Homeowner Tips: Organizing Before/After a Move
Moving is an amazing change in our lives - but it can also be pretty stressful. When we are deciding whether to sell a home and move on, the thought of packing up all our possessions might feel like an obstacle. We reached out to Eliza Cantlay of Simplicana, a Certified Professional Organizer in Kansas City, for ideas to make sure that moving is more of an amazing change, and less of stressful process. Simplicana offers judgment-free support on everything from clearing out basements to technology- or small-business organization.
In talking with Eliza, a few take-aways became obvious, and they're useful whether or not we have a move in sight. Whether we have tons of time to organize for a move, or just a few weeks—even if we’re not moving—her first suggestion is the same: Decluttering.
Here’s what she had to say.
Urban Cool: Now, you’ve been doing this for 7 years... Normally, what kind of help do homeowners need from you?
Eliza: Typically my clients need help purging and organizing paperwork, garages, closets, playrooms, and even the cloud/email inboxes! The people who typically call me are the ones who 'get it'––they have figured out that in order to live happily in their homes, they need a few systems in place... And they understand that having excessive things can dam those systems up pretty fast.
Urban Cool: What do you think is the biggest obstacle keeping people from getting organized? (Or, are there a few?)
Eliza: Decluttering is the main obstacle, but the most important step––admitting that stuff really needs to go in order to do our best work. But for some clients, it's time (many give me their garage codes so that I can work independently).
Urban Cool: Sometimes moving can force us to re-evaluate, re-organize, or downsize our possessions, in a way that makes our lives more comfortable... But sometimes we just move everything to a new place, even our baggage. Are there any strategies to help the moving process actually bring about good changes?
Eliza: If possible, declutter before the move. It will not only save you bundles on the moving expenses, but you might not have to even move your keepers into storage while your home is staged! Your home may sell faster, and for a better price, as a result of your decluttering. Besides saving a ton of money and hassle when moving, decluttering is great energetically—it's nice to only bring items into your brand new space that feel like keepers. It keeps the energy in your new home feeling fresh and tingly and exciting!
Once you have moved, unpack and organize everything into the new home—and declutter again. Not all furniture or possessions will belong in every house you live in, so after the move it should become easier to see that you could free yourself from a few more things.
For a very specific strategy to organize your move—as you pack, use color dot stickers to indicate what boxes go to what room. That will save you tons of unpacking time!
Overall, if decluttering is a challenge for you, here’s a game/guideline that may help you face the decisions: "Do you support what I'm all about?" Each of your possessions should go along with your passions, not get in their way. Here are some things that make me happiest: frequent travels, bonding time with my amazing dog, and SCUBA diving. So, my bag of scuba gear totally supports what I'm all about, and I'm happy to make a little space for it in my abode! But if I had a flashy car with high monthly car payments, that would be clutter for me—I'd rather have an energy-efficient vehicle that I can pay off quickly, and direct that extra money toward my traveling passions. I don't own a coffee table either—that would take up precious floor space, and I'd rather have that space to play with my dog. Everything you keep should support something you love.
Urban Cool: If someone is really close to their closing/moving date - maybe one month away - what would be your main suggestion for organizing before a move?
Eliza: Go through your home with donation bags and boxes to start the decluttering process. So often we try on a piece of clothing and think "I don't really like this any more, I think I'll donate it..." and then we put it right back on the rod with the things we want to keep, just because we didn't have a collecting vessel in hand at that moment—having the "vessel" in your hands will make you want to put things in it!
Snap photos of items that are in good enough shape to sell, and list them on the LetGo app, Craigslist, or Facebook Marketplace. Or just post it privately to your local Fbook friends if the idea of meeting up with a stranger creeps you out.
Urban Cool: What if someone has just moved, boxes everywhere, and they are ready to unpack… Are there any plans or tricks you would recommend for people as they are starting fresh in a new home?
Eliza: As you unpack every item, ask yourself... "Do you belong in my new life?" Do this with no noisy distractions (no TV in the background), so you are really aware of your reactions. You don't have to keep anything that doesn't delight you––it doesn't matter if it was a gift from somebody amazing––keep their love, and ditch the thing, if it's not something you are in love with. (And... Never be the person who walks into a friend's home and says, "WHERE IS THAT [THING] I GAVE YOU??")
This idea might surprise you... Unpack as quickly as possible, even if it leaves you with random piles everywhere. This might feel counter-intuitive, but you are more likely to tackle little "clutter fires" if they are piley and annoying you than if they are still in nice neat boxes-–leave a nagging mess to motivate yourself to actually get it organized into your new home!
Urban Cool: Are there any common mistakes (or time-wasters) you’ve seen when people are moving (or re-organizing), that really seem like good ideas, but don’t actually help?
Eliza: Don't buy organizing supplies until after you've decluttered, unless you are a rock star at returns. When we buy containers before we declutter, it's like we are saying "I will pare down until I have enough to fit in these bins". Instead we should be saying, "I will pare down until the items that I keep (regardless of how many or few those are) all feel like they serve a purpose in my life”. Then we can get the appropriate type and amount of containers to store them, based on how many items we’re left with. The focus should always be on the purpose of the item, not how full a container can be.
Also, don't "micro" organize before you "macro" organize, or you may get derailed... For example, if you are organizing your garage and find a box of tiny random hardware bits (nails, screws, etc), just put it in a pile of other hardware for the time being. Don’t get sidetracked sorting screws from nuts. Once you have Macro piles (Gardening, Tools/Hardware, Outdoor Toys, Pest Control, Car Care, etc), you can micro organize––now you can go into all those tiny hardware bits and sort them into one of those awesome multi-drawer units!
Urban Cool: Similarly, is there any popular advice out there for moving organization, that you would like to warn people is actually a terrible idea?
Eliza: We all love the idea of selling our stuff, but if it hasn't sold within 3 days of the move, just donate it: Take the tax write-off. Do not move with anything that you intend to get rid of.
Also, as tempting as it is to use cardboard boxes from the Liquor Store (I know—I'm an environmentalist, so I hate the idea of using new boxes), one of my clients had a huge roach problem at her new house after her move, and the reused cardboard boxes were the main suspect—bugs can lodge into those and make themselves cozy until they arrive in their new house!
Urban Cool: How did you end up becoming an organization expert?
Eliza: I think I'm more of an expert at getting people to part with things... When enough items get decluttered, the organizing part just kind of takes care of itself. But okay, I'll play...
As a kid, like many kids, I wanted everything, but I never wanted to get rid of anything. My room was always a mess. But organizing skills are partially genetic, and my mom was what I call "relaxed organized" (what I mean by this is, she herself modeled amazing organization skills, but she never forced me or gave me a complex about it). Later, I went to a boarding high school where they told us, "If your rooms are clean, you can go out after Study Hall and socialize with the boys before check-in at 10pm." The promise of boys was enough to get me to start cleaning up after myself–aaand finally the gene kicked in! I have been organized since. But it wasn't until I started traveling abroad during and after college that I became a good declutterer–I hated lugging things around. And when I started working with organizing clients in 2010, I became a minimalist; dealing with other people's stuff every day made me pretty disenchanted with my own stuff.
Urban Cool: Thank you so much, Eliza! If people want to get in touch with you for more help, what is the best way to contact you?
Eliza: The best way for to reach me is firstname.lastname@example.org or 913-815-0008—and they can check out my website too, simplicana.com, for before & after photos, and other details.
Being organized is actually about being comfortable and satisfied. Organization isn’t an end in itself, or a stand-alone virtue to attain; being able to live happily in our spaces and get things done easily are the real endgame.
“Getting organized” isn’t the only skill we need to move or to be comfortable in our homes; “decluttering” is a separate, and very important, ability. (Becoming a “minimalist” is a more extreme version.) Letting go of the right things is a key to being more organized and more comfortable.
The old adage is backwards: If you don’t love something, let it go!