Posts Tagged ‘Professional Organizer’

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.

 

 

The Good, Bad and Ugly of Downsizing Your Home to Move

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First the good news.

After living in the same home for 35 years, you’ve decided to sell your house to move into a smaller home that better fits your plans for the future.

Now the bad news.

After living in the same home for 35 years, you’ve decided to sell your house to move into a smaller home but now you have to decide what you want to take with you to your new home and then figure out what to do with everything else.

Here’s the ugly truth.  You’ll have to get past the overwhelm if you want to make this happen. Action in the form of decisions is the best antidote. However, if you need help, consider hiring a professional organizer or move manager, especially if you are a senior or not as strong as you used to be.  Breaking your back or leg should not be a part of your moving plan.

Start by looking around. Every room in your home has surfaces, drawers, closets and cabinets containing – dare I say filled with – a lifetime of objects and memories – enjoyed, received, purchased, stored, used, never used, never discarded.

You suddenly think, what am I going to do with all this stuff? You wonder if anyone wants your ten year old sleeper sofa, the one you bought so your grandkids could sleep over but now those kids are in high school or college and they’ve moved to new cities.

You think about the china and the silver that you haven’t used in years and that your kids have outright told you, “thanks Mom but no thanks, I have no place to put it and and even if I did, we’d never use it. I can’t even put it in the dishwasher!”

You’re not alone. It’s a dilemma faced by millions of people retiring or nearing retirement, every year.

So what do you do?

Start by getting clear about why you are moving.

Perhaps, you’re going to be closer to your grandkids. Or, you’re leaving the suburbs, and selling the house that’s outgrown you to return to downtown so you can walk to the stores you love and be closer to things you enjoy.

Maybe you’re moving into a condo or a smaller one-story home so you don’t have to deal with three flights of stairs anymore.

Maybe you’re moving back to your hometown where the air is cleaner and life is simpler.

Whatever the reason, get a crystal clear picture of what your future could look like and how you’ll know you got there.

Picture yourself playing with your grandkids, sharing coffee with a friend or taking a walk down that old familiar road with your dog.

You’ll need to have this picture fixed in your mind. Why? Because getting downsized and organized to move, and then planning and executing the move can at times be a mind-numbing, physically taxing and even tedious process.  Add to that the time it takes to get unpacked, settled and adjusted to your new home, neighborhood or community.  It’s hard adjusting to your new life… even when it’s the one you chose to have!

Once you’ve prepared yourself mentally, it’s time to start making some big decisions. If you’ve already found a new home, that will make downsizing and planning for your move predictable since you’ll know ahead of time how much space you have to move into.

But let’s say you want to start downsizing now, even though you don’t know where you’re moving. You just know you want less in your life and to be free of the burden of all the stuff!

First, start with what you know. Decide and mark (with bright green or blue painter’s tape) the items in your house that you know, for certain, you are taking with you.  Make the labels as visible as possible. Go through room by room and “read the room” like you read a book, from left to right.  Mark each furniture item that takes up floor space from the left side of the door or entry way until you reach the right side of the door or entry way. Ignore the household items, just do furniture, large lamps and hung art work for now.

If you have an extremely cluttered room such as a garage or office or an old bedroom that has become a “dumping ground” for undecided items, don’t tackle these first. That’s like expecting to press a 500lb weight when you haven’t worked out in years. You’ll hurt yourself!

Build your decision-making muscles slowly. Instead, start with a reasonably uncluttered area and make decisions about items contained in these rooms first.

Sort usable items you don’t want and could be donated, from trash. Use white, tall kitchen plastic bags for soft items you no longer want like clothing, purses, and belts and “banker” or file storage size boxes for heavier or fragile items.  If possible, use boxes with cut out handles. It makes it easier to transport donated items to your car or to another part of your home for staging. Never use large boxes for donations. (Leave those for the movers).

Use tall paper lawn bags (available at most hardware stores) for recycling paper and heavyweight plastic bags for trash and non-usable or broken items. Get the trash out as soon as the bags are full to make space for your next task.  Seeing empty space is a great motivator!

Old blankets and linens can be donated to a local animal shelter. Used bed pillows are generally not donate-able and should be trashed unless your city (few do) offers a fabric recycling program.

Moving is probably the only time when you will finally look at the paper you have been saving.

Don’t even think about tackling paper until you’ve first downsized your household items. If you do have a large quantity of paper – several file cabinets worth — consider the fact that 80% of what most people keep they never look at again.

If possible peruse your cabinets by file, not by document. If you’re concerned you may accidentally toss something confidential, err on the side of placing the entire file in a file-storage sized box marked “shred.” Set all your “shred” boxes aside and either arrange for them to be picked up by a local shredding company or you can search “free shredding events near me” online.  Insurance agents and banks often sponsor free, public shredding events, for promotional purposes.

Time will determine just how and where your unwanted items get disbursed. In other words, the longer lead time you have, the more thoughtful you can be about where your discarded items end up.

If you’ve lived in your home for more than ten years, expect to pay for hauling or trash removal. Take advantage of your local waste management company’s free bulky item pick-up service if available but keep in mind you may still have to pay someone to help you get large and heavy items such as old appliances, mattresses and un-donateable furniture to your curb for pick up.

Save your back! Take advantage of whatever charities in your area offer truck pick-up but keep in mind you may have to book up to several weeks in advance and what is taken is always at the driver’s discretion. Check out DonationTown.org to schedule a truck pick up in your area.

Most household items will be accepted but furniture is more difficult to donate unless it’s collectible or in demand (e.g., mid-century modern) in good condition and less than 5 years old. If you have time, you can try posting items on free web-based sites such as Craigslist, Nextdoor, Facebook Marketplace, Freecycle.org, LetGo etc. Check to see if there is a “free stuff” group on your favorite social media site, if you use one, such as Facebook or Instagram.

There are also services like MaxSold which is an online auction site that will provide local help to get almost all your household items sold at below-market prices and picked up in a day or two.

The biggest advantage of selling or donating your large furniture is you don’t have to pay to have these items moved.  Add to that,  they are being purchased, presumably, by someone who wants them. The disadvantage is that you will have to be okay with prospective buyers coming to your home but you can either be there or agree to have representatives manage the sale for you.

Once your house is emptied of all sold and donated items as well as debris, your move will be much simpler. Contact one or two reputable movers in your area to get onsite estimates for packing, moving and insuring your move.

If possible, take advantage of their packing services, at least for your high value and fragile items,  especially if you are moving out of state or more than 50 miles away. It’s well worth the added expense since it’s less likely things will arrive damaged if packed professionally. In the event that something does break, the liability rests with the movers, not you, and therefore you can file a claim with your mover’s insurance company or your own homeowners insurance if they cover your move.

After your items are moved, you can now turn the house over to your real estate agent to reap the most value from your home’s sale and begin living out the the vision you imagined!  Chances are, it will be even better than you expected.

 

I’m not a hoarder. I’m a collector. Why can’t I get organized?

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The answer? It’s not because you are a collector. It’s because you don’t know why you are collecting.

Having collections in and of itself does not make you disorganized. If that were true every museum and gallery in the world would be a cluttered mess.

It’s more likely your collections need to be reviewed for their personal relevance to you the same way a museum, gallery or boutique will display and collect their collections to fit their particular vision, style or mission.

Are you collecting items that have meaning to you or are you attached to them for another reason? If your mother passed, and you have everything she ever owned, how is that honoring her memory? How does that enhance your life? Is that a collection or just a collection of stuff?

There is no such thing as the clutter-police.

No one is going to come to you and say, “you can’t get rid of that!” unless you let them. If an heirloom was given to you, you are the owner of that decision. Not the person who gave it to you. Not even your spouse or your children. Just you.  If you don’t like something you were given, someone else will. I was given a gift of a cookbook from a friend but I know I will never use it. Instead I am giving it to someone who I know will love it.

You probably have more collectibles than you have room to store them.  Prioritize which of those collectibles you want on display or to use yourself. The rest are just things taking up space. Consider giving them new life somewhere else as a gift or donation.

Your decision about what and how much to store, will depend on your available space and of course how much value they have to you.

Outside or external storage is like buying a house just for your things! Is that worth it to you?

You can be both “a collector” and still suffer from chronic hoarding disorder, a mental health disorder in which an individual excessively saves items that the consensus among the general public would be to view as worthless or to such excess as to render their living space uninhabitable or non-functioning.

Assuming you do not fit the criteria for hoarding disorder, (people aren’t hoarders, they have hoarding disorder) there are several possible causes of why you are disorganized.

Here are the most typical barriers to organizing your collections:

  1. Time. You perceive or believe you don’t have the time to get organized. You may have other more pressing or important priorities. Any organizing task, no matter how small requires some time investment. Even a minute can make a difference in how much time you spend tidying up your home. Spend a minute now, save hours later.  Take a moment now and think of all the things you could do if you just had one minute to do them. For example: Hang up a coat. Toss the junk mail. Empty the dish drying rack. Empty a trash can. Can you think of more? Getting organized is a habit not an event.
  2. Space. You have more things than you have space for. It’s a simple equation to fix.   Less stuff = more space for what you love, use and collect. There’s no getting around it. If you moved from a three-bedroom home with a cluttered garage into a two bedroom condo with no garage, you will have more stuff than you have room for. Even if you have the same amount of square footage, you will still need storage. This would include both built in storage such as closets and cabinets, as well as furniture that is built for storage. In short, you have to be willing to edit and purge what you no longer love, want or use.
  3. Mindset. Getting organized requires a large degree of logic, attention to detail, system thinking,  creativity, physical endurance, mental focus and to put it bluntly, a willingness to do it. Inertia, whether physical or emotional (caused by depression, anxiety or attention deficits) can be a huge impediment to getting and staying organized. Untreated mental or emotional issues can lead to other more serious conditions or risks. Consult with a physician or mental health provider about whether your own mindset may be interfering with your organizing goals. If you consider yourself “chronically” disorganized, check out the public resources available from The Institute for Chronic Disorganization
  4. Strategies. Even with plenty of time, space and readiness, you will need to have a plan for how to tackle different types of clutter. Is it things you are trying to organize or paper?  In my work with clients I approach these two types of clutter very differently. Organizing things tends to be easier for most people because their value is easier to assess, practical and emotional.  People struggle more with paper out of fear and a lack of clarity about what to keep and what can be safely tossed. Explore the web or your library for tips on organizing from others and see what’s worked for them.
  5. Purpose. The old expression if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there is true for organizing as well. Sometimes the goal is easy, such as clearing out a house to sell or decluttering a garage enough to fit a car. Most of the time the purpose is more intangible such as a desire to feel more peace and wellbeing or a desire to feel more comfortable having people over.  Ask yourself, “why do I want to do this?”
  6. Scope. No matter how motivated you are, sometimes an organizing task is just too big to do alone or the urgency too great. That’s when it may be time to call in ‘the troops.’  Put the word out to (nonjudgemental) friends. Reach out to local organizers in your area. Do a Google search for “professional home organizer near me.” Post a help wanted ad at your local community college for help or ask other trusted professionals in your life for a referral to a professional organizer. You can also check out the National Association of Organizing and Productivity Professionals or the National Association of Senior Move Managers. Just enter your zip-code and it will list credentialed or qualified organizing professionals near you.

Getting organizing requires a compelling purpose. What’s yours?

  • Just a desire to get organized is not enough to overcome the physical and emotional barriers that may keep you stuck in clutter.
  • Resolve to let go of things that no longer have value for you, even if they once did or if they were given to you by a loved one or friend.
  • Explore whether your mindset or other inhibiting conditions may be keeping you from meeting your goals.
  • Finally, gather your tools or more specifically your strategies. Have a plan to know what you will do in different circumstances or with different types of items. Struggle with downsizing books? Google tips on “how to organize your library.” Need help organizing your massive amount of clothing? Google “Wardrobe editing decision tree.”

Now that you know where, why, how and when,  decide whether you can do it alone or if you need help. Either way, congratulate yourself for making the decision to make more room in your life for what matters most.

 

The Secret to Being Organized, Getting More Done and Finding Happiness

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Recently I learned about something called the Intention-Action Gap. The intention-action gap is a term used by people, mainly behavioral experts, who study the reasons why we do or don’t do things that are good for us.

In simple terms, the intention-action gap refers to the difference between what people say they would like / plan to do and what they actually do. For example, people say they want to get organized, or lose weight, or get more exercise or eat healthier but they don’t.

Behavioral experts explain this “gap” between our intentions and our actions in several ways but recently I came across an article written by Ozoda Muminova, a London-based researcher, business and organizational consultant who helped me understand this disconnect between what we want and what we actually do in a delightful and amusing way.

Basically she said that as humans there are certain barriers to changing our behaviors. Things like, habit, unknown impact, feeling isolated and overcoming difficulty.  Her answer, in short: make it fun, make it social, make it personal and make it immediately rewarding.

Ozoda created this simple model to explain how to meet every barrier to change, with an enabler of change:

5 steps for turning good intentions into good behaviours. Used by permission of The Good Insight/Ozoda Muminova


I got to thinking about this in the context of why so many of us, myself included, really want to achieve a certain goal like losing weight, exercising more and even getting organized, but can’t follow through.  You may start but within a moment you find yourself procrastinating or putting it off again.

Inspired by these ideas of challenging each barrier with a positive enabler, consider this simple 5 step approach to changing old habits that get in the way of your happiness.

For every barrier you have to your goal, whether it be losing weight, exercising more, getting more organized or something else, do what you can to make it fun, make it relevant to you personally, make it possible to see change immediately so you’ll keep going, make it social, that is, look for evidence that others are doing it too and make it rewarding!

Let’s say you want to organize your closet. Here’s an example of how you could apply this simple plan to get it done!

1. Make it fun

Play your favorite upbeat music or ask your best (most fun) friend to help you. Put on your most colorful and silly clothes to get you inspired or set up sturdy bins and practice your awesome basketball dunk or free throw for those items you are sending to donation. The point is, if you make it fun and easy you are more likely to get it done.

2. Make it personally relevant

Be clear about why you are getting organized, in other words ask yourself, what’s in it for me? Will you enjoy being able to see your newly organized closet? Will it make it easier for you to find what you need when you need it? Will it make you feel good about yourself and what you’ve accomplished? If you can equate the task to something meaningful to you – my discarded stuff could help others, getting dressed in the morning will be easy and fun, I will feel good about showing off my home to my friends – you are more likely to get it done.

3. Look for immediate change

Next consider a plan for how to see change immediately. I recommend breaking the task into smaller pieces . Instead of attacking the entire closet, start with just the top shelf or one side before tackling the rest. Psychologically, we are motivated to continue once we see small changes.  If you are tackling a larger space,  clear off a surface –  the floor or a table –  as you are more likely to continue when you see clear space versus something you can’t see such as a drawer. Remember you can only climb a flight of stairs, one or maybe two, steps at a time. The point is you’ll still get there.

4. Make it social

If you are unable to enlist the help of your family or friends (or if you don’t want to), consider that you are not alone in your desire to get organized. The popularity of people like Marie Kondo and The Container Store are evidence of the trend in organizing. Why not set up a challenge with an online friend or find a virtual room for other like-minded people to share your progress with on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or FlyLady.net. You could also arrange to have an “accountability” partner. This is someone you know who you can report your progress to with no judgement. I often do this for my clients.

5. Make it rewarding

Finishing an organizing project is its own reward. I know the satisfaction I feel when I complete a large organizing project for a client and sometimes I want to celebrate my accomplishment with my crew. We may go out for dinner or to a local tap room for a beer or I may just go home and take a luxurious hot, bubble bath.

The intention-action gap explains why we can’t overcome our resistance to change or existing habits. Understanding the 5 barriers to change and replacing them with these 5  “enablers” of change can turn bad habits into new behaviors that lead to a happier and more satisfied life.

I believe getting organized is about making room in your life for what you enjoy the most.  So now that you’re done, go do something just for you or do it with others so you can celebrate your success together!

 

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.