Thankful For So Much... Including An Organized Home

In 2017, the Thomas fire came within inches of my parents’ home. 

My grandparents built the house in 1972, and my parents bought it from them in 2000 and remodeled it as their forever home. So, I didn’t grow up there, but for my entire life it has =been a beloved place to be with family and celebrate holidays.

Charred brush on the left, house on the right.

Charred brush on the left, house on the right.

That whole fall was a wild ride. In an unrelated but unfortunately timed water based incident, the bottom floor of the house flooded and my parents had to move everything upstairs so that reconstruction could begin. Then, the fire came, and they packed up what they could fit in their cars and evacuated. Then came the mudslides, and there was no access to the house for weeks. When the roads were cleared, the house stood in a sea of burned landscaping and melted pool equipment, full of sooty walls and smoke-damaged furniture and clothing.

There are so many ways in which I’m thankful, beyond words and with some significant amount of survivors’ guilt. Of course, that my parents were safe the entire time. That our home was still intact, while so many people we know and love lost everything. That our family has the resources to rebuild. That amazing firefighters came from so far away to work so hard to defend our neighborhood (shout out and huge thanks to the Moraga Fire Department!). That the Montecito community came together to take care of its own.

This is how warm it gets inside a house surrounded by fire.

This is how warm it gets inside a house surrounded by fire.

And I’m thankful that my dad is the most organized person I know. Because I am here to tell you, when then entire contents of a home have been relocated within it AND packed up for evacuation AND packed up again for post-disaster cleaning, you are really and truly glad from the bottom of your soul that every object has a designated location.

When I went to Santa Barbara to help my parents move back into the house, the three of us unpacked for three straight days. I did not take a picture of the pile of boxes that was delivered to the driveway, which was a big miss, but suffice it to say it was truly heroic. And yet, by the time I came back to San Francisco you would never have known anything had ever happened.

If my parents hadn’t had such an organized home in the first place, it would have taken us three times as long with three times as much frustration… maybe more!

I fervently wish that none of you reading this ever have to evacuate due to natural disaster, let alone lose your home. But based on my experience, I would heartily recommend getting your home organized and inventoried (might I suggest pictures of the insides of cabinets? Those would have helped even more!) as part of your personal emergency plan.

So, in this week of Thanksgiving, when so many people have just lost their homes and loved ones, and even the air around me is choking thick, all I can do is be thankful for everything that I have and try to give back to the people who need it. To help the victims of the Camp Fire, please consider donating here:

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. I’m thankful for you!


Don't Buy Random Crap for Your Loved Ones

You’ve heard of The Five Love Languages, right? If not, the basic premise is that people tend to prefer to give and receive love in one of five ways: words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch, gifts, and quality time. Once you and your loved ones figure out your individual love languages, it can help you show love to each other more effectively. In fact, if you’re not sure what you prefer, there’s an online quiz you can take to find out!

Recently, I’ve watched my clients struggle with the gift giving love language. Specifically, they have family that lives very far away and misses them very much, and shows their love by sending them inexpensive gifts regularly. While I haven’t met the gift givers in person, it’s clear to me that these gifts are sent out of an abundance of love, with absolutely no ill intent.

However, there are serious side effects to a regular gift giving routine.

  1. Those gifts add up fast. In thinking of one client in particular, her mom likes to send her costume jewelry, cloth bags, cute glasses and dishware, and general tchotchkes. My client, like many of us here in San Francisco, lives with her boyfriend in a one bedroom apartment. It’s plenty of space for them and their cats, but there just isn’t enough storage to accommodate the constant inflow of gifts. 
  2. Those gifts cause serious guilt. My clients tell me that they don’t want to donate these gifts because they know that if the giver found out, they would be hurt. The gifts, in effect, become an emotional burden and an extension of the guilt my clients already feel over living so far away from their loved ones.
  3. Those gifts can cause relationship strife. I have a couple of clients who deal with continuous gift giving from both of their moms. They are each uncomfortable with dealing with so much stuff from their own mothers, but end up taking that frustration out on each other and the other’s mom. While this is so common for all of us as humans - we redirect anger at a person we can’t confront to the people who see us every day - it’s completely avoidable in this case.
This is what years of inexpensive gifts looks like after I've helped a client decide what's important to keep... and what's not.

This is what years of inexpensive gifts looks like after I've helped a client decide what's important to keep... and what's not.

People whose love language is gift giving (and I am one of them, so I know of what I speak!) sometimes struggle with the idea that a gift could be a bad thing, and they often don’t know how to communicate their love in other ways that feel just as effective. So, I have a few suggestions!

  1. Take a picture of the cute tchotchke, send it to your loved one, and tell them why it made you think of them. How fun is a random loving message in the middle of the day? You get all the benefits of gift giving, like reminding someone that you love them and showing that you understand what’s special about them, without any of the downside. This also gives you the opportunity to see whether or not your loved one actually wants that item! If they text back “hahaha, love that, I miss you too!” then the thought was enough. But a text that says “OMG I need this!” means you have the green light to send a gift!
  2. Give experiences rather than objects. This is something my family has wholeheartedly embraced as part of our gift giving tradition and we all absolutely love it.  You get the gift giving experience - opening something, the surprise, the feeling of being special to the giver - and then you get to extend it by talking about the upcoming event, planning for it, then doing it and reminiscing about it after the fact. My sister gave me a trip to Jackson Hole for Christmas a couple years ago and it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten!
  3. Direct your gift giving energy to people who are in need. Every holiday season, my husband and I adopt a family through Compass Family Services, and take great joy in making their Christmas magical. I love giving to friends and family, but it's even more rewarding to give to people who truly need and appreciate the gifts.
  4. Save your gift giving effort (and budget) for select occasions. Often, people send many cheaper gifts because they feel that the number of gift giving occasions should be maximized but they don’t have the funds to purchase high quality gifts that often. When it comes to gifts, like many other things in life, I recommend going for quality over quantity. Two high quality, beautiful gifts per year will give your loved one all the surprise and delight you crave, and because you have the extra time and money to spend on selecting it, chances are much higher that they will use and love the gift.
  5. When in doubt, just pick up the phone and say “I love you.” Because that’s what we’re all really trying to do with gift giving, right?
This not my family's Christmas, but the gifts prepared for our adopted family this past holiday season!

This not my family's Christmas, but the gifts prepared for our adopted family this past holiday season!

I, personally, will never stop loving the process of opening a present that someone has selected just for me, and then watching them open something I know they’re going to love. But I love it even more when it’s a truly special moment and not just a regular thing.


Weekly Peek

Photo courtesy of Boboquivari's

Photo courtesy of Boboquivari's

Brush With (a Few Degrees of) Celebrity

My husband and I were recently planning a double date with some good friends, and decided to finally try a San Francisco institution: Bobo's.  Yes, I've lived in SF for 10 years and have never been, I'm aware this is a travesty.  We had a great time, enhanced by the fact that we were squirreled away at a private alcove table that is reportedly the favorite hangout of one Mr. George Clooney when he's in town.  I have to admit that for me the experience was much more about the ambiance than the food - if you're looking for the best old-school steakhouse experience in San Francisco I'd direct you to Harris' - but I spent most of my evening elbow deep in Dungeness crab with garlic sauce and regretted not one bite!

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Dangerous Liaisons

JAKE has just come out with their Dangerous Liaisons collection, and so of course we had to support our friends at one of their launch parties.  I am dying for the custom toile fabric used throughout the collection, featuring greyhounds (the official shop mascots are Echo and SCOTUS, that would be Supreme Canine of the United States to you) instead of dragons!  It's those kind of playful details that make JAKE clothes stand out in a sea of fashion.

Photo courtesy of (Carrie Sisto)

Photo courtesy of (Carrie Sisto)

Weird for Good

I've mentioned before that I sit on the board of CounterPulse, an amazing performing arts organization based out of a theater in SF's Tenderloin.  This year, for the first time, we're putting on a gala Family Feast & Fundraiser, and I'm chairing the host committee!  The past few months have been a whirlwind of brainstorming, planning meetings, and bonding time with the truly incomparable staff and board members of CounterPulse, and we're just under a month out from the event itself.  The dinner is already sold out, but the after party will be super fun, featuring live performances, bespoke cocktails, a drag show, DJ and dancing, and a silent auction, all to benefit the Springboard Fund For Artists so that CounterPulse can keep providing a home for groundbreaking art that shatters assumptions and promotes community.  All the hippest, artiest kids in town will be there, and you'll want to be there too!

End of the Season

In bittersweet news, my official ski season is over.  I spent my winter training three new candidates to join the Alpine Meadows National Ski Patrol, and I'm so pleased and proud that all three passed their final test and will be wearing red jackets from now on!  Fortunately for all of us who love the mountains, there's still snow to spare in the Sierras and many of the ski hills are planning to be open into May and June.  I'm thinking of snagging a few runs of spring corn on Memorial Day Weekend.  How many times in life is there the opportunity to do that??

Weekly Peek

Midwestern Hot Spot

Over President's Day weekend, I made my semi-annual trek to Minnesota to visit my best friend and her family - including my honorary nephews, who very gratifyingly remembered me and deigned to let me read them stories (they're 1.5 and 3).  As a special treat they got a babysitter one evening and we headed out for a very memorable dinner at Travail Kitchen & Amusements.  It's a steady stream of small bites, all of them creative, delicious, and inspired by local ingredients - and all of them delivered with plenty of humor and without formality.  I had duck mousse squeezed onto my hand and ate a piece of speck directly from a hanging hook, among other things!  If you're in the Minneapolis area, go early for a drink (or two) - the cocktails and mocktails are all seriously excellent.

Hot Button Issue

My husband and I were lucky enough to be invited as guests of the Marin Community Foundation to attend the Planned Parenthood Northern California Acts of Courage dinner (you may have seen my Instagram posts already...).  It was a truly inspiring evening, featuring honoree Dr. Willie Parker, author Rebecca Traister interviewed by writer and educator Chinaka Hodge, and a poetry reading by Janae Johnson, Natasha Huey, and Terisa Siagatonu that blew both of us away (my husband said it was hands down his favorite part of the night - and he is not what you would call the activist-y type).  Women's health, and equal access to it for all women regardless of race, sexuality, or gender identification, is my hot button issue, and I'm looking for ways to get more involved.

When Conferences Go Right

I talked openly about my thoughts on the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) here, and I'll continue to do that.  Plus, conferences in general have a pretty spotty reputation.  However, I was overall really pleased with my experience at the Regional Conference held by NAPO-SFBA last month.  I found the keynote speaker to be not particularly inspiring, but thought some of the breakout sessions were really helpful and spurred me to think creatively about how to move my business forward this year.  Plus, there were great networking opportunities with vendors and other organizers, and it's always great to feel like part of a community!

Petunia checks out the fluffy white stuff on Day 1 of the storm... and yes, those giant banks from this crazy snow year are taller than a person!

Snowed In

It's been quite dry in California for the past few years, which means we've collectively forgotten how to deal with mountain weather and travel therein.  My friends and I were reminded of just how opinionated Mother Nature can be when we headed to Tahoe for the first weekend in March and quite literally got snowed in for a night longer than planned.  With about four feet of snow falling over two days and all the freeways closed, there was literally no way to drive back to San Francisco.  I try to warn people that this can be a possibility, and sure enough, getting snowed in does actually happen!

Where Does The Decluttering Go?

Decluttering and rearranging only form one side of the organization coin.  The other side is consumption.  For so many of my clients, the true root of their struggle with disorganization stems from the speed, quantity, and quality at which they purchase objects.

As straightforward as this concept may seem, it’s really hard, for me at least, to tell a client they’re buying too much.  There is shame attached to shopping, especially for women – we often see it as a guilty pleasure and as financially irresponsible – and calling out a client’s shopping habits means acknowledging the negative aspects of what may be one of their favorite or most frequent activities.  I have to walk a delicate balance of calling their attention to the cause of their ongoing disorganization, while at the same time ensuring that they understand that I’m not judging them.

And believe me, I’m not judging them.  I love to shop, too, and I have plenty of complex and uncomfy feelings attached to the pastime!

If you, too, struggle with acquiring too much, too fast, check out Rosie Spinks’ article for The Guardian earlier this year: Marie Kondo tells us to ditch joyless items, but where are we sending them?  Spinks reminds us that when we get rid of things we don’t use, it’s not just out of sight and out of mind – that stuff takes up space in the universe and it has to go somewhere.

What I don’t want you to take away from this article is that you shouldn’t get rid of things when they no longer serve you.  You’ll never achieve a level of organization that’s satisfying for you if you keep a lot of stuff you don’t need out of guilt.

Rather, I want you to take away that there is a direct connection between what you buy and what you get rid of.  The more you buy, the more often and more thoroughly you have to declutter.  And the lower the quality of the pieces you purchase, the more you accelerate this process.

The great thing about buying fewer, higher quality things is that, as Spinks points out, they can be fixed.  I definitely do this – most of my shoes have been re-heeled and/or re-soled multiple times, and I’ve just spent a month going back and forth with a designer to try to get a dress I love re-pleated.  Yes, this does take some time, effort, and… wait for it… organization.  But because I don’t have too many things and I love (most of) them, I’m more motivated to put in the work so that I can keep using and loving them.

So, buy less.  Fix the things you love. And wear and use the absolute hell out of the stuff you love, because that’s the whole point of owning it!


Weekly Peek

The Move

It happened, you guys.  It was a two-day process: the movers came one day to pack, and the following day to transport.  This pic used to be our bedroom and became a staging area for boxes - yikes!  Once again we could not have been happier with our experience using Delancey Street Moving, and I'll be expanding on that in an upcoming post.

It's All for the Babies!

I've been volunteering on the committee that organizes the Signature Chefs Gala to benefit March of Dimes San Francisco, held this year on November 12.  We've put together an amazing event, with tastings from over a dozen local wineries, over a dozen local restaurants including Michelin starred chefs and reality show champions, and a truly stellar live auction with items from exclusive Giants owners seats to one of a kind experiences like a walk-on role on a hit TV show and luxury getaways to Belize and Hawaii.  I hope you'll join me on November 12 to support healthy moms and healthy babies!

Sittin' Pretty in the Skybox

Last weekend was homecoming at Stanford, and my husband and I were the grateful recipients of Skybox tickets to the football game against Washington (a friend of my mom's wasn't going to be using her tickets and heard it was my husband's birthday!).  He's a proud Stanford alum and I'm a HUGE Stanford fan (sorry to my alma mater, but rooting for Princeton just doesn't have the same thrill), so we were like two giddy kids running around up there.  Of course we had to sample all the free food, catch up with staff we know from our old jobs, check out the balcony, and of course watch the game gobsmacked from our 50 yard line seats.  It may never happen again, but we made the most of the experience!

New Digs

I'm pleased to report that Petunia is greatly enjoying the new house.  The back lawn and deck catch the morning sun perfectly, and she has been enjoying many a snooze strategically placed to make the most of it.