Decluttering + Organizing in Uncertain Times

Lauren Fink Shea is a professional organizer, blogger, and founder of Organized By Heart, a Seattle based business offering home organizing services, virtual consultations, and group workshops. Her mission and greatest passion is working with moms to help them get organized at home, so they can create more time + space for what they love. Before she started her business, she taught writing at the college level for over ten years. 

I come from a long line of savers and rainy-day preparers. Notes from middle school, folded like hearts, are lovingly preserved in my parents’ garage alongside paper plates, a dusty clarinet, and Barbie’s convertible 57 Chevy. 

Because, who knows when we might need them? 

True to my roots, when I finally landed an apartment of my own, I quickly filled every spare closet, shelf, and drawer with treasures, novelties, and useful things. To me these objects were a reminder of who I was, what I stood for, and what I dreamed my life could be. They said to friends and potential mates: here I am, aren’t I compelling/quirky/loveable? 

And then one day, everything changed. 

The woman I nannied for handed me the keys to her Honda Odyssey, and asked me to take the contents of her garage to Goodwill. 

As a broke graduate student, I found myself in the donation drop-off lines pining over the useful and beautiful things she and others were so easily letting go. It was like a foreign land, one where I didn’t know the language or cultural customs. 

All my internal alarm bells buzzed. Was it taboo to barter with that guy for his perfectly good juice maker? Would she really mind if I kept these throw pillows? Was it stealing if she was already giving them away for free? 

Soon, my apartment was stuffed to its breaking point with expensive ornamental bowls and votives. The problem was, none of it looked like me. At the same time the woman I worked for was becoming blissfully un-fettered, I felt myself gasping for air in my too full apartment and too empty life.

The truth was, I was miserable in graduate school, and my only friend was the eight-year old girl I nannied for on Mondays and Fridays. I didn’t really know who I was anymore, but I knew it wasn’t represented by this stuff in my apartment. 

So, I set to work examining and getting rid of more than half of my belongings. As I went closet by closet, deciding what to keep and what to toss, I quickly realized those decisions weren’t based on the items themselves as much as what those items represented. 

Every box I got rid of was like a burden I could finally set down, a skin I could happily shed. Bins of mementos reminded me of how much I was loved and all that I had to offer. It turns out I didn’t need to keep them all to feel this love. This process helped me hone my goals and my personal aesthetic, and redefine what mattered to me. Most importantly, it gave me the permission I needed to change and live life on my own terms. 

In this way, I discovered for the first time, what it was like to fully embrace the moment. The simple act of decluttering and organizing brought me back to life and helped me pivot. While it is a mark of privilege to have the resources to accumulate and let go of unneeded stuff, it is also much more than that.  

Since then, when I have had major life changes, such as becoming a mother and leaving my teaching career to start my own business, I’ve had the same inclination to go through this process of decluttering and organizing. Each time, it has led to transformations that take my breath away. 

We all have phases in our lives that bring us to our knees in prayer or surrender. Collectively, we are going through one of those moments right now. If you’re feeling this way, I offer you a challenge:  start by cleaning out and organizing one drawer and see what happens. You might be surprised where it takes you. If you want more hands-on help, reach out directly for a virtual consult, or join me for my upcoming organizing workshop on Zoom!

As I heard the Governor announce the Stay at Home- Stay Healthy policy recently, I found solace in reorganizing my pantry—making space for whatever comes next.




PS: Be on the lookout for our virtual  workshop with Lauren – “Organizing a Kitchen You Love” on Tuesday, April 21st at 10am! 

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