Sunday, April 29, 2012

Practicing What I Preach

Tip of the Week, Mid-February 2012

Recently, my boyfriend and I found a new apartment and began the involved, time-consuming, exciting, and sometimes stressful process of moving from the homes we'd both been settled into (for nine years, in my case). During the course of preparing for our move, making the transition, and getting settled into our new house, I was reminded time and again why so many of my clients have enlisted my team's help with moving house, and found myself being my own professional organizer in a way I'm usually not. 

It would be an understatement to say that having chance after chance over the past few months to practice what I preach to my clients has been thought-provoking and eye-opening, and has given me a totally new perspective on what it's like to try to be organized during a transition like this. I've also been reminded repeatedly that a few organizational basics can help you feel much more sane during big life events. Here are a few of my my thoughts, observations, and a ha moments from this experience.

It's Worth Making Hard Decisions
For all of its charm and benefits, our new home has one big downside: as is typical of San Francisco houses of a certain vintage, it has one--count it: ONE--closet. And aside from a pantry cabinet in the kitchen and a small drawer-and-shelves unit in the living room, it lacks other built-in storage. So we had to get creative to fit the contents of two apartments and a basement storage room (a luxury at my old place), and we also had to do some serious weeding. 

As difficult as it was to part with some of the stuff I ultimately decided to let go of, and as much as I found myself sliding into "But I might need it someday!" thinking (But I might go backcountry camping again soon and need that big backpack, even though the last time I did was 2002), making tough, realistic decisions before we moved meant not having to find space in the new house for stuff we didn't truly use, love, need, or find beautiful in our lives as we're living them now.

Enlist Help, in Obvious and Less Obvious Ways
One thing we knew for sure was that we were willing to invest in professional movers, both to spare ourselves and our friends the strain of having to schlep our stuff down and up stairs and around tricky corners, but also to make it less likely that one of us wouldn't inadvertently damage anything or anyone, and to ensure that the move-out and move-in processes would be as quick and efficient as possible. The movers weren't inexpensive, but they were definitely worth the cost.

Another bit of help I enlisted was the expertise of Deb, one of my team members, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of how to responsibly reuse, donate, or recycle pretty much anything, and an excellent network of connections that can help get unneeded stuff into the hands of people who will gladly put it to good use. Having done a huge amount of weeding, I didn't have it in me during the time I was also unpacking and getting settled in the new place to find new homes for the stuff I'd left behind at my old place. Deb did a bang-up job of dispersing it, and knowing that almost all of it was donated to agencies that need it made me feel better about deciding to part with it.

Don't Expect Perfection Right Away
Finally, if you're wondering whether professional organizers' homes are perfectly orderly and organized within a day or two after a move, I'm here to report that the answer is an emphatic NO!--at least not for this professional organizer. As much as I wished we didn't have to spend the better part of a week surrounded by boxes and chaos, I reminded myself that getting settled would take time, especially since we didn't have a team to help us and were getting acclimated to our storage-poor house. 

To keep ourselves sane, we focused on getting at least one room feeling settled, dedicated ourselves to doing at least a few hours of organizing work per day (but no more), and invited over for drinks friends we knew not only wouldn't mind the craziness but also would help give us new perspectives on how we'd started to set things up (and, as it happened, would also help us rearrange furniture to make a few of our rooms flow more smoothly).

We've got a few more spots that still need some attention, and several things that, even post-weeding, still don't fit where we hoped they would (who knew I had so many files?!), but little by little, we're getting organized and are creating a comfortable home. And over and over, I smile (or, ok, sometimes groan) when I find myself in a situation in which I more than anyone need the insight, coaching, and guidance I find so easy to share with clients. 

So the next time you hear me say that I know what it's like to struggle with organizing challenges and make it through to the other side, know that it's not just lip service. 

Now if you'll pardon me, several piles of random stuff seem to have sprouted up on the kitchen today, and I hear them calling my name.