Archive for the ‘Decision Making’ Category

The Meaning of Things

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Recently I’ve been thinking about things. Not things in a colloquial sense but literal things, objects: the computer; my grandmother’s sculpture; the four pairs of eyeglasses I own. I’ve also been thinking about memories. What it means to have a memory? What it means to lose your memory? What it means to lose your memories, as thousands of people did last week when they lost their homes in the Northern California fires, just about 90 minutes from my home in Oakland.

I work with people nearly every week helping them decide what to do when they want (or need) to let go of stuff. Not just the things that remind them of who they once were, or places they once visited but also regular things too; Things they find useful or once did.

Two of my close friends lost their home in the Northern California fires. They lost everything they owned. They had just enough time to escape with their dogs and the clothes they must have quickly put on since it was 1 a.m. when they evacuated. My friends are extremely resilient. They’ve chosen to move forward, not look back. I know it must be hard. I wonder how often during the day they face the inconvenience of no longer having small things, or feel the waves of grief flow over them when they think about the loss of more important stuff.

I’ve heard many of my clients say to me, “I can’t let that go. It reminds me of ….” I sometimes ask, what would happen if (blank) should disappear? Would the memory go with it? In some cases it could and it does. I think this is what is so profoundly difficult about the process of getting organized, downsized or as I like to call it “curating” your life’s contents.

A long time ago I was hired to clear out a small storage unit belonging to a woman who had died and whose family was not interested in claiming the contents. There was in fact nothing of significant monetary value left behind but there were “memories.”  Commemorative plaques; a community service award; several family photos, a child’s simple drawings as well as knickknacks and other personal items. Things that were obtained, given, created for her and about her. Without her, I realized they didn’t mean much to me but they meant something to her.

People who lost everything in the Northern California fires last week and for that matter from the storms in Texas and Puerto Rico just days earlier, are heard in the news saying how “grateful” they are for having their families, for having survived, for knowing how “lucky” they were. It’s an amazing testament to their humanity that they can recognize this at one of the lowest points of their lives. And I have no doubt that they too are grieving the loss of their memories and possessions.

I’m not sure what all this has taught me as a professional organizer or even just as another human being. Of course, like many, I’ve considered what I would do and feel if I was in a similar circumstance. As a professional, I wholeheartedly encourage planning whether it be creating a safety plan with your family, an emergency kit or getting your most treasured memories and important documents digitized.

Being prepared also means helping those you love be better prepared to grieve by making your wishes known ahead of time, like a living will. This type of document lets others know what matters most to you when you can no longer make those decisions yourself. A dear friend did this about six months before she passed away and it made a world of difference to her closest friends and family. She wrote her plans down. At the top of the page she’d written the title, “End Of Life Matters.” The irony was not lost on either of us.

Last week my crew and I helped a couple downsize their home of twenty plus years. It’s something I’ve done many, many times yet each experience is different. Together and separately my clients made literally thousands of decisions in just a few days. Some of those decisions were easy. Many more were not. Even the most seemingly benign objects brought back memories of family gatherings, professional obligations, personal triumphs and poignant losses. Without context they are just things but for them they represented the meaning of their lives.

When my clients let go of things sometimes the memories go with them. I see my clients resist and I feel that struggle. Sometimes I even feel it directed at me though I know it’s not. I tell them, “I don’t have an opinion about what you keep. I do, however, have an opinion about helping you get to where you want to go.”

Letting go of things can sometimes feel like choosing to let go of memories. And who chooses to let go of their memories?! At least with my clients the choice is theirs. This wasn’t the case for the people in the recent fires. Do their memories go with them even when they have lost everything?

I hope so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What to do with your stuff when later becomes now

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When it comes to the stuff in our homes, I believe a  continuum exists between two points  –  keep everything and save nothing. Most people fall somewhere in between.  Yes, there are extremes at both ends – those with a tendency to acquire an excessive amount and those with an equally extreme tendency to rid themselves of anything of value, sentimental or otherwise. But for most people, myself included, we all have sentimental attachments.

The other day I was wandering through my home and thinking about what I absolutely had to keep if I ever had to make the choice. As a professional organizer, it’s an exercise I practice regularly as a way to empathize with my clients.

It turned out the things I really felt strongly about were the items I have the most sentimental attachment to.  None of it was furniture, thankfully.  Mostly letters from my parents and close friends that could never be replaced. Photographs (the paper kind) from my childhood and “keepsakes” that I don’t need but that don’t take up much space either. I also have some written work that would be difficult to replace unless I took the time to scan it and for me, that’s not worth my time.

My husband has a box of important stuff related to his daughter, my step-daughter. And of course, I have a small  “treasure box” of memorabilia from our life together.

The only time I know I would go through this stuff is if I were moving or downsizing. Otherwise it stays hidden, for the most part.   But what does it mean not to have these things? Would it feel like my life had ended? What happens when you keep things with the intention of looking at them later and then find later is now?

Even if it comes unexpectedly, now should be when you get to re-read the letters, sort through the photos, recall the memories and maybe even tell the stories.  But now is often competing with time itself. The house has to be sold. The move has to happen. The remodel is about to start.  Sometimes, sadly, the owner of these things is no longer around for the task.

As an organizer, this is the most poignant part of my work; When I realize the meaning of that photo, award or stuffed animal toy only exists because of the person who imparted that meaning.  When it belongs to someone else, you can impart your own meaning, but then you are left with the same dilemma: Keep it or let it go?

I find it’s useful to consider the truth of these questions when later suddenly becomes now.

  • Would my life really be over if I let these things go or would I just feel that way?
  • Is everything meaningful or could I pick out just the things that are most important to me?
  • By keeping everything, am I placing a significant burden on my family to deal with later?
  • Am I keeping everything as an excuse to avoid creating new memories?
  • If this or that item should disappear would I miss it or attempt to replace it if I could?
  • Would taking a picture of it allow me to let it go if I had to?
  • Is there anyone who I know for certain who would want it (be careful with this one since you don’t want to obligate someone to take something they really don’t want).
  • Do I really love it or am I keeping it to satisfy someone else’s (perceived) need – such as when you keep it not because you like it but because it was a gift from someone you care about.

Life is like walking through a wonderful art museum. You get to admire and spend a little time with the art work that resonates the most with you. You may even be able to take pictures or buy postcards. But at the end of the day, you don’t get to keep what you saw. You do however get to remember how you felt.

The little red moving truck that could (and did)

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My client, Olivia, and I were standing in the family room of her mother’s home knee deep in moving boxes and overstuffed yard bags, packing items she had decided to get rid of when I came across a small plastic grocery bag.

Olivia (not her real name) and I had been working together for several sessions and by now we’d become well acquainted with one another. I have been exceedingly lucky and grateful to have worked with many wonderful people since launching LET’S MAKE ROOM,  Olivia is one of them.

She found me through a local consignment store where she had gone to sell some items belonging to her mother who had recently died after a long illness. Olivia had spent the last seven years seeing to her mother’s care at the home she shared with her with a single-minded devotion that spoke to the kind of person I was just beginning to know.

A woman of enormous grace and compassion, Olivia had given every ounce of her being to the care of her mother so that by the time she was ultimately relieved of this responsibility, she had little left, mentally or physically, to tackle the next phase she had set out to accomplish – making a home for herself in the home that had once been her mother’s.

She told the owner of the local consignment shop about her plight, about the overwhelming work ahead of her and that was how she first learned of me.

At our first meeting, Olivia stated her objectives: Empty the house of items she felt others would enjoy more than she wanted to keep them as quickly as possible to make room for the life she needed to continue on her own.

We agreed on a plan. I would work with her to help choose what items would go, pack everything up and arrange to have it all picked up by a local estate liquidation service.  The job involved the sorting, packing and organizing of well over 100 boxes and bags of items once belonging to her mother as well as other household items. I arranged for the service, a company called Remoovit, to pick up everything including furniture Olivia no longer wanted. We were just a few days away from having the estate liquidator’s 25′ truck arrive and we were nearing the end of the process when I found a small white grocery bag tucked into a box of toys in her family room closet.

I opened the bag and poured the contents on to the large folding table we were using as a workstation. We both stopped and looked at the still unrecognizable items, about a dozen brightly colored pieces of wood.  Then I realized there was something else inside the bag. I pulled it out.  “It’s a puzzle!”

Our attention immediately shifted to these colorful shapes on the table and together, just like two children, we excitedly began arranging the pieces. It took a minute or two and then there it was: An adorable red truck with big black wheels slightly overloaded with an array of items in different colors. We burst into loud shrieks of laughter as the irony hit us simultaneously.  It was the future. At least the immediate future. What had once been a child’s toy, most likely hers or her mother’s, saved and long hidden from view, had now become real. “I’m going to have it framed,” she said.

As an organizer who has seen far too many unrealized projects become clutter, I felt obligated to press her on this decision – “It it worth your time and money?”

“Absolutely,” she replied.

A few days passed. The estate liquidator’s truck came and went, filled with the boxes we had packed on their way to new and as yet unknown owners.  I moved on to other projects and other clients until one day about a week later I got a call from Olivia.

“Can you come over? I have something for you.”

I arrived at her house curious about what she had for me. Perhaps she had neglected to include an item she wanted sold or donated? I walked into her living room and she handed me a package wrapped in brown paper. I unwrapped it and there, behind glass, beautifully framed and mounted, with the words “LET’S MAKE ROOM’ engraved on a little metal plaque below, was the little red pickup truck.

“I made it for you,” Olivia said with a wide grin. I looked up at her. My eyes widened and then of course, began to tear up. “Thank you,” was all I could say. It was the best endorsement of my work I’ve ever received.

It hangs in my home office. When I look at it, I think of Olivia and the gift she gave me just by working with her: the realization of and how much I love what I do.

Protect your home from the space thief

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Is the stuff in your home stealing your space? If so, you are living with a space-thief.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the average cost per square foot of space is upwards of $250. That means if you have a clutter, your space thief is doing a thriving business!

Everyone has some degree of attachment to their possessions; An old desk belonging to your great grandmother; A collection of figurines, each one representing a different travel experience you took with with your mother, now gone; Photo albums of your childhood, your ancestors and now your own children and grandchildren.

I am not suggesting, whatsoever, that you let go of the things that give meaning to your life. But consider this: What if those meaningful items are stored in your basement, garage or attic, amidst the debris of old moldy boxes, sporting gear you haven’t used since 1987, and a shelf full of rusted, empty paint cans?

If you’ve maxed out your storage in the living areas of your home with stuff you don’t even care about, you are living with a thief, a space-thief. The space-thief is stealing your space, by replacing it with clutter, you don’t want or need. 

It’s time to take back your home from the space-thief!

I’ve come to appreciate the term “curate” instead of declutter. It implies something less negative, less demeaning about the things we keep.

The word curate, comes from the latin word cur meaning “care.” A Curate, according to it’s original meaning, was a member of the clergy who took care of the parish. Later, the term curator came to mean one who was charged with the care of something, such as an exhibit, museum or collection.

Approach every clutter issue as an opportunity to be a curator for your own home or office.  In organizing terms, think of your home as you might think of a museum or art gallery. The value of your home’s contents isn’t defined solely by its market value.  There is also value when you can use and enjoy what you own.

A museum or gallery has storage areas to preserve, protect or restore items, typically not open to the public, but it’s the galleries, exhibitions and public spaces that are enjoyed and worth seeing. If your home is more of a storage area than a place to enjoy, you’ve been robbed – by the space-thief.

Here are some ways you can approach your home as a curator and protect yourself from the space-thief in your home:

  1. Sort and categorize items according to type or theme and then decide which are the ones that best fit the theme, spark joy or hold meaning for you now. I once had a client who loved vintage kitchen tools. She had a great collection of vintage egg beaters. Instead of having them stored in a box, she eliminated the duplicates, let go of those not worth repairing and then kept her favorites. The result was a whimsical display that made her vintage kitchen not just functional but a fun place to cook!
  2. Consider a “bequest” of things you no longer value yourself to others you know (or don’t) for the joy of giving. Offer unwanted items to a specific individual by a specific date. Don’t just put it in a “gift” bin. If they pass or don’t meet your deadline, you can opt to donate it to someone else or to charity. Just don’t let it stay too long once you’ve decided to let it go. Doing so, is like giving it away to the clutter-thief.
  3. Choose which items you want to share with your family, friends or simply enjoy yourself and determine the best home and way to display them. If it’s worth keeping, it’s worth using, sharing or enjoying. If it’s surplus – then decide where you will store your “surplus” but know that keeping too much surplus, just in case, is also the same as giving it to a space-thief.
  4. Beware of counterfeit items you thought had value to you, because you’ve kept them, and realize they are actually just stealing space from your home (or office). An old client had kept a valuable desk belonging to her ex-husband. She never liked it and now she was forced to see it every day, which only brought up unpleasant memories. Even when something has market value, if it is stealing space and joy from you, it is not worth keeping. She sold it and used the money to buy herself a desk she could truly call her own.
  5. Take time or get help to contain, display and safeguard your contents for their safety and protection as well as for your own. If your valuables are buried in a pile of clutter on the floor, not only are they at risk of damage but one false step and you could be out of commission yourself.

 

How to let go of books with less tears

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You would think that with the range of digital devices available from tablets to e-readers to smart phones, most of us would have less books. On the contrary a significant majority of Americans, about 65%, still opt for a print book over other platforms, according to a 2016 Pew Research Study.

So why is it so hard to part with them?  Like photographs, books hold memories of important events or people in our lives or ideas we once had. To let go of a book is akin to letting go of a piece of ourselves.

Add to this, people generally don’t let go of their books unless forced to by circumstance, such as when they need to sell their home to move to a smaller home.  The anxiety that comes along with moving can further exacerbate the stress of having to decide what to keep and what to let go of and this is especially true of books.

So what do you do if faced with the hard reality of having to part with your beloved book collection? Fortunately, there are some things you can do to make the loss a little less painful. Consider these questions:

  1. Is it a classic or commonly available elsewhere either in a bookstore or online? One of the great advantages of the digital age is that many libraries now offer you a way to borrow digital copies of books through an app called Overdrive.  All you need is a library card and some type of digital device such as a computer, e-reader, tablet or smart phone. Once signed up, it takes just a matter of seconds to download your favorite book. If you are not especially tech savvy, you still will probably be able to find the book again at a used book store or at the library.
  2. Are you really going to read it?  You’ve had that novel on your shelf for ten years with every intention of reading it but have never gotten around to it. Consider letting it go.
  3. Is there someone you know who would like it? Gift specific books to specific people. As soon as you decide to let go of a book, assign it to someone you know or donate it to an organization, group or charity such as Books for SoldiersBooks Through Bars or your local library. You can also donate books to hospitals, the Salvation Army, Goodwill or a local thrift store. Always check with the charity before you donate and if the books are damaged, consider recycling them as an alternative.
  4. Do you have duplicates? Perhaps you have both the hard copy and paperback editions. Choose which one you prefer and donate the other.
  5. Is it a collectible? Some books such as first editions, antique books or signed books may have secondary value to another collector.  If you are not sure whether or not your collectible book has value, you can do a little research online but avoid doing online appraisals. Take your book to an experienced bookseller you trust. Note that you will have to pay for face to face appraisals for high value books.  You can also check out the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America for a list of member stores near you.

Letting go of meaningful possessions is difficult, especially when combined with the stress of having to move or downsize. Doing good for someone else is one antidote for the loss of control many, especially seniors feel, when moving. Knowing that something in your home now has a new home, can help ease the pain of downsizing.

If you or a member of your family needs reassurance or help packing, distributing, donating or selling your books, contact a professional organizer or senior move manager in your area. You still may shed some tears, but you’ll know you also did good.

 

When saying no means yes

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My client, Barbara (not her real name) is kind, generous and very, very busy.plate-spinner

Her calendar is packed full of appointments, events and meetings. Her cell phone rings, buzzes and beeps almost constantly with notifications that go unanswered. Her unopened emails go on for pages. Her enormous home is tidy, beautifully decorated and as warm as she is but every inch of her storage – closets, cabinets, cupboards, drawers –  are packed full. There isn’t an inch to spare.

Barbara is like the juggler who can keep ten plates spinning simultaneously at the top of ten poles without dropping them because each of them are equally important.

But when you treat everything in your life as equally important, spinning those 10 plates for days, weeks, months or even years (not just minutes) because you believe or behave as if everything is equally important, eventually one of two things happen. One or more of the plates break or you do.

It can be a quick break or a slow one but even the juggler knows when it’s time to stop.

When Barbara said to me recently that she’d turned down a number of invitations because she realized they weren’t worth her time, I felt a sense of relief for her because she was discovering that saying no meant she was finally saying yes… to herself. I also knew she had finally started to see the cost of making everything in her life equally important.

For every task, project, meeting, coffee date, or invitation you receive, before you do it, take it on or schedule it, before you say yes, ask yourself these 3 questions: 

1) Is it important to me?

Is this your priority or someone else’s?  Say yes to you before you say yes to someone else. If  you are the kind of person that likes to be helping others but find yourself doing so at your own expense, it’s okay to say, “thank you for thinking of me but I just don’t have the time right now.”

2) If I don’t do this will it cost me?

What would happen if you didn’t do it? If you’re not sure whether to take something on, imagine not doing it. You don’t want to end up spending a little effort on lot of things instead of a lot of effort on what’s truly important.

3) Is it worth my time?

Only you can answer this question. If it saves you from stress and doesn’t cost you something to say no, then say no. You’ll only be saying yes to what’s really worth your time.

The bottom line is don’t hold on to stuff, projects, even old beliefs about yourself when they are no longer useful to you. Be willing to be brave. Be willing to make hard choices for the bigger rewards. Make room in your life for what matters most!

 

How to discover better in less: Lessons learned from an essentialist

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Have you read Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown?  If not, I recommend it. Especially if you feel like you are never able to catch up or you find yourself asking, “is this all there is?”book-cover

I’m reading it now.  So much of the book’s three-word message — less but better — is resonating with me that I’ve turned almost every page of my e-book a bright shade of green from all the highlighted sections.

I was fortunate to have heard Greg speak at a conference of Professional Organizers a few years ago, before he became a New York Times best-selling author.

I was only a couple of years into running my own business but the memory of the daily grind I experienced in my previous corporate job was still fresh in my mind.  At one point, I recall, Greg explained that most of us use about 10 percent of our potential in our jobs when we are desperate to use so much more. That certainly rang true for me.   Then he asked everyone in the audience to raise their hands if they thought they were using 100 percent of their talent now. My hand shot up like a rocket.

Using 100 percent of your brain’s potential doesn’t mean spending 100% of your time in activities that leave you exhausted, overwhelmed and stressed.  It means spending your time doing things that matter most to you even if it means having to say no to things that matter most to others.

“It’s natural not to want to let go of what we wasted on a bad choice,” Greg writes, “but when we don’t, we doom ourselves to keep wasting even more.”

We all make bad choices or mistakes that we later regret. This is human. but it’s the act of realizing and then doing something different, changing course, or eliminating that choice altogether that makes us wiser.  He reminds us that “there should be no shame in admitting to a mistake; after all, we really are only admitting that we are now wiser than we once were.”

I love this idea so much that I found myself using it in a conversation I had with a young woman designer I met recently who was berating herself for getting into a project she quickly discovered was over her head.  I said to her, “how wise you are to know this now.” Not surprisingly, she had a hard time taking this in. Sometimes it’s easier to blame ourselves than it is to recognize the wisdom in our mistakes.

The same holds true for the “stuff” in our lives.  So much of what we surround ourselves with is the result of out-dated choices.  When those choices cost us, we tend to hold on to them longer. Greg refers to this as the “endowment effect” meaning our tendency to overvalue things we already own.

So much of our daily lives is spent in the act of making choices – both trivial and essential –  that mistakes are inevitable.  How many times have you bought or acquired something that later you discovered was the wrong choice but couldn’t let it go anyway?  This happens because  we force ourselves to find value in the thing, even when there is none, to justify our choice in the first place.  When I work with clients.  I often ask them, “if you saw this today, would you buy it?” Even when they say no, the pain of learning that the original choice no longer has value is sometimes hard to bare.

I believe the clutter in our lives (and in our minds)  also comes from having too many choices to begin with. We have so much already coming at us that the very act of choosing is exhausting.   There are simply too many other “more important” choices to make.  This is in essence what creates clutter.  Too many choices, too much saying yes, or simply not choosing, when we really want to say no.

But living an essential life, a life that Essentialism defines as “the space and the time to think, time to look and listen, permission to play,” invites us to ask ourselves not, how can I do it all or have it all but instead how do I recognize the essential from the trivial? It takes awareness about our motives for choosing this over that and then consciously AND deliberately asking ourselves, “is this essential to me or can my life be just as good, if not better, without it?” By choosing what is essential, we discover how life can be better, even with less.

 

 

 

 

30 Dos and Don’ts for a Do-It-Yourself Move

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Moving BlanketsMaking plans to move doesn’t start the day you start packing.

Whether you are moving, across the street, across the country, or just temporarily while your house is being remodeled, the secret to a stress-free move is all in the preparation.

Here are 15 “Dos” and 15 “Don’ts” to help you, or those you know, plan and prepare to move without breaking the bank or your back.

Do’s

  1. Do get at least two written, onsite estimates and read them carefully. Fees for supplies, materials, 2nd stops or even labor can vary widely from mover to mover.
  2. Do label and if possible, separate items you are Moving (by destination), Selling, Donating or Hauling.
  3. Do consider getting your high value items insured against loss or damage, especially if you are moving more than 50 miles.
  4. Do give yourself plenty of time to purge if you have clutter or are downsizing your home.
  5. Do hire a licensed mover with a long list of references and check their references.
  6. Do plan on being there on move day to direct movers at your old home or new home if you can’t be there.
  7. Do pack heavy items such as books in small boxes, light items such as pillows and lamp shades in large boxes, bulky or odd-sized items such as lamp shades, toys or tools in medium boxes. Fragile items such as crystal and china should go  in extra strong dish-packs.
  8. Do have a plan for unpacking and getting organized at your new home. The average home will take 1-4 weeks to unpack depending upon the amount of items you move. Consider hiring professional organizers if you need it done more quickly.
  9. Do arrange with your movers to disconnect large appliances such as washes and dryers.
  10. Do make a plan for your school aged children on move day  and secure your pets in a safe place.
  11. Do inspect the moving truck after your items are unloaded to be sure it’s fully emptied before movers depart.
  12. Do leave folded clothes in dressers. Most movers will provide wardrobe boxes, free of charge, for your hanging clothes.
  13. Do book your move first thing in the morning.
  14. Do label boxes clearly so movers can get them to the right room in your new home.
  15. Do consider donating or giving away your gently used boxes or see if your movers will take them back.

Don’ts

  1. Don’t assume movers will be available on the day you need to move. Book 4-6 weeks ahead if possible.
  2. Don’t hire movers you haven’t met with or have not been recommended by people you trust.
  3. Don’t forget to pack/purge contents from storage areas, attics, sheds and offsite storage.
  4. Don’t waste time scrounging for boxes and packing supplies. Gently used ones can be found online and less expensive ones at stores like Home Depot. Professional Movers can also deliver boxes/supplies
  5. Don’t leave packing to the last minute. It will add to the cost of your move if your movers were not hired to pack.
  6. Don’t hire a mover solely on price. Experience, knowledge of your community and skill (like moving a grand piano) counts for much more.20150214_101556
  7. Don’t move boxes you haven’t opened since your last move.
  8. Don’t call movers at the last minute with significant changes to your move. It will cost you.
  9. Don’t book a move at the end of a month or in the summer, if possible. These are their busiest times.
  10. Don’t water your plants for two days before you move.
  11. Don’t forget to go back and check all areas of your home before your moving truck leaves.
  12. Don’t forget to complete a change of address form for all your service providers and the US Mail.
  13. Don’t talk to movers when they are moving heavy objects
  14. Don’t forget to tip your movers if they did a good job.
  15. Don’t forget to notify friends, relatives and the post office about your new address.

To sell or to donate? That is the question

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To donate or to sell comes down to time vs. money

  • You spent a lot of money on that sofa 5 years ago but it doesn’t work in your new home.
  • You loved it when you bought that suit but it doesn’t fit your personality anymore.
  • Your best friend talked you into buying that clock last year but it’s just not you.
  • Your husband gave you a gift because he thought it was meaningful but it’s simply not your taste.

Sound familiar? What do you do?

First, forget how much you spent on it or how much it may have cost. That money is gone.

Second, it won’t serve you tucked away in some back cabinet or closet especially when you need that space for other items.

Once you’ve realized the cost of holding on to it exceeds the cost of letting it go, you have two options.

  1. Donate it
  2. Sell it

Keeping it is an option if you want to delay your decision even longer but that’s the very definition of clutter.

“Gifting” it to someone else is also an option but be careful that you are not simply transferring your clutter to someone else. In this case I consider “gifting” the same as donating.

The next thing you should do is decide on a dollar amount that would make it worth your time to sell it because selling an item takes a lot longer than donating. And donating takes time too.

Would you take the time to sell it if you made $10? $50? $100? More?

Handpainted TableLet’s say for example you have an artsy, hand-painted table you bought fifteen years ago when you were living as a single person somewhere else.  Now you are married and working full-time.  It’s still in good shape but it no longer fits your more streamlined, contemporary style (or your spouse hates it).  Now there’s no place to put it so it’s just taking up space in your garage.

You paid almost a thousand dollars for it so you can’t imagine donating it.  Your kids don’t want it and you don’t have the time to refinish it.

You’ve already taken the time to find out similar used tables sell for about $200-$300.

If you decide to sell it you will need to be prepared to spend at least a couple more hours selling it. You can do this on sites like Craigslist, Amazon or Ebay, including the time to reply to emails,  be available to meet with prospective buyers and sell it in person, assuming you don’t plan on shipping it.

If you’re lucky it will sell for the price you want. If not, it’s still taking up valuable real-estate in your garage, not to mention space in your brain.

You can also donate it to a charitable organization such as Goodwill. Alternately you can donate it to a specific local charity or non-profit organization you are connected with for a fund-raising auction. Again, this will take time, more time depending upon which type of donation you choose. You can also consign but keep in mind consignment shops have the last word on whether or not they will take an item. You could end up going from store to store and still not get anyone to take it. Be sure you know and understand a consignment store’s policy before you go there.

Most people tend to overvalue the worth of their possessions. Not everyone will have a seemingly worthless vase that really is a priceless collector’s item like the ones on TV’s Antiques Roadshow.

When deciding whether or not to donate or sell, you’ll want to obtain the true estimate value of an item or items to help you decide.

Donation is not the same as disposing. When you donate an item it does continue to have worth, both tangible (the tax benefit, re-sale value) and intangible (the ‘feel good’ effect).  Incidentally,  the IRS allows for up to $500 of non-cash donations to be claimed on your taxes without having to provide proof of value for each individual item.

Does this mean you should donate the table? Not necessarily but it does depend on other factors:

  • Do you have the time and willingness to sell it?
  • Do you need the income right now?
  • Is the item worth your time to sell given it’s actual estimated market value?
  • Will donating now versus waiting to sell it help with other goals you have such as gaining more storage or more room for another hobby or interest?

If you consider all of these factors together, chances are you will know what to do. If you’re still stuck, consider asking the advice of a professional organizer or call LET’S MAKE ROOM.

We can help you make a decision you can live with.

The Yoga of Organizing

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My friend and Yogini extraordinaire, Deborah Saliby, called me on Sunday asking for my advice.

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Deborah Saliby, Yoga for Health

Deborah has been teaching Yoga for more than thirty years.  There are a lot of Yoga teachers out there but relatively few hold the special certification that she does in Iyengar training. The certification signifies that she has undergone extensive training as an instructor in a particular method of Hatha Yoga called Iyengar, named for B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the foremost Yoga teachers in the world.

Whenever I have a question about Yoga, I call Deborah.  The moment I feel like my body, mind and spirit are crying out for a little restoration, Deborah is the first person I think of.  On Sunday, however, after her class, Deborah’s mind and spirit were crying out for a different kind of restoration, in her home.  I am grateful she called me.

“I want to organize three closets in my house,” she told me,
“but I’m not sure where to start.” She asked if I would mind sharing some of my professional organizing tips.  “Of course,” I told her. I enjoy it when anyone calls me with a specific organizing question. To me if you are willing to ask the question, you are definitely in the mindset to get organized.

As a professional organizer,  the most common questions I get involve the how and where of organizing, as in “how do I do this?” or “where do I start?”  Typically this follows an extended period of gradual awareness which eventually transforms into “I really wish my (fill in the blank) was more organized. But it’s not until the defining moment when the thought, “today is the day I’m going to do something about it,” that change can occur.

For my friend Deborah that moment came after she got home from teaching one of the many Yoga classes she leads in Berkeley, California.

“So where do you want to start?” I asked. “I don’t know, she said. So I probed a little more. “Which of your closets bugs you the most, that is, which has the most impact on your daily life? “My bedroom closet where I keep all my clothes,” she said, with a little giggle, “you know how much I love to shop?”

“Okay,” I said. “So why do you want to do this at all?” She explained to me that she wanted to hold a sidewalk sale. “Yes,” I said, “that’s good, but why do you want to get organized?” I asked again. “Because I can’t stand looking at the mess in my closet anymore. I know I have a lot of nice things in there that I don’t want anymore and half the time I can’t find what I’m looking for. I’m wasting time and I want to be able to wear what I love.”

Deborah understood what was bothering her about her closet but even more she knew what organizing it would mean to her (not to anyone else) and she was motivated. Plus she had the added incentive of making a little extra money. I told her, “Yeah, you could sell all the clothes you don’t want anymore and with the money you make go out and buy new ones.”  We both laughed.

I offered Deborah a step-by-step plan to get all three of her closets organized.  I shared some strategies for how to overcome some predictable obstacles such as what to do with items that had more “emotional value” than “wear-value.”  I took her through exactly what I would do with her if I were physically doing the work with her and then I asked her if she had any questions. “Nope, I’ve got it.”

Before we hung up I told her to feel free to call me when she was done with the first closet.  Even though Deborah was doing this for herself, I wanted her to know that I was interested in hearing about her progress.

The next day, Deborah did call. She sounded really happy.  She told me how she had followed my plan including emptying the entire closet first, sorting items by category, parting with what she no longer used, wore, or loved and got rid of things that brought in bad “mojo.”  She reorganized the items she kept by type and color and put aside those things she plans to include in her sidewalk sale.  In total it took her two hours. I was impressed.

“How do you feel now?” I asked her, “Great! Just walking past my closet makes me happy.”Neat Closet

I offered Deborah some final tips about items she was still undecided about and suggested some ways to contain items on the shelves using what she already had around her house, before saying goodbye.

After we hung up I went in to my living room and took a big breath and stretched.  Thank you for that, Deborah.

Have a question about organizing? Getting ready to move or start a home renovation project and need to get things packed, donated and organized? Call or email me. I promise you’ll come away with something you can use.

As I told Deborah, I love to be a catalyst for change.