Would You Keep This If You Were Moving?

I think it’s pretty clear that we will keep accumulating stuff until we run out of room. Sometimes we continue even after we’ve run out of room. (That’s usually when people contact a Professional Organizer.)

If you’re someone, like me, who has an abundance of of storage space in your home, then it may take a while before you run out of space. So I’ve developed a question that helps me identify things I should let go of even if I have the space to keep them: “Would I keep this if I were moving?”

Relocating is a great opportunity to revisit everything you own and decide if it has a place in your future life. Unfortunately, many people panic prior to moving and don’t leave themselves enough time to do that. They think they will make those decisions when they are unpacking. But getting resettled into a new home is even more stressful than preparing to vacate your old home, so those decisions don’t get made.

I’m in a quasi-relocating situation right now. I’m about to do some upgrades to my home. This will require us to start living in our second bedroom while work is being done to our bedroom and en suite bath. We haven’t moved in yet, but I’ve been making preparations. I’ve already moved a couple of bookcases from our bedroom to the second bedroom since they will just be in the way of the renovation. This required us to take everything off those shelves, which meant giving them a thorough review. A lot of books got donated — and a lot of magazines and sheet music got recycled — as a result of that exercise.

I will also have to temporarily move out of my bathroom and start sharing my husband’s bathroom. So I’m giving everything in my bathroom the once over. All of the items that I have been keeping “just in case” are getting tossed. I plan to move my daily toiletries and makeup into his bathroom, as well as useful sundries like Band Aids and cold medicine. Everything else will go into boxes. My goal is to minimize what gets stored in a box — just the backup items like extra tubes of toothpaste, since I know I will use those in time.

I will be doing some kitchen upgrades as well and I will have to shift things around in my cabinets to make that work. I plan to revisit everything in my kitchen and ask myself what I am likely to use in the future. I streamlined my cabinets quite a bit already, as I’ve written about in Tricking Out My Kitchen and Changing It Up. But there is always more to get rid of!

Don’t wait until you are relocating to give your stuff the once over. Living with less is much more relaxing than living with too much.

Cards That Matter

I am continually helping clients grapple with the greeting cards they have received and collected. While I have alluded to the issue in my posts over the years, my last post dedicated specifically to greeting cards was in 2012. I have just reread it, and I still agree with my advice. Give it a read here: Our Love-Hate Relationship with Greeting Cards.

In that post, I mentioned that my mother had passed away earlier that year and that I had saved all the sympathy cards people sent me. I wrote, “I treasured each personal message. Missives that reach us when we are at our most vulnerable take on a special significance. At some point in the future, I may decide to throw them away. How you react in a similar situation will depend on you.”

Eleven years later, I still have those cards. I also still have the cards that I received after my father’s passing three years later. Earlier this year, when my little dog Alfie passed away, I received quite a few sympathy cards. I was very touched that so many people reached out to acknowledge my loss. Of course I have saved those as well.

As I usually do when I get greeting cards (for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries), I displayed the cards on top of my piano. While I did quite a bit of clearing things out after Alfie’s passing in February (see Changing It Up), the cards stayed up for a while. When I finally cleared them off and got ready to put them in my memorabilia box, I was thinking about how to keep them all together. Should I use a ribbon? A rubber band? An envelope? Then my eye fell on Alfie’s bow tie.

Each time we took Alfie to the groomer, he would be sent home wearing something decorative, such as a bandana or bow tie. Often it was themed to the time of year, such as a red, white, and blue bandana in July or a Christmas-patterned bandana in December. I got into the habit of displaying the accessory around the piano lamp for a few weeks and then donating it. Alfie’s last grooming was two weeks before he died, and he came home wearing a red sparkling bow tie, presumably in honor of Valentine’s Day which was a few days later.

I decided that Alfie’s last bow tie was the perfect way to hold together the sympathy cards I had received to commemorate his passing. It was adjustable, so I was able to make it fit perfectly.

In that 2012 post about greeting cards, I concluded by saying, “It’s all about keeping what is important to you, and recycling or tossing the rest. Don’t keep anything out of guilt. Keep it because it’s something you can’t bear to part with.”

Organizing Memorabilia

For several months, I have been working with a client who had moved into a new apartment and wanted to ensure that it was set up in an organized and maintainable fashion. As we unpacked boxes and put things away, we set aside two categories of items that I knew would be time-consuming to tackle: photos and memorabilia.

When we were done with every room and every storage area in the apartment, it was time to tackle the photos and memorabilia. I suggested we start with the memorabilia.

My client describes herself as a sentimentalist. She was also quick to point out that we would be organizing memorabilia from three homes: her adult apartment, her childhood home, and her mother’s apartment. Her mother passed away recently and that memorabilia had ended up mixed in with my client’s stuff. So what to do with a lifetime’s worth of memorabilia and then some?

The answer is: divide and conquer. The sheer volume of memorabilia was overwhelming, but breaking it down into smaller groups would be the key to making it manageable.

We started by going through each piece of paper and deciding what broad category it belonged to. Was it related to my client’s parents, to her childhood, to her work life, to her adult years? Was it a card she had received at some point ?

We spent several sessions going through the unsorted papers, always with a garbage bag nearby. For every piece of paper that she saved, another one went in the trash. As we performed this exercise, I recalled the words of Australian organizer Peter Walsh, who said, “If everything is important, then nothing is important.”

Once we had touched every single piece of paper and sorted it into a category, we focused on each category and reviewed every paper again. I sorted things into subcategories to ensure that there were no duplicates. We eventually ended up with a core set of papers that my client considered special.

Now it was time to figure out how to contain everything. I measured the size and shape of each pile and later e-mailed my client with some suggested purchases. She ended up buying four boxes of different sizes and colors made by Bigso, ordered via Amazon.

The picture below shows what the end result was. We settled on these four names for her categories: My Cards, Professional, Mom & Dad, and Memorabilia. (The last category encompasses everything that didn’t fit into one of those other categories). I used my labeler to label the boxes, and then we found a shelf in her closet where they all fit and which is easy for her to access without a stepladder. That means she can continue to add things to the boxes as her life goes on.

She was thrilled with how things turned out, and I was thrilled for her. Now we are turning our attention to the photographs, which is even more challenging than the memorabilia. But we are forging on, with the vision of orderly, labeled photo boxes dancing in our future.

The Perpetual Pile of Papers

Yesterday was my birthday, and I had a lot of things planned. But as my grandmother used to say, man plans and god laughs.

I have been recovering from a virus and still wasn’t feeling 100%, so I decided to modify my plans and have a more low-key day. Instead of going to a museum, we took a walk through nearby Central Park. It was a lovely change of pace and really put a special stamp on the day.

Since I would be spending more of the day at home than I had expected, I was looking for a project that would be satisfying but wouldn’t feel like just another day of paper-pushing and processing e-mail. I found that project in my dreaded P3: the Perpetual Pile of Papers.

Do you have a Perpetual Pile of Papers? I bet you do. You may even have more than one.

I find that I can’t get any work done if there are papers on my desk. When papers gather, I deal with them so that I can get on with my work. But there are always those papers that I just don’t want to deal with right now. To get them out of my line of sight, I put them on top of my printer. This is convenient except when we want to scan something and we have to lift up the lid of the printer. It’s also just a little unsightly.

I go through the Perpetual Pile of Papers occasionally and pull out those that are ready to be filed away or discarded. But there is always that core that I just never deal with. As my colleague Barbara Hemphill said, “Clutter is postponed decisions.”

So in honor of my birthday, I decided that I was going to tackle the P3. A lot of the papers in the pile were notes and handouts from the past 3 organizing conferences I attended. (Ironic, isn’t it?) Making decisions about those papers required me to go to the file cabinet and pull out all of my conference notes and review them. Some of them got discarded and some stayed. I ultimately got everything labeled and put away, and then turned my attention to the rest of the pile until I could claim victory.

The only items left in the pile now are those that I will need over the next couple of weeks. It was a very nice birthday present to myself. As always, I vow to keep it clear from now on, but I know that’s not realistic. I can just remind myself that decisions don’t get any easier if you put them off. In many ways, they get harder, because it takes longer to remind yourself what those papers are and why you kept them.

Enjoying a birthday walk in Central Park

Do You Still Use Takeout Menus?

In New York City, we eat a lot of takeout food. Before the pandemic, not all restaurants delivered directly to our homes. In recent years, however, you can have food delivered from nearly everywhere.
It used to be important to keep takeout menus on hand so that you could call and place your order. Now, most orders are placed on-line, through third-party apps like Seamless or through the restaurant’s own website.
That’s why I’m surprised when I’m helping a client clean out the kitchen drawers and find takeout menus. I always ask the client, “Do you still use these?”
The client will usually go through the menus one by one, and finally say, “No, I don’t” before placing them in the paper recycling bin.
Do you have a drawer full of takeout menus? Now is probably the time to let them go. I’m sure you can use that drawer for more important things that you actually use.