Archive for the ‘Lis Golden McKinley’ Category

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.

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.

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.

A Year of Transformation

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2013.

A year of transformation.  As you recall the most notable events of the past year, whether they be global, local or personal, why not take a moment to reflect on your life today, right now, in this moment. Because it will change.

If you’re not even sure where to begin, here are a few thought provoking questions to help you get started.

Did you accomplish what you set out to do?

Did you take the time to focus on what is really important to you?

Do you recognize the areas where you succeeded and where you would still like to grow?

Can you see how your contributions fit into the grand scheme of life?

Transformation takes mental and physical sweat, I once read. It also takes intensity mindfulness and focus. It’s not easy to know who we are supposed to be let alone know how to fully inhabit ourselves.  At the beginning of this year, I decided it was time to think bigger. It was time for LET’S MAKE ROOM to make room to grow.

I love helping people get organized, however, I felt I could accomplish more for my clients if I wasn’t working alone as much.  I also realized, after several people hired me to help them get organized to move, or empty a family home they were selling, or help them get unpacked, that there was a need LET’S MAKE ROOM could fill, especially in the San Francisco/East Bay Community where I live.

I realized, we could take the stress out of moving for busy families and other homeowners because we could fully dedicate ourselves to the process allowing our clients the flexibility and time to work or simply enjoy their lives, even when they didn’t live here.

Thus the idea of becoming a complete residential organizing service, one that would help people Get Organized, Get Moved and Get More Done, was born.

At first I resisted the idea of growing. I felt unsure of what it would mean in terms of my ability to keep ‘tabs’ on my little business. Then a series of big jobs came my way and I realized that I could no longer limit myself. Life presented me with a choice. Some people would say it was “luck.” I’ve always believed that luck is nothing more than an opportunity meeting with persistence.

Opportunity is like a strong wind you can’t escape from. You just have to hold strong and at the same time let yourself be carried forward, or backwards, or sideways.

Sometimes opportunity comes in the form of an unexpected loss or change. It can even be an expected change, such as growing older and you find yourself suddenly having to make a choice.

Pulitzer Prize winning Poet Mary Oliver writes about this in her poem entitled, The Journey:

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Her words have followed me from my old career through launching LET’S MAKE ROOM. I have it posted on the wall next to my desk in my office along with a collage of other inspiring words and images.

And in case you’re wondering, they are not neatly hung in frames but rather displayed, somewhat haphazardly.  Sometimes that’s the way life is, even for an organizer.

 

The Yoga of Organizing

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My friend and Yogini extraordinaire, Deborah Saliby, called me on Sunday asking for my advice.

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Deborah Saliby, Yoga for Health

Deborah has been teaching Yoga for more than thirty years.  There are a lot of Yoga teachers out there but relatively few hold the special certification that she does in Iyengar training. The certification signifies that she has undergone extensive training as an instructor in a particular method of Hatha Yoga called Iyengar, named for B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the foremost Yoga teachers in the world.

Whenever I have a question about Yoga, I call Deborah.  The moment I feel like my body, mind and spirit are crying out for a little restoration, Deborah is the first person I think of.  On Sunday, however, after her class, Deborah’s mind and spirit were crying out for a different kind of restoration, in her home.  I am grateful she called me.

“I want to organize three closets in my house,” she told me,
“but I’m not sure where to start.” She asked if I would mind sharing some of my professional organizing tips.  “Of course,” I told her. I enjoy it when anyone calls me with a specific organizing question. To me if you are willing to ask the question, you are definitely in the mindset to get organized.

As a professional organizer,  the most common questions I get involve the how and where of organizing, as in “how do I do this?” or “where do I start?”  Typically this follows an extended period of gradual awareness which eventually transforms into “I really wish my (fill in the blank) was more organized. But it’s not until the defining moment when the thought, “today is the day I’m going to do something about it,” that change can occur.

For my friend Deborah that moment came after she got home from teaching one of the many Yoga classes she leads in Berkeley, California.

“So where do you want to start?” I asked. “I don’t know, she said. So I probed a little more. “Which of your closets bugs you the most, that is, which has the most impact on your daily life? “My bedroom closet where I keep all my clothes,” she said, with a little giggle, “you know how much I love to shop?”

“Okay,” I said. “So why do you want to do this at all?” She explained to me that she wanted to hold a sidewalk sale. “Yes,” I said, “that’s good, but why do you want to get organized?” I asked again. “Because I can’t stand looking at the mess in my closet anymore. I know I have a lot of nice things in there that I don’t want anymore and half the time I can’t find what I’m looking for. I’m wasting time and I want to be able to wear what I love.”

Deborah understood what was bothering her about her closet but even more she knew what organizing it would mean to her (not to anyone else) and she was motivated. Plus she had the added incentive of making a little extra money. I told her, “Yeah, you could sell all the clothes you don’t want anymore and with the money you make go out and buy new ones.”  We both laughed.

I offered Deborah a step-by-step plan to get all three of her closets organized.  I shared some strategies for how to overcome some predictable obstacles such as what to do with items that had more “emotional value” than “wear-value.”  I took her through exactly what I would do with her if I were physically doing the work with her and then I asked her if she had any questions. “Nope, I’ve got it.”

Before we hung up I told her to feel free to call me when she was done with the first closet.  Even though Deborah was doing this for herself, I wanted her to know that I was interested in hearing about her progress.

The next day, Deborah did call. She sounded really happy.  She told me how she had followed my plan including emptying the entire closet first, sorting items by category, parting with what she no longer used, wore, or loved and got rid of things that brought in bad “mojo.”  She reorganized the items she kept by type and color and put aside those things she plans to include in her sidewalk sale.  In total it took her two hours. I was impressed.

“How do you feel now?” I asked her, “Great! Just walking past my closet makes me happy.”Neat Closet

I offered Deborah some final tips about items she was still undecided about and suggested some ways to contain items on the shelves using what she already had around her house, before saying goodbye.

After we hung up I went in to my living room and took a big breath and stretched.  Thank you for that, Deborah.

Have a question about organizing? Getting ready to move or start a home renovation project and need to get things packed, donated and organized? Call or email me. I promise you’ll come away with something you can use.

As I told Deborah, I love to be a catalyst for change.

My ‘Isaac Newton’ moment or how a bottle of antiperspirant made me what I am today.

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Recently, I was asked to speak to a group of small business owners about organizing and how I became a professional organizer.   Curious? Watch this short video and get a taste of how I work with different organizing ‘personalities.’  Have a comment or question?  Include it below.