discovering this brand a few years ago, I’ve become fiercely loyal to it, yet it’s always buried beneath the heap of ballpoints I never use. I’m a fairly minimalist person, but had somehow schlepped a host of pens, cords, and desk supplies across several homes, despite never using them. It was Shira’s clarifying questions below, and the revelation that she has a “ten pen rule” in her house that finally kicked me into gear. The entire process of clearing my desk took five minutes and my neighbor, who teaches elementary school, was happy to take the extra supplies.
“Typically, when I start working with a client, I ask them what they want to create more space for in their life,” Shira says. There’s often “so much buried beneath the clutter,” including shame and paralysis. She asks them the following questions to help them clarify:
What do you want to create more space for in your life?
What are your current goals?
What are your values?
What are the things you want to do, that maybe you’re struggling with because you’re not organized?
“Now that we know what you do want, let's get rid of what you don't want and let's get rid of anything that's just creating more clutter and more distraction and more work for you.” As you’ve likely already guessed, this is easier said than done—especially when it comes to nostalgic items. Luckily, Shira has a few more questions she pulls from:
Challenge: The scarcity myth. Shira’s Solution: “The thing I see people asking again and again is, ‘But what if I need it?’” Shira believes that if you’re thinking about things from this scarcity or sunken cost lens, you’re always going to be able to rationalize keeping it. She flips the question and asks clients a question to bring them into the present, “But are [those items] adding value to your life right now? Or are they creating clutter?”Another good question, “Would I rather have the thing or the space?”
Challenge: Nostalgic and sentimental items. Shira’s Solution: “I try to put a physical boundary on that,” says Shira. She suggests selecting a container like a shoebox, and using only that because, “The less you have, the more valuable it feels.” Shira also recommends finding a way that your stuff can be of service.”
Challenge: Editing collections. Shira’s Solution: “I often counsel people to select one from a collection, so if someone has, say, a dozen mugs from college, pick one mug.”
Challenge: Rehoming unwanted items responsibly. Shira’s Solution: In advance of donating, identify a few spots you can easily go to for different categories, like your kids’ things, books, textile recycling, e-waste, etc. She also has a lot of clients who have had success posting to Buy Nothing groups and Craigslist Free.
The best part of this step is that it doesn’t necessitate a huge, or really any, “edit” but can still help with the functionality of your home.
Do “a fifteen-minute win.” Set a timer for fifteen minutes and make decisions in that time alone to get “out of overwhelm and into action.”
Group like items with like items. “If you have paper strewn on every surface, literally just gathering all the paper into one basket is going to make you feel better.” This can also be helpful, Shira points out, with corralling kids’ toys into larger bins (listen to her kids tips 32 minutes into the episode).
Clear the surface you work on every day.
This is where those rainbow bins come in. As Shira puts it, “Though it’s far from necessary, do you want unique linens or baskets or labels or matching hangers?”
Drawer dividers. If Shira is in favor of any purchase, this would likely be it, since they “give your mind a sense of order with clearly defined boundaries.”
Thank you again to Shira for sharing her tips! We chat about so much more in the full episode above, including the value of a purchase pause, holiday organizing tips, and being a more intentional consumer. You can follow Shira on Instagram here, subscribe to , and buy her books here.
In our episode, I ask Shira about what she’s doing less of to make room for more of something else. Just asdid last week, she offered a perfect answer, “I just want to spend less mindless consumption time on the internet and more time sitting and reading or creating my own content—or even just thinking or daydreaming.” It got me thinking that I would love to read about what you want less of, and what you’re making room for more of.