March 4, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

What’s in Your Basement?

With all the discussions, blogs, articles and books about home organizing and decluttering, it’s clear that many of us have too much stuff in our homes. Being a professional organizer gives me a front row seat to what clients hold on to. For example, most homes have too much clothing, shoes, food, prescriptions–most of which are expired–plastic bags, photo albums covered in dust, books, dishes, office supplies, papers, papers and more papers. Did I mention papers? Did I mention plastic bags?) And decorative items that used to be referred to as Bric-A-Brac, but we now lovingly refer to them as “tchotchkes.”

When sorting through a client’s home it is also not unusual to find cash, bank books, statements for accounts long forgotten, important legal documents that were misplaced, and savings bonds. We serve a broad range of clientele in our business, but three categories of clients stand out the most.

First we have the client who is still living in their home and wants to declutter and organize in order to make their space more organized, safe and pleasing to the eye with a possible goal of a future move or a continued desire to age in place.

Next, we serve the absent client who is already living elsewhere, but never got around to decluttering their home so now it’s up to strangers to do so for them. We are hired through their family or Power of Attorney (POA). The sad part of dealing with this client is at this point they have limited say in how decisions are made about what to keep, toss, donate, sell, or recycle. If they have grown kids, the kids are fed up and want everything gone! If there is no family, then their POA is making the recommendations.

And last, there is the deceased client who lived in clutter for years, never dealt with their mess, and left it for someone else to handle after their death. A family member (if there is one) or the estate attorney will hire a professional organizer to sort through the contents of the home before the estate sale is held and the junk haulers remove the crumbs.

Recently we were hired by an attorney who is the POA for a local resident who had to move to assisted living as her dementia began to progress. Her two-family house was extremely cluttered. One day Don and I were working in the basement workbench area removing items from the wall over the workbench, using hammers to bang out nails and bring down shelving, without a care in the world about excess noise or vibrations.

Don opened the second drawer of the workbench to find an old dusty Fanny Farmer candy bag. He lifted the bag out of the drawer and began to unwrap it. Its weight proved to be worthy of something special and unique – perhaps a gold bar? Not even close! It was an artillery shell, about 12 inches long and 4 inches in diameter. There were no chocolates to be found in the Fanny Farmer bag, just a moment of clarity that we both needed to leave the premises immediately after Don carefully placed the shell on top of the workbench and I took a photo to send to our contact.

This was a first for us, where I truly felt we dodged the proverbial bullet. A call was made to the police who brought in the local County Bomb Squad. Fortunately, the shell was removed without a hitch and everything was back to business as usual. Sort, toss, recycle, keep or sell, repeat. In the back of my mind I was grateful for safely escaping a catastrophe that could have taken both of us down along with the neighbors.

I ask you, what’s in your basement? Or attic? Or any other room in your home? What items would you not want family or strangers to uncover? There is no time like the present to begin the process of eliminating clutter. And who knows what you will find. Perhaps a gold bar? And hopefully, not an artillery shell.

Happy Organizing and BE SAFE!


Eileen Bergman is a Professional Organizer and a proud member of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO). Eileen is listed in the resource directory for the Hoarding Disorder Resource and Training Group. Eileen may be reached at (973) 303-3236 or [email protected].

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