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Grocery List Shame
A few years ago, I ran into my friend Amber Wheeler at the grocery store. I knew Amber from church because she participated in and helped run the Mom’s Group I attended. Since neither of us had any kids along, we stopped to chat. As per usual, I had my grocery list: a crumpled-up, scribbled-on envelope with an old piece of gum tucked under a corner. In contrast, Amber had (I kid you not) a grocery shopping binder, complete with recipes, meal plans and a laminated, reusable list she had created on her computer.
I was in awe. You see this stuff on Pinterest, and you might fantasize about doing something similar, but you never actually do it. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just met the System Sister.
It turns out Amber was a Home Ec. major in college, and you would probably not be surprised to learn that she is now in business for herself as a professional organizer, aka The System Sister. Thanks to her hard work, word-of-mouth, and effervescent personality, in just under a year’s time her business has exploded.
The System Sister
Back to my shopping list, you might think someone so organized would be obnoxious or judgmental when faced with my sad, hygienically-questionable efforts…but then you wouldn’t know Amber. There is no trace of Martha-Stewart-reserve or icy perfectionism in her at all. Amber is the kind of person who glows with love and goodness and enthusiasm. The kind of person who shows up to serve- the best kind of person.
I sat down with her a few weeks ago and we talked about a lot of things (yes, there were tears). Among the topics we discussed: how she’s transformed her childhood frustrations into her superpower and how her faith intersects with her work. Plus, I was able to get her to give me some of her favorite organizing tips.
The following conversation was condensed and edited for readability.
Who is the System Sister?
She’s a woman who loves people. She loves organizing and creating systems. So it’s really the merging of 2 things: a love for systems and a love for people. It’s my sweet spot. It’s my happy place.
I kind of picture you like a superhero, with a cape and everything. Since every good superhero has an origin story, can you tell me yours?
I’ve always thought in terms of systems. When I was trying to come up with a name for my business, I originally didn’t like the name System Sister because I was afraid it was cheesy, but I also couldn’t let it go. It’s who I am…a lover of people and a lover of systems.
As a young girl, I had a system for everything. Many weekends you could find me reorganizing and rearranging my room and trying to find the best set up for my things. At a young age, I was already a System Sister! I’d go to my friends’ houses and help them clean their rooms. I can remember going to one friend’s house with a basement play area and I looked at it like it was Candyland! I couldn’t wait to clean it up and organize the whole thing. When I left her mom told me, “You can come back anytime!”
I bet she did!
Organizing others was fun for me but it was out of a little selfishness on my part that I was organizing them. Being in an organized space was much more enjoyable and even helpful for my brain.
What is a system?
A system is a way to accomplish something efficiently. It’s a way of doing something that gets the job done in easy, manageable steps. You can have a system for eating healthy, or what to do with the shoes people leave in the doorway when they come in the house. You can also have poor systems, but don’t settle for one of those! A good system helps our lives run smoothly.
Where do you think this desire to create systems came from?
I can remember from a young age struggling to comprehend things in school. I had to work extra hard in order to remember and understand what I was taught. It felt like I had to decode things for myself in order to “get it.” In college, my roommates would try to lure me away to hang out more, but I just couldn’t!
It’s possible I had a learning disorder, but if so, I believe organizing and creating systems is what helped me survive and make sense of things. I remember telling my parents, “it seems like everyone else gets it but I don’t!” It was really frustrating.
But what I’ve learned from this is that I am a visual, kinesthetic learner. I’m a creative who thinks very much down to the minute detail. It explains why I wrote or drew everything out. And I still do that today! I enjoy creating visuals for my clients who struggle with seeing how things can work together (shows me a cool clipboard-binder-thing she uses for that purpose).
Oh my gosh, you’re like Joanna Gaines!
Ha! I had to clear the fog in my brain! The only way it would make sense is if I could SEE it. I love lists and diagrams.
What is one challenge you experience on-the-job?
What I do for my clients is very personal. When I help people they’re usually going through a season of change, which can be hard. By the time I get a phone call people are ready for change, and I enjoy helping people work through those transitions. It can be tempting to want to fix things- like relationships. Of course, I know I can’t really do that, but my heart is drawn to understanding and helping others.
How does your faith intersect with your work?
My faith is my whole reason for being. I came to know Christ at 8-years-old. As the System Sister, I am able to come alongside others in a stressful and busy world and help them find peace within their physical space. If it happens that I can help them find peace with God, then it’s a double win.
Is there a particular verse that speaks to you?
There are two verses in particular that speak to me, John 16:33 and 1 Corinthians 14:33, and both of them speak about peace.
“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.”1 Corinthians 14:33
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”John 16:33
As a professional organizer who is also a Christian, I do believe there is a connection between peace in our physical surroundings and peace in our spiritual lives.
Who are you called to help? What do you?
I work with people just like you and me- those with learning disabilities, medical needs, small businesses, busy lives, and more to divide and conquer what so easily accumulates. I help folks who need someone to come alongside them and push, encourage, and support them in creating systems that lead to success in their space and with their time.
What does that look like?
I help them assess their situation and decide what needs to be incorporated or eliminated in order for their space or time to be used wisely.
Sometimes that looks like decluttering, creating a system of organization, or shopping for supplies to create those systems. I’ve helped individuals go through their homes after major life changes, such as loss, divorce, and relocation. I’ve prepared spaces for events, holidays, and ordinary life.
How do you work with people?
It’s different for every person, home, and family. There is a lot of emotion attached to our things. I am very careful when I work with an individual not to push too far. It’s a delicate dance. I find that many simply need someone to talk things out with, and then they’re ready to make wise choices.
What I find with my clients is that you are either in need of time, support, wisdom, or a combination of the three. If it’s time that you lack then you might have me organize for you. If it’s support or wisdom you need, I coach and assist you with your time and space. It all depends on your needs.
A lot of what I do is help people step back and see things objectively. I help them look at their space with a think-ahead perspective. It’s easy to get carried away by our emotion rather than asking ourselves practical questions such as:
How many of these mugs do I really need?
Do I have to keep everything everyone gives me?
How is my clutter affecting the other members of my family?
How long has it been since I’ve used this?
Do I need this?
I understand the struggles and how hard all of this is. Especially when you add a spouse and kids. I have a huge compassion and heart for people who feel like they’re drowning. I hear that word a lot- “drowning.”
Tell me more about that!
Drowning in a sea of overwhelm is something I hear a lot- whether it’s in their circumstances or the accumulation of too many things. I can step in and help them establish a system to keep things manageable- kind of like a buoy out in the ocean that gives them a boundary they know not to pass.
Nice work carrying on the nautical metaphor!
Haha, I know right? Let’s go with it! Ultimately, I want to help them set out those buoys so that they know their limits and are less likely to find themselves overwhelmed in the future.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve had in getting started as a professional organizer?
At first, like any new business, it was finding clients. But now I’d say that navigating the digital world is something I’m working on. I need a Technology Sister! Anybody out there?
All right, what is your best organizing tip for families?
Schedule time for the upkeep of your home and evaluate your systems. Organizing is a journey, not a destination! You’re never going to get to the end of organizing. As your seasons change so will your systems.
What about organizing sentimental stuff?
First, be realistic about the amount of space you have. Choose a container that you have room to store. Lay everything in a particular category out and decide what you want to keep. Does it all fit in the container? If not, get rid of your least favorite items. A good question to ask yourself is, “What’s the worst thing that will happen if I get rid of this?”
Any other tips?
For the most part, keep like things together. That eliminates things from getting out of control. Many people lose track of what they have and end up buying duplicates.
What are some of your favorite tools for organizing?
I have a few favorite products that I recommend to my clients. Here’s a few of them.
Lazy Susans (like this one)
I love Lazy Susans for the fact that you can get to the back without tearing everything out from the front. I put them in closets, cupboards, and on tables.
Digital Listmaker- Like Anylist
Anylist is an amazing list app and more. There’s a free version but if you want all the bells and whistles there are paid versions ($9.99 or $14.99 per year). You can use it to collect your recipes, meal plan, and basically anything you want to keep track of.
Hanging file holders (like this one from Target)
This functional yet attractive file holder makes it easy to carry your files to the couch and work on your bills while watching the kids play. And if you don’t like the color you can spray paint it!
What would you say to someone who is intimidated to call you?
Don’t be embarrassed about your space! Know that you’re not alone. No one’s house looks like what you see on HGTV. I’ll share my tips and tricks and I guarantee you’ll feel good about your space! We’ll do it together or I’ll do it for you! You won’t regret it! I always have a good time with my clients. I’ll tell them it’s good, clean, fun! I usually get a laugh with that one.
To Contact the System Sister
The System Sister provides professional organizing services in and around Elkhart County, Indiana. For more information, check out her website at systemsister.com. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram. Call for a consultation: 419-545-5900
Like what you’re reading? Check out more from Career + Calling! You might be interested in Coming to Terms with the Road Not Taken, Finding Your Calling: When the Answer is the Question, and 5 Career Self-Care Practices for Christian Professionals.