Archive for the ‘Downsizing’ Category

Downsize your way to a stress-free move.

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Planning to move this Summer? Don’t pack a box until you read this.

Moving is the perfect opportunity to assess whether or not you need to downsize your home’s contents so that you don’t end up spending the time and money to move, insure and unpack items you don’t really want. There are so many great reasons to downsize. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. You’ll sell your old home faster. An uncluttered home is massively appealing to home buyers. Nowadays, real estate agents won’t even consider listing your home until it’s cleared of all your personal belongings.
  2. It’s safer. The less clutter on surfaces, stairs, floors or near electric or gas appliances, the better. So even if you’re not moving this alone is one great reason to downsize.
  3. You’re the one in charge! You get to decide what stays and what goes and if you give yourself enough time, you won’t be making those decisions under pressure.
  4. You can preserve memories. It’s easier to find the irreplaceable things in your life when you can easily find them.
  5. Less stress. You will feel the peace of mind that comes from living an uncluttered life, surrounded by the people and things you enjoy the most
  6. Save money. The less you move, the less it costs.

What to take, what to sell, what to donate

Not sure what you’ll take with you?  That’s okay, you probably have a lot you don’t want now. Start to downsize well before you move and you get to decide what goes — nobody pressuring you!  Best of all, you won’t make hasty decisions in the days leading up to your move that you may regret later.

If you have items you plan to sell such as good quality furniture, jewelry, luxury brand clothing or valuable artwork, you will first need to determine whether these items are in demand. Check out both local estate sellers and consignment services as well as online estate services that can consign or buy your items outright. One easy way to do this is to send them a few photos. It’s free and you’ll know pretty quickly what they may be worth.  One word of caution, don’t expect the value to equal what you paid for an item or what you “think” it’s worth.  If the item has value, they too will want to make a profit so they will never buy it for what it’s worth from an insurance standpoint.

Want to keep it simple and easy? In the San Francisco Bay Area there are services such as Remoovit.com that will literally take everything you don’t want and haul it away for one flat fee. Anything they can sell, they will and you will get fifty percent of the final sale price. Whatever can not be sold, will be donated or recycled. Remoovit once sold a rusty old “banana seat” bicycle belonging to one of my clients for $1,200. She got half of that which paid for the hauling of everything else!  You pay by the truck load (or fraction thereof). It’s a one-stop service for those who need their homes to be emptied quickly but don’t want to simply give away items that may have market value.

Where do I start?

Not sure where to start? Begin with whatever area of your home you’ve been wanting to tackle but just haven’t had a good enough reason. Now you do. You’re moving and you want to surround yourself with the things that you love and use most. This doesn’t mean everything else goes in the trash. On the contrary, it’s likely you have usable items that somebody else wants (any may even pay for!) including family, friends, neighbors and members of your community.

Set aside one area of your home where you will sort and label as you go. A dining room is a good place for this as it’s less likely you will be entertaining at home in the weeks leading up to your move. Otherwise, pick an area that you occupy less frequently such as a guest room.  Here are some other helpful tools you will need:

  • A folding table or work surface for sorting (if not in your dining room).
  • Supply of large, plastic yard bags for donating soft goods such as clothing, purses, accessories, good quality linens, outerwear. Keep in mind most charities will not accept bed pillows, bedding, or old linens. Old towels may be donated to local animal shelters.
  • Small moving or packing boxes, preferably ones with handles. Use these to donate home decor, small household items, kitchen tools and other hard-edged items.
  • Blue or green painter’s tape to label furniture, framed art work, lamps and other large items you no longer want.
  • A couple of black “sharpie” markers to use with the painter’s tape to label boxes, bags and unwanted items.
  • A glass or bottle of water (you’ll want to stay hydrated as you work!)

If you are lucky to have family nearby, especially strong children or grandchildren, ask them to load items in your car you wish to transport yourself or ask them to take them for you. Otherwise, you can count on the help of the charities that will pick up your items by truck.

Make a list of your preferred charities that accept household goods. Be sure they are available before you move. Many charities book 2-3 weeks in advance.

Don’t forget your local church bazaar, senior center and friends of the library. There may also be a veteran’s group in your area that will pick up your donated goods. Animal shelters and your local veterinarian are always in need of clean, old towels.  Women’s shelters can use your unused, unopened toiletries. (Think of all those unopened hotel shampoos and body lotions you’ve collected over the years.) Local hospice stores, or other charities that operate re-sell or “thrift” stores are a great way to donate.  Not sure where to donate clothing? Ask your local consignment store. They are usually a wealth of information. Lastly you will be grateful for the help of charities that do truck pick up. Not sure which ones serve your area? Do a Google search, “charities that do truck pick up near me.

Helpful Tips for Downsizing

  1. Start early. Don’t wait until a week before you move. Give yourself at least a month or more so you don’t have to make decisions under pressure.
  2. Focus on one room at a time. This way you will see progress and stay motivated.
  3. Don’t buy more!  Now is not the time time to go clothes shopping or re-stock your pantry. Use up what you have.
  4. Segregate your paper. Don’t attempt to “go through” your files until you’ve downsized your other household goods. Instead, contain all your paper files in banker boxes and use the days leading up to the move to determine what you need to keep.
  5. Use painters tape (not sticky notes – they fall off) to label items for donation
  6. Save your back. Use charities that offer truck pick up to take your boxed and bagged items as well as your donated furniture

When to ask for help

  • If you are feeling overwhelmed by the whole process and know you can’t do this alone or are worried you would be overwhelmed by the memories and emotions often associated with large-scale downsizing
  • If you are working full time or traveling a lot and know you could use some help to make the process go faster
  • If you are far away from family or friends and need help with the physical work of sorting and transporting items for you
  • If you have physical limitations or just don’t have the endurance to deal with it yourself.  This is especially true if you are clearing out large storage areas such as basements, garages and storage sheds.

How to find a new home for your old sofa

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Imagine you are moving (or remodeling) and you’ve decided not to keep your sofa or couch.

By the way a sofa is typically larger than a couch, seating four or more people whereas a couch is generally smaller, seating three or less. Now you know!

What do you do with your sofa (or couch) if you no longer want it?

As a relocation specialist and professional organizer, I see this come up with practically every home I downsize and every move I manage.

The answer will always depend on its condition and where you live. There are many potential solutions but you will first need to ask yourself these four questions about your used sofa:

  1. Is it practically new – less than four years old or an antique –  and in great condition? You may be able to sell or consign it.
  2. Is it four or more years old and in very good condition and definitely still usable without stains, tears or fading? You still may be able to sell it or donate it or offer it for free to someone in your community.
  3. Is it torn, ripped, stained or faded or in need of cleaning?  You may be able to arrange to have it picked up by your local waste management company’s bulk pick up service and depending upon how its manufactured it may (or may not) be recycled by them.
  4. Are you very concerned about it ending up in landfill? You may be able to recycle it but be prepared to pay for that. Recyclers generally won’t pick it up unless you are disposing of a large quantity – think dumpster – of items. On top of that you will probably have to pay recycling fees.

The biggest challenge in finding new homes or disposing of sofas and other large furniture typically comes down to time and transportation.

Time comes into play because scheduling a truck pick up of your gently used, usable or discarded item(s) must be done in advance, since many charities book as much as six weeks in advance.

If you are planning to move to relocate or remodel, be sure to add “sell/donate furniture” to your to-do list at least two months ahead of your move.

Why a so long? Let’s say you scheduled a charity to pick up your sofa. All charities will leave it up to the discretion of the driver as to whether or not to take your sofa. If they reject it when they arrive, you may then only have two weeks or so to find another solution before your move date. Chances are that means you will either have to schedule a hauler, which can be costly, a bulk pick up (if your city/county offers such a service) which also requires advance notice or find a way to move and transport it yourself; Rarely an option for most people in the midst of a move, especially if you are a senior or live alone.

 TIP: Plan ahead and read on to know your options.  By the way, these options apply to other large items of furniture as well.

Sell/Consign – For items that are practically new and in pristine or “gently used” condition, constructed from real materials (not particle board or composite wood) and of course, in demand, such as mid-century, some antiques, high-end contemporary and designer brands. you can try both local and on-line estate sellers.

TIP: Do a web-search for “Estate sellers near me” or “Furniture consignment stores near me” These searches will bring up both local as well as online options (The RealReal.com sells high quality pre-owned sofas to buyers throughout the U.S. Be sure to inquire about their policies and procedures for viewing and selling your items.)

Private Sale – For sofas that are in good condition but may be older or in less demand, or not acceptable to estate sellers or consignment services, try online selling sites like Craigslist, Nextdoor, Facebook Marketplace, LetGo, OfferUp or Trove. Plan well in advance to post your item on these sites as you are competing with many others who are selling similar items.

If your item doesn’t sell within three weeks of your move, consider other options. Keep in mind, you will also have to deal directly with the buyer and he/she will likely need to enter your home to collect and pay for the items. Some online sites will process payments for you and take a commission. For neighborhood sites, I recommend requiring cash only.

If you live alone, make sure to have someone there with you. If you are disabled or not particularly strong, you will need to let the buyer know to come with help. Carefully consider your personal safety before selling anything to a private buyer.

Donation – As Baby Boomers age and downsize, there is a glut of items being donated. So much so that charities can be much pickier about what they take. Most charities train their drivers to carefully inspect items. Pick up is always at the driver’s discretion. This can be a huge issue if you have a hard deadline to meet to be out of your home.

TIP: If you are remodeling, ask your contractors if they would move your sofa for you to the street for hauling.

Most charities will want to see photos of your sofa. Be sure to send them good quality photos, at least three, including front, side and back views and be absolutely candid about your item’s condition. Also, inform the charity about access to the item including outside and inside stairs, long hallways or whether or not there is an elevator.

I recently had a charity reject my client’s sofa because the driver and his assistant did not want to transport the item down a long flight of stairs.

TIP: Do a web search for “charities that offer truck pickup near me” to locate charities that offer free truck pick up of your donated furniture and household items.

Charities are looking for items that are sellable so don’t expect them to take anything that is damaged, in need of cleaning or repair.  To locate a charity that offers free truck pickup, check out http://donationtown.org/ but be prepared to enter your contact information on their website. You can also contact charities directly such as Salvation Army (SATruck.org), Habitat for Humanity Restores (San Francisco Bay Area only) or Out of The Closet.

One other option for donating your older but good quality sofa is to make it available for free to people in your community through sites such as Freecycle, Nextdoor or through the “free stuff” tab on Craigslist. If you can spare the time, having someone come and get your old sofa is in fact money in your pocket. Why? Because unless you have strong kids who are available exactly when you need them to help, you may end up paying for the labor it would cost you to have your sofa moved curbside for the bulk pickup: An unexpected expense and logistics issue often overlooked in crunch time.

Recycling/Disposal – You know that old sofa you’ve had for 20 years, the one that is covered in an old blanket because underneath your pets destroyed it? This is the sofa that no one wants but you will still need to dispose. In Oakland, California where I live, both the City and the County offer, free curbside bulk pick up. This is the last available free option for large old sofas and other large household debris that can’t be simply tossed in the trash.

TIP: Call your local waste management company to see if they offer bulk pick up service. You will still need to get your old sofa to your curb. If you live alone, or are a senior, you may have to hire a helper.

I recently used an online app called Lugg to help a client who needed to get her sofa and other items on the curb for bulk pick up. They are a platform for movers, haulers and helpers, for when you need a little or a lot of muscle.

In Oakland, the local waste management company will sort items and if they can be all or partially recycled they will be, I am told. But if you are very concerned about the footprint you leave on the environment, there may still be other options for keeping your sofa (or at least most of it) out of the landfill but it will most likely cost you.

Check out a website called, Earth911.com to find a recycling facility near you.  It may not be free and you will either have to arrange to transport your sofa yourself to a local recycler or pay to have it hauled.

The bottom line is no matter which option you choose, plan ahead. You want to have a Plan B (donate) and possibly even a Plan C (haul) if your original Plan A, to sell or give away your sofa falls through. Trust me, the last thing you (or your real estate agent) want to see the day you move is the ugly, torn, pet-stained sofa, you couldn’t get rid of still in your empty home.

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.

10 myths you have about organizing your stuff

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Personal and home organizing is a hot topic and almost everyone has an opinion about what works. Here are ten beliefs about organizing that I have heard numerous times in my ten years as a professional organizer and move manager. Ask yourself, have I heard myself think or say any of these? If so, read why I think you’d be better off tossing out these beliefs next time you decide to get organized at home.

Myth #1 If it’s visible I can see it. (Also known as, I will remember I have this if I put it here.)
If everything is visible, nothing is. Your eye doesn’t know where to focus. Picture things in a pile. They might be visible but good luck finding what you need in a hurry. If you find yourself saying, “I will remember it if I just put it here,” in my industry we jokingly refer to that as the FHS system of organizing, as in First Horizontal Space.

Myth #2 Just touch the paper once.
I’ve heard clients repeat this back to me dozens of times but it never made sense to me, especially for paper that is prompting you to do something – such as pay a bill – or paper that is likely you will look at again – such as your credit card bill. The only paper I can see looking at once is the paper you toss (or shred) like your junk mail.

Myth #3 It will just take me a day to get organized
Unless you make a living as a professional organizer, I would never recommend you spend an entire day on an organizing project unless you have a lot of energy! Organizing is both a physical and mental task. Spending eight hours sorting, purging, assigning homes to items, then containing them in a way that makes sense, not to mention shopping for the right organizing products and labeling them, is a lot or work!  Most of my clients consistently underestimate the time it takes to organize a space.  Organizing a room includes not just what you can see, but what you can’t see (hidden on shelves, in cabinets and drawers). If you are motivated to get organized, pick a day and time frame when you are feeling normally energetic or when you do other types of household tasks. Don’t spend more than 3-4 hours working. Do you really want to spend your precious days off organizing your garage if what you really want to do is tend to your garden, take a walk with your dog or have brunch with a friend? One more tip: Never use your vacation time to get organized if you don’t have to.

Myth #4 Containers, bins and labels will get me organized
That of course is what many stores carrying organizing products and systems will want you to believe. Don’t get me wrong, many of these products are great and I would be the first to recommend a good storage bin to a client when it calls for one. Just buying products and having them collect dust in your home will never get you more organized. Plan on using them for a specific set of items that you have already sorted through and decided to keep because you use them.

Myth #5 Organized people are dull
Dull no. Passionate, creative, caring, quirky, friendly, obsessive (sometimes). If you like your “messy” side and have no reason to be “tidy” then embrace that part of yourself if it doesn’t cause pain for you or your loved ones.  That being said, I’ve always believed that when you create more physical space in your life, it gives you the room to focus on or discover what truly gives you joy.

Myth #6 I am hopeless when it comes to getting organized
The messages we give ourselves often manifest as reality. But just because you don’t have the expertise, skill, “mindset” or intention to get organized doesn’t mean you can’t be me more organized. I understand not everyone is cut out to be better at something they wish they were. No amount of effort will ever turn me into a marathon runner but I did once complete a marathon-walk.  It took months of training every weekend, motivation and a plan. If you want to learn to be better organized, you can do it

Myth #7 I just need time to do some filing
Several years ago, I started a new personal productivity service for my clients who were struggling with too much paper.
I was inspired to do this after I heard so many of them say that the answer to their paper piles was filing. It’s not!  The answer to your paper piles is less paper! But knowing what paper to keep, how and why, and having a simple system for organizing and managing new paper as it comes in to your life, does work.  Learn more about my personal productivity service here.

Myth #8 I just need more storage space
The famous comedian, George Carlin, had a great routine about why people buy homes (as a “place to put their stuff.”)  Check it out here for a good laugh: https://youtu.be/MvgN5gCuLac.  While storage or lack thereof may be a contributing factor to your disorganization, buying or building shelves will not make the clutter go away. It will just “contain” it. But buying shelving just to contain your “stuff” is like, as Mr. Carlin said, like buying a house just to have a place to put your stuff.

Myth #9 Live minimally
While I love to watch the shows about Tiny Houses, not everyone is cut out to live in a 200 square foot home. I know I’m not! When I was in college, I had a boyfriend who literally had one knife, one fork, and one spoon. At dinner we used to playfully compete for who got the fork at dinner! It may have seemed romantic at the time, but you don’t have to live this minimally to enjoy your life. There is a grey area in between. When it comes to deciding what you really need, I prefer to use the word “curate” as it implies keeping only what supports you. Curate comes from the Latin word Cur or care. Thus we keep what we care about and anything left that is still useful, finds new life in the care of someone else. Living in a consumer and technological culture has made that very difficult. Sadly there is so much I see that can’t be re-used or recycled. Choose carefully what you bring into your life. Everytime you are tempted to buy something new, consider that the day may come when you will want to part with it. Will it be usable or trash?

Myth #10 Having a place for everything I own will make me more organized.
Having a home for what you use, love and need is important but having a home for your stuff alone does not make you more organized. It won’t help you, for example, if you have used your space so efficiently that every square inch of your home contains things that you’ve never used, exist in quantities that exceed what you need or you are keeping for sentimental reasons that never honor the person who gave them to you. What’s the point of holding on to your grandmother’s china if you never use it! In her day, she probably kept it as an heirloom for you and chances are she used it because in her day, China was part of her lifestyle the way mugs and plates we own are part of ours. If you are keeping something for sentimental reasons, use it to bring back memories otherwise release it for someone else to enjoy. Just keep in mind, to someone else it’s just a plate and saucer.

Gift your favorite “Dad” an organized garage

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Cartoon Garage OrganizingHas your husband, father or grandfather been meaning to organize the garage but just hasn’t had the time or the energy?  Do you want to do something special for him this Father’s Day?  Why not give him the gift of organization?

Garages are the last stand for what you own. If lucky, your car(s) share the space with everything you don’t have space for inside your home: old furniture, appliances, memorabilia, old tax records, never-hung art work, a ton of tools and gardening equipment not to mention Aunt Sadie’s light-up weather vane – the one she gave your Dad for Christmas eight years ago and he hates but is afraid she will ask about it when she visits (which she never does).

If your favorite “Dad” would much rather use the garage as a man cave, dreams about using it to actually park his car or you harbor a secret hope to turn it into a home gym, now is the perfect time to get the job done!

Cluttered garages (as well as attics, basements and sheds) are a tolerable problem until, the day you need to find something, find room for other things or worst of all decide to sell your home or have to move!

Selling a home is the number one reason people call me when they need to get their garage downsized.  Unfortunately many people wait until it’s too late and end up making decisions that cost them dearly in the long run. Here are a few irreversible mistakes I’ve seen:

  • They paid movers thousands of dollars to transport items across country they never used again such as old refrigerators and furniture and then paid again to have them hauled
  • In a rush to move out they accidentally tossed out boxes containing valuable first edition books and other collectibles
  • They tried to do it alone and ended up having to undergo back surgery
  • One woman told me she was ashamed of what her in-laws would say if they saw her garage when they came to visit from out of town

Even if you are in excellent physical and mental condition, organizing and decluttering a garage can be very taxing on your body. Add to that, it’s time consuming to do it alone and takes away from things you’d much rather be doing! If you can no longer put off organizing your garage, here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Decide what your goal is. Do you want enough room to park one or more cars? Storage for specific items? Areas for a tool bench, exercising or other hobby?
  2. Determine if you have safe access.  Observe whether or not there is safe access from the front to the back of the garage. If there is no access, or access is limited, consider getting or hiring help. You may need to create a pathway just enough to be able to observe and assess what your garage is storing.
  3. Survey the garage carefully and with no judgment. Look at the contents in your garage and start noting down the categories of items you can see. For example: Old furniture, rugs, appliances, gardening equipment, boxes, art work, storage.  Mark next to each category or item whether or not you plan to keep, sell/donate or want to “go through” before deciding.
  4. Don’t start with paper. If you are on a tight deadline because of an impending move, defer going through boxes or file drawers of paper. This is because sorting through paper is extremely time and labor-intensive. You are better off just consolidating all the paper in banker boxes. This is especially true if you believe you have important documents or vital records mixed in with other types of recyclable paper, memorabilia or photographs.
  5. Do a rough sort of boxes. If you have time and the room, do a rough sort of your boxes into categories such as “sentiments and memorabilia,” “china/glassware,” “books and magazines,” “photos and slides,” “confidential records,”  “miscellaneous papers” that require further sorting.
  6. Stop providing storage for your adult children.  This is an area to stand firm. If your adult children are old enough to have apartments or homes of their own, they are old enough to take on their own stuff and memories. Give them a reasonable deadline, and send a reminder half way through. Let them know if they don’t make arrangements to remove their items by a certain day, then you have the right to disburse or dispose of their stuff as you see fit.
  7. Consider hauling. If you know you don’t need to “go through” items to decide whether or not to keep, sell/donate or toss them, you may be able to simply call a licensed hauler or junk removal company. Point to what you don’t want and ask them to take it away.   Keep in mind haulers are not organizers and they are not responsible for protecting you against fraud or identity theft and they won’t be able to give you the time to decide on individual items. They will only take what they can easily access. They will charge based on how much volume you have. In other words, how much of their truck your stuff takes up. This can run from a few hundred dollars up to thousands for more than one truck load. Get a couple of estimates. Most haulers will take the stuff away at the estimate if you agree with the cost.
  8. Investigate charities in your area that do truck pick ups. Examples include local hospice organizations, church affiliated groups, local non-profits that hold large annual “White Elephant” sales or have brick and mortar shops, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, and even haulers or estate clearout services that will consign items for you. Do a Google search for “charities that do truck pick up near me.”
  9. Don’t wait, until it’s too late, to have your garage organized. Summers are often the busiest times for professional organizers, haulers and movers. Get estimates now and schedule your garage clear-out at least 2-3 weeks ahead of your preferred dates. Clients of mine thought they could do it themselves to save money and then a week before their move realized they couldn’t. Don’t make this mistake!
  10. Hire a professional organizer to do it all for you. The only thing you do is decide what you want to keep and you can do this without lifting a finger or god-forbid, breaking your back!

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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!

 

 

12 Ways to Downsize Plastic In Your Home

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April 22nd is Earth Day. This year’s theme is #EndPlasticPollution. The problem caused by plastic in our environment is an epic disaster already happening. Here are just a few things you need to know:

According to several reports cited on the official Earth Day 2018 website, to date, 9.1 billion tons of non-recycled plastic has been produced globally. Of that only 9% has been recycled and 12% has been incinerated. The remaining 79% representing 5.5 billion tons, has accumulated in landfills and the natural environment.

If current production and waste management trends continue, 12.2 billion tons will enter landfills or the environment by the year 2050. To get a sense of what this means, consider if 5 billion tons of plastic waste were transformed into a cling wrap, it would be enough to cover the entire planet. We are literally suffocating in our own plastic waste!  Here are three facts about plastic pollution that may surprise you.

  • The main cause for the increase in plastic production is the rise of plastic packaging. In 2015 packaging accounted for 42% of non-fiber plastic produced. That year, packaging also made up 54% of plastics thrown away.
  • The drilling of oil and processing into plastic releases harmful gas emissions into the environment including carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, ozone, benzene, and methane (a greenhouse gas that causes a greater warming effect than carbon dioxide) according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency or EPA estimated that five ounces of carbon dioxide are emitted for every ounce of Polyethylene Terephthalate produced (also known as PET – the plastic most commonly used to make water bottles).

There are literally hundreds of things you can do to refuse, reuse and reduce plastic from your life and the world at large. As the saying goes, think globally and act locally. That’s why I’ve put together a list of 12 Ways You Can Downsize Plastic From Your Home. Pick one or two and as Mahatma Gandhi said, start to be the change you want to see in the world.

  1. Understand and follow the recycling rules in your county. Start by being willing to have three receptacles in your kitchen – one for recycling, one for compost and one for trash
  2. Collect all your plastic trash for one week just to see how much you actually use. It may make you think twice about how much plastic you buy
  3. Stop buying single use plastic bottles and fill a reusable bottle instead
  4. Start to notice how things are packaged and opt for grocery items packaged in cardboard vs. plastic whenever possible, for example laundry detergent
  5. Minimize your use of plastic bags. Keep reusable bags in your car
  6. Say no to straws or buy the reusable kind made of wood or metal
  7. Use a thermos for your morning cup of coffee and bring it with you to your local coffee shop
  8. Don’t buy disposable razors
  9. Swap out or minimize all those plastic food storage containers you’ve collected over the years, especially those without lids or bottoms. Use glass or metal containers.
  10. Buy from bulk bins. This doesn’t mean having to buy in bulk. Bring your own reusable cloth containers or jars.
  11. Stop using disposable plastic plates.
  12. Donate plastic household items or decor you don’t love or are no longer using. Don’t just throw them out.In short try to do what you can to:
    • Reduce your consumption of plastics.
    • Properly recycle the plastic you use.
    • Remove and/or refuse to use plastic that is already in the environment.

For more information about Earth Day 2018 visit www.earthday.org/earthday

 

This will make you more organized

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Less_Is_MoreHave you dreamed of having a tidy, organized home or resolved every year to be more organized? There are literally thousands of books, magazines, articles and blogs (mine included) that will offer you all types of tips and ideas for how to live a more uncluttered, organized life. If I were to narrow it down to one, very simple idea it would be this: Less stuff. Here’s just a handful of reasons why having less will actually give you more!

  • Less to distract you
  • Less to remind you of bad memories
  • Less things you can’t find when you need them
  • Less money spent on duplicates
  • Less time spent getting organized and more time being and feeling organized
  • Less arguing with your family because of clutter
  • Less to pack when you want to remodel or move
  • Less to unpack after you’ve moved
  • Less storage needed (and less money spent on outside storage)
  • Less chance you’ll overlook an important bill or task
  • Less chance you’ll misplace something important
  • Less stress on your family
  • Less loneliness when you’re too embarrassed to entertain at home
  • Less of what is cluttering your life!

I could probably go on and on because the benefits of having less of what you don’t love or need far outweighs the burden too much unnecessary stuff often brings.

It’s not about “minimalism” unless that’s your thing. It’s about choosing, every day, to love what you have and only keep what you need and use!

Just because something “can be used” doesn’t mean you should keep it. When was the last time you used it? What is the likelihood that you will use it? If you haven’t by now, chances are you won’t.

Do a web search for “donate stuff near me” and you will find a great list of charities eager for unwanted items in your community.

Jason Klare @jmklare with Everything but the House (EBTH) says it best:

Sometimes saying no to owning things can feel even better than saying yes to buying them in the first place. “