Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

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.

 

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.

 

 

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.

How to get organized when you don’t feel like it

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The other day I decided to organize my one and only recipe binder. Most recipes I look up online. A few I take from cherished cookbooks and an old 3-ring, 1-inch recipe binder I’ve had for years.  I found myself wanting to organize the binder recently after it took me a little too long find a recipe I needed.

When I started the process of organizing the binder- emptying the contents, sorting each recipe by category, disposing of the ones I knew I would never make again, then putting them back in order – I thought to myself, “I really don’t feel like doing this right now.”

Being organized is all about developing an organizing habit.  It requires a thought, a motivation, an acton and a result.

Developing an organizing habit comes from a desire to continually survey your environment and be willing to improve your surroundings so you can function on a day to day basis with more ease.

It takes a willingness to regularly decide whether or not this thing or that still serves you or adds value to your life. Once decided, it then should be followed up with action – a choice to retain and store it logically and aesthetically, or to let it go to to find a new life somewhere else or to dispose of it safely and conscientiously.  It’s not easy. Even sometimes for an organizer.

I had no strong motivation, nothing forcing me to undertake this little project. I also realized if I wanted to find a recipe in the binder, I still could, if I was willing to tolerate the inconvenience of looking for it (I was).  There were other more pressing priorities in my life.  I’d just returned from a trip to New York and was still adjusting to the time change and catching up on my to-do list.

Now back home, I realized, “I’m tired.” I thought it would be nice to get this done, but it wasn’t really necessary right now. I can live with it the way it is. Further, I just didn’t have the bandwidth to make decisions or take on any actions. This, I thought, is just how my clients  feel.

It’s nice to be organized but let’s face it, it’s not always easy to get organized. When do you really have to get organized? It differs for everyone but in general here are some reasons you don’t have to get organized:

  • If what you want to organize is good enough and still usable (like my recipe binder)
  • If you (and your family or housemates) can still find what you need when you need it without too much effort
  • If you are okay with your home looking “lived in” and doesn’t have to look like it’s staged for sale
  • If you are not regularly losing things, paying bills late, incurring late fees, or paying for things you already own and can’t find
  • If you and your family are not fighting over the clutter in your home
  • If you are not feeling stressed every time you open your closet
  • If you are enjoying your life to the fullest

Here’s when you probably should think about getting organized:

  • When you are selling your home or moving
  • When you are planning a remodel
  • When you or a member of your family has to downsize for their own safety
  • When you feel the stress of your paper or physical clutter impacting your wellbeing or mood more days than not
  • When you and your family are arguing over the clutter in your home
  • When you realize you feel ashamed or embarrassed to have people into your home when you otherwise would
  • When you’ve used up your storage space or can’t use your storage the way it was intended (e.g., parking your car in the garage)
  • When you find yourself renting storage units for more than a year (this is a very costly way to defer organizing)

I frequently meet people who when they find out I’m a professional organizer will say, “oh, I need you!” but in fact they really don’t because they’ve learned to live with and tolerate their cluttered closets and messy garages. They put up with the fights with their kids or their spouses. Or they just don’t feel like doing it even when someone can do it for them because it’s one more thing on their to-do list.

Most people realize the time to get help is when the disorder exceeds their ability to tolerate the consequence. It’s when it costs them more in money or peace of mind to do nothing. Sadly, this is also when they are least equipped to take on the task.  Like me in that moment with recipe binder, they are  just too tired and there’s too much else they have to get done first.

Think you want to organize your office? What’s it costing you not to? What can’t you do now? How would it help you if you could find what you need when you needed it?

Want to organize your kitchen, living room or closets? What’s it costing you not to?  Are you unable to prepare a meal?  Are you fighting with your spouse because there’s no place to sit and play with your kids in your living room?

Are you feeling sick to your stomach every time you open a closet, cabinet or cupboard because the mess is unbearable?

Are you moving and waking up nights thinking about how the heck you’re going to get all the stuff from your 2,500 square-foot home into a 1,200 square-foot condo with no garage!?

I often say to my clients, don’t let the small stuff get in the way of the big stuff. What I mean by this is consider the cost of not taking action.

If it’s small, like my deciding not to organize my recipe binder right now, there is relatively little consequence. But if you defer taking action or decide you can do it all yourself, consider the cost to your health, your marriage, even your dreams and goals. For those large painful organizing projects that are impeding your life or causing you great stress, it’s not whether you can afford to do it, it’s whether you can afford not to.

 

 

 

 

Clutter Has No Gender

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This month we celebrate International Women’s Day. The theme for this year’s event is #pressforprogress in gender parity.

I actually had to look up what gender parity meant before I wrote this.

Gender parity is not some catchy slogan. It is a statistical measure created by the United Nations International, Educational and Social Organization or UNESCO that compares a particular indicator among women, like average income, to the same indicator among men.

Specifically the GPI measures the extent to which all genders have equal access to opportunities such as education, employment and consideration for either, across the world.

So what does gender parity have to do with home organizing?

According to NAPO, the National Association of Productivity and Organizing specialists, women are three times more likely to assign themselves or be perceived as the one with primary responsibility for home organization.

Women, in general, are more likely to be stressed by the clutter in their homes and more anxious about maintaining organizing systems such as managing mail and paying bills even when the existence of those systems – or lack thereof – affects everyone in the home.

Women are more likely to take on the responsibility as well as the cost (in time and money) of disorganization even if they spend equal time earning income outside of the home.

If they have children, they are twice as likely, than their spouses, to blame themselves or worse, are blamed, for clutter and a lack of order in their homes.

The belief or misconception that women, by virtue of their gender, should automatically know how to be organized has always irked me. I don’t recall learning in my high school biology classes that women have an “organizing” gene. I know I didn’t! Everything I know as a Certified Professional Organizer I learned.

Assigning responsibility or even blame for a home’s organization to “Mom” “Wife” or “Daughter” in a home shared by multiple genders, is like saying the flood in the basement from the heavy rains that damaged the floor is Mom’s fault instead of the absence of a good drainage system.

Now that it’s the 21st century, I think it’s time for this 19th century mindset to change. In the spirit of #pressforprogress I am putting forth these 5 core gender parity statements. I hope you will consider sharing them under the hashtag, #clutterhasnogender

  • Clutter at home is gender neutral
  • Both genders can be organized or disorganized. Don’t assume women are more or less organized than men.
  • Knowing what to keep, sell, donate or toss can be learned by any gender
  • Organizing systems and habits can and should be learned, taught or adopted by multiple family members; Men, women and children!
  • The responsibility for cleaning, organizing and maintaining one’s home is NOT gender specific

For more information on ways you can support or learn more about International Women’s Day, visit: http://www.internationalwomensday.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a lobster can teach us about getting organized

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What a Lobster Can Teach about Getting Organized

I’m going to tell you a short story about a lobster to illustrate what happens to us when we experience change and more importantly when we are called to take action when we want to change something about ourselves or our homes. 

As a lobster ages and grows, it needs to shed it’s shell. It does this by finding the safest place it can in the rough surf of the ocean and far away from other predators. As it matures, its shell starts to constrict around it’s body. If it didn’t shed its shell, it would suffocate and die. This means that until its new shell hardens, the lobster will be completely vulnerable to the elements. It has an instinctual need to risk its life in order to grow and thrive.

For many of us “change,” even when it’s for the good, such as when we decide to get organized,  makes us feel like that lobster.  We know we need to move forward but sometimes the thought scares us as much as being thrown into a violent ocean current.  Not changing can also mean suffocating in our own shells.  It’s no wonder facing change and taking action can be so overwhelming.

Change, though not a linear process, is like the lifespan of the lobster. It involves a process of feeling uncomfortable enough to make a change that will bring us to know ourselves better.  It involves several phases which I’ve narrowed down to six.

The Six Phases of Change
1)    Passive discontent
2)    Naming the problem
3)    Getting help
4)    Readiness
5)    Doing
6)    Results

Phase 1:  “Passive Discontent”

This is the phase marked by general feelings of dissatisfaction with the status quo. It’s a kind of restlessness combined with a  heightened level of awareness. It may come about after you’ve read a book, seen a TV show or heard someone talk about something that makes you uncomfortable, angry, sad, frustrated or overwhelmed.  Those close to you may have even hinted to you that something was wrong. You’ve been feeling “not yourself” but you’re not ready to take action yet.

The sad part is some people stay at this phase forever. This happens when the pain of changing exceeds the pain of the status quo.
Such is the case for some people with severe and chronic disorganization or  Chronic Hoarding Disorder  This happens when people pose a risk to their own (or other’s) health and safety by retaining extreme levels of indoor and outdoor clutter.

Unfortunately, the anxiety they feel when they consider letting go of possessions, no matter what condition, can exceed the pain of living in spaces that are completely unusable. Thus they remain stuck in a kind of limbo until forced to make a change against their own will.  Most people who feel disorganized are not “Hoarders.”  Instead we all fall somewhere along a spectrum from minimalist to severe acquirer. Most people are somewhere in the middle.

Phase 2: “Naming the problem”

When you ask yourself the question, What needs changing or what needs organizing? You are at this phase. This is where the soul-searching begins. You start thinking about resources for answers but you’re still apprehensive about verbalizing your thoughts or asking for help.  Early attempts to express your dissatisfaction may result in your retreating to your shell especially if you are feeling unsure of yourself or if you are concerned about the judgment of others.

Phase 3: “Getting Help”

At this point you may be ready to look for some information or answers to help you better understand your feelings. These are actions that would include talking to friends and family as well as gathering information through research, online searches or consulting with professionals.  You may start reading or attending talks or asking for advice.  You’re dipping your toes in the water but you’re not yet ready to dive in. You’ve started to realize you can’t make the change you want by yourself and you may even start to feel some hope as you move to the next phase of being ready to take some action.

Phase 4: “Readiness”

You are now committed to using the physical, emotional or financial resources you have to start making some changes.  You’ve hired a professional, received some good advice, or resolved to take action yourself. You may be feeling both relieved and impatient as you realize you want to make change happen sooner rather than later.

Phase 5: “Doing”

During the “Doing” phase, you experience the ups and downs of progress. Slip-ups may occur and you may feel discouraged. Motivation is replaced by the need for habits and contingency plans. Your ability to achieve your desired change is dependent upon your ability to withstand the disappointments, backsliding and obstacles. This is where planning is so critical to the process of change. If you don’t have a plan of action, you may get to this part of your journey and want to give up. Having a plan is something you should have in place by this phase. This is where hiring a professional organizer is worthwhile because he or she will have the expertise to help you plan for all contingencies, anticipating problems and suggesting alternatives.

Phase 6: “Results ”

Circumstances change from inside and out. Making small changes can have a big impact on your life. As a result of the changes you make and the actions you take, major events may occur. You can experience these as both “good” and “bad”. You’ll gain greater clarity around goals and desires and your energy increases but you may also see the unexpected consequence of the actions you’ve taken.  People around you may behave differently towards you. Some may try to sabotage you. If you need to, seek some outside advice from friends or professionals who have tread the same path or who can advise you about how to manage unsupportive people. When you get to where you want to be, you can reflect on how far you’ve come.

 

The Motivating Power of WHY

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All during January you are going to hear and see stories about getting organized. It’s the second most common resolution people make after “lose weight” and about as likely to happen. So what kills a thousand good intentions? It’s not because you are weak or lack the skills or even a plan. It’s because you haven’t come up with a truly, compelling, all-out, no holds barred, take no prisoners, terrifyingly vivid and all consuming, WHY as in, why do I want to be more organized? There are lots of really good reasons to get organized here are a few I’ve heard over the years:

  • Be free to do more with my time
  • Feel less stress and anxiety
  • Be able to entertain at home or have friends over
  • Have more room and time to do what I enjoy
  • Be a better model for my children​
  • Get more done at work and present myself more positively​
Getting clear on your WHY is the key to following through on your organizing goals or resolutions. It is the single most important motivator when you start and it’s the glue that helps you keep going when you back-track. Most importantly your WHY has to be for you! It doesn’t mean your family or coworkers or boss won’t appreciate it, but it has to mean more to you!
If your WHY is not strong enough to get you going, then pick another. When I started organizing it was right after I left my job in 2008. I was going stir-crazy because I wanted to be useful and I needed to see results. I certainly didn’t know then that I was going to become a professional organizer, let alone start my own business. My WHY was about my desperately needing to feel in control at a time in my life when things felt very chaotic.  Of course, the added bonus was that I also could also find that cute green jacket when I needed it and I stopped buying duplicates of antiperspirant. Want to know the full story of how I got started? Click here

The Meaning of Things

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Recently I’ve been thinking about things. Not things in a colloquial sense but literal things, objects: the computer; my grandmother’s sculpture; the four pairs of eyeglasses I own. I’ve also been thinking about memories. What it means to have a memory? What it means to lose your memory? What it means to lose your memories, as thousands of people did last week when they lost their homes in the Northern California fires, just about 90 minutes from my home in Oakland.

I work with people nearly every week helping them decide what to do when they want (or need) to let go of stuff. Not just the things that remind them of who they once were, or places they once visited but also regular things too; Things they find useful or once did.

Two of my close friends lost their home in the Northern California fires. They lost everything they owned. They had just enough time to escape with their dogs and the clothes they must have quickly put on since it was 1 a.m. when they evacuated. My friends are extremely resilient. They’ve chosen to move forward, not look back. I know it must be hard. I wonder how often during the day they face the inconvenience of no longer having small things, or feel the waves of grief flow over them when they think about the loss of more important stuff.

I’ve heard many of my clients say to me, “I can’t let that go. It reminds me of ….” I sometimes ask, what would happen if (blank) should disappear? Would the memory go with it? In some cases it could and it does. I think this is what is so profoundly difficult about the process of getting organized, downsized or as I like to call it “curating” your life’s contents.

A long time ago I was hired to clear out a small storage unit belonging to a woman who had died and whose family was not interested in claiming the contents. There was in fact nothing of significant monetary value left behind but there were “memories.”  Commemorative plaques; a community service award; several family photos, a child’s simple drawings as well as knickknacks and other personal items. Things that were obtained, given, created for her and about her. Without her, I realized they didn’t mean much to me but they meant something to her.

People who lost everything in the Northern California fires last week and for that matter from the storms in Texas and Puerto Rico just days earlier, are heard in the news saying how “grateful” they are for having their families, for having survived, for knowing how “lucky” they were. It’s an amazing testament to their humanity that they can recognize this at one of the lowest points of their lives. And I have no doubt that they too are grieving the loss of their memories and possessions.

I’m not sure what all this has taught me as a professional organizer or even just as another human being. Of course, like many, I’ve considered what I would do and feel if I was in a similar circumstance. As a professional, I wholeheartedly encourage planning whether it be creating a safety plan with your family, an emergency kit or getting your most treasured memories and important documents digitized.

Being prepared also means helping those you love be better prepared to grieve by making your wishes known ahead of time, like a living will. This type of document lets others know what matters most to you when you can no longer make those decisions yourself. A dear friend did this about six months before she passed away and it made a world of difference to her closest friends and family. She wrote her plans down. At the top of the page she’d written the title, “End Of Life Matters.” The irony was not lost on either of us.

Last week my crew and I helped a couple downsize their home of twenty plus years. It’s something I’ve done many, many times yet each experience is different. Together and separately my clients made literally thousands of decisions in just a few days. Some of those decisions were easy. Many more were not. Even the most seemingly benign objects brought back memories of family gatherings, professional obligations, personal triumphs and poignant losses. Without context they are just things but for them they represented the meaning of their lives.

When my clients let go of things sometimes the memories go with them. I see my clients resist and I feel that struggle. Sometimes I even feel it directed at me though I know it’s not. I tell them, “I don’t have an opinion about what you keep. I do, however, have an opinion about helping you get to where you want to go.”

Letting go of things can sometimes feel like choosing to let go of memories. And who chooses to let go of their memories?! At least with my clients the choice is theirs. This wasn’t the case for the people in the recent fires. Do their memories go with them even when they have lost everything?

I hope so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What to do with your stuff when later becomes now

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When it comes to the stuff in our homes, I believe a  continuum exists between two points  –  keep everything and save nothing. Most people fall somewhere in between.  Yes, there are extremes at both ends – those with a tendency to acquire an excessive amount and those with an equally extreme tendency to rid themselves of anything of value, sentimental or otherwise. But for most people, myself included, we all have sentimental attachments.

The other day I was wandering through my home and thinking about what I absolutely had to keep if I ever had to make the choice. As a professional organizer, it’s an exercise I practice regularly as a way to empathize with my clients.

It turned out the things I really felt strongly about were the items I have the most sentimental attachment to.  None of it was furniture, thankfully.  Mostly letters from my parents and close friends that could never be replaced. Photographs (the paper kind) from my childhood and “keepsakes” that I don’t need but that don’t take up much space either. I also have some written work that would be difficult to replace unless I took the time to scan it and for me, that’s not worth my time.

My husband has a box of important stuff related to his daughter, my step-daughter. And of course, I have a small  “treasure box” of memorabilia from our life together.

The only time I know I would go through this stuff is if I were moving or downsizing. Otherwise it stays hidden, for the most part.   But what does it mean not to have these things? Would it feel like my life had ended? What happens when you keep things with the intention of looking at them later and then find later is now?

Even if it comes unexpectedly, now should be when you get to re-read the letters, sort through the photos, recall the memories and maybe even tell the stories.  But now is often competing with time itself. The house has to be sold. The move has to happen. The remodel is about to start.  Sometimes, sadly, the owner of these things is no longer around for the task.

As an organizer, this is the most poignant part of my work; When I realize the meaning of that photo, award or stuffed animal toy only exists because of the person who imparted that meaning.  When it belongs to someone else, you can impart your own meaning, but then you are left with the same dilemma: Keep it or let it go?

I find it’s useful to consider the truth of these questions when later suddenly becomes now.

  • Would my life really be over if I let these things go or would I just feel that way?
  • Is everything meaningful or could I pick out just the things that are most important to me?
  • By keeping everything, am I placing a significant burden on my family to deal with later?
  • Am I keeping everything as an excuse to avoid creating new memories?
  • If this or that item should disappear would I miss it or attempt to replace it if I could?
  • Would taking a picture of it allow me to let it go if I had to?
  • Is there anyone who I know for certain who would want it (be careful with this one since you don’t want to obligate someone to take something they really don’t want).
  • Do I really love it or am I keeping it to satisfy someone else’s (perceived) need – such as when you keep it not because you like it but because it was a gift from someone you care about.

Life is like walking through a wonderful art museum. You get to admire and spend a little time with the art work that resonates the most with you. You may even be able to take pictures or buy postcards. But at the end of the day, you don’t get to keep what you saw. You do however get to remember how you felt.