Archive for the ‘Baby Boomer’ Category

How to downsize your home without losing your mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

When life strays from your to-do list

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

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

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

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

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

Alas, I knew what I was going to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much for getting to my to-do list.

The best gifts to get the clutterer in your life

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

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

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

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

Wishing you a joyous, peaceful and organized holiday season.

Is fear holding you back from getting organized?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do I love this particular bottle? NO.”

“Did I have enough already? ABSOLUTELY!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can throw out that old hair conditioner now.

Give Mom what she really wants! Less paper clutter, more family time

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Mother_and_Daughter

This year, why not give your Mom what she really wants for Mother’s day.

More time to spend with her family, and less time to feel overwhelmed by her clutter, especially all that paper!

Here’s what you can do:  Suggest to Mom that you’d like to give her the gift of organization so she can feel more in control of her life and less stressed by all the paper clutter in her home.  You can help her yourself or better yet, hire a Certified Professional Organizer, who can quickly identify and sort all it all.  Once sorted, you can purge what’s no longer needed and contain what’s left either in labeled paper or digital files according to your mother’s preference and ability.

If you decide to do this yourself, make it a time not just to plow through those piles but also to share the memories with Mom.  Whatever you do though, don’t chastise Mom for keeping everything. No one was born with an “organizing gene” and the rules around paper have changed considerably since she was young, especially now that we are in a digital age though she may not be.

Most of what we keep, as much as 80% according to several studies, we never refer to again. Old bills, especially utility bills, make up the bulk of what I’ve seen the most of when helping my clients tame their paper piles.

I’ve seen floors literally buckle under the weight of boxes upon boxes of retained paper.

Even if all the paper in these boxes were accidentally tossed the chances of needing anything in them is statistically small. That being said, there is always a chance that those boxes contain confidential information so to protect your Mom’s identity I recommend you arrange to have it picked up by a residential document destruction company in your area.

Shredding these papers protects your Mom from others using her confidential information fraudulently.  If you chose to to this yourself, be especially mindful when you are tossing documents containing the following:

  • Social Security Number (in full)
  • Credit Card Account Number (in full)
  • Driver’s License Number (in full)
  • Medical Record Number (in full)
  • Account Number (in full)

In recent years the practice of including full account numbers has changed to protect individual identities but that has not always been the case. If your Mom has kept documents for more than 10-15 years, it’s possible some contain this type of confidential information.  Note however, documents that contain just a name, address and phone number are part of public record (remember old phone books?) and nothing can be done with this information alone so it’s safe to recycle these.

To get started, you will need a cardboard or plastic box labeled “SHRED”  to contain documents for destruction. You will also need a supply of paper bags or boxes labeled “RECYCLE”  and a smaller receptacle for “TRASH” such as the plastic that contains magazines and other junk mail.  Lastly, you will also need a work surface. If table space is scarce, use a folding table or large ironing board if available. Use a “sharpie” for labeling if needed.

These record retention and destruction recommendations are general best practices and not intended to replace the advice for you or your Mother’s specific situation, especially if she is ill, disabled, or in dispute with the IRS.  In these cases, consult with your tax preparer or another legal professional.

SORT

To get you started, start with whatever loose paper is most visible on surfaces, tables, desks or the floor. Open all mail and sort all items, including individual files and documents into the following 5 categories:

  1. Financial
  2. Medical
  3. Legal
  4. Home
  5. Personal

Financial includes: old and unpaid bills, store receipts paid in cash (if you are tracking your mother’s cash expenditures), bank statements, investment statements, tax returns, pension documents, social security information

Medical includes: Medical history, prescription records, explanations of benefits, prescription receipts,  and health insurance and/or Medicare documents specific to your Mom

Legal includes: Life insurance policies, veteran records, estate planning documents such as wills, trusts, power of attorney, health proxies or living wills, birth, adoption, marriage and death certificates

Home includes: Property insurance records such as home and auto, mortgage records including records of satisfied mortgages, appliance warrenties

Personal includes: Educational and work history, cards, letters and other correspondence, general reference such as “project” or “idea” files.  Binders that contain old training material, photographs,  professional or published papers written or contributed to by your Mom and anything of a personal nature that could not be replaced if lost.

PURGE

As you do this you can toss the following: empty mailing envelopes, obvious junk mail, expired coupons, store receipts paid by by credit or debit card and old user guides or warranty information for products or appliances no longer owned.  Keeping a focus on sorting will make purging later go that much faster.

Next purge (shred or recycle) the following from each of the five piles:

  • Financial: Old paid bills, store receipts for low value items, checks from closed accounts, investment statements except current month or quarter, tax returns from more than seven years ago. ATM receipts – unless tracking cash withdrawals
  • Medical: Outdated medical information, explanations of benefits, receipts for prescriptions paid by insurance, any documents not specific to your Mom such as marketing and general information
  • Legal: Cancelled life insurance policies, cancelled or expired contracts
  • Home: Cancelled insurance policies, repair records for cars no longer owned, mortgage bills already paid, any reference material not referred to in over a year or that can easily be found elsewhere or online. Anything printed off the internet.
  • Personal: Any personal reference material that has not been referred to in over a year (such as old recipes, remodel ideas, maps, wellness or hobby information, old magazines, binders containing old training material, greeting cards signed by unknown people, out-dated resumes, any document that can be easily found online.  Children’s school records and drawings if not displayed. Take a digital photo instead. Personal papers such as these will most likely take up the bulk of your Mom’s paper files.

KEEP and CONTAIN (either file or scan)  

Use this as a guide for setting up your paper or or electronic file system

FINANCIAL RECORDS

  • Tax returns and current tax information including receipts used for deductions for future tax returns
  • Bank statements and investment statements by account name and last 4 digits of account number – most recent three months unless your Mom will be applying for assistance under Medicaid or MediCal. In this case she will need the last 5 years of bank statements.
  • Credit card statements by account name and last 4 digits of account number – last three months only
  • Life insurance by policy name – keep while active
  • Social security account information
  • Pension documents

MEDICAL RECORDS

  • Records of health history, prescriptions taken and major conditions
  • Lists of physicians, specialists and other providers seen or consulted with
  • Insurance/Medicare/MediCaid account information

LEGAL RECORDS

  • Estate planning documents (birth, adoption, marriage, death certificates)
  • Heath proxies, power of attorney documents
  • Veteran records
  • Records of satisfied contracts or any current contracts

HOME RECORDS

  • Mortgage documents for current home
  • Records of recently paid household bills (less than one year) – if possible, set up auto pay and have bills issued paperlessly via email.
  • Records of property insurance (home, auto, other assets)
  • Warranties, appraisals or certificates for high value items (value greater than $100 per pound)

PERSONAL RECORDS

  • School transcripts/Official records such as diplomas
  • Records of work history (most current)
  • Cards, letters and other correspondence if it has historical or resale value (emotional value is optional)
  • Professional, written or published work if it has historic importance to the general public or a particular industry for archiving purposes
  • Anything that could not be easily replaced with strong emotional value

TO-DO or ACTION Paper

Finally, identify any documents that require some kind of ACTION or to-dos that your mother feels are worth her time such as bills to be paid, forms to be filled out, greeting cards to be mailed, or items she wants to discuss with another professional. Put these items in a separate mail sorter on her desk or workspace, keeping the bills separate from everything else. Don’t put anything here that needs to be filed or contained. Any retained magazines should be placed where your Mom likes to read them.  Once she is done with these items they can be filed, contained or tossed as needed.

After you spend a few hours helping her, then take her out for lunch or dinner so you can both relax and enjoy some quality time together, knowing that you’ve made some room in your lives for what matters most.

 

 

What it takes to make make money selling your unwanted stuff

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Store selling vintage items

 

 

When you’re downsizing your home in preparation for moving, the first question you may ask yourself is, “Can I make some money on the stuff I already own?”

Much of what you own and no longer want can probably be donated as long as it’s still usable but if it pains you to donate items to charity because of the time, money and energy you spent acquiring them in the first place, here are some questions that can help break your paralysis around the dilemma of sell or donate?

Is it valuable?  

Sometimes the easiest way to find out is to do a little internet research on sites that sell similar items to see if any have sold recently and for how much? Be careful to check sold listings not just items for sale.  If there is a glut of similar items on the site, chances are they are waning in popularity.  You can check online auction sites such as e-bay, Etsy, Amazon or Shopify.  Another option is to get a formal appraisal but since this often is fee-based, consider it for items that you know have high value such as fine jewelry, furs or collectible art but not sure how much.

Is it an antique?

Just because something is old, does not mean it necessarily has value. Value is determined by how much a particular item demands in the marketplace now. Just because you love it, or your parents spent a fortune on it, doesn’t mean it has value in today’s market. One notable category for this is antique furniture, unless it was manufactured in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Mid-century modern furniture is particularly popular for the millennial generation of new buyers, those in their twenties and thirties now or those born in the twenty years after 1980.  Consider the fact that today’s young couples probably have no interest in either your grandmother’s china (unless it’s microwave and dishwasher safe), that early-19th century loveseat you bought at auction or those fabulous matching suits you wore during your career in the 80s and 90s.

Is it in excellent condition?

If it’s worn,  torn, stained, faded, damaged, needs more than a minor repair to make it functional or has a strange odor, chances are it won’t sell. But it could still be donated. Consider that oversized sectional sofa you have that’s just a few years old.  If the fabric looks new and it’s free of damage, it still probably won’t be easy to sell unless you do so through a community sale site such as on Craigslist or NextDoor and even then you should expect to get no more than 15%-20% of your original cost. (Remember someone also has to pay to have it transported out of your home.)

Is it a collectible item? 

Now here is the good news.  Vintage items such as art, jewelry, toys, used sporting goods, clothing and even some vintage office supplies are in demand now. Recently a client of mine was getting rid of an old banana-seat bicycle she’d kept.  Despite some metal rust and obvious wear, she was able to sell that bike for about $1,000!

Vintage is the new antique!

There are stores popping up all over now that carry a wide range of unique items that look like they were taken from a barn or a small town general store. Things like signage, county fair items, old store fixtures, barber shop poles and library card catalog drawers are finding buyers who feel nostalgic but don’t want their homes to resemble their grandparent’s homes.

If it’s clothing, is it less than 2 years old or more than 40 years old and in very good to excellent condition?

Resale of gently used designer and brand name clothing and accessories has become a big business. Sites like Thred Up and The Real Real have tapped into this market and so have brick and mortar consignment and thrift shops. But what if you have a basement or closet overstuffed with clothing you don’t want anymore that is more than two years old and maybe not quite “vintage?”  In general, consignment businesses are looking for items they know their customers want now! Don’t even think about bringing in that designer linen blouse if it’s still early spring.  Also, you probably won’t find a buyer for those unopened bags of clothes you ordered from online sites, unless they are designer brands, not just popular labels. If it’s a luxury item, such as a fur coat, you may be better off donating it as long as you have an appraisal or receipt that can testify to its current value.

Do I have time to do the legwork of selling?

This, more than any of the other five questions, should be the one you consider first. I left it for last because most people don’t even consider the value of their time when it comes to selling their household goods.  Also, if you are planning to move in less than a month, your selling ship has probably sailed. Y0u have much more urgent things to attend to especially if you are moving into a smaller home. Selling takes time. Time to research the value of your items to price them; Time to photograph or transport items (either by car or by mail) to buying-sites; Time to respond to inquiries or be available to show prospective buyers your items if you plan to sell them locally. When your move is imminent — that is in less than 30 days — time is not what you have an abundance of and you need that time to plan your move, hire your movers,  downsize what you can, pack, settle your accounts, plan your travel, meet with realtors, bankers, loan officers, etc.  If you have the time, then use it wisely. If not consider hiring a professional organizer or move manager to help.

Focus on the items that you know have value – think vintage collectibles or luxury items that would appeal to someone who is looking for what you have.

Donate it!

If you decide to donate, don’t let finding the perfect recipient for each item get in the way of your generosity. Find charities that you can drop off items to easily and do a internet search for charities that do truck pick ups nearby of furniture or larger quantities of donated items.  Keep in mind that charities that do truck pick ups, like Salvation Army, may need as much as 3-4 weeks notice. They also have the discretion to refuse your items if they are not in usable condition. Be sure to have a Plan B if this happens such as arranging for a hauler or recycler who will dispose of your items responsibly.

In short, if you are moving or selling your home, and want to minimize your stress,  try not to let the small decisions get in the way of the big ones!

 

 

When your new roommate is Mom or Dad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Great Reasons to Downsize Your Home

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Moving is expensive (and stressful)

The American Moving and Storage Association states that the average cost of an interstate household move is about $4,300 (distance of 1,225 miles) and the average cost of an intrastate move is about $2,300 (4 movers at $200 per hour). Both average moving costs are for 7,400 pounds. If you live in places like the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, New York or Washington DC, the costs are even higher. Since movers typically charge based on volume or weight, it follows that the less you have the less it will cost.  This is just one great reason to downsize your home.  Here are four more great reasons to downsize your home, moving or not:

  1. You can create new memories. If you are holding onto stuff because you are afraid you won’t remember it, it may be time to curate what you own so you can make room for new experiences. Try photographing the things you want to remember but can’t or don’t want to take with you. Have them made into something special such as a memory quilt or photo album. If it’s your work you want to remember, perhaps others want to remember it too. Look into making a legacy donation or creating a special archive in your name.
  2. You won’t burden your kids. The saddest and most difficult task most children face is the death of their parents. Imagine how much more painful it would be if, on top of their grief, they also have to face the daunting task of emptying your home. Make it easier for them and start downsizing now. Let them remember and know you from what was important to you, not from the stuff that wasn’t.
  3. You’ll realize what’s really important.  When you make room for what really matters in your life, you discover what’s important and what isn’t. Do you really need 50 plastic food storage containers? Do you really wear 500 pairs of shoes? Do you really use that collection of rusted auto parts? Someone can use them but you don’t have to.
  4. You get to start fresh. If relocating to a smaller home means downsizing the stuff in your existing home, try to imagine your life in your new home. Perhaps you’ll finally have the lifestyle you’ve been dreaming about. Gain the peace of mind that comes from knowing you’ve made great choices about your health and wellbeing. Instead of being burdened by your stuff, you’re having fun enjoying your life!

 

3 hogs taking up space in your home (and they’re not your family)

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Are you moving, getting ready for a remodel or simply want more room in your home with less clutter? Here are three common space hogs and what you can do about them.

  1. Other people’s stuff. Did you agree to store things for your kids, relatives or friends for a few months but now those months have become years? Tell your kids or your Aunt Sadie you are moving or remodeling (even if you aren’t) and kindly ask them to arrange to get their items since you will need the space yourself. Set a firm deadline – a month is reasonable in most cases – and ask for their permission to sell or donate them — at your discretion — by a certain date if they don’t respond by that date.  That way you’ve done your due-diligence.

  2. Boxes from your last move (and likely the one before) that never got unpacked. Remember those boxes? I’m guessing you don’t but apparently they were so important that you bothered to move them at all. Chances are they contain one of the following:  Old papers, memorabilia, holiday supplies, stuff belonging to your parents (or kids)  that you just couldn’t face, or all those items that you don’t use but couldn’t throw away at the time.

    If you are moving, are you really going to pay to have those boxes moved again?!

    Here’s what to do about them starting with old papers: Unless you ran a small business, and they contain your tax records for the past seven years, get rid of them. Arrange to have a local shredding company pick them up  or take them there yourself but don’t waste your time shredding them. Memorabilia: We keep memories for just this moment. No one else cares about these memories except you. If you want to leave a legacy for your children, don’t make it those boxes that have gathered dust in your garage or attic. Holiday supplies: Unless you used them last year, donate them to a charity that accepts art supplies. Stuff that belonged to your parents (or kids) that you coudn’t face: Refer to #1 above.

  3. Magazines and old mail.  There are certain magazines I love to read but once I’ve read them, they get recycled. Except in rare cases such as vintage out-of-print magazines, most collectors and charities don’t take old magazines.  If you want to get rid of them, gather them up in small book boxes (so you can lift them) and carry them to your home’s recycling area. Most municipal recyclers won’t charge for paper recycling.  As for old mail, you have three options: 1) pay to have it all shred. Depending upon how much you have, this could be costly but it will be the most timesaving approach and insure your identity will be safe.  2) Have a sorting party. Invite two or more people to help you sort your piles into keep, shred or toss. Keep includes “vital records” such as original birth and death certificates or personal memories that can’t easily be replaced. Shred includes any document, opened or not, from a banking or financial institution if it’s not obvious junk mail. Don’t waste time opening them if you’re not sure. Toss is everything else. 3) Hire a professional organizer or productivity specialist that specializes in residential or home office organizing. They can advise you about what to keep and help you sort and dispose of your unwanted paper safely.

The little red moving truck that could (and did)

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My client, Olivia, and I were standing in the family room of her mother’s home knee deep in moving boxes and overstuffed yard bags, packing items she had decided to get rid of when I came across a small plastic grocery bag.

Olivia (not her real name) and I had been working together for several sessions and by now we’d become well acquainted with one another. I have been exceedingly lucky and grateful to have worked with many wonderful people since launching LET’S MAKE ROOM,  Olivia is one of them.

She found me through a local consignment store where she had gone to sell some items belonging to her mother who had recently died after a long illness. Olivia had spent the last seven years seeing to her mother’s care at the home she shared with her with a single-minded devotion that spoke to the kind of person I was just beginning to know.

A woman of enormous grace and compassion, Olivia had given every ounce of her being to the care of her mother so that by the time she was ultimately relieved of this responsibility, she had little left, mentally or physically, to tackle the next phase she had set out to accomplish – making a home for herself in the home that had once been her mother’s.

She told the owner of the local consignment shop about her plight, about the overwhelming work ahead of her and that was how she first learned of me.

At our first meeting, Olivia stated her objectives: Empty the house of items she felt others would enjoy more than she wanted to keep them as quickly as possible to make room for the life she needed to continue on her own.

We agreed on a plan. I would work with her to help choose what items would go, pack everything up and arrange to have it all picked up by a local estate liquidation service.  The job involved the sorting, packing and organizing of well over 100 boxes and bags of items once belonging to her mother as well as other household items. I arranged for the service, a company called Remoovit, to pick up everything including furniture Olivia no longer wanted. We were just a few days away from having the estate liquidator’s 25′ truck arrive and we were nearing the end of the process when I found a small white grocery bag tucked into a box of toys in her family room closet.

I opened the bag and poured the contents on to the large folding table we were using as a workstation. We both stopped and looked at the still unrecognizable items, about a dozen brightly colored pieces of wood.  Then I realized there was something else inside the bag. I pulled it out.  “It’s a puzzle!”

Our attention immediately shifted to these colorful shapes on the table and together, just like two children, we excitedly began arranging the pieces. It took a minute or two and then there it was: An adorable red truck with big black wheels slightly overloaded with an array of items in different colors. We burst into loud shrieks of laughter as the irony hit us simultaneously.  It was the future. At least the immediate future. What had once been a child’s toy, most likely hers or her mother’s, saved and long hidden from view, had now become real. “I’m going to have it framed,” she said.

As an organizer who has seen far too many unrealized projects become clutter, I felt obligated to press her on this decision – “It it worth your time and money?”

“Absolutely,” she replied.

A few days passed. The estate liquidator’s truck came and went, filled with the boxes we had packed on their way to new and as yet unknown owners.  I moved on to other projects and other clients until one day about a week later I got a call from Olivia.

“Can you come over? I have something for you.”

I arrived at her house curious about what she had for me. Perhaps she had neglected to include an item she wanted sold or donated? I walked into her living room and she handed me a package wrapped in brown paper. I unwrapped it and there, behind glass, beautifully framed and mounted, with the words “LET’S MAKE ROOM’ engraved on a little metal plaque below, was the little red pickup truck.

“I made it for you,” Olivia said with a wide grin. I looked up at her. My eyes widened and then of course, began to tear up. “Thank you,” was all I could say. It was the best endorsement of my work I’ve ever received.

It hangs in my home office. When I look at it, I think of Olivia and the gift she gave me just by working with her: the realization of and how much I love what I do.