I recently wrote an article for the Princeton Packet about my ongoing (but almost complete!) home reorganization project. I am reproducing it here (in slightly longer form and with more photos), for anyone who didn’t see it and might be thinking of a similar project for themselves. While it was a little embarasssing to out myself as such a packrat, I am proud that I took the initiative to deal with the issue, and wanted to share my story for those who might benefit from it. Back to food next week!
A (sort of) Hoarder Reforms
Here’s a news flash for empty nesters: chances are your children don’t want all your treasured possessions, even your photos and mementos – they’ve got their own. That lesson was imprinted on my mind when my brother and I prepared to clean out and sell our parents’ house.
While there were some things we were interested in having, this was not the home we’d grown up in, so that helped limit the sentimentality factor. In the end, we held a two-day tag/estate sale (thanks to DustyOldBags.com), but still had to pay a hauler to remove the rest, including both sets of grandparents’ old china, pretty but undistinguished. Neighbors cried when they saw a bathtub full of unwanted photos, but I had more than enough myself and my nephew had already taken what he wanted.
Meanwhile, I had problems of my own at home, where my clutter had become overwhelming.
If you could’ve seen my apartment, a two-bedroom rental, a couple of years ago, you’d notice a remarkable change today. But no one except myself and the occasional maintenance person saw it before I re-organized it, because I was too embarrassed to allow anyone to come over. And there was nowhere for them to sit or dine, anyway.
The couch was piled high with things I’d run out of places for or planned to give away; the dining table was mostly blocked with boxes I’d never unpacked (I moved in in 2003); and I could barely get to my bookcases full of cookbooks in my office. The bedroom was fast becoming a dangerous obstacle course, and while for the most part I knew where things were, it was getting to be too much trouble to unearth them. And the kitchen…well, my countertop and cupboards were overflowing. Between my full- and part-time jobs, and responsibility for an elderly father, I found it hard to make time to clean anything out, and the task had become too overwhelming to approach on my own.
I knew I had to get my home in order to make room for what I did want from my parents’ house: some beautiful modern Scandinavian furniture my mother had picked out in the 1960s. I’d never bought good furniture myself, as I’d moved cross country a couple times and had made do with studio living for most of my adult years. But now I had my heart set on my mother’s prized pieces, knowing they would also provide desperately needed storage.
So, I bit the bullet and worked up the courage to call a professional organizer I’d read about, Ellen Tozzi, of Natural Order Design. When she came for her first, exploratory, visit, I held my breath as she stepped inside and looked around. Would she gasp and back right out again?
“I’ve seen worse,” she merely said, and reassured me we could work on it, although it would take some time. Then she asked a good question: “How much of your stuff are you prepared to part with?”
“A third?” I ventured, and instantly wished I’d said a quarter, but it was too late, my fate was sealed!
Since then, we have worked our way around my apartment, focusing on one area after another, during some precious time on Saturday afternoons I carve out of my weekend writing schedule. I tightened my budget for this endeavor, too, but no question, for me it’s been money well spent, because in addition to going through everything with me, cleaning each newly uncluttered area as she goes along, Ellen lists, packs up, and takes away discarded items, usually to the Salvation Army, and brings me back receipts.
Thankfully, she is a collector herself (a “reformed pack-rack” she says), and understands all that, so there is no judgment, just thoughtful input and a sense of humor – and tact, lots of tact. She has contributed creative and constructive ideas every step of the way, and her original written suggestions are still posted in my hallway: Let go of what you don’t love, ask yourself how many of an item is practical, keep like things together.
The first order of business was the living areas, since we had a buyer for my parents’ house and I needed to make room for the “new” furniture. So we cleared off my cheap self-assembled entertainment unit and an old kitchen cart on wheels, and I had Princeton Van Service, in one quick morning, move them to my parents’ house for the tag sale, along with some low shelving I’d had dishes on. They brought back the “good stuff” on the return trip: modular bookshelves and cupboards, two low buffets, and my father’s gentleman’s dresser.
Finally, I could unpack cases of books, at least a third of which Ellen took away to donate to a library. We also unpacked ceramic pieces and other small items that would go on display. While I have a lot of “artsy” things picked up at craft fairs, they are mostly smaller objects that display well when grouped together. Her decorating background made the most of these mini-collections.
In the dining area, a long buffet took the place of old open shelving, and now holds linens and china, with baking and serving pieces displayed along the top. I should let go of more of those, but it’s hard to do when I’m always looking for just the right piece for a photo for an article or blog post. Baby steps.
Ellen researches shelving, cupboard organizers, etc., and measures carefully to be sure I order (or she picks up) the right thing, and even snapped up a sturdy over-the-door wire shelf unit for the inside of one closet at a garage sale for a mere $10. She measured for, then purchased and installed (she packs a drill) under-sink wire roll-out baskets for the kitchen and bath.
I have way too many pantry items – an inherited trait from my father, but I also blame my food writing for wanting to have anything I might need on hand. So we reorganized a small linen closet that I’d already appropriated for dry goods, adding a hanging shoe pocket rack on the inside of the door for small items.
Of course I have enough spices to stock a spice shop, so Ellen put up two pretty spice racks on the kitchen wall and we’re in the process of putting the rest of my spices in two compact countertop racks I found online; each with 20 bottles. Clearing out the cupboard space that was a jumble of spices will allow me to get food items off my kitchen counter so I’ll have more room to work.
After an unsuccessful search for skinny pantry shelving for a long hallway, I threw in the towel and found a carpenter to build me a long shallow cabinet with sliding doors for rows of cans and bottles. And I am learning to throw away multiple long-expired cans of this and that, and maybe buy just one new one to have on hand.
As a bonus, the top of that long cabinet has become a mini-gallery, one of my best display spots for small treasures and photos. I also have a lot of prints and photographs waiting to go on the walls, much of it the work of friends, and I know that Ellen’s creative eye will be a big help on “hanging day.”
The bathroom is larger than it needs to be, so while I’ve added some storage there, I’m satisfied for now (but will always wonder why they didn’t make the adjacent kitchen larger instead). Everything under the sink is now organized in bins, and labeled with Ellen’s label maker, our constant companion.
My office has a new filing system, and I’ve shredded pounds of old paperwork, my own and my late father’s. The closet in that room has been freed up of clothing (lots of donations there!), and is now well-organized with labeled storage for holiday decorations, wrapping paper, luggage, hardware supplies and the like. I still need a tall cabinet with doors to replace a messy-looking wicker shelf unit; when that comes, it will hold office supplies and bulky tax records.
In the bedroom, the gentleman’s dresser is the perfect height to display the costume jewelry I’ve mostly collected at craft fairs over the years, not having a taste (or the budget) for serious pieces. One side of the chest is cupboard space for bulky items, while the other is six shallow drawers that are perfect for socks and such.
A small bedroom bookcase holds current reading (most new books arrive on my Kindle). The walk-in closet has never looked tidier, and the shelving there is put to maximum use. On my own, I went through old photos and slides, throwing hundreds out. I saved just the best, and scanned some, along with pages from old yearbooks, notes, newspaper clippings, etc., using an $80 Epson scanner that also scans slides and negatives. In some cases, I just snapped a photo to memorialize a keepsake before parting with it.
We’re not quite finished yet, but when I come home now, I almost have to pinch myself to believe this pleasant, orderly home is my own. It has definitely improved my life, since I am such a homebody at heart. And what shall I say to Ellen on the day, coming soon, when she suggests our work together is nearly done?
“Have you seen the trunk of my car?”
Ellen Tozzi (www.naturalorderdesign.com/) is a Certified Professional Organizer (see www.certifiedprofessionalorganizers.org). You can use their online directory to find someone near you. As with any professional service, you should have a preliminary meeting to find someone you are comfortable working with.