Archive for the ‘Spring Cleaning’ Category

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.

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.

The Basement Chronicles – Part 1

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“It’s time to fix up the basement. My goal: Turn it into a more usable home-gym and place to focus on my physical, mental and spiritual fitness.”

It’s been about a month since I posted that statement and happy to report that I have been using the basement for a home gym.  Before I could, however, I made it my goal to empty out most of the cabinets which were filled with old toys, games and crafts belonging to my now 17-year old step-daughter who gave me the okay.

Many of the toys got donated to a local Alameda County organization called Bananas which helps low income mothers to find childcare and early childhood education.  A few were consigned to a store called, Toy Go Round  – a decision I might re-think because it required two trips to the consignment store (plus another for each time I want to check on the sales of my items).  It also took a good deal of effort, time and paper towel to clean the old toys so they would be sale-able.

Organizing the Basement

Alex, the cat, inspects the toys being ready for sale and donation

I have to confess though it did give me the opportunity to indulge the 9 year-old in me that wanted to hear the sounds of the Barbie train whistle again and open and close all the cabinets in the Barbie Town House.  That train, now featured in the window of the consignment store, is going to make some other little girl’s day.

Next time I’ll let you know about how I set up the gym and what’s left to do.

Nesting Your Way to Better Organization

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Spring. It’s that time of year when so many of us are inspired to clear out the old to make way for the new.  It’s more than just “Spring Cleaning.” It’s nesting!

Though the term is typically associated with preparing for childbirth, according to the World Dictionary,* nesting is defined as:

“The tendency to arrange one’s immediate surroundings, to create a place where one feels secure, comfortable, or in control”

There are several times in your life when you may find nesting helps express your personality and emotion:

  • At the start of a new season
  • When you’ve just moved to a new home
  • When your (last) child living at home leaves for college
  • In the weeks before undergoing a medical procedure
  • During a career search
  • While recovering from a loss, divorce or breakup
  • Preparing for a loved one who is entering (or re-entering) your home

If you are feeling the urge to “nest,” here are a few simple tips to keep in mind that will help you achieve a greater sense of clarity and control.

  1. Focus on one area at a time such as your office, cubicle or bedroom and resolve to finish the task even if it takes more than one session.
  2. Start by clearing one surface space such as a desktop or even a bed. Having one clear space is a great motivator to keep you going and you’ll need it for the next step.
  3. Sort like items into three piles Keep, Toss and Not Sure. The goal here is not to get stuck on the “Not Sures.”
  4. Remove the items you no longer want or need by placing them in containers (bags or bins) for donating or recycling.
  5. Identify the purpose of each “Not Sure” item and ask yourself, “Does this still serve me or enhance my life in some way?” If not, consider letting it go, donating it or re-purposing it as something you would probably use.
  6. Assign a permanent home for the items you know you will keep and contain them with other like items especially if they are small to help you find them again.
  7. Clean and/or dust areas as you go. Create a fresh space to resume the activity you do (or plan to do) in that space.
  8. Enhance your newly organized space with something fresh or inspirational such as a vase of flowers, a piece of art work or a photograph you love to bring new life into the space.

When you’re done, go out and enjoy the beauty of Spring!