The Eyes of a Stranger

I recently had the experience of being photographed by the New York Times. I had been interviewed earlier this month by a Times reporter for an article on tackling clutter in the new year. The author decided which of my quotes she planned to use, then arranged for a photographer to come to my home and take pictures of me in the act of organizing the areas I spoke about. (You can see the article here.)


Organizing my junk drawer, as shown in the New York Times

The first thing we did was visit my junk drawer. The photographer took many closeups of the drawer, then we put it on my dining room table and she photographed me in the process of organizing it. Happily, one of those photos of me ended up in the newspaper and is also part of the on-line slide show that accompanied the article.

The advice I had provided about junk drawers was to use a drawer organizer to keep similar items together, rather than letting them rattle around in the drawer. When I first decided several years ago to organize my junk drawer, I was so taken with the results that I opened my drawer every time I passed it, just to gaze upon its loveliness.

But a funny thing happened when I had a stranger gazing into my junk drawer with a telephoto lens. I had the urge to organize it better. It just didn’t seem neat enough anymore. There were definitely things there that I knew I would never use. The photo that appeared in the paper was not me pretending to organize the drawer. I was actually cleaning it out!

When I first became a Professional Organizer ten years ago, I read a book by the industry veteran Kathy Waddill. Kathy had developed a methodology called Eyes of a Stranger. That phrase came to mind when the photographer was peering into my junk drawer. While my drawer organization was sufficient for the purpose of finding something that I knew was in there, I suddenly saw more of its weaknesses than its benefits when someone else was studying it closely. And I knew that if the photo were published, many more strangers would be looking at it and judging me for being insufficiently organized.

That sounds a bit crazy, because it’s still amazingly organized for a junk drawer. But it made me think about how we get so used to our surroundings and don’t notice things the way a visitor would. That’s why I can go into a client’s home and ask about something out of place that he or she has not been aware of for a long time.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by your clutter and don’t know where to start, walk into a room and pretend to be a stranger. Look at it one section at a time. If you were a visitor in your home, what would you be noticing? Those are the things to address first. Make believe that the New York Times photographer is on her way over. What should you be tackling before she gets there?