Interview with an Organizer – Sunny Schlenger
November 1, 2016
Named as a Flowmaster by Charlene Belitz and Meg Lundstrom in their book, The Power of Flow, Sunny Schlenger is a flow coach and professional organizer with over 35 years of experience as a pioneer in her field. She helped launch the “custom-tailored” approach to getting organized in the 90s with her best-selling book, How To Be Organized In Spite Of Yourself, whose approach was licensed by Harvard University’s management training and development program. She then took the concept of organizing to the next level by integrating it with spirituality. The result, Organizing for the Spirit was published in 2004. She’s now partnered with Cena Block of Sane Spaces in creating the online integrative organizational tool, TSSI ™ used by psychologists, educators and coaches to identify people’s personal styles of organizing time and space (https://iw119.isrefer.com/go/tssi/sunny/). Her latest book is Flow Formula: A Guidebook to Wholeness and Harmony.
She received her B.A. in Social & Behavioral Sciences from The Johns Hopkins University and her M.Ed. in Counseling from UNC at Chapel Hill. She’s worked with thousands of people over the years, assisting them in their quest for self-realization, productivity and peace.
Sunny currently divides her time between Sedona, Arizona and the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Her website is http://suncoach.com/.
LH: Can you tell me a little bit about your history? What was your path into professional organizing and how long have you been doing it?
SS: I was one of the original professional organizers, back in the 70s. I was going to graduate school for a degree in Educational Counseling when I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about Stephanie Winston, author of Getting Organized, and her practice in New York City. I was intrigued by the concept and thought I could set up a small business of my own on campus. (Actually, my husband at the time, knowing of my penchant for organizing those around me, had said “Why don’t you go peddle your neurosis to someone else?” 😉
LH: I see you do Flow Coaching. Is that something you integrate into your organizing work? Could you describe your process and services?
SS: Flow has always been an integral part of what I do and how I live although I didn’t know the name for it early on. When I articulated my styles theory in the 1980s, my approach had to do with the need for people to understand their own instinctive ways of organizing, and designing systems and purchasing products that would support those styles. I realized that the standard advice for organizing at the time definitely did not apply to all of my clients.
Today, my flow coaching revolves around the understanding that flow is the connection between what you love, what you do and what you want out of life; it’s the synthesis of your inner and outer worlds. I provide focus and support for how to live your days to achieve your heart’s desire.
LH: A lot of people find the time constraints of modern life at odds with their ability to organize. Do you have suggestions for people who are short on time?
SS: It can certainly feel frustrating to want to do more than you have time for. But it’s a challenge we all face in one way or another and the only way to manage it is to get a handle on your priorities. You’ll never get everything done, but if you focus on the most important and pressing matters at the moment, and make time for self-care, you’ll be doing a great job. Understanding flow can be essential to managing time so you’re not forcing yourself to be productive, but rather moving comfortably from one priority to another.
LH: One thing that stood out to me in your book Organizing for the Spirit was how you encouraged people to look at their relationship to their possessions. This is distinct from some how-to guides that focus on simply getting rid of stuff. Would you like to expand on that a bit?
SS: I believe that your possessions are an extension of who you are. They say so much about what is, or has been, important to you for whatever reason. The problem comes in when there’s not enough room to store and care for them in a way that feels good. That’s why it’s important to stay current with what delights you. The meaning and value of things changes over time and if you don’t stay current, you’ll feel overwhelmed. Simply getting rid of stuff can reduce the pressure but it doesn’t help you deal with the re-accumulation of stuff. By understanding what you use, what has value, and what simply delights you in each phase of your life, you will better understand your relationship to the stuff you save and be more able to manage the whole effectively.
LH: What would you suggest to the organizationally-challenged person as a first step towards getting their house/life/everything in order?
SS: Baby steps are always helpful but sometimes you’re just too overwhelmed to know where to begin. Also, there’s the problem of guilt getting in the way. In those cases, I always recommend to approach your house/office/planner with the idea that this is not your house/your office/your life. It belongs to someone else and you’re just looking through things to see if what you find matches who you are today. This removes the feeling that you’re responsible for everything you see that’s undone, broken, messy, unfinished or that doesn’t fit your present lifestyle. Another way to begin is to familiarize yourself with your personal styles of managing time and space by taking the on-line Time and Space Style Inventory (https://iw119.isrefer.com/go/tssi/sunny/). By finding out, for example, if you’re a Hopper or a Hyper-Focus, an Everything Out or a Nothing Out will enable you to begin streamlining a custom-made approach that will make first steps easier.
LH: Do you have suggestions for people interested in becoming professional organizers?
SS: NAPO is a good place to begin if you don’t want to re-invent the wheel. Back when I was just starting out, I had to create most of what I did from scratch, including research on how to run a small business. Thankfully, new organizers don’t need to do that anymore. I would emphasize, though, that it’s essential to study human behavior along with organizing and business. It’s not enough to know which systems and products to suggest; you also need to understand the psychology of the user in order to know which suggestions have the best chance of sticking.
LH: Thank you much for sharing your work with us.