Category Archives: Perspective

Perspectives on Letting Go

freedom release letting go

Ahh, attachments to our stuff. It’s really all a mental game. If we were truly able to assess our belongings according to our practical needs, we would probably be living with 10% of what we own.

Why is letting go so hard? How do we manage the psychology of releasing things?

Over the years, we’ve seen people find success with one (or a combination) of these three approaches:

Focus on how you can help yourself

Honor the life you want to live. Have a vision of how you want to be in the world and edit your stuff so you can match that and live your best life now. This is about releasing the past and creating your ideal future. You’re honoring yourself by letting that be your focus.

Focus on how you can help other people

Recognize that your excess is a form of abundance. Release your objects so they can serve their purpose in other people’s lives. Release resentment or other negative emotions that the objects bring up in you and put them out into the world to do positive things for other people.

Feng Shui expert Karen Kingston tells a story of a divorced woman had a pair of large, expensive decorative urns from her divorce settlement. They were beautiful but made her think, with bitterness, of her ex-husband.  She was encouraged to sell them and get a lot of money for them instead of having them foster bitterness and resentment and a constant reminder of a painful relationship.

Focus on how you can help the environment

Bringing in less can aid the environment, but disposing of things in a thoughtful way will help offset the environmental impact of consumption. Some people hesitate to clean out a closet or garage because they don’t want it all to go to landfill. Take advantage of living in the San Francisco Bay Area which is filled with easy options for recycling/reuse and responsible disposal.

Stopwaste.org is a quick way to find what is available near you. There are many places that accept e-waste, expired medicines, CFLs, hazardous waste, styrofoam, packing peanuts and air-packs. Partially used art and office supplies can go to the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse or S.C.R.A.P., building materials and hardware can go to Urban Ore or a Habitat for Humanity ReStore outlet. Plastic children’s toys, if not donate-able, can be recycled with hard plastic at most urban recycling centers. There are also resources for your unneeded medical equipment (wheelchairs, walkers, tubing, etc.)

Freecycle, Craigslist, Nextdoor, and other community neighborhood forums are great places to post usable items for free.  These places allow you to find people who want your cast-offs and will take care of the hauling!

If you don’t want to deal with the public, you can pay for a hauler to come. EcoHaul, 1-800-Got Junk, Lugg are companies that advertise responsible disposal of items the remove from your place.

There is no “right” approach. What is that key that will release you from the obligation to hold on to things you don’t need and really don’t even want? Not sure how to get rid of something? Just ask! As Professional Organizers, we’ve got ideas!

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Filed under Decluttering, organizing, Perspective, Reduce/Recyle/Reuse, Strategies

5 Tips for Helping Your Parents Downsize

mom-daughter

Are your parents ready to move? Maybe one is thinking about moving but the other isn’t ready? Are you worried about their safety and think they should be thinking about moving but they don’t seem interested at all?

Assess the situation and be realistic. Deciding to downsize is process with many layers and chapters. Where are your parents in that process?

  1. Not ready. Can’t see themselves leaving home
  2. Considering the possibility, but not convinced
  3. Ready but don’t know where or how
  4. Ready and have a plan

Assuming your folks ARE ready to move and are just getting started, here are some tips for helping you successfully help them:

  • Your pace may not be their pace. Be respectful and mindful of where your parents are at in the process of being ready to move. You’ll only be able to go as fast as they are capable and willing to. Understanding their resistances rather than fighting them will enable you to better tailor your message to their ears.
  • Help assess their immediate needs. Are they or you considering moving because of a need around safety, health, hygiene, housekeeping, meals, or social life? Help identify solutions to challenges in these areas while they are still at home if possible.
  • Don’t let your attachments hold them bac Can’t believe they are wanting to get rid of the special quilt Aunt Mary made? Then you take it!
  • Don’t take sides. When one person in the couple wants to move but the other doesn’ Generally, unless health and safety are at risk, there are many pros and cons to moving – all subject to a particular person’s perspective. Remember that the negotiation process between couples is complicated and not so much about right and wrongs as it is about finding a set of solutions that both can live with.
  • Offer to find resources. Downsizing and moving can require a lot of research and using different vendors – offer to research and coordinate potential resources that may be needed during the process. This can allow your parent to focus on the work of sorting and decision making.
    • Estate sale folk, auction houses, online auctions: who is in the area? How do they work and what percentage do they take? What happens to the things not sold?
    • Thrift stores – which ones will come pickup from the house? Which ones require staging things outside? Who will take what?
    • Hazardous waste – how to get rid of leftover cleaners and chemicals in your area? (stopwaste.org) Are free pickups offered for seniors in your area?
    • Free city bulky waste pickups – most cities offer at least 1 per year but all have different rules about how to schedule them, what can be picked up, and how items have to be organized at the curb.
    • Movers & packers – find out rates, ranges, and availability. Check reviews and call references
    • Professional moving/organizing help – Sometimes an extra hand is needed to make the move happen. NASMM.org and NAPO.net both offer search pages to find professionally trained help in your area.

Additional resources you may find useful:

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Filed under Bay Area Services, children, Decluttering, downsizing, Empty Nest, Perspective

Giving Your Photos and Memorabilia a Reason for Living

photo organizing

Do you have piles of photos stored somewhere in your basement or attic or the back of your closet?  You’re not alone.  Many of our clients hit a wall when it comes to tackling the photos and memorabilia.  It always seems to be the lowest priority until a life event like a birthday or graduation prompts the need for quick and easy access to your loved ones photos.  It’s then that you realize how inconvenient you’ve made it for yourself to view your family memorabilia.

Organizing photos (digital or printed) is a lot like organizing anything in the house – the first step is to determine why you would be keeping them.

Take a few minutes to consider the bigger picture…what do you want your photos for? Do you imagine that you’ll pass the unfinished project on to your kids? Would you like to have some on display or in albums? How important is it to identify people or events for others?

Before you dive into the backlog spend some time framing (pun intended) the picture of your immediate and long-term goals – it will give needed clarity to your sorting and purging.

Figure out what you’re keeping. This takes setting aside time, regularly, to gather and weed your collection.

Divide your photos into 4 categories:

1 – Photos to display, share or put in an album

These are the best of the best; the ones you would be sad if they were destroyed. You may never actually create the album, but it’s important to make the separation in case you or your family member gets motivated.

2 – Photos to keep but not display

The second cut, those you want to store or archive for safekeeping and possible future use.

3 – Photos that tell a story

Even if they are not perfect, don’t automatically toss a great picture if it tells a significant story. They can be illustrative of some specific point in time or mark a milestone.

4 – Photos to dispose of

Come on!  Do you need to keep the 5th copy of a photo you don’t even like? Blurry photos, poorly composed photos, photos of people you don’t even remember can all be tossed.

Next step, determine the keepers.

Set up containers with the 3 separate categories labeled — Album/Display, Archive, Trash — so it’s easy to separate them.  The pictures that tell a story can be tagged with notes and put in the appropriate category.

Once the initial sort happens, you can drill down into more specific categories.  Categories help with retrieval. They help you browse the archive for retrieval or help determine the structure of an album.

Would a picture of Aunt Mary on vacation with you in Hawaii get sorted into Vacations, Aunt Mary and Her Family, the year & month of the trip or …?

There are no right or wrong choices, but you will need to make a choice.

Post-its and index cards, Ziploc bags are great temporary ways to sort printed photos until you arrive at your final organization. Start with broad categories or themes and know that you can come back and fine-tune, if desired, later. To keep the process moving, limit your time with categorizing of each particular photo to a couple seconds. Resist the urge to reminisce; there will be plenty of time for that later.

Power Sort Box

Power Sort Box from Creative Memories for sorting physical photographs

Digital photos need this kind of attention and maintenance also! Don’t kid yourself – the accumulation of thousands of unsorted digital photos will create just as much overwhelm and hassle as the boxes or bags of printed photos taking up closet space. Digital photos can be tagged with multiple categories.  This is a great advantage; it’s the equivalent of having the same photo in 3 or more different places.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, tackle bite-sized chunks.  Commit to just one box of sorting, or time yourself and do one-hour blocks of time or enlist an interested party and make a date to do it together.

IMPORTANT! Moving forward, make sure you have a sound system of photo management in place so you’re not contributing to the backlog. For most of us this means managing digital photos. Here are some tips:

  • Figure out how to sync your devices and/or copy photos to ONE master location
  • Make sure you have a backup system!
  • Use additional folders for sorting and/or use tagging to mark a photo as belonging in more than one category
  • Make actual prints of favorites so they can be enjoyed on display

If this article has left you feeling completely hopeless and overwhelmed instead of inspired, it’s time to ask for help! Search the Association of Professional Photo Organizers (www.APPO.com) for a local resource.

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Filed under Decluttering, disorganization, Empty Nest, Memorabilia, middle-age, Moving, organizing, paper organizing, Perspective, Strategies, Technology

5 Organizing Lessons from Happy Brain Science

There’s been a lot of research done on the science behind happiness. According to Ayla Lewis of http://www.HappyBrainScience.com, as it turns out, our brains are not as hard wired as we may think. We tend to think of our personalities as being fairly “set” however science has proven we can take specific actions to change how we think and feel.

So how does this relate to organizing?

If you’ve locked yourself into a mindset that you can’t be organized, that you’re a “messy person,” or that you’re just not good at it – that doesn’t have to be your story!  We tend to cast ourselves into a role that is static but brain science shows change is possible.

Here’s 5 ways you can proactively change your approach to getting organized:

Don’t Go It Alone

Research shows that you can make more progress if you involve positive people in your life. This could be a professional organizer or just a supportive friend.

Take Charge of Your Attitude

Perspective has tremendous power.  It is as important as the actions you take. A shift in perspective will empower you to get and stay organized.

Focus on the Positive

Searching out and focusing on the positive in a situation primes our brains to look for more positives.  Let’s say you just pulled a pair of worn out shoes from your closet to throw away or donate.  That’s a positive step toward decluttering!  Yay! Celebrate that and see that as a step in the right direction.

Take a Power Pose

As Amy Cuddy, Harvard researcher has suggested, standing with your hands on your hips like Wonder Woman for two minutes can change your psychology.  Putting on a smiley face helps…even if you don’t mean it. Research shows that the physical act of turning the corners of your mouth up actually makes you feel happier.

Honor the Progress You Make

Work toward making progress on any given goal as opposed to measuring success by the endpoint. Happiness research has shown that this provides more satisfaction than actually achieving the goal. Spending 5 minutes on decluttering is more doable, and happiness-inducing, than setting aside an entire weekend to get organized.

People feel empowered, lighter, less burdened … and they get happier when they get de-cluttered. Isn’t it worth a try?

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Filed under Decluttering, General Organizing, Perspective, professional organizer, Strategies

Tips for Maximizing Your Storage Space

Most of us have stuff in storage, whether it is in a commercial storage unit or a closet in your house, we have things to store. I figure even The Minimalists have items in storage of some sort.

How do you maximize the space you have to avoid paying monthly storage fees or to minimize the storage fees you pay by renting a smaller space?

Here are a few tips for making the most out of your storage.

First: Do a little purge

Figure out your have-to-haves as opposed to your nice-to-haves. Do you really need to keep that snowboard, if you haven’t been to the snow for 10 years? Would it be easier just to rent ski equipment if you decide to take a trip to the mountains?

Doing a purge doesn’t mean you have to go through everything you’ve been storing. Take a quick look around and see if there is anything easy to get rid of. Is there a carpet that is so stained you’ll never use it again? or are you holding onto art that you’ll never hang on your walls?

It’s not very methodical, but every item you remove makes space to see and evaluate what’s you really want to keep.

Once you have done a sweep of the items you know you won’t keep, you can go through boxes individually, but for the quick and dirty method, just rearrange the space to make full use of it.

Second: Use containers for storage

Boxes are easier to stack than small loose items. Whenever possible, box and label items that can be stacked or put on shelves. Clear plastic tubs are great because you can easily see what’s inside.

Third: Maximize the use of the space

Use vertical space, add shelves, use rollers or wheels under things to make things moveable. These rolling metal shelves come in different sizes.  The shelf heights can be customized. Find them at Home Depot, Costco, The Container Store and even on Amazon.

These plastic shelves are inexpensive and easy to move around.


Fourth: Arrange the room

Packing the room according to your access needs is essential. Group items toward the front that need to be accessible…even if they aren’t exactly in the same category. For example, you might need access to your summer equipment more often than your Aunt Gertrude’s ashes (yes, we find those in storage units.) Seasonal items take priority over memorabilia.

Consider whether you need walkways to get to things or can items be put on rolling shelves and stack the shelves right next to each other – knowing you can roll them out to get to the back.

Fifth: Label

In addition to labeling any boxes and tubs it can be useful to label whole shelving units or zones within the space.

Tip: Use shelving on wheels so you can roll things out and get access to items in the back…instead of having to unpack the whole unit to get to something at the back wall.

Tip: Use as much vertical space as possible. Shelving enables that but if what you’re storing doesn’t make sense to store on shelves such as rolled carpets, framed pictures or skis, see if you can hang things on the walls or from the ceiling using brackets or hooks.

Handy items to keep in your storage unit:

  • Flashlight or headlamp
  • Labels and/or blue tape
  • Large magic markers/sharpies
  • Box cutters/scissors

What to bring with you when you go to visit your storage:

  • Storage unit keys and access code
  • Camera/phone for inventorying
  • Toolkit with battery operated drill
  • Brackets/hooks
  • Sturdy plastic bins or boxes with lids

Remember to balance the true value of your items against the ongoing cost of storage Most likely, you are paying $1200 a year to store these items in a commercial storage facility.  You might intend to have items in storage for a short time, but statistics show that we keep things in storage much longer than originally planned.

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Filed under Garage, General Organizing, Moving, organizing, Perspective, Storage, Strategies

Ten Myths About Aging and Health

Is aging feeling like a monkey on your back?

Dana has just returned from the annual NASMM conference. One of the most inspiring speakers was Ashton Applewhite whose work focuses on battling ageism. This is a repost of one of her blogs.

Originally posted by Ashton Applewhite, This Chair Rocks

All around the world, people are living longer—a basic hallmark of human progress, and a triumph of public health. The World Health Organization (WHO) is in the public health business, and no organization has done more to raise awareness of ageism—the biggest obstacle to meeting the challenges of population aging and capitalizing on the “longevity dividend.” Part of the WHO’s global anti-ageism campaign  is a new list of ten common “misconceptions on ageing and health.” The global perspective is instructive, and it’s making me rethink some things—including the burning question of whether to start spelling “ageing” the logical, British-and-Indian way.

1 – There is no typical older person.

That would top my list too. Stereotyping—the assumption that all members of a group are the sameunderlies all prejudice. Of course stereotypes always a mistake, but especially when it comes to age, because we all age in different ways and at different rates. As geriatricians put it, “Heterogeneity is the hallmark of ageing.” Or, less formally, “If you’ve seen one 80-year-old, you’ve seen one 80-year-old.”

2 – Diversity in older age is not random.

Spoken like a tactful epidemiologist! WHO is pointing out that the playing field is far from level: “The physical and social environments in which we live are powerful influences on Healthy Ageing” and are further shaped by “our sex, our ethnicity, and financial resources.” As I write in the manifesto, “The way we grow old is governed by a whole range of variables, including environment, personality, and genes, compounded by class, gender, race, luck, and the churnings of the global economy—over which we have varying degrees of control.” The effects compound each other and add up over time, which is why the poorest of the poor, all around the world, are old women of color.

3 – Only a small proportion of older people are care dependent.

“Care-dependent” is a great way to put it. I tend to frame this in terms of the high percentage of Americans over 85 who live in nursing homes (10 percent) and who can go about their everyday activities without any personal assistance (over half).  The WHO frames this in economic terms as well, drawing on recent research showing that the contributions of olders in the UK “were worth nearly GBP 40 billion more than expenditure on them through pensions, welfare and health care combined”—a figure set to nearly double by 2030.

4 – Population aging will increase health-care costs but not by as much as expected.

The notion that older North Americans are an inevitable sink for healthcare dollars is incorrect, and the WHO makes the international case. “In high-income countries, there is growing evidence that at around age 70, health-care expenditure per person falls significantly, with long-term care filling the gap,”the WHO observes, so it makes sense to invest in long-term care. Aging influences health care expenditures far less than other factors, especially expensive medical technologies. Related predictions that “too many old people” will tank the economy—debunked here—are biased, outdated, and just plain wrong.

5 – 70 is not yet the new 60.

I take issue with claims like “60 is the new 40!” because they’re based in denial—60, no matter how active, is still 60—but I’ve been assuming that we’re generally healthier and more vigorous than the generations that preceded us. Not so, says the WHO. Although severe disabilities may be less common, “no significant change in less severe disability has been observed during the past 30 years.”

6 – Good health in older age is not just the absence of disease.

“The combination of a person’s physical and mental capacities (known as intrinsic capacity) is a better predictor of their health and wellbeing than the presence or absence of disease,” notes the WHO, suggesting that we focus on improving intrinsic capacity rather than on specific ailments.  As I write in the book, “While physical decline is inevitable, poor health is not.” People get chronic conditions but we learn to live with them. We find ways to keep doing the things we love—versions of them, at least. No single age-related condition affects most older people. Some of the oldest of the old live well not by avoiding illness, but despite it.

7 – Families are important but alone cannot provide the care many older people need.

“While families will always play a central role in long-term care, changing demography and social norms mean it is impossible for families alone to meet the needs of care dependent older people,” the WHO points out, calling for training and supporting caregivers and for the government and other sectors to share responsibility. It’s the absence of publicly funded support that turns caregiving into a burden—one that falls largely on women. How about paid family leave and subsidizing care for people of all ages? How about a guaranteed, collective, universal right to long-term care that gives women the same options that men—white men with good jobs, at least— have always enjoyed? How about providing decent wages, health and unemployment insurance, and a path to citizenship to those we pay to do this intimate and important work? Which would allow families to do what they do best: be family instead of nurses and administrators.

8 – Expenditure on older populations is an investment, not a cost.

Programs that help olders stay mobile and functional require funding, but what’s often omitted from the accounting is the cost of not making these investments. “These investments can yield significant dividends, both in the health and well-being of older people and for society as a whole through increased participation, consumption and social cohesion,” says the WHO. Some of the return on investment is direct. For example, better healthcare leads to better health, which saves money, improves lives, and allows people to contribute to what AARP calls the “longevity economy.”  Some is indirect, helping societies protect the human rights of their older members and enabling them to live with dignity.

9 – It’s not all about genes.

“While Healthy Ageing starts at birth with our genetic inheritance, only approximately 25% of the diversity in longevity is explained by genetic factors.” I remember how surprised I was to learn that, from none other than geriatrician Robert Butler, who coined the term “ageism” and founded the National Institute on Aging. “It’s really never too late to reinvent yourself and to invent different health habits. Only about 25 percent of our health appears to be due to genes. Seventy-five percent is environmental or behavior,” Butler told me. That why WHO recommends that policies “address these person-environment interactions across the life course.”

10 – Mandatory retirement ages do not help create jobs for youth.

“Policies enforcing mandatory retirement ages do not help create jobs for youth, but they reduce older workers’ ability to contribute. They also reduce an organization’s opportunities to benefit from the capabilities of older workers,” write the WHO. Indeed: the exchange of skills across generations is the natural order of things, but in much of the developed world age discrimination in the workplace has subverted it. Another false dichotomy is that older workers take jobs away from younger ones. Economists call this the fallacy of the “lump of labor.”When jobs are scarce, this is true in the narrowest sense, but that’s a labor market problem, not a too-many-old-people problem. A 2012 Pew Charitable Trusts study of employment rates over the last 40 years found rates for younger and older workers to be positively correlated. In other words, as more older workers stayed on the job, the employment rate and number of hours worked also improved for younger people.

Want older people to be healthy?  End ageism

A growing body of evidence shows that attitudes towards aging have an actual, measurable, physical effect on how we age. People with more positive feelings about aging behave differently from those convinced that growing old means becoming irrelevant or pathetic. They do better on memory tests and are less likely to develop the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. They can walk faster and are more likely to recover fully from severe disability. And they actually live longer—an average of seven and a half years. Everyone agrees that health has the biggest effect on how we age—and how much it costs. Think what a global anti-ageism campaign would do to extend not just lifespan but “healthspan.”

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Filed under Decluttering, Guest Experts, Perspective, Seniors

Couples and Clutter: Conquering Stonewalling

gull-talk

Here’s more on the topic of helping couples manage clutter in a shared space using the wisdom of relationship researcher, John Gottman. This time we explore stonewalling and its antidote.

The other 3 culprits we’ve looked at are criticism, contempt, and defensiveness. Stonewalling happens when a person gets so overwhelmed – flooded – by the negativity of an interaction that they shut down. Rather than continue to confront the situation, they disengage completely- becoming unreachable.

Stonewalling is a reaction to escalating negativity. Stonewalling includes not making eye contact, not responding verbally or physically; giving someone the cold shoulder. The shutting down and turning away is a natural protective response to feeling flooded.

Example: Messy Bedroom

Partner 1: You never put your clothes away. I’m so sick of having to walk around your stuff all the time. Why do you have to be so messy all the time? (Criticism)

Partner 2: “I’m not the one who leaves my shoes all over the place. You’re always blaming me for everything” (Defensiveness)

Partner 1: “I can’t believe I’m married to someone who lives like this. You’ve been a mess ever since I met you! What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you get it together?” (Contempt)

Partner 2: Turns away, picks up their laptop and starts doing some project even as Partner 1 continues to try and talk to them. Everything about their body language says, “I don’t hear you and I’m not listening to you.” (Stonewalling)

Antidotes: Timeouts and Self-Soothing Activities

It is important to remove oneself from the interaction, take a timeout and do some self care in order to calm the flooding response. It helps for the overwhelmed person to state, “I’m overwhelmed, I need a timeout.” Take a walk, listening to music, going into a quiet room – anything that lets your body reset and allow you to come back to the interaction with a calmer perspective.

The combination and interplay of criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling are destructive to genuine communication and problem solving. Building awareness of these patterns can lead to healthy interactions and…eventually, to harmoniously organized homes.

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Filed under couples, Decluttering, Perspective