Interview With The Zen Organizer and Best Selling Author Regina Leeds

by Hank Coleman

I recently had the pleasure to talk with Regina Leeds who is a professional organizer and the best selling author of “One Year To An Organized Life“ and “One Year To An Organized Financial Life“, among other books. I have really enjoyed her tips on staying organized both in life, work, and in your budget. You can check out my review of “One Year To An Organized Financial Life” as well.

I was able to ask her a few questions about organizing and money matters, and I thought that you would really like her answers and point of view.

What does organization have to do with money?

I was just thinking of a wonderful Zen proverb that I cite in most of my books: ‘The way a man does one thing is how he does everything.’  I urge readers to eat well, drink water, get exercise and meditate.  For the finance book some reviewers were mystified.  What did those things have to do with money?  We live in a time when being compartmentalized is seen as a ‘good thing.’  I take the holistic approach to life.  We need to integrate our many parts and recognize our essential humanity.  An organized home makes it easier to think.  Water, exercise and meditation will enhance our ability to be calm and peace filled.  Here’s my question: do you want to make decisions about your finances from that place in your being?  Or do you want to make decisions from a chaotic environment that sabotages your best efforts at every turn.

If you had to give only one piece of advice, what would it be?

Never, ever, ever give up or give in! The whole of any project is overwhelming but if you break it down into manageable chunks you can achieve anything.  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time!

Did you grow up in an organized house?

Oh yes!  My mother was very organized.  She lived by the motto: ‘There is a place for everything and everything must be in its place so the next time you need it you will know exactly where to find it.’  She was grooming me for a profession that didn’t yet exist.  I’m very grateful!

If I’m overwhelmed, what is the best way to start out about getting organizing?

Take some time to create good habits.  It takes 21 consecutive days of repeating an action before it becomes a habit.  If you cultivate two a month in no time you will have changed the way you feel about your ability to get organized.  You can influence those with whom you share the space … without saying a word, just by your example.  And you will have shifted the energy in your home. My favorite habits are: make your bed every day; put your keys in the same place the minute you enter your home; wash dirty dishes immediately and put them away.  All of my books are full of habit suggestions.  You don’t have to stop with these!

Can everyone become organized? Or, are some people too far gone? Can everyone learn?

It’s a skill and anyone can learn.  You will have to study the basics and practice just like learning a musical instrument or mastering a sport.  Your success is commensurate with your desire and commitment.

At what point do we need to throw in the towel and get help? Is there a breaking point?

We all have things we can’t do on our own.  I have an IT guy because as much as I love and use technology, I don’t know how to fix it when it breaks.  If you need the help of a professional organizer be sure you have a good match in terms of personality.  This is your guide and your teacher not your boss!

If you talk about organizing and nothing ever gets done, call in the troops.  But do consider the possibility that you need to fix something physical or emotional first!  If your spouse just died or you are going through chemo, the organizing might best be put on hold for a few months.

What are the warning signs we should look for?

How you think is on display in your environment. I know that’s scary to a lot of people but there you are. If you leave your home and upon your return pretend you have never been in this space before, ask yourself ‘what do I know about this person from their environment?’  In the movies and television the set designer tells you about the characters through their stuff.  You tell other people about yourself in the same way.  It’s not just your hobbies and interests you reveal.  You tell the world how you feel about yourself and your life!

Another thing is to simply consider the way you are functioning: are your bills paid on time?  Are you late for appointments?  Do you waste time looking for things? Do you schedule projects and then give your time to other things?  These are all danger signals.

What do you think about multi-tasking? Is it worth it or over-hyped?

It is possible to multi-task and use your time well.  The issue I have is that most people have no clue how to do that and instead of being more productive, they are stressing themselves out to the max. Here’s a bad example: I’m responding to your questions.  I read my e-mail every time I hear that ‘ding.’  At the same time I’m on the phone and I deal with whoever walks into the room via sign language. Nothing gets done well because it’s impossible to focus.  It’s the real life equivalent to the jump cuts in a music video.  You never really see any image long enough to view it clearly or appreciate it.

Here are two examples of quality multi-tasking:  I’m taking the train or bus home from school or work.  I respond to e-mails via my phone or lap top.  Perhaps I find myself in the doctor’s office waiting to be seen.  I can step outside and return calls or sit and read reports. See the difference?

Regina Leeds uses a Zen philosophy to bring clarity, simplicity, and order to your personal finances. Organization and money go hand in hand. It affects us in our everyday lives as well as our work environment. Our lives will be more organized and efficient if we follow Regina’s tips, and our money will surely follow our lead.

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