How to downsize your home without losing your mind

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You’ve lived in your home for 25 years or more. Perhaps you raised your kids there. Maybe it was your parents’ home before it was yours. It contains the memories of your life, your children’s lives, your families lives, the life you had with a spouse.

Every item in your home reflects something about you and the people you love most. Now the time has come, by choice or circumstance, to empty your home of all the memories so you can continue to live, more simply, perhaps more frugally, without the burdens home-ownership brings in later life. Now the real work begins.

As a professional organizer specializing in helping people just like you make this transition, I’m here to tell you it can be done. It seems overwhelming, impossible sometimes, but I have never, ever had a client not move on with their lives, as they planned. Is it easy? No. Is it stressful? Yes. There are few things harder in life than moving, except losing a loved one, and in some respects moving can feel just as painful, especially because it’s our memories we are leaving behind, not just our stuff.

This is why it is so, so important to know and constantly remind yourself why you are making this move in the first place.

Are you protecting your financial future?
Are you needing a simpler life?
Do you want to release yourself of the burden of taking care of a home that may be too big for you now?
When all is said and done, how will you know that you got there?

Take a moment and picture yourself done. You’ve moved.

You’re in your new home or your new community. What are you doing? Who are you with? How are you feeling? Are you enjoying the view outside your new home? Are you with family or friends you wanted to be closer to? Are you taking a walk in the neighborhood you knew would make you happy? Are you enjoying a new activity your move has made possible? Whatever the image is, picture it and keep that picture close to your heart.

Get as crystal clear as you can about this picture. You will need it to spur you on to keep moving when the chaos, albeit temporary, of moving is at its height and you find yourself wondering if you’ve done the right thing. I’m here to tell you, to reassure you. You have.

Memories are what make life rich and meaningful but so is living in the present moment. It is often the things or stuff of our lives that trigger those memories. We ask ourselves,”If I get rid of this or that will I lose the memory?” Yes, you may but not necessarily. Life is about creating new memories. If we had to remember everything that happened to us at every moment of our lives, a condition called hyperthymesia,  you would be exhausted from the constant burden of non-stop, uncontrollable, stream of memories.  Essentially you would be unable to live in the present.

When you are downsizing, it’s important to remember your future just as much as your past.

 

 

When life strays from your to-do list

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Sometimes, with all good intentions, your to-do list will just be one more thing to add to your to-do list.

Today, with all good intentions, I had a plan to get mine done. Even a professional organizer who considers herself pretty good when it comes to managing her time can get thrown for a loop.

In between appointments, while out giving my dog a quick walk in our neighborhood, I heard a child yell out to me, “hey, is that your dog?” pointing to a small scruffy little dark-grey pooch across the street. My heart sunk. “No,” I said, “this is my dog.” pointing to my Chihuahua safely in my control, on her leash.

For a moment I could hear the voice in my head say, you could help this dog, assuage the look of concern on this child’s face or tell the kid sorry, it’s not my dog, and simply walk away.

“What’s your name,”I asked the little boy as we tried together to corral the scruffy little pooch close enough to us to see if he had a collar. He did not of course.  “Ricky,” he said wearing an oversized Oakland raiders shirt and a du-rag on his head.

Alas, I knew what I was going to do.

Together we started calling the non-emergency police lines on our cell phones as well as the local animal services. To our frustration we just got stuck in a voicemail loop, each location instructing us to call the other.  I reassured him that I would do what I could. He looked worried.

In the meantime, I was taking photos of doggie and getting them posted to Nextdoor, a neighborhood social networking site, while waiting (in vein as it turned out) for a live person to answer Oakland’s non-emergency police phone line. I knew I had appointment in an hour and a long list of other items I had to get done and was trying to figure out in a split second how I would get this dog to a shelter in time for my appointment.  I told Ricky I would take the dog around the corner to my house since it was obvious there was nothing more he could do and his grandmother, he said, couldn’t take the dog.

Fortunately, my husband, the child of parents who used to keep a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, in their backyard,  was on his way home. When he drove up to our house, I persuaded him to take the little guy – the dog, not the kid –  to the local animal services shelter.

He handed me the chicken breasts he’d picked up at the store for dinner on his way home and I handed him the stray dog. Between us we struggled for a bit to get this sweet, albeit terrified dog into his car, coaxing him with treats.

After my husband drove off, I went back around the corner to tell little Ricky that the dog was okay and was safely at the local shelter. He seemed relieved but also unimpressed, as if this kind of thing happened to him all the time. He looked at me for a moment and I thought he was going to say thank you. Instead he asked,  “do you know if there’s a Chinese restaurant near here?”  The question took me by surprise. He had clearly moved on.

My husband arrived home. No microchip he told me. Well at least this sweet dog wasn’t running around the street anymore.

So much for getting to my to-do list.

Garage or junk drawer: Getting it organized is the same process.

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Whenever I meet with a new client I show them how we organize a large space by organizing a small space. This is because it’s the same process,  just on a smaller scale. Often I start with a junk drawer but no matter the size of the space, as long as you are organizing physical items (not paper) the process is the same.

  1. Gather the contents by emptying it onto a flat surface such as a table or bed.  Dust out the drawer if needed.
  2. Sort items by type, such as pens with pens, tools with tools, paper with paper. Don’t throw anything away until you are done. Just focus on sorting. This should take just a few minutes. Don’t skip this step. It’s the most important!
  3. Purge what you don’t use, need or love.  Start with obvious trash and move on from there. Usable items can be donated. Loose bits of paper can be reviewed and recycled or shredded as needed.
  4. Decide what belongs back in the junk drawer or somewhere else in your home.   Wait till you’re done before moving these items into other rooms, otherwise you’ll lose your momentum.
  5. Contain like items with small containers or a a drawer organizer.  This will make it easy to find and return items when you’re done using them.

It’s also important to start with the right tools such as bags or boxes for the items you no longer use, need or love. Want to see how it’s done?

Check out my video.

The best gifts to get the clutterer in your life

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The last thing that special person in your life needs, who also happens to be challenged by too much stuff, is more stuff.

Some people have too many useless or long forgotten objects to fill up a void in their lives, especially if they live alone. Others hold on to things to hold on to memories. There are also those who keep things for their potential use. Unfortunately these things rarely if ever get used. Fear of loss or pain is another reason people keep things they don’t really need.

Instead of buying one more thing, here’s a list of my favorite gifts for that special “collector” in your life. The best part of these gifts is they involve spending time with you! Because if you are reading this, you are probably pretty special too.

  1. A personalized gift certificate from you for a special experience or outing you could enjoy together.
  2. Gift card to their favorite restaurant.
  3. Tickets to a concert or an event.
  4. Gift certificate for a consultation with a professional organizer. Be sensitive with this one. Do it only if you know them well and you have asked them if they would like some expert advice.
  5. A month’s subscription to their favorite entertainment streaming service.
  6. Membership to a local health club.
  7. Gift certificate for a class they’ve been talking about taking.
  8. Tickets to a local tourist or holiday attraction and offer to go with them.
  9. A trial membership for a healthy food delivery service.
  10. Have a favorite photo or piece of art, professionally framed for them. It won’t add to their clutter and it will remind them of you and something or someone they love.

Wishing you a joyous, peaceful and organized holiday season.

Is fear holding you back from getting organized?

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Every so often I have to declutter something in my home.

I don’t want to lose touch with what my clients experience and I like what it does for my peace of mind. It frees me of some amorphous burden I sometimes experience in other parts of my life. It’s like a form of exercise or meditation for stress relief.

Today’s lesson is brought to you by hair conditioner.

You see, I have very thick, wavy hair that gets tangled easily if I don’t use some kind of detangler or conditioner. Years ago, maybe once when I was a child, I was washing my hair and I’d run out of detangler. The next thing I knew, my mother was doing her best to detangle my matted mess and causing me much pain and anguish in the process.

I never thought about it until today but while I was decluttering my bathroom and utility cabinets I noticed I had a lot of hair conditioner. Even more striking however was how much I resisted letting it go, even though I wanted to declutter. I thought, “How many bottles of hair conditioner do I really need?”

In fact, I thought about all the rationale questions I ask my clients:

“If it disappeared could it easily be replaced? YES.”

“Do I love this particular bottle? NO.”

“Did I have enough already? ABSOLUTELY!”

So when it came down to really examining my own resistance to letting go of an abundance of hair conditioner, I had to trace it back to that moment of pain.  I never wanted to be caught without it again. “Doing so,” my brain told me, “would surely lead to pain and suffering.

In California recently, thousands of people have lost their homes to wildfires. I know from my experience as a professional organizer and from friends who have lost their homes in fires, that going through extreme trauma and loss can be devastating.  The recovery process is long, complicated and fraught with real fears of attachment and letting go.

I once had a client who had survived the loss of two homes through fire. Her collection of emergency supplies could fill a small garage.

Fear, I’ve learned, doesn’t have to come from a big trauma.  It can come from small events too.

Fear lives in your body and your psyche for a long time. Fear of loss, fear of change, fear of re-experiencing pain. Fear is such a strong and powerful emotion, it doesn’t matter how much time goes by or even what caused it in the first place; It continues to rule our behaviors and our habits.

So what can you do when you notice fear ruling you at a time when you need to feel strong?

Let’s say you need to downsize your home because you are moving to a smaller space. When it comes to doing the simplest decluttering, pay attention when you see yourself holding on to something for apparently no obvious reason. Notice what emotions come up.

Ask yourself,”what does this item remind me of?” Don’t minimize it, no matter how silly it may seem. If a memory gets triggered, allow yourself to review it.

  • What in that memory may be getting in the way of your home organizing goals?
  • Is it a fact that whatever you remember will or could happen again?
  • Is it probable? If it did, how would you cope?

Imagine letting go of the item and see what comes up and what you would do if it happened.

There is amazing information in our brains that can help with not just the act of organizing or decluttering but can also give us insight into ourselves to help us heal from our biggest traumas or even small ones.  The pain is real.

The question is can you control how you react to it now? Doing so will empower you to take control of the fear.

Once you can objectively examine the real benefit of getting to where you want to go, you will realize the real price is holding onto an old fear when you no longer need to be afraid or even better, when you know you’ve survived.

I can throw out that old hair conditioner now.

Office in your bedroom? Don’t lose sleep over it

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Desk as bedside table

How to keep your office organized when it’s is in your bedroom

You are finally in bed after a long day. You cover yourself with a blanket; feel the warm comfort of your pillow beneath your head and the soft, cool sheets against your tired body. You begin to relax into a night of slumber when you are suddenly startled by the pinging sounds of your computer sending notifications about tomorrow’s busy day. You get up and turn down the volume and get back in bed. That’s when you notice the pile of papers strewn across your desk, in varying heights and reminding you of a slew of unfinished tasks, unpaid bills and projects still yet to be started. You shut your light out, hoping in darkness you will forget the site of all that you have left undone. All of a sudden you see the blinking of all your devices in random rhythms, your router, your modem, your phone.  Your room lights up with a blue blinking glow. You cover your face with a pillow and somehow manage to fall into an exhausted sleep.

In general, I don’t think a bedroom is a great place for your office. Your bedroom should be a place of respite, relaxation and most of all sleep. Yet sometimes, there is no choice. Space is at a premium. You share a home or an apartment and there is no other available space to work.

This doesn’t mean you should lose sleep when your office is in your bedroom. Here are some ways you can minimize those distractions without sacrificing your personal productivity.

  • Hide your desk. Space permitting, hide your desk behind a free-standing, decorative folding screen or room divider. You can buy them online or in most home decor stores. When it’s time to leave work, simply pull the screen around your desk.
  • Shut out and shut down. Turn off or block digital noise and distractions. If you can’t hide your electronic equipment, things like your modem, router, or fax/printer behind or under your desk, place a small piece of dark blue painter’s tape over the lights that blink. Painter’s tape will not harm your equipment and can be easily removed or re-placed. This is especially recommended if you use a guest room for your office. You don’t want your guests losing sleep from all the pings and blinking lights.
  • Re-purpose and reposition. If your room is configured for it, why not turn your desk into a combination bedside table-workspace. That way, you are no longer looking at the desk from your bed. You’ll need a lamp on your desk anyway, so why not make it your bedside lamp. You can also leave a little room nearest your bed for a book or notepad, a place to put your reading glasses, a small plant or decorative item, and a clock or device with an alarm.  In other words, all the things you would need nearby while you’re working.
  • Clear the decks. Surfaces are notorious clutter catchers. No matter what size the surface, they have a way of getting covered with things. Just like you have a home, everything in your home should have a home. Take the time each day to survey what you have on your desk or work surface and decide 1) Can I toss it? 2) Does it need to live on my desk? 3) where else could it live in my home?  Then toss it, move it or take it back to where it lives. No more homeless items!
  • Create vertical storage. Install simple bracket or wall-shelves above your desk area for less frequently used items, books, or reference materials. Use decorative boxes in like colors to contain surplus office supplies. Get these all off your desk and on to a shelf to free up space for working, creating and being more productive.
  • Equalize your workspace. Before leaving your desk for bed, take 60 seconds to put loose items in drawers, loose papers in a stack or contain them in a shallow box (e.g. an “in-box”). Review your calendar and most important to-dos for the next day. Then shut off your computer (or put it in “sleep mode”) along with all other unnecessary electronics. You’ll save money on your electric bill and may even get a few more Zs tonight.

 

10 myths you have about organizing your stuff

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Personal and home organizing is a hot topic and almost everyone has an opinion about what works. Here are ten beliefs about organizing that I have heard numerous times in my ten years as a professional organizer and move manager. Ask yourself, have I heard myself think or say any of these? If so, read why I think you’d be better off tossing out these beliefs next time you decide to get organized at home.

Myth #1 If it’s visible I can see it. (Also known as, I will remember I have this if I put it here.)
If everything is visible, nothing is. Your eye doesn’t know where to focus. Picture things in a pile. They might be visible but good luck finding what you need in a hurry. If you find yourself saying, “I will remember it if I just put it here,” in my industry we jokingly refer to that as the FHS system of organizing, as in First Horizontal Space.

Myth #2 Just touch the paper once.
I’ve heard clients repeat this back to me dozens of times but it never made sense to me, especially for paper that is prompting you to do something – such as pay a bill – or paper that is likely you will look at again – such as your credit card bill. The only paper I can see looking at once is the paper you toss (or shred) like your junk mail.

Myth #3 It will just take me a day to get organized
Unless you make a living as a professional organizer, I would never recommend you spend an entire day on an organizing project unless you have a lot of energy! Organizing is both a physical and mental task. Spending eight hours sorting, purging, assigning homes to items, then containing them in a way that makes sense, not to mention shopping for the right organizing products and labeling them, is a lot or work!  Most of my clients consistently underestimate the time it takes to organize a space.  Organizing a room includes not just what you can see, but what you can’t see (hidden on shelves, in cabinets and drawers). If you are motivated to get organized, pick a day and time frame when you are feeling normally energetic or when you do other types of household tasks. Don’t spend more than 3-4 hours working. Do you really want to spend your precious days off organizing your garage if what you really want to do is tend to your garden, take a walk with your dog or have brunch with a friend? One more tip: Never use your vacation time to get organized if you don’t have to.

Myth #4 Containers, bins and labels will get me organized
That of course is what many stores carrying organizing products and systems will want you to believe. Don’t get me wrong, many of these products are great and I would be the first to recommend a good storage bin to a client when it calls for one. Just buying products and having them collect dust in your home will never get you more organized. Plan on using them for a specific set of items that you have already sorted through and decided to keep because you use them.

Myth #5 Organized people are dull
Dull no. Passionate, creative, caring, quirky, friendly, obsessive (sometimes). If you like your “messy” side and have no reason to be “tidy” then embrace that part of yourself if it doesn’t cause pain for you or your loved ones.  That being said, I’ve always believed that when you create more physical space in your life, it gives you the room to focus on or discover what truly gives you joy.

Myth #6 I am hopeless when it comes to getting organized
The messages we give ourselves often manifest as reality. But just because you don’t have the expertise, skill, “mindset” or intention to get organized doesn’t mean you can’t be me more organized. I understand not everyone is cut out to be better at something they wish they were. No amount of effort will ever turn me into a marathon runner but I did once complete a marathon-walk.  It took months of training every weekend, motivation and a plan. If you want to learn to be better organized, you can do it

Myth #7 I just need time to do some filing
Several years ago, I started a new personal productivity service for my clients who were struggling with too much paper.
I was inspired to do this after I heard so many of them say that the answer to their paper piles was filing. It’s not!  The answer to your paper piles is less paper! But knowing what paper to keep, how and why, and having a simple system for organizing and managing new paper as it comes in to your life, does work.  Learn more about my personal productivity service here.

Myth #8 I just need more storage space
The famous comedian, George Carlin, had a great routine about why people buy homes (as a “place to put their stuff.”)  Check it out here for a good laugh: https://youtu.be/MvgN5gCuLac.  While storage or lack thereof may be a contributing factor to your disorganization, buying or building shelves will not make the clutter go away. It will just “contain” it. But buying shelving just to contain your “stuff” is like, as Mr. Carlin said, like buying a house just to have a place to put your stuff.

Myth #9 Live minimally
While I love to watch the shows about Tiny Houses, not everyone is cut out to live in a 200 square foot home. I know I’m not! When I was in college, I had a boyfriend who literally had one knife, one fork, and one spoon. At dinner we used to playfully compete for who got the fork at dinner! It may have seemed romantic at the time, but you don’t have to live this minimally to enjoy your life. There is a grey area in between. When it comes to deciding what you really need, I prefer to use the word “curate” as it implies keeping only what supports you. Curate comes from the Latin word Cur or care. Thus we keep what we care about and anything left that is still useful, finds new life in the care of someone else. Living in a consumer and technological culture has made that very difficult. Sadly there is so much I see that can’t be re-used or recycled. Choose carefully what you bring into your life. Everytime you are tempted to buy something new, consider that the day may come when you will want to part with it. Will it be usable or trash?

Myth #10 Having a place for everything I own will make me more organized.
Having a home for what you use, love and need is important but having a home for your stuff alone does not make you more organized. It won’t help you, for example, if you have used your space so efficiently that every square inch of your home contains things that you’ve never used, exist in quantities that exceed what you need or you are keeping for sentimental reasons that never honor the person who gave them to you. What’s the point of holding on to your grandmother’s china if you never use it! In her day, she probably kept it as an heirloom for you and chances are she used it because in her day, China was part of her lifestyle the way mugs and plates we own are part of ours. If you are keeping something for sentimental reasons, use it to bring back memories otherwise release it for someone else to enjoy. Just keep in mind, to someone else it’s just a plate and saucer.

If you can breathe, you can learn to be more organized

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Take A Deep Breath

 

While I was in Mexico on vacation recently, I read this wonderful book by Kimber Simpkins, a writer and Berkeley-based yoga teacher, entitled Full: How I Learned to Satisfy My Insatiable Hunger and Feed My Soul.

I was pleasantly surprised to come to a part in her book when she recounts a day organizing a closet and specifically addresses the ideas of space, fulfillment, emptiness and forgiveness, all relevant to the work I do as a professional organizer.

“One Monday, morning,” Simpkins begins, “I cleaned, cleared out debris, organized, and straightened, all to make room for a different fullness to come in.”  

She continues, comparing the process to her yoga practice, and more specifically, to the idea of breathing.

“Just like us humans…to inhale, we exhale completely first, creating emptiness, a vacuum, and then we fill that space once again with the breath.”

Like yoga, or even conscious breathing, organizing is a practice, one that develops over time, practiced over and over, until it becomes habit. Like breathing.

Creating the physical space in your life invites other things, perhaps previously undiscovered things, realizations and new habits – to emerge.

Once space is emptied, it is only then we have the “space” in our minds to consider what that space should contain again.

We bring conscious intention to those decisions and in doing so to our outer and inner lives as a whole.

This is why I love what I do!

Lis

 

Don’t do this to your children!

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Organizing Cartoon

You may think your children and grandchildren are interested in your life, and they are, but they will never want, nor have the time, to sort through your collection of old newspaper clippings, war memorabilia, beany-babies and logo t-shirts, unless this is the legacy you leave them.

Yes, your life has meaning. Yes, you want to be remembered after you go, but do you really want your kids to have to spend days, weeks and perhaps months, sifting through the things you cared so much about you stored them in your basement?

Unless they have already expressed an interest in these items, or they are archivists (or writers maybe), don’t assume they will find your life to be as fascinating as you think it is or was.

If you really want to pass on some of your life’s possessions, take the time now to curate what you own. In other words, downsize and decluttter that garage, attic, basement and external storage unit of all the stuff you’ve been “saving” for your kids that they can’t really use and definitely don’t want.

Unless you had a notable career where your life’s work may be of interest to the general public or as part of a special collection, don’t assume your children are so enamored of you that they will establish a museum in your honor.

They really don’t want your grandmother’s 12-piece china set, especially if it can’t go in the dishwasher!

If you have been storing their childhood toys, clothing, art and schoolwork, ask them if they still want them and set a deadline for collecting them. You are not a public storage facility.  If they are grown, it’s time for them to claim their stuff or get rid of it themselves.

Still feeling attached to little Katie’s first drawing? Take a picture of it. Then donate what’s still usable — good quality clothing and gently used items that you would imagine buying yourself in their current condition — and recycle or dispose of the rest.

As a veteran professional organizer who has literally seen it all, please take my advice:

If you want to leave them a legacy, leave them with the gratitude they will have for you for not having to put their own lives on hold to deal with all your stuff when they already have plenty of their own.

It may sound odd or morbid, but if they are adults, take the time now to ask them what they really want of yours after you go. If that’s a conversation that seems impossible, then ask them to send you a list of what they want or alternately, write a list of what household items you want each of them to have. Consider including the list as part of your Will. Most of all, give them permission to say “thanks but no thanks.”

After my mother passed three years ago, my sister and I spent several weeks clearing out her home. I kept relatively little in part because my mother lived in New York and I’m in California and it costs a lot to ship items. Fortunately my sister and I didn’t want a lot of the same things.  When we did, we negotiated.  It was hard enough finding new “homes” for the usable items we didn’t want, let alone arguing over them, in the midst of our grief.

Whatever issues or conflicts exist between your children now, will be that much worse after you go.  Do you really want your legacy to be your kids fighting over who gets your collection of vintage Santa Claus statues?

Don’t do this to your children!

 

 

How to take the stress out of moving

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How many times have you moved?

 

Moving is one of life’s most stressful and time-consuming events. As a professional organizer and move manager I believe it doesn’t have to be.

Imagine you had a trusted professional to plan your move, vet and then hire great movers you can trust and direct them on pack and move day according to your specific needs.

Imagine you had expert help to figure out where everything will go; All your unwanted items sold or donated; Your old home, empty and ready to be staged for sale, rental or remodeling – even if you can’t be there!

Now imagine that before the moving van pulls away, a team of caring and careful organizing specialists are already busy unpacking and setting up your kitchen, baths, bedrooms and storage areas – logically and aesthetically – according to your wishes so you can start enjoying life in your new home instead of living out of boxes for weeks!

If you ever thought,  “I can’t do this again,” this is what we do at LET’S MAKE ROOM (in addition to helping you organize your home and office when you’re not moving).

This month I’ve made it possible for you to know exactly what you need to do to plan for a less stressful move using this convenient checklist  based on everything I’ve learned as a veteran professional organizer and move manager.  Download your copy and use it to help plan your next move.

You deserve it!