Be happy. It’s Adar!! That was a caption on a bulletin board from my children’s preschool many years ago. Reading that each day I walked my children into the building made me smile. Now, in an effort to keep things light for Adar, I bring you feel-good organizing tales. In these sometimes chaotic times, it’s pleasant to sit back and read stories about taming personal chaos.
Last summer I did a one-day pantry makeover for a large family. The kitchen was a nice size with plenty of cabinet space and a floor-to-ceiling pantry inside the kitchen. Many items meant to be in the pantry were in other places because the pantry was overcrowded with food and non-food items alike. I was determined to corral all the food found in this kitchen into the pantry.
For long-term food storage, I planned to create a space in the basement. I began by analyzing the space from top to bottom. Then I removed everything from the pantry, wiped down each shelf, examined all food for expiration dates, and asked my client what she doesn’t use anymore, expired or not. After we defined what would go into this streamlined pantry, we arranged “like with like.” The food the children are allowed to take for themselves was relocated to a low level, while special treats were stored on the top shelf, out of reach and sight.
There were bags of beans and barley without a freshness date. Rather than throwing them out, she brought them to her backyard for the chickens. I said, “You have chickens?” She nodded and said, “before you go, I will pack some eggs for you to take home.” When we were done, and I was snapping photos of the completely reorganized pantry, my extremely happy client made me extremely happy by handing me a dozen eggs to take home. When I cooked the eggs, I made sure that none of the eggs were used merely as an ingredient. These eggs starred as the main course for breakfasts and lunches. There really is a difference in the taste.
Several years ago, on a Monday, I began working with a new client named Robyn. Robyn was tall with dark hair. We were going to be decluttering her whole house, so we planned to meet twice a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays. Two days later, I arrived at Robyn’s home bright and early for our second session and was greeted by a tall, blonde woman who smiled and said, “Hi. I’m Robyn. Come in.”
She proceeded to tell me how happy she was with the job I was doing so far in the living room. I was thinking, she is not the client I worked with two days before. People can get their hair dyed blonde, but this was not the same woman. Yet, if it was the same woman, why did she introduce herself as I walked in the door? As she spoke, she walked around picking up toys and books from the floor and placing them in their respective places. “Gee,” I thought, “this Robyn is totally comfortable in this house.”
Then the five-year-old daughter, whom I met on Monday, ran downstairs and gave blonde Robyn a big hug. “Are you ready for me to take you to school?” blonde Robyn asked the girl. Okay, now I was even more perplexed. The little girl hugged her like she might hug a mommy. Also, if blonde Robyn was going to drive the little girl to school, why did she ask me to come this early for our session? Was I in the “Twilight Zone?” At that moment dark-haired Robyn came downstairs and said, “Hi, Ellen. I see you met my housekeeper, Robyn. By the way, she is so happy that I hired a professional organizer to declutter. It makes her job easier.”
A few summers ago, a woman hired me to declutter her older teen-age daughter’s room and assist her in a room makeover with a beachy vibe. The bedroom was in a basement and needed to be both lightened up and redesigned for an older teen. The walls needed to be painted, the basement window needed a new curtain, some of the furniture needed to be repaired or replaced, the wall hangings needed to be swapped out, new bedding was a must and, perhaps the biggest job, one of two closet doors was missing and it was not a standard size. It would require a carpenter or a handyman. That would be an expensive job!
After we defined the scope of the work, the mom told me two important details: it was to be a surprise for when her daughter returned from her summer away in only two weeks, and all this had to be done on a shoestring budget. I told her I was not an interior designer, but I was a mom of three and had decorated childrens’ bedrooms several times.This was the kind of project I could sink my teeth into.
It helped that my client planned to paint the room. Paint is not expensive and we would save by not hiring a painter. In addition, I noted that the dresser was in good structural shape even though it was noticeably scratched. I suggested the dresser be painted instead of replaced. Again, just the cost of paint and time. We still needed to buy a night table, but if we shopped wisely, we could find a nice one at a good price.
We then discussed curtains for the window and how curtains should coordinate with the new bedding. An idea hit me. Instead of hiring a carpenter or handyman to fashion a closet door, I suggested the remaining door and hardware be removed and a curtain in the same material as the window curtains be used as the “door” instead. We could buy sheets and bring them to a seamstress who could sew them into curtains for less than the price of labor and materials to create and hang a new door.
Next, we made a shopping list and scheduled a trip to Home Goods. On our list was bedding, enough for the bed and the windows and closet, fun pillows—something every girl of any age wants—a night table, wall hangings, a mirror, and a couple of rugs to put on each side of the bed.
As we were figuring all this out, the mom came up with an idea to really bring the beach theme to life—a mural on one wall and a few stencils on other walls. I didn’t want to burst her bubble, but I had to point out that a mural artist is not inexpensive. Nevertheless, it was a captivating concept that I wanted to pursue.
The next day, I contacted a mural artist whose work I admired. She listened to me but said she was booked solid for the next three months. It was time to think out-of-the-box. I thought of an art teacher in the community. I called and asked if she had an interest in painting a mural and stencils in my client’s home. She said “yes” and asked me the name of my client. When I told her, the art teacher said, “OMG, she is a good friend of mine. I love her daughter! I will give her a really good price.” I truly believe there are no coincidences. The teacher said she would call my client and give her the good news.
The next week the mom and I, with a shopping list in hand, went to Home Goods. Always make a shopping list and put it on your phone. When you do, there is less chance you will deviate and therefore less chance you will make impulsive purchases. On this first and only trip to Home Goods, we found absolutely everything on the list. I am a fan of this store. In almost each category, Home Goods had a few choices of items with a beachy flair from which to select. We were flying on air. This bedroom was going to look amazing!
I had recommended a seamstress, and the next day my client brought her the bedding we bought to be made into the curtains. After the room was painted and the curtains were hung, I went to help set up the room. Our friend, the teacher, did an amazing job. Her detailing was so beautiful. She even painted the dresser, incorporating stencils with the beach theme there, too.
That was the last time I was physically in the room, but my client did such an amazing thing. She videoed the big reveal and sent it to me. It was like having my own HGTV remodeling show complete with the tears of happiness over the remodeled room. I was so grateful that I had been part of this project.
Friendly reminder: Please remember to check your local calendar for the date of the pre-Pesach shaimos collection in your neighborhood.
I wish you all a freilicha Purim!
Ellen Smith is Central Jersey’s kosher organizer and tzniut wardrobe stylist. For over 13 years, Smith has helped people restore order and create calm in their homes and souls. Ellen believes “clutter clogs, but harmony heals.” Contact Smith for a complimentary consultation at [email protected].