Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Travel Photo Essay or De-cluttering The Stress Out Of Life

It’s day 4 of my vacation. The travel adventures with my friend have done much to de-clutter any stress I may have inadvertently packed in my carry-on.

I found a really sweet place to run.
This trail near my friend's home reminded me of running in France.
Farm machinery inspired new ideas and thoughts of my Dad,
a farmer who liked to fix things.

My friend is one of the best laughers I know and I cannot count the times my belly ached from laughing in the short 3 days we spent together. She introduced me to Zumba PIC which I thoroughly enjoyed and think is very sexy even though I felt like I had 3 left feet. It was hot and sunny, the music was loud. We danced with wild abandon. Then wolfed down a satisfying Mexican lunch in the park.

I grew up with outhouses on our farm but it's been awhile. This one looked so quaint.
I love to swing. Taking a photo while swinging is tricky.

Then I asked some Mennonite farmers who were fishing which way to the running path. One  asked “Is there a problem?” I think he thought I was running from panic or emergency, not for fun. I bet you everyone there now knows about the lost Mennonite from Vancouver. The mutual novelty society? Was I as odd to them as they to me? 

Elmira is the city of garage sales. Everyone is having one. I decided to go to one, just to see what was clutter in Elmira. Would you believe I found this 1950’s New York plate for $1. Oh the irony. I figured why not support Canadian farmers with my New York souvenir shopping. That was yesterday. Here it is on the train with me, traveling through the plate's territory.

The sun was shining, so I took my friend's convertible
 for a drive to the Mennonite bakery.

TROUBLE, but cheap trouble.

We were foodies. For the birthday dinner, I methodically and carefully made the appies,  showing off my organizing talent with lettuce leaves and sliced olives. I thought the xox message for my friend was my piece de resistance.

Then my friend and I went for a photo shoot. What a pair. The picture doesn’t show all the laughter. Let’s just say we laughed so hard there were almost accidents. I love Margy. She is one of the most beautiful souls I know. I so admire her. It’s so easy to relax and be myself, to live without guards going up. Maybe I need to de-clutter stress via vacations more often.

My tagline is “Goodbye Clutter: Making room for what matters.” This week what matters is friends.

On Mennonites and Organizing

I’m currently on a trip to New York (actually writing this on board an Amtrak train) for the annual Trustee meeting of Women Welcome Women World Wide  but first I stopped to see a best friend Margy, in Elmira, Ontario. Elmira is as small as New York is big. My friend and her family live on 9 quiet acres surrounded by Mennonite farmers. Not Mennonites like the ones in my hometown of Grunthal, Manitoba (way smaller than small Elmira) but the Old Order of Mennonites kind.

In Elmira, the Old Order Mennonites live on farms that are often off the grid, they speak a different dialect of German that I mostly understand but cannot speak, they wear black kerchiefs and plain long dresses, drive (ride?) around in black buggies, and keep themselves quite apart from the larger community. They appear to have an intensely close-knit bond within their own religious community.

Through my friend and around town, I’ve had the pleasure to meet several of the Mennonites. I love the way they talk, both their accent and the words they use, simple, slow, endearing. It fascinates me, as does their lifestyle. They seem to be industrious, hard-working, relaxed, and gracious.

With my friend, I visited the neighbours farm and was invited in to see one of the women’s workshop, where she built miniature replica tractors. Everything seemed to have a quiet sense of order. It wasn’t pristine or perfectly organized, but so much of their lifestyle seemed well-planned and thought out.

Our walk took us out past the barns, past farm machinery that felt like home, through the fields to a conservatory, with a great running path. During my run I wondered about my organizing skills and Mennonite upbringing. Have I come by my skills honestly? How much is hard work a part of my organizing? Is my cultural background a reason I am happy with simple things and believe that less is more?

On my last run, I came across Mennonite men fishing, a ‘parking lot’ of horses and buggies, stopped and spoke with a Mennonite woman named Selindra for a most rewarding chat, and then kept on running, happy with life, grateful for travel adventures, and fitting together my world of organizing with my cultural heritage.

What part of the world do you need organized? I’m happy to combine organizing and travel. Find me at to book your home visit!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Garage Sale Stories

A month ago a new client called. She was stressed about her upcoming move. She knew she’d need to seriously downsize her chaotically cluttered home and she was floundering without any plan. It was a pleasure to work with her and see the change, both in her home and her energy. At the first session, I assessed her the level of clutter in her home, helped her clarify her goals, identified challenges, provided solutions and created a plan.

A few days ago she had a very successful garage sale. What was success for her? The sun was shining, she made $200 and best of all, it was relatively easy for her to let go and see so many of her possessions find a new home. In the process, she had de-cluttered, taken inventory, decided what was important, and let go of much of what wasn’t. I stopped by to see how she was doing. She was beaming. I even bought something myself. This skunk looked cute, so in the spirit of encouraging her to see things off to new homes, I paid the stickered price, 25 cents, and took it home to my animal shelf. 

Many clients want to make money off their ‘stuff’. It’s a great concept. When it works. Which doesn’t always happen. When is a good time to have a garage sale, you ask? If you are willing to put in the time and energy, have a good location, distribute adequate signage, and then have stuff that people will actually pay you money for, well then it may work for you.

My tips for having a garage sale include:
  1) strategic signage helps
  2) price to sell, not to make money
  3) know your bottom line in case you get a low offer for items you consider valuable,
  4) arrange your things attractively and show as much as you can (it won’t sell in a box)
  5) have a pre-arranged plan for  what to do with the leftovers, preferably for immediately following the garage sale
  6) interact with shoppers, be polite and friendly
  7) Saturdays are generally more profitable than Sundays
  8) have fun!

My personal experiences with garage sales have been mixed. Most have been fun. I’ve made between $85 and $600 on garage sales. Once I got cranky when an early bird shopper offered me a tenth of a posted price for an item I was still attached to (see tip #3).

In 1990, in Winnipeg, I was selling our house and preparing for a cross-country move to Vancouver. Downsizing for us meant a BIG garage sale. We put out everything we could find that wasn’t going to fit into our truck. We didn’t sell the kitchen sink but we did put out a toilet left over from our bathroom reno. That resulted in a comic moment later when we looked up to see a friend’s 4-year-old boy using it as his own personal toilet, as calmly as if he was in our bathroom and not being watched by about 10 shoppers. I don’t remember if the toilet sold or not, but we did have a chuckle.

Our home was a small post-war bungalow and when we'd bought the home a year-and-a-half earlier, we found a few choice items tucked up into the basement rafters. Two items stood out. Motorcycle gang colours, from The Outlaws if memory serves me, which we didn’t put on the garage sale, and a collection of big buttons with nakid men on them. Running. On beaches. We put those on a garage sale table to see what would happen. And they sold. (Okay I feel a slight twinge of guilt about my shameless teasing of the buyer.)

This Pope's Hat sold for $1209! 
Always put out anything and everything that you are ready to let go of. You never know what another person is going to buy. Or sell, which makes stopping at a garage sale kind of fun. Google 'weird things people sell at garage sales' and you will find, I kid you not, a link about a Dorito's Cheese Pope Hat

I’ve also shopped at garage sales, though certainly not as much since I’ve been in the de-cluttering business. When traveling, I’ll stop at garage sales to see what people in other countries have pulled out of their closets. That’s how I found this platter in San Francisco. 

Do you have boxes piled up that you’ve been meaning to sell “Someday”? Is your home cluttered with things you don’t want? The sun’s out, perfect weather for a garage sale. Have fun with it and bless your stuff goodbye. And if we can help, by all means call Goodbye Clutter! We’ll help you make room for what matters.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Funny things I’ve found in bedrooms and closets

As a Professional Organizer I have an interesting job. I work with clients in their homes and offices, in their intimate spaces and sometimes in places haven’t been looked at in years. We de-clutter, organize, and occasionally ‘excavate’. It can be like a domestic archeological dig.

People say “You must find some interesting things”. Yes, I do. Recently I was helping a client organize her bedroom and underneath a mass of assorted clothes, newspaper fliers and what-nots was a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. I showed it to her, we laughed, and I asked if I might find a can-opener next. Another memorable moment was finding car jumper cables in a single persons bedroom! We joked about boosting their love life.

I like quirky things, like the Roy Rogers lunchbox my client used as a small boy. He put it in the discard pile but when I remarked that it was a treasure, he insisted I take it home. The dead mouse I found wasn’t quite so cute, though it did lead to shrieks, then laughter. I was sorting through toys with a client. She thought she was pulling a toy mouse out of a gift bag. She shrieked when she realized it was real. And dead, I shrieked when she shrieked and the mouse when flying through the air in the shock. Our shock, not the mouse’s.

My goal is for clients to discover the reasons and effects of their clutter, but wherever possible humour and compassion are present on the job site. Clearing the clutter can be fun. I love finding treasures.

During the course of my work, I have found bullets, cheques, cash, teeth molds, unopened mail from 40 years ago, precious jewelry, a five-year old business card from my own company, a one ounce bar of silver, and my pièce de résistance, a package (clear baggies inside other baggies) of cash, gold jewelry and a five ounce bar of gold. That’s just a small part of the rainbow of odd and interesting items found over my 12 years of de-cluttering.

I’ve been calling myself a Professional Organizer, but some days a more accurate term might be Domestic Archeologist. Got anything you want to dig up? Dig out? Dig down? Dig it man!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Clearing my own clutter.

I’ve been clearing out some interesting clutter this week: some emotional and mental clutter of my own. With amazing results. Using a process my, shall we say, spiritual guide, suggested, in a short time, I’ve found myself feeling lighter, brighter, and happier. The spin off has been an eagerness to make some changes in my home and wardrobe. Items that were not quite right are getting the boot (two floor lamps that didn’t provide good lighting, a painting…and more!) Bright colours, like an azure blue (some call it turquoise but Wikipedia calls it azure) are calling out to me from my closet.

It’s great because I get to be my own de-cluttering student and teacher, learning from my own life what it’s like to shed the weight of clutter (literally and figuratively since the pounds are dropping and my house is getting emptier). Things are actively coming and going at my house. I ripped up a few pages of a journal and the rest of the notebook went off to a daycare I donate things to. Photos from my trip to Germany in 2000 got the boot and a picture of Olivia appeared on the share shelf and was immediately wisked off to my home. I let go of some dishes and a friend gave me a pair of leather boots.

I’m so much happier when I let go of attachments and step into the flow of life, giving away what no longer serves me, and opening up to opportunities coming my way. So much like clutter in the homes of my clients. They let go of unwanted, unloved, unnecessary ‘stuff’, report that they are feeling lighter and better, and start to discover things that are actually important to them and lifts their energy.

I love how this all works. It’s spring-time. The urge to purge is strong, and I’m walking with a bounce in my step. What about you? What’s your clutter costing you? “Best money spent” was what several recent clients told me. Are you ready for an investment in yourself that has a great return rate?

Friday, March 25, 2011

When a perfect new home doesn't have the white picket fence...

A common concern clients often have is letting go of an item that is clutter for them (unwanted, unused, unloved) but that they don't want to throw in landfill. And they just don't know what to do with it. So they hang on.

Finding perfect new homes for someone's clutter is a favourite aspect of my work as a Clutter Consultant. Who said "one person's trash is another's treasure"? They were right. When I find a perfect match I feel like clapping my hands and jumping up and down with glee. I'd like to share a few of those moments with you.

A 92 year old client, so sweet and gracious, had a photo taken at the 12th Annual Picnic or the Winnipeg Electric Railway Old Timers at Selkirk, Manitoba in 1921. She was 9 years old when she attended the picnic with her family. She could identify about six family members in the photo, which was 48" by 4 1/2". Being from Manitoba myself, I really wanted to find an appropriate home for the photo. I had heard about the Manitoba archives so I contacted them. They were prepared to keep the photo in their temperature and moisture controlled storage, for researchers to access. I was so pleased to deliver the photo personally a month later on a trip to visit my family. I wasn't sure who was more please, myself or my client.

Recently, another client had an unopened package of letterhead with matching envelopes. She liked the beach theme, but not the crab in the corner. I offered to take it to a destination wedding planner I know, Bobbi-Jo Roback, who could incorporate the stationary in her marketing and promos. It turned out to be exactly the same stationary Bobbi-Jo and her fiance used for their wedding invitations three years previously. She was delighted. Coincidental? Yes. And perfect.

Another client was going through a difficult transition of moving from her large family home to a retirement condo. Her budget was limited so she didn't want to throw out her bookshelves or donate them. I asked another client who needed storage in her workplace if she was interested in purchasing an economically priced bookshelf. She was. The neat thing was the bookshelf that the elderly client no longer needed ended up holding books for children. It was like a perfect cycle completed.

Is it any wonder I get a good feeling helping folks find homes for their things?

The stories could go on and on: a birdhouse from Vancouver's Westside was donated to Pooh Corner Daycare in Stanley Park, a handyman gift card won by one client was donated to a senior's fundraiser for their silent auction, a tuxedo from a retired gentleman went to a youth supporting Covenant House, oversized platters which had been a wedding gift but became clutter after the divorce (from someone who shall remain nameless but happens to be writing this column) went to my favourite caterer. See, it works! Even for me.

Finding a way to re-use, re-purpose, re-gift an item, can save landfill space, lessens our impact on the environment, can be a gift for a stranger, bring the oddest people together, and simply feels good!

Do you have items you no longer want but can't bring yourself to throw out? Remember Goodbye Clutter! because we make room for what matters!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Weekend mornings are made for nesting

Just when I start to wonder where and how I can downsize my 'stuff' to create an easier to live in, easier to clean, more comfortable, less crowded castle out if my 400 square feet home, along comes a weekend morning without plans. The best kind of morning at home for me. I love nesting.

This week I'd glanced at a corner of my home and got the idea for a minor switch in furniture. I'd wondered how things would look with just a bit of rearranging. Today I implemented my idea and in the process reviewed my entire book collection, purged, dusted, rearranged furniture, and had a delightful hour letting go once again.

Wait, my curiosity got the better of me and I've just measured my floors. My home is actually 385 square feet. Not bad. I live by the 'less is more' philosophy, so I feel a sense of pleasure learning I have less square feet than I thought.

My curiosity and love of numbers/details/data also led me to count how many books I've decided to keep. 48. That includes 13 in my 'to read' collection, some of which I will pack for my trip to Scotland in May and leave along the trail, 27 books (fiction, travel, atlas, non-fiction, running...) that I've read and like enough to keep and 8 children's books from my childhood (Splish, Splash and Splush) and adulthood (Olivia Saves the Circus -- my adorable hero). That doesn't include the 11 books about organizing I've tucked away in my antique cabinet with other business things.

The first day of spring is only one week away. This is a great time to spring clean, purge, pitch, organize, de-clutter, downsize. I love the feeling afterwards, feeling a little lighter, more free, unencumbered, more relaxed, more in love with my home, happier to see the things I love (a 1950's brown leather suitcase, the globe from my Dad, my precious tractor won at Massey Ferguson day in 1964...)

With the tragic global events to remind me that stuff doesn't matter I feel like I've had the best morning, doing what I love, creating my castle, and being the me that I love to be.

So if you're thinking of spring cleaning your castle, I encourage you to think of Goodbye Clutter. We'll help you make room for what matters.