One of my larger projects this summer was to work with a pair of siblings and facilitate the sorting and clean out of their childhood home. It was a powerful journey for everyone in more ways than I can share, but something came out of this job is now a highlight of my organizing career to date.
The little ceramic guy (pictured above) sat on a shelf in the living room for as long as my clients could remember. When it came time to decide about items in that space, no one was interested in keeping it. Fortunately, there are many donation venue options around here, and they wanted to know if it should be added to a box for Goodwill or the annual white elephant sale that benefits programming and more at a local museum.
Turning it around in my hands, I didn’t want to commit to one or the other just yet. It was quirky and quite imperfect (see that long crack and the dark schmutz?), but the multiple markings on the bottom caught my curiosity. I asked permission to take a few photos and do a little research first.
That evening I emailed them a couple of revealing links and asked if I could submit a query to an auction house for a valuation request. It turns out being a fan of Antiques Roadshow and having a degree in art history are useful.
I went to bed not knowing how long, if ever, it might take to get an answer. Less than 12 hours after clicking on the paper airplane icon (“send” in Apple Mail’s visual parlance), a response arrived. My intuition was confirmed: it was a real Picasso.
The night before delivering the suddenly-more-delicate-than-ever-before ceramic fish pitcher to the auction house, one of the siblings found documentation in their parents’ files that shows it was purchased for $9 in 1966. Yes. Nine dollars. For. A. Picasso.
Two weeks ago the fish sold at auction for $4,000.
What an unexpected surprise at the tail end of a wonderful collaboration.
Everyone – and not just Picasso’s fish – continues to grin.
Let me paint a picture of what you think you see in the photo above.
My client thought she was doing the right thing by purchasing vintage secondhand housewares and decor to outfit a brand new household. The picture is a detail of a much larger pile, and it represents more than half a day of unpacking boxes and, more specifically, what was used to protect their contents. The vast majority of said contents were procured through an online marketplace that connects vendors and customers throughout the U.S.
From a purely environmental perspective, it makes more sense to buy used and keep items in circulation rather than requiring the extraction of resources to produce something brand shiny and new. But holy hell! The unintended consequences of a right-minded choice horrified her.
There were many many more boxes to unpack after the initial heap of innards was sorted. (More on this below.) The treasure hunt became more about the packing materials than about the actual things wrapped within. I began to take snapshots of boxes as they were opened. Continue reading →
After reading Michael Pollan’s “Botany of Desire” soon after it was published, I found myself hungry for more of his words. “A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder,” in which he chronicles the process of building a one-room house for writing, was a surprising option available at the time. Reading about design and space from this unexpected source was intriguing to my organizer’s mind, and this passage in particular was the greatest takeaway in obvious and less obvious ways:
“I picture a space no bigger than it has to be, single in purpose and shipshape, with a specific, dedicated place for everything. We should think of the interior less as a room, in fact, than as a piece of furniture, or maybe a cockpit.”
– Michael Pollan
Inhabiting a space with intention and having what you need where you need it when you need it is optimal for an organized life. In collaborations with clients who seek greater efficiency and ease, my focus turns to creating a kind of mise en place that enables greater flow and functionality befitting the individual and their activities, proclivities, and goals.
Beyond agreeing with this wise reflection, I elicited an an audible “wow” to share with my husband, Sven. At last, we had a more than apt description for his office. Ever since and with much affection, his space has been called “the cockpit.” When a computer, pen, and paper are the primary tools of your craft, not much more space is needed.
Picture a “walk-in” closet that’s a whopping four by seven feet with two doors and a generous east-facing window that’s too small to capture in its entirety without a real estate photographer’s grossly distorting wide-angle lens. Welcome to the cockpit. It’s a compact personal, office, and writing room all in one. Sven loves being able to swivel around in his chair and have whatever he needs at his fingertips. Most of the time, that is.
Very often the desk of a creative person gets messy, and this is his place to make a mess. When it gets to a critical mass of mess, he is able to reset it before letting things flow once again. But there came a time some months ago when I casually inquired about the arrangement of something on one of the three shelves above the desk and how a little desktop filing system I recommended a year or more prior was working for him. His response led me to ask if he would be open to some help. After a brief pause, an affirmative response was delivered. I began with a couple of questions, and then one thing led to another.
The next day, I returned home from work to find an envelope on my desk. Inside was a thank you card with a folded piece of paper containing a typed and unsolicited testimonial.
I’m German, so I’ve always thought of myself as naturally organized. However, when I was recently trying to find a nice spot on my office shelf for a framed drawing a friend had given me for my birthday, I found myself flummoxed by the lack of an available space. As I was trying to cram it between a bunch of other stuff, Deb innocuously asked about the purpose of some of the lose items on the shelf below. Before I knew it, my desk was filled with everything from old bills to dusty CDs, expired business cards and past campaign buttons on their way to being triaged out of my life. It was actually pretty freaky, and frankly, a bit overwhelming to realize how cluttered my little cubby-hole had become, to the point of where I was simply in denial of just how much it was cramping my style.
Even though I’ve been living with Deb for 10+ years and have always admired the magic she works with her clients, this was the first time I experienced in my own body (yes, the relief was physical!) and mind just how powerful her gentle, caring and knowledgeable guidance is. This was the “aha moment” I had heard so many stories about but never thought I’d be in need of, and when it came after an hour or so of focused rummaging and rearranging, I knew right away that I too had now become “experienced.”
I’m sitting here at my newly breathing desk, marveling at the liberated spaces in front of me, weightless smile on my face, ready to tackle the tasks that matter.
This work I’m privileged to do constantly takes me into the innermost realms of peoples’ lives, their spaces, and their thought processes. I am always humbled to be invited in, and even when it’s my own husband, I, too, need to say thank you. It’s amazing to be part of and to witness your transformation.
As I write, I’ve been sequestered in the house due to poor air quality from the tragic Camp Fire in Butte County, California. Despite being three hours away, the effects are impacting San Francisco and the greater Bay Area. The sunrise has been a beautiful yet haunting smoky orange.
Daily warnings of unhealthy air – a reading that have risen from orange to red to purple (!) according to the EPA’s Air Quality Index – keep people like myself inside and unable to engage in regular daily activities. While it’s frustrating as heck to be unable to pop out to run a quick errand down the street, go for swim (the pool at the gym has been closed), and work with certain clients (cancellations abound due to poor air and unexpected school closures), there are benefits to this interruption of the regular program. Continue reading →
How to find joy? Marie Kondo’s books may hold the secret for some, but I’m happy to share one of my secret portals to this magical state of being.
It begins with an afternoon like this: A picture-perfect Sunday with brilliant sunshine, warm air and a cool breeze. Throngs are amassed at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass music festival in Golden Gate Park. An entirely different array of throngs are gathered on heights and near the water to watch the spectacles of Fleet Week.
Me and my trusty laptop are communing beneath the branches of the old Meyer lemon tree, the central anchor of a garden I’m grateful to have out the back door. Bees are buzzing overhead as they make their rounds to intoxicatingly sweet blossoms. Sipping tea and glancing around as I type, I think about the contentedness and joy in sitting right here right now.
For some, a fear of missing out (a.k.a. FOMO) on any of the big annual happenings would be unimaginable. For me, marching to my own inner compass was made far from fear. The choice was made by knowing what would bring me the most joy.
This variety of joy is something I discovered a name for while waiting for breakfast halfway around the world in mid-2017. Flipping through the newspaper a previous cafe patron left behind, I grinned wider than you can imagine when I came upon a cartoon by the Australian artist Michael Leunig*. Allow me to introduce you to FOMO’s sibling, JOMO, the joy of missing out.
*My photo of the artwork used with permission from Leunig Studio.
I’m a few weeks late for the Academy Awards, but scores have been on my mind. Far from an avid movie-goer, I’d be hard pressed to match most pieces of music to a film, but I’ve been pondering a different kind of score.
These are the types of scores that make hardly a sound. They are invisible to the uninitiated. When then their presence is known and understood, their power is mighty. They are of the variety that pass through my fingertips with some degree of regularity. They were introduced to me during my first museum job. They are not some understated form of decoration. They have a purpose. They are a great tidying force in the lives of those who work with papers. They often elicit some version of, “Ah ha!” or “Oh, so that’s what that’s for!” from clients.
Welcome, January 2nd! This vital but underrated day comes without the hype of its first out of the gate sibling. It lacks the rush of enthusiasm that often accompanies something shiny and fresh like the intentions, resolutions, and goals – IRGs for short – declared just yesterday. When we woke this morning the IRGs were waiting patiently right where we left them, but maybe they got nudged out of the way while our attention shifted into the post-holiday-return-to-normal routines.
Integrating something new requires effort and making adjustments to what we’re used to. The process can be accompanied by discomfort or exhilaration or any sensation in between, but key to any ounce of momentum is the readiness to try.
As a client wrote to me after a recent session during which we explored next steps for preparing herself to approach a very patient pile of boxes, her mind begins “reeling with thoughts…realizing there is a lot of emotion, ideas, potential…” Sound familiar? The mind can paralyze us or it can allow us to push forward at whatever pace feels right at the moment.
The brief response I sent back to her was returned to me word for word formatted as prose. It was an unexpected gift sent as the result of an unexpected gift. I present it today as a little offering of support to encourage forward momentum with whatever IRGs you’re ready to embrace in this new year.
Reeling is to be expected.
Change begets change.
You are changing and evolving.
What is boxed up can be unboxed,
revisited, retired, reinvigorated, and more.
All that you are inside will never change.
When you choose to lighten your load,
all that’s inside you will simply be lighter and freer
for more and new exciting thoughts and ideas,
and all their friends.
Moving is often an overwhelming process. In addition to all the planning and the temporary inconvenience, packing up and then unfurling belongings in a space one has yet to become acquainted with is always a tad discombobulating. Moving interrupts the groove and flow of daily life to which one’s become accustomed, and recreating logical spatial layouts and rhythm that support day to day needs can take some time and a little assistance.
It was overwhelm that led a couple of friends to reach out and ask if I had time and interest to lend my organizing expertise to help a client of theirs with her new space. When they told me they were members of the client’s neighborhood-integration support team and that the client had recently moved into a tiny house in our Mission District neighborhood, I was intrigued. This was not just any tiny house but a Transitional Sleep and Storage Shelter that is part of a pilot program of Saint Francis Homeless Challenge.
In all things organizing, like many of my colleagues I employ standard long-established practices for their inherent benefits of safety, efficiency, and optimal results. I’ve learned my ways (and what aren’t my ways) by reading the myriad how-to books, from trading tips and tricks with others in conversation and by working together, and through trial and error. Our underlying skills are the same, but the differences are in how we present, use, and experiment with them.