Adjusting My Attitude with a Tidy-Up

A coworker told me they would clean to relieve stress. I remember thinking that was such a bizarre outlet but if that worked for them, why not?

I now understand this as a stress reliever - when I cannot control what is happening around me, I can control the grime on the shower tile or backlog of laundry. This reminded me of my first foray into the world of organizing; I started with building a capsule wardrobe to make everyday decisions easier and feel like I had more control over the stuff around me.

When I’m grumpy and need to snap out of it, I try to find something small around the house to clean or spruce up. I can focus my energy around that one task plus I benefit with tidied-up corner in my home. Sounds cheesy but it’s true.

I was feeling particularly frustrated last weekend and realized how annoyed/irritated I was when I walked in the door and flung my tote backpack onto the entry way table. It was heavy and I didn’t know why … so this was the perfect opportunity to swap it out for a newly acquired cross-body bag.

 
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After dumping everything onto the table, I cleared out all the little bits of trash, snapped pictures of crumpled work receipts with my Wave app, then began placing everything into the new bag.

I felt an immediate improvement and writing this now, don’t really remember what I was so grumpy about. In the past, I would mope a bit, watch TV or mindlessly scroll through social media, finding myself getting more annoyed/bored/angry. I’m going to work on choosing tidying up - it’s better for my attitude and my home :)

Transformation Tuesday: Mins Game Round-Up

How did everyone fare last month playing the Mins Game? 

I started pretty strong, actually setting aside many things for the first week or so. I started with items that I needed to return to people ... the things that had somehow become a clutter "fixture" in the house because I was done reading it or just never used it (we all know how this goes!) so it was a good  time to get these things returned.

Then I went through the kitchen pantry, reviewing duplicates of pans, bakeware, cake decorating items that I just didn't need to keep extras of. After that, I did a sweep of bathroom/travel toiletries, tools/hardware, then the storage unit in the garage.

I wanted to see how long I could play for and it was incredible how all the tiny things added up that were in drawers, shelves, cupboards throughout my home. I made it to about day 26 or 27 before asking my partner to help contribute some items to the purge (mostly the random hardware that I had no idea what they were from/had never used).

 
 

My biggest takeaways were that I need to review paper more often (quarterly at the least) and make a point to not let project donations end up in my home. I work with amazing people who I'm helping through the declutter and reorganizing process. Often times they will offer items they want to donate to me or if I have friends that might need it. Maybe 20% of the time I think "hmm I know someone who might be able to use this" or "this is cute, how could I use it" ... but I rarely end up using them unless it's a consumable or sorts (like paper cupcake liners or a notepad).

By the end of the month, I did experience some purging fatigue - it was harder to look at things with a critical eye and not just start tossing things to meet the number to purge that day. After making it through the month, I'm looking forward to my next challenge - the digital declutter and then emergency action planning.

If you have questions/ideas/comments on either of these topics, let me know! I'd love to hear what tips you have for tackling either of these areas or find out what you'd like to work on - we're in this together, friends!

Year-End Pantry Challenge

After coming home from work last night, I desperately wanted Mr. Gyro's Greek salad to take home and enjoy while watching some TV. However, I suggested non-takeout items to my partner when talking about dinner. He's pretty open to whatever so I figured I might as well eat at home while clearing out the pantry.

One of my biggest issues with cooking dinner is that I'm usually hungry by the time I need to eat. Since I didn't eat my little fruit-and-cheese snack pack at work, we had that as our appetizer while I scoured the pantry and fridge.

I boiled up some red potatoes then roasted them in the oven with broccoli. While that was going, I cooked up some quinoa on the stove and found some basics for a salad (mixed greens, tomato, onion, croutons). I wanted something creamy/saucy and used up the last few slices of bread to spread with a garlic butter and top with white cheddar and parm. 

It was great! Dinner was ready in maybe 25 minutes and I felt good about saving a trip out (and very slowly working toward a zero waste kitchen). I thought about events we have going on this weekend before the new year and need to clear out some of the excess treats and beverages. 

 
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I found some chocolate coins, caramels, Rice Krispies cereal (I really wanted Rice Krispie treats on Christmas Eve and have about half a box left) and searched out a few recipes that don't require marshmallow/fluff. You'll have to follow along on my Instagram to see how these turned out and what other recipes come out of this pantry clear out! 

My hope is to minimize year-end spending, use what I have, and then I can do a quick wipe-down and organizing of my fridge/pantry in the next week.

Please share your favorite go-to "kitchen sink" and pantry clear-out recipes!

Give the Gift of Hygge

As you may have noticed, I want to talk about all things hygge this week! I think it's a great reminder at the holidays, when things get chaotic, to focus on cozy, comforting experiences. 

I spent many years trying to do all the things, go to all the parties, buy all the right gifts. It was stressful. The last several years I have really come to enjoy spending more time with friends and family, focusing on experiences and activities versus things. Especially now that I'm organizing homes full-time, I'm hesitant to bring too many new things into my own (which is why I love consumables as gifts - I can always put treats, wine, coffee to good use!). 

Last week, I got together with my sister and our mutual friend (and also my amazing designer - she's helped me do some awesome work on this website and created beautiful print marketing). We had a holiday cocktail at the Rob Roy downtown which is super decked out right now, including a twerking Santa (though he was out of order when we were there). 

We had a great time and exchanged small gifts - all fun, whimsical, usable items which makes my heart soar (I love using things up, it's such a satisfying feeling). Vicki gifted us both these awesome hygge-centric goody bags which included:

  • sparkly hand-made ornament by a local artist
  • festive holiday socks 
  • vintage spruce scented candle
  • delicious chocolate/peppermint treat
 
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All of these things are pretty to look at and functional, not to mention the candle and socks are top of the list for creating hygge.

What are some of your favorite gifts you've given or received that are ultimate "comfort" items? 

 

Meet the Minimalist: Heather Fisher

A couple months ago, I was chatting with my friend Heather over coffee. We were talking about how my business was going and she shared some very touching words with me about how much the work we had done together in her home had such an impact for her. With Heather, it never felt like work - we were problem-solving the space and customizing it for her, from how she moves through the space to how to best organize so she can enjoy her hobbies, work on projects, you name it.

I wanted to hear more from her because she has been on an incredible journey of downsizing her stuff over time. I think this relates to so many people out there and illustrates how this is an ongoing process, it’s not just “one and done” with a space.

______________________________________________________________________________

When did you begin simplifying?

I attempted right before grad school but things sort of spiraled out of control during that time. I had less and less time to take care of everything.

You came over to borrow something and I had mentioned the KonMari book. We started talking about how simplifying can look different for everyone. You were really enthusiastic about it and offered to help me.

I related organizing work to the body trust movement - what works for one person isn’t necessarily a fix for someone else. I think there’s been several areas of my life that I had these long-held beliefs that I should fit into a box that other people seem to fit into. Food, career, school - when I started looking at the body trust movement, I realized that it’s totally individual. What works for one body doesn’t work for another and this translates to so many other domains in life.

 

What was the first domain you explored in the body trust movement?

Emotional. There’s this sense of shame about certain things you are doing that don’t match what you see on TV and you don’t ask for help, you hide things from the people around you.

My anxiety and stress levels were increasing and it had control over me. I wasn’t having people over because I felt bad about my home. That was what really helped me allow you to help me - there was no judgment and you really wanted to help find the best vision for my home. It wasn’t something you just said to get buy-in. You were gracious when I wasn’t ready to get rid of things. It was really helpful, especially as a therapist, the respect you gave me of talking through something on whether to keep or toss something.


What were the key domains you were able to focus on through the simplifying process?

My kitchen! I love cooking and it is really a form of self-care for me, making good and healthy foods. Attacking the kitchen first was great. You helped me get to the places I couldn’t reach and pull everything out to review and assess.

This allowed me to start cooking again and it’s something I really enjoy and love doing.


Has paring down the physical stuff helped in other areas of your home?

Now when I come home from work, I don’t see 15 things that I have to take care of. It feels easier and the on-going projects I have are more manageable. Having assigned homes for things has made a huge difference.

 

Do you still struggle with household clutter?

There are still areas that I haven’t gotten to yet. I also struggle with empty, flat surfaces. When I get home and am in a hurry, it’s so ingrained in me to drop things on a surface before I run off. I have to intentionally go through each week and put things back. It’s definitely a form of self-care to make this time because I know that otherwise, it will stress me out when I have even less time to take care of it and it gets back into a vicious cycle that repeats itself.

 
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What have been some of the biggest changes as a result paring down and reviewing all your things?

Being able to get a dog! I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do that with the clutter I had before.

In grad school, I had ridiculously elevated stress and cortisol levels. My doctor suggested getting an animal to help with this. The last couple quarters of school were so crazy and this seemed like something I just couldn’t do … and I didn’t want to add on to my current stress load.

I started looking at foster sites, but I would look over my computer screen and notice all the clutter, even unsafe stuff that could fall on a dog. Once we started clearing things, I was able to take the next step of actually meeting dogs.

I met Jules who was an older dog at a shelter, rescued from a hoarder’s house, ironically. The shelter staff hadn’t seen him connect with an owner like this before. At the home inspection, I felt really comfortable because we had decluttered so much and I knew my home would pass.

My stress finally leveled out and having him as a companion was so wonderful. I had someone to come home to, to sit by my side when I studied.


What do you want others to know about the process/experience of simplifying?

In your work and in my work as a therapist, we are facilitating the change, and our mentality and techniques make all the difference.

With you coming into my home, which is very personal and vulnerable to someone, and feeling shameful about my space, you were not judgmental, you were gracious, you challenged things needed to be challenged and backed off when I wasn’t ready to go there.

You came to my house and offered the “how” - I didn’t have to think about that. We identified the kitchen as the most powerful place. Once we did one area, I saw that it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be, things moved faster than expected, and it was a lot easier to move on to another area.


What do you feel confident about doing on your own now?

I had done a lot of purging using the KonMari method but then needed help going through the things that I thought I wanted but didn’t really have a home for. Now there’s an assigned place for these things to go. Once I clear off a surface, I know where to put things and don’t have to reorganize a whole system of things.

I just remind myself when I put dishes in the sink and am getting ready to walk away that it only takes a minute to do - and I’ll be a lot happier about having done them.


What advice do you have for someone who wants to start minimizing/paring down?

You have to make space for things you want in your life - time to tidy up your room, make healthy food during the week, go for a walk and not feel guilty you aren’t doing something else. This is key for designing the life you want.

It all boils down to a worthiness issue. This is especially true of people working in service-based jobs. We are quick and eager to make and hold space for other people, but we are pretty reluctant and resistant to doing this for ourselves. It feels almost selfish to do so. This is the shift - I’m worthy to do this important work for myself.

______________________________________________________________________________

It truly was an honor to interview Heather and hear her perspective on how a kitchen clean-out could bring about so much positive change. I’ve seen Heather get excited about tidying (!) since we first began working together. She took all my tips to heart and was able to identify so much on her own as she began to clear other spaces over time.

If you want to get more insight into Heather’s work, check out this interview with her and follow along with her 365 grateful posts on Instagram. A few years ago, she realized  she had been waiting for big things happen while all these “small moments” were going unrecognized. Seeing another friend’s posts about the little things in the everyday, happening all around us was a good reminder to be intentional, taking time to photograph it and be grateful.

 

Transformation Tuesday #63: Entry Way Closet

As a Seattle-area professional organizer, I love getting to travel to client homes, meet new people, and learn about what their organizing challenges are. I recently got the opportunity to work with Julie - she has a gorgeous home with some space limitations.

She and her family are very creative and have found ways to modify and make things work, but she wanted some extra help to get the entry way space more functional. She had already done some purging around the house and this space was deemed "the black hole" - I think we all can relate! I have a desk as an entry way table with a mail sorter, sunglasses holder, and small cabinet underneath. I know all about how these spaces can attract clutter.

We used the living room as our staging/reviewing space to see what was in the closet. We had the typical coats, hats, and scarves along with a tool box, vacuum, gift wrap, and some other miscellaneous items. I think its this last group that we all really struggle with because it's a random thing that usually doesn't have a designated home so it winds up in whatever dumping zone (hall closet, garage, etc).

After sorting through, we were able to clear out some pretty big items like extra backpacks and even a vacuum! With some extra breathing room in this space, her family can grab what they need with ease.

 
 

Check out the floor space - now visible - in the "after" photo! 

Transformation Tuesday #62: Garage Revamp

Tired of garages yet? Nope, neither am I! I had the pleasure of working with the owner of the mom cave again, and this time her husband joined our efforts in revamping and reworking their garage. We did a walk-through together to review the goals and focus on how we could divide up tasks for the big sprucing day.

They are an outdoorsy family with well-organized gear for hiking, backpacking, and the like. They want to better utilize the garage shelving for backstock of household items like paper goods, party supplies, gift wrap, etc along with a rotation of items for their children that are more seasonal or that they will grow into. 

We started with the kids' stuff and did the usual sort/purge, boxing items back up into plastic tubs. We moved these to a corner of the garage so we could keep the space open for our next round of sorting with household items. These didn't take up hardly any space at all on the shelves which is great to have a little bit of open space to add to/shift items around. We continued this process with the outdoor gear and the mom's work supplies (extension of mom cave items that are seasonal Montessori supplies and outdoor toys/games). 

 
 

Items from each main category were put back onto the same shelving unit so it would be easy for anyone walking into the garage to identify what's what (and of course, LABELS!). We filled up my car with donations and created a much more family-friendly space, where they can grab what they need and know exactly where to put it back. 

It was a super fun morning working with this couple. They were very excited to reclaim this space, making packing up the summer items and preparing for fall a little bit easier!

Transformation Tuesday #61: A Basement Work-In-Progress

I posted the other week on my Instagram to show how small steps contribute to the bigger transformation. Most of the projects I work on are over the course of several sessions because there's a lot to sort, review, purge, and reorganize back into a space. 

I've been working with Ariane this summer on different spaces within her home, saving the basement for last. After a few household moves, she decided it was time to get this area in better shape. A lot of items were going to stay down here, but she needed to know what was where.

Organizing is definitely a collaborative process and depending on the project, there are times when I can work on my own. I spent the first two hours getting things grouped together by the categories that appeared - Outdoor Equipment, Kitchen, Games, Books, Pictures, Art, Art Supplies, and Toys. There was a lot of recycling like old, broken down boxes and even empty boxes. This made a huge difference in clearing these out.

 
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The next session, we reviewed the labeled piles to determine what was donate and trash. I was able to get all the "keep" items onto the shelves then start working away on the trickier items - pictures and papers. A lot of these were in half full boxes so I consolidated items and identified the new categories for these: Loose Pictures, Framed Pictures, Mail/Personal Documents, Paper Memorabilia (letters, cards, notes).

 
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With our final session, we went through the piles yet again to pare down further so she only had a pile of mail to sort through. Everything else was left boxed up and labeled. 

Basements (and garages) can be especially hard to work through because there's often times a mix of bulkier items (gardening tools, outdoor gear/toys/equipment, and cleaning supplies) mixed in with forgotten items like old boxes of paperwork. It can be harder to visualize what the space will look like when totally different items are like that are grouped together.

 
 

Once a space has been overhauled, it's best to revisit on a quarterly basis as the seasons change - swap out household decor, move things inside for the winter, etc. It makes it so much easier to find what you're looking for!

Transformation Tuesday #59: Kitchen Clean-Up

Whoops, summer happened and I haven't been keeping up with these transformations! Don't worry, I have plenty before-and-afters to inspire you this fall when the weather turns and you don't mind organizing as much because you aren't missing out on great weather :)

This week's transformation Tuesday is brought to you by a lovely new client who wanted some help finding homes for things in the main floor of her home - living room, dining room, and her recently renovated kitchen. I am in love with this kitchen! She knocked down a wall and was able to expand the storage so she had plenty of cupboards and drawers to store everything (and soft closing drawers to boot!).

Most of the people I work with need to edit their collections to make space or at the very least, make things fit in their current space. This client has the opposite problem - with newly available space in her kitchen, she hadn't decided where to store things so the long counter tops attracted most of the clutter.

She has all these deep drawers that can store most of her kitchen appliances so I started with clearing those away, except for the juicer and coffee maker that get used on the regular. Then I focused with getting all similar dishes, food storage, spices, etc grouped together in the space they get used the most. Spices and cooking oils stay near the stove, baking items are in a cupboard above the oven, consolidating all the food storage containers with foil, plastic wrap, lunch bags.

Spending a little extra time to decide where things go allows you to start putting things away. You can always adjust and fine-tune as needed! 

 
 

Transformation Tuesday #58: Another Detached Garage!

I wasn't kidding when I said it was garage season ... this was another fun organizing project working with my lovely friend Wendall. She uses this space for additional storage for her home and plans to create more of a work bench space where the main shelving lives. 

I snapped this picture before we started - from here, you can't see the work bench area she wanted to create. We came up with a plan of clearing out large items that needed to go. Extra tools, paint buckets, empty boxes - they all needed to go.

 
 

What a difference a few hours can make! We organized all the like items together (tools, paint supplies, gardening supplies, seasonal decor) and moved any items to sell/return to others toward the front of the garage. Now she has the space to set up her work bench on the shelving next to the door. 

I filled up my CR-V with donations and she rented a UHaul van to cart away trash and recycling. It can be so deceiving, but items can find their way into the nooks and crannies of a space. Until we start to clear it away, do we realize how much can hide away!

Have you started on your garage clean-out? I'd love to hear your tips and tricks in the comments below.

Transformation Tuesday #57: Garage Clear-Out

It's GARAGE SEASON, Y'ALL! I've been organizing several garages and basements this spring and summer and absolutely loving it. 

I got to spend a morning with a dear friend working on her detached garage. This is an area that's so easy to forget about because it feels very "out of sight, out of mind." My friend has been on a purging journey this year and it was time to finally tackle this space together.

 
 

We used the carport as the staging area for trash, recycling, and donation items. We worked through the garage clockwise, separating larger items to create more space before we began sorting through various tools, cleaners, and outdoor toys.

We were able to clear away two carloads worth of donations by the time we were done! There were several toys the kiddos had outgrown, furniture items like a rolling cart, lawn chairs, an old high chair, multiple BBQ grills - you name it, we found it! This was an opportunity to "shop" the garage for the "best of" items so that we could give away the duplicates.

 

A quick sweep and it felt like a new space. Sweeping is serious business. Now that several large items were removed, we could stack the bikes alongside one of the walls and create better accessibility with the industrial shelving. 

 
 

So satisfying to open up a pathway in this space! Spending some extra time to thoughtfully edit your garage or basement will free up your schedule in the future - no more hunting for tools or cleaning products. When you know where things belong, it's easier to put things away and stay on top of the maintenance of the room.

Transformation Tuesday #55: Spring + Summer Capsules

Wow, it's been awhile since my last Transformation Tuesday post ... two months to be exact! I guess I needed a break. I've had a busy year and am still figuring out keeping myself organized when it comes to scheduling my own self-care, personal organizing projects, creating a content calendar, etc etc. That list seems to never end!

I enjoy sharing the process every season when I update my capsule wardrobe. My little organizing mind loves to keep track of how much I have, identify patterns in usage and what my aesthetic is leaning toward that season, and "breaking the rules" a little bit. I talked about this a little bit in January's capsule-building post. I feel way more comfortable picking the items that work for me vs. sticking to exactly 33 items.

So here's how it went these last two seasons:

April 2017 / Spring Capsule

I somehow managed to not take many pictures! Eek. I did clear out my closet like usual and it was a good reminder to swiffer the floor in there. I also invited my friend Maria over the following day because I needed my own spruce assistant to talk me through a couple items. I was on the fence on a few tops and cotton dresses that I couldn't seem to let go of. I would end up wearing them once in awhile and didn't know exactly why I wasn't ready to donate them. 

Maria asked me about when I liked to wear them and we discovered that they ended up being "work" clothes for basement/grungy days. They were all cotton, stretchy, comfortable yet cute. I was ok with getting them dusty and they were comfortable for the demands of crouching, kneeling, and all the bustling around of working on a basement. She suggested I create a mini capsule of just my work clothes. This was genius! I hadn't thought of this before and now I have about seven items in my work capsule, that I only wear for basement/garage days.

 
 

July 2017 / Summer Capsule

I actually found some time on July 1st to spend some time going through my clothes and it felt so good! In less than 45 minutes, I pulled everything out of the closet, dumped it on my bed, and started my review. I feel like I really love where my wardrobe is at. I usually treat myself in July to a birthday Stitch Fix box but I think I'm gonna skip it this year, mostly because I don't want to make more decisions about what to swap in new items for! 

This time around, I made a list of where I started and found it was easy to go in this order:

  • Outerwear
  • Pants / shorts
  • Sweaters / cardigans
  • Long-sleeves / 3/4 sleeves
  • Tees
  • Dresses
  • Tanks
  • Shoes
 
 

I'm pretty pleased with the 42 items I picked out. I'm very excited to break out the flowy tank/sleeveless tops and lots of cotton dresses!

What are you excited to wear in this summer's capsule wardrobe? 

 

Meet the Minimalist: Judy Michael

I met Judy last year through our mutual friend and fellow simple-living advocate, Alexandra Perwin. We hit it off immediately - she understood what I was going through as a new entrepreneur trying to figure things out. She gave me lots of great advice and was embarking on her own adventure, having just left an operations role to take a break and explore a different way of working.

Over the last year, we would meet up, share ideas, see what’s working and what wasn’t with our businesses, and just catch up in general. In the last few months, she experienced some major changes which prompted this interview.

Read on to learn more about Judy’s experience with right-sizing her space and subscribing to a minimalist approach.

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What sparked your interest in simplifying?

It started last summer when I found myself at home after leaving a job and I needed productive things to do. That’s how I work things out emotionally - I like to do physical work and feel like I accomplished something. Many years ago after I got divorced, I was living with a friend. I was angry about some dealings with my ex, so I came home and cleaned my friend's house!

This time around, it was emotional purging as I was ending a big chapter in my life.  I cleaned out closets, steam cleaned the carpets, and cleaned out the garage. I even stained the fence in 95 degree weather! I like the physical work and having a result at the end. A cleaner physical space feels like a cleaner emotional space.

I saw the documentary Minimalism and there was something about their story that prompted me to do an even deeper emotional dive, therefore clearing out even more stuff than I had in the past. I even got up and cleaned out my kitchen drawers during the movie because I was excited about the concept.

A couple months later, I realized I needed to sell my house. What started out as a little bit of cleaning led to letting go of the house and ending that chapter of my life.

 

That’s a big change - had you thought about selling before?

I had tried to sell my house in 2011 and thought about moving to Edmonds. It wasn’t quite far enough past the recession to sell it because the market up here in the northern Seattle suburbs was still a bit soft.  In 2014, I was looking to sell it to move to the Midwest to be closer to my dad who is in his 90’s and had some health issues.  I figured it was a message from the universe because all the homes were selling in the area except mine. The third time - this spring -  really was a charm.

I was ready to be out of the house. I had minimized so much and was just ready to leave. Once I made the decision to move, it was a pretty fast turnaround.  I met with a realtor, listed it, had an offer in 48 hours.  The whole process was over within about six weeks.

 

Was preparing to sell the house the true start to minimizing and clutter-clearing?

Initial clutter-clearing began after leaving my last job.  My decluttering started as a way for me to detox from what I would call Incremental Stress. I had lost a few people, had my own health issues, and experienced the general ups and downs we have in life. Things pile up. You reach a breaking point and have to decide “am I going to carry this stress with me to the future?”

The house had a lot of symbolism; it was the “big girl” house that I bought on my own which was a great achievement. Then I filled up the space by buying things. I had three bedrooms, a huge kitchen, a walk-in closet, a garage. I just started filling up those spaces. It was time to let go of that chapter and scale down.

 

How do these changes inform your decision-making today?

It was little things I hadn’t anticipated because I hadn’t been living in a simplistic space.

For instance, my current fridge is half the size so I buy half as much food. I don’t do mindless shopping because I don’t have the space for excess things. I don’t have more than ten steps to walk to be in reach of everything I own. It saves time, effort, and having to think about it.

A friend and I were just talking about gifts. I don’t need another tchotchke, give me a gift card, or cook a meal for me. Simplicity results in fewer choices and a clearer head which is not a bad thing.

I am a bit of a numbers wonk and I think in terms of metrics. I timed it and it took less than 40 minutes to clean my apartment.  My house took over three hours to clean. I saved an hour a week in drive time because I live closer to people and stores I frequent.  Financially, I’ve reduced my cost of living by more than 30%!

 

Do you think if these events hadn’t happened, you would have discovered minimalism at some point on your own?

In 2001, I went from a 1,500 square foot home to living in a one bedroom in a friend’s basement after getting divorced and moving from California to Washington. I had to make a conscious decision on what I valued and what I didn’t. I left furniture behind. I had my clothes, dog, grandma’s china, some gifts from my parents. I’ve had several life events where I’ve had to leave stuff and a life chapter behind.

This is like the third round for me. It’s about getting back to what I value. I think I made more of a conscious decision this time around of what to keep and leave behind.

I knew I could scale down. Back in the fall of 2015, I had to go take care of my dad and slept on his couch in a one bedroom apartment in a retirement center. I lived off of four shirts, three pairs of pants, two pairs of shoes, and a borrowed jacket.  I didn’t feel deprived.  If I could live on less than 20 articles of clothing in ten weeks, I can definitely live on less longer-term.

 

 
 

Do you consider a minimalist?

I feel like a minimalist for me. I think it’s a self-defining term. I’m not the 29-year-old bro who can live with a backpack and no forks. I believe in consciously having the things that support you in your space.

If it’s taking too much of your time, money, or mental energy to support it, then it needs go.

 

What have been people’s reactions to these big changes?

The key reaction to selling my home has been the involuntary sucking in of their breath followed by “you’re selling your house?” with a panicked face.

They were either concerned for me or they may be concerned for themselves because we’re all in the same boat. I think some people were fearful of selling a house because if you own a house, you have a different level in society. “Homeowner” vs. “Renter” has a different connotation. At my age, there aren’t a whole lot of people who are on board with moving into an apartment because it can be perceived as a step down.

But it’s also a difficult decision to make here in Seattle,  It’s easy to sell a house, but buying a home can be a nightmare because of the expense and multiple bids that are required.  If you sell your house, you really have to be sure of where you are living next.  It’s a great investment, but a great expense at the same time.  It’s not an easy decision to make with many trade-offs.

 

Moving into less than half the space, were there any items that were still tricky to let go of?

I knew I was going to need a storage unit. A 10’ x 20’ was close to $200/month. Was the stuff going into that space worth $2,400/year?  No, it was not. I got a smaller unit, a 5’ x 10’ with the intent to sell some more things and eventually get rid of it all together.

I had all these kitchen appliances that I would use sporadically that could all be replaced by a really good knife or a blender! Scaling down the kitchen was tough because it was a creative space of rarely used items. They were too expensive to store so I got rid of them.

There is only one thing that I miss and it’s a workout shirt that I cannot find anywhere! I gave away close to 400 pieces of clothing and this is the one thing I wish I could find.

 

What is your advice to someone who wants to start minimizing?

Ponder the question as you look at things “what is of value to me?” Just ask yourself if you even like it anymore. If you are conflicted about it, that’s likely an indicator that you should let it go.

If you are still asking the questions but/if/when/can’t … you are likely not ready to let go of it.  If you’re going to have a sleepless night because you gave away your favorite books, then don’t bother.  But find your leverage point - is it emotional, financial, or logical?

For me, it was financial leverage point which was paying $2,400 to store stuff I wasn’t really using. There were also silly emotional reasons. Did I really need to keep all those pants I could no longer wear, but just hung there, mocking me, knowing I would never fit in them again? Did I really need to have two guest bedrooms just in case someone came to visit?  Not any more.  I will happily pay for someone to stay in a hotel - it’s much cheaper!

I generally have the rule that if I can’t lift it, I’m not taking it with me. There are only two things I would need help moving - the couch and bed frame. Financial costs and ease of use are the critical points for me. For others, it might be emotional.


 

What have been the other benefits of living simply?

I’m starting up my own business of writing, coaching, and training around retirement and cash flow, how to prepare now for the future. When I approached business in the past, I was looking for the latest tools, what’s the best coach, platform, what’s cutting edge. Now, the question is “how can I simply get this done with the best effort for the least cost.” I want to provide the best product with minimal effort and cost. I spent too much time and energy doing things in a complex way before. I discovered people would rather you be authentic in your approach versus having the most exciting tools.

I enjoy thinking more clearly and having fewer choices on a daily basis. I say “no” more frequently to perceived obligations.

 

Is there anything else you want people to know about you?

Yes!  I will be publishing two books this summer.  I first wrote a book about calculating how much you need for retirement, and presented facts and figures that would incent people to take action.  I also identified what I call the “10 Retiremyths” of what we are told about preparing for retirement, and what the reality is.

For instance, most financial advisors quote a rule that you need $1 million to retire at age 65.  Seriously?  If fewer than 10% of US households are millionaires, but everyone needs to be a millionaire to retire, then why is it a rule?  Is it even achievable?

I had all these nice facts and figures about retirement, and then I started to live many of the retirement issues that I was writing about. Caring for my dad when he was ill, saving for retirement, and even facing some age discrimination issues was an eye opener.

Now, I have a story to share on a personal and emotional level that goes beyond the facts and figures.  What’s it like to live your future in a retirement home?  What’s it like to downsize?  How do you look at your outdated beliefs and institute new ones?  I was able to face my challenges, simplify, and tell a story about it.  So now I have the “before” and “after” books to publish. I am using them both to put together programs to help people look at their future and what they spend, what they bring in, and the kind of mindset they need to balance it all.

My goal is to have people take responsibility for their future financial decisions through understanding their cash and living the life that they want to create.  “Managing your cash” is a bit overwhelming for people at times, but there’s such an emotional component of having the right mental framework to use your cash where you most value it.

I can still help people and it’s from a truly experiential place. All the retirement commercials aren’t really getting people to change, but when you connect with someone else’s experience of having scaled down, dealing with health issues, caring for aging parents, that’s what will help people to change.   Your story needs to help them live their story.  It’s much like what you do with your work, Rachel.  What you’ve experienced personally and with clients helps them get through their challenges more easily!

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I knew Judy had seriously right-sized her space and minimized her belongings over the last year, but I didn’t know how this has been a common theme throughout her life. There were so many great nuggets of wisdom in our conversation, namely:

“If it’s taking too much of your time, money, or mental energy to support it, then it needs go.”

If you want to learn more about Judy’s books and programs, you can visit her website here. (Note: she’s going through some website changes, which should be completed in June 2017!)

Happy Mother's Day!

I want to wish a very Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there, but especially to my own mother. I've mentioned before that she inspired me to turn this organizing thing into a job. She taught me how to live light in a smaller space, to respect the things I owned, and how to create a home for myself (pro tip: paint is easiest way to transform a room!).

She has always encouraged me, offered advice, listened to my ups and downs, and acted as my cheerleader. I am forever grateful for everything she has done for me, my siblings, and our family and friends. I feel a little guilty that growing up, we really struggled with her request of "peace and quite" as the gift she wanted for her birthday and Mother's Day. We would say "ok, so like, we're not really sure how to do that so what can we buy you?" 

Since I've spent the last year and a half simplifying and creating harmony in my own space, I'm starting to get the peace and quiet bit that she requested. I think she just wanted us kids not to be squabbling, but she also just wanted a calming space which translated to a tidy home.

When the outside world feels really stressful, I want to retreat into a comfortable place - a freshly made bed with a good book, or sinking into the sofa with a blanket and a cup of tea. So, thank you, Mom, for teaching me how to enjoy these simple pleasures. I not only get to enjoy this in my home, but I have the privilege of helping others find this kind of joy in their homes as well.

 
 

Meet the Minimalist: Sunny Gill

I worked with Sunny about a year and a half ago and would gush about the latest KonMari adventures in my home with him (and make the occasional request that he create some kind of tidying emoji for me). I didn’t realize how tidy and truly minimalist he really was until I visited his home in Beacon Hill. There was a lot of open space and everything had a purpose or meaning for him. I wanted to learn more about his minimalistic approach not just with his home, but work and life in general.

When he’s not at his day job as a systems support tech, he’s obsessing over his new Botanicum book, creating all kinds of ceramic pieces, and taking Spanish lessons with plans to travel to Cuba someday.

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Do you consider yourself a minimalist?

No, to be honest, it’s just a lifestyle I’ve lived since I was a kid. I’ve grown up all across Washington from Monroe, Kent, Tukwila, to Bellevue. My dad was a business owner and we moved around a lot. Every where I lived, it didn’t feel like I was there for very long.

Even now I can look around at a room and break down how I would move my stuff. Not having an extraordinary amount of stuff, it’s second nature to me.

 

Was that hard as a kid to move around like that?

This was normal for me. We had family photos up and that kind of thing in my house, but not the excess stuff you usually see in homes.

I like to have meaning behind my stuff. The tapestry I have hanging up is from a street market in Delhi. I was shopping with a friend, saw it, and had to have it. The framed art in my kitchen are illustrations by friends. If there’s no meaning in it, it eats up space.

Going to Ikea or Target and buying stuff for the sake of hanging it up, I don’t connect with that.

Literally everything around me has meaning … well, except for my plants … well, my nursery. I keep rescuing all these plants!

 

Have you ever had challenges with roommates when they don’t share the same minimalist mindset?

My current roommate is also pretty minimalist, but yes, it’s been a source of frustration in the past living with people who aren’t as organized as I would like to be. But some things you just have to let go of.



How has minimalism helped you in a positive manner?

It’s helped immensely at work. A coworker of mine left my company and they were hoarding all this stuff! I stripped it down and got rid of ⅞ of the stuff. It’s now streamlined and you can find what you need.

I’m always about keeping organized space. I don’t need extras of anything. It also looks really nice. It’s just a professional way to be.

I find that I have a less cluttered mindset when I have less stuff around me. It definitely transfers over to work for me. It kind of becomes part of you.

 

Has anyone ever given you grief for being so organized?

Sure, especially because it’s seen as a more feminine characteristic. But I benefit from being so organized. You can tell what someone’s mindset is by looking at their desk and their home.

 

What’s your philosophy on stuff?

I know that people hate getting rid of things because of the amount of money they spent on it. What’s the use of it, though, if it’s not getting used? It’s filling up space. You should connect to your stuff and find the meaning in it.

 

How does minimalism inform giving gifts to others?

Instead of giving teddy bears or chocolate or some garbage, I focus on things that are functional. Like a candle holder that can also be used as a cup. I have always given things that help people in some way that can be used like socks, a raincoat, something that can be useful.

Someone gifted me some Lego holiday pieces and I just recycled it. I didn’t know what to do with it!

 
 

What’s your most prized possession?

That mirror! It opens up the room, it extends light, and I just love having this gigantic mirror. It’s funny because it’s my second one, [my cat] Miso broke the first one. The second day we had it, it wasn’t bolted to the wall, she got curious and knocked it over. An $800 mirror turned into a $1,600 mirror (from West Elm). This one IS bolted to the wall.


 

What’s been the most ridiculous thing you’ve gotten as a gift?

Actually, the stuff from my mom! Which is funny because she doesn’t like having clutter around so she’s always trying to give me kitchen appliances, mugs, plates. I’m always refusing this stuff! It comes from a loving place because she knows I love cooking but I have what I need.

 

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned as a result of growing up minimalist?

It’s hard for me to answer this question, to be honest. I never get too comfortable with my surroundings. I think that helps. I like to move things around.

The art and tapestries have moved around. Having more space helps. One thing that causes clutter is that people get too comfortable in their space - not paying attention to what’s around them.

 

What do you want people to know about this lifestyle?

This is a reflection of my mind, really. I have an organized mind and don’t feel overwhelmed taking on chores, tasks, projects. Minimalism isn’t something you turn on and off, it becomes part of your disposition.

It’s a step-by-step situation, not something that happens overnight. Think of exercising a muscle in your body, over time it becomes stronger and more prominent. The more you practice it, the better you become at it.

 

Has this helped reduce stress around travel, moves, etc?

Definitely. Some people take multiple suitcases to India and I only take a small suitcase, not even full. Packing light makes travel easier, especially international travel.

Some people are buying these expensive things that are designer with labels. Most of what I wear don’t have labels (Nudi jeans, Everlane shirt, labeless hat).

 

What’s your best organizing hack or tip to share?

If I don’t use something for about a week, I’ll put it away or get rid of it. I bought this set of mugs thinking I would use them with guests over,  and they come over, I found that I was only using half of them.

I do a lot of bulk spices - I don’t want to use a whole thing of vanilla bean powder. I buy what I need and work it into my meal plans. I focus on what I’m going to make then go out and buy it. Maybe it takes a little more time to plan, but it saves time, money, and space.

You don’t have to Craig’s List it. You can recycle it! People always want to make an extra dollar but how much time do they spend trying to make a few bucks?

 

What’s your advice to someone who is ready to simplify?

You don’t have to go at it and be overwhelmed with everything around you. Take one drawer at a time or make one small change at a time.

With my lawn, I made one change at a time and now it looks gorgeous! It can be overwhelming trying to do it all at once. You don’t have to do a huge spring cleaning event to get there.

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If you want to see more of what Sunny’s up to, you can follow him on Instagram


 

Transformation Tuesday #52: A Year of Sprucing

I'm excited I have hit the one year mark of full-time organizing, decluttering, simplifying, and transformations! I honestly didn't know what would happen over that year. I continue to love this work more and more, if that's even possible. From blogging about organizing, to tracking business expenses, to the hands-on work with clients ... I am thrilled that I call this my job.

There are days when I question how I can sustain this. Where's my next project coming from? Am I setting the right expectations for my clients? Do I really know what I'm doing? While I will always have these nagging questions floating around my brain, seeing how I've impacted another person's life through simplifying their space is worth it and why I keep at it.

With that said, today isn't a fun before and after (don't worry, there are more to come!), but a round up of donations that have left the homes I've worked in this past year.

 
 

These pictures represent all the stuff donated to Goodwill, Interconnection, Seattle Recreative, and Second Use. What you don't see:

  • 46 trips to Goodwill
  • 2,687 miles traveled
  • 25 happy clients living lighter with less stuff

I'm excited to see what this next year holds for me and this little organizing business. Let me know what your favorite transformation has been or if there are certain spaces you'd like to see a before and after of!

 

 

 

Transformation Tuesday #51: the Mom Cave

In a recent organizing project, I had the pleasure of working with a fellow small business owner who wanted support in refreshing her home office, also known as "the mom cave."

She had great ideas about what she wanted for the space, and even had a framed peg board, ready to be adorned with all her arts and crafts supplies. The space had so many great organizing solutions - clear bins, industrial post shelving, small plastic drawer caddies ... but nothing was really working the way it should.

We spent two half-day sessions working on this space. We started here:

 
 

The biggest problem area were the large plastic tote bins. They were towering on the shelving unit, hanging off about six inches. These held all her work supplies and needed to remain on these shelves. We spent half of the session editing these down so we could consolidate as much as possible. We emptied a few bins/containers that she could repurpose elsewhere in the home and made a list of what we needed to finish up. We decided on the smaller Samla bins from Ikea and color-code the labels; this makes it easier to know what's what at a glance.

We decided that all craft supplies would live on the peg board and used the hooks she had in place, picking up a few buckets from Michaels to store all the paint brushes, pens, markers, pencils, etc. This is definitely my favorite part of this room and I would call this a Pinterest win!

We swapped out the DIY work station for a proper Ikea table (shout out to another client for selling it to us). Puzzle and paper storage moved away from behind the office door to under the table.

 
 

This was an incredible transformation and it was just a few adjustments and designating homes for items that made the difference. What's your favorite organizing tip for a work-from-home or office space?

Transformation Tuesday #49: that bathroom drawer again!

In my sprucing adventures last week with my mom, she found she had all kinds of extra little clear containers which I decided to repurpose for this week's project: that bathroom drawer.

I think this is my third iteration on this drawer but now I feel like it's just how it's supposed to be, know what I'm talking about?

My mom gave me a larger clear container that I turned sideways so I could shift things around. Also, since I recently cut my hair short again, I could move the hair ties and bobby pins toward the back (always good to have a few of these around). 

If you need a quick tidiness/happiness boost, here's how to conquer the toiletries drawer:

  1. Empty the entire drawer and wipe it down
  2. Have your cat join you for moral support (Archie just stared at me the whole time)
  3. Replace like items back into containers (hair, skincare, makeup, dental care, etc)
  4. Toss anything that's expired and donate unused shampoo, toothpaste, lotions, etc (or partially used, depending on the charity - the Ballard Food Bank accepts half used toiletries)
 
 

And voila! A quick tidy up can save you a little bit of time when you're getting ready to head out or when you're sleepily washing your face before  you crash for the night.

Transformation Tuesday #48: Where It All Began

I was racking my brain for ideas on transformations to post about when I stumbled across pictures of my own home improvement. I was kind of shocked to see the before picture because I really don't remember what my living room used to look like!

This was the moment that I realized "it all begin here" ... meaning, the decision to save up (in cash, no less!) for bamboo flooring in my little condo was the moment where I decided I wanted to really love my home. I knew I was going to stay here for a while and my partner had moved in a few months earlier. There was a need to make the space our own.

This project paved the way for all the organizing projects I've done since - you know things are going to get worse before they get better (having tools out everywhere during construction or pulling everything out and sorting when purging). That feeling when everything is back where it should be is priceless. Once we completed installing the new flooring, it was easier to maintain (we have cats) and we slowly started updating our furniture, piece by piece.

 
 

It was fun to look back and see how dramatic the change was from darker furniture, lots of dark chocolate browns and light cream accents to neutral blue-gray tones with pops of color. 

What's the biggest transformation that you've made in your home? Has it changed how you treat your stuff/maintain your space?

Transformation Tuesday #47: Memorabilia + Pictures

About two years ago, when I had the ultimate summer of funemployment, I decided to finally organize all my boxes of pictures.

First off, why do we shove pictures into weird, old boxes that collect dust? And pictures get all bent up? Why do we keep so many bad pictures (blurry, unflattering, etc)? I'm asking because I had still kept all of these myself!

During this round of organizing, I picked up two photo albums from the local craft store and got to work. I pared down maybe 30% of my photos and sorted them by "childhood" (through high school) and then "after" (college and beyond). After checking this off the list and texting my family some hilarious pictures from our childhood, I promptly packed up the books and put them in a corner of my closet. 

Fast forward to a month ago when a new client reached out, wanting assistance in finalizing her picture and memorabilia items. She had already done a fantastic job paring down several bankers boxes worth of stuff to about four boxes. We spent ten hours over a few days sorting through pictures, her editing out what she didn't want, then organizing them into handy photo containers. This made it easy for her to grab pictures from a particular trip or time in her life (childhood, high school, college, weddings, etc). 

This project inspired me to go back through my box - namely, the two bulky albums and pare them down to photo containers.

 
 

The two albums in the box and the one sitting next to it were all consolidated to three 5x7 photo containers! I tossed a few photos along the way - mostly duplicates. I came across a few things that I had forgotten about that I'm keeping at the top of the container so I can see it immediately and smile - my Cabbage Path adoption papers of Harriet Delilah (I didn't even remember that this was the doll's name) and a beautiful card from a family friend from when I was born. This friend gave these beautiful tiny cards that are colorful, with this gorgeous laser-cutting detail. I still have one from my first communion as well that she gave me because I love looking at them.

What has helped you in the organizing process when it comes to photos and childhood items? Anyone tackled yearbooks yet?