Posts Tagged ‘Decluttering’

5 Great Reasons to Downsize Your Home

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Moving is expensive (and stressful)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Ten Reasons to Declutter Before You Sell Your Home

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Most Real Estate professionals will tell you to declutter your home before selling it. But why? Here are 10 reasons why removing clutter will make your home more attractive and thus more valuable to prospective buyers.


Woman Tossing Clothes from Closet

  1. An uncluttered home looks more spacious and space is what most home buyers are looking for.
  2. A prospective buyer wants to imagine themselves in your home, not feel like an intruder. That’s why removing all personal items such as family photos, knickknacks, religious items, art work with a political theme, and excess furniture is so important.
  3. A cluttered home gives an impression that the house has not been well maintained, raising a prospective buyers suspicions of “unseen” damage.
  4. Clutter is a potential liability. If someone trips on your clutter, falls and injures themselves, you could be liable.
  5. Storage space, such as cabinets and closets that are partially empty convey the impression that the house has good storage available – a big selling point for most people.
  6. Older or worn furniture items, even if they may be important to you, can make a house seem dated and old.
  7. Clutter conveys a dirty home, even if you’re a tidy person.  If you’re not, by all means get it professionally cleaned!
  8. Too much stuff, makes it difficult to focus on a home’s best features.

  9. Don’t assume buyers will want to use your home the same way you do.  If you have a room set up as an office, take the advice of your Real Estate agent if they suggest staging it differently.
  10. Less clutter means less stuff for you to pack up and move, which will lower your cost of moving, and less stuff to unpack or clutter up your new home.

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Is it treasure or trash?

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When you begin an organizing project, regardless of whether it’s your closet, garage, kitchen or another room in your home, it’s likely you will come across something that you can’t decide about letting go or keeping. Choosing not to decide or “deferred decision-making” is one of the leading causes of household clutter.

So how do you know what to keep (or toss) if you’re not sure what it’s worth to you?

Here’s an easy guide to help you make a decision you can live with.

Start by placing the object you are trying to decide about in front of you then ask yourself each of the five questions below, in the order they appear:

  1. Do I love it? This means the item gives you a great deal of pleasure, you associate it with a happy memory or you enjoy having it in your life now.  If not, ask yourself:
  2. Have I used this item recently or do I expect to use it again soon in its current condition? Not everything you own, you’ll love but some things are worth keeping because they still serve you in some way. If you don’t love it, it needs repairing and you haven’t used it recently, ask yourself:
  3. Would keeping this item add value to my day-to-day life now? Perhaps this is an item you know you’ll need at a certain time of year or for a particular event or purpose such as for travel or for the Holidays.  If you can’t think of a way the item adds value to your life now, ask yourself:
  4. If I didn’t have this, would I choose to replace it? If yes, keep it. Otherwise, ask yourself:
  5. Could someone else benefit from this item in its current condition? If you answer yes, then it’s time for the item to find new life somewhere else.  Consider donating or if it’s worth your time, sell it. If not, then recycle it or dispose of it safely.

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The #1 Reason You Can’t Get Organized (Even If You Want To) And What You Can Do About It

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Think you’re decisive when it comes to your stuff? Great! The task of organizing will be a whole lot easier for you.

But if you catch yourself one too many times, saying to yourself, “I’ll just put this here, for now,” chances are you’re experiencing what professional organizers refer to as delayed decision making or what I think of as decision-deficit thinking.  That is, you lack the objective criteria or information you need to make an effective organizing decision.

It’s not that we can’t decide. We simply don’t know what the decision points are.

Before you can organize anything, whether it be your piles of old magazine clippings, your cluttered garage or the boxes of memorabilia you’ve kept for 20 years, you first need to decide three things about each item you’ve kept, in this order:

  1. Do I need it, use it or love it?
  2. If I do need it, use it or love it where should it live if I want to find it and if not, how do I dispose of it appropriately?
  3. What’s the best way to store or contain it?

Think about it. When you embark on an organizing project the first thing many of us do is start with the third question first. We go to our favorite home furnishing or office supply store and buy ourselves some type of sleek-looking container or in some cases, many containers. Then we get home and realize the overwhelming task ahead of us. Next thing we know we’re sitting on the floor, eye’s glazed over, with 300 copies of the Utne Reader surrounding us, back where we started.

Is this our fault? Absolutely not! It’s just that in our consumer-based culture, asking the question, do I need it, use it or love it rarely gets answered.  Instead we learn to believe we need it, use it and love it. This belief comes from the habits we grew up with, through overt or subtle persuasion, through fear or insecurity or some combination of all three.

Clutter comes when we can’t decide what to do with something we know we need, use or love. You know you may be experiencing decision-deficit thinking if you catch yourself often saying, “I’ll just put it here for now” or “I’ll put it here where I can see it.”  After a while everything gets put “here” until you can’t see (or find) it or anything else.

So what do you do?  Check out my next blog for answers.

Lis Golden McKinley, M.A.
CEO (Chief Executive Organizer)
Oakland, CA

Visit my website:

Michelangelo and Me

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Professional Organizing Oakland

The Prisoner

I often get asked why I became a professional organizer.

My training as a therapist and experience as a learning consultant partially explain why I do what I do but the photograph to the left says it better.

It is a picture of an unfinished sculpture by the Italian artist Michelangelo. This sculpture is one of a series of similar works that were famously dubbed “The Prisoners.” This is because the figure appears to be imprisoned or breaking away from the stone that surrounds him.

I first saw this sculpture when I visited the Accademia Gallery in Florence, Italy as a teenager.  It is a work in progress that was never finished.  It is both tangible as a beautiful sculpture and deeply symbolic of what is possible.

Change can come slowly. This is difficult for many of my clients to understand in an age of instant gratification. Even so-called “reality” TV shows about organizing convey the impression that results are fast and painless. It’s simply not reality.  In truth, it can take hours, days and even weeks to bring someone back to the place they need to be to take control of their space, their lives and to feel more organized.

My work is about helping my clients chip away at their clutter – both physical and emotional. In the process, not only do they get their living rooms back or their papers under control, they actually move closer to whatever it is they want to accomplish.

But let’s say you’ve resolved to get organized many, many times and you never seem to make headway. You’ve tried all sorts of clever organizing systems or products and you’re feeling like your space still controls you instead of the other way around.

I often say, “If getting organized were just about putting things in nice containers, we’d all be organized.”

Learning to be more organized is a habit but unlike, say, brushing your teeth or taking out the trash, getting organized can sometimes make us feel worse, not better, at least at first.

This is because as we begin to take control, we realize how out of control we’ve been and how much we’ve adapted to habits that don’t serve us.  In addition, we feel stupid and silly for not being able to do what we falsely believe everyone else can do so easily. This moment of realization can feel overwhelming  and outright discouraging and, for some, leads back to old habits and behaviors.

Getting organized is a process that begins with understanding and forgiving ourselves,  recognizing that our habits no longer serve us and taking the time to learn and practice new behaviors.

These behaviors may feel strange at first but are based on accepted standards developed and proven as effective by professional organizers everywhere. And just like brushing your teeth, almost anyone can learn them

Getting organized is not for everyone. There’s nothing objectively wrong with being disorganized. Some of the world’s most brilliant minds can function quite well amidst a sea of clutter. Michelangelo himself is said to have cared little for his surroundings, would sleep in his clothes and may have had obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) a mental health condition which sometimes manifests in extreme clutter.

Some people, like those with pervasive hoarding behaviors, can tolerate massive amounts of disorganization and may only make changes if forced to through external circumstances or threats to their well-being.

Being disorganized is only a problem when you begin to feel distressed (or even depressed) by your disorganization. If your disorganization leads to consequences such as losing money or strained relationships then it’s definitely time to seek out help.

I consider it an honor when people ask for my help to get organized.  Together we enter into a trans-formative relationship that only needs to start with willingness;  Willingness to learn, willingness to try and willingness to start over when you find yourself slipping back into old habits.

Through consciously learning new ways of organizing your space and your life, you may discover the person that you were meant to be.

That is why I am a professional organizer.

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