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Diary of a Professional Organizer - A Behind the Scenes Look at My Journey to Downsize, Move and Organize a New Home - February 2017

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A Behind the Scenes Look at My Journey to Downsize, Move and Organize a New Home.


In January’s newsletter, I set the “theme” for this year’s monthly newsletter publication. If you are a new subscriber, welcome! If you missed last month’s newsletter, you can read it HERE.

Our theme this year is a look behind the scenes of a professional organizer’s journey to downsize, move and organize a new home.

In my experience downsizing and moving clients for over 17 years, I am well aware of the sheer amount of time it takes to deal with your stuff; especially if you are downsizing to a smaller home. Knowing this, it is where I continued to make forward progress in the past month.

It all began with packing up Christmas....

Christmas is my favorite time of year and I love to decorate for the season. It is however very time consuming to pack everything away – especially given the quantity of décor and the fact that I put up 8 trees this year! OK, 6 of them were very small.

At the end of the season – in January – when the décor came down, I decided it needed to be packed properly and ready to move; so all I had to do was pull it out of the attic for the movers. I did not want to spend time re-packing when I could do this now and get it done.

One of the things I decided to do this year was to standardize the bin sizes and colors. Over the years, I’ve used three different types of bins and while they all stacked nice and neat in the attic, some of them were quite large and heavy. I’ve always said that the more consistent storage / bins you use, the easier they are to stack and the more visually appealing they will look. If the look doesn’t bother you, great! For me, it does. Given we will rent a home for a year or two before we decide to buy another, I have no idea the type of storage we will have. I may no longer be able to hide it all in an attic, so if I must store it in the garage on shelving, I want it to look pretty. My needs may not necessarily reflect your needs.

As you can see from the picture of the bins before I put them in the attic, I standardized on three sizes and I can easily tell from the red lids that they Christmas Binsare all Christmas bins. I purchased these bins 50-70% off after Christmas. In the past, I never packed my wreaths in a box/bin. Knowing that they needed to be packed in a box for moving, I purchased 2 “wreath bins” at 70% off. Once I had the bins at home, I realized what a great size the wreath bins are for packing other décor as well. I purchased several more to pack a good majority of the décor in. Mission accomplished. They all match and they are much easier to lift and carry.

I should also mention another very important step I took this year that may be of value to you whether you are moving or not. I usually pack certain décor together to make it easier to decorate, but this year I was even more deliberate in the packing process. Not knowing the space I will have next year, and if I will put up all of the trees, I packed certain décor together that I knew I would want access to. This way, if I only want to use certain décor, I only need to access specific boxes.

Another thing I did this year was to purchase two “ornament” bins – you know, the ones with the compartments inside to keep your ornaments safe. In the past, I figured my system was “good enough” with ornaments packed in random boxes or the boxes they came in and then packed in large tubs. If only I had made this change years ago and eliminated all of those small boxes! What a time saver it will be to decorate our large tree next time and to pack it back away. I highly recommend doing this if you can. As I mentioned, I put up eight trees. Five of the eight remain decorated from year to year; however each tree has its own ornaments storage boxes for the specific tree as they have themes. This way, if I don’t want to put up a large 9’ tree this coming year (or don’t have the room for one), I know exactly which ornament boxes I don’t need to access.

With everything packed up, it was time to load it all back into the attic.

Besides storing holiday décor (Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas) in the attic, there were a few other boxes of things that had been stored for the past 10+ years since we moved in. How did this happen? As the saying goes...”out of sight, out of mind.” I decided there was no time like the present to deal with this stuff.

This “stuff” happened to be a lot of “memorabilia” from my childhood. What happens when you open boxes of stuff that are considered “memorabilia?” Lots! First of all, it can be very time consuming to go through these items and make decisions. It can also mean trips down memory lane, of which some will be good memories and others may be happy, yet sad memories. I experienced both.

I started with the small bin of clothing I wore when I was 1-3 years old. Either my mom or grandma had made each of the dresses and coat I removed from the box.

As I sat there and held each item, I cried.

So many memories came flooding upon me. My first thoughts were of myTurquoise Velvet Dress mom and grandma that had both passed away. My mom when I was just 16 and my grandma who passed away 10 years ago this month. While I don’t remember wearing these clothes, I do remember seeing pictures of me in them – they were special pictures my parents had and having recently scanned them I had even more vivid memories.

I then thought about the fact that I held onto to them for all of these years, thinking that someday I would have a child; I never did as I got married inPlaid Coat and Hat my mid 40’s the 2nd time. I then wondered why I had never taken these clothes out of the attic and offered them to two of my brothers; each who have 2 daughters? Maybe because I still thought I would use them “someday.” Well, as I’ve always said, “someday” is not a day on the calendar and that someday never came. Now what would I do with them? Thankfully, my youngest brother Nik and his wife Lilian had a baby girl 6 months ago! I was in luck! One final opportunity to see if I could pass these treasured clothes on to one of my nieces.

Wanting to practice what I preach, I didn’t want to force these items on2nd Birthday to Nik and Lil for Isabela. I wanted to ensure they would like them and would dress Bela in them. I snapped pictures of each outfit and then found the corresponding digital photo of me as a child and sent them an email asking if they would like these items.

I told them that my feelings would not be hurt if they didn’t want them and I was going to be OK with their decision. I believe it’s important to always ask Julie and Laurasomeone if they want something of yours; not just assume or force it on them, because then it becomes their clutter. Nik responded that they would love to have them. It put a big smile on my facing knowing that someday soon I will get to see pictures of Bela in these cute little dresses and coat.

The next box I opened contained about 20+ books from when I was a child along with my piggy bank, two of my favorite dolls and one other doll. I was able to easily let go of one doll and the piggy bank; but wanted the dolls and books to have a good home. After all, they are quite possibly antiques by now!

I made a list of the books in my OneNote and then emailed the list to Sara, my sister-in-law, to see if Avery and Natalie would like any of the books; as they are now at the reading age. Sara selected a few; yet I still have about 20 that need a good home. One of my massage therapists has a young daughter the same age as one of my nieces. I asked her if she’d be interested in any of the books, knowing that they’d go to a good home. I was easily able to e-mail her the rest of the titles she could select from. As for the dolls, well, they may just need to be donated. Because these dolls are so special to me, I plan to donate them to a local organization that takes toys for foster children, as often times they leave home without their special toys. It brings me more joy knowing that these dolls will hopefully put a smile on the face of a little girl vs. dropping them off at the nearest donation center.

It took me several hours just to deal with the contents of those two boxes! Talk about time-consuming, but worth every minute as I got to relive some wonderful childhood memories.

Had I waited until closer to the date of our move, I likely would not have had the time to find the best homes for these items and that would’ve upset me and then I would have done what so many of our clients have done – move the boxes to the next home, where the contents would likely remain untouched. I wasn’t going to allow this to happen.

Why do I share this long, personal story with you? Because I want you to know that I really do understand just how difficult and time-consuming it is to deal with your stuff. After all, I may be an Organizing Consultant, but I am human too; with feelings just like you. I understand that you can’t always make fast decisions and that sometimes you need a tissue or two when you are making decisions about your memorabilia, which comes in many formats, shapes and sizes.

One thing I’ve always said is this...the meaning is in the memory, not the memorabilia.

Our Journey

Here's an update on progress as we prepare to list our home.

• Rob and I reached an agreement that we don’t want to list our home before the end of June. This accomplishes two goals for us:

1. It allows us plenty of time to do what needs to be done, at a non-stressful pace.
2. It hopefully allows us to spend a good part of the summer in our back-yard that we so enjoy.

• After reaching a potential listing date that works for us, I contacted two real estate agents we’ve worked with in the past to schedule meetings for the beginning of March. These meetings will provide the following:
1. An opportunity for the agent to let us know their approach for selling our home so we can make an informed decision about the agent we want to list our home.
2. An opportunity for the agent to tell us what they would like to see us do to our house and compare it to the list of projects we’ve already come up with that we want to do before listing. We want to ensure we are not spending time and money doing something that they don’t think is necessary and conversely, we want to make the changes they recommend that we may have overlooked. This should still give us three months to accomplish these projects if we list in June as planned.

• I have continued to sell items we no longer need using Craig’s List, Christmas TreeNextdoor and OfferUp. I won’t deny, it’s been a           S L O W process. As I’ve always said, your stuff is only worth what the next person wants to pay for it, if they want it at all! It’s February and I’ve still not been able to sell our pre-lit 9’ Christmas tree I am not moving. And, I only have it listed for $25. Anyone interested? At this point, we’d be happy to give it away to someone that wants to come pick it up.

• One weekend when we put up the last of the “outside” Christmas décor into the garage attic, we pulled down some items we saved and decided it was time they make their way to the “dump” pile. They weren’t even worth donating and here we held on to them – again thinking we’d use them “someday” and never did. Time to say bye-bye.

• Remember those previous bins I had Christmas décor packed in? I stashed those on a top shelf in the garage for use in packing up chemicals in the garage. Bins are easy to pack in and since many of these items in our garage we won’t be able to put on a moving truck, they can go in a leak-proof bin to be moved to our next location.

• Rob and I had the conversation about the volume of “stuff” in our garage and what we’d do with all of it. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that so much of what my husband has held on to for home repairs will eventually find its way out of our garage! I was also happy to hear that Rob wants to sell/donate most of his old tools as we won’t been needing them in the near future. When the time comes, he will buy new. I am also to blame for the stuff in the garage as I keep a large quantity of bins and moving supplies in our garage so we don’t always have to run to the store for a project. Over the next few months, I will deplete this supply and not replenish it so we don’t have to move it!

• One Sunday afternoon, I pulled a large volume of paperwork out of a drawer, likely about a foot tall. This paperwork was from a taxi accident I was in back in 2010 and my attorney had given to me to “hold on to.” I love how he didn’t want it in “his” office! I finally decided it was time to go through this paperwork because the lawsuit was final. Why had I held on to it? Likely because I had the space; but the reality is, I didn’t need it. Ultimately what I kept was the final “demand letter” which I scanned and then shred. It’s quite possible that I also did not want to re-live this accident in my mind by looking at all of this paperwork. The accident forced me to make a lot of changes in my life I hadn’t planned – like pushing out our wedding a year and I was still mad about this. Isn’t it funny how a stack of papers can bring up so many emotions – even when you are organized? I think that is also a reason I avoided it for such a long time. I think about all the time I spent going to see doctors and physical therapists and what I could’ve done with this time. And, I think about how I couldn’t work with clients in a way I was used to because of my injuries and so our employees had to go and do the physical work, while I planned out what needed to happen. They needed to be my “hands” for me for some time and I hated the feeling of not being able to do what I was used to doing. That stack of papers had a lot of memories, most of which just made me mad, but grateful I wasn’t hurt worse than I was.

• Not wanting to move the 20 year old IKEA desk our office assistant uses, I downsized the desk to a new, but smaller desk (which is really a table with 4 legs) from The Container Store, which I can eventually place in an office space or one of our home offices. The new table does not have drawers, so I had to get creative with what really needs to live “on” the desk and in the new filing cabinet purchased to go with the table.
There is 1 filing drawer and 2 small drawers to contain typical supplies you’d find in a desk drawer. It makes you really think about just what you need at your fingertips to do your work. While it may not make a lot of sense to purchase new furniture prior to a move and then have to move it, we will likely need this as a work surface for Rob as all of his office furniture will be sold or donated prior to listing. We can easily move it to his office and it looks modern for staging and photographs.

• In February, I hosted a workshop in our home for a group of women who toured just about every room in the house and got a behind the scenes look at how we live in our home and organize certain areas. There was little prep work done in advance of this workshop – but let me tell you, having a houseful of guests (especially ones that get to look in all of your closets, cabinets and drawers) is a fabulous way to motivate you to complete a project you are working on. I’ve always said that one of the best ways to inspire you to get something done by a deadline is to throw a party which will force you to meet your goals! Give it a try – I guarantee it works!

Be sure to LIKE our Eliminate Chaos Facebook page where I will post pictures, ideas and inspiration throughout the year.

I hope you will enjoy this journey with me this year – certainly a year that will be comprised of change. I know you will find your home more enjoyable, less stressful and peaceful when you start working on some of your own projects.

Here’s to our organizing successes in 2017!


If you have not read my tips from the January newsletter, I recommend you read them HERE

  • Shop for seasonal bins after the season for best prices if you want to re-bin or organize décor. Determine your budget for these bins.

  • Pack up holiday décor as you would use it to decorate a specific room or area of your home.

  • Invest in “holiday ornament” boxes for quick and protected storage.

  • Call your real estate agent as far in advance of listing your home as possible. He or she will be able to give you an idea of things you will need to do in advance to your home to have it ready to list in the timeframe you desire. For example, they can give you a list of repairs you need to make and a list of vendors to help with the list. They will also give you a good idea of areas that need to be decluttered in advance of your home being photographed to sell.

  • In addition to the “Taxes 2016” folder you will create below (in the projects section), create one called “Taxes 2017.” Place documents in this folder that you need to file your taxes, for example your “donation” receipts throughout the year for donations of stuff, or donations to causes.

  • Buy a shredder if you don’t own one. Every home should have a shredder, even if it’s just a desktop shredder. If you have a large volume of shredding at one time, you may want to take to a shredding service. See Resources below.

Projects to Accomplish IN Your Home – If You are Not Moving

Each month I will give you 3 simple projects that should not take more than an hour each. Here’s your projects for February. Yes, I realize it is now March – so there will be a few extra projects this month – more to come in the March newsletter!

• Taxes are due soon (at least in the United States)! Create a folder and label it “2016 Taxes” Use this folder to place all documents you need to do your taxes, such as 1099’s, W2’s, donation information, medical deductions, and more. Locate these papers and put them in one place to make it easier when you do your taxes.

• Taking your taxes one step further, purchase a portable filing tote box if you don’t already have one on hand. Put at least 7 hanging file folders in Tax Portable File Totethe tote box and label each hanging file: Tax Year 1, Tax Year 2..... up to Tax Year 7. Gather your tax returns from 2015 back to 2009 and put each return in the tote box, starting with year 2009 in the Tax Year 7 hanging file. After you complete your 2016 taxes, shred the 2009 filing and move year back one hanging file so that tax year 2016 is in the hanging file called Tax Year 1. Now you have a tax box that you can store out of the way and you’ll always know where all of your tax documents are, should you need to put your hands on them during the year – yet they won’t take up immediate space in your filing system.

• In your kitchen, locate all of your “small appliances” and “cooking utensils.” Go ahead a remove them from their current location(s). Review your small appliances. Do you use all of them? When was the last time you used each one? Do they need to be cleaned? Do they need to take up valuable space in your kitchen if you rarely use them? Can they be relocated to a less easy-to-access area in your kitchen or elsewhere? Make a decision about what you realistically use, clean if needed and store away. The rest may need to find a new home and that home may be someone else’s home if they aren’t used. Be sure to have a box or bag on hand for donations.

Next, sort all of your cooking utensils, spatulas, wooden spoons, tongs, measuring spoons, meat thermometer, wine accessories, garlic press, basting brushes, - you get the picture. Spread them out on your counter to you see what you have. Remove everything that you no longer use, or is broken. Toss broken items and donate those you don’t use. Make a list of what you need to replace. Group “like” items together and determine if your existing location for these items is enough space for the items you use every day or fairly frequently. You may want to divide these items up and store in two areas (if you have the space to do so) and move the less frequently used items to an area of the kitchen that isn’t in the immediate space you cook in. This will allow you better access to those utensils you use often. Taking it a step further, add drawer organizers. Measure your drawer and then take a picture on your phone of the items you wish to store so you have an idea of what size organizers to purchase. If you don’t live near an organizing supply store, stores such as Bed Bath and Beyond or Target carry a variety of drawer organizers, as does Amazon. Give your drawer a good cleaning before you put everything away and then marvel at how great this space looks! The picture you see here is the utensil drawer in our kitchen.
Kitchen Utensil Drawer


Please know that I do not receive compensation for recommending these resources to you.  I recommend them because I use them personally or with our clients and I like them.

Viewables.com – You can create a free account and then purchase one of their “Refill” kits on Amazon to create the labels you see in my Tax box.

Organize My Drawer – If you want to take your kitchen utensil drawer organization to an entirely new level and customize your inserts, you might want to look into this product. I do not get anything for recommending this to you, I just think it is a great product and you can use it in other areas of your home besides your kitchen. Think, bathroom drawers, jewelry drawers in a closet, laundry room drawer, junk drawer, and more.

ELFA Desk – This the simple desk I selected from The Container Store, where you can select the color of the table surface and the color of the legs.

Shredding Services – Your local Office Depot, Staples or FedEx Office likely offer shredding services. They charge by the pound. On average it’s about $1/pound. Employees of these stores are not allowed to accept shredding if their bins are full, so call in advance to ensure there is space. You will need to wait while they load your shredding into the locked bin. Employees don’t have keys to these bins as they are provided by an outside shredding company that picks them up and shreds them.

Seminar Schedule

Topic: Eliminate Paper Chaos Workshop
Date: Friday, March 31, 2017
Time: 10:00 AM - 4:30 PM 
Venue: Home of Laura and Robert Leist 
Early Bird Registration for this workshop ends today, 3/3/17.

Note:  This is the LAST time this class will be offered in the Home Office and Offices of Eliminate Chaos.  We are limiting the number of registrations to 15 and about 1/3 of those slots have been filled.  If you would like to attend, be sure to register ASAP as there will not be a waiting list for this workshop.

If you'd like to bring one of these programs or a different program to your organization, please contact us or call our office at 425-670-2551.



Wishing you an organized and productive 2017,

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