Computer safety…doing the two-step

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. ALWAYS Passcode 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.

10. Live happily ever after…

Dealing with the red banner of death…suspicious emails

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...

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.


And then there’s minimalism…

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…

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.

To wealthy practitioners, minimalism is now little more than a slightly intriguing perversion, like drinking at breakfast.

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.”

Today’s minimalism, by contrast, is visually oppressive; it comes with an inherent pressure to conform to its precepts. Whiteness, in a literal sense, is good. Mess, heterogeneity, is bad — the opposite impulse of artistic minimalism. It is anxiety-inducing in a manner indistinguishable from other forms of consumerism, not revolutionary at all. Do I own the right things? Have I jettisoned enough of the wrong ones? In a recent interview with Apartamento magazine set against interior shots of his all-white home in Rockaway, Queens, the tastemaker and director of MoMA PS1 Klaus Biesenbach explained, “I don’t aim to own things.”

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.

Senior Move Managers….helping the elderly downsize and move…

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.


Judith Kahn, who owns Judith Moves You, oversees a client’s move into a new apartment on the Upper West Side. CreditEmon Hassan for The New York Times 

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.”

Take my expert advice…or maybe not

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!

I’ll take the victories anyway I can get them…


letting the light in…

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’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...

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

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

consider lighting when choosing a dark bookcase over a light one

White...easy to see everything inside

White…easy to see everything inside

a black metal desk...I've added bins to help the visual id of objects 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

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...

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?

Prepping a home to sell…

It’s that time of year…along with March basketball madness comes the spring home sales market.  Home sellers are hard at work getting their homes to look their very best to entice those buyers. Even though you may be hiring a professional stager to stage your house, there is still a lot of work that has be done by you prepping a home to sell.

As a professional organizer who works with many local Realtors to assist their client’s prepping homes to sell, I can offer some of my quick tips to help make this process a bit easier.

Welcome to your new home...

Welcome to your new home…

1.  Start as early as possible removing everything and anything that you no longer wish to keep.  Book those donation trucks to pull up to the house several times so that everything can be donated as soon as you’ve decided to let it go.

2.  Declutter…of the things that are left, remove/pack/store as much as possible of your excess items that you do not need to live with while the home is for sale. Remove personal items…all those personal photos, your collection of Elvis mugs or your

3.  Clean, clean, clean…there’s no such thing as too clean when you are selling your home.  Now is the time to get that grime off the oven door, get the windows professionally washed, clean that carpet and don’t forget the garage.

4. If you are living in the house while it’s for sale, pack a suitcase and pretend you are at a hotel.  No personal items left out in the bathroom, no wet towels hanging over the shower door,  and no tell tale odors of last nights garlic fest.

5. Stage the insides of cabinets and closets…neaten up every drawer and every cabinet.  Make sure the closets look like there is plenty of room for more.  Closets sell houses!

6. Let the stager do their thing…let them move all your furniture around, let them rehang your art and rearrange your bookcases…technically, it’s not your house anymore, so let the professionals do their job, which is making sure you get top dollar for your house.

7. Put out a NEW welcome mat and some lovely plants/trees at the front door, but a fresh bulb in the lighting fixture on the porch.  Make the entry to the house as enticing as possible.

Here are some after photos of house we actually decluttered, packed and staged for sale.  (And, yes…this house is SOLD):

Open kitchen

Open kitchen

Dining area

Dining area


Master bedroom

Master bedroom

Home office and children's playroom

Home office and children’s playroom


When will we have everything we need…chores and errands

Looks easy...

Looks easy…

I lead a relatively small life.  Really, it’s mostly just me and 2 cats.  One small apartment, 650 sq. ft.  One car. One home office armoire, one computer.

Work consumes almost all of my time.  Either doing it, or looking for it. No big hobbies, no great vices, not a lot of vacation traveling.

And I am super organized.  So, why is my small life so consumed by endless chores and errands?

Not a day goes by that I am not out of something.  Everyday, I am either traveling to a store or service, or ordering something on line, or trying to schedule some fixit person to come over. Everyday there’s a mountain of stuff to do whether it’s household chores or work related ones.

Out of coffee, out of tea, out of hand lotion, out of cat litter, out of  marking pens, out of box cutters, out of peanut butter, out of wine…car needs service, clothes need dry cleaning, new pants need alterations…leak under kitchen sink after new dishwasher installed, cat has a runny eye, chipped a tooth on popcorn, new mattress is not working out – will need to pick out a new one…laundry has to be done, again…light bulb is out in the hallway, cat just left a hairball in the living room and now it’s time to make dinner and lunch for tomorrow…

Every, blessed day.

Cat to the vet, car to the shop, another trip to the grocery store and then another trip to the same store – different location, another trip to Target, another trip to Equator for coffee, another trip to the cleaners, another tradesman to schedule, another delivery by UPS, Fed EX, priority mail…

Another day of being exhausted after running errands or doing chores.

I travel to clients homes and marvel that a family of 3, 4 or more, can function at all.  Yes, they need a professional organizer to help them along.  Yes, I can rearrange how they use the space in their homes to provide more efficiency.  Yes, I can talk to them about time management, but still, it’s a wonder that they can manage babies, kids, dogs, a house, two cars, a nanny, and both have a full time job outside of the house.

My goal for this year is to sit on the sofa and read a book, as soon as I wash the sofa cover and replace the worn out cushions…



From one business woman to another…grrr

In December, I was called to home in the East Bay Hills by, what appears to be, a very successful business woman who works in SF.  She just bought this large home, after owning an even larger home in Canada.

Upon moving in, she attempted to unpack and organize herself, but found it a daunting task, given the amount of possessions and the time she had in which to do it.  So, she called me in to see the house and give her an estimate of time and costs.  This I went home and immediately did, and she received a my proposal via email.  I also included links where she could find organizing supplies I would recommend be used for the project.

Over a week later, I received her response:

Hello Gayle,

Apologies for not responding sooner but Xmas activities got priority these last few days.  Anyway, I have decided to go another route.

Now,  this is where the email might have politely ended, but no, our busy executive went on…

To be honest I was pretty shocked at your quote.  Perhaps it’s just that everything in the Bay Area is so much more expensive but I had my entire house in Toronto organized very nicely for less than half of what you would charge.  

What does the cost of organizing a house in Canada have to do with the cost of organizing a house in the East Bay?   Why are you “shaming” me over my rates?  All clients generally have some kind of budget for projects and usually we find ways to work within them…you were concerned with the speed at which this could be done over the holidays, no less.  If my proposal was more than you wanted to spend, why not have a conversation so that we might see if some adjustments to expectations could be made which would lessen the cost…isn’t that what business people do?

Then, she took it to the next level…

I actually forwarded your quote to the organizer I used in Toronto. She is willing to come out for a week in Feb to do this for me and even with adding on the cost of her flight it will be less than $5000 all in.  She knows exactly what I have as she also packed me up and staged my house for sale when I left Toronto.

How kind of you to forward our private email to someone in Canada…I had thought our email correspondence was private, but obviously, you don’t.   In all honesty, if you sent me a proposal by someone else, I would make sure that I could do that same job for less as well.  It’s not hard to do a bid when you know what everyone else is charging.  And didn’t you tell me that you wanted this done ASAP?  But you’ll now wait until February…

Is your Canadian organizer paying taxes in the US and California, which I believe she will owe…is she coming alone or bringing a team of people, which I had proposed, so that the job could get done more quickly.

Does she have liability insurance that will cover her here in California?  I assume her health insurance plan will cover her here as well, just in case she trips going down the many flights of stairs your home has.

What am I suppose to learn from this?  If you are going to all this trouble to take time out of your busy holiday schedule, to rake a fellow business woman over the coals, you needn’t have bothered.

Blessedly, she finished…

So thank you for taking the time to come out and assess the job. Also you asked how I found you – I just did an Internet search on home organizers and I thought your website looked very professional.

Best wishes for a happy new year!

Yes, so glad you liked my professional website, which cost me a small fortune. But then, I obviously should have hired someone in Canada to design it for me for less…

And best wishes for a happy new year to you, too!

It’s not always what you think it is that keeps you from being organized…

Have you ever walked into a house (maybe even yours…) and you couldn’t tell what room you were standing in? There’s a sofa and TV, but there’s also a desk and several computers, and there’s a dining table and 6 chairs, but there is also a library worth of books all over…what is this room?

I just did an organizing assessment/clutter intervention for a couple who are living this story in their home.  Every room contains furniture and personal items which would ordinarily belong in some other room.  Additionally, every room is filled with clutter, bits and bobs that land in one room, but really belong in another. 

For example, their dining room has a large table and full set of dining chairs.  It also has a bedroom bureau and 2 office filing cabinets.  As it happens, their office is right across from the dining room, and in additional to a full office for two people, there’s a sofa and a large TV in that room.  I am a fan of “repurposing furniture“, but only when that furniture suitably solves the problems it’s brought in to handle.

And as we traveled through the rest of the house, other rooms suffered from this same identification process…only the kitchen could be readily id’ed as such.

Now, it’s true that everyone gets to decide how they want to live in their house.  And if it’s working for you, then so what if you want to blur the use of a room.  However, these people called me because they don’t like the way they are living in the house, so I have try and help them see what is going on and offer suggestions to “fix” it.

Using the dining room as an example, I asked why they had a bedroom bureau right next to the dining room buffet…because they needed something to hold all the loose items and paper the dining room had accumulated, and they happened to have bureau that was available. And why were the two filing cabinets there?  Because they didn’t fit in the office across the way because the sofa and TV in that room took up the space the filing cabinets would occupy.  So why is are their papers in the dining room when the office is right across the way?  Because one of them doesn’t like the office and wants to work in the dining room instead.

Digging deeper I discovered that in fact, while this a 3 story house, they rarely venture upstairs or downstairs…they prefer to live on one level, so that requires surrounding themselves with everything that they might need or want, so they can avoid going to the other levels of the house.  Digging deeper still, one of them is no longer physically able to even use stairs and the other feels it’s too much effort to go up and down.  And, most importantly, neither will entertain the thought of selling the house and moving to another that offers a better layout to suit their physical requirements.

So this organizing assessment is actually about something other than just “getting organized”…it’s about uncovering what is going on with these 2 people that has resulted in a living situation that neither likes but that neither is willing to give up.

A lot of the things I pointed out to them they had long stopped noticing or thinking about.  The first step in this journey is for them to acknowledge the situation and decide if they really want to make changes…it’s going to take a lot of work to turn this particular ship around.  So, they will take a vacation and think about it…