Monday, October 8, 2018

Meet Stan

I became a nurse because I like to help people.  A lot of my nursing skills carried into the world of organizing and have served me well.  However, I’ve learned over the years that my true motivator is not so much about the helping, but more about the fixing—that’s what gives me energy.  I love to solve problems and be able to get things done. I’m the girl who makes a list after I did a bunch of things just so I can cross them back off the list.  So satisfying!!  So, the more troublesome a problem becomes, the more set I get on making a solution happen. 

I had a client who broke one half of their lazy susan cabinet door.  They had tried various fixes and weren’t getting anywhere.  I thought for sure this would be no big deal, but it proved to be quite difficult.  Over the course of a year we worked together on and off in all areas of the house, and the door continued to sit in the corner while the cabinet gaped open.  Suddenly, they were ready to move and the house was getting listed, and we still had a broken door.  I visited multiple hardware stores and cabinet showrooms to no avail.   We were ready to reattach this thing with duct tape.   

I decided to take one last stab at my smalltime local hardware store.  When the rosy-cheeked, teenaged counter attendant asked if he could help me, I knew I was doomed.  I went ahead and told my story, which was overheard by Stan.  Stan, who had received a call to say his order was ready, and low and behold was not in fact there.  A wasted trip for Stan, but a goldmine for me!  Stan had an abundance of knowledge about hinges and the like, and as an organizer, sounded like he would be my worst nightmare…he demos cabinets and rarely gets rid of a piece of hardware…you know, “just in case.”  Just in case a random organizing girl gives a sob story in the hardware store and you are able to offer her exactly what you both think she needs!  Stan needed a couple hours to get home and search for said pieces, but was confident he would have them by the time I arrived.  He gave me his address…complete with hand-drawn map!  I showed up with a friend in tow, just in case Stan was a serial killer, and collected 2 different sets of hinges he thought might work.  I was doubtful, as they looked so similar to things I had already tried, but I was gonna give Stan the benefit of the doubt. 

Later that night I get a call from my newfound friend.  He’s been pondering my predicament and thought what I might actually need is a piano hinge.  “Say what, Stan?!”  A piano hinge.  Six bucks.  Found anywhere.  I picked one up the next day, threw that puppy on and boom!  Done.  Just like that.  At some point in our encounters Stan said, “this is kind of crazy, huh?”  “Maybe crazy, maybe fate, Stan, either way, I’m gonna blog about you.”  Stan doesn’t know what a blog is.

When I was working with a business coach this past year, I had to determine my core values.  I chose resourcefulness, grace and awareness—maybe more on that later.  Anyway, he was unimpressed by “resourcefulness” because it didn’t carry much emotion and didn’t seem that significant.  But to me it’s everything—it gives me the grit I need to get any job done.  Or in this case, to find a Stan to help me get the job done.   What values drive you?

Monday, September 10, 2018

Take Command of Your School Year

It’s hard to believe that “back to school” is in full effect!  Although, the stores are practically pushing their Christmas wares already, so maybe not so hard to believe at all.  Either way, this time of year makes perfect sense to talk about setting up or taking back charge of your home command center.

There are any number of pinterest boards and blog posts with drop-dead, gorgeously-zen spaces, but they all have the same basic essentials:

1.     A Central Location—like the realtors say, “location, location, location!” It’s key.  It should be in a high traffic area where the whole family passes through multiple times a day.  If you are lucky enough to have a mudroom, or a nook, or a whatever—that’s fabulous.  If you don’t, have no fear.  Functional always trumps aesthetic.  If it needs to be smack in the middle of the kitchen then there’s always a way to make it work.
2.     A File System—color-coding optional.  Individual vs whole family?—your choice.  You do need a system for “urgent” things, like the school physical, versus “reference” things, like the PTA calendar.  Also, “incoming” versus “outgoing,” like the test that needs to be returned to the teacher.  However, there is no right or wrong as long as it works for you.   Do try to eliminate paper when you can by putting electronic reminders in your phone or putting all necessary information about an event directly into your e-calendar.    
3.     A Calendar—paper or electronic? Still your choice, but essential either way.   
4.     A Board—bulletin?, magnetic?, dryerase?, peg?, combo?—all your choice.   Color-coding is an option here as well, to save time and space.  You don’t have to write a name to every task—just assign a marker/post-it/pin color to each family member and they should know at a quick glance what their tasks are. 
5.     Bins—“shred”/”recycle”/”archive”—like for the artwork you know you’ll keep or the tax documents you know you’ll need later in the year, but don’t have time to file everyday.

What is less talked about is the fact that you actually have to use and groom your command center.  Everyone in the household needs to learn its intended use and how to make it function.  When a bin is full, it needs to be emptied.  That means that “things that need to be filed” actually need to get filed every so often—whether it’s weekly, monthly or quarterly is up to you.  And things that are out for “reference” need to get thrown away when they become irrelevant. 

For every home command center I’ve helped to re-organize, I always find the original, well-intentioned organization beneath all the rubble.  Sometimes the system doesn’t work and you have to keep using trial and error.  Most of the time, the system is fine; you just have to actually use it and keep up with it.  So, my school-year resolution for you is to take charge and stay disciplined.  Happy commanding!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Sorting Garbage...With Joy

I have a client with a very sad case right now who suffers from OCD that results in hoarding.  She convinces herself that there is writing on food wrappers and something of value in the garbage bags she saves the wrappers in.  She can’t get rid of garbage without inspecting each piece under bright lights and turning it back and forth several times.  She called for my help when she was facing eviction…again.  I go for a couple hours every week and help her let go of each piece.  Sometimes the smell hits me in the face as soon as I get to the door and I always dread going a little bit.  She is a truly delightful, well-educated woman, devastated that she is unable to overcome her mental issues and I just can’t refuse helping her.  

Today we had a real breakthrough and she let me do some of the assessing and pitching myself, rather than just watch her do it.  It might not sound like much, but it was a huge deal!  It dawned on me then that I was actually, almost, enjoying taking garbage out of one bag, looking at it, turning it, and putting in the next bag to be taken to the dumpster.  So I said to her, “You know, I’ve been working at another job in an attic all week and it is HOT.  I’ve been running up and down stairs and moving furniture and I am tired!  I am actually enjoying our time right now because I can sit here without breaking a sweat and carry on a conversation with you.”  You would have thought she just won the lottery.  The smile barely fit on her face and she was beaming with joy.  We had our most productive day yet and she ended the day with high hopes.  It is very unlikely she will avoid eviction and I know I can’t carry the burden of that, but today, two souls had a good day sorting trash together.  

I don’t know entirely why I felt compelled to share this story but I feel like someone who needs an ounce of hope right now will somehow find it here.   I started this business on a leap of faith that I felt called to make, and sometimes second-guess myself, and sometimes want to quit.  A lot of times I get inundated with calls from people very much like this woman and then I really want to quit!  But today she told me that she can see kindness and compassion in my eyes and that is why she trusts me.  I told her that is God’s love shining through me and then I remember that if He called me to this place then He will give me the strength to give my best and to find beauty in even a literally, garbage-filled day.   Choose joy today, regardless of your circumstances.  You won’t regret it. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Grace 2B Free

Grace is my middle name, but I never much thought about it's meaning until the last few years.  My favorite definition is from Max Lucado who says, "Grace is the voice that calls us to change and then gives us the power to pull it off."  That is pretty much exactly how I ended up where I am right now.

I've always been a really decisive person and I love to check things off a list.  So at age 4 I decided I was going to be a nurse and I didn't stop until I got a doctorate degree with a 17-year career at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC in pediatric oncology.  Along the way I bought a house, got married, traveled every chance I could and felt content and accomplished while checking off my life boxes. 

Needless to say, my world got turned upside down when I found myself separated from an emotionally abusive, bi-polar husband and moving home to the bedroom I grew up in.  I had to question everything I ever thought I knew about myself and wonder where my decision-making psyche went wrong and if it would ever right itself again.

I'll be honest, I rolled over and played dead for a few weeks, but I had this overwhelming sense of opportunity in the midst of the chaos.  I prayed a lot during that time and found that God really does speak if you actually take the time to listen.  And the things I heard were to accept grace, pour out love, and essentially go make lemonade out of my lemons.  I knew I had a lot of soul-searching to do and I was more than a little bit afraid of what I might find!

Ever since middle school I remember not being able to do my homework or start on a project until my room was perfectly clean and organized.  So, I actually started my soul-cleanse with a physical object cleanse.  It was easy to get rid of all the stuff I no longer needed in my new one-bedroom living establishment, but it was harder to let go of hurt, anger, fear and resentment.  The hardest part was to let go of all my ideals, my life plans and all of my control.  For the first time in my life I didn't have a plan and it freaked me out, but I also felt utterly free! In what felt like an instant, I knew I was going to start a professional organizing business, Grace 2B Free.   

I've always been one to color inside the lines, follow the rules and rarely show any sign of vulnerability.  The choice to suddenly launch myself into the world of entrepreneurship has never felt like my own, but rather where Grace has called me, and so far it has indeed given me the power to pull it off.   I'm starting this blog to link my business with my life so I can share the impact of living by grace.  Hopefully you'll laugh, maybe you'll cry, and every once in awhile you might learn something about organizing!  Hence the name, life...with a side of organizing.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2018


For the past two years, at least, I have procrastinated about starting a blog, but I never really voiced my disappointment in myself before.  But, you know how sometimes you just speak something into the universe and then it boomerangs back in your face??  That was me tonight.  Speaking this thought and then somehow finding myself promising my friend that I would have four blog posts to her next week.  But I still had no idea where I would start.

Low and behold, I return home where I co-habitate with my parents (more on that later) and listen to a message on the physical answering machine connected to the landline ( a whole separate post!!!) and find a message directed to me from “George.”  Apparently George was shopping at Goodwill today and bought a shiny new, though obviously used, folder of some sort.  I don’t know how in the world he connected my documents to my parents answering machine, but by George (LOL), he did it!  He tells me he found in said folder, my birth certificate, car title and “several other things," along with a number to reach him at.   Bless your heart, George!  OMG!!!   

This would be bad enough on any given day but what makes it absolutely ridiculous is that I am a professional organizer with my own organizing business!!  (go check out—or maybe I shouldn’t even tell you that right now!)  I get paid to help people get rid of things like old folders and make sure there is not still valuable information in them!!  I recently returned from the annual NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals) conference and felt really motivated to start offering some new services—one of them being a disaster-preparedness package, making sure that all of your documents are in order, copied, and in secure places known to your trusted family in case of emergency.  My first step was to make sure my own disaster preparedness plan was in order—thanks for the wake-up call, George!

What’s really the most ridiculous is that I was so excited to hear this message, not because my documents would be returned safely, but because A) I knew that Goodwill actually sells the things I drop off every day AND that people actually buy them and B) because I knew I had my first blog post!  Today, by letting go of my own embarrassment I was able to accomplish a long-time in the making goal of getting something on paper to you.   I hope you enjoy and stay tuned to my stories of life...with a side of organizing.

Meet Stan

I became a nurse because I like to help people.   A lot of my nursing skills carried into the world of organizing and have serve...