Eventually, the time may come when you feel like the amount of ‘stuff’ you have surrounded yourself with in your home is beginning to have a negative effect on you. For years, those items may have brought you comfort. However, now you may feel claustrophobic in your own personal space. When those feelings begin to occur, and you want to make a change but do not know how, that is usually when it’s time to call a professional organizer.
The most common description I hear when a potential organizing client calls me is; “I am so overwhelmed.” Upon arriving at the home, I may also hear “I’m so embarrassed,” or “Have you ever seen anything this bad before?” Let me put your mind to rest. As an organizer, I am not there to judge. I am there to help. Professional organizers want to help or we would not be in this profession.
It’s not always easy to clear away things you’ve amassed in your home, whether they are collectibles or household items that just seem to keep accumulating. When sorting through excess things in your home, whether you consider those items clutter or treasured keepsakes, please understand that organizing is a process that takes time. It involves purging, separating, and categorizing every individual piece to achieve the desired results.
Others that are not experiencing the same emotional issues as you when it comes to de-cluttering may have no empathy for your situation. They tell you to “toss it,” or “just throw that stuff out”. Letting go of items can be a daunting task and working with an understanding expert is invaluable whether you wish to accomplish an organized desk, office, closet, room or your entire home.
Your professional organizer will not only facilitate this process, but bring you a sense of calm and understanding as you work through this course of action together. Please don’t misunderstand, it is important for you, as the owner of the possessions, to be a part of this decision making process. Otherwise, you may only be relocating items from one space to another.
Professional organizers can be likened to life coaches, who are defined as somebody who provides advice and support to people who wish to improve their lives, helping them to make decisions, solve problems, and achieve goals. I often hear “I know I should be able to do this on my own, but I can’t seem to make myself do this without you.” Guess what, that’s ok. That comfort, guidance and understanding is much of what we, as professional organizers, bring to you. Of course, we also have the obvious capability to assess and accelerate your project, and then bring it all together with our uncanny sense of space planning to give you a tidy new space.
And isn’t that what you wanted all along; an organized space, free of clutter, that you can find comfort in, and be proud to call your own?
“I’m cleaning out my parents’ home and coming across lots of items with sentimental value, how do I decide what to keep?” A friend asked me this question recently. Like so many of us will do in our middle years, she’s facing the dual challenge of grieving while dispersing all of her parents’ possessions. If she’s also the executor of her parents’ estate, she’ll have bills, paperwork, and the responsibility of staging and selling the home as well. It’s a lot to handle at a fragile time. The key to getting through this is to do it in waves, as you have the time and energy.
Below are some suggestions on how to handle the process.
Remove items associated with your parents’ illness. Unless the death was sudden, there’s likely some assortment of medications and medical equipment. Getting these out of the way first will help you release the more recent painful memories and make space for joyful memories to surface. Check Earth911 for places that will accept these items. Some charities and thrift stores, such as Care & Share Thrift Shoppes in Souderton, PA accept medical equipment.
Locate and have the executor disperse any property according to your parents’ wills. If you can’t find some of the items, make a list and leave it in a prominent location. You’ll likely come across the remaining items as you continue to work through the house.
Give away or donate everyday items that don’t hold any particular sentimental value. Usually a fair amount of clothing, kitchen items, books, knick-knacks, small furniture, linens, and items in deep storage (attic/garage/basement) fall into this category. Continue to keep any individual items that you’re unsure about.
At this point, most of what will be left has a chance of being important to you or your family. If you have the luxury of time, invite your relatives to your parents’ home for a ‘claiming memories day‘. Disperse any remaining items mentioned in the will, and open everything else to be given away as keepsakes. The executor may want to set some parameters for this, such as taking turns. Many families find that storytelling naturally emerges from this process. You’ll probably have a lot of tears and laughter. Don’t rush; it’s a precious part of the healing process.
Can you give yourself a little more time at this point? If so, take a break. You’ve fulfilled the requirements of the will, disposed of unnecessary items, and preserved the most important memories. More often than not, some rest and a return to your normal schedule will restore your resilience, stamina, and creativity.
When you’re ready to return to your parents’ home, it probably won’t feel so emotionally charged or overwhelming. You’ll have the confidence of knowing that you won’t accidentally destroy a precious artifact, stumble across an unpleasant memory, or be overwhelmed with unimportant things. In short, you’ll be dealing with the middle ground of your parents’ possessions.
As you work your way through these remaining items, ask yourself a few questions:
-Do I need this to stage the house?
-If I take it home, would I definitely use it?
-Do I know anyone who could use this?
-What charities did my parents support? Do they accept donations?
You’ll likely end up donating or giving away most of these final items. Keep reminding yourself that you already saved the most important things. As the house empties, you may be sad. That’s healthy. Do the work that is easier for you and harder for your family, and ask them to do the same for you. Be gentle with yourself and each other.
Most importantly, cherish your memories as they are the most important thing you’ll keep.
Forget Google! Professional Organizers have a plethora of resources to share with you ranging from recycling centers to special events happening in your area. Here are my favorites:
~The Attic, Manayunk
“Here at The Attic we aim to provide a fun and engaging environment while also offering advice on modern and vintage trends.”
4335 Main St., Manayunk, PA 19127
~Greene Street, Manayunk
“Since Greene Street opened its doors in 1997, we have been working to offer affordable fashion in a clean, organized, and modern setting.”
4313 Main St., Philadelphia, PA 19127
This is a huge store which earned the nickname the “Pechin Street Boutique.”
4555 Pechin St., Philadelphia, PA 19128
“Colonial Neighborhood Council operates “The Well,” a thrift store offering a household items and clothing for adults and children.”
107 E. 4th Ave., Conshohocken, PA 19428
“Recycling Kiosks — Every U.S. Best Buy store has kiosks, just inside the front doors, to drop off ink and toner cartridges, rechargeable batteries, and wires, cords and cables, plastic bags and gift cards.”
~Whole Foods Market, Plymouth Meeting (the biggest & nicest store I have ever seen)
Recycle batteries, cork, plastic bags, Brita filters, yogurt cups & plastics #5
500 W. Germantown Pike, Plymouth Meeting, PA 19462
~Household Hazardous Waste Collection
Saturday, May 30- Montgomery County Community College
340 DeKalb Pike (enter campus at 595 Cathcart Road), Blue Bell, PA 19422
Saturday, August 15 (9am – noon)- Abington Junior High School
2056 Susquehanna Road, Abington, PA 19001
Saturday, June 6- from 9:00am – noon, Montgomery County Community College
340 DeKalb Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422
~Finally, did you know about MedReturn Drug Collection Units? There is one at the Montgomery County Courthouse.
2 E Airy St., Norristown, PA 19401
Some restrictions and fees may apply. Ask the Professional Organizer you hired. They’ll know!
No Need to Hold onto Things for the Next Generation
When I give workshops, I am asked over and over again about what should be saved for children; if you don’t have children, you may be saving these things for friends or other family members. Many parents seem to think their children want what they have, so they hold onto items for when these children will appreciate these things. Items range from baby clothes to games to books to schoolwork to china to sterling silver and include tons of paperwork.
I have a client, with whom I have been working, whose father saved every personal and business record. He had checks from 1949 to the day he died. He had his and his wife’s medical records from the 1960’s (both of whom are now deceased), 8 estates that he had settled, and business records back to the 1960’s (including his stationery and business cards – from long retired positions). While everything was very organized and labeled, sorting through it has been a tremendous burden on his daughter.
Two 4-drawer file cabinets, one 2-drawer file cabinet, 2 desks, book shelves, and chairs had been used to store this paperwork. We are shredding and recycling 98% of these records. My client wants to go through everything to make sure there is nothing of value hidden away. We have talked about why her father would have saved all of this and cannot come to any satisfying conclusion.
Not only is there paperwork, but there are also items from grandparents and other relatives. Again, my client is going through all of this to figure out what she wants to keep and what she wants to donate or sell. Since her brother does not live in the area, she has to go through all these things by herself and save some things for him to go through, including his own items.
If you are saving things for your children/friends/other family members, please ask them if they want anything. If they say no, then either sell, donate, recycle, shred, or trash the items. There is no reason for you to hang on to this stuff, unless you really want it. If it is packed away and not being used, and no one in your family wants the items, give them away now so someone else may really be able to appreciate them.
Also, keep on top of your paperwork — shred or recycle old records. Settling an estate can take a lot of time. You can significantly speed up the process by getting rid of paperwork and any unused or unwanted items now.
This type of activity will not be one of your more fun things to do, but it sure will save time and heartache in the future. The lesson my client learned from all of this is to purge and continue to get rid of those things now that she no longer needs or wants. What are you going to do now with your unwanted and unnecessary items and paperwork?
Bedding-blitz As you prepare to leave colder days behind, get ready to pull out lighter blankets and sheets. Refresh blankets that come out of storage by fluffing them in the dryer with a dryer sheet. Remove heavy blankets and flannels from beds to clean and store. This is also a good time to wash the mattress covers and give the mattresses a flip. Lighter, brighter spring-fresh bedding is sure to brighten everyone’s mood!
Counter-attack Throw open the kitchen and bathroom windows and take a look at your counters. The fresh air will help energize you while you remove all items and give the counters a good wipe-down. Throw out any trash or items you don’t need and put away anything that has wandered out of its appropriate home. Return to the counter only those things that you absolutely must have out or that make you happy.
Pantry purge During our winter hibernation we tend to stockpile supplies. Cupboards can become stuffed with soups, cocoas and comfort-snacks. As this happens, other food items get pushed out of sight. Set aside an hour on a nice spring morning to empty out a shelf or two at a time, wipe them down, discard outdated or unwanted food items and reorganize what’s left back onto the shelves.
Sew or go Do you keep a sewing or ironing pile? If you do, make sure that what is in your pile has not been there longer than 6 months. If it has, it is likely that it may not fit, will be out of style, or will no longer be something that you think would be worth the effort. Now’s the time to sew or go! Pick an evening and an interesting TV show and get the ironing and sewing done. If you’re not going to do it – let it go. It will only sit there and make you feel guilty if you don’t. And, no one wants to feel bad on a sunny day!
Shoe-review The warmer days of spring and summer will mean a change of shoe style. Take time to gather any and all of your shoes together. Separate cold-weather shoes from warm. Before storing shoes you won’t wear again until fall, try them on. If they don’t fit comfortably or you don’t like them, this is the time to donate or toss them. If any need cleaning or repair, get it done now, before storing. Next, look at their sunny day counterparts and go through the same process. If you find that your favorite sandals are broken or that those cute open toe shoes you bought last summer don’t really fit right, get rid of them. Take note of any shoes you may need to add to your shopping list for replacement to complete your wardrobe. Finally, make sure each member of your household has adequate shoe storage.
Whether you follow basketball or not, college ball is an exciting sport and March Madness is the be-all, end-all competition among collegiate teams. I am always inspired by the players’ drive, athleticism, and winning attitude. Borrow this enthusiasm and plan your own decluttering plays for a Spring-ready closet.
March Madness has become an annual springboard for me to declutter. I love the NCAA’s single-elimination process as a framework for purging my wardrobe.
The tournament always starts in March and concludes in April — as we warm up to Spring. I appreciate the build-up to the ultimate winner; each week there are winners (and losers). Borrow this approach and discover the winners and banish the losers in your closet.
• winners – clothes that are versatile, stylish, and flattering
• losers – anything stained, ill-fitting, or in need of repair
If you like following play-lists, here’s some quantifiable advice to help you keep score on your efforts:
• Trim 16 (Sweet Sixteen) bulky sweaters and jackets from your closet to make room for Spring styles. Scarves are typical accessories that you can rotate each season. Footwear is another category that deserves attention: pack up your heavy, weatherproof boots.
• Remove at least 8 items from your hanging space to create room for bolder colors and lighter-weight outfits. What you remove may end up in off-season storage, or may need to find a new home. Can you find an Elite Eight to donate, thrift, or E-bay?
• Final Four Here’s where the tournament makes its biggest splash and reminds me to focus on the basics. Make sure you have what you need to enter Spring, well dressed in the appropriate clothes that suit your life and lifestyle. This may mean creating a short shopping list for your foundation pieces, or a to-do list for the winners before they go on court.
• shine your shoes to clean and preserve their leather
• alter any investment pieces so you continue to enjoy them
• dry-clean items that you have enjoyed all season but are packing away until next year
The hardest lesson March Madness teaches is one-and-done. The Final Four teams play two games over three days to determine a national champion. Culling collections down to a single winner is unrealistic (I couldn’t survive with only one pair of black slacks!) Selecting winners — of a reasonable quantity — based on proven criteria is a good play.