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.

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

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