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!


A Radical Approach to "Just In Case"

Have you ever gone to donate or trash something and then thought, “No, I should keep that just in case”?  I can tell you that I hear this All. The Time., and so do The Minimalists: a pair of best friends who discovered minimal living and are out to spread the good news through their website, podcast, books, and documentary film.  They’ve come up with a revolutionary way of approaching the concept that will likely shock you the first time you read it: Getting Rid of Just-in-Case Items: 20 Dollars, 20 Minutes.

Kind of crazy, right?

But here’s why it works.  Think of something you’re holding on to just in case, and try what I do with my clients: drill down on that.  Just in case of what?  What is the scenario in which you would need this item, and how likely is that scenario to occur in your life?  What would happen if that scenario occurred and you hadn't kept the item – how much expense and effort would it take to replace it?

This might feel aggressive and make you uncomfortable, and that’s ok.  People are often resistant to this line of questioning because it challenges a very deeply held belief for many of us: that one should always be prepared for anything.  But as The Minimalists point out, preparedness for unlikely situations carries its own costs.

For example, I have a client who travels frequently.  She and her husband each have a complete set of rugged, top of the line luggage that they use on all their trips.  Perfect!  However, they have also kept the last couple of sets of luggage that their current set theoretically replaced.  When I asked if she was ready to donate the old suitcases (which are still in good condition), my client said the magic words: “I want to keep them just in case.”

I tried to drill down on this a bit. Her reluctance to donating her old suitcases boiled down to the fact that she had really liked her old luggage set and wasn’t as big of a fan of the new stuff.  She felt guilty that she had spent a non-insignificant amount of money on new luggage only to find she didn’t like it.  It became clear that she wasn’t ready to make this decision, and that was totally fine – I work on my client’s timeline, not mine – but my gentle probing questions got the wheels turning.

Hold on a second, you say – luggage is expensive and can’t be found just anywhere!  This doesn’t pass the 20/20 test!  I would counter that this situation does in fact pass the test because my client will never need the old luggage in the first place.  A scenario in which her new set is completely lost or destroyed is incredibly unlikely.

In the meantime, suitcases are large and take up space my client could otherwise use for other things.  In addition, their continued presence in her home means that she’s continually confronted with a decision she made that makes her uncomfortable and feels pressure to resolve this discomfort.

What are you holding on to just in case, and at what cost?


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!


What I'm Organizing

As you might have gathered from recent posts, I'm exploring the idea that organizing is not a finite project but an ongoing part of life.  It's less about buying the perfect solution than it is about creating workable habits that help you live an organized life.

So, with that in mind, I'm going to keep myself honest and prove the concept to you by giving you a little insight into the ongoing organizing I do in my home.  As you'll see, the ways I organize my life aren't glamorous, but they do work!

This week: tackling the buildup of give-away and dry cleaning piles.  I bagged up each category separately: one for wash/press, one for dry clean, one for repairs, and one bag to take to Goodwill.  I then loaded them all in the car and dropped them off on the way to another appointment.  A small thing, but our closets are no longer dragged down by piles!


Resources for an Organized Move Part 2

So, you’ve decluttered your clothes, shoes, and accessories using my recommended techniques, and successfully sold your higher value furniture on Move Loot.  What about the rest of the stuff you want to get rid of?

Another really great option for getting furniture out of your life is good old-fashioned donation.  There are several nonprofits that run thrifts stores that gladly accept furniture donations, and some even pick up.  I’ve used Out of the Closet in San Francisco with great results, and I love that all proceeds benefit the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

I try my very best to minimize the amount of stuff going into the landfill, especially when undertaking a move.  But sometimes, some stuff is just junk.  My husband and I have gone the DIY route before: rending a Uhaul van, loading it up, and dropping it off at Recology in San Francisco.  It’s not the most fun way to spend a day, that’s for sure.  This time, we decided to save time and headaches by calling a junk hauler, especially since there were bulky items involved like an old fridge that had been sitting in our building’s basement for easily 15 years (why?), an enormous carpet ruined by nail polish, and heavy, rusted metal shelving purchased by a previous owner.

To get rid of things that are potentially toxic, such as batteries and paint, check your city’s waste disposal organization.  If you live in San Francisco, Recology will do a one-time pickup of toxic material for free!  We definitely availed ourselves of this service to dump a shocking quantity of paint from prior color schemes.

Of course, coordinating all of these services to conscientiously dispose of your unwanted stuff can take a lot of time and energy. Fortunately, many professional organizers work on moves and I’m one of them, so call me if you need help with your upcoming move!