Paying for Postponed Decisions

It’s funny how my work with clients takes on certain patterns. I recently wrote about multiple clients with whom I worked on organizing their jewelry. Lately, I have been visiting storage units with my clients.

As I’ve mentioned before, my very wise organizing colleague, Barbara Hemphill, declared that “Clutter is postponed decisions.®” When you decide to put items into storage, you are not only postponing the decision of what to do with that stuff, you are also paying handily for the luxury of postponing that decision.

Many clients over the years have gotten tired of paying hundreds of dollars each month and have asked me for help in closing down their self-storage units. The one I worked on recently was very satisfying for both the client and me. We went through every box at her Manhattan Mini Storage unit. She decided what should be kept and what should be hauled away, and then I repacked the boxes and added colored tape to each box indicating its destination.

My client arranged for a small moving company and a junk company to come at our next session so that we could empty the unit and close it down. The stuff that the junk company hauled away will be donated or recycled where appropriate, or put in the trash as a last resort. The stuff that she is keeping was moved to her apartment, where we stacked it up in a corner for us to put away at a future date.

Another client asked me to help her organize the storage cage in her building’s basement. The building was planning to haul away anything that wasn’t located securely in the cages, so this was an opportunity for her to review what she had and dispose of what she no longer wanted at no cost. This review reinforced what I’ve always believe: anything kept in an opaque container becomes a mystery. If you can’t see it, you’ll forget what it is.

My favorite moment during that session occurred while looking at another resident’s storage cage. This cage was filled completely with boxes from floor to ceiling, and the only thing keeping the boxes from spilling out was the chain holding the door closed. One of the boxes was labeled “Clothes I Don’t Wear”. That’s telling it like it is! (I don’t suppose I need to tell you what I would advise someone to do about clothes they don’t wear.)

The third storage closet project also took place in the basement of the client’s building. This was a room filled with postponed decisions, much of it relating to the family’s now-adult child. This is a struggle that many of my clients deal with. What do you do with the childhood stuff that your kids leave behind? At what point do you tell them that they need to come review their stuff because you plan to get rid of it?

Here are a few pointers regarding storage units:

  • I believe in renting a storage unit if you know it will be temporary. If you need a few months or a year to park your stuff because of a life change, go for it. However, if you are simply postponing difficult decisions, you will ultimately regret sending the stuff to a costly storage space.
  • Pack your items in well-marked boxes, or put them in clear storage containers. You want to be able to tell at a glance what is in the storage unit so that you can find it when you need it, or decide when it’s time to trash it.
  • Keep a list of everything you’ve added to the unit. You think you will remember, but you won’t.

What to Do With Those Fresh Direct Bags

If you order your groceries from FreshDirect, you probably have some of their oversized reusable shopping bags in your home. I’m guessing that you have more than you can ever reuse.

I’m pleased to tell you that FreshDirect has started a bag donation program. You can read the details here.

The program is active in New York City, Long Island, Westchester and Rockland Counties of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and the Washington, D.C. Metro area.

First, make sure that your bags are clean, in good condition, and free from labels bearing your personal information. Then look on the website to find a drop-off site. In New York City, where I live, the drop-off sites are  soup kitchens, pantries, and other non-profit organizations that serve the community.

If you run a non-profit organization, you can apply to become a drop-off site.

It’s great to see an opportunity to prevent these bags from accumulating in your home, and to keep them out of the landfill.

 

Where to Donate Halloween Costumes

Did you know that you can donate your children’s gently-used Halloween costumes?

‘WEEN DREAM is a non-profit organization located in New Orleans. They collect costumes all year round and then provide them to kids in need in time for the following Halloween.

As their website states: “‘WEEN DREAM gives costumes to kids from all over America who are faced with unique challenges, including those with special needs, physical and/or mental disabilities, homeless children, kids living in poverty or at shelters, children with serious medical issues, kids in the foster care system, and kids who have experienced a recent trauma or natural disaster. Since ‘WEEN DREAM began in 2014, over 13,500 ‘WEENSTERS have received costumes in 38 states!”

For more information — including what they accept and where to send it — see their website www.weendream.org.

Happy trick-or-treating!

Weighed Down by Donations

My husband got a new winter parka last month, and I was excited at the prospect of being able to donate his old one. It was in excellent shape and I knew there were people in need of warm winter wear.

For years, I’ve been donating our unwanted winter coats to the New York Cares Coat Drive. Every winter, they put donation boxes in stores all over New York City. There was one in the paint store one block away from me, which made it very convenient.

However, thanks to Covid-19, the coat drive was working differently this winter. There were no donation boxes. Instead, you had to bring the coat to one of their donation partners, which were listed on the website. None of them were within walking distance, but I was willing to take a train there. The website suggested calling before dropping in, to make sure they still needed coats.

I spent a couple of days calling a few of the donation partners, but all I ever got was call sequencers and answering machines. I reached out to some colleagues and neighbors for ideas, but those didn’t pan out.

Finally, I put the newly-laundered parka in a shopping bag and walked it around the corner to the nearest thrift shop while I was walking my dog. The bag was surprisingly heavy, and I was glad to hand it off to the nice staff member at the thrift shop and leave empty-handed.

The weight of that donation was symbolic to me. I have often urged my clients that it’s not so important to find the perfect recipient for every donation. What’s important is to get it out of your house and in the hands of someone who wants it. When I handed off that bag, I realized that I had not been taking my own advice. In trying to find the perfect recipient, I was creating stress for myself and holding on to something that needed to be on its way to keeping somebody warm.

Do you have potential donations sitting in your home waiting to be matched with the perfect recipient? Don’t be weighed down by donations the way that I was. Move that stuff along. You’ll be surprised how much relief you feel.

Transforming My Home Office

I recently wrote “When A Piece of Furniture Has To Go.” You can subtitle this post “When Another Piece of Furniture Has To Go”.

I’m referring to my desk. Not the desk where I spend most of my time working on my computer, but the desk I’ve had since I was a child. It also served me well through many years of adulthood. It was a place to pay bills and write letters and sign school permission slips. But that was before life became electronic. It’s not a good desk for a right-handed person to use a computer. So in recent years I mainly used it as a place to dump my mail, and for storing a multitude of office supplies and other items in its capacious drawers.

When I set up my home office many years ago in the corner of the living room, I put this desk at a right angle to my computer desk (which is to the left of what you see in the photo). That gave me easy access to the office supplies in the drawers. I also put a decorative file box on top for frequently-accessed files.

Spending so much more time at home during the last six months has attuned me to the ways in which my home’s setup could be improved. I started thinking that this desk took up a lot of floor space for something that was essentially a storage cabinet, as well as a paper magnet that frequently looked messy. So I decided to give myself the same type of advice that I give my clients: let the desk go.

First, I had to figure out what to do with the contents of the drawers. Fortunately, I have lots of storage space elsewhere. The end tables next to my sofa have drawers in them but were not being efficiently used. I cleaned out those drawers and either tossed the contents or found storage for them elsewhere. Then I moved some of my office supplies from the desk to those drawers. I measured the drawers and the contents, and then purchased some drawer organizer trays from The Container Store so that things wouldn’t shift around when I opened and closed the drawers.

I also redeployed some plastic drawers that were on the printer table next to my desk. I was using them to store different weights of paper. However, I rarely use anything but all-purpose printer paper anymore. So I transferred the other paper into a closet and put more office supplies in the drawers. I labeled the drawers so that I could easily find the new contents.

What about the decorative file box that sat on top of the desk? It was really a bit of an indulgence, because my file cabinet is about six steps away, right in my living room. I emptied the file box and distributed the contents into the appropriate drawers in my file cabinet. Then I offered the file box and its matching decorative folders on Buy Nothing, and they were gone by the end of the day.

The next step was to donate the desk. I took a few photos and submitted them to HousingWorks, one of the charities here in NYC that picks up furniture. They only accept furniture that is in really good condition, so while I was waiting for the pickup at the end of the week, I polished and touched up the wood, and vacuumed out the drawers. I was so happy when they took the desk away!

So now the desk was gone. But I still wasn’t satisfied. Now the little blue printer table looked shabby to me. It was originally the table for my hamster’s cage and all of his supplies. It was time to upgrade to a nice piece of furniture, one with doors so that I could hide away the plastic drawers and other supplies.

I looked on-line for quite a while before I found the perfect piece. It came from Macy’s and it took my daughter and me two hours to assemble. It matches my living room décor and is the right size for my printer. It has enough storage space inside to fit not just the plastic drawers, but also some other items that had been cluttering my computer desk.

As I enter my 15th year in business as a Professional Organizer, I feel like I finally have an attractive and efficient home office setup that is worthy of the rest of my living room.