Business Office Makeover

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 08:04 AM by ellen

So, one of our clients emails and calls with this request….can you come to my office this week…will send pictures. And she did. She sent about 5 pictures of her business office with request that we come for a 3 hour session (she asked us to stay 4) and just help with the clutter. She said she had reached a point where she couldn’t ignore it anymore and needed to restore order to her work space. Some background-she is an executive at a large organization, overseeing people and projects many of which come with lots of “stuff” that end up in her office. When we walked in the first thing we noticed is not only papers but all the items that had landed in and were being stored in her office. Our comment to her…your office is not a storage room! So we set to work removing all those items, placing them in a storage space and then we were able to get to work in her office. There were many papers and files on her desk and conference table leaving very little room to work. She has several filing cabinets, a bookshelf, and armoire for coats and other storage cabinets, so what was the problem? One filing cabinet was filled with snacks, tea and other such items; one cabinet had very old, outdated files; one storage cabinet had personal items. There was plenty of storage it just wasn’t being used effectively. Solution: Clear out the food from the filing cabinet and place in the cabinet above her desk; sort through the very old files and shred, leaving space to archive older but still needed files; use the filing cabinet under and next to her desk for the daily used, more current files; use the coat armoire for her coat and all personal items; use the bookshelf not just for decorative items but also for books and notebooks. All the components were there, items just needed to be housed at their point of use and by purpose. Result: She was left with a clear work space; items housed at their point of use and easy to access; a conference table that could accommodate people; clear floor space and most importantly a feeling that order was restored and work could be accomplished without the stress of too much stuff everywhere.

Take a look at these before and after photos…

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Fay’s Story: Vision and Inspiration

Sunday, September 5, 2010 15:56 PM by ellen

Well, I have never written on a blog before, but I figured since it is on our A Sorted Affair web site, and I am an employee, I should give it a try. And, luckily we have a new client that is willing to let me write some thoughts down as we work in her home. I spoke with Fay on the phone, as we do with all clients, and at the end of the conversation we both were excited to make an appointment and get started. I explained to Fay the initial assessment usually takes 1½ hours and gives us, the organizers, a chance to talk and walk through the home and gather as much information as possible.  

As my colleague and I arrived at the apartment and parked, we were greeted with the sign No Parking Without Permit. Yikes! We forged ahead and figured we would ask Fay about it when we got to her apartment. Fay met us at the door and invited us in. We began our conversations right in the living room, looking, asking and wanting to learn as much as we could about Fay and her needs. Like many of us, there have been some major life events that led to the disorganized state in which she is currently living. Other things were more important, had to be dealt with, and now she is able to take a breath and address this part of her life. 

Fay was very open with us about those events and very willing to answer all questions that we had (and we had a lot!!). She talked about her daughters and how very proud of them she is and showed us pictures. We asked about her desk area and her work habits, the papers and filing system, her kitchen, her closets, her bedrooms and most importantly, her vision, her goals. There are parts of her home that were just fine… the bathroom, the kitchen (she loves to cook). But the clothes -- oh the clothes! and the papers -- oh my! We took pictures, notes and then my colleague and I “put our heads together” and came up with some goals and a plan of action for Fay. 

Our shared goals were to create an office area where she can work –- with a clear surface –- a filing system that will keep track of personal, business, important and archive papers and a central calendar that will contain personal, business and family activities; to create some individual spaces in her daughters’ bedroom that will accommodate school work, hair/make-up, lounging/sleeping and clothes storage (and yes, that will be defined by the dresser(s) and the closet); and finally to create a peaceful refuge for Fay in her bedroom. Our plan of action for the office will involve going through the many papers of her office, some furniture relocation, computer equipment consolidation, new filing systems. Because there are so many papers, the first step will be the presort -- general categories for papers, for example: personal, business, financial, important papers. The bedrooms will involve a lot of letting go -- mostly the clothes, furniture relocation and such. Throughout the visit we talked a lot about how everything needs to justify the space it takes up, serve a useful function, and make you happy! This is her home not a storage facility -- Home Depot, Bed Bath and Beyond, Target, etc. can be the storage facilities. We finished with setting up a date for our first work session. As we were about to leave, Fay showed us a very beautiful piece of art that she found and is her inspiration and now it is also our inspiration for her. This picture sums it all up...

 

And OH -- as we are walking out the door we remembered to ask if we would be towed since we were parked in the NO PARKING/PERMIT ONLY area…

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Fay's Story Continued: "Baby Steps"

Saturday, September 4, 2010 15:25 PM by ellen

Well, here we are ready for our first work session with Fay. In preparation for this session, I had a few email exchanges with Fay discussing what area she wanted to begin with and how the process would go. Because she picked the office, which involves a lot of papers, I brought about 10 bankers boxes -- you know, those cardboard all-purpose boxes that can store papers and files -- to use for the first sort.  

When we arrived, Fay was ready to work. She had already cleared off her couch and chair in the living space which was great to see. We came up with about 8 categories for her papers: work, financial, certificates/awards, personal, recipes… and one for each of her girls. As I said before, there were a lot of papers -- everywhere in the living space, on and around her desk and on the floor. We just picked a pile and began sorting it into the boxes. Some of the papers went into the trash (we had about 4 bags of trash) some went into a box for shredding and the others went into the categories we created. After about 3 hours we did get through a lot of papers, but everyone knows how many papers we all seem to have and the visual impact of our work done didn’t do it justice. The challenging part is that Fay has to make decisions on every piece of paper -- and that is tiring. We did come up with some categories that my colleague and I could make decisions on: expired coupons, old catalogues, old school and camp information, etc. We did make progress but it is slow. The motto is “baby steps” -- slow but steady progress.

This presort will need to continue until all the papers in the living/office area have been sorted into one of the boxes. At that point each box of papers would be looked at with a more discerning eye, only keeping papers that are relevant and needed. Those would either go into active/current files or put in files to be archived.  We had particularly interesting conversations about her magazines -- of which she had many. We had to negotiate a number of magazines that she would keep and a process for letting go of them. She came up with a great idea -- to grab a few when taking her daughter to sports practices, doctor’s appointments, etc. -- read them and leave them there for others to enjoy. We also decided that any new magazines that come in would then require her to let go of that same amount.  I learned from Fay that the process of letting go of the “stuff” is difficult for her. She has had some significant challenges that have led to wanting to keep, keep, and keep. I shared with her some information that I had just listened to in one of my NSGCD teleclasses. The class topic was learning about the brain’s reaction to change. Basically we all tend to do the same things, have routines and the like. When we try making changes, especially ones that are big changes, the brain shifts into the “fight or flight” mode and that prevents our brain from being able to be rational. Our fear becomes the guiding light so to speak and as we know making decisions in a state of fear is very difficult and not reliable. So, our job and the client’s job are to recognize this and talk to the brain rationally, therefore disarming the “fight or flight” instinct. It is like taking the same path through a forest all the time -- easy to do because it is well traveled. When you decide to make a new path it is very difficult at first until you have traveled that way often and then the path becomes easy. That is what we are doing to the brain -- creating new pathways that allow the decisions to be made. And, hence, the reason for the motto “baby steps”. Going slow and making small changes will not alarm our brain and make the process easier.

Here is Fay's office space "Before"

Here is the first "baby step" -- boxes to sort papers 

The family calendar 
 We have another appointment next week to work in the girls’ room… from paper to clothes! 

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Fay's Last Session: Letting Go

Friday, September 3, 2010 15:43 PM by ellen

This is our last session with Fay for a while -- she has upcoming graduations, end of school parties, summer plans and so on. We decided to work in the girls’ room. As I said before, clothes are the main culprit here and Fay has openly admitted that these decisions will be difficult for her. The clothes represent a lot more than fabric used to cover the body. They represent a difficult time in her life when things were very uncertain and changing daily; they represent her girls; they represent something that could be used at some point and letting them go -- even to donation -- represents a loss. This loss will turn into a gain -- space in the girls’ room to set up zones for lounging, sleeping, studying and make up/hair. But, Fay isn’t there yet, so the decisions are very difficult.  

We worked with Fay a lot on reframing the situation: discussing that other’s can use these clothes that don’t have any, the over abundance of clothing does not support her goals of serenity and more living space, the closets/dressers are the storage unit for clothing -- not the floor or the bed, the memories stay even when the clothes go and so on. Still this was challenging. A lot of the clothes were being transferred to the dirty laundry pile rather than to the donation pile. Finally, at one point, we all just stopped and took a breath -- Fay again acknowledged that this was very difficult and that she was trying, which we definitely could see the struggle.

The girls' room

 

We decided to move to the clothing that was already packed up in storage boxes -- most of these were too small and that made decisions easier and more progress was made.  The result of this session was categories of clothing: Fay’s and her daughter’s. We grouped her daughter’s clothing further into type of clothing (sleep wear, active wear, dressy) and Fay’s into work and casual. We certainly did not get through all the clothing, but we did clear some floor space.

This, like the papers is the starting point of the sort and that needs to continue to reach the goals and then continue as a lifestyle. We never were able to work with the girls and the clothing -- I think that would have been beneficial as my experience lends me to think that they probably would have sorted more to the donation pile. Parents look at things very differently than kids and while we think they would make the same decisions, they often don’t.   

A clear bed and clothes sorted into piles -- baby steps...

It has been great working with Fay so far and we look forward to helping her continue this process. I hope you all enjoyed reading about these sessions and I thank our client, Fay, for allowing us to write about our experiences.

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Basement Redo - Family/Exercise Area and Playroom

Saturday, July 31, 2010 14:31 PM by ellen

Something most all of us can relate to… the basement space that sometimes doesn’t get used to its capacity. We recently had a client that in addition to other areas of her house, wanted to reclaim the basement area for her family. It’s a great finished space, separated by the stairway that goes down into it…a built in divider creating individual spaces which can be used for different purposes. She already had the makings for a playroom and on the other side a family/exercise space but over the last few years the family side became more of a storage room. She had a great storage/utility room with shelves (we added a few) so any items that needed to be stored had a place to go. All we had to do (if it was really that simple, right?) was some sorting and purging to get the spaces ready for use. She did purchase some shelving units for the playroom and a TV mount for the family room side, but beyond that everything was there or repurposed from other rooms of the house. Take a look at some before and after pictures:

We created a great learning center just by placing already existing toys on labeled book shelves. 

 

Before and After Kitchen zone

The Family room before and after

 

So there it is…a picture speaks 1000 words... and more!

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Client Blog featuring NPR’s Jacki Lyden - Post Five

Saturday, May 1, 2010 17:27 PM by ellen

Series One/Post Five -- Jacki and Will's Basement

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS… 

The last words in Jacki’s blog, “And I am very very happy” makes me very very happy. It has been a pleasure working with Jacki and like with all our clients, I will miss spending time with her. Thanks, Jacki, for opening your home not only to me but to all our clients, past-present-and future. 

NOTE: The first 2 entries are November 6 (Caitlin and Jacki’s diary) and December 4 (Jacki’s post 2) if you would like to go back and read again before reading the final 3, 4 and 5.  Enjoy!!

 

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Client Blog featuring NPR's Jacki Lyden - Post Four

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 16:05 PM by Caitlin

Series One/Post Four -- Jacki and Will’s Basement 

At night I have dreams of old photos and negatives marching, dust-free, into neat boxes and giving up the ghost of free-fire zones past. Old love letters still make me smile -- my God, people had sauce and they didn’t care what they said. All that hand-writing... no wonder these tweeted male and female ‘dudes’ are so bored -- I can still feel the heat coming off of some of these scraps of paper. 

But will we ever... ever be free of the past? We’re still under siege with it in this house. I swear that if I had not married my husband, he would be one of those people who watch as papers pile up around him. Then, one day it’s over -- they tag your toe, and out you go and the papers are dumped. Is that any way to think about the man I love? This cleaning & sorting business is unhinging me. If Caitlin were not in our lives, I would have taken the train back to New York and never returned, no matter how lovely our garden.

I wish I had been able to measure how much detritus is here. Last week, I unearthed my husband’s old Santa Letter and it went to ‘Found’ Magazine. “Dear Santa,” it said. “I want four Creepy Crawler sets with four extra bottles of black plastigoop. Also the board game Stratego. I have been a very good boy.”

We drove to Rockville in heavy rain -- it’s miles from our house -- to go to the Container Store. For me, that store now is kind of like church: all those little vessels to save our souls. Our records don’t begin to fit in the crates marked for ‘records’, but -- these people have probably never seen a record. For the record, it’s black and round and encased in colorful cardboard, often larger than this 14 inch thing you sell for eight dollars.

Today I bought something for the basement walls called “Fast Plug.” Be it here known, once I roamed the seven continents. Now, with great amusement, I structure my house, my mind, my life -- holding fast. Plugging on. 

BEFORE... and AFTER

 

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Client Blog featuring NPR's Jacki Lyden - Post Three

Tuesday, April 20, 2010 03:53 AM by Caitlin

Series One/Post Three -- Jacki and Will’s Basement

The other day I neatly folded a vintage cashmere sweater and put it away, in a drawer, in the bureau in my bedroom. And I thought: This is all because of A Sorted Affair! I hadn’t had a bureau in a bedroom in almost twenty years: I lived out of suitcases and closets and roll-away thingies you buy for exorbitant prices at the Container Store. If you live in a New York loft, as I do part-time, there may be no need for anything more than a closet. It never occurred to me to live otherwise in rooms with bureaus. Bureaus are where foreign correspondents live, and I was ready to go. I have my little stashes already waiting on wheels.

Now, though, I have a handsome teak (sustainable) bureau in the Swedish modern style. It matches -– in spirit, if not in fact, an older one that belonged to my husband (ok, I confess: I had ONE of his drawers, but he had all the rest.) Upon that bureau are a vintage lamp and a traveling antique writing desk from Syria. They look great there. My husband is happy.

And that is a good thing, because he was the whole reason for calling in the professionals in the first place, or so I told myself. A well ordered home does, I believe, provide a well ordered mind — isn’t that why hotel rooms were invented? But when you have to come to your own home and sigh, and moan, as I did, at the mere sight of our basement…well, it was enough to make me want to turn around and go right back out. There were things in there best left in the recesses of memory: the boots that had mice using them as a house; old but usable film equipment that went to a school; and 20,000 negatives that are now in chronological order. I can breathe again.

The Mondays Caitlin and I spent sorting, stacking, labeling, ordering items from IKEA to hold books, re-purposing stuff from the garage (though I am still hearing about an antique oil can I accidentally threw out) and getting an actual fold-out sofa in the basement were, to quote the bard, “Verie Heavyn”. We got a whole new level on our small Cape Cod (we believe in a collection of small houses, the better to rotate around and no, we don’t have kids. I do, however, have a box for kids’ clothes, which I buy all over.) just by emptying out the basement and creating a room. AND, behind a film poster painted on canvas from Iran, storage for suitcases and books, prints to be framed, and holiday décor.

 

Sanity is in the Details. The movie poster says “City of Women,” and I’ve ordered the accompanying film (subtitled). When I have, say, the hummingbird feeder in my hand, I go downstairs and put it in a box labeled hummingbird feeder. (I took it out when the hummer returned. I have a lot of sympathy for their constant commotion.) The walls of the basement are full of shelves with a happy assortment of boxes that hold, for the most part, the stuff of our lives.

This is the great thing about getting organized. You have to curate and edit your own life. You have to pretend, just for the moment, that YOU are the Andy Warhol whose dozens of boxes will one day be opened for posterity. Only, you can’t ship them away to Pittsburgh, as Warhol did, you have to go through them NOW. And that’s very interesting, and why Caitlin Shear loves her job. There, at the bottom of a box, is a Valentine or a skeleton key or baby sock, and it tells a whole story, or maybe, a page from a story. I found a whole box of t-shirts from my husband’s concert-going and filmmaking days of the 1980’s, and charitably I can say that he will not be wearing them again for a variety of reasons.

However, we will be snuggling beneath them because Caitlin had the wit to suggest they be made into a quilt! (See richmondseamstress.com, and that’s another story.) So now, when I travel the two flights of stairs from our upstairs bedroom to the downstairs basement I am, in fact, traveling the well-ordered distance of a lifetime.

And I am very, very happy. 

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Client Blog featuring NPR's Jacki Lyden

Friday, December 4, 2009 04:31 AM by Caitlin
Series One/Post Two

Client: NPR Correspondent and Host, Jacki Lyden and Washington Post Photojournalist, Will O'Leary
Project: Basement Clean-out
Project Hours: 20

Jacki's Project Diary

I used to go down into my husband’s basement whenever I wanted to get depressed. I’m normally a somewhat ebullient person, but there’s nothing like the good old cry you can have, staring around at all that stuff. Old tools. Boxes of first communion cards. Checks from 1991, and those ‘nude not naked’ pictures of old girlfriends my husband, a photographer, took when he was a knave. One of his friends had left behind a life-size thingy of Christopher Reeve as Superman, but I got rid of that a long time ago. The head was bent over. The whole place reminded me of a beautiful novel by the late Laurie Colwin, “A Big Storm Knocked It Over.”

When I moved in here from New York and added, really just a FEW bits and pieces (surprisingly little, being a gal who likes to travel light) –well, I worked on the house and garden. The whole joint was a challenge; and I do like those. But I am not an archivist of anyone’s life but my own and perhaps, my mother’s. Everyone else can fend for themselves… but all this STUFF. Once, trying to write an article, I wound up dumping old phone books all day instead. I wasn’t sure if I had married a hoarder, but it looked like it.

We pared it down over the last few years, but it was still anything but sightly. Sometimes, writing upstairs, I could feel the basement crowding me all the way up here to my garret.

And then Caitlin came. Poof! Things are in ZONES! I cannot touch my husband’s STUFF unless he AGREES. (This brought him around. He had once vowed that she would NEVER darken our doorway. It helped that she is Irish, too.) We have made a small castle of boxes around “his” table but meanwhile, we have gone ahead. It’s too bad that almost 10,000 dollars of new electrical work and a new furnance/air conditioner are not something you can really talk about at dinner parties. Anyway, back to the ZONES! (What if we'd spent that money going to Africa? Then we'd be cold when the furnace broke.)

I love zones! Zone 1, memories. Zone 2, athletic equipment or garden stuff, whatever. Zone 3, maps. She got me a map case—better, for me than jewels. Ok, not better but: good.

She never laughed at us! Not even when she held up an old boot of mine and a mouse had chewed right through it. Do you know how disgusting I found that? About as bad as the niger thistle seed I found everywhere. It’s birdseed, I kept saying. Bird seed.

My Husband's Photographic Equipment

My husband’s old photographic equipment could have opened a studio, and did something like that at a nearby high school. (I will have to be patient about old film negatives.) I found a movie poster I had had painted in Tehran, a woman’s huge face. I have a loft in Brooklyn; it’s too big for THAT. But now, it is going to hang in our basement AS A ROOM DIVIDER. HOW COOL IS THAT? When we were in Arlington for Will's aunt's funeral, (where the Hibernerian society meets) I lured him into Crate & Barrel and we bought a sofa for the basement. (I don’t know about you, but the last time I got to go shopping with my husband at a Crate & Barrel was about five years ago, once. I think we bought a vase.)

Bookshelves

So today, when I should have been upstairs writing, I found my car going to IKEA. Who knew it could do that with me hardly even noticing? And there I was, measuring Billy Shelves again (too tall) and scoping out what else they had: just like I had done in my youth. Because let’s face it: there’s alot more IKEA ahead in our lives than we might have wanted to believe there would be before the term “credit default swap” came to our rosy lips. If I I had a skill with packing crates; you’d be eating on them or THEY’D be the new shelving. But it takes too long to find packing crates these days. And guess what? Caitlin's normally encyclopedic knowledge of organizing products was WRONG about the Billy bookcases; they’re too tall. But I found something else. Some red things with a Swedish name, like LINNEAROP. Aren’t you glad IKEA is yellow & blue for the Swedish flag? If it were Irish, it would be gold and white and green. Soon, though, I am going to need a third dwelling place for all the books.

Caitlin and I talk about our lives while we work. This is curatorial work. When I leave her, or she leaves me, carting off the ugly, useless crap--making our lives a little freer and more functional--I want to do a little pole vault right back up to my desk. Soon, I’ll have to go out to my husband’s man-cave of a garage to have that sobfest; because the basement is becoming a sanctuary of sanity.

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Client Blog featuring NPR's Jacki Lyden

Friday, November 6, 2009 18:02 PM by Caitlin
Series One/Post One—Jacki and Will's Basement

Client: NPR Correspondent and Host, Jacki Lyden and Washington Post Photojournalist, Will O'Leary
Location: Silver Spring, MD
Project: Basement clean-out
Project hours: 20

Caitlin's Project Diary

For me, finishing an organizing job is a double-edged sword.

When you really love working with a client, you miss your time together when you have done your job and they are, well, organized. This has been my experience with Jacki Lyden.

Jacki is an incredibly talented reporter and host at National Public Radio. She is married to Will O'Leary, a gifted photojournalist at The Washington Post.Given their respective professions, I knew that their basement would reveal buried treasures--and it did. Over the next weeks, Jacki will recount in her own wonderful voice our memorable, hilarious and creative hours together taming their unruly (though not unusual) basement.

Enjoy and let us know what you think!
Caitlin


Jacki's Project Diary

The Beginning

I met my husband, a photojournalist, after he'd had nearly four happy decades of bachelor guy hood. He'd been based in D.C. all those years; I'd traveled the globe. So, you might think I'd have more "stuff." But my husband had been a filmmaker and photographer; the center of his "men's" club. Our basement was chock-a-block with photos of everything from his enormous clan of a family to mademoiselle--shall we say, temps perdu. There were photo posters, negatives, paint cans, the contents of drawers, tools and twenty of years of newspaper clippings. Quaintly, once upon a time, those were called tearsheets.

Sometimes, upstairs writing in my second floor office, I'd distract myself by wandering down to the basement to see what I could "curate" into the recycling bin. A new bride, this did not make for matrimonial harmony. I had never had either a house or husband before, and the entire undertow of both seemed to consist of a tide of objet left over from the '70s. We got the house looking like ourselves, but what about the basement and garage? The Dungeon of Dark Despair; that was my name for it. And as two active people in the creative trades- I could be spreading out maps and documents and so on in the basement; he could be matting photos and creating cards-- we just needed the space.

When I read of Caitlin's "Sorted Affair," I felt she'd be amusing and understanding. Today she came, and she was both and much more. It was a delight.

She discovered my husband's 20 years of negatives and photos nestled up against the furnace. My husband had devoted his considerable handiness to the upper house since we got together--downstairs; there laid a netherworld of lost lore. Caitlin didn't flinch. With ceiling panels gone and wires hanging everywhere? Hey, she admired the window light. A collection of grey industrial shelves? Why not paint them a cute color? She was acting as a curator and as a journalist, I understood that-- take the best parts to tell the story. And moreover, she couldn't ethically throw anything of Will's away without him being there. That ought to make him happy.

My husband comes from an Irish family that saved every last thing. And I mean, every. last. thing. His father found precious things in his trove-- a triple A ball club invitation, speaking awards, photos of the family in Ireland, and so on. We haven't found those things downstairs yet. But by separating our basement stuff into his and hers and making two work zones-- well, low and behold, order began to emerge from chaos. Plus she gave me a tip: sit there with your husband while he tries to release some of those old clips, term papers and the good times of his '20s. I'm going to try that.

But in the meantime, I feel I have a partner in the draining decisions of what to move and throw first. For the first time I DO think that basement will one day be the beautiful storage, guest, and project space I intend for it to be.

Thank you, Caitlin!

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