Organizing and Downsizing with Seniors – A Case Study Part 2

understair-storage-spaceThis is part two of my earlier blog/case study of working with a wonderful couple in their mid to late sixties, the motivation for their organizing project and the process in general.

Facilitating change

Facilitating change and effective communication was essential in this particular project. After 40 years together in the same home in which they raised their children and now entertained their grandchildren Mr.  & Mrs. X had a lifetime of possessions to sort through which was causing tension and strain in their relationship.  This can be an incredibility horrendous undertaking for most people, and even more so for those with physical limitations.  And life happens.  People get busy with their work, hobbies and family (the important things in life) and typically the last item on their “to do” list is to get to that pile of papers in the office or sort through the “spare room” that has turned into a dump zone for storage and other “stuff”.  Although they had no immediate plans to downsize to a smaller home, they knew the state of certain rooms in their house was not healthy and they wanted to simplify their lives.


Taking a tour

Therefore, once the initial information gathering stage of the consult was completed we moved on to take a tour of the spaces that were cause for concern.  Our first stop was a closet area that was used as an overflow for pantry items and apparently everything else.  When I opened up the closet I came face to face with 5 feet of “stuff” that seemed to have been quickly tossed inside.  There appeared to be some shelving along the perimeter which was also packed with items.  I asked a few questions with respect to how they wanted the closet to be used, calculated the time it would take to tackle the space and we moved on.

Next up was the “hobby room”.  The door was tightly closed and upon entering it was evident that the door would not open completely due to obstructions within the room itself.  I made my way inside, carefully stepping over various objects, jotting down notes and again asking questions about the room. Mrs. X was very embarrassed by the state of this particular room and I reassured her that I was there to offer solutions and not to make judgments.


It’s not uncommon for me to feel a sense of excitement when I go through various rooms in a particular project because I know that when I finish my work I will have made such an amazing transformation for my clients.  Almost immediately I’m able to get a vision for the room and get an itch to get started right away.  It’s almost comical how excited I get and I don’t hesitate to tell my clients that I can’t wait to get started.  It’s like Disneyland for me!

In my next post I’ll continue with this project and the steps we took to achieve change.  It was such a wonderful challenge and so exciting!

A Case Study of Motivation For Getting Organized and Downsizing

Sidebar_foyerI’ve started a new organizing and de-cluttering project with a wonderful couple in their mid to late sixties. They called me because the state of their home is straining their relationship of 40 years.    It’s not at all unusual that disorganization and clutter in a household can cause stress and tension between couples no matter how long they have been together.

When I first drove up to their home in an older, established neighbourhood I noticed that there were some minor repairs and maintenance needed to the exterior of the house.  Not at all uncommon for an older couple.  It can become increasingly difficult to maintain a home if there are physical restrictions or limitations those individuals may be challenged with.

The initial consultation

Upon entering their 4 bedroom home it presented as very well kept, tidy and clean.  During our initial consultation and needs assessment we all sat in the living room as I jotted down information, inquired about any health issues I would need to be aware of and went through my in depth assessment in order to be able to understand how they function within their home and what their requirements and concerns were.

It was not too long into the consult when it became evident that the wife was not at all pleased with the state of certain rooms in the house and expressed a significant amount of blame and anger with her husband. She was extremely embarrassed to have anyone over to her home, including myself, and was very concerned about what her neighbours might think.  This is fairly common as there seems to be unfortunate negative connotation to being disorganized and bringing in the “big guns”.  Why not bring in a professional if your home is not functioning as well as it should? The thing is the majority of homes I work in are not in the state of clutter that you see on those television shows about hoarders. In fact, when you first walk into the homes we work in most of the disorganization is hidden behind doors and cabinets and not necessarily in plain view.

Tension in relationships

In any event, with these clients the tension was palpable and there were at times some harsh glances between husband and wife.  Mr. X was quite soft spoken and although not in denial about his part in the disorganization, he used humour as a defense to the allegations and stress expressed by his wife while also acknowledging her concerns. At this point I had not taken a tour of the home or seen the clutter that was disrupting their relationship and their life.  Although there was a great deal of tension between them it was also very clear that they loved each other dearly and that Mr. X was willing to do whatever was necessary to make things better both in their home and in their relationship.

In my next post I’ll continue with this story of motivation, support and facilitating change with these great people.

Downsizing: Tips To Be A Minimalist In Your Home

Minimalist home organizationMinimalism.  Living more simply. Streamlining.

We hear these words and statements more often now, especially because so many people are downsizing their spaces.  I work each week with space-challenged clients to solve their organizing problems and I think that makes me somewhat of an expert on the issue.

Of course there are many advantages to being a minimalist.  Less stress, more time (less cleaning), less frustration, and no need to find a home for the stuff you really don’t need.

You can easily downsize with style by identifying your priorities and with effective use of accessories, lighting, artwork and colour.

Think about secret spaces for extra storage.  Hollow architectural columns are perfect so you can add shelves or a door on one side.

For flexibility when downsizing stick with a bed that doesn’t have a foot board. Transform end tables into coffee tables by simply cutting down the legs.

And don’t forget to de-clutter clear surfaces and have a place for everything.

This cool Infographic below, courtesy of The Picket Fence, is a visual look at minimalism.




Helping Older Adults & Seniors Downsize

downsizingEvery year thousands of older adults and seniors face the decision of whether to downsize to smaller living accommodations or to stay in their existing homes.  For some the decision to downsize is made for them due to serious illness or perhaps the death of a loved one.  Sometimes the comfort and safety of people comes into play. But regardless of the reason, the upheaval and relocation can be traumatic.  My experience in this industry has clearly indicated that it is even more so for seniors.

I received a call from a gentleman whose mother was living alone and had recently injured her leg falling over piles of newspapers that she had collected.  He was concerned for her health and safety due to the amount of belongings and clutter that she had accumulated.  He wanted to move her into a condominium and was looking for assistance in helping to sort through a lifetime of her possessions.

Safety First

Safety is usually the first thought that comes into mind when considering downsizing.  Home location and its construction are very important issue to consider.  A few questions you may want to ask yourself are: (i) is the home easy to get around in? (ii) can the maintenance of the home be easily managed by the occupant? (iii) how close is the home to local shopping centres and banks?

Limitations regarding the physical abilities of the people in the home are also relevant and need to be considered.  Can basic personal hygiene be handled?  What about manoeuvrability in and out of the bathtub or shower?  What about memory issues as it relates to safety?  Leaving a burner lit on the stove or a pot boiling over can be a potentially dangerous situation.

Let the idea of downsizing marinate.

If you know an older adult or senior who should consider downsizing, it’s best that you introduce them to the idea slowly.  Many well-meaning family members may push too hard resulting in more resistance.   Sometimes it’s helpful to suggest  to your parents that they may wish to make the decision of moving to a smaller home when they still can.  Sometimes illness or injury, like that of my client, ends up making the decision for you and you are then forced to move when perhaps you don’t feel ready.

Emotions play a role.

Often times adult children don’t play an active role in the downsizing process due to other family and work obligations.  The stress and tension can be very high for all members of the family and often times it’s best to call and hire an experienced professional organizer to assist and make the process run smoothly and without trauma. In addition, adult children often feel a lot of turmoil when long time family possessions are sorted and pared down.  I have personally seen the upheaval of emotions cause conflicts among family when these conflicts could easily have been minimized by initiating a few simple organizing and downsizing strategies to be prepared.

For me, working with older adults and seniors is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work.  I don’t just work for my clients, but with them, side by side, hands on coaching, motivating and encouraging.   Working collaboratively I have helped clients make decisions on what to keep, what to pass on to family or others, and what to be discarded.

Senior couple

One way I like to encourage and motivate my clients is to suggest that the preparation of a move to a smaller home is the first step of a fresh start, a new chapter in their lives and perhaps an even greater adventure!  Preparation is key to a successful downsize so that precious memories can still be treasured while streamlining for a simpler and more efficient lifestyle.

5 Reasons Cluttered Homes Don’t Sell

De-cluttered home that sellsThis article was originally published on the Comfree Blog, where I am a frequent contributor. You can view the original article here.

You’ve got several people in line to take a look at your house that you’ve just put up for sale. The lawn is immaculate, the driveway is as smooth as glass, and there isn’t a single wrinkle in your clothes. However, behind closed doors lies a completely different story.

“I know where to find everything in my own house!” you might argue. That might very well be true for you, but what about the couple looking at your home for the first time? Are they convinced?

It turns out that it does matter to other people whether your home is presented as spic and span or as the remnants of a hurricane. The “hygiene” of your house can potentially be the difference between a brief, disinterested house tour and an enthusiastic down payment.

Here are five reasons cluttered houses don’t sell and why you should clear the clutter before putting it on the market.

1. First impressions are critical

From the moment a potential buyer sets foot in the house their opinion on how suitable it is as a home depends greatly on first impressions. It makes sense. Why buy something that doesn’t deliver your specific needs?

It’s critical to ensure that every room conveys its purpose. There shouldn’t be plates in the living room nor should there be newspapers scattered in the kitchen. Only when everything is in its rightful place can a potential buyer assume that the house offers living space appropriate to his or her needs.

2. Potential buyers need to be able to visualize themselves in the home

Not that you need to encourage anyone to make themselves feel at home but if you’re hoping to make a sale you want potential buyers to relate to you as a homeowner. The couple taking a look around your living room should be able to picture themselves sitting on the couch with their feet on the coffee table after a long day.

If your couch is covered in dog fur and your coffee table is littered with old mail, chances are they’re not picturing anything of the sort.

3. Buyers want a home with lots of space to live in

Ultimately, you want to present your house as a place that is suitable for comfortable living. Spaciousness is crucial in illuminating the potential of the house in that regard.

With the right furniture arrangement you can make that effort to appease potential buyers and demonstrate that they too can enjoy living in this very house with as much or as little space as they desire. But of course show them more space as opposed to less and let them see what they’re working with.

4. Your closet says a lot about you

Someone taking a look in your bedroom might like to see how much closet space your room has. Probably so they can know how much junk they can store inside without rhyme or reason.

You should not, however, use your closet that way, at least not during a tour of the closet. Everything inside should be neat and orderly. If you have clothes or other items spilling out, a potential buyer might believe that their own mess won’t fit inside. The trick is to avoid presenting them with a mess in order to show off how much space there actually is.

5. Messy home = messy owners

You know that saying “never judge a book by its cover”? Forget that. Consider yourself judged. How you physically present yourself doesn’t matter nearly as much as how you physically present the house, seeing as it’s the house people are interested in buying.

A messy, cluttered house tells potential buyers that the owners have messy, cluttered minds. If you don’t even have time to wash that tower of plates on the kitchen counter, how is anyone supposed to believe that you have time to clean and maintain facilities within the rest of the house?

Downsize And Simplify Your Life


Downsizing is creating in a smaller space and can often be a daunting process.  For seniors it can be even more overwhelming, especially when you have lived in a home for several decades collecting numerous possessions along the way.

Every year, thousands of older adults and seniors leave their larger homes for smaller, more manageable spaces.

Several reasons exist for seniors who want or need to downsize.

According to some of my clients it’s because they no longer want the burden of home ownership.  For others the kitchen is too difficult in which to manoeuvre and retrieve items, or the home is too far from grocery stores and banks. Often times the hallways in older homes are too narrow and there are too many stairs. Housekeeping is difficult to keep up with and for many physical and health issues make caring for a home too difficult.

If you are considering taking the plunge to a more simplified way of life there are a few things you can do to get started before you move.

First, look at the top shelves in your home.  The ones you can’t reach.  If you have items on any tops shelves in your current home it’s because you either don’t need them or can’t reach them.  Whichever the case, it’s likely a safe bet that you can let those items go.

Secondly, don’t hold yourself hostage to being a keeper of all the heirlooms from your family. I’ve heard from many clients that this is their primary reason for not letting go of items they no longer have room for. Take a photo of the item and then send it to other family members to see if anyone would be interested in taking the item.  If not, you know that it is safe to donate to charity or send it along to a consignment store without causing family despair.

Thirdly, remember you can still keep the memories without keeping every possession that goes with that memory.  Consider taking swatches of cloth from special, treasured items and a few tokens of memorabilia and creating a memory box rather than keeping every single item.

Consider how much you can gain from downsizing to a smaller home. Think of it as an opportunity to start a more secure and socially active way life so you can do more, have more free space and room to move around without barriers to safety.

Lastly remember that you are still you without all your stuff.  We are only a caretaker of our stuff.  When we pass on, someone else becomes that caretaker. It’s better to downsize now when you are physically able and can still make the decisions on what to keep and what to let go of than have to do it when the choice is taken away from you. Ultimately, downsizing is the process of sorting through all kinds of stuff to determine what is most meaningful and important.

To downsize is to simplify, lighten up and get organized. Remember, the important things in life are not things. It’s the people who are important.  Just keep the memories, not the stuff.

Quick Tips For Preparing Your Home For Sale

Selling your home can be a very stressful experience.  So why not make it as simple and easy as possible to get your home ready and sold quickly.  This requires you to look at your home with fresh eyes.  But with the following tips to get your home ready for sale you will be well on your way to a quick and stress free home sale experience.

  1. Remove unnecessary furniture and household possessions.
  2. Think “de-clutter” and then multiply that by three.
  3. Don’t assume people can look past your clutter and disorganization.
  4. Depersonalize your home and remove family photos and treasures, magnets and other mementos you have around your house.
  5. Give your closets and drawers a “fall cleaning” as you can be sure any potential buyer will be opening your closets and cupboards to check out how much space there is.
  6. Clean and de-clutter every corner of your home.
  7. Don’t forget the garage.

When it comes to preparing your home for sale, less is more. You want to make the space feel bigger.  Any who knows?  After you follow through on these tips you may decide you like the simplified, streamlined and clutter free look and change your mind on selling your home!  I had a client who did just that after we de-cluttered and organized his cottage.  He liked what we did so much that he decided not to sell after all!

Sometimes you just need a change of perspective and see how wonderful living clutter free can be.

The Valuation Of Possessions …

There is a difference between the value of an object and how it actually fits in your life. One of the challenges that I face when working with my clients is their idea of what is valuable.  This usually occurs when we are paring down possessions and a client is hesitant to let something go because of what he or she paid for it and what it was worth in the past.    For instance, I have a client who is holding onto a very old dining room set she and her ex-husband acquired over 25 years ago. Their marriage ended 12 years ago and she has since moved to a much smaller home in which this dining room set is much too large for the dining room itself.  In fact with the set in the room there is actually no room to move around so the room and the set are effectively unusable. In addition, she identified that she dislikes entertaining and having people over for dinner so to have a dining room set does not even fit into this client’s life.

The space could be better used in a way that reflects her lifestyle. Yet she does not wish to let go of this set because she paid over $20,000.00 for it in 1988 and it is still in very good condition.   If you ever find yourself saying “hey, I paid a lot of money for that” you are evaluating the object based on its past value, not the present value.  If the item is of no use to you now and not important to your present life, the fact that you paid a lot for it doesn’t change the fact that it is taking up valuable real estate in your home and actually costing you more in terms of time, energy and space to store, clean and maintain.  Why do this when you get no benefit from it when you could actually sell or donate the item to someone who could benefit from it.


What are you holding onto that is no longer a benefit to you?

Paring Down Your Vases?

How many vases is too many vases?  I have been in client’s homes assisting with their organizational needs and it never fails that we come across vases in the kitchen, in the dining room, sometimes even plopped down somewhere in the basement.  We all have received them for birthdays, get well’s, anniversaries etc. yet we rarely go through them all to determine what to keep and what to pitch.  Of course, my clients are often surprised by just how many they have when we actually put them all together on a table.

I recommend to my clients that, depending on how often they receive and display flowers, they keep anywhere from 3 to 5 maximum. Remember that many vases can serve a multitude of purposes.  Also remember that if you don’t have the perfect vase you will likely have something else in your home that you could use as one.  For instance, a ceramic or glass water pitcher or cylindrical pot can work just as well.

Vases take up alot of precious space. When paring down your vases, donate those that you rarely use & don’t really like.  We all have those favorites that we continue to use time and time again.  Ideally, you want to keep a small, medium and a large in a shape that can be multifunctional. When a new one comes into the house, don’t feel obligated to keep it.  Decide if it should stay and if so, which one of your existing vases it should replace. If you never display flowers, that’s okay too.  Then perhaps you need only keep one that is multifunctional for that special occasion.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much space you have freed up!


Spring Cleaning – Storage Locker Organization

As you know from my previous post, I was faced with the challenge of organizing two condominium storage lockers for “spring cleaning”.  It was quite a challenge as the owner of the lockers, as well as his two sons, are sports enthusiasts and involved in everything from hockey, lacrosse, golf, fishing to mountain biking and more. The main storage locker had to accommodate all the sports gear for easy transitioning from one type of sport to another, as well as store all seasonal items.  As you can see from these photos, the locker was an obstacle course and in a state of disorganization making it virtually impossible to maneuver and reach anything without tripping and falling over stuff.

Storage Locker Before OrganizingStorage Locker Before Organizing

Faced with two concrete walls and two wire grid walls, being creative and having a vision was essential to be successful in this project.  Most condominiums have very strict rules regarding storage lockers and what you can and cannot do.  Utilizing new storage shelving, re-configuring the space and sectioning off parts of the locker into specific zones for sports and seasonal holiday items was the most efficient and functional way to work through this project without breaking any condominium rules. My client was so excited about this project that within 30 minutes of starting the final organization and set up session, he actually sent his girlfriend down to see what was happening with the space.  Then not long after that he came down himself, on 2 or 3 different occasions, to “nonchalantly” check it out and see the transformation take place. He was like a little boy at Christmas, he just couldn’t wait.  When I completed the final touches and he came down for the big reveal, he was in fact thrilled with the outcome.  Here’s the picture I took after the project was completed.

It was a challenging experience and the outcome was a successful transformation into a fully accessible, safe and functional space. Look! You can even see the floor! What’s your next challenge?