Real Life Organizing:  Clean And Clutter-Free in 15 Minutes A Day book review

I recently finished reading Real Life Organizing: Clean and Clutter-Free  in 15 Minutes-A-Day, by Cassandra Aarssen, which inspired me to write this article.  I absolutely loved this easy-to-read book, and have found several of her suggestions to be very helpful.  In fact, I agree with the author that learning to organize and declutter your home can really transform and energize your life.

No matter what type of clutter bug you may be ~ a butterfly, cricket, ladybug, or bee ~ Aarssen has tips to help you organize, and create a home space that practically maintains itself!

If you need help learning how to best organize and declutter your living space, especially if your brain leans right of center,  I highly recommend two books that teach how to organize depending on your unique style and needs.

Organizing For Your Brain Type: Finding Your Own Solution to Managing Time, Paper, and Stuff, by Lanna Nakone, and Real Life Organizing: Clean and Clutter-Free in 15 Minutes A Day, which I review in this article.

I first read, Organizing For Your Brain Type:  Finding Your Own Solutions to Managing Time, Paper, and Stuff, by Lanna Nakone, M.A.,  several years ago.  I found it in our local library, and learned after taking her short quiz that I had a 'harmonizer' brain style.  

Harmonizers value their time with family and friends.  They have a strength of interconnectedness, which I separately discovered to be one of my 'five strengths' as per the online test I took ~ available to those who have purchased the corresponding book, Strengths Finder 2.0.  (That book really opened my eyes up to the many varied strengths we have that we either take for granted, or never realized to be a strength!)

What I remember of Nakone's recommendations  for harmonizer brain types was to focus on things having a more general landing place.  In other words, macro versus micro organize, something Cassandra Aarssen discusses in her book, Real Life Organizing:  Clean and Clutter-Free in 15 Minutes A Day as well.

Nakone also recommends harmonizers to just say no to clipping coupons and recipes.  Once I read that, I happily gave up my coupon-clipping efforts.  However, I admit, I do still clip and save recipes....but just a few!

Since I just finished Real Life Organizing, Clean and Clutter-Free in 15 Minutes A Day, by Cassandra Aarssen,  it's more fresh in my mind.  In fact I took LOTS of notes, so I could write a post, and possibly create a video about how I've been learning to organize and declutter and transform my living space.

Both books offer a short quiz to determine your style of organizing.  

One determines which of the four  brain lobes are dominant in your life, the other  likens your organizing style to one of four bugs.  Yes bugs.  

I must say, while I was definitely a posterior right lobe harmonizer type who needs to learn how to organize effectively enjoy a peaceful environment, I was pretty even across the board in the bug department.  

I determined my biggest quirks or obstacles to organizing to be the out of sight, way out of mind (visual Butterfly type ) and the multiple creative projects going at one time, which remain out until done (Busy Bee type ) and apply the particular bug strategy appropriately!  

I also have a bit of the logical, practical, keep things in orderly piles until able to create a suitable organizing method (Perfectionist Cricket type).  

For those who look super organized on the surface, and maintain clean, clutter-free living areas, but need a hard hat before opening your closet door, you may be the Ladybug type.

From the foreword in Real Life Organizing:

"...our homes are metaphors for our lives ~ they tell our story and show the world who we are.  I believe its impossible to make your best choices, your most enlightened, spiritually rich, emotionally stable choices in a cluttered and disorganized home.  It just can't happen."

~ Peter Walsh, author of
How To Organize Just About Everything

What type of Clutterbug are you?  Here are some tips for your unique style.  You can take the quiz to determine which Clutterbug you are in the beginning of Cassandra Aarssen's book, Real Life Organizing:  Clean and Clutter-Free in 15 Minutes a Day, or check out her website, linked below for more.

The first thing you will determine when reading Real Life Organizing is what type of clutter bug you are, along with suggestions to help you organize, based on your type.  She has a simple quiz to take to identify which particular clutter bug you are:

Butterfly - These are people who are more visual, artistic, and creative types who may have difficulty putting things away when done.  They especially may feel that if something is out of sight, it's out of mind, especially with respect to paper work!  For these types:

  • Use clear or bright colored bins
  • Label everything
  • Use a vertical storage system that involves the use of chalk boards, or cork boards for visual reminders
  • Place hooks around, such as on the backs of doors for stray belongings, holding not quite ready to launder clothes, etc.
  • Schedule time to organize
  • Try open shelving
  • Have a friend help with sorting and decluttering

As Cassandra points out, Vertical is Visible, Horizontal is Hidden.  

Cricket - These people are logical, practical, perfectionists that may create systems that are too detailed, or don't do something until they can 'do it right.' Cassandra suggests:

  • Learn to let go!
  • Create systems that are good enough.  Learn to macro organize.  You can always go back and fine-tune, or micro organize later.
  • Use vertical filing systems like a magazine rack near your desk, with files such as 'to pay', 'to file', 'to review', etc.  Make use of action files that are clearly labeled.
  • Set a timer, and organize quickly!
  • Use a scanner
  • Place an open basket on your desk or counter to collect piles until ready to put away, then when full, put it away
  • Make to-do lists ~ on paper or your phone ~ and maintain a daily, weekly, and monthly calendar where you can check off items once accomplished
  • Use a shredder
  • Play music while organizing

Lady Bug - Cassandra puts herself in this category, and refers to how beautiful the lady bug is on the outside, w/ a cute polka-dotted, red shell, but looks like a "horror show inside".  These people may have tidy living areas, but can be hoarders beneath the surface.  Surface clutter stresses lady bugs out, so things get shoved into drawers and closets.  Her recommendations for other fellow lady bugs include:

  • Micro organizing using drawer organizers and open containers for different items, such as batteries, rubber bands, pens, jewelry, etc.
  • Weekly projects of 15+ minutes working on one hidden area at a time.  Schedule it, it's that important!
  • As a rule of thumb, if it is hard to put it away, you won't!  Use containers without lids, and beautiful baskets
  • Create clear labels
  • Create zones in each room where things naturally land, and have pretty open baskets to catch these items to avoid it appearing like clutter, but is easy enough to use
  • Consider using a binder with clear plastic sleeves for important household papers, coupons, recipes, etc.

Bee - These folks tend to work hard, and play hard, and often have at least one project or hobby going.  They tend to wait until finishing to put everything away, but often will work on multiple projects at a time, leading to clutter.  And by project, Cassandra includes reading, cooking or baking, paper projects, or someone who is self-employed.  If you have a lot of stuff, whether exercise equipment, books, photos, tools, or art supplies, here are a few suggestions to help you organize and declutter, even if you are a busy bee:

  • Keep less than 3 projects going at one time
  • Consider scrapping a project that has been hanging around unfinished for any length of time, or for which you have lost interest
  • Donate or sell what no longer using, especially exercise equipment, pots and pans, etc.
  • Realize there are limited hours in the day.  As Cassandra says, bees are masters of good intentions.
  • Make a priority list for your self, and your home, and finish those tasks first
  • Refer to an easy to see and use monthly calendar, along w/ outlining weekly chores, and daily tasks.  Having a well-planned daily schedule will help the busy bee.
  • I think this one is key:  Use boxes for each project, such as a stackable banker box.  Put project items in the box, label it, and at the end of each day, put the box away on a shelf.  This way, each project is all self contained, and easy to keep out of sight, yet easily accessible.

I found just the tips on how to organize and declutter for each clutterbug type to be quite helpful, in and of themselves.  And that was only the beginning chapter!

"In order to stay organized, your home has to be more than just a clean and clutter-free looking space.  It needs to be functional."

"To have a functional home, one that practically cleans itself, you need to make sure that all the items you use every day are in the easiest to access place in the most high traffic areas of your home."
~ Cassandra Aarssen, author of
Real Life Organizing:  Clean and Clutter-Free in 15 Minutes A Day

I think Aarssen sums up the key to organizing that I have certainly found over the years, throughout all my efforts to organize and de-clutter my living and work spaces, and keep it maintained: "If something is hard to put away, we probably just won't do it."

Whether we all have an inherently lazy aspect to our personality, or we just want to perform our daily living tasks as efficiently as possible ~ to free our time for other activities ~ I am a firm believer in arranging things so that even in our laziest moments, we have systems set up that are fail-proof.  

It is super easy to accumulate things.  It is much more challenging to let things go.  If we want to be successful in life, especially as a Strong Spirit Woman, learning to organize and declutter can better help us realize our dreams.

Now that you have an idea of how to organize in a way that best balances your clutterbug style, there are a few of her many other suggestions for how to get your home set up so that it is practically self-maintaining, by committing to doing just 15 minutes of tidying and cleaning each day.

The first step when beginning to organize and declutter your space is to identify your core trouble areas.  Consider how you want your home to look and function.  

Aarssen has you set up a plan.  Begin with an area of your home that has the biggest clutter issues for the greatest impact ~ kitchen counters, bedroom, office zone, etc.

Make a list of each task that needs to be done.  Break projects down into 15 minute tasks.

Begin with one drawer, closet or cupboard at a time.  You will feel more accomplished when done, and more motivated to continue to the next project.

You can begin by separating your items out in the area you are working.  Decide what you can toss, recycle, donate, or keep.  Have bags or boxes ready to catch each, then immediately take items being donated  out to the car.

For hoarders, and those who have a hard time letting go of certain items, say gifts from family members, or expensive items that you no longer use, Aarsen has plenty of great suggestions for how to handle what she calls 'Guilty Clutter" or "Expensive Clutter."

Aarssen also has a great acronym for helping with the organizing and decluttering process:

  • S - SORT
  • P - PURGE
  • A - ASSIGN

A big mistake many make when first attempting to organize and declutter their home or even just a closet is to buy containers first, before knowing exactly what size is needed, how they will best be used, and where they will go.

Sort and purge first.  Look at what you have, refer to your clutter bug style and determine what types of bins or baskets will work best for you.  Then you get to have some fun and go shopping for bins or baskets.  (Or check out some of those offered here through Amazon.)

Don't forget to label!

If the thought of trying to purge your belongings is sending you into a panic, don't worry, as Aarssen has some great suggestions, such as box up what you are at least willing to consider donating.  Anything you have not really used in 6 months to a year is a good place to start.  Tape the box, write a date 6 months from the current day, and put it away.  Out of the way.  After 6 months, if you never found yourself going to get something you needed from that box, and in fact, you never missed any of it, then go ahead and donate it.

There are so many great tips in Real Life Organizing, but what I also enjoyed was Aarssen's own personal stories of her journey to becoming more organized, especially as a mother of three kids running an in-home day care center.  She has great suggestions for helping to finally gain control of all those toys!  

She even has created systems that empower children to manage their own toys, with open bins of like items they can easily pull out and put away themselves.  In fact, she has empowered her own children to keep their bedrooms clean, get their own bowls, plates, utensils, snacks, and then put it all away in easy to manage systems that maintain themselves once in place.

Here are a few decorative baskets and bins, along with the groovy chalk labels that Aarssen recommends several of the Clutterbug types to use throughout Real Life Organizing.

To keep your own home organized and clutter-free, you will want to come up with a morning and evening cleaning task list.  The items should be easy to accomplish in 15 minutes.  

Aarssen sings the virtues of placing making your bed on the top of your morning to-do list. 

Just spending a few minutes making your bed can do wonders for your psyche. It is much nicer to retire at the end of a day in a bed that has been made.

The way to transform your life is by committing to your list of items to do each morning and evening.  This has been the most empowering part for me.  Since writing out my lists of 'to-dos' I have created a new habit of making sure I go through my daily tasks, whether in the morning or evening before bed.  

It is a great feeling to come home to a clean, clutter-free apartment!  (You can read about my adventures in getting organized here.)

Once you get in the habit of doing at least 15 minutes or so of purging, cleaning, or organizing on a daily basis, you will feel more organized, which builds your confidence.  

You will spend so much less time looking for lost items as well, especially once you create a landing zone near your front entry for things you tend to plop down on the kitchen counter, and a container or hook for your keys and purse ~ one of Aarssen's tips which I had set up previously, after reading Nakone's book.  

Everything needs a home!  Once you have a home for items that otherwise tend to get misplaced, or accumulate into clutter, you will have much greater clarity of mind.  

You could say that the clutter reflects what is going on inside your head; if you want greater clarity in life, try cleaning out your drawers!

If you need help getting started, I definitely think you'll be inspired by reading Real Life Organizing!

As Aarssen writes, "Here is the harsh reality of our precious "stuff."  The more we have, the more it takes from us.  It takes our time to clean and maintain it, it takes our money to buy and store it, and it takes a ton on us emotionally when it begins to pile up."

"When your home is cluttered and out of control, you can't help but feel out of control yourself."

"Remember, your belongings are replaceable, but your time and well-being are not."  ~ Cassandra Aarssen, author of Real Life Organizing:  Clean and Clutter-Free in 15 Minutes a Day.

Real Life Organizing cover

Cassandra includes several copies of various pages in Real Life Organizing to help you with your daily, weekly, and monthly tasks.  You can also download more from her website once you've purchased her book, linked below.

My Daily Cleaning Checklist from Real Life Organizing
Daily Planner Page from Real Life Organizing
Weekly Goals Planning Page from Real Life Organizing

As much as I thoroughly enjoyed reading Real Life Organizing, what got to me the most was what I read towards the end.  Cassandra shares her story about moving out from their 900 square foot home in a "not so nice neighborhood" and realizing her life-long dream of finding a home near the water.  As she recounts, she spent years looking at listings to see if she could find an affordable waterfront property.  

One day she found a house listed in a great neighborhood that backed onto a tiny river in the back yard.  They went to look at it that day, and fell in love.  As she states, "...I went directly into the backyard with my husband to see this little river for myself.  It was everything I had hoped for, filled with geese and ducks and dozens of their tiny babies swimming in adorable lines.  It wasn't just the baby ducks; it was the sound of birds and bugs and flowing water that made the tiny backyard feel like paradise."

Perhaps since I have had a similar yearning for so much of my own life ~ to own a piece of land, amidst beautiful hardwood and pine trees, with a beautiful view, and yes, ideally with a creek or river running through it, or up against a small lake or pond ~ that I choked up a bit reading that part.  

Dreams can come true.  And I agree with Cassandra, you can transform your life when you learn how to get organized, and keep it that way.  Real Life Organizing is a real treasure to read.

Learn more about the different clutter bug styles discussed in Real Life Organizing at Cassandra's great website, Clutterbug.Me.  You can subscribe to her site to have access to her downloadable organizing and goal planning pages.  If you think of it, let her know I sent you!

Read about my adventures in organizing, and see how well I've implemented the suggestions outlined in Real Life Organizing in our small one-bedroom apartment, with minimal storage.  Did I mention, on a budget too?

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If you decide to get a copy of Real Life Organizing:  Clean and Clutter-Free in 15 Minutes a Day, let me know what you think!  Which strategies worked best for you?

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