Dorothy Breininger is a woman on a mission. When she’s not producing and appearing in A&E’s Emmy-nominated weekly series, Hoarders, she can be found in L A organizing everyone from university professors to moms. Not only is Dorothy a certified professional organizer, she is an author, motivational speaker and life coach! Whew! Good thing she is organized!
Recently I had the chance to talk to Dorothy and I found out that we have a good deal in common. We both grew up in the great state of Wisconsin not very far from each other. We both hail from that strong German heritage that flourished and thrived in Wisconsin and we both ended up moving to and living in Los Angeles for the past several decades. I had a delightful time talking with Dorothy and she shared not only a little about her life but provided us with some tools to help us all get organized!
IW: Let’s get right down to business. Keeping with your name,DorothytheOrganizer, I know that you have some of your best organizational tips to share with us.
DB: I do! The reason why I love the name Imperfect Women and love your site is because I think it is a great match for my top 10 organizational tips. My tips definitely align with what I see happening in an imperfect woman’s life these days. Here we go:
1. Avoid perfection at all cost.
I was so gleeful when I happened upon your site and saw the word imperfect. It is the single biggest barrier to getting a project done. We get caught up in the whole “we need to have color folders and I ran out of a color or the bins don’t match” and on and on. That is what I call the beautification project and not the organizational process. The organizational process is just getting it set up to make sense so that it is findable, retrievable and useable.
2. Have an “I don’t know” pile.
When we start sorting, there is also another barrier to getting organized and that is indecision. It doesn’t fit into any of the categories we have created and suddenly it stops the flow. So I encourage everyone to have an “I don’t know” pile. Store it in a box labeled “I don’t know” and open it in a month or a year down the road. When you open it you are going to say “really”? At that point it will become clear to you because you will be in a different place in your life. Why agonize and suffer and why stop the process because this stuff is in your way? I do a lot of work on talk shows and have lots of clients that are non hoarders and successful in their fields and still the indecision comes. So they just have to let it go, set it aside and keep moving on.
3. In terms of paper, try to only deal with the year that you are living in right now.
The number one disorganized area of the home or office is paper. If you are trying to organize paper right now, start with 2012. Once you are done with the current year, then you can go to the previous year. There will be an exception to that rule if there is an ongoing health or financial situation that might continue into the next year. You might need to hold something aside.
4. Decide whether you are a packer and a filer vs. a stacker.
I would venture to guess that most people are not filers but that is what we have been trained to do. We have this sense that we need to get to the filing. However, who really wants to deal with that after a long day of work? So you have piles! Your piles may say, work, school, kids or whatever fits your needs. You have organized piles. If you use piles to organize, I suggest you take a bookcase and use that to store your organized piles of paper. Bookcases are great for holding books but they are even better for holding piles. At the end of the year you go through the piles and get rid of what is no longer needed.
5. Time – Ask yourself, “What is the single most important thing I need to accomplish today? What is the one thing I need to get done today no matter what?”
If your focus is on at least the one thing that has to get done no matter what, everything else seems to fall into place. The commitment is to that one thing but I guarantee you will get so much more done. This will also give you a sense of satisfaction and you will feel better about yourself at the end of the day.
6. Delete things from your daily calendar that are not a priority.
My clients tell me that they feel so overwhelmed. I look at my client and say “show me your calendar.” I look at it and say, “Tell me what you can delete from your day?” Clients look at me horrified because we don’t look at life that way. We look at life as what do I have to do and not what do I have to do to stop. Look, something is not going to get done anyway. Now is time to tell the brutal truth? Come on, you know it. Don’t keep it a secret.
7. Avoid acquiring too much stuff.
We can organize ourselves by not getting the stuff into our house in the first place. To do this we need to stick to our brand. Whether it is clothes, food or electronics, there is a certain brand that you have used and know and like. For example, if you buy a certain line of clothing such as JCPenny, you know the size and colors all work together as a system. You don’t have to spend time shopping, mixing and matching and then giving it away because you don’t have something that goes with it. Just know that a lot of my tips are from my own personal research that I have researched first- hand. 😉
8. Keep all your essential documents in one place.
We live in California where we have fires all the time. The first thing people say is, “I wish I had my insurance documents, or health records or my photos.” So get those things together and into something that you can easily carry. One of the companies I own is called DelphiVIM which stands for Delphi Vital Information Manager. You can keep all of your documents on the cloud. You never have to run and get your documents. If something happens, you can go to your local library and call it up on the internet. It is safe and secure.
9. Managing Magazines
When it comes to magazines you need to decide where you read your magazines and create a pile there. I have this little shelf by my bed.Once the magazines no longer fit on that shelf it means….”Dorothy time to review.” It is an easy visual. This isn’t about buying another item to store the magazines in. This is about saying, “I am not reading the magazines.” It is a real truth teller when you can see the evidence in front of you.
10. Closets – are you a hook person or a hanger person?
You can have both but sometimes having a lot of hooks in a closet space can save the day. Especially for kids and men. They are so much more likely to put clothes on a hook than a hanger and it is so much easier and less to fight about. It is a compromise. There is something about hanging clothes that is a killer. Did I already mention that this is research first hand? (laughing) You can depart from the aesthetic and get into what really works for the person.
IW: Thanks for those tips! Can you tell us a little bit about your professional life?
DB: Primarily, I am a professional organizer and I provide organizing services to huge corporations and institutions like Harvard, UCLA and Southern California Edison. I also work with celebrities, moms, hoarders…anyone that has something to get organized in their lives whether it is in their head or in their space.
IW: What would you do for an institution like UCLA?
DB: I do a lot of lot of speaking gigs for UCLA and the whole UC system in California for that matter. Because it is a public institution and due to the economy, people are constantly needing to downsize and work with less assistance. I work with professors, faculty members, PHD students…everybody on how to organize your work life with smaller space and fewer people. That is one aspect of it. The other aspect is physical space. I ended up organizing nearly all of the Dean’s offices at UCLA.
IW: And of course you are one of the organizing specialists on the hit TV show, Hoarders.
DB: Yes! Hoarders just got picked up for season six a few days ago so we will start filming shortly. I am one of the experts on the show as well as one of the producers of the show and I actually brought Matt Paxton on the show.
IW: I know you recently lost quite a bit of weight. Can you share anything about that?
DB: I have lost 65 pounds and I will be in this month’s Shape magazine. I did it with no sugar and no flour and I am going on seven months of really living this life of no sugar, no flour. Plus, being in a community of people has helped me. I do a 12 step group and I take it very seriously. I believe in terms of organizing around your values. So what is your highest value in life? For some people it is making a lot of money, for some traveling or family. For me it is organizing around my health. When I finally figured that out for myself, suddenly everything in life fell into its priority order.
IW: I saw that you went to the Grammys this past month. How cool was that?
DB: I did! It was a gift from a client. I don’t usually accept “things” from clients. People want to give me things a lot but keeping clutter in mind, I usually don’t want to bring things into my house. But in this case, I was willing to accept it because it was an experience and not a thing. It really was a wonderful experience.
IW: I also wanted to mention your Cherished Memories – The Story of My Life book that is for sale on your website DOROTHYtheORGANIZER.com. I love that concept and it something that I need to share with my family members.
DB: Yes! I was on QVC two or three times with those books and we sold out. That book is really big around Mother’s Day. What mothers want is to share their stories and they want their families to understand how important their lives have been. That goes for most of our parents. We also found that as an organizing tool this works well for Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients. You have a lot of caretakers coming in and out of your loved one’s home or the facility that they are staying in and this book can give them valuable information about your family member’s past. This is a great tool to get to know someone quickly when they can’t really speak for themselves. A caregiver can gain a wealth of information from this book that can allow them to work effectively with the person they are caring for and have a common ground. It also inspires family members to have conversations when it can be uncomfortable.
I not only helped create the project but I used it. I sat down with my mom on Sundays for a little over a year. Here I was in my 40s and I knew my mother as a woman who irritated me slightly and at times annoyed me. After interviewing my mother to put together this book, I saw a different woman. I found out that at the age 12, my mother had to become the cook for her family members. Their house was destroyed by a bomb (she was living in Germany) and there was no stove to cook on or food to eat. Yet, she went down to the street and got a grate from the street and turned it upside down and turned it into a stove. At the age of 12. Suddenly I saw my mother as this woman of complete innovation, ingenuity and creativity and I loved her like I never loved her before. And shame on me for not having done that sooner.
IW: I think we all go through that in our twenties or thirties.
DB: …….. I was a slow learner on that one.
Imperfect Women would like to thank Dorothy for giving us some helpful suggestions on getting our imperfect, sometimes chaotic lives just a little bit more organized!
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