It’s time to sell your home, or your parents home. Only problem? It contains 30, 40 or more years worth of stuff. Your real estate agent says, “I can’t list this house until you declutter!”
The good news is that if you live in an area that’s in high demand, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, you’ll probably sell your home for a lot more than you or your parents paid for it.
Of course, recent interest rate hikes mean a smaller pool of buyers. If this means delaying the sale of your home, this could actually be a good thing. If the house is filled with 30, 40 or more years of stuff, you’re going to need time to get the job done. You can start planning for the “big downsize” and perhaps by the time you’re ready, interest rates will have flattened or lowered.
There’s a formula about time and money that’s significant here.
If you just have time, you have options.
If you have both money and some time, you have more options.
More time means you can chip away at the process of decluttering your home. It could take weeks, months or even years depending upon how much stuff you have and your habit (or lack thereof) of decluttering over time. With a plan, however, it can be done.
If it all feels too overwhelming, you can always hire an organizing coach to help you come up with a plan you can execute alone or with help. You can also hire a solo professional organizer to work with you over time. Just don’t expect one organizer to get your home decluttered in a week if you haven’t done anything in years!
Money and a little time
If you have less time to spare but expect a good return on the investment you made in your home, there is a relatively quick way you can get rid of years of clutter. This is a good option if you are pressed to get your home on the market soon. Keep in mind, this is the more costly option. Think of it as the price you pay for keeping years and years worth of stuff you didn’t need, never used, never purged or kept “just in case.”
This solution involves hiring a professional organizing company that offers a team-based or crew-based approach to getting your home decluttered. When you go this route you are multiplying the hands-on help and expertise you could get from one professional organizer.
Think of this as the pre-remodel phase of getting your home readied for sale. I call it the “pre-model.” How long does it take? It depends on how large and how cluttered your home is AND how quickly you can make decisions and how much energy you have.
What organizers can and can’t do
What organizers can’t do is tell you what to keep. This is not their job. That is your decision. You still have to make hundreds if not thousands of decisions. That being said, most good organizers make this process easier by pre-sorting and supporting or even humoring you to help you make decisions along the way.
If you’re in mid-life, you may have enough energy to make decisions, with the help of a great team, for several hours. Seniors and those with cognitive conditions can take longer or only have enough energy to make decisions for a shorter time. A qualified professional organizing company will take this into account when planning your project.
When you hire a company that can thoroughly and efficiently get your home downsized, this doesn’t mean you can go off to Tahiti while they work. It means that the organizers will take care of most if not all of the physical and logistical demands of getting your home downsized and decluttered.
This could include everything from arranging for haulers, scheduling charity pick ups. selling your unwanted items, purchasing supplies, ordering dumpsters, arranging for document shredding and re-organizing all your retained items until the movers come. It also means sorting and containing everything you don’t want or need from donated items to trash.
What will help you?
Keep only what you enjoy, what you use or would seriously miss if it disappeared. Your new home may be half the size or your current home. Remember you are doing this for a reason. No object is more important than you are.
When I tell people I’m a professional organizer, they almost always ask, “is your house immaculate?”
In the early years of my career as a professional organizer, I dodged the question because I didn’t want others to think I wasn’t perfectly organized.
Over time I came to realize that there is no such thing.
When it comes to having a fulfilling, organized life, perfection will get in the way every time. I don’t want to be model of perfection. More importantly, I don’t want my clients to expect that of themselves.
Having a home that you enjoy, where you can spend time relaxing, enjoying time with family and friends, pursuing your interests and taking care of the business of your life, is far more important than having a perfectly organized life. There is no such thing. Life is messy.
The question about how organized I am in real life prompted me to think about other truths about my personal approach to organization.
So here are 13 confessions about me as professional organizer that may surprise you:
My house is not organized perfectly. It’s tidy and I can generally, though not always, find what I’m looking for. My home is not a Pinterest post or a cover of Architectural Digest. My style is to organize for my real life, not a fantasy life that I could never achieve let alone maintain.
I don’t have an opinion about what my clients keep, donate or toss. The only time I do care is when I see them make decisions that seem contrary to their goals. In that case I will ask their permission to gently point it out.
The papers I keep are contained in three places in my home. One is a small file box. Another is an old suitcase that belonged to my mother. The third is a single file drawer. My paper supplies are kept in a drawer and on a shelf.
I rarely scan anything. The only exception when I need to scan or upload a document to share.
If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t exist. I have no short term memory.
I can’t fold a fitted sheet like Martha Stewart. (Believe me I’ve tried dozens of times). However, I can make it tidy in a linen closet.
If it’s trash, I don’t feel bad about tossing it. I do my best to donate or recycle it but the world is not set up yet for zero waste and that’s not my fault. I appreciate sites such as Stopwaste.org when I want to recycle something less typical.
I don’t watch TV shows about organizing or hoarding.
Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I don’t decant into containers. If you want everything in your kitchen, pantry or home to be labeled in pretty, matching ceramic containers, as organizers we are happy to do it.
We don’t have a garage. The previous owners of our home took it down to put in another room. We use it as a TV and exercise area. It has a large storage cabinet we use for holiday supplies, camping, memorabilia, sporting goods and games. Behind it is where I store all my supplies for work. My car is parked in a driveway.
I never liked the term “professional organizer.” Unfortunately they haven’t come up with anything better.
My team organizes better than I do but I know what works and I am great at managing projects, people and getting things done.
When I cook, my kitchen becomes a disaster. I am not an “organized cook.” I guess that’s because I’m focused on the food itself, not on the dish that didn’t get washed, the counter that didn’t get wiped or the container of cream that didn’t get put away. My husband is an incredibly organized cook.
To celebrate the end of 2021, (phew) I looked back over my blog posts from this year to dig up individual pearls of wisdom I could share again to inspire you for 2022. Do any of these resonate with you?
Treat organizing your home as a practice, not a one-time event
Home organizing, whether it be your guest room, junk drawer or home office, is as much a mind-set as it is a habit. Practice organizing and over time you will develop an organizing habit. That means, keeping an eye on high clutter areas like your clothes closet, office or garage. Continuously ask yourself “do I want/need/love this item?”
Aim for progress not perfection
Don’t expect your home, office or storage area to look like an ad for “the most organized Mom in the world!” You do not have to spend hours refilling matching containers with cute “blackboard” labels if that’s not who you are. (I know it’s not who I am.) Better to do a small action then let yourself be paralyzed by the enormity of a perfectly organized space.
The less you have the less you have to organize and the easier it is to maintain
In a consumer culture, shopping can be a competitive sport or even a form of therapy. It’s difficult to keep a lid on the stuff coming into your home. One of the best things you can do is prevent those things from cluttering your space in the first place. Cancel those subscriptions, stop the junk mail, don’t buy in bulk if you live alone, don’t keep something just because it’s useful.Only keep it if you use it!
Consider your time, privacy and convenience
It’s great to pass along things to friends, family, neighbors, even strangers. I love the “Buy Nothing” sites as an example where you can give away everyday items you no longer want to people in your neighborhood. It’s also a great way to keep things out of the landfill. But as my client’s often hear me say, “Don’t let the small stuff get in the way of the big stuff.” If you have a roomful of items you no longer want, consider the easiest option for letting go of most items all at once. If you’re stuck, it’s always great to ask, “Is it worth my time?”
Sort it into categories that resemble the aisles of a department store
Clothes with clothes, shoes with shoes, office supplies with office supplies, games with games, tools with tools, etc. Think about categories you would find in a department or hardware store. Don’t make any decisions about keeping or tossing until you’ve staged all the categories. By the way, you may need a folding table or two. Seeing your items sorted, and by category, helps you make quick decisions about what to keep. Do you really need all 26 screwdrivers?
Just because something is usable doesn’t mean you have to keep it
There are no clutter police. Almost everything is usable but if you don’t use it, don’t keep it. Ask yourself did I use this in the last year and do I intend to use it in the next year? (e.g., Holiday decor falls into this category). If your answer is no, let it go.
Your home does not have to look like a cover from a lifestyle magazine or a social media post if that’s not who you are. It bears repeating!
If you are not sure whether or not to keep something, ask yourself, “If I saw it in a store, would I buy it?”
We keep things out of habit, delayed decision making, guilt and a host of other reasons. If you are trying to declutter or simplify your life, this is a great way to know if it stills has value for you.
Honor the memory, person or experience with something meaningful
When you walk through a museum or someone’s home and admire painting or an object of art, do you take it home and keep it? Hopefully not – unless you want to end up in jail. Sometimes you can simply enjoy the memory of a person, place or experience without having every item that reminds you of them. Pick one or two things that truly honors the person or best represents your experience.
Only the owner of the item gets to decide about whether it stays or goes
I have a rule when I work with couples. Only the “owner of the decision” has the say about keep vs. go. The non-owner does not get a say unless explicitly asked. I’ve avoided many arguments with this rule. The only exception should be if one member of the couple delegates the decision making to their spouse. In this case, the delegating spouse has to set the parameters very carefully. No coming back later and saying, “I wanted that!”
When you’ve got to get it done quickly, efficiently and expertly, hire a professional organizer
Last year you spent a week, month or a lot of money, to organize your home, or one area of it, and now it’s back where you started.
During Covid, you coped last year by shopping. You got into a new hobby. You inherited items from your family. Either way, you got some new stuff. It may even be better than the old stuff but the old stuff is still there. The stuff you had and the new stuff didn’t get put away or it piled above other stuff you already have.
In addition, all those great storage systems for containing your stuff stopped working for you or your family. You started to fall back into old habits. Now you’ve got more stuff than before.
My advice to you: Don’t be discouraged. It may be time to examine your thinking, perspectives and habits when it comes to obtaining and organizing. Remember, sometimes life gets in the way and your priorities change.
First and foremost, consider it a learning, not an opportunity to shame yourself!
How often do you say to yourself…?
I’ll get to it later
I’m keeping it just in case
I’ll just put it here, for now
My family isn’t cooperating!
I couldn’t find it so I bought another
I’ll go through it tomorrow
I may need it some day
It belonged to my parents. I just couldn’t toss it!
Everything in life is an experiment
Remember that great feeling you had when everything had a “home” and it was so neat and tidy?
It didn’t happen by accident and whether you did it yourself or had help from friends or professionals, chances are you learned something you’ve just forgotten. When you forget, your old habits return.
It’s like other things we try to change in our lives. (Believe me. I know this firsthand!)
For example, imagine you need to get to a healthy weight. It’s going to take action and consistency. Not just once, not just for a week, but every day or at least more days than not. You’ll also need a plan based on your strengths, needs and goals.
The same is true when you want to develop an organizing habit.
Know your strengths
Are you visual? Consider “envisioning’ what an organized space looks like for you. Draw or design it or find a picture online or in a magazine that inspires you. Look around and start to notice what you like about your space, not just what bothers you.
Are you tactile? Go around the space, from right to left, and mark all the items you want to get rid of with some painters tape. Touch the items and decide if they still hold meaning for you or not.
Are you a great listener? Consider watching organizing videos online, listen to podcasts or attend a free organizing talk in your area. Organizers often speak for free at retirement communities, real estate groups, community centers or libraries as a way to promote their services. Better yet, get some free advice
Are you physically agile or strong? You may be able to work alone and declutter yourself. Perhaps you can build yourself new storage systems or shelves. This type of strength is called kinesthetic.
Are you intuitive and pretty self-aware? This will help you to edit what you have. Ask yourself key questions that make it a whole lot easier to feel in control and less overwhelmed by your clutter.
Do I love this?
Does it bring in negative emotions or bad memories?
If I saw it in a store, would I buy it again?
Has it been more than a year since I used it?
If it should disappear would I miss it?
Do I know someone who would enjoy it more than I do?
Would it give me pleasure to give it away?
Am I truly honoring the person or their memory by keeping this?
Consider your needs
Sometimes we just don’t want to do something. We “don’t feel like it.” Other times it’s the thing that gets us out of bed in the morning. Your needs are the basics of what makes life possible for you. For some it may be survival needs for others, they may be linked to your highest values. In general needs are the pre-requisites for functioning at your best. Consider your needs and how they fit into these four questions:
Is this something that’s important to me now?
Will having this space more organized help me get up in the morning or improve my day to day life?
Would learning a new organizing habit make me feel better about myself or change the way I perceive myself now?
What would happen if I left things as is? What would be the consequence?
Reflect on your WHY
Take a moment to identify what you want, how you’ll know you got there and why it’s important to you right now. This could be a short-term goal or a long-term goal. The short-term goal can tie into the long term goal but it should be satisfying in and of itself. For example, if you want to get your garage organized again, start with organizing one cabinet or the tool box. If your guest room has been overrun with stuff and is now a storage area, start with just the things on the floor and leave the surfaces, closets and closet organizing to later.
Achieving small successes will have a big impact on your ability to meet your larger goal. Along the way, you will also want to clarify why this is important to you so you can feel and be motivated to take actions that move you closer to your goal. Try asking yourself these four questions:
If everything were organized just the way I imagine, what would that bring me?
What would I be able to do that I can’t do now?
How would it feel to know that I have reached my goal and am maintaining it?
Besides me, who in my life would be most impacted if I did or did not develop this habit?
Change is certain when you know who you are
The process of change and developing any habit is not impossible. As a professional organizer, move manager and personal advocate for those who want to make change in their lives, I can tell you I wasn’t a “born organizer.” My home is tidy but not a magazine showpiece. I learned to be more organized as I discovered my strengths, needs and what was important to me (and what wasn’t).
It works for me and my husband. We each have our shared and separate responsibilities to keep up with it and I don’t take for granted that I can share those tasks with someone else. If I lived alone, I know it would be harder but not impossible. I also know I would need to make choices about what I could accept and live with.
Even if you live alone, are a single parent, have learned to cope with a physical or cognitive challenge or are recently retired, know that you already have certain strengths that can help you to develop and maintain an organizing habit, enjoy your life and get more done.
Editor’s Note: Cara Lanz is a freelance writer, digital marketer, and self-proclaimed word nerd. She is also a god-send to me. This month she is my guest blogger. When she isn’t creating digital content for clients across the country, she is blogging on MidwesternHomeLife, her own lifestyle website. She loves to share simple and (sometimes) healthy recipes, debt-free tips, and inspiration for creating a happy home in the heartland. You can find Cara at https://midwesternhomelife.com/.
I knew I needed to declutter my dishes when it came down to a math problem I just couldn’t solve. I had two people in the house and a dinnerware cabinet brimming with — among other things — 21 dinner plates, 12 salad plates, 17 saucers, and 20 soup bowls.
Now, in my defense, they were all matching– well, as matching as Fiestaware can be — and neatly organized. No haphazard piles or plastic containers shoved in there. So, on its face, it didn’t really appear as though I needed to declutter my dishes.
But the math just didn’t work. Plus, I had other cabinets bursting at the seams with things I wanted to move into my dinnerware cabinet.
How would I go about deciding what to keep and what to get rid of?
Enter Lis McKinley, owner of LET’S MAKE ROOM. As an organizational expert, she’s helped hundreds of others figure this very thing out.
But, I wondered: Would she finally be the one to pry my superfluous Fiestaware from my gripped fingers, or would I be the one and only person she has not been able to help? I really had no idea which way this was going to go.
So we set up a Zoom meeting.
My Virtual Organizing Call with Lis
When I first got on a call with Lis, I noticed two things right away. She’s warm and welcoming and made every crazy organizational dilemma I had seem like it was totally normal, and she’s heard it a million times. She’s also extremely decisive in that teacher kind of way that just made me want to do what she said because I knew she knew what she was talking about.
She laid out our plan for exactly what we were going to do during our time together. She even had a clever acronym for her process: S.P.A.C.E. She gently took the time to explain what each of the steps meant and made sure I understood them.
For the next hour, we:
Here’s what that looked like.
To get started, I pulled all my dishes out of the cabinet and put them into like piles. Bowls with bowls, plates with plates. Not only did this help me to see with clarity exactly what I was dealing with, but it also gave me an empty cabinet, aka, a clean slate, to start all over again.
The goal of purging was to make decisions about which items I wanted to keep, based on four criteria: Do I love them, want them, need them, or use them? We had really thoughtful conversations and she asked me things like, “If you saw that in a store, would you buy it again?” We also discussed how often we entertain, how many adults and kids, and which dishes we need to accommodate them. Then we pared down from there. It all made perfect sense.
We also sifted through things that I knew just weren’t going to go back into the cupboard. These super fussy 2-part martini chiller/chilled appetizer glasses, for example. Also, some heirloom dishes that are pretty enough, but I’m just not using them.
During the assign process, I had to find a home for everything. To figure that out, I had to think about where I would most likely look for things if I needed to use them. So a good amount of my dinnerware was assigned back to the cupboard.
Those fussy 2-part glasses — and other things I’ll never use again — went straight into the “Donate” box. The heirloom dishes went into my “Ask Mom If She Wants Them Back” box. But that wasn’t the end of it. Lis made me pick a date when I would drop off the “Donate” items and send a pic to my mom of the items that were potentially going to boomerang back to her. So, now I was accountable. But, it was all on a timeline that I chose.
Now it was time to put things back. Contain my pared-down dishes into the cupboard. But it wasn’t just, “Okay now put everything back.” Lis asked me to think about each item I was putting back and where it would be best to put it. We had discussions about things like, “Well, we really use these bowls more than those bowls,” and “I can’t reach those plates very well when the dishwasher is open.” So it was super strategic, and I could tell it was going to set me up for long-term success.
Also, Lis knew one of my goals was to get rid of so much stuff in this cupboard that I could free up my entire top shelf, drop it down to a level I could actually reach, and transport items I use all the time from another hard-to-reach cupboard. So while Lis sat in the Zoom room, I hauled over a bar stool, climbed up on my counter, and dropped down that top shelf. Just like that, that cupboard became 33.33% more useful to me!
During the equalize phase — this was the tidying up at the end of it all — I easily put things back where they belonged. Lis explained that the process of assigning and containing is what makes it possible to equalize, because I had already established a home for everything.
I had a pile of plates and bowls that were going to be put away into my pantry for when I needed them for a large party. I had certain dishes I only use for my food blog that needed to go where those things live. At last, everything was where it should be.
My Dishes, Decluttered
By the end of our hour and a half together, my cupboard was whittled down to a svelte 10 dinner plates, 10 salad plates, and 10 soup bowls. Zero saucers. Lots of room for everything we need, in the places that make the most sense. AND a completely empty shelf ready to take on the overflow when I use the S.P.A.C.E. method to clear out my next cupboard.
You’ve been thinking about getting organized and decluttered for weeks, months, years. You just can’t seem to get started, motivated or going. What’s holding you back?
Decluttering and organizing are not unlike other forms of self-care such as eating healthier, getting in shape or reducing your stress. Accomplishing these takes a plan, consistent action and focus.
It can be as simple as setting a goal, breaking that goal into small parts and making sure you have what you need to obtain and meet your goal. Just like walking – taking one step and then another – you are seemingly doing the same thing over and over but the scenery changes as you go.
As you make progress, you will notice other types of change in your body, your brain and your mood. All these changes work on each other to improve your actual, as well as perceived, sense of wellbeing. The same is true for organizing.
The beginning of the year is a great time to resolve to get organized. Even if you are feeling motivated, your chances of success will depend on having a simple, actionable plan. This will help you overcome distractions and reasons to do something else.
Make a Plan
People sometimes hear the word plan and they give up before they start. Planning is nothing more than visualizing yourself doing the task and considering what you would need to be successful.
In the case of organizing, think about what you will need to get the job done.
Imagine yourself doing the task. Break it into small steps. What will you have to do to tidy or organize your desk, freezer, coat closet, tool area? Will you empty everything first? Do you have enough counter space? How will you sort items? Do you plan to donate or recycle or dispose of items you don’t want? Do you need a sitter for your kids? Take a few moments to think it through.
Consider what you’ll need to support you in the task. Just like it’s a good idea to have comfortable, supportive walking shoes when you go for a brisk walk outdoors, as you get organized, you will need things to support your process. This could be things like bags for donations or trash, a dust rag for wiping off surfaces, a clear surface for sorting items, even music if you think that will keep you motivated and energized. Get those things together before you start organizing. Once you gather your supplies once or twice, it will be second nature the next time you embark on a new organizing task.
Gathering your supplies is a form of taking action. Clearing a surface for sorting is also a form of taking action. Even getting your music set up is an action. The secret to success is taking small, achievable consistent action every time you embark on an organizing project.
Aim for action, not perfection. As the saying goes, perfection is the enemy of progress. This is especially true for physical organizing. Does the surface need to be perfectly clear? No. Do you need to have pretty bins, brand-new containers and chalk board labels? Absolutely not! Most of all, don’t compare yourself with others. Turn off the critic and know that good enough IS good enough.
Treat organizing as a practice not a one-time event. A practice is a series of behaviors that you do over and over with consistency. This will help build what I call the decision-making muscles in your brain. Each time you make a decision about whether or not you want to keep something you own, your decision-making muscles will get stronger.
See yourself as more organized. Getting organized is an action consisting of similar tasks. The more you do the more you’ll develop an “organized” mindset. You’ll start to see yourself as an organized person. That mindset will further propel you to change your behavior. For example, you may think twice the next time you shop or consider bringing something new into your home.
For many this can be the most difficult part of embarking on an organizing project. You have a plan but once the reality of sorting items, making decision after decision and physically moving or transporting items, you will lose focus, get bored and maybe want to give up. Don’t!
Just like walking – taking one step and then another – you are seemingly doing the same thing over and over. But what you are also doing is creating other types of change you might not notice right away in your body, your brain and your mood. All these changes work on each other to improve your actual, as well as perceived, sense of wellbeing. The same is true for organizing.
When you focus on the tasks of physical organizing and decluttering, there are some very real ways you are enhancing your body and mind’s wellbeing.
Improve brain health. Researchers believe the brain’s prefrontal cortex holds the neurons that allow us to sort and categorize. It’s actually a very sophisticated brain process involving assigning categories based on our experience. The act of organizing improves our brain’s health by exercising those parts of our brain needed to accomplish the task of getting organized.
Gain self-awareness. Accept that some areas will be easier for you to declutter than others because of negative associations. If you notice you continually avoid or start and stop an organizing task, ask yourself if there is something about the objects themselves that have a negative connotation. Recognize and accept the association but don’t let it stop you.
Enhance wellbeing. The very act of sorting alone can be a kind of meditation. As you sort, you will notice your mind going in many directions. As you focus, you will become more relaxed and the task of sorting and purging becomes easier. Not only that but the focused actions you take will release the neurochemicals in your brain, called endorphins, that make you feel good.
Sustain motivation. I always ask my clients to imagine the space they want decluttered as already organized. Then I ask them to tell me 1) How it makes them feel and 2) What they can now do differently in the space that they couldn’t do before. Being able to imagine the result is a common strategy used by athletes to keep them focused. Keeping your imagined result, top-of-mind, can be a great way to stay motivated and focused.
For those with cognitive impairments caused by traumatic brain injury, stroke or age-related dementia, you may have a more difficult time with organizing. These conditions often impact your ability to process the information needed to organize your physical surroundings. With support and professional guidance these obstacles can be overcome or diminished.
Organizing physical items in your home – by sorting, editing and assigning where they live – is a form of self-care that improves your body, brain and mood. It may feel difficult, painful or even boring at first but with a plan, consistent action and focus, you will likely feel good, less stressed and happier.
Lis McKinley, M.A., is a certified professional organizer, move manager and owner of LET’S MAKE ROOM, LLC based in Oakland, Ca.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A year of transformation. As you recall the most notable events of the past year, whether they be global, local or personal, why not take a moment to reflect on your life today, right now, in this moment. Because it will change.
If you’re not even sure where to begin, here are a few thought provoking questions to help you get started.
Did you accomplish what you set out to do?
Did you take the time to focus on what is really important to you?
Do you recognize the areas where you succeeded and where you would still like to grow?
Can you see how your contributions fit into the grand scheme of life?
Transformation takes mental and physical sweat, I once read. It also takes intensity mindfulness and focus. It’s not easy to know who we are supposed to be let alone know how to fully inhabit ourselves. At the beginning of this year, I decided it was time to think bigger. It was time for LET’S MAKE ROOM to make room to grow.
I love helping people get organized, however, I felt I could accomplish more for my clients if I wasn’t working alone as much. I also realized, after several people hired me to help them get organized to move, or empty a family home they were selling, or help them get unpacked, that there was a need LET’S MAKE ROOM could fill, especially in the San Francisco/East Bay Community where I live.
I realized, we could take the stress out of moving for busy families and other homeowners because we could fully dedicate ourselves to the process allowing our clients the flexibility and time to work or simply enjoy their lives, even when they didn’t live here.
Thus the idea of becoming a complete residential organizing service, one that would help people Get Organized, Get Moved and Get More Done, was born.
At first I resisted the idea of growing. I felt unsure of what it would mean in terms of my ability to keep ‘tabs’ on my little business. Then a series of big jobs came my way and I realized that I could no longer limit myself. Life presented me with a choice. Some people would say it was “luck.” I’ve always believed that luck is nothing more than an opportunity meeting with persistence.
Opportunity is like a strong wind you can’t escape from. You just have to hold strong and at the same time let yourself be carried forward, or backwards, or sideways.
Sometimes opportunity comes in the form of an unexpected loss or change. It can even be an expected change, such as growing older and you find yourself suddenly having to make a choice.
Pulitzer Prize winning Poet Mary Oliver writes about this in her poem entitled, The Journey:
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.
Her words have followed me from my old career through launching LET’S MAKE ROOM. I have it posted on the wall next to my desk in my office along with a collage of other inspiring words and images.
And in case you’re wondering, they are not neatly hung in frames but rather displayed, somewhat haphazardly. Sometimes that’s the way life is, even for an organizer.