Transformation Tuesday: Entry Way Closet

I've seen many clients struggle with these hall/entry way closets, laundry storage, and pantry storage - spaces that are supposed to help us contain all the things. Somehow, they turn into the place that you try to close (or shove it close, in some cases) the door on because they get out of control but are still necessary for us to use.

A recent client was dealing with minimal storage in an awesome three story townhouse. The home had a small entry way so this closet needed a serious revamp to better store household goods and tools.

It's hard to tell in this picture but there's a pretty deep, narrow space on the right that was working against us. The cool thing about getting organized is that we so often find other things throughout the home to get repurposed for these tricky problem areas. We were able to use a small utility shelf from the living room and it fit right into that narrow spot. 

 
 

Items that didn't need quick access (like paint supplies) moved toward the back, placed the utility shelf in front with arts and crafts supplies, then reorganized the shelves to hold all extra household items (batteries, light bulbs, paper goods).

We also cleared out/pared down bulky items like excess linens and comforters that were never used but were taking up precious real estate in the closet. In about an hour, we improved the functionality of this little closet!

Transformation Tuesday: Garage Tidy Up

What can I say? I love these garage projects! They can be just as impactful as a kitchen pantry organization session or closet makeover. This particular client mentioned on our call that spring and fall are optimal times to organize and I couldn't agree more! If you skipped the spring cleaning, this time of year is great so when the weather is crummy, you can get your home settled so you can really enjoy and feel super cozy (plus that whole knowing where everything is thing is great too!).

This garage was already in pretty good shape but the owner wanted to streamline a few things and make the gardening tools/lawn care products more accessible. Sadly, I forgot to take the official "before" picture but these give you a sense of what we were working with - the usual "line the perimeter" of stuff.

We have some storage accessories arriving this week to get the rest of the brooms/shovels/rakes together and some heavy duty utility hooks to hang the ladder horizontally on the wall. Official "after" pictures to come next week!

To kick things off, we started with pulling out all the cleaning and gardening products. The owner really wanted a better way to store the lawn mower and other bulkier tools and we realized that we needed to shift the shelving around to allow "parking" those items underneath. The back corner shelving became the main gardening center with related tools and products. The next shelf over will store all other tools (some of which we still need to consolidate from what's inside the house).

 
 

In three short hours, we filled up my car with donations and some items set aside for the transfer station (including a dead lawn mower which the transfer station will recycle for free!).

After our storage accessories show up, we still have a little bit of work with some non-garage items that need to get incorporated back into the house (artwork, furniture). 

Meet the Minimalist: Heather Fisher

A couple months ago, I was chatting with my friend Heather over coffee. We were talking about how my business was going and she shared some very touching words with me about how much the work we had done together in her home had such an impact for her. With Heather, it never felt like work - we were problem-solving the space and customizing it for her, from how she moves through the space to how to best organize so she can enjoy her hobbies, work on projects, you name it.

I wanted to hear more from her because she has been on an incredible journey of downsizing her stuff over time. I think this relates to so many people out there and illustrates how this is an ongoing process, it’s not just “one and done” with a space.

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When did you begin simplifying?

I attempted right before grad school but things sort of spiraled out of control during that time. I had less and less time to take care of everything.

You came over to borrow something and I had mentioned the KonMari book. We started talking about how simplifying can look different for everyone. You were really enthusiastic about it and offered to help me.

I related organizing work to the body trust movement - what works for one person isn’t necessarily a fix for someone else. I think there’s been several areas of my life that I had these long-held beliefs that I should fit into a box that other people seem to fit into. Food, career, school - when I started looking at the body trust movement, I realized that it’s totally individual. What works for one body doesn’t work for another and this translates to so many other domains in life.

 

What was the first domain you explored in the body trust movement?

Emotional. There’s this sense of shame about certain things you are doing that don’t match what you see on TV and you don’t ask for help, you hide things from the people around you.

My anxiety and stress levels were increasing and it had control over me. I wasn’t having people over because I felt bad about my home. That was what really helped me allow you to help me - there was no judgment and you really wanted to help find the best vision for my home. It wasn’t something you just said to get buy-in. You were gracious when I wasn’t ready to get rid of things. It was really helpful, especially as a therapist, the respect you gave me of talking through something on whether to keep or toss something.


What were the key domains you were able to focus on through the simplifying process?

My kitchen! I love cooking and it is really a form of self-care for me, making good and healthy foods. Attacking the kitchen first was great. You helped me get to the places I couldn’t reach and pull everything out to review and assess.

This allowed me to start cooking again and it’s something I really enjoy and love doing.


Has paring down the physical stuff helped in other areas of your home?

Now when I come home from work, I don’t see 15 things that I have to take care of. It feels easier and the on-going projects I have are more manageable. Having assigned homes for things has made a huge difference.

 

Do you still struggle with household clutter?

There are still areas that I haven’t gotten to yet. I also struggle with empty, flat surfaces. When I get home and am in a hurry, it’s so ingrained in me to drop things on a surface before I run off. I have to intentionally go through each week and put things back. It’s definitely a form of self-care to make this time because I know that otherwise, it will stress me out when I have even less time to take care of it and it gets back into a vicious cycle that repeats itself.

 
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What have been some of the biggest changes as a result paring down and reviewing all your things?

Being able to get a dog! I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do that with the clutter I had before.

In grad school, I had ridiculously elevated stress and cortisol levels. My doctor suggested getting an animal to help with this. The last couple quarters of school were so crazy and this seemed like something I just couldn’t do … and I didn’t want to add on to my current stress load.

I started looking at foster sites, but I would look over my computer screen and notice all the clutter, even unsafe stuff that could fall on a dog. Once we started clearing things, I was able to take the next step of actually meeting dogs.

I met Jules who was an older dog at a shelter, rescued from a hoarder’s house, ironically. The shelter staff hadn’t seen him connect with an owner like this before. At the home inspection, I felt really comfortable because we had decluttered so much and I knew my home would pass.

My stress finally leveled out and having him as a companion was so wonderful. I had someone to come home to, to sit by my side when I studied.


What do you want others to know about the process/experience of simplifying?

In your work and in my work as a therapist, we are facilitating the change, and our mentality and techniques make all the difference.

With you coming into my home, which is very personal and vulnerable to someone, and feeling shameful about my space, you were not judgmental, you were gracious, you challenged things needed to be challenged and backed off when I wasn’t ready to go there.

You came to my house and offered the “how” - I didn’t have to think about that. We identified the kitchen as the most powerful place. Once we did one area, I saw that it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be, things moved faster than expected, and it was a lot easier to move on to another area.


What do you feel confident about doing on your own now?

I had done a lot of purging using the KonMari method but then needed help going through the things that I thought I wanted but didn’t really have a home for. Now there’s an assigned place for these things to go. Once I clear off a surface, I know where to put things and don’t have to reorganize a whole system of things.

I just remind myself when I put dishes in the sink and am getting ready to walk away that it only takes a minute to do - and I’ll be a lot happier about having done them.


What advice do you have for someone who wants to start minimizing/paring down?

You have to make space for things you want in your life - time to tidy up your room, make healthy food during the week, go for a walk and not feel guilty you aren’t doing something else. This is key for designing the life you want.

It all boils down to a worthiness issue. This is especially true of people working in service-based jobs. We are quick and eager to make and hold space for other people, but we are pretty reluctant and resistant to doing this for ourselves. It feels almost selfish to do so. This is the shift - I’m worthy to do this important work for myself.

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It truly was an honor to interview Heather and hear her perspective on how a kitchen clean-out could bring about so much positive change. I’ve seen Heather get excited about tidying (!) since we first began working together. She took all my tips to heart and was able to identify so much on her own as she began to clear other spaces over time.

If you want to get more insight into Heather’s work, check out this interview with her and follow along with her 365 grateful posts on Instagram. A few years ago, she realized  she had been waiting for big things happen while all these “small moments” were going unrecognized. Seeing another friend’s posts about the little things in the everyday, happening all around us was a good reminder to be intentional, taking time to photograph it and be grateful.

 

Transformation Tuesday: Furnishing a Home

October has flown by and I have loved every minute of it! I spent the majority of this month on an interesting, non-traditional project - furnishing a home entirely from scratch! As a professional organizer, I don't often shop (and encourage clients to use what they have at home as much as possible) and this was the ultimate shopping project.

I didn't guide decisions around clearing clutter or haul donations off to Goodwill; instead, I was researching what was needed to furnish a space with all the basic necessities, put my scheduling and logistics skills to work, and got to try my hand at some light interior design.

This project also gave me the opportunity to set up the pantry, closets, and general storage organization tools in place to make everything easy to find and streamlined.

 
 

I learned a lot during this project, namely that ordering furniture generally takes 2-4 weeks so it's best to shop local and find products in store to schedule a preferred delivery date. I added white glove service for assembly/removal of any packaging for the items. I also realized that the lists I created are super helpful if you are moving into a space after high school/college, divvying up items with a roommate when you plan to move other places, or are setting up an Airbnb with all the basics to create a comfortable space for guests.

This was fun for me to see the transformation from a clear space to having some nice pieces to create a comfortable living room. Over time, they'll be able to collect art, add pictures to the walls, etc.

I hope to find more projects like this because it tested my problem-solving skills while allowing me to get creative in different ways from my usual projects.

 

 

Transformation Tuesday: Building a Capsule Wardrobe for Fall

Fall has arrived which means I need to swap out my tank tops and sundresses for navy knits, booties, and cozy layers!

Ever since I started Project 333 to create a seasonal wardrobe, I can grab items from my closet without having to determine what "matches" or worry if I have something dressy enough to wear for an event. Having fewer options takes away so much of the guesswork of how to dress plus I'm always wearing things that fit me well, are in good condition, and are pieces that I love!

So, back to my fall capsule ... I'm so excited to bust out my shoes and start wearing socks again, but realized that three pairs need some TLC. I'm taking them to my favorite shoe repair shop downtown on errands tomorrow to get them re-soled and give them new life to carry me through this season.

 
 

 

This fall, I whittled my wardrobe down to about 44 items (I mentioned in a previous post how I don't feel the need to get down to the suggested 33 anymore) and I'm so excited for layers! I was also able to let go of a few items - a Stitch Fix top that needs a long camisole underneath to wear with leggings ... but I didn't want to buy something new in order to feel comfortable in this piece) so off to Goodwill it goes! I also noticed two tops and a pair of jeans that I didn't wear or had a grease stain (boo!) but that I wanted to keep. I decided to launder these and pack into the emergency go bag that I'm putting together (more on this later).

I'm pretty pleased with the final closet of options. This also gave me a chance to do a quick Swiffer in my closet to catch up all the dust bunnies and cleared a few small items out that needed a better home.

I think the one thing I'm missing for fall/winter is a nicer lined coat. Something that's good for rain or (the threat of) snow, that's warm, but still has clean lines/chic. I haven't bought any new clothes since my trip to Hong Kong back in January (aside from some shoes on a recent jaunt down to Portland). If you have suggestions for great coats, I'd love to hear them!

Transformation Tuesday #63: Entry Way Closet

As a Seattle-area professional organizer, I love getting to travel to client homes, meet new people, and learn about what their organizing challenges are. I recently got the opportunity to work with Julie - she has a gorgeous home with some space limitations.

She and her family are very creative and have found ways to modify and make things work, but she wanted some extra help to get the entry way space more functional. She had already done some purging around the house and this space was deemed "the black hole" - I think we all can relate! I have a desk as an entry way table with a mail sorter, sunglasses holder, and small cabinet underneath. I know all about how these spaces can attract clutter.

We used the living room as our staging/reviewing space to see what was in the closet. We had the typical coats, hats, and scarves along with a tool box, vacuum, gift wrap, and some other miscellaneous items. I think its this last group that we all really struggle with because it's a random thing that usually doesn't have a designated home so it winds up in whatever dumping zone (hall closet, garage, etc).

After sorting through, we were able to clear out some pretty big items like extra backpacks and even a vacuum! With some extra breathing room in this space, her family can grab what they need with ease.

 
 

Check out the floor space - now visible - in the "after" photo! 

Transformation Tuesday #62: Garage Revamp

Tired of garages yet? Nope, neither am I! I had the pleasure of working with the owner of the mom cave again, and this time her husband joined our efforts in revamping and reworking their garage. We did a walk-through together to review the goals and focus on how we could divide up tasks for the big sprucing day.

They are an outdoorsy family with well-organized gear for hiking, backpacking, and the like. They want to better utilize the garage shelving for backstock of household items like paper goods, party supplies, gift wrap, etc along with a rotation of items for their children that are more seasonal or that they will grow into. 

We started with the kids' stuff and did the usual sort/purge, boxing items back up into plastic tubs. We moved these to a corner of the garage so we could keep the space open for our next round of sorting with household items. These didn't take up hardly any space at all on the shelves which is great to have a little bit of open space to add to/shift items around. We continued this process with the outdoor gear and the mom's work supplies (extension of mom cave items that are seasonal Montessori supplies and outdoor toys/games). 

 
 

Items from each main category were put back onto the same shelving unit so it would be easy for anyone walking into the garage to identify what's what (and of course, LABELS!). We filled up my car with donations and created a much more family-friendly space, where they can grab what they need and know exactly where to put it back. 

It was a super fun morning working with this couple. They were very excited to reclaim this space, making packing up the summer items and preparing for fall a little bit easier!

Transformation Tuesday #61: A Basement Work-In-Progress

I posted the other week on my Instagram to show how small steps contribute to the bigger transformation. Most of the projects I work on are over the course of several sessions because there's a lot to sort, review, purge, and reorganize back into a space. 

I've been working with Ariane this summer on different spaces within her home, saving the basement for last. After a few household moves, she decided it was time to get this area in better shape. A lot of items were going to stay down here, but she needed to know what was where.

Organizing is definitely a collaborative process and depending on the project, there are times when I can work on my own. I spent the first two hours getting things grouped together by the categories that appeared - Outdoor Equipment, Kitchen, Games, Books, Pictures, Art, Art Supplies, and Toys. There was a lot of recycling like old, broken down boxes and even empty boxes. This made a huge difference in clearing these out.

 
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The next session, we reviewed the labeled piles to determine what was donate and trash. I was able to get all the "keep" items onto the shelves then start working away on the trickier items - pictures and papers. A lot of these were in half full boxes so I consolidated items and identified the new categories for these: Loose Pictures, Framed Pictures, Mail/Personal Documents, Paper Memorabilia (letters, cards, notes).

 
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With our final session, we went through the piles yet again to pare down further so she only had a pile of mail to sort through. Everything else was left boxed up and labeled. 

Basements (and garages) can be especially hard to work through because there's often times a mix of bulkier items (gardening tools, outdoor gear/toys/equipment, and cleaning supplies) mixed in with forgotten items like old boxes of paperwork. It can be harder to visualize what the space will look like when totally different items are like that are grouped together.

 
 

Once a space has been overhauled, it's best to revisit on a quarterly basis as the seasons change - swap out household decor, move things inside for the winter, etc. It makes it so much easier to find what you're looking for!

Meet the Minimalist: Sarah Kirsch

A few months ago, I was obsessively watching YouTube videos and Pinteresting pixie cuts in my research for the perfect cut. I stumbled across Sarah Kirsch’s Instagram, better known as Sarah Chambray.

I immediately was drawn to her aesthetic and her beautiful feed of pictures highlighting her love of capsule wardrobes, beauty and fashion, and all things chambray.

I wanted to learn more about how the fashion blogger started simplifying her wardrobe so I reached out and she graciously agreed to meet up!

It was so fun to sit down with her chat about capsule closets, KonMari inspiration, and how she wants to approach designing her own line.

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How did you first get into capsule wardrobes?

Someone mentioned it and I looked it up. One of the first bloggers I found who covered capsule wardrobes was Unfancy. I liked their blog for the explanation and it seemed like a really cool idea.

In fashion school, we were designing practice clothing lines and that idea, from a design standpoint, was really intriguing to simplify things down to one or two styles of an item. Instead of a focusing on fashion cycles four times a year, what if it was was only once a year? Things that can be layered, winter items can also transfer to summer.

Later on, I heard an interview with The Minimalists on a podcast and then attended a Project 333 event in Portland. I had already been doing a semi-capsule wardrobe and then decided to commit to it. I took my wardrobe down to about 40 items. As soon as summer hit, I took out my box of summer clothes to see what I wanted to wear. I went through my summer stuff and realized I didn’t really love any of it! You just sort of collect things thinking “this will work.”
 

 

What has changed in your approach to dressing/shopping/reviewing your wardrobe?

I had bought things that were fun and trendy, but then I didn’t really like it or the way it fit. I really am better in finding joy in not purchasing. I like admiring an item, enjoying the feel of the fabric … and then putting it back. Definitely a KonMari thing.

I’m still shopping but in a more intentional way and truly able to find joy in admiring things rather than buying them.

 

How does this impact other parts of your life?

We have a second bedroom at home and it’s really easy to dump things there. I’ve been trying to be good at regularly going through stuff and pare down.

I have a separate sewing studio with all kinds of bins and when they fill up, it means it’s time to go through it.

 

How has the capsule wardrobe and KonMari movements influenced you as a fashion designer?

I want to design a collection and be more intentional about how I have set things up for my studio.

I grew up doing my back-to-school shopping in thrift stores. It’s so easy to buy cheap things. I would rescue clothes and love giving them new life. I realize I can’t rescue all the clothes!

I’ve always loved fashion and that shopping high from buying stuff. Working on Hawthorne, there are so many thrift shops available. I would drop in and get all these amazing things and would buy, not being very choosy about what I brought home. I’ve found that the KonMari method and minimalist philosophy helps guide shopping habits to keep them in check - don’t buy 20 things! It just isn’t necessary.

If I see something I really want, I will wait a day before going in to ask the price. I try to think about what it can go with that I already own, how versatile it is, if I have shoes that go with it. I was used to always saving that one shirt that only went with one pair of pants. For the most part, I’ve been good at purging and replenishing quickly. Nowadays, I’m just not replenishing right away.

 
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Who are some of the designers and brands that you like?

The new Gucci stuff that is heavily embroidered; it’s almost too much visually but it works somehow!

I see a lot of local people doing cool things. I really like MOORE, she has a strong, edgier street aesthetic, very different from what I wear day-to-day, but I have a piece mixed into my wardrobe that’s really fun.

I like to shop Brass. They do different sizing so you can see how it fits people differently and with different outfits; you see people who look like you!

I like Everlane, Madewell jeans (they just fit me so well!), One Imaginary Girl, and Crossroads and Buffalo Exchange are my regular go-to’s for thrifting.

 

What do you want to focus on aesthetic-wise with designing your own line?

I want to create stuff that can work for capsule wardrobes but for people who don’t want to wear tunics all the time.Think nice button up shirts with interesting collar details. Basics but with fun and interesting things on them. I love softer colors like baby blue and pink. I want to bring a fresher, different option. Clothes don’t have to be boxy and boring to be versatile.

Oh, and pockets on everything! Two dress styles, with long and short sleeves, button ups, knit hats. A few things where it’s simple enough to produce on my own or outsource if needed. I love classically shaped pieces with a touch of feminine whimsy.

 

What advice do you have for someone who wants to simplify their closet / wardrobe and explore slow fashion?

Start with shopping your own closet first, KonMari style, where you throw it all on the bed and look at each item individually. I looked at all my shirts and really only wear four of them! From there, you start to see holes form and you realize what’s missing and what you want to replenish. Start keeping your eye open for those items that will tie multiple outfits together.

Everlane is great choice for a mid-range price point and they are super transparent about their practices. Brass focuses on clothing for capsule wardrobes.

I love the Jamie + the Jones’ raw silk tops (which start around $170) but super beautiful. I’ll  save up for a really special garment that’s handmade, easy to care for.

Last fall, I experimented with wearing the same “uniform” of a white tee shirt and jeans with different sweaters. I accessorized with jewelry and scarves to change things up. No one realized I was wearing the same thing and I realized that no one really cares what you are wearing, which is crazy to think about!

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See what Sarah is up to and head over to her blog for the latest on fashion and beauty. I’m in love with her Instagram which features lots of pastels, hair and beauty inspiration.

 

Transformation Tuesday #60: Packing Light

This week's transformation is really about a mindset, and not so much the before-and-after (don't worry - plenty of those coming your way starting next week!). I have always struggled with packing for trips because there always seemed to be too many things to plan for. 

As a kid, I was used to schlepping things from my mom's house to my dad's house, so it didn't seem unnatural to haul whatever I could fit in my suitcase to my travel destination. Once I started simplifying my closet, packing became so much easier for me. I still have some challenges with shorter trips (again, what if I need something "fancy" or the weather changes suddenly?). 

For this week's short jaunt down to Portland, I knew I needed to really consolidate because I'll be carrying my bag around for a couple of hours before checking in to my Airbnb. Since I'm using my versatile Topo backpack tote as my purse, this is the perfect opportunity to use my little bag that I picked up at a Monoprix in Paris. 

My tips for packing for short trips:

  1. Stay organized by making a list!
  2. Be realistic about your travel activities - what's the likelihood of needing something for a fancy dinner out? Pick versatile items that can layer and hold up with multiple wears.
  3. Leave space in your bag for any souvenirs you plan to pick up and snacks when you're in transit
 
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How do you keep from overpacking? Would love to hear your tips!

Transformation Tuesday #59: Kitchen Clean-Up

Whoops, summer happened and I haven't been keeping up with these transformations! Don't worry, I have plenty before-and-afters to inspire you this fall when the weather turns and you don't mind organizing as much because you aren't missing out on great weather :)

This week's transformation Tuesday is brought to you by a lovely new client who wanted some help finding homes for things in the main floor of her home - living room, dining room, and her recently renovated kitchen. I am in love with this kitchen! She knocked down a wall and was able to expand the storage so she had plenty of cupboards and drawers to store everything (and soft closing drawers to boot!).

Most of the people I work with need to edit their collections to make space or at the very least, make things fit in their current space. This client has the opposite problem - with newly available space in her kitchen, she hadn't decided where to store things so the long counter tops attracted most of the clutter.

She has all these deep drawers that can store most of her kitchen appliances so I started with clearing those away, except for the juicer and coffee maker that get used on the regular. Then I focused with getting all similar dishes, food storage, spices, etc grouped together in the space they get used the most. Spices and cooking oils stay near the stove, baking items are in a cupboard above the oven, consolidating all the food storage containers with foil, plastic wrap, lunch bags.

Spending a little extra time to decide where things go allows you to start putting things away. You can always adjust and fine-tune as needed! 

 
 

Transformation Tuesday #58: Another Detached Garage!

I wasn't kidding when I said it was garage season ... this was another fun organizing project working with my lovely friend Wendall. She uses this space for additional storage for her home and plans to create more of a work bench space where the main shelving lives. 

I snapped this picture before we started - from here, you can't see the work bench area she wanted to create. We came up with a plan of clearing out large items that needed to go. Extra tools, paint buckets, empty boxes - they all needed to go.

 
 

What a difference a few hours can make! We organized all the like items together (tools, paint supplies, gardening supplies, seasonal decor) and moved any items to sell/return to others toward the front of the garage. Now she has the space to set up her work bench on the shelving next to the door. 

I filled up my CR-V with donations and she rented a UHaul van to cart away trash and recycling. It can be so deceiving, but items can find their way into the nooks and crannies of a space. Until we start to clear it away, do we realize how much can hide away!

Have you started on your garage clean-out? I'd love to hear your tips and tricks in the comments below.

Transformation Tuesday #57: Garage Clear-Out

It's GARAGE SEASON, Y'ALL! I've been organizing several garages and basements this spring and summer and absolutely loving it. 

I got to spend a morning with a dear friend working on her detached garage. This is an area that's so easy to forget about because it feels very "out of sight, out of mind." My friend has been on a purging journey this year and it was time to finally tackle this space together.

 
 

We used the carport as the staging area for trash, recycling, and donation items. We worked through the garage clockwise, separating larger items to create more space before we began sorting through various tools, cleaners, and outdoor toys.

We were able to clear away two carloads worth of donations by the time we were done! There were several toys the kiddos had outgrown, furniture items like a rolling cart, lawn chairs, an old high chair, multiple BBQ grills - you name it, we found it! This was an opportunity to "shop" the garage for the "best of" items so that we could give away the duplicates.

 

A quick sweep and it felt like a new space. Sweeping is serious business. Now that several large items were removed, we could stack the bikes alongside one of the walls and create better accessibility with the industrial shelving. 

 
 

So satisfying to open up a pathway in this space! Spending some extra time to thoughtfully edit your garage or basement will free up your schedule in the future - no more hunting for tools or cleaning products. When you know where things belong, it's easier to put things away and stay on top of the maintenance of the room.

Transformation Tuesday #56: Reading Nook

Sneaking in this transformation before the day is over! I've been working with a lovely client on several spaces within their home got a chance to organize this little reading nook.

We had already done some paper purging and furniture-swapping in the study and guest rooms in our previous organizing sessions. They had a few chores they needed to tackle around the house so I asked if I could work on this space.

It's a great space situated off a hallway between a couple bedrooms. I love these projects because they are a great confidence-builder for those who feel overwhelmed with spaces like a bedroom closet or a basement.

In these areas, start with items that don't belong - remove any trash, recycling, dishes, laundry. After that, it's a just a matter of straightening up the books, art, and display items.

 
 

What are some of the "easy" areas you like to cross off your tidying to-do list? Let me know in the comments below!

Transformation Tuesday #55: Spring + Summer Capsules

Wow, it's been awhile since my last Transformation Tuesday post ... two months to be exact! I guess I needed a break. I've had a busy year and am still figuring out keeping myself organized when it comes to scheduling my own self-care, personal organizing projects, creating a content calendar, etc etc. That list seems to never end!

I enjoy sharing the process every season when I update my capsule wardrobe. My little organizing mind loves to keep track of how much I have, identify patterns in usage and what my aesthetic is leaning toward that season, and "breaking the rules" a little bit. I talked about this a little bit in January's capsule-building post. I feel way more comfortable picking the items that work for me vs. sticking to exactly 33 items.

So here's how it went these last two seasons:

April 2017 / Spring Capsule

I somehow managed to not take many pictures! Eek. I did clear out my closet like usual and it was a good reminder to swiffer the floor in there. I also invited my friend Maria over the following day because I needed my own spruce assistant to talk me through a couple items. I was on the fence on a few tops and cotton dresses that I couldn't seem to let go of. I would end up wearing them once in awhile and didn't know exactly why I wasn't ready to donate them. 

Maria asked me about when I liked to wear them and we discovered that they ended up being "work" clothes for basement/grungy days. They were all cotton, stretchy, comfortable yet cute. I was ok with getting them dusty and they were comfortable for the demands of crouching, kneeling, and all the bustling around of working on a basement. She suggested I create a mini capsule of just my work clothes. This was genius! I hadn't thought of this before and now I have about seven items in my work capsule, that I only wear for basement/garage days.

 
 

July 2017 / Summer Capsule

I actually found some time on July 1st to spend some time going through my clothes and it felt so good! In less than 45 minutes, I pulled everything out of the closet, dumped it on my bed, and started my review. I feel like I really love where my wardrobe is at. I usually treat myself in July to a birthday Stitch Fix box but I think I'm gonna skip it this year, mostly because I don't want to make more decisions about what to swap in new items for! 

This time around, I made a list of where I started and found it was easy to go in this order:

  • Outerwear
  • Pants / shorts
  • Sweaters / cardigans
  • Long-sleeves / 3/4 sleeves
  • Tees
  • Dresses
  • Tanks
  • Shoes
 
 

I'm pretty pleased with the 42 items I picked out. I'm very excited to break out the flowy tank/sleeveless tops and lots of cotton dresses!

What are you excited to wear in this summer's capsule wardrobe? 

 

Transformation Tuesday #54: Kitchen Pantry Catch-All

It's been a minute since I've posted some transformations and these next few weeks, I'll be sharing some of my favorites!

I had the opportunity to collaborate with my friend, Krista Kenner, and work on her family's catch-all pantry in their beautiful cliffside treehouse in Bellingham.

We had been chatting earlier this year, sharing ideas on what has been helpful in building our businesses when we decided to collaborate on one of her own spaces. Krista's in the business of helping people get into the right home. I'm in the business of helping people streamline and love their home. Her New Year's resolution was to get more organized. Yet once again, she found herself unorganized in February and was ready to get the help of a professional to get started. We knew this was going to be a fun exercise!

Before I arrived, we talked about what she wanted for this pantry and she sent some pictures so I could see what I would be working with. She described it as a catch-all closet. It's a great, huge space - most people would kill for a central closet like this in their home! Yet it was filled to the brim, with no system to keep things in their place, it mostly just stressed her out. 

The first step to every project is to clear out the space. We completely emptied it, spreading everything out on the kitchen table, island, and floor, leaving some walkways to navigate around the piles. We categorized everything, quickly identifying what needed to be easily accessible like the everyday items of snacks, paper goods, cleaning products and supplies. Some of the less frequently used items stayed up high like vases, platters, staging materials, and gift wrap.

 
 

Krista was so ready to edit down this closet's contents. As we sorted and organized, she was able to see shelves open up with more white space around what would be going back in. When you are in that mindset of simplifying, many of the decisions are easier to make. We talked about the difference between doing it on your own and bringing in support to work through it. In her own words:

"Having a plan, and the experience behind tackling a project like this, was super helpful. I tend to just stare at a mess, get stressed out, and walk away thinking 'I'll deal with this later." But having someone who was like "First we're going to do this, then this, then this," was extremely helpful. Because once we got started, we were on a roll and it was pretty simple."

Since we refreshed this space, she says she has gained confidence that to tackle other unorganized parts of the house. She used the same approach on her daughter's bedroom, which is turning into a play space now that her daughter is sharing a room with her older sister. Krista took everything out of the space - old toys, clothes, stuffed animals, baby stuff - and went through it all before it went back in. She got rid of a LOT of stuff. She now has an organized blank slate in which to reimagine, and is focused on making it a really usable space for the girls.

 
 

I loved every minute of this project! Plus, we had a couple of helpers who decided to pose for the camera :)

Not only did we have a beautiful space and plenty of storage to work with, Krista was excited to make the change in streamlining her home and we had it all documented by the one and only Ted Zee. Check out more pictures here in my new-and-improved project gallery

If you want to keep up on real estate trends in news in the Bellingham area, check out Krista's blog and follow her adventures on Instagram.

Meet the Minimalist: Judy Michael

I met Judy last year through our mutual friend and fellow simple-living advocate, Alexandra Perwin. We hit it off immediately - she understood what I was going through as a new entrepreneur trying to figure things out. She gave me lots of great advice and was embarking on her own adventure, having just left an operations role to take a break and explore a different way of working.

Over the last year, we would meet up, share ideas, see what’s working and what wasn’t with our businesses, and just catch up in general. In the last few months, she experienced some major changes which prompted this interview.

Read on to learn more about Judy’s experience with right-sizing her space and subscribing to a minimalist approach.

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What sparked your interest in simplifying?

It started last summer when I found myself at home after leaving a job and I needed productive things to do. That’s how I work things out emotionally - I like to do physical work and feel like I accomplished something. Many years ago after I got divorced, I was living with a friend. I was angry about some dealings with my ex, so I came home and cleaned my friend's house!

This time around, it was emotional purging as I was ending a big chapter in my life.  I cleaned out closets, steam cleaned the carpets, and cleaned out the garage. I even stained the fence in 95 degree weather! I like the physical work and having a result at the end. A cleaner physical space feels like a cleaner emotional space.

I saw the documentary Minimalism and there was something about their story that prompted me to do an even deeper emotional dive, therefore clearing out even more stuff than I had in the past. I even got up and cleaned out my kitchen drawers during the movie because I was excited about the concept.

A couple months later, I realized I needed to sell my house. What started out as a little bit of cleaning led to letting go of the house and ending that chapter of my life.

 

That’s a big change - had you thought about selling before?

I had tried to sell my house in 2011 and thought about moving to Edmonds. It wasn’t quite far enough past the recession to sell it because the market up here in the northern Seattle suburbs was still a bit soft.  In 2014, I was looking to sell it to move to the Midwest to be closer to my dad who is in his 90’s and had some health issues.  I figured it was a message from the universe because all the homes were selling in the area except mine. The third time - this spring -  really was a charm.

I was ready to be out of the house. I had minimized so much and was just ready to leave. Once I made the decision to move, it was a pretty fast turnaround.  I met with a realtor, listed it, had an offer in 48 hours.  The whole process was over within about six weeks.

 

Was preparing to sell the house the true start to minimizing and clutter-clearing?

Initial clutter-clearing began after leaving my last job.  My decluttering started as a way for me to detox from what I would call Incremental Stress. I had lost a few people, had my own health issues, and experienced the general ups and downs we have in life. Things pile up. You reach a breaking point and have to decide “am I going to carry this stress with me to the future?”

The house had a lot of symbolism; it was the “big girl” house that I bought on my own which was a great achievement. Then I filled up the space by buying things. I had three bedrooms, a huge kitchen, a walk-in closet, a garage. I just started filling up those spaces. It was time to let go of that chapter and scale down.

 

How do these changes inform your decision-making today?

It was little things I hadn’t anticipated because I hadn’t been living in a simplistic space.

For instance, my current fridge is half the size so I buy half as much food. I don’t do mindless shopping because I don’t have the space for excess things. I don’t have more than ten steps to walk to be in reach of everything I own. It saves time, effort, and having to think about it.

A friend and I were just talking about gifts. I don’t need another tchotchke, give me a gift card, or cook a meal for me. Simplicity results in fewer choices and a clearer head which is not a bad thing.

I am a bit of a numbers wonk and I think in terms of metrics. I timed it and it took less than 40 minutes to clean my apartment.  My house took over three hours to clean. I saved an hour a week in drive time because I live closer to people and stores I frequent.  Financially, I’ve reduced my cost of living by more than 30%!

 

Do you think if these events hadn’t happened, you would have discovered minimalism at some point on your own?

In 2001, I went from a 1,500 square foot home to living in a one bedroom in a friend’s basement after getting divorced and moving from California to Washington. I had to make a conscious decision on what I valued and what I didn’t. I left furniture behind. I had my clothes, dog, grandma’s china, some gifts from my parents. I’ve had several life events where I’ve had to leave stuff and a life chapter behind.

This is like the third round for me. It’s about getting back to what I value. I think I made more of a conscious decision this time around of what to keep and leave behind.

I knew I could scale down. Back in the fall of 2015, I had to go take care of my dad and slept on his couch in a one bedroom apartment in a retirement center. I lived off of four shirts, three pairs of pants, two pairs of shoes, and a borrowed jacket.  I didn’t feel deprived.  If I could live on less than 20 articles of clothing in ten weeks, I can definitely live on less longer-term.

 

 
 

Do you consider a minimalist?

I feel like a minimalist for me. I think it’s a self-defining term. I’m not the 29-year-old bro who can live with a backpack and no forks. I believe in consciously having the things that support you in your space.

If it’s taking too much of your time, money, or mental energy to support it, then it needs go.

 

What have been people’s reactions to these big changes?

The key reaction to selling my home has been the involuntary sucking in of their breath followed by “you’re selling your house?” with a panicked face.

They were either concerned for me or they may be concerned for themselves because we’re all in the same boat. I think some people were fearful of selling a house because if you own a house, you have a different level in society. “Homeowner” vs. “Renter” has a different connotation. At my age, there aren’t a whole lot of people who are on board with moving into an apartment because it can be perceived as a step down.

But it’s also a difficult decision to make here in Seattle,  It’s easy to sell a house, but buying a home can be a nightmare because of the expense and multiple bids that are required.  If you sell your house, you really have to be sure of where you are living next.  It’s a great investment, but a great expense at the same time.  It’s not an easy decision to make with many trade-offs.

 

Moving into less than half the space, were there any items that were still tricky to let go of?

I knew I was going to need a storage unit. A 10’ x 20’ was close to $200/month. Was the stuff going into that space worth $2,400/year?  No, it was not. I got a smaller unit, a 5’ x 10’ with the intent to sell some more things and eventually get rid of it all together.

I had all these kitchen appliances that I would use sporadically that could all be replaced by a really good knife or a blender! Scaling down the kitchen was tough because it was a creative space of rarely used items. They were too expensive to store so I got rid of them.

There is only one thing that I miss and it’s a workout shirt that I cannot find anywhere! I gave away close to 400 pieces of clothing and this is the one thing I wish I could find.

 

What is your advice to someone who wants to start minimizing?

Ponder the question as you look at things “what is of value to me?” Just ask yourself if you even like it anymore. If you are conflicted about it, that’s likely an indicator that you should let it go.

If you are still asking the questions but/if/when/can’t … you are likely not ready to let go of it.  If you’re going to have a sleepless night because you gave away your favorite books, then don’t bother.  But find your leverage point - is it emotional, financial, or logical?

For me, it was financial leverage point which was paying $2,400 to store stuff I wasn’t really using. There were also silly emotional reasons. Did I really need to keep all those pants I could no longer wear, but just hung there, mocking me, knowing I would never fit in them again? Did I really need to have two guest bedrooms just in case someone came to visit?  Not any more.  I will happily pay for someone to stay in a hotel - it’s much cheaper!

I generally have the rule that if I can’t lift it, I’m not taking it with me. There are only two things I would need help moving - the couch and bed frame. Financial costs and ease of use are the critical points for me. For others, it might be emotional.


 

What have been the other benefits of living simply?

I’m starting up my own business of writing, coaching, and training around retirement and cash flow, how to prepare now for the future. When I approached business in the past, I was looking for the latest tools, what’s the best coach, platform, what’s cutting edge. Now, the question is “how can I simply get this done with the best effort for the least cost.” I want to provide the best product with minimal effort and cost. I spent too much time and energy doing things in a complex way before. I discovered people would rather you be authentic in your approach versus having the most exciting tools.

I enjoy thinking more clearly and having fewer choices on a daily basis. I say “no” more frequently to perceived obligations.

 

Is there anything else you want people to know about you?

Yes!  I will be publishing two books this summer.  I first wrote a book about calculating how much you need for retirement, and presented facts and figures that would incent people to take action.  I also identified what I call the “10 Retiremyths” of what we are told about preparing for retirement, and what the reality is.

For instance, most financial advisors quote a rule that you need $1 million to retire at age 65.  Seriously?  If fewer than 10% of US households are millionaires, but everyone needs to be a millionaire to retire, then why is it a rule?  Is it even achievable?

I had all these nice facts and figures about retirement, and then I started to live many of the retirement issues that I was writing about. Caring for my dad when he was ill, saving for retirement, and even facing some age discrimination issues was an eye opener.

Now, I have a story to share on a personal and emotional level that goes beyond the facts and figures.  What’s it like to live your future in a retirement home?  What’s it like to downsize?  How do you look at your outdated beliefs and institute new ones?  I was able to face my challenges, simplify, and tell a story about it.  So now I have the “before” and “after” books to publish. I am using them both to put together programs to help people look at their future and what they spend, what they bring in, and the kind of mindset they need to balance it all.

My goal is to have people take responsibility for their future financial decisions through understanding their cash and living the life that they want to create.  “Managing your cash” is a bit overwhelming for people at times, but there’s such an emotional component of having the right mental framework to use your cash where you most value it.

I can still help people and it’s from a truly experiential place. All the retirement commercials aren’t really getting people to change, but when you connect with someone else’s experience of having scaled down, dealing with health issues, caring for aging parents, that’s what will help people to change.   Your story needs to help them live their story.  It’s much like what you do with your work, Rachel.  What you’ve experienced personally and with clients helps them get through their challenges more easily!

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I knew Judy had seriously right-sized her space and minimized her belongings over the last year, but I didn’t know how this has been a common theme throughout her life. There were so many great nuggets of wisdom in our conversation, namely:

“If it’s taking too much of your time, money, or mental energy to support it, then it needs go.”

If you want to learn more about Judy’s books and programs, you can visit her website here. (Note: she’s going through some website changes, which should be completed in June 2017!)

Transformation Tuesday #53: Kid's Toy Room

I've been doing a lot of organization work with a friend and had the opportunity to help her kids work on the bedroom/playroom spaces. Honestly, I was a bit anxious leading up to working with the kids, especially the older child, who expressed how much they didn't want to let go of anything.

I talked with my friend about setting the right expectations - I mean, I can make some organizing magic happen, but only if the client, regardless of their age, is ready for the change. Thank goodness she had been talking about it a lot the last couple months, because her daughter was ready! She may have been motivated by our scheduled pizza dinner afterward, but I will take what I can get!

We spent about an hour and a half working on the toy closet/playroom. My nine-year-old client was surprisingly ready to purge and very thoughtful about items that she wanted to save for her younger brother or cousins (set aside in a bag for mom to review as a double-check). 

Once we started filling up bags with donation, trash, and recycling, she saw lots of fun books and toys she had forgotten about. It was pretty cute hearing her tell stories about some of the items, who gave them to her, why they were special. I enjoyed this so much and found myself just chatting away with her as we sorted the toys.

Our big win of the day was letting go of the dollhouse. She decided she wanted to sell it so she could earn some spending money. She even wrote the ad up herself! I love how motivated this kid is. I told her when she's old enough to work, I would hire her as my organizing assistant. I was so impressed how easy it was to talk through giving away items, especially ones that she had outgrown or that she still liked, but knew was time to give away to another child to enjoy.

 
 

Do you have any success stories of decluttering with kids? Let me know in the comments!

Also ... if you know anyone in need of a dollhouse, I know the seller will be very excited to earn a little bit of money from all her organizing work :)

Happy Mother's Day!

I want to wish a very Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there, but especially to my own mother. I've mentioned before that she inspired me to turn this organizing thing into a job. She taught me how to live light in a smaller space, to respect the things I owned, and how to create a home for myself (pro tip: paint is easiest way to transform a room!).

She has always encouraged me, offered advice, listened to my ups and downs, and acted as my cheerleader. I am forever grateful for everything she has done for me, my siblings, and our family and friends. I feel a little guilty that growing up, we really struggled with her request of "peace and quite" as the gift she wanted for her birthday and Mother's Day. We would say "ok, so like, we're not really sure how to do that so what can we buy you?" 

Since I've spent the last year and a half simplifying and creating harmony in my own space, I'm starting to get the peace and quiet bit that she requested. I think she just wanted us kids not to be squabbling, but she also just wanted a calming space which translated to a tidy home.

When the outside world feels really stressful, I want to retreat into a comfortable place - a freshly made bed with a good book, or sinking into the sofa with a blanket and a cup of tea. So, thank you, Mom, for teaching me how to enjoy these simple pleasures. I not only get to enjoy this in my home, but I have the privilege of helping others find this kind of joy in their homes as well.

 
 

Meet the Minimalist: Sunny Gill

I worked with Sunny about a year and a half ago and would gush about the latest KonMari adventures in my home with him (and make the occasional request that he create some kind of tidying emoji for me). I didn’t realize how tidy and truly minimalist he really was until I visited his home in Beacon Hill. There was a lot of open space and everything had a purpose or meaning for him. I wanted to learn more about his minimalistic approach not just with his home, but work and life in general.

When he’s not at his day job as a systems support tech, he’s obsessing over his new Botanicum book, creating all kinds of ceramic pieces, and taking Spanish lessons with plans to travel to Cuba someday.

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Do you consider yourself a minimalist?

No, to be honest, it’s just a lifestyle I’ve lived since I was a kid. I’ve grown up all across Washington from Monroe, Kent, Tukwila, to Bellevue. My dad was a business owner and we moved around a lot. Every where I lived, it didn’t feel like I was there for very long.

Even now I can look around at a room and break down how I would move my stuff. Not having an extraordinary amount of stuff, it’s second nature to me.

 

Was that hard as a kid to move around like that?

This was normal for me. We had family photos up and that kind of thing in my house, but not the excess stuff you usually see in homes.

I like to have meaning behind my stuff. The tapestry I have hanging up is from a street market in Delhi. I was shopping with a friend, saw it, and had to have it. The framed art in my kitchen are illustrations by friends. If there’s no meaning in it, it eats up space.

Going to Ikea or Target and buying stuff for the sake of hanging it up, I don’t connect with that.

Literally everything around me has meaning … well, except for my plants … well, my nursery. I keep rescuing all these plants!

 

Have you ever had challenges with roommates when they don’t share the same minimalist mindset?

My current roommate is also pretty minimalist, but yes, it’s been a source of frustration in the past living with people who aren’t as organized as I would like to be. But some things you just have to let go of.



How has minimalism helped you in a positive manner?

It’s helped immensely at work. A coworker of mine left my company and they were hoarding all this stuff! I stripped it down and got rid of ⅞ of the stuff. It’s now streamlined and you can find what you need.

I’m always about keeping organized space. I don’t need extras of anything. It also looks really nice. It’s just a professional way to be.

I find that I have a less cluttered mindset when I have less stuff around me. It definitely transfers over to work for me. It kind of becomes part of you.

 

Has anyone ever given you grief for being so organized?

Sure, especially because it’s seen as a more feminine characteristic. But I benefit from being so organized. You can tell what someone’s mindset is by looking at their desk and their home.

 

What’s your philosophy on stuff?

I know that people hate getting rid of things because of the amount of money they spent on it. What’s the use of it, though, if it’s not getting used? It’s filling up space. You should connect to your stuff and find the meaning in it.

 

How does minimalism inform giving gifts to others?

Instead of giving teddy bears or chocolate or some garbage, I focus on things that are functional. Like a candle holder that can also be used as a cup. I have always given things that help people in some way that can be used like socks, a raincoat, something that can be useful.

Someone gifted me some Lego holiday pieces and I just recycled it. I didn’t know what to do with it!

 
 

What’s your most prized possession?

That mirror! It opens up the room, it extends light, and I just love having this gigantic mirror. It’s funny because it’s my second one, [my cat] Miso broke the first one. The second day we had it, it wasn’t bolted to the wall, she got curious and knocked it over. An $800 mirror turned into a $1,600 mirror (from West Elm). This one IS bolted to the wall.


 

What’s been the most ridiculous thing you’ve gotten as a gift?

Actually, the stuff from my mom! Which is funny because she doesn’t like having clutter around so she’s always trying to give me kitchen appliances, mugs, plates. I’m always refusing this stuff! It comes from a loving place because she knows I love cooking but I have what I need.

 

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned as a result of growing up minimalist?

It’s hard for me to answer this question, to be honest. I never get too comfortable with my surroundings. I think that helps. I like to move things around.

The art and tapestries have moved around. Having more space helps. One thing that causes clutter is that people get too comfortable in their space - not paying attention to what’s around them.

 

What do you want people to know about this lifestyle?

This is a reflection of my mind, really. I have an organized mind and don’t feel overwhelmed taking on chores, tasks, projects. Minimalism isn’t something you turn on and off, it becomes part of your disposition.

It’s a step-by-step situation, not something that happens overnight. Think of exercising a muscle in your body, over time it becomes stronger and more prominent. The more you practice it, the better you become at it.

 

Has this helped reduce stress around travel, moves, etc?

Definitely. Some people take multiple suitcases to India and I only take a small suitcase, not even full. Packing light makes travel easier, especially international travel.

Some people are buying these expensive things that are designer with labels. Most of what I wear don’t have labels (Nudi jeans, Everlane shirt, labeless hat).

 

What’s your best organizing hack or tip to share?

If I don’t use something for about a week, I’ll put it away or get rid of it. I bought this set of mugs thinking I would use them with guests over,  and they come over, I found that I was only using half of them.

I do a lot of bulk spices - I don’t want to use a whole thing of vanilla bean powder. I buy what I need and work it into my meal plans. I focus on what I’m going to make then go out and buy it. Maybe it takes a little more time to plan, but it saves time, money, and space.

You don’t have to Craig’s List it. You can recycle it! People always want to make an extra dollar but how much time do they spend trying to make a few bucks?

 

What’s your advice to someone who is ready to simplify?

You don’t have to go at it and be overwhelmed with everything around you. Take one drawer at a time or make one small change at a time.

With my lawn, I made one change at a time and now it looks gorgeous! It can be overwhelming trying to do it all at once. You don’t have to do a huge spring cleaning event to get there.

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If you want to see more of what Sunny’s up to, you can follow him on Instagram