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When Women’s Ministries Meet Messy Houses

A unique service idea

Professional organizers have been doing it for years. Television programs have started doing it, too. Over the years, from time to time, friends have gathered to help one another out of difficult household-organizing situations. Yes, group home-organizing has a rich and varied history.

The problem of disorganization seems to be getting more pronounced. But what are the guidelines for helping those caught in the clutches of disorganization? Until now there have been few directives for what can be a sensitive situation: entering someone else's house to help make changes. Stepping up to meet this need is an opportunity for the women's ministries of the church. They can offer support for members and outreach to the community. Like many other ministries, home-organization is an opportunity to do as Paul admonished in Galatians 6:10, "Do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith."

Maybe someone in your church feels immobilized by a recent loss, is chronically depressed, has just moved from a larger place, has never learned housekeeping skills, or has just had a baby…you can fill in the reason. Those who are gifted with natural organizing skills may have been able to remain organized in these circumstances. However, not everyone has the skills necessary to stay on top when things start spinning out of control. With added pressures, the person who was previously struggling to stay in control now finds herself overwhelmed. She may feels as if she is drowning in clutter and papers. "Help!" she cries silently as she tries to rally unsuccessfully to meet the challenge.

That's when the cavalry can come to the rescue. Some people are naturally gifted at organizing and find nothing more satisfying than bringing order out of chaos wherever they find it. They have abilities in executive functioning—they are good at setting goals, maintaining focus, determining consecutive steps, spatial relationships, and decision making. In short, they can envision what needs to be done and how to do it.

Disorganized folks march to the beat of a different drummer. Though they may be intelligent, creative, hardworking, and well-meaning, they lack one or more of the qualities required to organize easily or consistently. Oh, they may be able to hold it together when things are going well, but they cannot maintain organization when a crisis comes or the job just becomes too big.

In those circumstances, like the man robbed on the road to Jericho, they need the help of a Good Samaritan (or Samaritans) to help them get back on their feet.

Churches have always been attuned to helping those in need. However, helping with household organizing has not taken its place as one of the standard areas of support. Indeed, the whole concept of organizing is recent and was not an area of focus in the United States until the early 1980s, when our culture woke up to the increased pressure on individuals, particularly

women, to keep their organizational boats from sinking in the choppy waters of modern life. At that time, the housekeeping book Superwoman was popular, the National Association of Professional Organizers was formed (they now have more than 4,000 members), and I started Messies Anonymous, a self-help organization for people like me, who struggle with clutter. Other groups formed as well. Since that time houses have grown larger, belongings have become more prolific, and more and more people have been swamped with too many activities. Today, rarely does a women's magazine hit the stands without an article about organizing featured on the cover.

I've seen sporadic help given by churches when needed. Elizabeth rallied a group friends from her church to help her pack and remove items from her mother's apartment after her death. Ida, elderly and alone, lucked out when a group of young women from her church took on her house for regular organizing and cleaning attention. However, many needs go unmet for two reasons: For those who don't struggle with the issue, it's hard to believe it is such an intractable and serious problem for some people in some circumstances. And those needing help don't know where to find compassionate and knowledgeable assistance.

The book 5 Days to a Clutter-Free House, which I wrote with professional organizing veteran Marsha Sims, outlines how a group can mobilize itself to help when an organizational need presents itself. Before launching, a church ministry can break the ice of this topic by offering educational classes on organizing skills and then training a volunteer team to actually offer hands-on assistance to those who need it.

There may be a wide gulf between the way the neat people on the team and those who struggle with clutter think about the topic. The person living in the home must feel the group's respect even though she may be embarrassed about their reason for being there. Using a predetermined and tested game plan is guaranteed to make the mess disappear in jiffy time. Rightly done, getting your team to work together can be an uplifting experience for both the team and the person receiving help.

Before you begin, be sure to consider all the aspects that need to be covered. Our book explains how to sort, where to store, how to discard, and many other details to make your job successful. Adjust as you see the need, but be sure to hit the main points that deal with understanding and communication on a personal level. Nothing makes some women happier than bringing order out of chaos. For the woman who needs help, it is her chance to get a fresh start and learn new approaches and habits that will keep her from letting her home return to its messy condition. For the team members, there is the satisfaction of a job well done and the joy of helping someone out of a difficult situation. Finally, for everyone involved there is the fun of working together as a team and solidifying the bonds that initially drew them together.

The number of people in need of organizing help is greater than what is immediately obvious. Announce a meeting to share your vision. Cover organizing principles, characteristics of the disorganized, and team dynamics. Once you have a team dedicated to this purpose who develop proficiency in how to give help, you may find word will get out. Counselors and others who offer help with organizing are often surprised at the response they get once they begin to concentrate on this issue. (By the way, the problem of hoarding is a mental-health issue and not the focus of this plan.) Social services of various types face dilemmas of how to proceed when they reach out to help some of their clients who are too disorganized to cooperate.

You may wish to develop your own approach, use the one in our book, or meld the book's approach with yours. There is no telling how much benefit can be had when a good-hearted and educated team works together to meet such a fundamentally basic need.

Sandra Felton, The Organizer Lady®, is a pioneer in household organization. She is the author of many books on the topic, including the newest book,5 Days to a Clutter-Free House, and is the founder of Messies Anonymous. Further information may be found at www.messies.com.

April01, 2013 at 8:00 AM

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