Married and living in a 4000 square foot town house in the suburbs, Dana and her husband are busy professionals juggling the demands of work, family and aging parents. Their 2 sons had temporarily moved back in while starting a new business venture. Her brother-in-law, who has recently separated from his wife, is also staying with them.
Dana and her husband had been toying with the idea of moving for some time. They had an opportunity to buy a home in a new community they had fallen in love with. The builder was making them a deal they couldn’t refuse in an attempt to sell the last remaining houses. In order to take advantage of the great value they had to quickly put their home up for sale. We scheduled a full week for me to help her get ready for an open house.
When I arrived I was struck by all the “stuff” that was everywhere I looked. Every surface was covered, without exception. Not only was there years of accumulation that had never been dealt with, but now there were papers and boxes and clothes brought in by the other family members that were temporarily living there. Dana found it hard to get anything done in the house because there was always a family member needing her help. She had actually become so agitated by being in her own home that she took a part time job in a dress shop just to get some peace and quiet. Frazzled by years of living like this, she knew she wanted to break this exhausting cycle before moving into her new home. She knew this was her chance for a fresh start even thought the task to get there seemed daunting.
Fortunately, we had the help of 3 hired hands for the better part of the week. Wise planning insured that we had the manpower, boxes, trash bags and cleaning supplies in place before we began. Knowing that the house was going to be put on the market, we arranged to have painters, drapery installers, carpet cleaners, etc. come in right after we had made the spaces accessible.
It’s key to get the physical rhythm and pattern established right at the onset. Since time was of the essence I decided we’d work as a team going room by room to avoid backtracking. Working in a pattern like this allowed us to see the impact of the hard work as we went along, keeping Dana energized and motivated to continue. Dana and I would access the items and the team would take the sorted items to a rented storage space, the dump or to the donation center. It’s important that trash and any items that are leaving the house go so as quickly as possible to avoid pile up.
In Dana’s case going the mountains of clothing and papers would have taken months to go through. With just days until the first open house we decided to put those things into boxes and contractor bags that she would go through in the storage unit.
It is very typical when this process begins that the client is overwhelmed and frustrated. There is a definite pattern that I have observed when you watch someone confront a problem they have chosen to avoid for so long. First, I am barraged by apologies for seeing mess that is usually hidden from the outside world. People are usually mortified as we expose every nook and cranny where stuff has been residing. I know how vulnerable they are feeling so I do my best to assure them that we will work through this together. The apologies turn to excuses to justify how things got like this. “The kids don’t pick up after themselves”, “My husband wont throw anything away”, “I can’t believe my housekeeper didn’t take care of this”, and on and on. Seeing that their excuses don’t change the situation, the mood shifts to anger, which is easily displaced on to me (I never take it personally). The cursing and teeth gritting (and occasionally, tears) are amplified and I simply smile, knowing that we are just about to turn a critical corner.
Anger is important because it causes discomfort. To relieve discomfort a person has only 2 choices – continue the cycle and remain miserable or do something about it. Dana chose the latter. Not only was she putting her physical energy toward change, she was also making psychological changes to insure that she’d never get to this place again. Dana stepped away from seeing herself as a victim, burdened by everyone else’s possessions and needs. She took ownership of the ways in which she had contributed to the problem. By not setting up routines for the boys to help, ignoring her husbands buying habits and being run ragged by the demands of others she had unwittingly contributed to making her home one of chaos rather than calm.
Dana worked tirelessly and I was amazed at her resolve to have a beautiful home again. With each room that was completed I could see a huge change in her. Embarrassment was replaced by pride as she looked around to see a home filled with all of her beautiful things. The clutter had become the only thing she saw for so long that she forgot what a lovely home she had underneath it all.
I went to visit Dana about a month after we had finished. As I rang the doorbell I must admit that I was concerned that it might look like it did the first day I arrived. To my absolute delight the house looked even more beautiful than when I left. There was no clutter, the house seemed so bright and inviting and there were no piles of anything anywhere. When I asked Dana if she had scrambled to clean up before my arrival she said no. In fact, she didn’t even have a housekeeper anymore. Living in an organized home was so easy that it only required a little daily pick up. Putting things away was so much easier because everything had a place.
When I asked about all the stuff that had gone into storage she told me that she started going through it all and realized that no one had even missed it and thought long and hard about whether to bring back things that no one seemed to need. In the end, she decided that donating the clothing and unnecessary home furnishings would have more value to someone who really needed it.
Aside from the night-and-day change in the house was the night-and-day change in Dana. Before, she had always seemed scattered and distracted in the house. Now she was so calm and focused. She commented that being able to find things made getting out of the house so much easier in the morning. Now she even had time to put on make-up. She said she felt so much better about herself knowing that she implemented such change in her life. Dana told me that her husband and sons saw how nice it was living in an organized and clutter free home and were pitching in to clean up after themselves. Her sons are in the process of moving out and setting up their own homes. She said that seeing the “before” and “after” had such profound effect on them that they vowed never to let their own homes be overrun by clutter like that.
Dana sold her home and is now in the process of moving into one that represents a new beginning in more ways than one.