Charlotte—More Than a Friend

Charlotte—More Than a Friend

I lost a dear friend this week. Actually, she’s not lost. It’s me who’s lost just knowing she’s not here. Her earthly ties were cut loose and she flew right into the arms of Jesus. I’m hurting for my loss but no doubt the loss is felt much more by her dear husband of over 60 years and all the extended family who loved her so much.

Charlotte Parker was a friend, a mother figure and a mentor to me. She lived large. Her presence wasn’t subtle. She knew who she was and knew how God had gifted her, and unlike many of us, she actually employed her gifts in gracious and abundant ways. She was like a walking Bible. She didn’t question whether the Bible was true or whether it was relevant today. That was a no-brainer.

In Charlotte’s mind there was never a doubt about the nearness of God and that He spoke directly to us through His Word. The last time I visited with her in her home, which was way too long ago, she had me on the edge of my seat as she expressed truth she was learning. When I returned to my sister’s home where I was staying, I quickly grabbed my journal and wrote everything I could recall that she’d shared. Her sermonettes were life-changing to me.

In my younger years, I was a single mom for what seemed a really long season. I’d occasionally have friends graciously help with all the children in my care—my two plus around five others. I’d go hang out with Charlotte and help in her home. She told me that she loved having me in her kitchen. I’ve enjoyed organizing things my entire life, and I’d empty the drawers and cabinets periodically and put them in better order. I remember snitching bites of the apple cake that had been sitting on the counter under the glass dome for just long enough to be extra moist. I’d clean out the fridge and help any way I could just to be around. I remember she insisted that I bring home lots of delicious leftovers (or they’d be thrown away).

Charlotte showed me how to cook summer yellow squash and onion in a skillet with oil–I can still smell it. We kneaded bread together and she taught me to spend that time praying for the loved ones who would enjoy the bread. I’d always wondered how to pass that boring time kneading. Many folks would agree she was a phenomenal cook!

I remember the time Charlotte asked me to prepare a layered salad for her house guests. A recipe from a bygone era—we used to make it often. The salad had layers of lettuce, bacon bits, peas, cheese etc. and was topped with mayonnaise for the dressing. It would keep in the fridge for a couple of days and was tossed before serving.

A week or so after I brought her the salad she asked me over for lunch. She served the yummiest soup. “Guess what kind of soup this is?”, she said. I made all kinds of guesses, then she grinned the biggest grin and said, “Remember the salad you brought me?” I was stunned! She’d used the leftover salad, added broth and served it proudly like the gourmet fare it was.

Here’s what is interesting and impactful about that story. Charlotte’s most profound and lasting lesson for me was her famous teaching entitled, What do you have in your hand? The salad-soup was a perfect example of utilizing to the best of her ability and creativity what she had available. The Old Testament reference for the story is from II Kings 4:4-7. It’s about a poor widow who encountered Elijah.  Even now that principle resonates in my spirit as fresh and powerful. I need to pass these truths on to younger women who haven’t heard.

I keep looking for an end to my story, but memories flood my mind.

Not long before I married Tom, my friends gave me the sweetest shower. To make it extra special, Charlotte shared from her heart an encouraging message, especially for me. I wish I had the words written down somewhere. What I remember is that she gave me a little candle table; the kind with a hinge to let the top swing down. She set a brass candlestick on the table and talked about what it meant to be a light to those around us. I now believe her comments were prophetic. She said Tom and I would be a light to the people around us. Ironically, we received an unusual number of candlesticks for wedding gifts. And we’ve hosted groups in our home for over thirty years. I guess it’s just an extension of who we are.

The last thirty-two years Charlotte and I have lived about 800 miles apart. She’s visited me a couple of times and I visited her when I was in her home town. But for so many years we hardly talked at all. An occasional note perhaps, but I’m realizing now I could have been much better about staying in touch. It was my loss for certain. I’m mad at myself for not following the nudges I had from time to time to call her or even write. I’m very sad today and somehow it seems that writing my memories and feelings will help.

My post is probably (selfishly) mostly  for me. But if there’s anything I can share with my friends, it’s this: Don’t wait to spend time with your loved ones and don’t ignore or put off those little nudges to take some sort of steps. Life is short and so unpredictable.

I think of so many things I haven’t mentioned; what a gifted artist Charlotte was, that she was a published author, how lavishly she showed hospitality, that she had a green thumb and grew the most magnificent roses…so many memories.

If you’ve been in our home, you might have noticed one or two of Charlotte’s paintings. I’m especially glad to have them now.

Finally, I’ll stop thinking of myself, and simply choose to rejoice for Charlotte. She’s happier and more fulfilled than ever before. In Heaven she knows no pain or sadness. I can imagine her reuniting with her friends and family who arrived earlier! I’ll gratefully carry the memories and allow what I’ve learned to change me. And I’ll continue to pray for the ones here who are bereft over her loss.

House Speak

House Speak

I take frequent walks and the houses I pass always grab my attention. As part of my Tranquiliving business, I give staging consultations to folks selling their homes. I’m hyper-vigilant about every single exterior detail of a house—the curb appeal.  After all, the exterior is the introduction to the entire home. Many a buyer will turn away before getting near the entry if they’re unhappy with what they see!

First prize for the Most Unwelcoming House (my conscience prevents me from calling it a home!) goes to one I saw last week. Of modest size, and plopped down in a pleasant  little community, this place had no less than four large NO TRESPASSING signs. One of the signs was posted on the front door! Right where some people might hang a wreath or place a brass door knocker. I gulped when I walked past. I had to turn and walk by a second time just to let it sink in. I couldn’t help but imagine the story that had transpired beyond the front door. Had they incurred a devastating tragedy? Or was there one too many a proselytizer or Girl Scout? As a resident in that house, I wonder what kind of mood you’d fall into as you returned to your own home?

That house took the cake as my parents would have said. Next in line after the no trespassing house would be the house that is completely hidden behind shrubs and trees. You’re not sure there’s a house there, so obviously you don’t feel welcome.

Plenty of other dwellings I’ve seen could qualify for second or third place.

Twenty-one items that might make a home feel unwelcoming:

  • trash littering the yard or bulging garbage bags
  • broken down bicycles or cars
  • excessive toys covering the porch or yard
  • an ambiguous entrance—not knowing which door to use
  • a walkway that’s difficult to maneuver because of overgrowth or clutter
  • dead plants, grass or shrubs, especially near the entrance
  • dirty front door or peeling paint on door or trim
  • decorative metal that is discolored or damaged (I’ve used metallic spray paint rather than replacing certain items.)
  • cobwebs or hornets’ nests overhead in porch or entry area
  • burned out bulbs at night
  • dirty or broken light fixture
  • ragged door mat
  • inordinate number of yard ornaments
  • scattered tools or plumbing and construction materials
  • excessive and mismatched yard or porch furniture
  • broken or dated flower pots or too many pots
  • plastic flowers (sigh)
  • missing shutters or ones in need of paint
  • peeling house paint
  • Christmas decorations displayed when it’s not Christmas
  • a mailbox that’s seen better days

If you want to be welcoming to friends and neighbors you don’t need perfection. Pretend to be a guest and imagine what another person might feel when they walk up to your door. Clean it up, declutter and bring cheer to yourself and others by having one or a few healthy plants near the entry. But not twenty.

If you’re putting your house on the market, you still don’t have to achieve perfection but you should come a little closer to it! Be intentional to create curb appeal that is new, fresh, clean and green. You don’t want to run anyone off!

Now please excuse me; there are a few things I need to tend to outside:).

Organizing—Enjoying the Process

Organizing—Enjoying the Process

13728817133_08f448f3b1_z“For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned”.  Benjamin Franklin

This week I devoted about four (very hot) hours to organizing our attic. As I had plenty of time to think, I recalled some of my clients and the things I’ve learned.

One lady I helped recently made quick decisions as I held up each item from her closet. I was so inspired by her lack of attachment that I spent time going through my closet again and letting go of even more things.

I thought of a project from last year. This client saved everything for a future potential use. We spent quite a few hours together and really connected. We laughed and joked, sometimes in a self-deprecating way. We were Lucy and Ethel. At one point I was literally backed into a closet. I attempted to pull all the discards and donations out, passing them to her as she sat on a wobbly table. While she examined contents of bags and boxes, I started to cry out, “I’m stuck in here, let me out!” It was approaching lunch time and I was, in her words, the benevolent dictator, and insisted that we not stop until everything in the walk-in closet had been evaluated. She was telling me that she had me just where she wanted me and I would not leave until the whole room was in order! I loved her good hearted nature and positive attitude amidst a very difficult season of life. I wanted to have a grateful and cheerful demeanor like hers.

As I worked in my attic, some ideas came to mind:

  • It’s okay to take time making decisions about some things. My dad, who passed away two months ago, was a gifted wood-worker. In the attic I found a large wooden trivet, inlaid with decorative tiles,  that he’d carefully created. I realized, because of its weight and size, I’ll probably never use it. I gave myself permission to defer donating it, for now, as grief is still palpable.
  • An item that’s not loved and used can be tossed. I found the custom made table pad for our antique dining table which we have never used. “I might need it someday” is not a legitimate reason to keep stuff.
  • Let go of things if they were designed for a certain season of life.  They may have already served their purpose.  Bring closure by letting them go. With this in mind, I was able to donate a lot of framed pictures and canvases.
  • Cull things that can easily be replaced should you need them some day. I often say things to my clients like, “That old bed pillow can be replaced for a few bucks.”  “You can donate  your old sheets to the animal shelter. You deserve to sleep on nice sheets!” “Think of the space we’re creating by letting go!”
  • Some special items can be displayed as art. Living on the coast, I’ve helped several clients hang surfboards on their walls. This serves a dual purpose—art and a convenient storage system. Oftentimes people lack garage storage space. Guitars and other instruments can be mounted on the wall. Treasures such as classic record albums, vintage uniforms, flags or baby clothing can be framed and mounted,
  • For memorabilia limit yourself to one container per category. There is one client who has a two-car garage literally filled with boxes of clothing, sports equipment and school papers from her now adult children. They represent her favorite era—raising kids. I have encouraged her to fill one container with favorite items from each child. Removing the plethora of boxes is a big win for her safety and for space!

I’m honored to have assisted many intelligent, creative and capable people. Sorting through, organizing, and evaluating your own personal stuff takes courage and determination. Folks often need an accountability partner, another perspective, a person to keep them motivated, and ask hard questions.

I leave projects feeling tired, but accomplished. Clients feel lighter, inspired and excited about continuing to create order, beauty and warmth in their homes. We enjoy the process!

Homes are our largest financial investment and the one place we can be ourselves and relax with our loved ones. They are worth our investment of time and effort! What’s your next step in creating a place that truly nourishes and supports your family?

“Our life is frittered away by detail . . . simplify, simplify.”  Henry David Thoreau

Tips for Staging your Home

Tips for Staging your Home

fullsizerenderOne of the most gratifying things I’ve done in the last thirteen years is to stage homes for the real estate market. A staged home has been proven to sell faster and at a higher price than one not staged. http://realestateagentu.com/11-incredible-home-staging-statistics/ During a consultation I point out details, good and bad, that the sellers have become accustomed to. We all need fresh perspective as we are blind to our own stuff.

The minute you decide to sell your home it becomes a house–a product to market to the public. In an effort to cut the emotional ties, I often ask clients to think of their house as a can of soup on a shelf. How can we make it stand out from all the others? Your goal is to make your house irresistible to buyers; to cause them to fall in love when they first lay eyes on it.

AREAS OF FOCUS:

EXTERIOR

  • Curb appeal is crucial!  A buyer will drive right past your house if deterred by the first impression.
  • Power wash surfaces such as sidewalks, driveways and the house, depending on the structural  material.
  • Lawn and shrubs should be trimmed and in good condition. Enhance the existing landscape material, adding fresh mulch if needed.
  • Remove empty pots and excessive lawn ornaments.  No artificial plants please!
  • Make sure a wooden deck is in good repair and use sealer or stain as needed.  Add a simple seating area using new or like new furnishings.
  • Porch  and entry areas should be clean and simply decorated. Add a new neutral doormat and one large clay pot of healthy greenery or seasonal flowers.
  • Remember to clean light fixtures and porch ceiling!
  • Doors should be immaculate with fresh paint and nice looking hardware.

INTERIOR

  • Remember; the first fifteen seconds are the most critical in drawing a buyer into your house.
  • Paint walls neutral warm colors. Paint over your purple and red walls.
  • Clean like you’ve never cleaned before! Take whatever measures needed to eliminate pet odors.
  • Take special care in bathrooms. Don’t over decorate. White towels and clean surfaces are your best options.
  • Don’t  try to impress buyers with your handiwork and DIY skills, but create a warm, simple and  inviting space that they can imagine living in.
  • Remove personal photos and items.
  • Pack away or discard tired items and pillows and replace with a few updated decorative items.
  • Furniture should be arranged for conversation. Don’t line the walls.
  • Don’t fill each nook and cranny. Buyers want to see enough space for their stuff.
  • Clean out closets, drawers and cabinets. Discard or store (off site) a LOT of your stuff. Arrange storage spaces attractively and show off the potential storage areas.
  • You may need to lease a storage unit temporarily. The garage is not a good area to use for excessive storage. It is a good place to park a car and store appropriate things like bikes and tools. Remember to freshen garage walls with paint.
  • Open the shades and turn on lights when showing your house.
  • Stage any ambiguous spaces or rooms for specific purposes, such as a home office or craft area.
  • Be sure that everything is in excellent repair. If things are broken or in need of replacement the buyer may turn away and believe that the property is not cared for properly.
  • Call Tranquiliving for a detailed staging consultation for only $150!

“Complete all necessary home improvement projects before you show your house. Most buyers are not DIYers and will move on to the next property that is move-in ready.”  Myra Freshwater, Tranquiliving

How to Stage your Home When You’re Staying Put

How to Stage your Home When You’re Staying Put

IMG_8087I love helping folks stage their homes when they are selling. Staging makes an enormous difference.

I also enjoy helping clients stage to stay.  If you are living in your home— as opposed to marketing to prospective buyers— your home should tell your story.

I have been privileged to be invited into many homes since I launched my organizing/staging business thirteen years ago. I’m honored and humbled that clients would invite me into the most private —and sometimes most embarrassing— part of their lives.

 

 

Observations I’ve made when visiting homes:

  • If a house is hidden behind overgrown shrubs and trees it says, “Go away”.
  • A dirty or cluttered entrance is not welcoming.
  • Most people don’t know the best way to arrange furniture.
  • They do not have a specified purpose for each area.
  • Pictures are hung too high or incorrectly.
  • Traditional design principles are not embraced.
  • Clients are stuck with old furnishings that currently don’t work.
  • They have been talked into purchasing furniture that does not meet their needs.
  • They make an erroneous assumption that a container of some sort will make them organized.
  • They plan a costly and expansive construction project thinking  their problems will be solved.

Tips for making your home truly yours:

  • Create areas for conversation so that you can look another person in the eye when you’re chatting. Don’t line the walls with furniture.
  • Every little spot does not need to be filled. Empty space is restful for the eyes.
  • Decide what is the main purpose for each area or room. Do you play games, visit with friends, read or watch television? What furnishings are needed?
  • Think creatively when choosing pieces of furniture. Repurpose second-hand items to suit your current needs.
  • Don’t get bamboozled by impressive ads of expensive pieces that look like they’ll solve all your problems. Make shopping decisions based on your own unique needs.
  • Choose lamps that are adequate in size. I’m surprised at how few lamps I see in homes and how small they are.  I often ask, “Where do you read?” Lamps are important for warmth and ambience in addition to reading.
  • If you have a rug in your main living area, make sure it is large enough to incorporate furniture into a warm cohesive unit.
  • Locate the focal point in your room–usually the largest decorative feature— if possible set your sofa parallel to it.
  • Make sure your accessories and decorative pieces are things you love and use. Have just enough old things to weave the stories of generations together. Don’t obliterate your current life with all the old stuff.
  • Be open-minded. Furniture items eventually become a part of the wall and you may not realize that your crowding can be alleviated by simply moving out one item.
  • Before embarking on a huge reconstruction project bring in the experts! You may be able to solve  your problems by rearranging and repurposing.
  • Lastly, don’t design your home around what you think other people will like. Create an environment for you and your loved ones! When you are comfortable in your home the feeling is contagious and others will want to share it with you!

Having a beautiful home isn’t an end in itself—its purpose is to provide joy and peace in the place you live.

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Maya Angelou

 

 

 

 

 

Why Making a Packing List is a Good Idea

Why Making a Packing List is a Good Idea

7515797150_7e00247854_mOnce upon a time back in the 1980’s, there was a bright handsome young man who held a degree in chemical engineering.  His career at a Paper Mill required  involvement in various professional organizations that supported his job and company. For quite a few years he held offices in one particular group, and eventually moved up to the office of Chairman over a regional chapter in the national organization.

In those days he was rarely home. His beautiful* wife stayed home with the four children while he spent too many hours at work. When he travelled, his wife was tasked with packing his suitcase. It was especially important to make the best clothing choices for the conference in which he would give a speech to a very large group of professionals.

As he was dressing and prepping for the meeting he noticed he had no shoes. His wife, who happened to have joined him at this particular meeting, had forgotten them! Panic ensued. Without the benefit of cell phones, an urgent search was made for size elevens. Alas! A son of one of the members relinquished his dress shoes and saved the day! This dear husband (of mine) squeezed his feet into a nice pair of dress shoes that were almost large enough. I vowed to never travel again without a packing list! True story.

How to create a packing list

Simply write down everything you might need for a trip. Take your time and list every possible item that could be needed for all seasons and occasions. Then while you’re packing, just skip over the things that aren’t pertinent for a particular excursion. Leave nothing to memory and you’ll forego that nagging feeling– “Oh no, I forgot the …….”. It has eased my mind so much to use this list. I’ve also created lists for specific trips or experiences such as hiking. I typed my lists on Word documents and made several copies— keeping one in my suitcase and another with cosmetics.

For example:

  • cell phone
  • charger
  • laptop
  • charger538693661_781e67bba8_m
  • Kindle
  • charger
  • cosmetics: list every single item
  • toothbrush
  • toothpaste
  • PJs
  • running shoes
  • socks
  • Etc. – You get the idea!

You may have a much better memory than I do. But if you’re like me, there is huge relief in depending on a list rather than on my brain. Actually, that’s the beauty of lists. Having a permanent list rather than re-writing each time we pack saves a lot of time. When you’re hurriedly packing it’s hard to remember everything. Anything we can put to paper or  the notes section of our phones will free our brains to focus on other important things.

Do you make such a list for packing? If so, I’d love to hear if it has been as helpful for you. What crucial  things have you forgotten to pack?

*artistic license

 

Why even get organized?

Why even get organized?

spinach-chicken-pomegranate-salad

I help people become less cluttered and more organized. I do this not just for the sake of “being organized” but so they can live their lives more fully and meaningfully. Being “organized” isn’t an end in itself. It’s a foundation to the life we want to live in our homes and lives.

I recently found myself again, in a familiar setting. I was privileged to be invited into someone’s personal home spaces. This is the where I come alive. I love encouraging, cheering and inspiring them to make a change for good. It’s my job and my mission.

There were piles. Magazines, unopened mail, boxes labeled and sealed. There were beautiful antiques. Too many pieces of furniture. It wasn’t chaos; it was arranged in a somewhat organized fashion. It was clean enough. No offensive odors. For that I was thankful. There were stacks of clothing and linens. It was a little hard to move around. Before my client had time to offer explanations, I had evaluated the situation and quickly found empathy for her. I asked what she envisioned for her home. “What is your dream?” “If you could snap your fingers and instantly alter your situation, what would it look like?” “We’d be able to have friends over for dinner.”  That was the uppermost desire in her mind; in her heart.

Once again I thought of the legend about Michelangelo. When asked how he created the beautiful sculpture of David, Michelangelo replied that he just carved away from the stone everything that wasn’t David. Such an incredible truth that we can apply to our homes and lives. My client and I reflected on this principle. Each time we picked up a piece of paper that was saved for a sentimental reason or for just in case, I would ask her a question. “If you have to choose between saving this, and hosting friends in your dining room, which do you choose?” “Toss it!”, she’d say every time.

For an entire home, a room, a shelf, or a closet, first cast a vision for the space. Ideally, empty the area completely. Then place in the space the essentials; things you need and love; whittling away at everything else. This is where I think the glitch comes for most people: how to cull the excess that doesn’t fit into the vision. (Even when we are willing to let go, it’s important that we have good options for off-loading items. I give my clients numerous ideas for their stuff.)

First of all, we must keep the vision at the forefront of our minds; our imaginations. If “hosting friends” is the vision, go ahead and create your “dream come true” on paper as well as in your mind. Measure and figure and plan for the day when the room is absent of the nonessentials and there is space for the necessary items. Imagine the table settings, and using the lovely antique table that’s been languishing and gathering dust. Imagine your grandmother’s china that has been stored away. Imagine the friends around the table, the laughter, the delicious meal that you’ve wanted to try but haven’t had the space to do it.

Without actually knowing what we want the end result to look like, we lack the courage and fortitude to let go of things that have been so much a part of our lives. Letting go is so hard but it will open up a world of possibilities,  joy and purpose that we can’t even imagine!

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

― William Morris

The Cost of Clutter

The Cost of Clutter

thumb_IMG_7810_1024If you think getting organized is expensive, please consider the costs of being disorganized. As a professional organizer, I hear a lot of unique stories; especially this one. I received a call from a lady in another city who was worried about her parents. Her dad had left the home. The mom’s lifelong relationship with her stuff was thought to be the culprit. The daughter wanted to know if I’d be willing to meet with her mom and “talk some sense into her”. I told her I’d be happy to meet with her mom. I would make an observation and give her my honest feedback when I visited her home. I couldn’t control the outcome, but I could certainly give her my perspective.

I agreed to make the trip to a town an hour or so away. I quickly understood what the family was up against. She did have a lot of excess stuff in her small home. Since she was now living alone, she took charge of arranging and cataloging all of her treasures in a somewhat orderly fashion. At least it felt orderly to her. She admitted that she needed to arrange and manage her things in a more tidy manner.  She didn’t accept responsibility for the family challenges and estrangement. She was defensive about her belongings and had stories and “excuses” for them all, every last thing in her home. The arrangement of her things clearly did not allow space for another human. I felt sad and heavy for her and her family.

When did STUFF and its history become so cherished that human loved ones are cast aside? Obviously I am not blaming stuff for all the issues in this family home. But the attachment to stuff clearly had a huge role in their problems. My mind brims with all the possibilities and what ifs as I reason with this lady. Is there any way you would be willing to let go of some of your stuff? I can help you with options for sale or donation. Can you make room in your home for your husband? Would you be willing to work with a trained counselor in order to improve your marriage and family relationships? Is keeping all the stuff more important than keeping your husband? It was hard, if not impossible, for her to see a perspective other than the one ingrained for many years. “You’ve been married over 50 years; could you not work at it a little longer???”, I wondered.

I was hoping I had helped and that some of my inspired suggestions would turn the situation around. When the daughter called me for a report of our session, she thanked me profusely for my suggestions and mostly for truly caring. As far as she knew at the time, so much relational damage had been done, and so many ruts had developed in the journey, that she didn’t believe her parents were going to make it for the long haul. I’d be dishonest if I said I walked away from this experience and didn’t look back. I grieved in my own way for this couple. They’d shared so much life and family together. It saddened me deeply that they wouldn’t plod forward. What is my “take home” from this scenario? People are more important than stuff. No stuff is worth casting aside the closest personal relationships. Nothing is worth fighting for to the extent that it supersedes our interpersonal relationships; especially the ones closest to us!

CLUTTER: Anything that stands between you and the life you want to be living.”  Peter Walsh