What’s it like when your car is stolen? I found out 3 weeks ago. Right out of our gated garage, at 2am. At 8am, I watched a tape from our security camera, which showed a young man breaking into our garage, and in a matter of minutes, roll out the gate in my car.
My car was found 4 days later, not too far from home. However, everything inside it was gone, including my new RX sunglasses. Well, not everything was gone…he left his hamburger and coke debris ,which I assume he bought with the quarters I kept for parking meters, as well as a general mess. He even left some things that were not mine.
What he left behind…
But everything I carry in the trunk of my car for work was gone. I am not sure why they wanted all my moving supplies…packing tapes, garbage bags, stuff that is only used by us for our very specific work. And really, can’t possibly be worth much to anyone on the streets…so it’s a mystery.
As a professional organizer, I spend my life assisting people to declutter their lives. Encouraging them to be detached from their stuff and let things go. Sometimes even shaking my head and wondering why on earth people are so attached to stuff.
However, having things disappear from you, without your consent or input…that’s another story. It feels bad. You feel violated. I often get calls from frustrated family members who are threatening to throw everything out while their partner is off to the movies or sent to visit friends. Fortunately, I am usually able to talk them out of this plan.
Over the years, I’ve worked with many families who were putting their homes back together after some kind of disaster…a lot of clients lost their homes in the horrible Oakland Hills fire of 1991. One minute you have house and stuff and next minute you don’t. I always admire those people and their ability to start over again.
Insurance covered some of my loss. I now have a new car with an alarm system. I’ve rebuilt my work supplies. Life goes on. I hope to take this lesson and apply it to my work. Offering more compassion, more understanding.
At the stroke of 12:01 p.m. on Friday, as soon as Donald J. Trump is sworn in as president and Barack Obama relinquishes the office, dozens of federal workers will swing into action at the White House to replace one commander in chief’s creature comforts — favorite snacks, clothes, toiletries, artwork and furniture — with those of his successor.
The process, months in the planning but mere hours in its militarylike execution, unfolds mostly away from public view as Americans and the world focus on the pageantry of Inauguration Day: the presidential oath and address at the Capitol, a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, the black-tie balls.
For the roughly 100 people who work in the White House and the employees on hand to help them with perhaps the world’s highest-stakes moving day, the official events double as useful distractions that keep the exiting president and his family and the incoming occupants off-site during the work.
“It’s very busy — you are on your feet constantly, making sure things are going in the right place and in the right way, and there is very little time to spare,” said Betty Monkman, a White House curator for more than three decades who helped supervise the changeover in 2001, when Bill Clinton was moving out and George W. Bush was coming in. “The housekeeper and maids are all getting the clothes in the closet and cosmetics and toiletries in the bathrooms, the kitchen staff is preparing the food. There is a lot going on.”
Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, who plan to move to a house less than two miles from the White House so they can remain in Washington while their younger daughter, Sasha, completes high school, have already begun moving personal items to their new home. Moving trucks, including one from a company specializing in storing and moving fine art, have been parked outside the house in the District’s upscale Kalorama neighborhood, and workers have been photographed carrying large cartons inside.
But much of the work at the White House cannot take place until the transfer of power occurs just after noon, when two moving trucks pull into the driveway that circles the South Lawn — one to deliver the new president’s possessions and the other one to cart off those belonging to the departing chief executive.
Nostalgia mixes in with the frenzy.
“It’s an emotional time,” said Anita McBride, who served as chief of staff to Laura Bush, including during the 2009 handoff to the Obamas.
On the morning of the inauguration, before the departing president hosts his successor for a midmorning tea, members of the White House residence staff — butlers, maids, cooks, groundskeepers and others — typically gather in the East Room to say goodbye to the couple they have served, often for the better part of a decade.
“It can be teary,” Ms. McBride said.
The changes range from the mundane to the significant. Mr. Obama, whose family’s obsession with healthy eating has been well documented, keeps a large bowl of apples on a table in the Oval Office and a supply of almonds for his late-night nibbling over briefing books. Mr. Trump, a fast-food aficionado, is known to prefer not only Doritos but also Lays potato chips. The chief usher is in charge of briefing the kitchen staff of any such requests in advance so the pantry on the ground floor of the White House can be appropriately stocked.
Mr. Trump’s team declined to comment on what requests he has made for stocking the kitchen or redecorating the house for his first days there, and it is not clear how much time the incoming president — who is most comfortable in the familiar confines of his lavish penthouse apartment at Trump Tower, with its gold-encrusted accents — plans to spend there.
His wife, Melania, who met Jan. 3 at the White House with the usher and curator, plans to live in New York for the first months of Mr. Trump’s presidency so the couple’s elementary school-age son, Barron, can finish the year at his private school in Manhattan.
The White House empties of all but a skeleton crew of political appointees during the inauguration on Capitol Hill. Amy Zantzinger, a social secretary for Ms. Bush, recalls walking out the White House gate just before noon on that day in 2009 as Michael Smith, the Obamas’ decorator, was coming in.
“Mrs. Obama’s priority that day was getting the girls’ rooms settled in time for bedtime that night,” Ms. Zantzinger said about the first daughters, then 7 and 10.
A transition official close to Mrs. Trump, speaking on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to talk about the move-in process, said she was working closely with an interior designer to redo parts of the White House residence. (The official also would not address reportsthat Mrs. Trump, a former model, would install a well-lit “glam room’’ for makeup and hair preparations.) She has enlisted Jessica Boulanger, a senior vice president of communications at the Business Roundtable who has an interest in fashion design, on a volunteer basis to help her establish an East Wing team.
Mr. Trump is planning to swap the curtains in the Oval Office — currently a deep shade of red — for those used by a previous president, according to a person familiar with the exchange.
At the White House, aides have been plotting the move for weeks. They compiled briefing books for the incoming first family with color photographs and architectural drawings of all the rooms in the residence, including what furniture and artwork are available. Curators, who keep computerized inventories of artifacts that are in the permanent collection of the White House and those that have been brought in as gifts or personal items, police the process to ensure that exiting presidents do not leave with anything that does not belong to them.
It does not always go seamlessly. Bill and Hillary Clinton had to return nearly $50,000 worth of gifts they took with them when they left the White House in 2001. These were eventually determined to be the property of the National Park Service, which oversees the White House.
“The Clintons were partying up until 3 a.m. the night before, so it was much more of a frantic turnaround for the residence staff to move in the Bushes’ stuff,” Ms. McBride said. When it came time for Mrs. Bush, a librarian, to transition out of the White House, she added, she made sure the process was orderly, starting in the summer of 2008 when she began gradually moving belongings to the family’s ranch in Crawford, Tex.
The newly sworn-in president and first lady typically return to the White House after a lunch at the Capitol and are greeted by the chief usher, who makes sure they are comfortable for a few moments before they head out again to a viewing stand on Pennsylvania Avenue to watch the inaugural parade.
“They’ll come and go quickly, which is just as well,” Ms. Monkman said, “because there is still so much to do.”
The only way that I know of to keep a house neat and/or organized is do chores…daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. There is simply no way around it. Either you do them or you pay someone to do them, or…you suffer the consequences of not doing them.
A living room in need of a “tidying” up.
Of course, not everyone cares how organized or neat their house is. I’ve been in plenty of houses to know that everyone finds their own comfort level of how they want to live in their homes. Especially when the tradeoff is their time. Many people prefer to do other activities – name anything – than clean out the garage…again.
I marvel at my clients with families who are in a constant battle with keeping their stuff in order. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day for parents to deal with the mountain of stuff that accumulates in every room AND live a quality of life that includes sports, entertainment or educational activities outside the home.
I am a professional organizer. I live a somewhat minimal lifestyle. I’ve organized every square inch in my 650 sq.ft. apartment. It only takes a couple of weeks of a heavy workload to throw my own house into a bit of disarray. But it only takes me a short time to return my house to order.
I am asked all the time, “what can we do to keep this house organized?” But what people are often really asking is “what can we do to keep this house neat?”, and there is a big difference between being organized and being neat.
Being organized means you have systems and structures in place to control the chaos. Being neat means that you take the time to return things to their organized places. For example, if I organize your kitchen, the system is in place for you to know where everything should go. If you are are neatening up the kitchen, then you are generally return items to this proper place. For example, unloading the dishwasher, by putting the dishes in their proper cabinets is a chore. But completely necessary to keep a kitchen neat.
If you have organized systems, then the neatening up process should be a snap compared to never knowing where things should go. You end up wandering the house looking for an empty space to stuff something in, or just open the garage door and toss things into it. The difference is in knowing where something is when you go looking for it vs. never knowing where anything is and spending the time and money to go out and buy a duplicate item.
After a bit of clean up, this room is really quite pleasant.
Chores, done on a somewhat regular basis will keep a house looking neat and organized. I believe in teaching children to do chores and to look at them as a necessary part of keeping home and family life happy. I also believe that time for doing chores needs to be on your calendar…just like any other appointment.
Chores you can do every day to help keep a house neat and decluttered:
1. Everyone makes their beds.
2. Picking up clothes from the floor and getting them hung up or put into the laundry.
3. Having a place for toys to live and then putting them there.
4. Teach everyone to only eat at the kitchen/dining table. Eliminates the chore of having to hunt down the banana peels from under the sofa cushions.
5. Getting dirty dishes out of the sink and into the dishwasher. Unloading the dishwasher and putting dishes in the cabinets.
6. Gather paper clutter into a basket until it can be sorted.
What causes you stress on the outside – whether a long list of errands or a cluttered home, is what causes frustration and uneasiness on the inside.
Research shows that it takes 21 days to form a habit. By following some of these easy ideas for streamlining your life, you could be three weeks away from a brand
new, organized you.
9 Habits of Organized People:
They have a place for everything
Put things where they’re used, not where there is space
When it comes to fighting clutter, the most important thing that organized people do is make room for items in the location they’re used, not where there is space. Stamps stay near the bills in the home office, stain remover stays in the laundry room.
The further your belongings are from where you use them means the more time and effort to retrieve them, and the less likelihood you’ll put them back once they’ve been used. Which is the last thing you want when you already have to pay a cable bill or remove a coffee stain.
They use tools
Mental notes are out, day planners are in.
Organized people schedule everything. They map out their days and weeks with calendars, whether online, in a planner, or both. They invest in the time to set a reminder or make a note, freeing up brain space to focus on what’s in front of you.
It’s that simple. Organized homes aren’t filled with excess towels and sheets, or plates and dishes. They just have washing machines and dishwashers. If you can narrow down to just the necessities, you’re bound to be left only with the items you use regularly and love.
Having less of anything – whether wardrobe, board games, or pantry items, makes for easier choices.
They know when to say, “good enough”
They’re not perfectionists, and don’t try to be.
Organization is so often associated with detail-orientation, but the two are not mutually exclusive. Organized people are the ones who are OK with putting slightly wrinkly sheets on the bed. They don’t have a five-star meal on the table each night. They get things done as efficiently as possible, allowing themselves to cut some corners to get to the next task at hand.
They put things away
Author Gretchen Rubin wrote about her experiences trying to clear clutter and become more organized. Her two biggest successes: the one minute rule, and ten minute tidy-up.
The one minute rule declares any task that can be done in under a minute should be done immediately, from filing a record to hanging up a coat or umbrella. Then, every night before bed, she suggests taking ten minutes to tidy up visual clutter in your home. Can’t commit to ten? Start with five.
Staying on top of things little by little is much easier and rewarding than having to tackle your mess once it’s hit the point of no return.
Lifestyles (and design styles) change, and the organized person is constantly combing through their belongings and deciding what isn’t needed anymore. In a world where we’re almost always accumulating things, we also have to consciously curate our items.
They say no
And don’t think twice.
The invitation to a last minute happy hour, the extra task at work, the lamp from their mother-in-law. Organized people are OK with saying no to things that risk overloading them, whether physically or emotionally. Because the straw that broke the camel’s back shouldn’t be a lamp you didn’t even want in the first place.
They don’t hide their belongings
Out of sight isn’t out of mind.
The art of being organized isn’t the art of stowing away all of your items. In fact, keeping your belongings in plain sight or easily accessible makes them easier to find, use, and move on from. Keeping all of your possessions in boxes and drawers means more time and frustration spent digging.
Invest in some aesthetically-pleasing storage containers. For the kitchen, they’re great for storing cereals, nuts, and pastas (and making it easy to know when they’re running low). For elsewhere in the home, an assortment of sizes can contain kids toys, beauty accessories, even spare change.
They celebrate big and small achievements
A long list of big tasks is daunting to anyone.
Those who stay organized flourish by putting small, easy tasks on a to-do list. Mixing in simple tasks with difficult ones provides encouragement and shows progress as you make your way through the list.
And when tasks are overwhelmingly large, like doing your taxes or buying a new car, break it down into smaller, more digestible to-dos.
They aren’t easy side-tracked
Often times, multitasking (or attempting to) leads to less productivity overall. This is especially relevant living in a world where we constantly have a buzzing cellphone in hand and a full email inbox.
Organized people don’t feel the need to answer every email as they receive it. Instead, they ignore or turn off notifications for such distractions, and finish the task they’re currently in the middle of.
A study by the University of British Columbia said the average person checks email 15 times a day. However, the study suggests three times is all we need to keep added stress away and stay on track with other tasks.
So, after last month’s debacle with my emails and dealing with Google, I do have some advice to share regarding computer safety and protecting yourself from technical nightmares…and as I am an Apple person, I refer to Apple products and their associated apps, if you a PC, then use the equivalent products.
1. ALWAYS BACK UP. Period. End of story. There is no excuse for not having back up on your computer. Backing up comes in more than one form: backing up onsite (your computer backing up to a little silver box on your desk, i.e., Time Machine) and backing up off-site (using a 3rd party back up, like Code 42 or Crashplan). Technically, if you are doing anything more than playing solitaire on your computer, BOTH of these methods should be employed for safe backup. If you are only backing up onsite, then your backup is a vulnerable to disaster as your computer is. If you backup off site, no matter what happens at home, you’ve still got a copy of your computer contents.
2. ALWAYS USE 2 STEP VERIFICATION. Period. End of story. Google, Apple ID – ICloud and Keychains, Facebook, your bank, any app that offers you 2 step verification – USE IT. What it means is that in order to enter your accounts, and more importantly to make any changes in your accounts, not only do you enter by your username/password, but your cell phone rings and a code is given to you so you are verified to be YOU making the changes or entering your account. It’s a slight hassle vs the way bigger one coming your way when someone breaks into your account and steals all your stuff!
3. Use a Password Manager.1Password or Last Pass are just two of many, but once you get them set up they are worth their weight in gold for the peace of mind of knowing that your passwords can’t be easily guessed by the bad guys. Not to mention that you only have to remember one password from that day forward. They have apps to put on your phone and iPad so that passwords are available to you wherever you go.
4. ALWAYSPasscode your phone. Seems like a hassle to always have to punch in a 4 or 6 digit code to use your phone, but honestly you get so use to it, that it doesnt bother you, especially considering how valuable your phone is…not just in what you paid for it, but in its contents.
5. Put the best spam filter on your email that you can get. Whether through Google or a 3rd party.
6. Have a tech person on the payroll. I couldn’t function without know that Matt, East Bay Tech Service, was just a phone call away.
7. Don’t open anything from anybody that you don’t really, really know. That includes email or anything on Facebook that says: Open this right away! And beware that those cute kitty pictures can be infected. Sad, but true.
8. Install the updates that you are prompted to when they come out. Most of them involve security and when new bugs are found, Apple issues security updates and I take them very seriously.
9. Give your computer a yearly checkup…revisit your security, change some passwords, make sure you are up to date on all your computer updates.
There you are, minding your own business when one fine day you get an email from a client…”hey, your emails are coming to me with a big red banner that says the content is “Suspicious” and that you might be a hacker and that I shouldn’t open your email…what gives?” You will, naturally, assume that the problem is THEM, not you…nothing wrong with your emails, must be THEIR computer.
The day the earth stood still…
Then you get another email from someone else telling you the same thing…what’s going on here? You start looking looking under your keyboard, checking this and that, nothing seems to be out of sorts. You google “why is my email being marked with a big red banner that says it’s suspicious…” and you discover there is a whole big world of red bannered suspicious email problems out there, and now YOU are part of that world.
If you remember the Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine routine about the phone company…one ringy dingy, two ringy dingy…then you remember the punch line: “We don’t care, we don’t have to, we’re the Phone Company.” Well, you can apply that to any bizillion dollar tech company these days.
So, to make a long story short, Google decided that little old me might be a bad-guy hacker and started quarantining all my emails…I almost lost a project when my client didn’t get my proposal on time…and I had to pay my tech guy a small fortune to come over and monkey around with Google and their impossible to understand instructions to fix something that didn’t, in the end, fix anything.
What I really loved was the Google support person who was suppose to call 24 hours later to see if the problem was solved (it wasn’t) and instead sent an email giving me links for a completely different problem, and then closing out my case so that I would have to start calling all over again with someone else…thanks a heap!
In the end, it turned out that my standard email signature line suddenly made Google unhappy and the minute I removed it, the red banners went away! So did a couple of weeks of my life and $500…but they don’t care…they’re Google, and they don’t have to!
By the way, if you are on the receiving end of one of these email banners, please do tell the sender immediately…it can, sadly to say, mean that either nothing is wrong with their email or that in fact, a lot is wrong…as in their account has been hacked. They will need to check things out to determine which is which.
I’ve been following “the minimalism” and “tiny houses” movements for a while now, and personally, while my professional life is devoted to assisting people get rid of their accumulated stuff, I find the other side of the coin just as difficult to conquer and manage. And ultimately, do you have to give up everything to live a fulfilling life? I am going to be addressing some of these issues in future posts, as some life changes will be coming my way soon that will require my rethinking the things I have and the way I live…
A couple of weeks after the last NY Times article I reposted, there’s this one…
The Oppressive Gospel of ‘Minimalism’
By KYLE CHAYKA
It has become an ostentatious ritual of consumerist self-sacrifice; people who have it all now seem to prefer having nothing at all. And, as with watching birds or going Paleo, talking about the material purge is just as important as actually doing it. So there are blog posts — in which you can see minimalism’s can-do optimism curdle into something tyrannical.
A recent account, called “How Minimalism Brought Me Freedom and Joy,”is emblematic of the budding genre, from its author (a wealthy serial entrepreneur, James Altucher) to its thesis (own fewer things, mostly gadgets) to its one-sentence paragraphs. Altucher explains that he gave up his permanent home, life goals and negative emotions. He threw away his college diploma, which had been gathering dust in storage. (“I don’t hold onto all the things society tells me to hold onto.”) He now carries nothing but a bag of clothes and a backpack containing a computer, an iPad and a smartphone. “I have zero other possessions,” he writes, and thanks to this, he has found peace as a wandering techno-ascetic — Silicon Valley’s version of Zen monkhood.
Despite its connotations of absence, “minimalism” has been popping up everywhere lately, like a bright algae bloom in the murk of postrecession America. From tiny houses to microapartments to monochromatic clothing to interior-decorating trends — picture white walls interrupted only by succulents — less now goes further than ever. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the minimalism glut, as the word can be applied to just about anything. The nearly four million images tagged #minimalism on Instagram include white sneakers, clouds, the works of Mondrian, neon signs, crumbling brick walls and grassy fields. So long as it’s stylishly austere, it seems, it’s minimalist.
Part pop philosophy and part aesthetic, minimalism presents a cure-all for a certain sense of capitalist overindulgence. Maybe we have a hangover from pre-recession excess — McMansions, S.U.V.s, neon cocktails, fusion cuisine — and minimalism is the salutary tonic. Or perhaps it’s a method of coping with recession-induced austerity, a collective spiritual and cultural cleanse because we’ve been forced to consume less anyway. But as an outgrowth of a peculiarly American (that is to say, paradoxical and self-defeating) brand of Puritanical asceticism, this new minimalist lifestyle always seems to end in enabling new modes of consumption, a veritable excess of less. It’s not really minimal at all.
The word’s meaning wasn’t entirely literal when it first came into being; “minimalism” was popularized in 1965 as an insult. In an essay for Arts Magazine, the British philosopher Richard Wollheim used it to describe a group of artists whose work was characterized by “minimal art content” — that is, a lack of art. Arranging bricks on a gallery floor (as Carl Andre did) or manufacturing metal boxes (Donald Judd) or fluorescent light fixtures (Dan Flavin) simply wasn’t, in Wollheim’s estimation, enough to make an object worthy of the title. For good reason, the artists singled out in the essay didn’t identify with Wollheim’s appellation. They used industrial materials to remove themselves from their work, intentionally. In their eyes, this formal frugality was a necessary correction to the heroic individualism of New York School Abstract Expressionism. (After some time, what can you see in a Pollock but Pollock himself?) But the name stuck.
Still, the artists were maximalists of a sort: The austerity of their objects freed the viewer to experience the work in any way they wished. “Minimalism can return you to this basic state where you’re perceiving purely,” says David Raskin, a professor of contemporary art history at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “Less is more because you strip away the familiar,” opening an opportunity to see the world without preconceptions. The objects might look mundane, but rather than the plain metal box on the floor, it’s the stark sensory experience the object incites that is the art, no previous knowledge necessary. The artist opens a radical infinity of possibilities. “Minimalism in the 1960s was very much along the lines of taking LSD,” says Miguel de Baca, an associate professor of art history at Lake Forest College.
“Minimalism” was eventually canonized as an art-historical movement, but the name came to mean something different as it was adopted into consumer culture and turned into a class signifier. What was once a way artists shocked viewers became over the decades a style as delimited and consumable as any Martha Stewart tablescape. The word was defanged, no longer a critical insult and no longer a viable strategy within art — though it never quite gave up its veneer of provocation. Even austerity can be made decadent: To wealthy practitioners, minimalism is now little more than a slightly intriguing perversion, like drinking at breakfast. “One of the real problems with design-world minimalism is that it’s just become a signifier of the global elite,” Raskin says. “The richer you are, the less you have.”
The minimalists’ aesthetic of raw materials and aggressive simplicity leaked into fashion, design and architecture, where it became a luxury product, helped along at times by the artists themselves. Judd’s SoHo loft building is now an icon of sanitized minimalism, open to tourists. His Chinati Foundation, a permanent installation of concrete and metal boxes in and around a decommissioned military base in Marfa, Tex., is a site of hipster pilgrimage. It even appears in Ben Lerner’s “10:04,” a novel redolent of late-capitalist anxiety. The protagonist visits the town on an artist’s residency, where he wanders the desert landscape, parties with young people and accidentally ingests ketamine — but it’s Judd’s installation that provides an epiphany. The sculptures, he writes, “combined to collapse my sense of inside and outside.” Judd’s work “had itself come to contain the world.”
Minimalism is now conflated with self-optimization, the trend that also resulted in fitness trackers and Soylent (truly a minimalist food — it looks like nothing, but inspires thoughts of everything else). Often driven by technology, this optimization is expensive and exclusively branded by and for the elite. In Silicon Valley, the minimalism fetish can perhaps be traced back to Steve Jobs’s famously austere 1980s apartment (he sat on the floor) and the attendant simplicity of Apple products. Pare down, and you, too, could run a $700 billion company. A thriving Reddit forum on minimalismdebates the worth of Muji products and which hobbies count as minimalist-appropriate, in a communal attempt to live the most effective, if perhaps not the most joyful, life.
These minimalist-arrivistes present it as a logical end to lifestyle, culture and even morality: If we attain only the right things, the perfect things, and forsake all else, then we will be free from the tyranny of our desires. But time often proves aesthetic permanence, as well as moral high ground, to be illusory. And already, the pendulum is swinging back.
Writing in The Atlantic in March, Arielle Bernstein described minimalism’s ban on clutter as a “privilege” that runs counter to the value ascribed to an abundance of objects by those who have suffered from a lack of them — less-empowered people like refugees or immigrants. The movement, such as it is, is led in large part by a group of men who gleefully ditch their possessions as if to disavow the advantages by which they obtained them. But it takes a lot to be minimalist: social capital, a safety net and access to the internet. The technology we call minimalist might fit in our pockets, but it depends on a vast infrastructure of grim, air-conditioned server farms and even grimmer Chinese factories. As Lerner’s protagonist observes in “10:04,” even a dull convenience like a can of instant coffee grounds reaches him thanks to a fragile and tremendously wasteful network of global connections, a logistics chain that defies all logic, one undergirded by exploited laborers and vast environmental degradation.
There’s an arrogance to today’s minimalism that presumes it provides an answer rather than, as originally intended, a question: What other perspectives are possible when you look at the world in a different way? The fetishized austerity and performative asceticism of minimalism is a kind of ongoing cultural sickness. We misinterpret material renunciation, austere aesthetics and blank, emptied spaces as symbols of capitalist absolution, when these trends really just provide us with further ways to serve our impulse to consume more, not less.
Thanks to The New York Times for this great article on what All Things Home, as Senior Move Managers, do to assist our seniors and elderly moving from homes they have lived in for decades.
Helping the Elderly Downsize
By KAYA LATERMAN
In her long career as a psychiatrist, Dr. Phyllis Harrison-Ross has been described by friends and colleagues as practical and calm. But two other traits, humor and patience, went right out the window when she decided to downsize.
“You ask yourself what you want to keep, and the answer is ‘everything,’ ” said Dr. Harrison-Ross, who turns 80 next month. “It’s an emotional roller coaster that takes a toll on you. It’s very tiring.
“I thought I could get down to the bare essence of things myself,” she said. “But that proved to be very difficult, much more than I had expected.”
Her solution: Dr. Harrison-Ross hired a senior move manager.
Moving is stressful at any age, but for those who have lived in one place for many years, getting rid of things that have accumulated over decades is a large barrier to overcome.
As people get older, said David J. Ekerdt, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of Kansas, cognitive and physical issues hamper divestment. “It’s also a very emotional task. It’s hard to quantify the attachment one has to certain possessions,” he said, adding that the probability of people divesting themselves of their belongings decreases each decade after age 50.
Senior move managers specialize in the issues that comes with downsizing, including donating and selling items and hiring movers. In New York, these managers maneuver through the often stringent moving and trash-disposal rules adopted by co-ops and condominium buildings. They also deal with out-of-town family members who may want items sent to them. They pack and unpack; they call the cable company. Most also help with decluttering and organizing the homes of seniors who wish to stay put.
The specialty is new, so no one can estimate just how many senior move managers there might be in the United States. But Mary Kay Buysse, the executive director of the National Association of Senior Move Managers, said: “Our membership has grown from 22 members in 2002 to nearly 1,000 members today. Though most of our current data is anecdotal, we know members managed over 100,000 senior moves last year.” She added that total revenue among the members was about $150 million last year.
Dr. Harrison-Ross, a commissioner of the New York State Commission of Correction and chairwoman of the commission’s medical review board, said she first thought about moving from her four-bedroom co-op on the Upper West Side about five years ago, but didn’t start looking for a smaller place until health issues took a toll about two years ago.
“There were rooms I didn’t go into for days,” said Dr. Harrison-Ross, who has lived in the apartment for 48 years.
She found a spot in an apartment building for seniors on the Upper West Side, but knew she was in trouble when her first impulse was to “stick everything I had into storage and forget about it unless I needed something.”
She asked a friend to help her get organized. But the two puzzled over how to get rid of large items or whom to call to sell furniture and artwork.
Then Dr. Harrison-Ross’s real estate agent referred her to Katie Hustead, who with her husband, Joseph Weston, runs Paper Moon Moves, a Brooklyn company specializing in seniors. She talked to Ms. Hustead on the phone and met with her in person before she signed on.
“It’s very important to hire someone that you can trust, because the decisions you’re making are very emotional,” Dr. Harrison-Ross said. “Once I knew I could trust Katie, things started to move forward, because any suggestion she would make, I knew she had thought about what was important to me.”
Most senior move managers in New York charge about $100 per hour, higher than the national average. In a 2014 survey conducted by the National Association of Senior Move Managers, 50 percent of the respondents said they charged between $41 and $60 per hour.
Ms. Hustead said she likes potential clients to get in touch with her about six weeks before a planned move date. She will then sort and inventory all the items in the client’s home and determine what should be donated to charity, given to a friend or relative, sold or trashed. To decide which furniture can be moved into a client’s new home, Ms. Hustead uses Mark On Call, an interior design app, on her iPad, to help clients visualize what furniture fits in what room.
“This is helpful because it shows the client that you can’t bring everything, because it simply won’t fit,” Ms. Hustead said.
She also takes dozens of photos of the insides of cabinets, closets and dressers, so if she is asked to unpack after the move, she can recreate the placement of things for her clients.
Move managers also have a long list of contacts for specific tasks, Ms. Buysse said. For example, a good move manager will know not to call a top-tier auctioneer for something worth a few thousand dollars, and know which estate liquidators or junk haulers work well with seniors.
Move managers can also step in when adult children don’t live near their parents or don’t have time to help sort through belongings. Judith Kahn, who owns Judith Moves You, a Manhattan company that specializes in senior moves, said most seniors can handle an organizational task for only about three hours a day, which can frustrate adult children who have flown in for the weekend and want to get things done quickly.
“Kids often have a different idea of how their parents should move, so it’s better if a move manager can be that understanding, neutral person,” Ms. Kahn said.
Linda E. Frankel, a move manager and owner of Artful Transitions NYC in Manhattan, said many urban seniors don’t cull their belongings simply because they don’t have a car to easily transport things. Ms. Frankel said she uses nonprofit organizations like the City Opera Thrift Shop or Housing Works because they have trucks that can be dispatched for large pickups.
Items with monetary value are either handed over to auction houses, which take a commission after the items are sold, or to estate liquidators and dealers, who give the seller money upfront.
Documents that can authenticate artwork are key, said Robert Berman, an owner of Capo Auction in Long Island City, Queens, who visited Dr. Harrison-Ross at home one afternoon. After looking at her furniture and artwork, which included paintings by Herbert Gentry, an African-American expressionist painter, Mr. Berman took the Whitney baby grand piano, which had been given to her by her parents. She kept the paintings.
“This is a nice size, perfect for a Manhattan apartment,” Mr. Berman said of the piano. He estimated it could fetch between $800 and $1,200, from which he would receive a 23 percent commission.
Midcentury modern furniture is perhaps most coveted by dealers, while most ornate dining room sets — especially those that come with china cabinets, buffets and hutches — will not sell, according to Ms. Frankel. “It’s sad, because dining room sets were the biggest purchases people of this generation made, and it holds huge sentimental value,” she said. “But even their kids don’t want it.”
She often shows her clients how low similar furniture has been priced on internet commerce sites and how long it takes to sell such items, which quells most ambitions to seek top dollar.
Instead, she tells clients that the most likely scenario is that “someone will buy it from a dealer or a thrift store and it will have a new life,” Ms. Frankel said.
That said, people hire move managers not just for their organizational skills but for their discerning eye. Ms. Frankel once came across an Arabic manuscript in a pile of books; her client had no idea where it had come from. Ms. Frankel had a hunch it was a rare find and she was right; the book was a late-17th-century Ottoman Quran and sold, she said, through Sotheby’s London in 2014 for about $50,000.
Move managers can be found online. Many are referred by real estate agents, estate lawyers, geriatric care managers and staff at senior living facilities.
Not surprisingly, specialists in senior moves say their business is growing. According to the New York City Department for the Aging, about 1 million individuals in the five boroughs were 65 years and older in 2010. By 2030, the number is expected to grow to about 1.35 million. The Department of City Planning estimates there will be a total of 8.8 million New Yorkers by 2030, up by about 7 percent from the estimated 8.2 million figure for 2010.
Some people hire move managers to help make it easier to stay in their apartments.
When Donald Pandina, 80, and Sal Cigna, 78, a married couple who have lived in a Brooklyn Heights co-op since 1978, called in the cavalry, they had accumulated so much they were using one of their bedrooms “as a garage,” Mr. Pandina said.
“There are things in there that we thought would be great to use in our vacation home, which we never purchased,” he said.
Mr. Cigna said their spacious apartment seemed more and more crowded. A referral from a friend led to Mr. Weston of Paper Moon, who helped them cull their belongings. “By doing all of this now, I think we’ll be able to make quick decisions if and when we decide to move,” Mr. Pandina said.
Many, however, don’t call move managers until the situation is dire. Fran O’Brien, 52, found herself in such a jam when her mother’s health rapidly deteriorated. By early this year, it was clear that her mother, Astrid O’Brien, needed round-the-clock care, and her parents would have to leave their home of 54 years in Riverdale, the Bronx.
“It is truly a frightful prospect to suddenly have to determine what you want to keep,” said Robert O’Brien, Fran O’Brien’s father. “I became anxious because I knew I couldn’t do this alone.”
In early March, Astrid O’Brien moved into an assisted living facility in Paramus, N.J., and Ms. Kahn of Judith Moves You was hired to sort through the couple’s things. The O’Briens, both philosophy professors at Fordham College at Lincoln Center for more than 50 years, had over a thousand books, mostly on philosophy, Ms. Kahn said.
Ms. Kahn and Mr. O’Brien, 85, pared down the collection to about 300 books. Mr. O’Brien said he couldn’t believe how quickly Ms. Kahn worked. In a few weeks she managed to get him moved in with his wife, who died four days later at age 82.
“Judith’s expertise and know-how was simply priceless,” he said.
For Fran O’Brien, hiring a move manager afforded her precious extra time.
“I didn’t want to spend the little time I had left with my mom packing boxes in the Bronx,” Ms. O’Brien said. “It was such a relief when I found Judith.”
I’ve been a professional organizer for over 25 years now. I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of people, and I’ve been in hundreds of houses in the Bay Area. I am pleased to say that a high percentage of my clients are living happily ever after in their much more organized homes. However, there are those clients, who choose to go a different path…they take my expert advice, and then choose to ignore it.
Initially, when I would run into this particular client, I would feel bad. How have a failed this person? What else could I have done or how could I have explained things differently so they would “get it”? It took me a while to understand what was really happening with this type of person, and once I understood them, I stopped thinking that my way was right and their way was not. I consider this my greatest achievement as a professional…it has taught me to really listen to people and to determine what is they REALLY want and then try and help them get there.
There are variances on this theme with each client…it runs all the way from the “okay, prove it to me and maybe I’ll do half of it” client, to “nope, not doing that, no way, no how” client. There’s the client who won’t make a single change, even though they’ve told you they are desperate for things to be different. There’s a client who wants to argue every point to prove themselves right. There’s a client who is afraid of what their spouse will say, and a client who is insulted that you would suggest they not keep shoes and cutting boards in the same cabinet.
A couple of weeks ago we unpacked a wonderful family in a beautiful house in Marin. On my first visit to the new house my client said, “I know exactly where I want everything to go”. Okay, so tell me where you want things to go…and inevitably, I want to make changes to where they want to put things. So, I ask for permission to discuss alternatives, “are you open to suggestions”…fortunately, clients are most always are open to hearing my suggestions, whether they take them or not, is in the end up to them.
Our last client advised that she was up all night moving everything that we had placed in her new house the day before. However, she was okay with this because at least we gave her a head start of knowing where she did/did not want things. When I looked at things that had been moved, I realized that many of them were moved just for the sake of moving them…but it was an important act for her, establishing herself in her new house.
One of my favorite clients has turned out to be someone I never expected to hear from again. I left their house totally drained, having to wrestle with them over every suggestion and thinking that I would never see any “after” photos on this project. Lo and behold, shortly after I received a delightful email explaining how much my visit had opened the doors of communication between them and how they were working to improve not only their living environment but their marriage as well!
Last week I did some spring cleaning, which included my home office armoire. When I opened my own home office desk drawer, something struck me like lightening…why am I staring into a black hole trying to find a paperclip?
what’s in here?
What does this mean? It’s the difference between dark and light…when you open a drawer or cabinet are you able to see what you have inside or are you looking for a flashlight so that you can figure out where things are? It means that the interior of the drawer or cabinet is light enough to see into or that there is enough light so that you find what you need.
My reorganized drawer…
This has been brewing with me for a while now. Since the dark cabinet trend took hold several years ago…you know, dark cabinets in the kitchen and expresso furniture…no one can find anything in the dark.
my current client’s drawer divider…not for long
When the interior of your drawers or cabinets is dark, you’ve got to have great lighting or only store white objects, if you want to see what is going on inside
consider lighting when choosing a dark bookcase over a light one
White…easy to see everything inside
a black metal desk…I’ve added bins to help the visual id of objects inside
a dark interior requires a lot of attention to find what you need
Sometimes dark cabinets compensate by making the interiors lighter, which is smart in my books…
Making the interior light while the outside is darker is the best of both worlds…
Does this mean you can’t buy a black bookcase or a house with dark kitchen cabinets…no, but it’s something to take into consideration…will you be able to see what you are looking for?