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  • Cheryl Libutti

Organizing vs. Styling: What's the Difference?


Rainbow colored bookshelves, minimalist tablescapes, matching bins and baskets all lined up in a row, aspirational pictures of rooms we see online that don't look like anyone actually lives in the home... this is STYLING a space.


- See this picture to the left? It's a stylized closet. All the clothing is the same color family (peach, cream, and grays) and it has a great built-in shelving system. And only six pairs of shoes, which are also peach and gray. Beautiful picture, but not how real closets look. -


Styling is a beautiful, creative art form which gives us ideas, inspiration, and a little surge of endorphins whenever we look at them. We can copy a look or a vibe that a room has with furniture, paint colors, accessories, artwork and lighting. Styling is what we're looking at while watching organizing shows and home makeover shows, and looking at before and afters in magazines.


But the reality is that we don't live in styled spaces. We live in real rooms with mail, clothing bought online that needs to be returned, dishes in the sink, papers from school, abandoned art projects, post it notes, potato chip bags, toys, books, pens, receipts, catalogs, and papers from work. And this is just a partial listing of items on my kitchen counters and home office desk right now. :)


Don't be discouraged if your space doesn't look like a styled space. It takes an awesome amount of money, time, skill, and discipline to make a styled space. And people don't generally live in them.


What you CAN work on is ORGANIZING your space. What does that mean? It means you know what you have, you know where it lives, it lives comfortably in the space, like items are together, items are not duplicated and overflowing, and you can easily access it and put it back.


Does this look styled? It can.


Or it can be using the items and containers that you have, mismatched and not-so-shiny-new, but you know where things belong and there's a system. And- this is the most important part- if your rooms get messy, you can easily put it back together looking neat and tidy.


Do you have a system for sorting and processing mail? Do you have all your clothing in your closet or in drawers? Can you find important papers like your birth certificate or passport in under 2 minutes? Can you open your cabinets and prepare a meal in under an hour? Could you vacuum your floors and dust your surfaces and not have to skip big chunks because stuff is blocking your progress? Is your memorabilia all in one spot, safe from temperature changes and water exposure? Are your bills paid on time? Could you host a family dinner for 8 people by the end of the week and be comfortable having people over?


If you answer yes, then this reflects your organization, not your styling. These questions are exactly things that I help clients establish systems for to be more organized. ( And by system, I mean just a simple process. Don't let the word "system" scare you. Here's an example of a system that we use to process mail: my husband gets the mail from yesterday in the morning (our delivery doesn't come until 4-5 pm). He places it on the kitchen counter. When I come downstairs, I go through the pile, recycle the junk mail, open the bills and letters, throw out the envelopes and make decisions. Is it a bill? Then it goes in my bill holder to be paid. Does it require a phone call or followup? Then it stays on the counter until it's done in the next day or two. I add things to my online calendar, file coupons in my coupon folder, and generally try to make that pile disappear as quickly as possible. Because I do this everyday, I'm only processing 3-4 pieces of mail each day, which is very manageable. The whole process takes about 5 minutes and then when I have a free half hour, I try to make any phone calls or followups.)


You may see a space that is beautifully styled but the systems are not in place for a person to be organized. You may open a drawer or closet and it's a jumble of papers and clothes and extras and unfinished projects and unmade decisions.


Many people want to get to the styling part- they want things to look nice, to feel clean and neat, and to feel good about having friends and family to their home. The styling part is FUN. It involves making it look pretty, shopping for beautiful containers and bins, and admiring the end result. But people often start by decluttering and get spoiled bogged down in that process that they never get to the fun part- the styling. Likewise, sometimes people jump ahead, buy all the things, but never really do the work to declutter and establish routines, so they have all their clutter AND $250 of beautiful containers.


The organizing- the decluttering and establishing systems- is the foundation of a great space and the styling is the pretty jewelry on top. I help people through the whole process, right by their side, teaching them and strategizing what makes the most sense for how they live and think. We declutter, we establish systems, and then we do the pretty styling.


It's not easy. It can be a long haul. It involves letting go of things, making lots of decisions, giving up on projects you intended to complete, and looking at what is realistic right now, as well as a hard look at what you buy and how often you buy it. But it is so worth it! The freedom and energy you have to see your spaces smiling at you, the burden lifted and gone from your shoulders.


So don't be fooled by styled spaces- be inspired to get to that point after establishing what you need to be organized!!


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