I am often asked about the lack of before and after photos on my website. I’ll be frank and say it: as a genre, they all sort of look the same, and without context, I find them to be quite uninteresting.
Generally speaking, before and after for organizers illustrates various forms of disarray transformed into various states of tidiness, and predictably, organization. To my eyes, these “results” are partial results as they simply show physical and surface alterations that have occurred. Little is told about what has happened and not a thing is said about why.
When I use photography in the course of working with clients, it is a tool to document a process — before, during, and after. When I choose to share the photos, it is to tell a story about the journey — the benefits and changes for the client and the decisions and observations we made along the way. Oftentimes, the physical changes barely scratch the surface of the shifts that manifest for and/or within the people themselves.
For example, here is a set of before and after photos of the area beneath a client’s kitchen sink…
What do you see? A little less clutter and a little more organization? Yay! We like that. Mission accomplished. Were some containers moved or removed to make it look better? But of course! As before and after images, they do the trick, right? To make my point, the answer is “not really.”
Here’s the story:
This client had mentioned that when her helpers clean the apartment, she often coughs in reaction to the strong chemicals (predictably, bleach and ammonia), and this can exacerbate her asthma. If the timing of one of my visits for our sessions was such that the place had just been cleaned, my asthma would be triggered, too. It wasn’t a healthful situation for anyone, but the fact of the matter is that neither she nor her helpers knew any better. These were what they knew to be the most effective cleaners for their needs, so they stayed with what was familiar.
So, I asked my client if she and her helpers would be amenable to trying something new: non-toxic cleaners with plenty of advantages. They would not make anyone sick, they would save her money in the long run, and due to their versatility, they would simplify and streamline the cleaning and shopping processes. She was all for it.
Enter a new pair of photos – some during moments! On the left are the fifteen toxic chemical-based cleaners and mystery liquids that we removed from beneath the sink. (They are in the before photo above.) All were taken to the county’s hazardous waste drop-off site for proper disposal. On the right are the three non-toxic cleaners plus one mixture (water and vinegar mixed 1:1) that replaced the toxic options. (These are in the after photo above.)
As a result of this undertaking, neither she nor her helpers have experienced any adverse effects of these new cleaning agents. In fact, they really like them, and one of the helpers told me she wants to make the change in her home, too. While this was not a complete non-toxic makeover (the client was not ready for a change to new products for laundry or dishwashing, for example), this was a brave and life-changing step.
So, as you can see, while a couple of photographs can be worth a thousand words, words can be the image-altering vehicle that brings you to a deeper understanding that the moments alone cannot reveal.
- A couple of client transformation stories have already appeared on this blog – Revisiting a Rebuilding and Organizing Power – and I invite you to have a look and a read to see what can and does happen between the beginning and the end and beyond.
- If you have been intrigued by the idea of moving towards safe and cost-effective cleaning alternatives, San Francisco’s Department of the Environment has assembled a comprehensive list of online resources. My go-to recipe list is the PDF containing “safe home cleaning methods.”