Things I learned from losing my home in a fire

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The Woolsey Fire burns a home in Malibu, Calif., Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. A Southern (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

 

I live in Northern California, where the Kincade Fire is raging across parts of beautiful Sonoma county, just 80 miles north of me. It has been burning out of control for more than a week.

So much of what I do as a professional organizer is about helping people make room in their lives and their homes for what truly matters most to them.  There is no more vivid way to drive home this notion then when you suddenly lose everything in a wildfire. 

This is what happened to my friend Patricia Judge, exactly a year ago, during the Woolsey Fire in Southern California. 

This month, I invited Patricia to share her story. There is plenty being written about “emergency preparedness” right now but by sharing Patricia’s story, I hope you will take a moment to consider what she learned – and continues to feel – from her first hand experience.

After you read it I hope you will take at least one action today to protect your memories, your assets and your life should you ever need to leave your home in a hurry due to a natural or man-made disaster.


“Knock! Knock! Knock!   Mandatory Evacuation!  The fire is on its way!  Leave now!”

This is what I heard at my door while I was sleeping early in the morning last November. It was the sheriff.

“How much time do I have?” I asked the Sheriff.

“Get dressed and get out of here now.” he told me.  “The fire is on its way!”

I knew there was a fire, but it seemed so far away from me, and I realized at that moment I was not prepared.

As I put on my pants and shoes, grabbed some jewelry from my dresser, I couldn’t believe what was happening.  As the Sheriff knocked on my neighbors doors to leave I don’t think any of my neighbors actually thought the fire was on its way either.

My neighborhood was gone in 30 to 45 minutes.  Actually, my neighbor didn’t make it out because the road was no longer accessible.  He did not die, but he did lose everything he was putting into his trailer as the Sheriff was telling us to leave.  I recall the trailer’s chassis was still there in the rubble when I eventually returned to see what was once our neighborhood.

I had lived in Southern California where there had been fires and admit to having a flippant attitude about them. 

I always thought the chances of our house being burned down was low.  What I discovered was it can and it did happen.

What I learned from losing my home in the Woolsey Fire was this.

Be Prepared!

What does that mean?  Know what you want to take in advance even before a fire. 

In the moment it is happening you will not be thinking straight.  Write it down and know where it all is so you can put it in your car.

Don’t get caught in a false sense of safety.  Anyone can lose their home in an instant.

If you own your home, make sure you are adequately insured. Make sure your agent has copy of your policy. It’s one less thing you have to remember to grab. 

If you rent, get renters insurance!  It is not that expensive and insure your home for more than you think you will need. 

I was surprised to realize that even with my “minimal” lifestyle, how much it cost to replace, what I had lost. 

I lost pretty much everything and even a year later I am replacing things I lost and realizing that this expense will go on for years to come.

Make an “Emergency Binder”  that has all the paperwork you will want if you have to evacuate and keep it accessible.

Back up your computer’s documents onto hard drives or the cloud at least every month. 

Keep the hard drives with your “Emergency binder.” 

If you have photos you want to rescue make sure you can carry them are and easy for you to access.

Clothing – know what you want to take.

It was a total afterthought and I realized I lost so many shoes, purses, and clothing that were very valuable and some irreplaceable. Replacing them is expensive.

Art/keepsakes – take what you cherish the most.

I spent my life collecting my art and although I can still see and feel each piece it is no longer with me.

I no longer own the Kaftan my close friend Ilene made for me.  That is actually one of the pieces I really regret losing, although, even as I write this I can feel it and her love embracing me.

On the day of the Woolsey fire, I went to my sister’s house which seemed far away from the fire. When her home was being evacuated she kept saying, “I feel silly taking my sweaters.”  I told her, “You are standing here with someone who has lost everything.  Take any and everything you want.  We have two cars and can load them up to the brim.  The only thing you will have done is waste your time.  Wasting your time is a gift!

Some final thoughts:

If you are told an evacuation order is coming your way, pack your cars while you still can.

If you are given a “mandatory evacuation,” leave as early as possible.

Before fire season even hits, pull anything flammable away from the exterior walls of your house. Some of my neighbors’ homes burned because the debris and dry plants they had outside their home caught on fire.

Fires move quickly, more quickly than you realize. It took less than an hour from the time I left my house to lose all my cherished things.

Incinerated to the ground and gone.

3 questions that will guarantee you’ll be organized

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  1. If everything in your home was organized – easy to find, orderly, containing only what you love and use the most –  what would you do that you can’t do now?

  2. In what ways would you feel different then you do now?

  3. What impact would it have on you and those around you?

Your answers to these questions are the most important part of getting organized. Why? Because getting organized is not a goal, it’s a process, a method, a system for achieving something important to you.  It’s not enough to say, “I want to be more organized,” if you don’t know why.

Whenever I meet with clients for the first time I ask them these three questions. This is because getting organized is hard work! If you don’t have a compelling reason to tackle the physical, mental and emotional tasks often associated with organizing your home’s contents, you will lose focus, motivation and you’ll end up back where you started or worse.

Stop thinking and start doing

Here’s an easy way to get started and break the cycle of procrastination:

  1. Decide about an area of your home you wish were more organized. Is it your office? Your garage? Your kitchen? Your bedroom?
  2. Write down the one room that most interferes with your day to day life now and why!
    Are you feeling an overwhelming sense of stress because your office is a mess? Does your garage make you cringe every time you pass through it? Are you finding it more and more difficult to prepare a meal in your own kitchen?  Decide which area is bugging you the most and write it down.
  3. The most disorganized room in my home that is making my day-to-day life more stressful is ________________.
  4. Close your eyes and imagine that room completely organized. You know exactly where everything is and it’s easy to find. It contains only what you love and use the most. It is clean, tidy and orderly. What’s more, you have systems in place for keeping it that way.
  5. Fill in the blanks to these three questions:
    1. If my ____________ was organized I would be able to ____________.
    2. This would make me feel _________________.
    3. As a result, I could  _______________ for myself and the people I care about.

How it might look to you

You thought about your home and the area you wish were more organized is your kitchen.

Maybe your kitchen has too much clutter on every surface. The floors, table, counters. You’ve lost control of it and now cooking a meal for yourself or your family is challenging if not impossible.

You’re spending too much on take-out meals as a result and you’re worried about your health and your family’s health, not to mention your finances.

You can never find what you need when you need it so you end up buying more of what you may already have.

You are feeling an unacceptable level of stress and you may even be fighting with your family or others you live with as a result.

You work full time or are taking care of others and are exhausted at the end of the day and the last thing you want to spend your time doing is cleaning.

Sound familiar?

Now imagine your kitchen has undergone a miraculous organizing makeover.

You know exactly what you have and everyone in your family knows where to find what they need and where to put it back when they are done.

Opening your cabinets, cupboards and pantry makes you happy because the things you use and love the most are organized and visible or labeled.

You can now cook and prepare food in your kitchen with pleasure. You enjoy relaxing in your kitchen with a hot cup of coffee or tea.

You can invite friends over or your family can sit around the kitchen table and have a meal together. This makes you feel happy, connected, free, light, and more available to yourself and others.

You spend less time in the kitchen so you are able to get to work on time, or spend more time enjoying what you love to do including spending more quality time with your friends or family.

Never make “get organized” or “be more organized” the goal in itself. It sounds nice but unless you have an overwhelming and compelling reason to do so, it probably won’t happen. Instead focus on what an organized space, room or house would give you that you don’t have now.

Recognize when you need help

Many home organizing projects can be as labor intensive as a home remodel. Unless you are a contractor, I doubt you would remodel your own kitchen!  Know when it’s time to hire a professional:

  • When the project is too big to handle alone (hint: if you’ve procrastinated or attempted, only to turn away from it once again)
  • If you have physical, emotional or mental limitations that would prevent you from managing the job alone
  • If you just don’t have the time to do it alone but want to get it done.
  • If you are on tight deadline from an impending move, remodel or you need to put your house on the market

Know your WIIFM – What’s In It For Me – your overwhelming and compelling reason for getting organized. It is the most important part of your plan. Make this, and not “get more organized” your resolution for next year, and you will probably be successful.

 

Clearing A House to Sell

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There is a voyeur in all of us when it comes to other people’s homes and the amount of “clutter” they keep. Think of shows like “Hoarder’s” and “Buried Alive.”  We look at other’s lives and ask, “are we as bad or better than that?”

Last week I started a house clear-out. It took six crew working five solid days to go through each individual item in every room, closet, cabinet, drawer, cupboard and shelf, to decide whether or not it could be sold, donated, recycled, trashed or hauled.

The items were then physically grouped into these categories with the marketable items going to an estate seller; The good quality, used items that wouldn’t sell, going to various charities; The paper, recyclable plastics and glass bottles going to the recycling facility, and; the trash getting hauled both privately and through a city sponsored bulk pick-up program. The project required many hours of planning, coordination and execution.

If you’ve ever wondered why you can’t clear the clutter from your home? This could be the reason. It takes a village!

You won’t see the “after” pictures. Not yet. But despite what it may seem, this is not a house belonging to a “hoarder.” This is not someone who secretly acquires items and has a compulsive need to save them, regardless of their value.

This is not the result of an individual who has a problem letting things go any more than the rest of us.

Instead this house, was once owned and inhabited by a family – a mother, father and child. Where friends and relatives came to visit, to celebrate, eat and grieve together. Where the parents grew up in an era where everything was saved since since there was a scarcity of practically everything when they were children. (Old habits die hard and often get passed down).

When that child grew up she got married and moved down the street and her parents got older and eventually needed care, and little by little things started to pile up. Little by little things couldn’t get done because there were much bigger things that needed doing and she was the only one doing them. Little by little the child, now an adult, had to take care of the family business, first with her mother, and finally alone. Then she lost her husband and she was completely alone.

She is older now, strong in mind but less so physically. Sometimes she sought solace in things, things to help her feel better, happier, pretty, less alone.  who amongst us hasn’t? And little by little it got worse.

This could happen to anyone, you, me, your neighbors down the street who’s house from the outside looks so tidy and neat.

So the next time you think, oh I’m not like that! Or how could she/he/they let that happen? You may want to count your blessings that life has been kinder to you.

 

 

The Ultimate Garage Organization Survival Guide

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Editor’s Note: In June we celebrate all things Dad, in celebration of Father’s Day. This month, I’m pleased to share this informative guide to garage organizing written by Trent Skousen, from Golden Gate Garage Storage, a colleague and associate member of the local chapter of my professional association, NAPO (National Association of Organizing and Productivity Professionals). Trent and I share a lot of the same ideas about garage organizing. Read on and make this Summer the one you finally get your garage organized!

When I was a kid, my mom would task the family with giant cleaning days. They were usually before family or friends came to visit, although I suspect some days, she just got the itch to clean up. We would spend all day sorting through the living room, bedrooms, and kitchen to make everything look nice and orderly.

Part of that organizing was removing the clutter from most of the house. Unfortunately, we just dumped most of that extra stuff in the garage. Have too many toys in the bedroom? Throw some in a box in the garage. Too many cleaning supplies under the bathroom sink? Put ‘em in the garage. We did that over and over.

As a result, the garage became so cluttered and packed over time, we couldn’t even park our cars in there. It became so cramped that we lost all motivation to get it organized. The whole project was overwhelming. Finally, my dad persuaded (bribed) my brother and me to take a week of our summer vacation to go in there and sort everything out.

Many homeowners experience something similar happening in their own garages. These spaces look more like an old warehouse than a functional home space. It becomes a dumping ground for everything we don’t want to deal with in the house. How do we end this vicious cycle? With a little conscious effort, an organized and functional garage isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds.

With Father’s Day around the corner, now is a great time to take a look at getting that garage fixed up for Dad. Here is your ultimate survival guide to get you started.

Step 1- Develop a game plan:

Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Planning in organization is just as important as doing the organizing itself. Not only does planning give you an idea of what you need to accomplish, it gives you the peace of mind of knowing what you need to do exactly when you need to do it.

Sit down with your team. This can be your family, friends, or organizing professionals. Set a realistic goal that you can shoot for. One example could be to leave nothing left on the garage floor by the time you finish.

After you have your goal, here are some tips about things to include in your plan:

  • Pick a date- You need to get a specific date in mind to start and stick to it. Write it out and tell your family. Make sure that you are set on getting to work and won’t have anything to distract you. Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to complete it. Don’t plan to finish it in a day if you need several weekends.
  • Plan on who will be helping- How many people will be there to help? How much can each person handle? Are there any children helping that need simpler jobs?
  • Figure out costs- If you’re planning on hiring help or buying equipment, you’ll need to set a budget and determine costs ahead of time. Be sure to weigh the cost against the benefit for each item – sometimes paying a little more will save you time, money, and stress in the long run.

Step 2- Cleaning:

Move all of the items in the garage out to the driveway, lawn, or backyard. You won’t be able to do a deep clean without emptying the space first. If you have limited space or weather issues, consider focusing on smaller portions of the garage at a time.

As you move your possessions, it helps to sort them into piles based on their function (i.e. camping gear, gardening equipment, power tools, etc.).

With the empty space, deep clean the garage surfaces, walls, and floors. Start from the ceiling and move toward the floor, so you don’t get things dirty that you already cleaned:

  • Replace any dead light bulbs.
  • Dust off shelves and cabinets.
  • Wipe down any tables or workbenches.
  • Scrub the walls and floorboards to remove scuff marks and blemishes.
  • Sweep and mop the floor.

Having a clean garage will not only make it look nicer, but also make it safer to breathe the air and touch the surfaces inside.

Step 3- Decluttering:

*Note: This step is interchangeable with Step 2. You can do this before, after, or during the cleaning phase. Do what is best for your situation.

Now, you’ll want to start getting rid of anything you don’t need in order to create more space.

Start by systematically going through everything individually. Like I mentioned, it helps to group things together by category (like chemicals, tools, stored personal items), and decide what you still need and what you don’t. If things are broken, old, or you don’t use them anymore, get rid of them first.

After that, take what remains and make a second pass at them. This can be trickier, because now you really have to think about the item and the likelihood you will use in the near future.  Like Lis McKinley, Certified Professional Organizer and owner of LET’S MAKE ROOM always says, “Just because something is useable, doesn’t mean you have to keep it! Almost everything is useable. When you need space, the goal should be looking for reasons to let it go, not finding reasons to keep it.”

If there are items of sentimental value, ask yourselves if you really are happier having it around or if you’ll use it. If not, it’s time to let it go.

Be realistic about what you keep in the garage,” she adds. “It should be things you actually use, such as tools, or things used seasonally such as sports equipment or holiday supplies – but even these things can be curated. Stick with the notion of, do I use it now? Am I likely to use it this year? Would I miss it if it disappeared? If not, give it away where it can be used and appreciated.

Step 4- Reorganize:

At this point, you should have your essential items and a clean garage. It’s time to organize your items in the garage.

Consider using a zoning strategy. Zoning means to group similar items together in storage. This helps you know where everything is and helps you keep track of what you have and makes it easier to find what you need in the future. If you already grouped items together during decluttering, this shouldn’t be too hard.

Another suggestion is to consider using storage systems. This can be as simple as stackable bins, hooks on the wall, and baskets. Other options that really reduce the clutter include shelves, cabinets, and overhead storage racks. Storage systems help get everything off the ground safely. This is especially useful if you have young kids wandering through the area, because you can keep dangerous chemicals or tools hidden out of reach. Plus, it gives you more space to park your car or even include things like workbenches or workout equipment.

Step 5- Continue the process:

Just because your garage is clean and organized doesn’t mean it will stay that way without help. Plan time each week to tidy up, just as you would with the rest of your house. Sweep out debris and make sure things are off the ground and in their proper place. If you buy something new that needs a place, take a few minutes to rearrange everything so that it has a proper place of its own.

Having a nice garage will make your home more functional and enjoyable. With a little planning, organizing can be a fun and rewarding process!

This post was written by Trent Skousen at Golden Gate Garage Storage. He enjoys going to movies and watching basketball with his wife.

Spark Organized Joy For Your Favorite Teacher!

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Celebrate Teachers in May

Teachers. What would you have done without that one special teacher in your life? Who was s/he? What did they teach you? What special influence did they have on your life? Wouldn’t you like to show them how much they mean or meant to you? This month you can! Read on…

This month we celebrate the teachers we had and the teachers we know on National Teacher Day, May 5-11, 2019.

I’ll be honoring a special teacher in my life, my husband, who has been teaching for more than 30 years!  Here at LET’S MAKE ROOM, we will also be honoring teachers with a special offer (see below).

For practically his entire career, he’s taught elementary school kids with specific learning challenges to read, write and and do math.  He loves his job as much as he did when he started, though it hasn’t always been easy.

Many of his students are from broken homes or have survived terrible trauma.  Many experience a lot more than learning challenges. We were both humbled by the support he and 3,000 of his colleagues received, here in Oakland, California, from parents and other members of our community when they were on strike earlier this year (#unite4oaklandkids) fighting for fair pay, reduced class sizes and more student services such as nurses and school counselors.

Teacher Pride

Even at a time when education is under siege in this country, due in great part to horrifyingly naive and destructive policies, teachers stay focused, committed and passionate about their mission. Many have “seen it all” and thankfully, take the long view that education will survive, no matter who is in office.

Many of my clients are teachers, retired teachers and a few retired principals.  What I’ve noticed is they all have one thing in common. Pride in the work they do or did before they retired. For many, being a teacher is more than a profession. It’s a calling. Especially for those who, like my husband, have dedicated their adult lives to educating children.

I love it when my teacher-clients pull out their bins of hand-drawn cards given to them by former students. Or they show me the training guides and class notes they kept that helped them become better teachers. Almost all have photographs from their years of teaching showing them with children who have long since grown into adulthood.

Get my special #ThankATeacher Offer

If you are a teacher (or know someone who is), either new to the profession or or a seasoned, veteran teacher, this month –  May 2019 –  say thank you to the teacher in your life (even if it’s you) by giving them the gift of organization. You’ll receive a 60-minute consultation to address any organizing challenge in your home, home office or even your classroom, absolutely FREE!  Then if you decide to work with me, I will offer you an additional 20% off your first organizing session ($120 value).

Even if you are not physically located near me, we can still work together via Skype, FaceTime or by phone.  But don’t wait! This offer will end May 31st and appointments are limited.  To schedule time to chat about your project click here.

 

 

 

3 clutter busters that won’t tax you!

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Life is tough enough!  Easily finding something clean to wear that you love shouldn’t be! Want to do something really good for yourself now that you’ve survived another tax year?  Here are three easy clutter-busting activities that won’t tax you and may end up saving you time and money!

Organize your laundry

Take five minutes and sort that giant pile of overflowing laundry into four stacks:

  1. Whites including white sheets and white towels
  2. Bright colors such as pink, red, purple, yellow, orange or light blue or washable delicates  including anything that has never been washed before,
  3. Dark colors including black, grey, navy or brown.
  4. Heavy items such as blankets.

Contain three of the piles into a laundry sorter, bins or baskets and load the remaining pile in the laundry.  While the first load is washing you can now attend to your clothes.

Organize your clothing drawers

Start by choosing the most overstuffed drawer in your dresser. Empty the contents into a pile on your bed, assuming it’s clear. If it’s covered in clothing include these too. If it’s covered in other items, remove them to a nearby table. You want to start with a clear surface.

  1. Start sorting items like with like. For example: Long sleeve shirts, t-shirts (single color) graphic t-shirts,  sleeveless shirts, knit shirts, button down shirts, etc. If you have items you would never wear but have strong memories or sentimental value, put those in their own pile.
  2. Once sorted, go through each pile, item by item and purge all items you don’t love, have not worn in over a year, are ripped, stained or would require too much work to restore – DO YOU REALLY WANT TO SPEND YOUR PRECIOUS TIME GETTING A STAIN OUT OF AN OLD T-SHIRT?  Put the discarded items in a black trash bag. If you have great quality items you don’t want and still have tags on them, put those in a separate bag labeled “To Sell.” For sentimental items, take a picture of them and let them go or if you must, store them in a bin at the top of your closet with a label that reads: Stored on _____ date.
  3. Check to see if your first load of laundry is ready for the dryer and put the next load in and return to your pile of clothes.
  4. You should now have several piles of clothing you do want. If the drawer you emptied these from is large enough to contain them, without stuffing them in, begin folding or rolling them. I like the folding in thirds method so that items can be terraced together inside your drawer. Any button down blouses or shirts should hang in your closet.
  5. Place folded items inside your drawer, by type and if you like by color. You’ll love the way they look and it will be so easy to find what you need!
  6. Now go back, and check your laundry. Remove the first load from the dryer fill the second load. Fold your dry clothing however you are used to or use the folding in thirds method included above.

Organize your hanging clothing

  1. As above, remove all hanging items from your closet. Include, clothing, scarves, belts, and handbags.
  2. If you have a sturdy portable clothing rack, place the items on the rack.  Otherwise use your bed to sort by color and type.
  3. Again, sort items like with like. For example. Long hang dresses/skirts, pants, jackets, long sleeve blouses, short sleeve blouses, better quality camisoles, large purses, small purses, small clutches, bags, belts and scarves. Resist the urge to purge things at this stage as you may end up tossing something you intended to keep.  It’s also much easier to make a decision about what to edit when you are looking at “like” items.
  4. One by one, purge items as described above. Set aside clothing you prefer to gift to others just don’t contribute to their clutter as a tactic for holding on to things!
  5. Once edited, replace items hanging on wood hangers, cheap store hangers or slippery plastic hangers that take up a lot of real estate in your closet with non-slip, space saving hangers available at many stores.
  6. Store handbags in bins or on upper shelves. Use area below short hanging items for shoes. Space permitting, use bins to store heavier weight sweaters and scarves (as pictured). I recommend using labels for bins, even if they are translucent, to remind you and others what they do and don’t contain.
  7. Finally, return to your laundry to add in your final load in the washer and dryer. Remove folded clothes and return them to their rightful owner. If they are yours, you can now neatly return them to your newly organized drawer and closet.

Now, sit back and admire your work! Tomorrow getting dressed will be a whole lot easier and definitely less stressful than your taxes!

 

 

 

 

Downsize your way to a stress-free move.

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Planning to move this Summer? Don’t pack a box until you read this.

Moving is the perfect opportunity to assess whether or not you need to downsize your home’s contents so that you don’t end up spending the time and money to move, insure and unpack items you don’t really want. There are so many great reasons to downsize. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. You’ll sell your old home faster. An uncluttered home is massively appealing to home buyers. Nowadays, real estate agents won’t even consider listing your home until it’s cleared of all your personal belongings.
  2. It’s safer. The less clutter on surfaces, stairs, floors or near electric or gas appliances, the better. So even if you’re not moving this alone is one great reason to downsize.
  3. You’re the one in charge! You get to decide what stays and what goes and if you give yourself enough time, you won’t be making those decisions under pressure.
  4. You can preserve memories. It’s easier to find the irreplaceable things in your life when you can easily find them.
  5. Less stress. You will feel the peace of mind that comes from living an uncluttered life, surrounded by the people and things you enjoy the most
  6. Save money. The less you move, the less it costs.

What to take, what to sell, what to donate

Not sure what you’ll take with you?  That’s okay, you probably have a lot you don’t want now. Start to downsize well before you move and you get to decide what goes — nobody pressuring you!  Best of all, you won’t make hasty decisions in the days leading up to your move that you may regret later.

If you have items you plan to sell such as good quality furniture, jewelry, luxury brand clothing or valuable artwork, you will first need to determine whether these items are in demand. Check out both local estate sellers and consignment services as well as online estate services that can consign or buy your items outright. One easy way to do this is to send them a few photos. It’s free and you’ll know pretty quickly what they may be worth.  One word of caution, don’t expect the value to equal what you paid for an item or what you “think” it’s worth.  If the item has value, they too will want to make a profit so they will never buy it for what it’s worth from an insurance standpoint.

Want to keep it simple and easy? In the San Francisco Bay Area there are services such as Remoovit.com that will literally take everything you don’t want and haul it away for one flat fee. Anything they can sell, they will and you will get fifty percent of the final sale price. Whatever can not be sold, will be donated or recycled. Remoovit once sold a rusty old “banana seat” bicycle belonging to one of my clients for $1,200. She got half of that which paid for the hauling of everything else!  You pay by the truck load (or fraction thereof). It’s a one-stop service for those who need their homes to be emptied quickly but don’t want to simply give away items that may have market value.

Where do I start?

Not sure where to start? Begin with whatever area of your home you’ve been wanting to tackle but just haven’t had a good enough reason. Now you do. You’re moving and you want to surround yourself with the things that you love and use most. This doesn’t mean everything else goes in the trash. On the contrary, it’s likely you have usable items that somebody else wants (any may even pay for!) including family, friends, neighbors and members of your community.

Set aside one area of your home where you will sort and label as you go. A dining room is a good place for this as it’s less likely you will be entertaining at home in the weeks leading up to your move. Otherwise, pick an area that you occupy less frequently such as a guest room.  Here are some other helpful tools you will need:

  • A folding table or work surface for sorting (if not in your dining room).
  • Supply of large, plastic yard bags for donating soft goods such as clothing, purses, accessories, good quality linens, outerwear. Keep in mind most charities will not accept bed pillows, bedding, or old linens. Old towels may be donated to local animal shelters.
  • Small moving or packing boxes, preferably ones with handles. Use these to donate home decor, small household items, kitchen tools and other hard-edged items.
  • Blue or green painter’s tape to label furniture, framed art work, lamps and other large items you no longer want.
  • A couple of black “sharpie” markers to use with the painter’s tape to label boxes, bags and unwanted items.
  • A glass or bottle of water (you’ll want to stay hydrated as you work!)

If you are lucky to have family nearby, especially strong children or grandchildren, ask them to load items in your car you wish to transport yourself or ask them to take them for you. Otherwise, you can count on the help of the charities that will pick up your items by truck.

Make a list of your preferred charities that accept household goods. Be sure they are available before you move. Many charities book 2-3 weeks in advance.

Don’t forget your local church bazaar, senior center and friends of the library. There may also be a veteran’s group in your area that will pick up your donated goods. Animal shelters and your local veterinarian are always in need of clean, old towels.  Women’s shelters can use your unused, unopened toiletries. (Think of all those unopened hotel shampoos and body lotions you’ve collected over the years.) Local hospice stores, or other charities that operate re-sell or “thrift” stores are a great way to donate.  Not sure where to donate clothing? Ask your local consignment store. They are usually a wealth of information. Lastly you will be grateful for the help of charities that do truck pick up. Not sure which ones serve your area? Do a Google search, “charities that do truck pick up near me.

Helpful Tips for Downsizing

  1. Start early. Don’t wait until a week before you move. Give yourself at least a month or more so you don’t have to make decisions under pressure.
  2. Focus on one room at a time. This way you will see progress and stay motivated.
  3. Don’t buy more!  Now is not the time time to go clothes shopping or re-stock your pantry. Use up what you have.
  4. Segregate your paper. Don’t attempt to “go through” your files until you’ve downsized your other household goods. Instead, contain all your paper files in banker boxes and use the days leading up to the move to determine what you need to keep.
  5. Use painters tape (not sticky notes – they fall off) to label items for donation
  6. Save your back. Use charities that offer truck pick up to take your boxed and bagged items as well as your donated furniture

When to ask for help

  • If you are feeling overwhelmed by the whole process and know you can’t do this alone or are worried you would be overwhelmed by the memories and emotions often associated with large-scale downsizing
  • If you are working full time or traveling a lot and know you could use some help to make the process go faster
  • If you are far away from family or friends and need help with the physical work of sorting and transporting items for you
  • If you have physical limitations or just don’t have the endurance to deal with it yourself.  This is especially true if you are clearing out large storage areas such as basements, garages and storage sheds.

How to find a new home for your old sofa

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Imagine you are moving (or remodeling) and you’ve decided not to keep your sofa or couch.

By the way a sofa is typically larger than a couch, seating four or more people whereas a couch is generally smaller, seating three or less. Now you know!

What do you do with your sofa (or couch) if you no longer want it?

As a relocation specialist and professional organizer, I see this come up with practically every home I downsize and every move I manage.

The answer will always depend on its condition and where you live. There are many potential solutions but you will first need to ask yourself these four questions about your used sofa:

  1. Is it practically new – less than four years old or an antique –  and in great condition? You may be able to sell or consign it.
  2. Is it four or more years old and in very good condition and definitely still usable without stains, tears or fading? You still may be able to sell it or donate it or offer it for free to someone in your community.
  3. Is it torn, ripped, stained or faded or in need of cleaning?  You may be able to arrange to have it picked up by your local waste management company’s bulk pick up service and depending upon how its manufactured it may (or may not) be recycled by them.
  4. Are you very concerned about it ending up in landfill? You may be able to recycle it but be prepared to pay for that. Recyclers generally won’t pick it up unless you are disposing of a large quantity – think dumpster – of items. On top of that you will probably have to pay recycling fees.

The biggest challenge in finding new homes or disposing of sofas and other large furniture typically comes down to time and transportation.

Time comes into play because scheduling a truck pick up of your gently used, usable or discarded item(s) must be done in advance, since many charities book as much as six weeks in advance.

If you are planning to move to relocate or remodel, be sure to add “sell/donate furniture” to your to-do list at least two months ahead of your move.

Why a so long? Let’s say you scheduled a charity to pick up your sofa. All charities will leave it up to the discretion of the driver as to whether or not to take your sofa. If they reject it when they arrive, you may then only have two weeks or so to find another solution before your move date. Chances are that means you will either have to schedule a hauler, which can be costly, a bulk pick up (if your city/county offers such a service) which also requires advance notice or find a way to move and transport it yourself; Rarely an option for most people in the midst of a move, especially if you are a senior or live alone.

 TIP: Plan ahead and read on to know your options.  By the way, these options apply to other large items of furniture as well.

Sell/Consign – For items that are practically new and in pristine or “gently used” condition, constructed from real materials (not particle board or composite wood) and of course, in demand, such as mid-century, some antiques, high-end contemporary and designer brands. you can try both local and on-line estate sellers.

TIP: Do a web-search for “Estate sellers near me” or “Furniture consignment stores near me” These searches will bring up both local as well as online options (The RealReal.com sells high quality pre-owned sofas to buyers throughout the U.S. Be sure to inquire about their policies and procedures for viewing and selling your items.)

Private Sale – For sofas that are in good condition but may be older or in less demand, or not acceptable to estate sellers or consignment services, try online selling sites like Craigslist, Nextdoor, Facebook Marketplace, LetGo, OfferUp or Trove. Plan well in advance to post your item on these sites as you are competing with many others who are selling similar items.

If your item doesn’t sell within three weeks of your move, consider other options. Keep in mind, you will also have to deal directly with the buyer and he/she will likely need to enter your home to collect and pay for the items. Some online sites will process payments for you and take a commission. For neighborhood sites, I recommend requiring cash only.

If you live alone, make sure to have someone there with you. If you are disabled or not particularly strong, you will need to let the buyer know to come with help. Carefully consider your personal safety before selling anything to a private buyer.

Donation – As Baby Boomers age and downsize, there is a glut of items being donated. So much so that charities can be much pickier about what they take. Most charities train their drivers to carefully inspect items. Pick up is always at the driver’s discretion. This can be a huge issue if you have a hard deadline to meet to be out of your home.

TIP: If you are remodeling, ask your contractors if they would move your sofa for you to the street for hauling.

Most charities will want to see photos of your sofa. Be sure to send them good quality photos, at least three, including front, side and back views and be absolutely candid about your item’s condition. Also, inform the charity about access to the item including outside and inside stairs, long hallways or whether or not there is an elevator.

I recently had a charity reject my client’s sofa because the driver and his assistant did not want to transport the item down a long flight of stairs.

TIP: Do a web search for “charities that offer truck pickup near me” to locate charities that offer free truck pick up of your donated furniture and household items.

Charities are looking for items that are sellable so don’t expect them to take anything that is damaged, in need of cleaning or repair.  To locate a charity that offers free truck pickup, check out http://donationtown.org/ but be prepared to enter your contact information on their website. You can also contact charities directly such as Salvation Army (SATruck.org), Habitat for Humanity Restores (San Francisco Bay Area only) or Out of The Closet.

One other option for donating your older but good quality sofa is to make it available for free to people in your community through sites such as Freecycle, Nextdoor or through the “free stuff” tab on Craigslist. If you can spare the time, having someone come and get your old sofa is in fact money in your pocket. Why? Because unless you have strong kids who are available exactly when you need them to help, you may end up paying for the labor it would cost you to have your sofa moved curbside for the bulk pickup: An unexpected expense and logistics issue often overlooked in crunch time.

Recycling/Disposal – You know that old sofa you’ve had for 20 years, the one that is covered in an old blanket because underneath your pets destroyed it? This is the sofa that no one wants but you will still need to dispose. In Oakland, California where I live, both the City and the County offer, free curbside bulk pick up. This is the last available free option for large old sofas and other large household debris that can’t be simply tossed in the trash.

TIP: Call your local waste management company to see if they offer bulk pick up service. You will still need to get your old sofa to your curb. If you live alone, or are a senior, you may have to hire a helper.

I recently used an online app called Lugg to help a client who needed to get her sofa and other items on the curb for bulk pick up. They are a platform for movers, haulers and helpers, for when you need a little or a lot of muscle.

In Oakland, the local waste management company will sort items and if they can be all or partially recycled they will be, I am told. But if you are very concerned about the footprint you leave on the environment, there may still be other options for keeping your sofa (or at least most of it) out of the landfill but it will most likely cost you.

Check out a website called, Earth911.com to find a recycling facility near you.  It may not be free and you will either have to arrange to transport your sofa yourself to a local recycler or pay to have it hauled.

The bottom line is no matter which option you choose, plan ahead. You want to have a Plan B (donate) and possibly even a Plan C (haul) if your original Plan A, to sell or give away your sofa falls through. Trust me, the last thing you (or your real estate agent) want to see the day you move is the ugly, torn, pet-stained sofa, you couldn’t get rid of still in your empty home.

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.