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Tuesday, August 16, 2022
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Have you ever needed to go around the rules in order to accomplish something? I have, and here’s my story…

Recently a couple hired me to clear out the husband’s father’s assisted-living apartment. They had no interest in any of the contents except for a computer. My job was to find new homes for the furniture and technology, although the couple’s preference was to donate large items to the facility to benefit other residents. They also requested I organize all papers and personal belongings for the family to look through, donate clothing, and choose a junk hauling company.

I rolled up my sleeves and began creating a spreadsheet—a helpful tool. First, I carefully looked at the condition of all the furniture and defined which pieces could be donated. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “Is this furniture nice enough that I would happily give it to one of my children or to a friend?” For example, is it free of unsightly scratches? Does the chair or table have a broken leg? Does the upholstered piece have broken springs? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then it is not good enough to donate. People who cannot afford furniture do not want to be reminded they can’t afford furniture by filling their home with discards.

In the end, I created a spreadsheet with a few great pieces of furniture and two flat-screen TVs that many would be thrilled to own. With high hopes, I presented my list to the assistant manager of the residence, confident she would accept everything. She explained the decision was up to the new executive director.

Off I went, with a quick step, to the executive director’s office to convince him to accept a few useful items that my clients want to donate with the best intentions. In addition, keeping these items off the junk hauler’s truck would save money. When I didn’t find him in his office, Flora, a helpful nurse, suggested I look for him in the halls. “He’ll be the one wearing the suit.”

Off I went once again, my steps a little slower, to find the man wearing a suit and convince him that I represented two generous people and I had a great offer. I told him I am a professional organizer, explained my idea and excitedly held out the paper with the list of furniture. He waved his hand and said he didn’t need to read the items because the facility has a rule that furniture donations are not accepted. Although this rule had not been enforced previously, he indicated he would uphold it. Anything I wanted to say to change his mind was unnecessary.

Off I went, back to the apartment, feeling I was just knocked off my game. I needed to find people who wanted the items. A few postings on my community’s WhatsApp “mitzvah chat,” a couple of phone calls and text messages and bam! The computer desk went to a student starting college in September; the vintage kitchen table and brown wood headboard went to a member of the community who has a gift for refinishing and reviving furniture. The TVs were grabbed up as well. With all that success, there remained one valuable item I didn’t want dumped.

It was a particular chair, sometimes known as a medical “lift chair,” or a power lift recliner, with a seat that slowly lifts up and down by way of a remote control, designed for a person with mobility difficulties. Perfect for someone living in a senior residence! After posting it on my mitzvah chat, I heard crickets. Meanwhile I chose a junk hauler and locked in a date they would come to clean out all remaining stuff in the apartment. I selected a hauler that routinely sends two trucks to every job. One carries away junk and the other transports items for donation. I felt that the power chair got a second chance.

On junk collection day the rep phoned to say the donations truck was out of commission. They were sending one truck and everything on it would be driven to the junkyard. This was her way of telling me, “What is brought to the junkyard, stays in the junkyard.” The moving men were sympathetic about the chair and offered to move it to another apartment. That was an amazing offer! If I could find someone in the building who needed this chair, I would have a way to transport it.

It suddenly occurred to me to enlist help from the nurses. They were surprised to hear about a halt to furniture donations. Off the top of their heads, they each knew several patients who would benefit from having this chair. They urged me to go to the executive director’s office to ask if this one vital item could be accepted.

So off I went, slowly but determinedly, with the intention of explaining how this one chair can make a positive difference in a resident’s life. The executive director listened to me, then asked me to listen to him. He first said there was no room in the storage area for even one more chair, but he wavered by saying if I knew a patient who needed the chair and if I would transport it … Then he interrupted himself and told me that I don’t know anyone. I actually think he was speaking to himself and concluding that, being new, he did not yet know which residents needed lift chairs and had them, and which residents needed lift chairs but didn’t have them. He concluded that the chair had to be removed. Off I went from his office, feeling like my determination had been surgically removed.

Here is where we get to the part about going around the rules.

I stopped to thank the nurses for their help. Upon hearing that the executive director almost relented, Flora said, “We do happen to know a patient, and we do know where he is located. Let’s go.” So off we went, as if we were part of a top-secret mission. The chair was so heavy, it took both movers to carefully maneuver it on and off the elevator and along a windy corridor. Flora stopped and opened a door, and motioned the men to bring in the chair. When Flora emerged, she joyfully declared “Mr. K. is so happy!”

That is my story of going around the rules. Well, just one rule. In the end, the chair was safely delivered to another apartment; my clients’ hauling bill was a little bit less, and the landfill has one fewer thing sticking out of it. Best of all, Mr. K. is so happy!


Ellen Smith is Central Jersey’s Kosher Organizer and tzniut wardrobe stylist. For over 14 years, Ellen has helped people restore order and create calm in their homes and souls. Ellen believes “Clutter Clogs, but Harmony Heals”. See Ellen’s work on Instagram @ideclutterbyEllen. Contact Ellen for a complimentary phone consultation at [email protected]

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