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Arts & Life

'Tidying up' for spring with Mrg Simon

Screenshot 2022-04-06 153402.jpg
NPR

The interview above is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment.

The pandemic has redefined work for millions of people. For some people, work-from-home opportunities increased joy and productivity. For others, pandemic transitions and adaptations were overwhelming.

Today we talk organization for home and for work. SDPB's Lori Walsh welcomed professional organizer Mrg (MERG) Simon to the Sioux Falls studio this week for insight into how to tidy up.

Simon is the owner of the organization consultation business Designed2Stick. She is also certified in the KonMari® method, created by the international business leader and organizational guru Marie Kondo.

The following transcript has been autogenerated.

Lori Walsh:

We did not clean up before you arrived. We talked about cleaning up before you arrived, but we did not tidy anything. Do you get that a lot?

Mrg Simon:

Yes, I do. I do, but it's fun. It's fun. There's nothing I like more than seeing a lived-in place and a really big mess is always exciting.

Lori Walsh:

This is one of the things, and I want to jump right into Marie Kondo and her work, that people often get wrong about her work, which is it's not about dumping everything that you own and having nothing left. Do you find that, too, that people have this idea that the end result of a Marie Kondo space is bare, monochromatic, and empty? Not so?

Mrg Simon:

Not so. That's the way Marie likes to live if you see photographs of her in her home with her family, but that is also part of the Japanese culture. It's not part of the American culture. A lot of people do enjoy minimalism, but in no way am I ever going to make someone throw something out that they don't want to. This is all about walking through with a person what they want to do with their belongings, what makes sense for them, and what supports their vision for their future.

Lori Walsh:

Where do you begin? It's spring, you're thinking about spring cleaning, but you're also looking at the time that we have been through. Deep sigh. Where do you start?

Mrg Simon:

The first thing I like to say is start with an easy win. Do a small project. That's going to take you 30 minutes, maybe an hour. What I did the other day was I tidied up underneath my kitchen sink. I hadn't done that in two years. For the most part, I knew what was under there, but my husband had snuck in a few things, and I had acquired some new cleaning tools, and so I took everything out, put it on the countertop. I did the same with the laundry room. I did them both at the same time because there's a lot of overlap and I was able to throw out expired things, get rid of squeegees that don't work anymore, things like that.

Mrg Simon:

Then I found a nice-sized container that I've literally had for 30 years or more, just a little plastic basket. I put all the dishwasher fluid, the Jet-Dry, the Dawn, all of those sorts of things all in this one basket. That kept everything corralled nicely, so I don't have to worry about a dishwasher pod mess all over the place, and then put everything back in an organized way, and I was done. It felt so good. I just wanted to share with my friends, tell my sisters, tell my husband when he got home, "Hey, guess what I did?" That's because when you tidy with a purpose, it really helps relieve stress and anxiety and it builds energy. It really builds energy and productivity. It's really a tool of growth and it's so much fun. I always find myself just wanting to share it with everybody.

Lori Walsh:

Do you hear that from clients as you work with them? Every client's different, everyone has different challenges, but I'm guessing most of them, if they're reaching out to you, have reached a point of overwhelm and then you watch them change as their space changes. Tell me about that.

Mrg Simon:

Yes. One client I had, we worked with their lake home because they wanted it to be a nice, quiet place where they and their children and grandchildren could come and just relax. As it was, it was overwhelming because it had become the depository of everything, including the large Rubbermaid totes filled with memorabilia from when her five children, I believe it is, were young, and they now all have grandchildren, and she always meant to go through those things. But at the lake home, it just never happened.

Lori Walsh:

Sure.

Mrg Simon:

Because she wanted to relax there and she didn't know where her to start, so we started with her closets, went through the clothing, and then she really wanted to tackle all those Rubbermaid totes. She really wanted to know before I left that day how she should deal with them, and so we went through one of them. About halfway through, there was a point where she found a photograph of her son, and she just lit up. It was a picture of her son feeding the geese at Capitol Lake and she told me the whole story behind it. I said, "That is what you keep, things that make you feel like that." When you look at all of your children's schoolwork and art projects and things like that they brought home, does that have a place in your future, or do you want to take a snapshot of it and then say goodbye to it?

Mrg Simon:

What she actually did, she had her own ceremony where she burned those things, thanked the universe, her higher power for having the opportunity to get the happiness out of them when she did and she can move on now. I later met with her and she just really raved about how freeing that was for her and how she had felt so overwhelmed when I walked in that door, and now, the lake cabin is a place to retreat to, for relaxation, for fun, for rest. There are no obligations hanging over her head, things she should do or should address. It's all about fun there.

Lori Walsh:

Hmm. That's nice. Tips for people who are making that transition from home office back to work, but yet they're sometimes working at home because more of us are doing sort of a hybrid thing? For me, I work at the office now, but I've still got all this stuff at home from when I was broadcasting from home, and I'm still kind of cleaning now. What are some of your recommendations for that home office/work office transition that many South Dakotans are dealing with?

Mrg Simon:

Well, there's a lot to discuss in the transitions. Before the pandemic, only about 4% of people worked from home. Within a year, that number had risen to 60%.

Lori Walsh:

Wow.

Mrg Simon:

Even today, national figures say that the occupancy rate in office buildings is only up to 40% from COVID. Obviously, South Dakota's not like New York City and most people are coming back or are doing a hybrid like you mentioned. When you're at home, you need to have a secluded space someplace where you can preferably close the door, or at least a little nook where you can put everything away at night when you're done working. Some people, when they worked at home, learned how to establish boundaries. Some people got worse at their boundaries. Whichever it is, you need to have a clear vision of what your boundaries are when you go back to work. When you go back to work, you need to have a discussion with your staff, with your supervisors as to what does the new normal look like. If when working from home, you took your 15-minute break and took your dog for a walk, are you still going to be able to take that 15-minute break and go for a nice relaxing walk?

Mrg Simon:

Another thing that's changed is, what are the expectations for the dress code?

Before the pandemic, business casual meant one thing. After the pandemic, it's even more casual, and you need to understand both the employers and the employees need to understand what the difference is, and what's going to be acceptable. Another thing that I think is a byproduct of all this is that when everybody was working from home, life at work became a meritocracy. Everything was based on what your production was.

Lori Walsh:

Productivity, yep.

Mrg Simon:

Yep. Most people when they got to work from home went, "Thank goodness. Now, I can finally focus on my work and they're more relaxed." They're happier. They're more productive. They come back to the office and some people aren't good at office politics. Some people aren't good at the chit-chat, the water cooler, that kind of thing. We all need to be conscious of whether we've lost that meritocracy and if office politics are starting to drive decisions on promotions and projects and things like that, because if that's the case, studies show that the average white male gets an advantage from that, and women and people of color are disadvantaged, and so without consciously thinking of it, without consciously addressing it, both the employer and the employee, you could set yourself up for a real messy situation when you come back to work, so if everyone is open about the expectations, going back to work, that's a big deal.

Lori Walsh:

When do people need help with organizing a home or office space? When can you just remind yourself that it's time to get back to, "Oh, I got to catch up," and then it's over? Who reaches out to you? What is the moment where you would encourage somebody to seek outside assistance in this, "Yeah, you just need a professional organizer at this point"?

Mrg Simon:

Yep, because most people don't need a professional organizer. If you want to know the Marie Kondo method of doing things, she's got several books you can check out from the library and do it yourself.

Mrg Simon:

But when you feel that you're overwhelmed by the task, when it's hard to know where to start, or in the office context, I like to say when you start losing things in your office, you can't find a client document, you're misplacing important files, electronic files, because tidying isn't just about the physical things, it's about your digital work life, too. If you're just getting overwhelmed by things, if you have a lot of stress, a lot of anxiety, having a professional organizer come in really brings down that stress level and it's a big sense of relief to people. When I show up, it's just like they can finally exhale. They still don't know where to start, but they feel like they can finally exhale because they have a guide. I guide them through the process. I walk beside them. I don't do it for them because it's not going to last if I'm doing it. They need to be the ones to do it so that it's organized for good.