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Monday, May 25, 2020
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It’s a given that things don’t always go right for an organizer. Sometimes deadlines are missed, service men don’t show up or, God forbid, fragile items chip or break. That’s why professional organizers take out insurance policies. I always want to accentuate the positive, so this column is dedicated to the moments when things went right. I keep them in my memory like little treasures and call them up occasionally.

There was the time I was helping a young family clear the clutter in their kitchen to make it a more functional space. My client, Jill, a young mom, wanted to create more play space throughout the downstairs for her toddler. She also wanted to organize her kitchen. It was roomy and had a large picture window. The bulky 1940s red and silver table with red and white padded chairs dwarfed the room. There was no space for a child to play. Jill was serious about improving her kitchen. She confided in me that although she detested the kitchen set, it had been in her husband’s family for many years. She did not want to offend her in-laws by rejecting it. I don’t believe in getting between family members, so I re-directed her towards the two walls of cabinets that were filled to the brim. Jill suddenly blurted out, “I hate my kitchen. It’s too crowded and impossible to see what I have.” I assured her we’d work on the crowded part and she would see a difference as we worked together.

First, we tackled two extremely narrow kitchen cabinets, one above the countertop and one below, that could barely hold anything because of a horizontal shelf in the middle. The narrow cabinet above, although used for cereal boxes, was too short. Boxes leaned diagonally on both shelves and cans were stuffed in. The lower, narrow cabinet held some dishes and some pots. They were in a jumble. I explained we would have usable vertical space if we removed the horizontal shelves. Overflowing from the built-in drawer of the oven range were many jelly roll pans, cutting boards and various muffin tins. Jill and I transferred all the jelly roll pans and cutting boards to the narrow, lower cabinet. By holding them upright and sliding them in, we saw an amazing transformation. The items fit so well; it was as if it was custom-designed. The range drawer was now so easy to close. The narrow cabinet above the counter became a place to store tall vases. We continued going through the contents of each cabinet and Jill was able to part with what she wasn’t using. We got a great deal accomplished that day.

At our next session, Jill announced she was ready to give away the kitchen set. Often when a client gets deep into improving her home, it becomes easy to part with unwanted things and the client is able to deal with hesitancies, fears and excuses. At the beginning of our three-hour session, Jill posted the set. Her goal was to give the table and chairs to a family, not a vintage furniture dealer. Right before I left, a grateful family came with an old pick-up truck and hauled the set away. The space where the kitchen set had been was now open and airy, yet there was no question she needed some sort of a table in that spot. At that time high tables with stools were trending. I put that purchase on her to-do list. To address the request for more play space, we brought the play table and chair into the kitchen. Jill turned to me and said “Ellen, I don’t hate my kitchen anymore.”

Moral: Sometimes it’s only after you have built momentum that answers to big decisions become more obvious.

Another moment that went right was when I was working with a client who was part of the sandwich generation. We were clearing out her deceased parents’ posh, Manhattan apartment. On this particular day we were tackling the master bedroom. There were a few wide, quilted garment bags in her mother’s bedroom closet. (People used to put better clothes in garment bags within a closet for extra protection.) After clearing out one particular bag, I heard something slipping around from within. The client thought what I heard was a loose button rattling around. Nevertheless, I continued to search. I explained that organizers are always finding unexpected things and that, corny as it sounds, I have a responsibility to my clients to leave no stone unturned... what I heard and eventually found was a gold-colored chain. Still, she was sure it had no value. After all it was loose, and her mother usually packed her good jewelry very intentionally. I looked it over and believed it could be 12- or 14-karat gold and suggested a jeweler’s opinion. The upshot is that the jeweler told her it was a 14-karat gold chain. Not too shabby! This made my client quite happy.

Moral: When searching for something, be thorough and persistent.

Every year my town’s library has a major book sale. The public is asked to donate books beginning the Monday before the weekend of the sale through the Friday. I was emptying a house owned by two retired college professors who were avid book readers and collectors. It took several sessions to pack up all the books these scholars had amassed. We separated the boxes they were keeping from those to be donated and still there was a full car-load of boxes. I drove the boxes to the library on Monday, the very first day books were accepted. The volunteers were friendly and directed me to where I could set the books. I made so many trips between my car and the library, I found it comical. Yet throughout, the library volunteers were friendly and helpful. When I was nearly done a man parked behind me and watched me carry the books. Then he walked in the library and it became clear he worked there. I noticed he was scowling. Upon my very last trip into the building he asked “Do you have more books after this? Because I think—” I cut him off and said, “This is my very last box, sir. I have no more.” Phew! Two days later, the library sent out an email saying the collection was closed. They were out of room!

Moral: When you have something timely to do, get it done ASAP.

Maybe I can help you love your home again, find the unexpected or make donations at a time you are not available.


Ellen Smith is a professional organizer and wardrobe stylist and a member of NAPO, the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals. She has been in business about 10 years and is passionate about organizing and helping people restore order and calm in their homes and their souls. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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