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

Drowning in Stuff

Raise your hand if you’re overwhelmed with too much stuff! I awoke this morning; my mind inundated with thoughts of extreme clutter. Recent projects for clients have me realizing how overwhelmed one can feel and how paralyzed and crazy one can become when surrounded by too much.

Interestingly, the stuff can be extremely high end. There is no price valuation in clutter. Expensive statuary, many oil paintings, fine china pieces, too many tchotches, all set in fancy displays. Chaos limits your ability to focus. You cannot find things so you buy duplicates. In such a plethora, one thing can’t be seen. Send me off looking for something in that environment and I literally can’t find it. My eyes are so full and my mind so confused with the mass of treasures. There’s always the fear that you will brush up against one of those expensive pieces and believe me I’ve been warned. You must gently tread around the maze.

Please people, if you are consumed with clutter, whether it’s last week’s newspaper or thousand dollar art; please remove some of it. Give yourself room to think, breathe and live. Don’t let your life be taken hostage by things.

This morning my mind diverted to some calming spaces.

  • Art galleries—they feature one piece of art in plenty of space so a patron can focus on the beauty of  one item. You could argue that galleries have a lot of wasted space. I often tell clients that their eyes and brains need space in their homes to rest. You need to have a table or counter top that is clear of all stuff. Just so you can breathe.
  • Model homes—clearly these are make believe, but you have to admit they usually feel peaceful. I don’t know how many folks I’ve heard say, “I wish I could just walk away from it all and move to a new house.”
  • Nice hotel rooms— decorated in calming colors; they have only the essentials. There’s a reason writers often travel from home when focused on a project.

Here are four things you can do today that will inspire you to live with less clutter:

  1. Wash and put away everything in the sink. Clean the sink well. For stainless steel, I like to use Bar Keepers Friend or a similar cleanser. Rinse  well. For a nice shine, spray Windex on the sink; dry with a cloth.
  2. Clear your entire kitchen counter. Clean per instructions for the specific surface. Finally, place everything back on the counter that you need on a daily basis. Find homes for the other stuff. Take a breath and enjoy the sight.
  3. Make your bed–if you have a million decorative pillows edit them, leaving only a few.
  4. Clear everything from your dining table—keeping only something pretty in the center.

Editing your home can be addictive. If you find you can’t stop, sort things by category. Keep only a reasonable number, e.g., mugs, water bottles, etc. You’ll be amazed at how much space you actually have!

“When every possession is special, none of them are.”
― Kathi Lipp

“Don’t just declutter, de-own.”
― Joshua Becker

When Home Staging gets Personal

When Home Staging gets Personal

What if you suddenly walked out of your home, never to return? What would your loved ones find? 50312342_l I speak often these days to baby boomer clients about all their stuff, and what in the world to do with it?  We were endowed with rare treasures from our parents and grandparents. Chosen to be  caretakers of priceless antiques. “Keep these pieces in our family,” they said. I’m constantly saying to my clients and to myself,  “Stuff is only (monetarily) worth what someone is willing to pay for it.”

I’m not speaking of the items that have special meaning to us—things we can’t live without. Like my grandmother’s rings. But how much do we have that doesn’t fit that category? We live in a different world from our ancestors. They bought a few good things and kept them forever. The generations coming after us buy lots of bargain stuff and use it up. We boomers are in the middle; having been endowed with all the valuables and having nowhere to relocate them.

This all came back to me again when I was asked to look at a home recently vacated. I stepped inside and took a look around. It seemed as if the homeowner had just left to run an errand. Clean dishes in the dishwasher, cups by the coffee maker ready to fill with a fresh brew. Drawers brimming with silverware for table setting, family photos all around, green plants that needed water, books half read– this place was full of life. A life interrupted. I learned that, sadly, there was a rather sudden diagnosis and an abrupt departure to family in another city.

You can tell a lot about a person when you’re in their home. This one was full of love. So many treasured antiques. Updated colors and decor here and there. Lots of chairs on the sun porch for lots of people. She had staged her life for living and comfort; not for selling. Did she even know what was happening in her home? I felt like I was invading her privacy; but kept reminding myself that I was there to help.

I’d been asked to come in and identify certain items that could be kept in the house for staging purposes. My single motive was to hasten the sale of her home.

This experience was poignant for me and I knew that it wasn’t just a job. It was another opportunity for me to grow in my understanding of how stuff affects our lives; my clients’ and my own.

Looking ahead to a probable move from my home, I’m challenged to think judiciously about everything. Do I really use it? Need it? Love it?  No more saying, “I might need it some day.” Would I buy the item today? Many times the answer is “No!” But there is that endowment effect. The feeling that the thing is a part of my life and I’m responsible to care for it and see that it has a good home. This process starts the moment we acquire an item. It’s hard to let go after it’s in our possession. Especially for us baby boomers. Funny how our minds work.

Hopefully we’ll all live happily into our nineties! But, life is uncertain. What can you do today, as far as your stuff goes, to prepare for the future? Would your life be lighter and more enjoyable with fewer things weighing you down? Let’s edit out even the good in order to be left with the best. If everything is important nothing is important. Preaching to myself!

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”

Hans Hofmann

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

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