For her junior year at Washington University, my daughter, Rebecca, moved into an off-campus apartment. Lucky for her, ClosetMaid had provided furniture for her dorm room the previous year that could be repurposed and paired with some new pieces to create a mature and modern space.
When we arrived in St. Louis, the living room in the new apartment was filled with boxes. Some were filled with items that had been ordered or shipped from home. Others were packed by the school when the pandemic shut down colleges the previous spring. Armed with box cutters, the first four hours in the new apartment were spent emptying boxes and moving them out of the apartment.
The apartment filled with boxes.
Once the boxes were emptied, and the items were sorted by category, the fun began. We used two X-frame bookshelves (previously split between Rebecca’s dorm bedroom and the dorm shared living space) to flank the media stand, creating a wall unit with these versatile pieces. These shelves provide ample room for Rebecca’s books as well as candles, photos, and artwork. The drawers of the media stand store cords, chargers, and notebooks while the shelves hold fun books and games.
ClosetMaid bookshelves flank the media stand.
A new couch by Best Choice Products was selected for its clean and modern look as well as its ability to convert to a bed. The coffee table with shelves, taken from Rebecca’s dorm room provides useful storage. A tray corrals the remote control for the television, and games for small gatherings with friends are stored on the handy shelves.
Couch with ClosetMaid coffee table and art work by Romi Tannenbaum
How much is too much? What is the “right” amount of something to have? As an organizer, these are questions I’m frequently asked, and the answer is different for every situation. It depends on three factors:
How much space do you have?
How much money do you want to spend?
What do you realistically use?
I recently found a stockpile of brand new socks that my husband, Jeff, had stored between two stacks of sweatshirts. I was horrified. And, when I opened his sock drawer to put them away properly, I was even more horrified. There were piles and piles of socks… So, I asked Jeff to explain. Here’s how our conversation went:
Judd Spodek, President of Sit Happens, and dog trainer extraordinaire has a slogan on his company truck, “We don’t train husbands, wives, or kids.” I can relate; in spite of working with three dog trainers, my dog, Charly, remains anxious and untrained. The reason is simple; while I did everything the trainers instructed, the rest of my family did not. In time, each trainer told me I was wasting my money. Unless everyone was on the same page, the dog wasn’t going to learn. So, “sit” didn’t happen for Charly. [Disclaimer: Judd and I agreed that he wouldn’t be trainer number four until my husband agreed to follow his training protocol].
Organizing works the same way. If you want your home organized, you need the cooperation of your family. Often, one person is extremely motivated to purge and organize (probably the person reading this), but another family member, or every other family member, creates a bottleneck.
Our featured client this month is Samantha, the mother of three young children and the matriarch of a large extended family. This hostess extraordinaire often cooks for 30 family members and friends to celebrate Shabbat each weekend. In addition, Samantha maintains toys for every possible age group to ensure that even the youngest guest has appropriate entertainment. Over time, though, her home has become the self declared “weigh station” for toys, clothing, books, cookware, and furniture for relatives and friends with younger children, ones who have yet to have children, and even those who are not yet married.
Like many women who hire us, Samantha’s organizational skills are the envy of her friends (“why do you need an organizer,” is a popular refrain she hears). Yet, Samantha felt that she needed expert advise in how to streamline her life to entertain and function at a higher level. She knew it was time to take back her home – it could no longer be a proverbial ‘candy store’ for children and adults alike – and she needed our help.
Like most of my projects, this one started with a phone call. There was a townhouse and two dads, two kids, two dogs, and way too much stuff. Could we help? Of course.
At the first appointment, we met Bill and Alvarro, two busy dads at their home in Brooklyn Heights which was beautifully decorated yet warm and child friendly. From the basement to the office on the top floor, we could see the evidence of a well lived life. Gifts, souvenirs from travel, photos, school projects, and books could be found in boxes and piles throughout the house. Bill and Alvarro craved better organization so that they could live with less clutter and less stress. After a walk through of the house, we made a plan: we would meet once a week, and tackle one room at a time, starting in the kitchen.
About a year ago, a friend asked if I would consider doing a project pro bono; Lisa Meshulam, a single mother of triplets, desperately needed help with organization of her one bedroom apartment. I was intrigued.
When I saw the apartment, it was piled floor to ceiling with storage boxes on wire racks. Cube furniture was filled with bins, books, and papers. Children’s drawings and photos were taped to the walls, and the kitchen counters overflowed with food that didn’t fit in the pantry. Lisa slept in a bed in the corner of the living room, sacrificing her privacy so the boys could share the single bedroom. While the boys’ room was cleverly outfitted with two bunk beds, it was overrun with clutter. Clothing spilled out of empty cubes and onto the floor.
I immediately agreed to help and started by enlisting ClosetMaid as a sponsor. Then, I assembled my team of organizers, and began operation organize.
I am fortunate to have a mother turning 80 this year who is beautiful, smart, and active in her community. When we decided she should have a party to celebrate this milestone birthday, our first decision was where it should be. Our second was what kind of invitation we would send.
My mother, remarkably, had never received an evite. It seems that many in her generation still order paper invitations, addressing them by hand, and adhering stamps to each envelope before dropping them in the mail. When I explained the concept of an evite to her, she was incredulous. To her, the concept was almost magical.
Deadly flooding, devastating hurricanes, and raging wild fires – never in my memory have so many natural disasters occurred in such a short period of time. News reports talk about the loss of lives, loss of homes, and loss of financial security for those impacted, and even weeks later, for some, the unavailability of basic needs like water and sanitary supplies is still an issue. Yet, even with such unthinkable loss, the victims are equally saddened by the loss of sentimental items held so dear.
People sometimes facetiously consider what they would grab if there were a fire or an immediate need to leave their home. Yet, in a true emergency, when these questions are no longer hypothetical, an emotional paralysis ensues. Your child has 50 “special” stuffed animals. You have 30 “special” sweaters, and no idea where your important papers are stored, or, even what would be considered important. Your home is overflowing with so many “special” items that, in the end, nothing is special.
Recently, a friend of a friend came to me with the following dilemma: “My husband is a slob. He won’t put anything back where it belongs. Sometimes I think he does it just to bother me. How can I get him to at least make an attempt at being helpful around the house?” My response to her follows:
It’s a challenge to live with someone who doesn’t share your desire for organization. While it’s frustrating that he won’t put anything back where it belongs, you can try to show him the benefits of doing so. For example, he won’t waste time looking for things if they’re in a designated place, he won’t waste money buying things he already has, and life will be less stressful when he’s not wasting time and money. If he recognizes the upside to being organized, he may be more willing to help around the house.
From a practical perspective, your husband can be a slob, but you can confine him to “his” areas of the house. The kitchen, living room, and den are public spaces that need to be kept clean. His closet, dresser, and desk area can be as messy as he’d like. If he leaves his belongings in the public areas of the house, I would drop them in his area, and close the door or drawer. At some point, he may decide that he can’t live with his mess, and make more of an effort.
What does every mom REALLY want for mother’s day? It’s not breakfast in bed, it’s not flowers, and it’s not a new kitchen appliance. What she really wants is more time, more hours in the day, and the feeling, at least for a few minutes, of being caught up. Caught up with all of the emails, endless forms that need to be filled out, loads of laundry, and to do lists. Caught up with her friends and what’s going on in their lives, and caught up with herself. That is what would make her happy.