Tag Archives: DOWNSIZING

Organization, Simplicity or Both?

My by-line has always been simplicity – but what has that meant for me and for my clients? Granted my experience in this field is relatively short; my business is barely three years old.

However, one general trait I’ve noticed with people who seek out help from organizers is that, in one way or another, they share an underlying belief that more really is more. Most Professional Organizers, when pressed, will tell you that, in fact, less is more – there’s no way around this truth.

When working with clients, in order for me to be true to myself, and my clients I have never circumvented this truth. There is a crucial difference in being sympathetic to and supporting a client’s belief that any kind of overconsumption is healthy or in any way helpful. I cannot support the belief that anyone really NEEDS 20 black dresses or enough office supplies to open their own Staples (even though one day all of the Staples close and there is no other way to find a three ring binder).

While it is possible to reduce the size of your off-season wardrobe with bags that shrink wafer-thin (and suck the life out of your clothes) and it’s possible to double the size of your rod space with skinny hangers, there is a larger question which needs to be addressed. Here it is: how do all those things you struggle to keep under control in your space – how do they relate to your life in a larger sense? Are they helping you to accomplish what you want in life? Do they help you to relate to your family and your friends? Do they help you to fulfill your purpose?

I will now go out on a limb and say what I believe: overconsumption, in any form, whether it is activities, stuff or information, is the root of disorganization. Simplicity forms the basis for being and staying organized.

Simplicity is the antonym of complexity. For many people the first is synonymous with boring and the second, with exciting. Simplicity also means clarity, to see clearly what is important and what is not. How to spend the limited amount of time we have here on earth, to relax and enjoy what’s available to us right now, to listen and care for other people, to accomplish what we set out to do, every day.

Simplicity is not simple – it requires discipline, self-examination and honesty. Is this something that a professional organizer is equipped to help you with? This is a question that I and many of my colleagues struggle with and, perhaps, have not yet answered. I could never offer my services with integrity if I did not continue this struggle. Such questioning forms the basis for growth and change, for me and for my clients.

Sharing Space

Recently, I read that since 1950 the average new house has increased by 1,247 square feet.  Yet since 1970, the percentage of households containing five or more people has fallen by half.  Overall, the average number of people per household decreased from 3.14 to 2.57.  What is it about this phenomenon that is so telling of the change in the psyche of our culture? As to the downsizing of the American family, one could point to population growth, change in gender roles, increased mobility and dispersion between generations, the economy, and countless other factors.  I sense a paradox. Why is there a need for increasing amounts of square footage required by, and allotted to, each family member? Would it not follow that given the decrease in bodies, decrease for time families spend together and increasing amounts of alienation in our society that we should desire to be closer to loved ones – that we should require less space? In the past 50 years or so, movies, TV, music, and books have alluded to a growing lack of connection between people. We are all familiar with the problem. I dare say many of us would be uncomfortable admitting this influence in our own lives. Ever growing use of technology as a means of relating, eliminating the necessity of any contact, is creating a new population uncomfortable with physical contact, one that often prefers Facebook to “face time.” I have traveled a few times with my husband Mark to his homeland, the former USSR. I learned that there was no Russian word or idiom for “personal space” nor has there (until recently) been any need for the concept. Togetherness – close proximity, visibility, being within earshot – has always been the normal state of affairs. Remember the old TV commercial that exhorted us to “reach out and touch someone?” That was quite a while ago and the dictate was only figurative (i.e., call your mom!) Today, it would be quite a leap to take that literally. So – how could any American family go from a McMansion to a “junior 4” apartment? Aside from economic downshifts that would force such a drastic move or the inevitable population squeeze that in the future may necessitate such a trend on a global level, are there any unseen benefits? Is there a way to re-frame downsizing as a means of re-establishing connection? Between our marriage in 1991 and 2001, Mark and I progressed from my tiny bachelorette pad to owning our first co-op apartment, a beautiful space that was palatial by New York City standards. We reveled in the expanse even as we struggled to pay for it! Being well-informed homeowners and looking to the future we flipped our large apartment and downsized to one roughly two-thirds the size. The first year was at times quite painful. Besides the necessary “content purge” to get us and our two very large dogs into our new home we were suddenly much, much closer to each other – and not always for the better. However, I can honestly report that the diminished physical square footage has enhanced my life in many ways. First, it has forced me to work out differences with my husband. Without the luxury of being able to avoid my partner in a large space, I face the reality of conflict. Like a grain of sand in an oyster, conflict is a motivating irritant, which if borne patiently can yield a pearl – a closer and more communicative relationship. Second, sharing a smaller space has opened me up to the idea of letting go of territory. Third, being in constant and close proximity to Mark forces me to consider the needs of another, who has his own perspective and opinions on what is, and what is not, important. I have become more flexible about my living environment; I am able to see it more as a process rather than a static result. Last and most important, sharing space has led me to an inner space which stills all preconceptions of how everything should be and which invites in other ways of being, other points of view, and other people. I believe that this new awareness has been the most precious gift, borne of the necessity of sharing a small physical space. I believe that the ability to open up to the ones closest to us – our families and friends – is the beginning of compassion and understanding for everything and everyone else. To say that loving my husband leads to loving all of humanity may sound ridiculous. Then again, I did not coin the well-worn phrase: “charity begins at home.” Love begins and grows when we are willing to share space with those we profess to love and need. That, even if taken no further, is an achievement worthy of a lifetime.

So, Why Do You Call yourself Beautiful Corner?

So, for anyone who’s interested, here’s a little bit about my company name, BEAUTIFUL CORNER.  It’s a play on a translated Russian idiom, KRASNY UGOL, meaning Red Corner, but which also has an archaic translation of Beautiful (now Krasiva).  The idea of the “red or “beautiful” corner in the traditional home of Old Russia is an aspect of that culture which has most intrigued me.  The Beautiful Corner was that place in the home where the icons and family saints were placed.  The Corner is a spiritual center of the home and the place that provides a sense of peace, comfort and security.  The idea of the corner is one that has pervaded my life.

The general idea is that one’s environment should provide a safe, serene and secure “corner” of the world from which to gain strength and sustenance for the daily journey out into the larger world of experiences.  I believe that the art of organization can never be an end in itself (think front page of the Container Store catalogue) but a means to an end.  The goal is not perfection and stasis, but the creation of a fluid yet manageable environment, which minimizes the handling of “stuff” and maximizes time for life’s larger concerns.  Having done this work for many years as a specialized sideline in office environments and as special projects for friends and family,  I have gleaned a vast amount of experience working with different personalities, both individuals and couples, which provides a sound structure for my profession.  I’ve worked with those who are eager to downsize and simplify as well as with entrenched packrats who agonize over getting rid of last year’s New York Times!  I give an initial consultation, in which I endeavor to engage my clients in a complete assessment of the possessions and/or information which they wish to arrange and encourage, if necessary, an initial purge of obsolete and unwanted items, files, etc.  One of the techniques I use is “digital cataloging”, to help the client “step out of the eye of the storm”, as it were, to gain a more objective perspective of his possessions and ease decision making.

While I strive to facilitate the process, responsibility in the initial phase rests COMPLETELY with the client, and if we are successful in
working together, this phase is usually an enlightening and empowering experience.  I work through the rest of the phases without the client or, if he wishes to be involved, with as much participation as she wishes to provide, including assessment and measurement of space, existing storage materials (the purchase of storage units and materials is discouraged until we have utilized what is already available at hand), replacement of contents and final cataloging and legend for reference.

My philosophy of organization ties in with a larger belief that sustainability, recycling and downsizing are the most crucial issues of our time.  While I do not push an agenda when working, my approach is informed by my beliefs.  I am not an anti-materialist; on the contrary, I myself love beautiful things.  I have some treasured possessions.  But I do believe in the difference between the healthy appreciation of useful objects and the bondage and chaos that an overabundance of material goods can create in our lives.  I agree with the economist E.F. Schumacher’s core belief that SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL, and think of myself as a “specialist” when working with small spaces.  Like most interested in this field, I love collecting books on organizing.  However, my work is mostly informed by many wonderful economists, social scientists, and journalists, to name a few favorites, Judith Levine (Not Buying It), Juliet Schor (The Overworked American), Jane Hammerslough (Dematerializing) and Elizabeth Royte (Garbage Land).