Thursday, June 25, 2015

Adventures in Kitchen Organizing

There are only so many organizing projects you can do in your own home.  Each individual living space comes with unique challenges, so I've been feeling like I'm missing out on a world of new and exciting chaos by staying local.  Which is why any time my blog would come up with my friends, co-workers or casual accountancies I'd beg for an opportunity to work on projects in their homes pro bono (that is a fancy word for "I don't know what I'm doing so I can't make you pay me").  A few people said they had projects they'd love for me to take a crack at but only one person (so far) actually allowed me into their home.  No offense taken, I don't want you to see my mess either.

It figures that this daring individual would be a fellow blogger and also co-worker at our "day job".  Though calling her a fellow blogger feels a little braggy on my part.  She has a legit blog; I have an online journal that my sister, husband and five friends read.  Sophia runs a popular food and beer blog called NY Foodgasm.  Her blog is delightfully entertaining and does a fantastic job of balancing the line between indulgent and healthy food.  Plus, I love beer and Sophia puts my love to shame.  She respects beer.

Sophia reached out and asked if I'd be interested in helping her get her kitchen in order.  Since she does so much cooking for her blog, she needs the kitchen to have optimal flow.  I wholeheartedly agreed to help and we set a date for me to come over.  I've been immersing myself in organizing and de-cluttering blogs and books lately like I Heart Organizing and Organizing from the Inside Out.  I'm slowly making my way through what feels like endless research and I was pumped to finally put my learning to the test.

I showed up at Sophia's house on a beautiful Saturday afternoon with a notebook, camera and barely contained excitement.  The first day was a consultation.  This was my chance to see her kitchen, take notes, pictures, ask questions and then go home and brainstorm. The interesting thing about Sophia's
house and kitchen is that I wasn't dealing with an unorganized person. She didn't have mountains of crap lying around that simply needed to be put away.  Instead, we were dealing with a trickier problem, an old house.  Her kitchen has some VERY narrow cabinets, random deep pockets of space on her counter, even a cabinet next to her fridge that isn't finished.  No shelves, just a unfinished floor in a dark and slightly ominous space.  Which means it was space she couldn't use.  No good.

It was a great first session.  Sophia was engaged and open to questions and suggestions.  After a couple hours of chatting, we set a date for our regroup and I walked away with ideas bubbling out of my head.  During this first visit I had Sophia tell me what she saw as her areas of frustration, like an over abundance of pint glasses in one cabinet, how to organize all her spices, how to best use the very deep cabinet next to her sink, how to minimize and organize all her various kitchen utensils, etc.

When we met again a few weeks later, I came with a notebook full of pictures and ideas, a shopping list of items I thought Sophia needed for her kitchen and even less contained excitement.  As suggested by one of the organizing books I read recently, we started by pulling EVERYTHING out of the cabinets and putting EVERYTHING on the floor or counters.  We even went around the house and found items like mugs and pint glasses that had found their way into other parts of the house.  The point of this exercise was to truly be able to gauge how much stuff we were dealing with and make sure all 'kitchen' items are in one part of the house.  You may think you only have a few mugs when they are stashed away in your cabinet but wait until they are all sitting out.  All the  sudden you go from a normal person with a normal number of coffee mugs to a coffee mug hoarder.  Here is one of the pictures we took during our "chaos stage".

Once we had everything out in the open, we went through each category of kitchen items and decided what was going to stay and what needed to go.  This was hands down the hardest and most valuable part of the process.  This was Sophia's life, her stuff, her memories and I was telling her to get rid of it.  We took the time to discuss the value and purpose of each item.  Sometimes it was quick and easy but other times, her collection of pint glasses for example, we spent a good amount of time negotiating.  How often do you use this?  Does it hold sentimental value?  Do you have duplicates of the same item that you don't need?  If you can't part with it, can it be stored in the basement for holidays or special occasions? Again, Sophia was a trooper and it got easier.  By the end, she was tossing items in the donation box without a second thought.

By the end of the day, we had worked our way through the entire kitchen and had four boxes of donation items to prove it.  Having all of Sophia's stuff out in the open made it possible to clearly see that she had some how accumulated four peelers and 30 coffee mugs over the years.  It was also much easier for Sophia to trim down on her pint glass collection when she could see each glass that she was keeping and the few she decided to let go.  As described by Marie Kondo in the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (I'm not a general fan of the book but the basic principles are interesting) during the process of removing everything from your cabinets, you are forced to take each item in your hands for a moment and gauge how you truly feel about the item.  Does the item bring you happiness in some way, whether functionally or emotionally?

It may seem excessive to remove everything from your cabinets just to get organized but think about what usually happens when you try to straighten up your house.  You go to a cabinet in your kitchen, start moving things around in the one cabinet, get distracted by one of the other 1,000 things you need to do that day and then you never get beyond that one cabinet.  If everything is out of your cabinets and creating complete chaos in your kitchen, you have no other choice but to clean it up.  The idea is simple but the process can be a little overwhelming.  Don't get discouraged!  If you don't trust that you'll be able to get rid of anything and you are not in a position to hire a professional organizer, find a buddy to be your sounding board.  It can be incredibly helpful to have a impartial perspective on your possessions.

Stay tuned for part two of Sophia's kitchen revamp where we discuss zoning her kitchen with before and after pictures!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Dear Dad: Thanks for Everything

Dear Dad,

This morning I woke up knowing that it was Father's Day and thought about how I would go visit you at the nursing home.  It only took a few seconds for my brain to catch up and remember that you are gone.  It is that time of year again where I am constantly reminded of you.  Father's Day, closely followed by the anniversary of the day you passed and then your birthday.  I usually get sad and then mad and sad again but eventually I remember the valuable things you left me with.  It feels like each time I think about you and what we experienced together I'm reminded of another way that you showed me how to embrace life and weed out the crap (gardening pun intended).

I remember sitting in the car with you one spring day.  We were driving back to the nursing home and by this point in time you didn't speak much.  We were stopped at a stop sign and all the sudden you made a small gasp while you gazed out the side window.  I turned and followed your gaze to a gigantic cherry blossom tree with beautiful pink flowers all over it.  We sat at the stop sign for a couple minutes just enjoying how beautiful the tree was and it dawned on me how amazing it was that I didn't even need you to tell me what you were looking at to know what you saw and how it made you feel.  Now I try to make sure I find the time to stop and "smell the roses" every once in a while, something I rarely made time for before.  Thank you for reminding me how much beauty we are surrounded by on a daily basis.

As you progressed into the disease and became less and less like my dad each day, I'm sorry to admit that I started to struggle with motivating myself to visit.  I had just had your first granddaughter and I wanted to spend my entire weekend watching her grow, instead of watching you fade away.  It was so hard to see you in that frail body but I made myself visit and tried to focus on the happy memories I've had with you.  Now that you are gone, I am so thankful that I don't have any regrets and I've tried to carry that over to other parts of my life.  I know I can't do it all but when it comes to visiting friends, taking advantage of new opportunities, taking risks, and showing people that I care about them, I'd rather be a little busy than regret not spending time with the people I care about or living my life to the fullest.  Thank you for showing me that you are more likely to regret what you didn't do than what you did. 

Being the youngest of 14 kids, you probably spent a lot of your childhood wishing you could just be alone.  Which I can totally understand but you also somehow managed to be one of those people who everyone loved to be around.  You were friendly, kind and extremely loyal to your friends.  Watching postcards come in the mail almost every single week from your friend Mark for YEARS showed me what it means to be a good friend.  I've had friends that created constant drama with their insecurities, bitterness, and thoughtless actions.  Losing you made me see that life shouldn't be wasted on undeserving friends.  I now save my kindness and loyalty for people that bring joy to my life just by being who they are, a good person.  Thank you for showing me that life is too short for crappy relationships. 

By the time I was 28 years old, I consider myself an expert in Social Security, Medicare and Power of Attorney.  Not something many 28 year olds could say.  One day when you were living with your sister in North Carolina, mom called to tell me that she found your Will and it hadn't been updated since you got divorced from your third wife. You had been diagnosed with a incurable disease and your Will was leaving everything you had to a woman you didn't speak to anymore.  It wasn't a matter of making sure your children inherited your money one day, we needed money to pay for your care and thankfully we were able to update the Will.  And I am thankful down to my very core that you included your advanced directives in your Will.  You specified that you didn't want any lifesaving measures taken, specifically a feeding tube, and I know that if I had to make that decision for you, it would have broken my heart.  Shortly after we had our oldest daughter, we went to the lawyer and had our Living Wills created.  Thank you for showing me how important it is to get your life in order, especially when you have kids.

I remember sitting next to your bed at the nursing home one day and struggling to remember what it was like before you were sick.  Luckily you and mom were both amazing photographers so we have more photos than we know what to do with but I was having trouble holding on to a real memory.  Every memory I had in my head of you was tinged with Alzheimer's.  When I was a young I didn't pay enough attention to you being in my life.  Instead of trying to rush through life; instead of being frustrated and angry about you not being around all the time; I should have stopped to enjoy having you as my dad.  My healthy, vibrant and amazingly funny dad.  I don't want to rush through anything again.  I take pictures constantly now.  I started writing down my favorite memories of the girls as often as I can remember and try to embrace it all.  Thank you for showing me that every single moment is worth appreciating and capturing, good or bad.  

These next couple of weeks are going to be particularly hard without you but I will keep reminding myself of all the amazing things you taught me.  Enjoy life's beauty, regret nothing, surround myself with good friends, keep my life in order and appreciate everything I am lucky enough to have.

Thanks Dad.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Love What You Do: Finding Your Pure Joy

Do me a favor.  Take a minute and think about what your hobbies were when you were a kid.  Do you still have the same hobbies as an adult?  I had a sticker collection that I was obsessed with when I was a kid.  Which, when I think about it, is possibly one of the lamest collections you can have, but I digress.  I'll admit that even though I enjoy playing with stickers with my daughter, I'm not about to start a collection of my own as an adult.  But think about what I was really doing with my sticker collection.  I was taking all those random stickers from various booklets, rolls, sheets and organizing them into a central and structured location.  The core idea of the hobby I enjoyed as a child has a lot of similarities to what I'm passionate about today.  The practice may have changed but the core passion is still there.

For some people, transforming a childhood hobby into something they can enjoy as an adult is a little more straightforward.  You loved cooking and you still love cooking.  But if you haven't figured out what you are passionate about as an adult, how do you go about figuring it out?  Especially if you want to try to take something you love doing and try to get paid for it.

I was visiting my family in Colorado earlier this year and stopped by to say "Hi" to my sort of dad.  What is a sort of dad, you say? Well, he isn't technically my dad.  He never ended up marrying my mom after 12 years of dating, but he put in the time.  He was at each football game that I cheered at and every single choir concert.  He remembers all of my friend's names from elementary school to now and even emails with some of my them.  He has earned the title more than most.  The only reason I hesitate to call him my dad without the 'sort of' is because a lot of people know my dad was sick and passed away so it can be a little confusing.  Again, I digress.

I was visiting my sort of dad and walked into his house to discover mountains of papers. I'd estimate there were stacks of opened and unopened mail from the last few years.  He is a super busy guy and paperwork isn't his strong suit. Most people would have given him some grief or maybe slowly backed out of the house.  What did I do?  I spent two days of our family vacation setting up a filing system, opening and filing his mail.  It was awesome.  I truly loved it and wished we lived closer so I could do more.  That's when it hit me that maybe I should be doing more with something I clearly enjoy and is helpful to others.  Maybe I could become a Professional Organizer. (That is a real thing, I promise.)  I'm hoping that this blog is my first step towards one day opening my own business.

When you think about turning a passion into a career, jobs like chef, dancer, artist or even professional athlete come to mind.  All either extremely competitive or careers that are hard to be financially successful.  But maybe you need to think about your hobbies in a more abstract way.  For example, let's say you love shopping.  What about shopping do you love?  Do you love searching and haggling for the best deal?  Maybe you should have a career that involves buying or negotiating.  Do you love matching colors and patterns to come up with the perfect outfit?  Maybe you could design for a living.  Or maybe you just love to spend money!  Trust me, there are plenty of careers where you get to spend other people's money. The key is figuring out what specifically makes you enjoy your favorite activities so much. 

Of course it isn't possible for everyone to drop their 9-5 jobs so that they can become a librarian (the dream!) but as Stephen King said, "Yes, I've made a great deal of dough from my fiction, but I never set a single word down on paper with the thought of being paid for it… I have written because it fulfilled me… I did it for the buzz.  I did it for the pure joy of the thing.  And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever."  Time to do some soul searching.  Maybe you won't be changing careers anytime soon but hopefully you can all find out what brings you pure joy.