Archive for the ‘Emergency Preparedness’ Category

Downsizing for retirement: how to let go when your heart says no

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Lis Golden McKinley, M.A.
Certified Professional Organizer
Owner, LET’S MAKE ROOM, LLC

Older_man_holding_Teddy_Bear

 

It’s time. You’ve set aside the day, taken off work, brought in the garbage bags and the packing boxes. No more excuses. It’s you versus the clutter. This time you intend to win because you’ve decided to put your house up for sale.

The late comedian George Carlin used to say,

“Your house is just a place for your stuff. If you didn’t have so much G-D stuff, you wouldn’t need a house!?”

But what happens when your stuff is too connected to memories? Carlin joked no one wants that stuff either but guess what they do!

When I say stuff, I don’t only mean furniture and household items. I mean the sentimental stuff you’ve buried in your closet or shoved into the back of an attic or basement. Stuff like your son’s grade school artwork, even though he’s in college now. Grandpa’s set of World War II history books. The two crocheted baby blankets grandma made for your kids.

Keep them for the grandkids!” You protest and back into the closet it goes. Except you have way too much in your closet already. So instead you pay hundreds of dollars a month to store stuff you can’t bear to part with at the local public storage.

That’s when it hits you. It’s not only your house you have to downsize, but your storage unit too.

Exasperated, you slump down in your arm chair and wonder, “how am I going to do this?” and pour yourself another glass of wine.

As Baby Boomers get older – and by the way, I’m one of them — they start thinking about their health and the desire to simplify their lives.

75% of people who want to downsize their lives say they can’t. The reason? They have too much stuff, according to research conducted by Kansas University.

The number one reason baby boomers can’t declutter is they are often sentimentally attached to what they own. There are just too many painful decisions that have to be made about what to keep or go. “No thanks,” they utter, “I’d rather have a root canal.”

The good news is you don’t have to throw the baby-doll out with the bathwater. Instead, you can actually feel good about letting go. Less regret, guilt or incurring the wrath of your family.

It is important to remember that not everything you are sentimental about has to go. Instead, the key is taking the time to curate your collection of sentimental items and giving away what you don’t want to the right people (or places).

Curating is about deciding what is going to be part of your permanent collection and what isn’t and where it can go. It also includes saying goodbye, with gratitude, to the things that have served out their purpose and forgiving yourself for doing the best you can to dispose of them responsibly.

As a Certified Professional Organizer and Move Manager based in Oakland, California, I have helped hundreds of clients achieve their own vision of a more simple and organized life for retirement.

Part of this process always involves making decisions about the items we most commonly get attached to: Books, clothing, photographs, sentimental cards and letters, memories – both ours and our kids.

When it’s time to curate these items, I find it useful to think about them in three ways:

  • Say goodbye with gratitude
  • Keep for my new life
  • Give to others

Say goodbye with gratitude

This collection contains items that are damaged beyond repair or are not worth your time or money to repair.

You can appreciate what they were in their original form and know that their time has come to an end. Anything that still makes you sad to let go of, you can take a picture of. That way you will still have the memory of the item.

Keep for my new life

This collection contains your favorites. Items you love so much you would use or display again. The ones that you would remember and miss if they disappeared. Better yet, they are the ones that fit into your new, simplified lifestyle. These are the best of the best!

Give to others (or giving items new life elsewhere)

This collection contains both high quality and useable quality items you don’t want. They could be of a high enough quality you could sell or consign them, or special enough that you would prefer to give them to a particular person or organization. In other words your decision to let them go is contingent on them getting to the right recipient or organization. This collection also includes useable quality items that could be donated to charities such as Goodwill, Salvation Army or Out of the Closet

If they are not sellable but the recipient is important to you, do an online search by type in your area. For example “Senior center thrift shop near me.”  There’s a wonderful place in San Francisco called SCRAP that accepts donations of all types of craft and teaching materials (though they are closed temporarily due to Covid-19). Here are a few other examples of unique places to donate your higher quality items. (Due to Covid-19 some of these will be temporarily closed. Check before going.)

  • Senior center thrift shop
  • Church, school or charity auction
  • Thrift shop for a charity you support such as cancer research
  • Local animal shelter
  • Children’s thrift shop for low income moms
  • Re-use/repurpose non-profits

There are also online websites such as Nextdoor.com where you can post your unwanted items. Be careful not to post your personal information. Instead ask people to direct message you if they want your item.

Use “Say goodbye with gratitude,” “Keep for my new life” and “Give to others” with other types of sentimental items you have. Here are few tips for downsizing other sentimental household items:

Books
(If you are downsizing and you have an excess and need space)

First decide on the greatest number of bookshelves you will keep so you will know how much you need to downsize.

Keep books you still refer to or hold special memories or can’t find online.

Donate duplicate books, books you’ve never read, are not likely to read or don’t hold interest for you. Also donate books from a previous chapter of your life.  Someone is bound to appreciate them.  Take them to your local library or college. Most Goodwill stores will also accept books for donation but not text books.

Recycle any that have mold. Mold travels and will contaminate other books.

Sentimental Cards and Letters
(If you have more than will fit into a banker box or small suitcase)

These are often the hardest to let go. Keep the ones that express a personal sentiment to you, not a generic greeting. You can also photograph these and let the physical card go.

Toys and Childhood Memorabilia
(Yours or your adult children)

This is the stuff you’ve tossed in a “keep” box but never looked at except when you’ve moved. It could be anything from rocks you collected, to tickets stubs, to small medals you received as a kid to souvenirs from family trips.

They best represent the “memories” of your childhood. It’s likely none of it is valuable, unless it’s in its original packaging and in pristine condition. If you’re not sure, you can always check sites like Etsy or Ebay.

First sort those into two piles – usable quality and higher quality. As you come across anything that that you don’t want but are afraid of forgetting, take a picture of it! That way you will always have the memory.

If the items are small, you can display them in a large fishbowl, brandy snifter or inside a shadow box. I’ve seen these for just about out every imaginable collectible: medals, matchboxes, toy cars, record albums, sports memorabilia even old postcards.

Check out some “memorabilia storage” ideas on Pinterest or Etsy If you’re not up to this, ask someone in your family who has a talent for crafts or art to do it for you. What a perfect birthday or Christmas present!

If you wouldn’t pay to have the items repurposed into something new, chances are you don’t love it enough to keep it. You can always take a picture of it if you’re scared of losing the memory. If it’s a small quantity of items you are keeping, give them a home in a small treasure box. I always think of a the little cigar box the character Scout kept under her bed from the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Giving away sentimental items to the right place or person is what makes it possible for you to let them go

Don’t use your kids as a reason to keep stuff that you don’t have room for in your new home. If possible, ask them to come and get it by a certain date. If they live far away or don’t care, let them know your plan to donate whatever is usable. Keep your favorites, the ones you consider “heirlooms” and limit them to no more than will fit into a small bin or box. Your kids won’t miss the rest and neither will you.

A final note about trash, landfill and forgiveness

It’s likely you will have to throw out more than you intended. Recycle as much as you can but accept the limitations of what is and is not recyclable in your community.

When you bought it 30 or 40 years ago, you weren’t thinking about whether it was recyclable. You needed it and it served its purpose. Again, dispose of it with gratitude. If it has to go to landfill, forgive yourself. Know that you have learned to be a more responsible citizen and consumer. Now you can enjoy and maintain your simple and spacious new life with the things you love the most.

 

 

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How Home Organizing Brings Your Family Together

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Family Closet

Editor’s Note:

Nanette is a home organizer who works with me as an associate of LET’S MAKE ROOM. We haven’t worked or seen each other in more than two months.  She and her husband, two adult children and their dog are sheltering-in-place during the Covid-19 health emergency.

Yesterday she shared a personal story with me of using this time to attend to her own home organizing projects. She is looking ahead to a time after her kids have moved on, when she may be ready to sell her home. Having worked with me for years, Nanette knows how the task of downsizing for a move can be daunting so she recently decided to take on a couple of her own projects.

Nanette’s story illustrates just how personally satisfying it can be to embark on a home organizing project, any time, but especially now, when families have the benefit of being home together more than usual. Here is her story:


The “shelter-in-place” order was the perfect opportunity to organize our cluttered storage closet. My 24-year-old daughter and 20-year old-son have been here with us and my husband is working from home.

The closet held toys, keepsakes, books, table linens, photos and homeless items.

With everyone home I could get their input on what they wanted to keep and what could I could donate.

I began by emptying the closet and sorting items by owner – me, my husband, daughter and son. I asked each to sort their items into two piles; “keep” or “donate.”  Each accomplished the task in their own unique way.

Our daughter sorted through her items alone and needed no help in her decision making. She donated all her collectible dolls, which she never liked, even though I had saved them for her. She kept the toys and keepsakes she felt connected to and that were usable or could be displayed.

At first, our 20-year old son said, “Mom you decide because I don’t know what I should keep.”

I got him started by sorting his bins and asked him first to decide on the big items. I am glad I did as I didn’t expect him to keep the miniature baseball bats. I then took the smaller items and sorted ‘like with like’ and asked him to keep what he wanted.

He grabbed toys he said he remembered playing with and he combed through looking for all the extra parts.

When done, my son told me sorting items into smaller categories helped him make decisions.

After dinner that evening, while we all still were at the table, our son picked up a box of his medals and sorted them. He selected the medals he wanted to keep and shared the rationale for keeping each medal.

After completing the task our daughter said she had kept all her medals and she later sorted hers as well.

The stack of beautiful table linens that I have never used, got donated. While beautiful and given to me by family members, they are not something I ever used. The matching napkins I kept as I do use linen napkins.

The silver items, all blackened from sitting in storage, unused, got sorted. My husband’s silver baby cup got cleaned and moved into the cabinet. The tarnished candelabra went into the Halloween bin. The utensils got polished and moved into the kitchen. Everything we kept now had a home.Everything else we donated. (Actually stored until the donation sites can open).

My husband did not want to make decisions right away so I put the items he had not made decisions about on his desk. He will make a decision at some point but I decided not to store the items until he committed.

My husband painted the closet and installed movable-shelves, replacing our fixed wood shelves.

I reused the smaller bins and stored the frequently-used items on the upper shelves.

I rolled my table runners and put them into a basket on the floor which opened up shelving.

I ordered a wrapping station to mount on a side wall.

I have more space to use for new items that come into our home and I love being able to find what I need.

Now I have a great functioning storage closet.

 

 

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.

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.

When your new roommate is Mom or Dad

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Big Happy Family. Parents with Children. Father, mother, children, grandpa, grandma

It’s common to see adult children moving back in to their parents’ home after college to save money.  But here’s a surprising fact:

14% of adults living in someone else’s household are actually the homeowner’s parents – and the trend seems to be on the rise, up from 7% in 1995, according to a Pew Research Study.

It’s one thing for a 22 year old that had roommates in college to move back in with their parents. It’s another thing to be 50, 60 or 70 years old and find yourself living with your adult children in their house, possibly with your grandchildren.

Aside from all the psychological and emotional aspects involved in sharing a home with relatives, there are also the practical and organizational considerations:

  • Will there be room for my belongings and what’s important to me?
  • Do I have a say in how things are organized in common areas such as the kitchen, family room or garage?
  • Will I have to let go of things I love?
  • Will I have storage areas I can call my own?
  • What rooms or storage areas will I need to share?
  • Will I feel safe?

Whether you are moving back in with your parents or your parents are moving in with you, planning for these questions ahead of time will make for a smoother transition and less stress when it comes time to blend the family. Here are a few strategies I recommend you do before you start packing.

  1. Make it safe. Clear all exit routes such as floors, stairs and hallways of possible trip hazards.
  2. Make it accessible. Provide sufficient space and clear access to bathrooms, kitchen and other common areas
  3. Make it private. Dedicate a room large enough for a bed (or beds) with at least one closet or storage armoire for clothing and personal items and natural light from an outside window. If this room was previously used for storage of other household items, find other homes for them or consider donating them if you haven’t used these items yourself for years.
  4. Make it welcoming. Create shared storage areas by making room inside your kitchen cabinets, pantry, utility closet, linen closet and garage. This may be the perfect time to do a little downsizing yourself!
  5. Set clear boundaries. If you know you don’t have room for everything your relatives own (and you probably wont) explain that you only have limited space. Help them decide what they really love, want and use. Let them know they have options but they probably won’t be able to keep everything!
  6. Make it possible. Offer to help with the actual physical move or downsizing if you can or consult with a professional organizer who specializes in residential move planning if you need ideas, hands-on help or guidance.