I owe my love for order and organization to my mother. Not because she models it, quite the contrary. My mother is a lover of gardening, rug hooking, sewing, baking, and basically creating beautiful things for herself and her loved ones to admire and enjoy. She has so many hobbies and is interested in so many things that the idea of spending time sorting and organizing her stuff… for the birds! Or in her case, for her daughter.
Years ago, my folks downsized from their spacious house in New York to a cottage near the beach that had no attic and no basement. The saving grace was a two-car garage that immediately was designated as storage rather than a place to park cars. It was tight, but it worked… for a little while, anyway. Then my grandmother moved in with them and half of the garage was converted into a bedroom for her. So, add one more person (and all of her stuff), subtract a half a garage. Yikes.
The remaining space became a home for bikes, a workbench, tools, woodworking supplies, games, sporting equipment, paint brushes and paint cans, gardening stuff, a refrigerator, overflow food, kitchen items and gadgets, coolers, rakes, life jackets, oars, a lawnmower, a leaf blower… oh, and many boxes of books, framed photos and other sentimental knick-knacks that had come from their previous home. To boot, all of these items lived together in not-so-perfect harmony. You might have to move a snow shovel to get at a beach cooler or find the lobster pot tucked beneath a bag of peat moss.
During the summer, when my family and I spend a lot of time there visiting, the garage kept me up at night. I wanted at it. Not only had become a bit of a danger zone (I had stubbed my toe more times than I can count when going in search of a roll of paper towels and I had visions of my two-year-old happening upon a can of paint thinner), but I knew it had potential. Sure there were things that needed to be tossed, but that was only part of it. With a little planning and strategy, the space could be quite functional. Perhaps it would never hold a car, nor would it look like something out of Real Simple magazine, but I had every confidence that it could be a place where like was stored with like and you could find what you needed without risking injury or causing an avalanche of gift boxes in the process.
My mom knew it needed to be done, but like many of us, the idea of diving in was far too overwhelming. The first few times I asked if I could help, she resisted. Fear of judgement, shame, and protectiveness over her “stuff” and “systems” prevailed. But when I decided to realize my dream of becoming a professional organizer, I tried again. I told her I needed practice working in someone else’s space to decide if this career path was really for me, and assured her that I would treat her things with the same respect and non-judgment that I would with any other client. After a lot of convincing, she and my father packed up and headed to see her sister in New Jersey, and she let me at it.
In the hot August sun, I hauled out every box, every can of paint, every bag of potting soil, the chain saw, the croquet set, the fishing poles, the wood scraps. I sorted, I scrubbed, and I tossed; I made piles for donation and consignment; I took a sledgehammer to a broken shelving unit; I got splinters and cuts; I found hidden gems that had long since been forgotten. And after four days of actual blood, sweat and tears, I put it back together. Food with food, gardening tools and grass seed together, wood scraps pared down and stowed by the work bench, coolers atop the refrigerator, toxic chemicals far out of the reach of curious grandchildren and gift boxes and bags contained to easily accessible bins (no more avalanches!). I proudly surveyed my work; maybe not a masterpiece by anyone else’s standards, but to me, it was beautiful because it was functional.
The night after my folks had arrived home for the great unveiling and I showed off the results, iced my aching back, pulled out my last splinter and collapsed into bed, my husband asked me the million dollar question: “So, you still want to make this your career?”
My answer was an unequivocal yes. And then – whether it was the exhaustion or the fact that the garage was now a place of order and function – I fell into a very deep sleep.
So thank you to my mother. If it weren’t for her lack of storage space and ample amount of stuff, I never could have been so assured that this was my calling. I may not be thanking her at the Oscar’s, but hopefully my first ever blog post about organizing will make her proud.