Lis McKinley

S3E5 Transcript: How to Make Room in Your Life for What Matters

Cathy Hi, Lis. Welcome to Financial Finesse.

Lis Hi, Cathy, I’m delighted to be here. Great to see you.

Cathy It’s so good to see you too. I know we saw each other pre COVID, maybe two years ago or so. That seems like 100 years ago.

Lis It really does. Such a different world.

Cathy Yeah, thank God, things are changing. We’ll have to see each other in person soon. Because I know you’re in Oakland too.

Lis I would love that.

Cathy Yes. So um, let’s get into it. I want to ask you some questions about what you do. You provide a very valuable service to people in your organizing business. And I know you do way more than just organizing. But for somebody who has a very short amount of time to listen to this podcast and just tunes in because they are not organized, and they really want to know how to get organized, what would be your top three words of wisdom for somebody who wants to be a more organized person?

Lis Oh, that’s a great question. Well, the first thing I would say is, don’t organize your life based on what you see in a magazine or on Instagram or on TV. You should really organize your life for your real life, for your real habits. And if you’ve been struggling with disorganization your whole life, don’t expect things to change overnight. New habits take time to develop. So being patient with yourself and forgiving with yourself, it’s, you know, learning to organize and learning to develop organizing habits is not unlike learning any other habit. It takes time to assimilate them.

Lis And then for a lot of people, they’re under the belief that sorting and categorizing is organizing. It’s not. It’s an important part of it. But it’s only the first part. It’s only the part that needs to happen to make everything else fall into place. But it’s all that sorting and categorizing that people do in place of true organizing. They make piles. People make piles. They make lots of piles, and then nothing ever gets done with the pile. So the hardest part in organizing is not sorting and categorizing as much as it’s important.

Lis The hardest part in organizing, especially if you’ve got more stuff than you have space for, is what I call curating. It’s making those tough decisions about what you want to keep and what you’re willing to let go of. And if it was all about putting things in pretty containers, I’d be out of a job and, you know, everybody would be able to do this so easily.

Lis So it’s, you know, there’s a saying in my industry that clutter is nothing more than delayed decision making. But I’ve often asked myself, well, why? Why is it delayed? And this doesn’t seem to get addressed very much. But it’s delayed because people don’t know what questions to ask themselves to help them decide whether they want this pen or not. And that’s where my experience comes in as a professional organizer, is that I don’t have an opinion about what they keep or toss. You know, I really don’t, but I have a very strong opinion about helping them meet their goals.

Cathy Yeah, so I’ll just chime in here because you’ve got a great blog post about how to be organized, you don’t have to be the perfect Instagram post or this beautiful home. It’s really more how you are with your life. And you gave a really great example of people who want to put all their recipes in a binder, laminate them and have it all organized.

Cathy And you know, I know how much time that would take. And your point is really well taken. I know me, I have a laminated recipe folder. Do I ever get it? No, I go to the internet, or I go to my array of cookbooks. And I have a lot of books. And I get a lot of joy in going to my cookbooks because I feel like I’m using them. That gives me a lot of pleasure. So, just think of the time wasted in doing that collating and everything else.

Lis Exactly. It’s, you know, there’s so many things that we want to do in life and there’s so many, you know, competing priorities. If I hear clients say to me that they are wanting to, you know, go through this big process of, you know, pulling out the three-hole punch and putting things in sheet protectors and finding the binder.

Lis I’ll ask them. You know, that’s a lot of homework for you. Is that really worth your time? And a lot of my clients know that this is something I will ask them over and over again. Is this really worth your time? Now, for some it may be. I’m not the one to make that decision. But I am going to ask that question. Because people confuse their real lives with this kind of Instagram life that they imagine having.

Cathy Or the Martha Stewart image, right? And everything has to be perfect, and you do these intricate little projects, and it’s very satisfying. Really, they take a lot of time.

Lis They do. And if you have the time. And you don’t, you know, and it’s something that gives you joy and pleasure. You know, and you’re not, you have to be careful not to let this small stuff get in the way of the big stuff. So if you’re surrounded with, you know, by a house full of clutter, and you’re spending your time doing little chalkboard labels, you know, it’s gonna be a challenge for you to get through all the other things.

Cathy I’ll give you another great example, in my own life. I used to collect business cards, like we all did, right? I don’t even do business cards anymore. Nobody does it. Isn’t that interesting? That’s a thing of the past.

Lis For some people. Some people still have quite a collection.

Cathy Okay. Interesting. So then I started when I, I would ask my assistant, enter this contact into my contact management system, right. And then I realized a lot of the time when I’m trying to find someone’s contact information again, I do a Google search. So now I’m not having them all entered. I’d have my clients entered, because I use my tools in a way to communicate with clients. I’m talking about random people I meet; I don’t even do that anymore.

Lis That’s a perfect example. Yeah, that’s an example of, so what do you do in real life? So people will save the business card. But in real life, what you do, Cathy, is you go on Google. So that’s part of my role as an organizer is to help people connect the dots between, you know, the object and what they do in real life.

Cathy Exactly. I love that. That’s just the perfect concept. So, I just want to get into the mechanics of what you do just a little because this fascinates me. So you go into someone’s space, right? And there’s all this stuff to be organized. Do you literally pick up everything and go, “Is this really useful to you?” I mean, how long do sessions last for and how do you get through it when someone has a lot of clutter?

Lis One piece at a time. So here, here’s what happens. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a junk drawer or your garage or your entire home, the process is going to be the same. So what we do, for example, we’ve got a client coming up who has an attic that you know, full of things. It’s an attic that takes up the entire floor plan of her home. So it’s a big attic, and it’s stuffable. And she’s moving and she has to go through all of those things.

Lis So what we do is we’ll have some of the items, she’s going to take care of having all the items brought down from the attic and stage them in her backyard. We’re gonna go in, and we bring all of our own tools and tables and bags and boxes. And we basically set up like a reverse shopping trip. We throw everything out and we sort like with like. So stuffed animals with stuffed animals. Christmas items with Christmas items. Office supplies with office supplies. Wedding paraphernalia, you know, everything is, you know, friends with friends, or like with like.

Cathy Kind of like the Marie Kondo approach, but you did it before her, right?

Lis Marie Kondo was not even a concept in her mother’s womb when a lot of my colleagues got started. You know, but all credit to her for having a great marketing team. But the sorting is very important because I can tell you, it’s very difficult to make decisions about things when they’re all jumbled together in boxes. It’s much easier to say, oh, I have 16 pairs of black pants and I don’t need 16 pairs of black pants. You know, I like these, but I don’t like these. Are these ripped or not, you know.

Lis So it’s an opportunity. It’s also kind of a wakeup call for clients when they see all of their stuff spread out in, you know, a large space. It’s kind of a wakeup call to them like, oh my God, look at all of this stuff I’ve accumulated and never even looked at or used.

Cathy Or I really do have 20 white t-shirts that look exactly the same. It’s, I know, I believe me. So do you do a lot of closet work too?

Lis We do any space where the clients are really wanting to have, you know, make it more functional. We don’t do installations, you know, but we might recommend, depending upon a client’s preferences, aesthetic budget, we might recommend a different closet system. But what we will do is advise them along the way on how to make that work.

Lis So for example, you know, if they produce a particular closet system, we can tell them how much long hang space they need, how much short hang space they need. And that comes from sorting. So we sort everything, like I said earlier, sorting or categorizing is not organizing. But it’s critical to get to the next step, which is purging or parting with, or what I call curating.

Cathy I love the word curating so much better than purging.

Lis Yeah, because curating is about having a vision for your stuff or your life, that, you know, everything fits. It’s like having a personal mission statement. If every time you come up with something, if it doesn’t fit your personal mission statement, you can let it go. If something doesn’t fit your vision of how you want to live your life, you can let it go. And what you end up left with are the things that really are meaningful, useful.

Lis I mean, you know, I can’t say that everything’s going to spark joy in your life. You know, your Clorox is not going to spark joy, but you’re going to use it, right? So they’re going to be things that you use, they’re going to be things that you love, they’re going to be things that you’re sentimentally attached to, and can’t let go of, or don’t want to let go.

Lis You know, there’s a whole series of reasons that people hold on to stuff. But there’s also a whole series of reasons that people can let go. And that’s what happens during the curate or purge process. And then it’s about assigning a home to everything. Just like you live in your home, you don’t go to the home next door. Everything in your home should ideally have a home.

Lis And if you have kids, this is a particularly appealing concept for kids, because it’s a way to get kids involved in the whole process of organizing. When you ask your child, for example, you know, where does this doll live? Let’s bring him or her back to his home. And so everything in your home has a home. And if you don’t, if it doesn’t, what ends up happening is it just gets dropped on the first horizontal space that’s available, which is what a lot of people do. So one of the habits that I try to impart to my clients is the concept of assigning a home to things, not based on conventional wisdom, but based on how they really live.

Cathy One concept you talked about that I find really interesting is the personal mission statement. What if someone doesn’t know what their personal mission statement is? And maybe that’s the reason that they’re not organized in the first place. This is where all the psychological and emotional components of being organized come in, right? I mean, it’s not just the physical act of organizing, it’s what’s in someone’s head, and then how can they turn it into a habit, right?

Lis Yes, well, you know, I use the example of a personal mission statement because that’s a piece of the other work I do. The work that I’m doing more one on one with folks, but it’s a great metaphor. For helping people decide, you know, let’s say your kids have all grown and they’ve left, and you don’t really do a big Christmas decoration anymore. That’s not part of your current life. Then when you come across all the Christmas decorations, it’s a lot easier to say, oh, well, this, I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to put up all these 8 million decorations because that’s not my life now. It may have been my life before, but it’s not my life now.

Cathy And there may be some grieving around that too, right? There may be a little grieving process and things like that, but people can let go.

Lis Trust me, there’s a lot of grief that comes up in this relationship. I work with clients who’ve just lost, you know, who’ve recently lost family members, spouses. And, you know, this is the point where you really have to stop and give time for the client to grieve. Because every item, every piece of paper, every object is going to elicit a memory. But just because it elicits a memory does not necessarily mean it honors the person’s memory.

Lis So there’s a very gentle process that has to take place for the client to decide, is this going to be part of my life now? Am I going to, does this honor the memory of my loved one by keeping this? Would they want me to keep it? Would I use it? Or would I just, you know, how is it going to honor them if I just stick it in a container and stuff it in my basement somewhere?

Cathy Right. This is where your clinical psychology and therapy background probably really comes in with the work you do with clients, right?

Lis Yeah. And my experience just doing this for 12 plus years.

Cathy Talk a little bit about I know you’re pivoting to a little bit different way of doing business, or you’re adding on a business. Talk about that a little bit, because it seems to me the two would really work well together.

Lis Well, you know, I’ve been doing this for 12 years, now. I have a team of six employees and six contractors, and most of the work that we’ve been doing has been these kind of large scale projects that are prompted primarily by something like a move. And so we have to get in there and in a short, relatively short amount of time, downsize and, you know, get somebody all packed or manage their moves.

Lis And I had found over the past couple of years that I was really missing the chance to work more interpersonally with my clients, like I had when I first started and like I had years and years ago, when I trained a marriage and family therapist. And I was really missing that. But I knew I didn’t want to do, you know, clinical work or weren’t going to work in mental health anymore. I wanted to work with people, you know, who might have come to a point in their lives where they wanted to make some changes, but they were, you know, they couldn’t get the clarity that they needed. Or, you know, things were kind of still out of focus.

Lis And they, you know, wanted to work with someone who could ask them the right questions and help them get some clarity on, on not maybe just future dreams, but how to deal with day-to-day situations. I had a client who was holding on to some, you know, uncomfortable thoughts about a family member, and it was really kind of bothering them. And it was. And so we worked on how to objectify that voice in their head and helped them work with how to sort of shift their perspective on it, you know, if you will, because the work I do is really perspective work. And it’s about helping people look differently, kind of shifting the view of things so that they can kind of be freed up to see things differently.

Cathy And so working with the client on a typical organizing project, would you find yourself getting into these conversations?

Lis Not really, no. Because it took me some time to figure out that that was where I wanted to go. And it’s really funny that you should ask that question because what this trend, what this new service I’m offering, which is really more about helping create more joy in people’s lives, came out of my own, I would say, my own impatience over what I was missing and what I couldn’t initially kind of get some clarity on. So I sought the help of a coach, and over time, got very clear about what the work was that I wanted to add on to my existing business.

Lis So it’s basically the focus of where I’m going next with Let’s Make Room because I found that after 12 years of doing onsite work and managing these large-scale jobs, I was really missing more of the interpersonal work. And I wanted to work with people who had goals and dreams that they wanted to achieve and help them find their way towards them. So that was, I call myself a personal advocate. And this kind of brings in both my background in psychology and consulting and a newfound interest in mindfulness. So I’m not a therapist, and I don’t pretend to be, but, you know, often people experience this work as therapeutic.

Cathy Yes. And you know, you don’t have to change the name of your company. Let’s Make Room can be taken so many different ways. Let’s make room in your home through organizing. But let’s make room in your mind for what you want to bring into your life and so many, it’s just a great name for the business. It really is.

Lis Thank you. Yeah, well, that’s why right now, it’s actually as part of my website, as part of my overall business model. It’s, you know, I didn’t get into this business because I was a born organizer. I got into this business because I started to see the value of how making room in one’s life enabled them to discover or untap parts of themselves. So in a way, I’ve sort of come full circle. But initially, it was very tangible in terms of, you know, stuff in space. But now it’s kind of coming more around to the person. And that’s very, very gratifying to me.

Lis And you know, before I forget, I just wanted to mention, you had asked me in the beginning of our conversation about tips. The one tip that I didn’t mention, that I think is really important, is don’t make your stuff more important than you are.

Cathy Hmm, that’s a great one.

Lis I’ve seen this happen. People have pushed themselves out of their own home offices or out of their own rooms because they haven’t been able to let go of things. And they can’t actually get in there. They’ve made their stuff more important than they are.

Cathy Yeah. And well, I guess the extreme is the hoarder. Right? Where stuff takes over your home. But do you find there’s lots of iterations in between?

Lis Absolutely. We all have a little bit of that in us. Everyone does. It’s just, it’s on steroids for someone with chronic hoarding disorder. I don’t work with that population because it is a mental health issue. And it takes a really specialized, interdisciplinary approach to work with people who’ve got that mental health issue. But when it does come up, yeah, I can recommend people.

Cathy Let me ask you. I know this is a podcast that interviews women. I think I have a lot of women listeners. I love having men listeners, too, by the way. But I’m just curious, because I know in my practice as a financial advisor, women clients communicate differently than men, for example. And they have, for me, they’re more open. They let me know about themselves earlier on in the process, so that I can help them. You know, the more I know about my clients, the better when it comes to creating financial plans. And I’m wondering, you probably work with a mix, right? You work with men and women? And is there any difference in in the way they interact with you?

Lis You know, strangely enough, not really. But the differences is that often men don’t ask for help. It’s their spouses that will ask on their behalf. I will say, well, is this for you? Or is this for your spouse or your husband? And they’ll say, well, my husband’s the one with the clutter issue. And I’ll say, well, is it a problem for him? And if it is, if it is a problem for them and they want to talk to me, that’s fine. But if it’s not a problem for them, and it’s only a problem for the wife, there is nothing I can do.

Lis Because, you know, why would you want to change something that’s not a problem for you? So it’s, they get their motivation from, you know, wanting to please. So if they’re, often, you know, a man will come to me because his wife is very frustrated and they’ll want to make things better. Or because they recognize that there’s a cost to themselves that they really care about. But it’s actually, you know, the model that we use is very straightforward. It’s, we can get into the emotional content of things. But often it’s just, you know, it can be a very simple process.

Cathy Yeah, it’s very systematized, I’m sure. You probably have a checklist: we start here, we do this, we do this, we do this, right?

Lis Yeah. And I, you know, find that when I demonstrate the process that we use in our initial meetings, there’s a lot of, there’s sort of a, I can almost feel in the air the sense of relief that comes from, you know, the spouses of, you know, the husbands of the clients. Because they go, oh, this makes sense. This, I can do this. And they’re often, you know, great advocates if their wives or their partners are struggling. Sometimes one person in the couple can help influence the situation.

Lis Now, that being said, I have a very strong rule, which is that if you were the owner of the decision on, you know, this stapler, you don’t get to tell the other person, oh, I want that stapler. Or why wouldn’t you keep that stapler, you’ve had that stapler your whole life? It’s like, no, that’s where my therapy background comes in. You don’t get to, there’s no crosstalk. Whoever owns the stapler gets to make the decision about the stapler.

Cathy I’m sure you run into that a lot.

Lis Yeah. So I just set that rule up from the start.

Cathy And do people follow it?

Lis Yes. I find it a relief actually. Because I think they’re sort of, you know, they realize that they don’t have to take control of that situation, too.

Cathy Right. I’m sure you’ve got some real success stories with clients that what you do is transformational for them. Can you share any of those?

Lis Well, you know, of course, they would be the best ones to judge that. But, you know, there are very pragmatic sort of transformations that happen. So for example, we recently worked with a senior couple, who after 30 plus years of living their home in Oakland had decided to move to the East Coast where both of their children lived. Especially because one of their daughters was about to have a baby. And so there was a time, there was some time sensitivity. That baby was going to be coming in mid-May. And we met this couple, I think, at the end of February. Maybe the beginning of March.

Lis So what we did for them was we first, you know, basically decluttered and downsized their home, room by room. And then we set up an online sale of all the things that they didn’t want. And we sold them through a platform called Max Sold. If you’re familiar with Max Sold, it’s an online auction sale for selling really everyday items. It’s not for super high-value, although sometimes there are high-value items, but it’s a great way for our clients to minimize the cost of moving and hauling and that sort of thing.

Cathy I’ll add that to the show notes. Do they buy like old China sets and old silver sets and things like that? That’s always an issue with people.

Lis Well individual people bid on things. So Max Sold puts it online, not unlike eBay, and people bid on them. So somebody might get a beautiful China set for $1. But it depends on what the competition is, especially close to the end of the sale. We made our client about, well, the sale made almost $8,000, of which more than $5,000 went to the client.

Cathy Was this on this website that you’re talking about that?

Lis Yeah, it is. And it’s used by a lot of professional organizers like myself, who want to help clients downsize their homes but really are uncomfortable with the idea of donating everything and would prefer it getting in the hands of somebody who can use them, even if they don’t end up spending that much.

Cathy Yeah, and who uploads all the, who does all that work? That’s a lot of work.

Lis Yours truly. Yours truly and my crew. We create lots of things, so like items like collectibles or China, or it might just be individual pieces of furniture. We photograph them, we describe them, we catalog them in Max Sold’s app, and then the sale goes live. And a week later, the sale closes, and all the buyers come to us with my team. And they’re there to come pick them up. And they’re all scheduled, you know, and it goes fairly smoothly. And the things that don’t get picked up, often we give away for free, or we find a way to find homes for them on the same day.

Lis Yeah. So it’s a great situation. So this couple, we did this for them. And then afterwards, I managed their move back-to-back to the East Coast.

Cathy Describe that. What did you do for them?

Lis I had to research and find the right movers for them and negotiate the contracts, make sure they weren’t going to get ripped off. And, you know, working with movers, especially interstate movers is really, can be a challenging situation.

Cathy I hear that all the time.

Lis Yeah, and it really all comes down to two things. It comes down to the driver, and it comes down to the local agent, because the local agents are the ones who do the packing and bring in the interstate company. And so it’s knowing how all of this works behind the scenes and knowing how to make sure that things get done. And that, you know, I mean, I had to negotiate the, I went to two different movers, and had to kind of get the best situation for my clients.

Lis And then once that’s done, then the movers come and I’m there on pack and move day to make sure everything gets done according to plan. And the funny thing was in this particular situation, the load day, the actual load on the truck day, happened the same day I was scheduled for my second vaccine. So I had to get it. It had to be done. I literally ran out of there to go get my second vaccine and then came back to the house to just make sure, you know, there wasn’t any lingering issues.

Cathy Which vaccine did you get?

Lis Pfizer.

Cathy Okay. That had, I think that had less side effects on the second. I got Moderna and the day of it, I was fine. That evening, I went down. So I did things all day long until the evening, and then I was sick the whole next day.

Lis Right. That’s fairly common. So anyway, I just, so the upshot of this client was that they are now back east, their daughter had the baby, and they’re getting ready to move into their new home.

Cathy That’s an incredible story. So you handled the whole thing from start to finish. You and your team. That’s really a service that a lot of people would find valuable. Just switching a little bit. I know these are the big situations, right? Like, they’re one-time big situations. You’re helping somebody move. They got a new job that’s in another state, they’re moving to be closer to their grandkids or things like that.

Cathy So you work with people who like, they want you to do an organizing project in their home because it’s out of control, somewhere their kitchen or their office, or maybe many rooms, and they hire you for an engagement. And I’m sure it’s some time frame that you have that you work with people. How do you know that they’re not falling back into old habits? And do you check in with them? Do you have some kind of ongoing service? Or how does that work?

Lis It’s a really good question. And I would like to say that yes, we do check in. I do check in as part of my, I mean, that’s just part of who I am. There are certain, you know, my clients are very special to me. And I often find myself thinking about them and just shooting them an email and saying, just thinking about you, how’s everything been since we were there?

Lis But I recognize that for a lot of people, this is a big behavior change. And when we come in and do the organizing, as much as we’re, we try to impart what we know. It’s not as if I’m working with them one on one on a long-term basis and teaching them. So what often happens is people do slide back and, you know, imagine you’ve lost, you know, some huge amount of weight or something, which I can speak very personally about this, and you gain it back. And so there’s a lot of shame you feel about it, and you may not want to bring somebody back in again.

Lis I really do try to minimize the amount of feelings around that. But people just feel that way. And so we offer an opportunity to do maintenance if they wish. You know, it depends on the client. There’s some clients who hire us sort of on a long-term, you know, weekly or monthly basis to help them with different projects. And I would say those clients learn the most from this experience.

Lis So long-term relationships are so valuable because you have a chance to get to know one another. You can help them create habits, because, you know, habits are hard to develop. And you can flop but you can get right back on the bandwagon and keep trying. But you need to, you need to have some catalyst to remind you of that.

Lis And that’s actually sort of what got me into this new work that I’m doing. You know, to help people take more of a deeper look into what’s keeping them stuck in the same habits, whether it’s an organizing habit, or, you know, they’re not getting enough done, or they are just frustrated with some aspect of their lives. But you know, my business model primarily, up until recently has been more like a contractor. Get in there, do the work and get out.

Cathy Yeah, I think your pivot is going to be really valuable for people. It makes so much sense with all the background, all the experience, that you’re going to do that, it really does.

Lis It’s been a challenge, because I’ve also had to shift a lot of the way I have been working. Because when I’m working with clients on like, get in there, get it done, get out projects, I’m much more directive. Whereas when I’m working with clients one on one, who are dealing with, you know, trying to sort of clear the weeds out of their lives, and we’re more of a field guide, if you will, I’m more about eliciting from them what’s getting in their way so much. It’s more of an exploratory or a collaborative relationship, where I’m reflecting back to them what I’m hearing and helping them gain clarity themselves, rather than me saying, you know, being more, you know, directive.

Cathy There’s so many parallels to what I do and what you do. Doing a one-time planning engagement, it’s almost like you have to be directive. Because, you know, they’re going away, and you’ve got to impart everything you want them to know in that short amount of time, right? Whereas a relationship, it can develop over time, and you can really help change habits and things over time. It’s so, so similar. And I find the ongoing so much more satisfying than the short-term, where you’re done and then you’re kind of left wondering, what happened? Did they implement these changes, did they not? You don’t really know unless you have a way to check back in or re-engage. Right?

Lis For me, it’s a different level of satisfaction, it’s very satisfying to go into a person’s home, you know, this is why I got into the business originally, because I wanted to do tangible change. So it’s wonderful to go in and be able to organize, you know, a space, a closet, whatever it is, a kitchen, and know that when you left, it was beautiful. Right? So it’s a different level of satisfaction. But then the kind of satisfaction I get from working more interpersonally with clients and not so much about their physical stuff, but more about their, you know, I don’t want to even say psychological stuff, but the thing is, their thoughts and dreams. That’s a whole different level of satisfaction.

Cathy We all evolve in our work and sometimes you get bored, you do one thing too many times. You want to branch out and test your skills and do other things, too. And it sounds like that’s what you’re on the path to do.

Lis Exactly. Yes, exactly. There’s a, you know, we all grow in our work in some way. And for me, this was the logical next step.

Cathy Yes, it sounds, definitely. So, let me ask you this. Do you think that people who are organized, who have reached some level of, you know, organization in their lives are more successful than other people? And conversely, do you think a disorganized person can reach their goals and be successful?

Lis You know, that’s a really interesting question. I think it certainly doesn’t hurt. It helps a lot. It depends upon the person. Sometimes a person’s environment is a reflection of their inner environment, of their inner world of what’s going on inside. So, it may be that, you know, therapists tend to work from the inside out, organizers tend to work from the outside in. And this new kind of work that I’m doing is working kind of alongside, you know, at this sort of parallel.

Lis You know, there are lots of different ways to get to the same result. I’ve known plenty of very successful people who were very cluttered and disorganized. And, you know, it’s not a problem for them. Maybe they have a system, or maybe they just, that’s what sparks their creativity or their productivity. I think that it’s when it becomes a problem for them that it becomes a problem, you know. You can be an extremely organized person and still be dealing with life issues. It’s just that you, it might just be that at that point in your life, you have the space, the room in your head, so to speak, to maybe finally, you know, confront or look at, or explore those things.

Lis So I can’t really say that, you know, across the board that if you’re organized, you’re going to be healthier. If you’re disorganized, it’s gonna be problems for you. Like anything, I think it’ll help in certain situations, it’ll facilitate you getting to the next step of what you want.

Cathy But it’s a lot less stressful. Like, I even think, just an example, if I clear off my desk at night, you know, make everything neat and clean, put the papers away. When I go in my office in the morning and look at that it feels worlds different than when I’ve left everything out, you know, an old coffee cup with coffee in it and papers all over the place. It just is, mentally, it’s not as motivating. And it adds a little bit of stress early in the morning.

Lis Right. And for you and for many people, that’s true. And I would say for, you know, a cohort of people there are, you know, they’re used to a certain degree of clutter. But I would say if you find it uncomfortable, then yes, it’s always great to come up with new habits and new behaviors and ways to minimize. I mean, life is stressful anyway. But there’s this tug of war that happens between wanting order and needing peace in our lives and needing to feel the sense of calm that comes from things not being all in disarray. And the struggle, you know, that’s balanced against the people who, either they’re overwhelmed, or they want to hold on to things or they have too much, there’s too strong a relationship. They’re too identified with stuff. So it’s not a cut and dried situation.

Cathy And you’re making the point: everyone’s so unique. There are general principles about organizing, that makes sense, but how we apply them is, you know, all up to our own unique selves. You know, we’ve been through you know, the COVID year. I’m wondering, did your business blossom more?

Lis You know, it didn’t because we couldn’t work, we couldn’t work in people’s homes. Here was the silver lining that came out of it, though. I discovered through this very early on that if I wanted to survive, in addition to benefiting from, you know, PPP loans and so forth, that I had to make it available to people virtually in any way I could.

Lis So I actually discovered through the pandemic that virtual work, a way of working with people virtually, was something that I could do, although I wasn’t sure how it was going to eventually look. And that’s how my personal advocacy work, you know, helping people with their life issues, suddenly there was an opportunity created for this.

Cathy That makes so much sense. So that was a silver lining for you. It kind of pushed you into something that you were already interested in anyway.

Lis Exactly, exactly. And I have actually worked with people around organizing virtually. Often it works very well with people who are stuck in paper clutter. So people who are really challenged by paper piles is something I can do virtually, as well as in person.

Cathy How do you do that? They hold up the paper?

Lis No, I don’t even have to know what’s on the paper. That’s the beauty of it. I have my own system that I teach, called the ACT system. It stands for action, contain, and toss. And it’s basically a decision tree. So I don’t even have to know what’s on the piece of paper. I just made up, you know, I asked the client, you know, is there an action you have to take with this? Is there something you have to do with it that doesn’t include filing or reading? And if not, is it likely you could find this information again somewhere else? And if you could, you know, if you could find it online, you know, how easy would it be?

Lis And if it’s easy, then I ask them, so what do you want to do with it? I never make a decision for them. They come to that on their own conclusion. And often what I’ll do is I’ll have them take the piece of paper and put it behind their backs. And I’ll say, okay, imagine that piece of paper just disappeared. Could you find the information on it again, if you needed to easily, and they would think about it. And so you’re activating a problem-solving part of their brain. And then they would go, oh, yeah, I think I can. I said, well, great, then well, what do you want to do with it? And they usually say, well, I can let it go. And ca-ching, every single time a piece of paper goes into the recycle bag, it’s like, virtual money in their pocket.

Cathy Oh, yeah. That’s great. And so do you do that on an hourly basis?

Lis Yeah. Virtually somebody could schedule through my website at There’s, I have a calendaring link where people can schedule both a free initial 30-minute chat with me as well as one, two, and three-hour work sessions, either to work on organizing or to work on more interpersonal things that are coming up.

Cathy Okay, yes. So I love that. So what if somebody had a bookcase full of, okay, I’m talking about me. Okay, I love books. And I have a really hard time letting go of books, even books that I’ve never read. And then I have ones that I’ve read and I’ve loved. Do you? Would you do that? Would that be something you would do virtually? Go through books and find out why are you keeping that book?

Lis I would never ask the question, why are you keeping that book? I would want to know, first of all, I would want to know, what your intent was. Like, what your goal was in trying to curate the books that you had. Some people have to do that, like my clients who moved back east, they had thousands of books, literally thousands. And they couldn’t take them with them.

Lis So it has to, you know, why are you, what’s in it for you? I would identify that. And, you know, books. You know, I come from a family of readers and writers, and books are very meaningful to people. So we have to create what I call decision tools. A decision tool basically works like a sieve, you know, like a strainer. And the decision tools are the things that help you decide whether the thing comes through the strainer or stays in the strainer.

Lis So for you, all of those decision tools are going to be very personal. So you mentioned a moment ago, it’s a book that I loved, and I can’t imagine parting with it. So that’s a decision tool right there. That’s okay. If you can’t imagine parting with it and you love it, well, then that’s there’s no decision. I mean, it’s obvious. Then there’s going to be the books where you’re like on the fence, I don’t know.  

Cathy Oh, good example. So someone recommended a book and said, oh my god, this is the best book I ever read. And I read a few pages and could just not get into it. I put it on the bookcase. And I can’t get rid of it because it’s supposed to be such a great book and I’m supposed to love it. So it sits there. That’s a good example.

Lis Well, given what you know about yourself in your life, what’s the probability that you would pick up that book again?

Cathy Probably not a good one. I’ve got so many things to read for my work and everything. So very unlikely.

Lis Okay, so in that case, what would you want to do with it?

Cathy Probably give it up.

Lis Give it up to somebody specific?

Cathy Oh, well, usually I donate books, or I trade them at the local bookstore.

Lis Is that worth your time?

Cathy Good question. I get a lot of pleasure out of it. I like doing it, yeah. So that counts, right?

Lis So there are a lot of options. You’ve determined already that it’s not likely you’re going to read it or look at it again. But you would like to find a new home for it, where somebody else could appreciate it. And there are different ways of doing that depending upon what’s worth your time. You could have a box or a bag ready for all of the books that you’ve decided to discard. And, you know, put them by your front door. And next time you are on a, you know, out running an errand, take them outside with you and drop them off.

Lis If you have an enormous collection, you might, you know, arrange for a pickup of them, right? Because there are a lot of charities that will take books, most Friends of the Library of various libraries want books. Goodwill will take books, though, as well. Salvation Army will take books. But if you want something that’s more personal, if you want to get it to a specific place, if that would make it easier for you to let go of, then you know, is it a senior center that your thinking, is it a friend? And so, a lot of people what they do is they get hung up on not so much do I want it or not, but where should it go? But you’ve clearly made the decision like, nope, I have lots of other books I would rather read and this one I think would be appreciated by someone else.

Cathy But I do feel guilty that I’m not reading it. You know, there’s so many, there’s so many things.

Lis Ok. And then I would probably, so you feel guilty. You know, I’d probably want to explore that with you. Because it came from a friend who recommended it.

Cathy And, you know, yeah, or maybe I’m not intellectual enough to get this book. You know, there’s so many, so many things in there.

Lis Yes. And we probably have to unpack that a little bit. And so, because you’ve got some emotional attachments for why you’re holding on to it that have nothing to do with the book. I mean, absolutely nothing. The fact that you feel guilty, or you’re questioning your own intellectual capacity, that has nothing to do with the book. That’s a deeper dive.

Cathy So, you know, this is a perfect little mini microcosm of what you do, right?

Lis Exactly. Right.

Cathy That was great. I love it.

Lis So what’s your decision about the book?

Cathy Oh, um. I think what I would do after talking to you is I would think about another person that might enjoy it. And I’d try and get it to them. And really do that thoughtfully, not just want to give the book away. Really think about, who would love this book?

Lis And that’s worth your time.

Cathy Yeah.

Lis Ok. Done. If you had to do that, for all your books, though, that could take some time. So that’s the decision tool that I was talking about. There’s going to be books that will be like that. That’ll be like, the decision tool will be called, I want to get it to the right person, versus I just want to donate it. And so there’ll be two piles. I want to get it to the right person. Just plain old donate.

Cathy Yeah, I love the idea of putting the bag or box right next to the bookcase. And every once in a while, going in and starting the sorting process. That’s a great tool.

Lis Good. Yeah. And there has to be a motivation. Because if you don’t do it, is there any cost to you right now? If you know, moving is one of the reasons people do this.

Cathy No, the cost though, is that books are all over the place now in my house. I keep finding new places to put books. Something’s gotta give.  

Lis That falls under what I said earlier about don’t make your stuff more important than you are.

Cathy Very good. You’re hired.

Lis Anytime. Call me up.

Cathy You know, unfortunately, I could talk to you so long about this. I love this topic. I really do. But we got to cut it.

Lis Me too.

Cathy Yeah, I know. It’s great talking to you. But I want to make sure, you’ve mentioned already your website name but let’s repeat these things so people can find you, and I’ll also add them to show notes. I noticed that you’re not on Twitter, right? You don’t do social media marketing, right?

Lis I don’t do a lot of it, you know, for better or for worse. A lot of people, most people find me through Google, strangely enough, and through word of mouth. Because most of my clients tend to be, I would say, not all of them, but most of them tend to be in their like 40s to 70s. And those folks are more likely to get recommendations from going online or from asking friends. If they’re going to use any social media at all, they’re going to use Facebook. They don’t, they’re not big Twitter users. They’re not big LinkedIn users necessarily.

Cathy And so you are a Facebook user? Do you have a business page?

Lis Yeah, there’s a business page for my company on Facebook. So my company is called Let’s Make Room. And I’m at, and my email is And I spell Lis with an s not a z. Rhymes with his and spelled the same way. It’s short for Lisbeth. So Lis McKinley.

Cathy Okay, great. And I know one other question people are probably thinking about. We won’t go into it too much now, but the fees, are they based on hourly, project? Or how do you do that?

Lis For the big projects, it’s based on the project. So it might be a daily fee or a flat rate. For working individually with me, it’s an hourly rate. I do charge for my initial on-site consultations because it usually takes about two to two and a half hours, because it includes a demonstration of how I work.

Lis If it’s physical organizing, or if it’s paper organizing, I’ll take them through a demo. And it’s a way for them to actually, it’s a way for clients to actually see how I work and get a sense viscerally of like, this is somebody I would trust to be in my home. It’s also a way for me to see how they make decisions.

Cathy So it’s kind of, you want to see if you want to work with them, and you want them to see if they want to work with you type thing.

Lis Yeah, more the latter. Yes, I want them to really understand what this is about. And that it’s not just, like I said, putting things in pretty containers. Although that’s fine, too. We’ll do that if they want it.

Cathy Yeah. Okay, great. Well, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much. And I think our listeners are gonna find this to be really interesting and engaging. So thank you for being here.

Lis Thank you. It’s been so wonderful for me as well. It’s been great to see you again. And, you know, if there’s anything I can do to help, for your listeners, please feel free to, you know, reach out.

Cathy I will. Like if you have any published tip sheets or anything, I might ask for those and I’ll put them in the show notes.

Lis My brochure is available for downloading and a free downloadable moving guide that came right out of my head. It’s not the typical one that you see on like, you know, licensed moving sites where it’s the obvious, but it’s things that I know from my own experience of the other things that nobody would consider.

Cathy That’s invaluable. Thank you.

If you found this information interesting, please share it with a friend!

S3E5 Transcript: How to Make Room in Your Life for What Matters Read More »

S3E5: How to Make Room in Your Life for What Matters with Lis McKinley

Lis McKinley Let's Make Room

Lis McKinley will help you get--and stay--organized

On this episode of Financial Finesse, I’m interviewing Lis McKinley, a Certified Professional Organizer and move manager. Lis is the owner of Let’s Make Room, a residential organizing and move management company that has organized hundreds of living, storage and work areas in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. Lis is a recognized public speaker on personal productivity, organizing and well-being. She is also a trained Marriage and Family Therapist, holding a Master of Arts degree in clinical psychology from John F. Kennedy University.

While you may be thinking, “what does home organizing have to do with personal finance?” I think you’ll be surprised to learn how many parallels there are between what Lis does as a personal organizer and what I do as a financial advisor when it comes to helping our clients achieve their goals and aspirations. In this episode, you’ll hear how mindset is the number one determinant of maintaining an organized life and how Lis helps her clients get unstuck from the bad habits that keep their homes cluttered. You may also get some great ideas for how to organize your living space if it needs a refresh.

Tweetable Quote

Lis McKinley on getting organized:

Episode Highlights

  • [5:55] Lis’s process for helping her clients curate their belongings to match the vision they have for their life
  • [16:17] How having a personal mission statement can help you get and stay organized
  • [29:53] The online auction and estate sale platform that can help you downsize and make money in the process
  • [46:30] How lockdown inspired Lis to pivot her business to include virtual services
  • [50:23] Lis demonstrates her ACT system on Cathy

Links Relevant to this Episode

Enjoy the Full Episode

Other Ways to Enjoy this Episode

Do you love Financial Finesse? Please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts!

If you found this information interesting, please share it with a friend!

S3E5: How to Make Room in Your Life for What Matters with Lis McKinley Read More »

Curtis Financial Planning