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Tuesday, October 20, 2020
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A couple of weeks ago, one of my clients hired me to clean out her mother’s large one-bedroom apartment. Currently the woman is living in an assisted living facility and will, unfortunately, not be able to return to her home. Due to COVID-19, it was decided I would work alone in the apartment. On this project, I frequently use WhatsApp to send photos of items with questions for the daughter. In addition, I send her photos of what I will be working on during a day’s session and once an area or a box has been cleared, I send her a photo. This comparison method works very well to get a sense of how my work is going.

I have been working through an extensive amount of ladies’ clothes, boxes of photos, correspondence, business receipts, medical papers etc. I am absolutely ecstatic that some charities, like Lupus and Purple Hearts, are again sending trucks out into our neighborhoods to pick up clean, wearable clothes. Like any good organizer, I am being meticulous on what to keep, shred, toss or donate. I keep my eye out for papers that may have important information for the family. I read the first sentence or two of private correspondence to get a sense if it is something the woman or her family would wish to save. It is part of my Organizers Association’s (NAPO) code of ethics that anything of a personal nature I may glean from working with a client remains private. This thoroughness has paid off because I have found cash in unexpected places like inside a birthday card and items such as jewelry and safe deposit keys loose in drawers.

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Recently someone offered my client unsolicited advice. The person remarked that “If it was me, I would get a dumpster and throw everything out.” I asked my client if she thought that was a wise suggestion. She gave me an emphatic “No!” At the end of that day I met my client in the large circular driveway of her mother’s apartment building to return the key as well as to give over any items of importance or interest from my day’s work. Indeed, I had found some items I couldn’t wait to show her. “If you had made the choice to throw everything out on this particular day, you would not see this gold chai charm stamped “14K” (14 karat gold) or this gold ring.” She appreciated the charm and the ring; however, she responded that she is not going through this process for the money or the jewelry. “How can I throw my mother’s belongings in the trash?” My business-like professional organizer heart melted. Her answer was so simply and beautifully stated. The woman who raised her so lovingly is alive and can make her own decisions. This is a difficult situation. As much as it sounds like a nice way to walk down memory lane, it is actually heart-wrenching. Out of a deep respect and love, my client has chosen to take a slow, laborious route. She is regularly showing her mother items and discussing with her where they should go. She is also sending the photos I have taken to her family members to inquire if they would like anything they see.

After that, I found I was looking for clues to get to know my client’s mother better. Over the next few days, I found my client’s grandfather’s naturalization papers, wedding portraits and black and white photos of family members, some lovingly framed, some loose. As I continued, I found a deed to a newly constructed mid-century home with drawings and lots of furniture store receipts. Mingled with the assorted papers were countless greeting cards. At first, I found gorgeous, oversized greeting cards in her dresser drawers—the very expensive ones you’d see at the top of the card display in the drugstore. How exciting it must have been to receive such beautiful cards!

This generous husband and father purchased several of these huge cards and his wife had lovingly kept them close to her in the bedroom. Each day I work in this apartment I find more and more birthday cards not just from children and grandchildren with personal notes, but also from friends and associates. This woman knew so many people and they all thought so highly of her.

I also found copious personal thank you notes to my client’s mother that included thank you’s for gifts, for hospitality, for attending a function or for special favors. From these clues I sense she is a generous giver, a warm hostess, a friendly person and, perhaps, a wardrobe stylist… ahead of her time.

I have seen the mother of my client in her bridal photo, as a young mom and in her later life. There are several photos from various decades where she is all dressed up with her husband at a simcha or a dinner. I can observe the mark of time as the photos go from mother and young daughters to grown daughters with families of various ages, and then the beautiful faces of great grandbabies, toddlers and young children. I see a woman who loves her husband, her family, her friends and her life.

As an outsider going through the items of a woman’s life, I can appreciate the emotions her family is going through. As my client expressed, it is not about how much money we find or the value of the jewelry we locate, it is about capturing the warm wishes and the expressions of love.


Ellen Smith is Central Jersey’s kosher organizer and tzniut wardrobe stylist. For over 13 years, Ellen has helped people restore order and create calm in their homes and souls. Ellen believes “Clutter clogs, but harmony heals.” Contact Ellen for a complimentary consultation at [email protected]

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