Creating an Organized Home for Your Prized Possessions

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add,
but when there is nothing left to take away.”

~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

When conducting an organizing presentation or teleclass, I often mention the idea of creating a Memory Box for each family member.  Many participants share that the Memory Box tip is their favorite, and one they cannot wait to act on. (See, for example, this blog post by June Bisel of BusinessCardContacts.com).

A Memory Box is a container in which each family member can store his or her most treasured possessions. The size should be big enough to fit the prized possessions, but small enough to grab and carry out of the house, in case of an emergency. The actual container can be a no-nonsense functional type, like a plastic bin, or it can be a lovely decorated stylish box, bin, or basket. My personal Memory Box is an old trunk that has handles on the side to carry it in the event of an emergency evacuation.

The location for storing the Memory Box is also a personal decision. Often, because of the confidential or personal nature of the items in the box, it makes the most sense to store each person’s Memory Box in his or her room, at the top or bottom of a closet, under the bed, etc. But some choose to store all of the Memory Boxes for the family in a basement or attic, so that they do not take up precious space in the living areas of the home, and can be grabbed easily in one fell swoop if need be.

I would not recommend storing vital documents such as your will, birth certificate, etc. in the Memory Box. Those items should either be stored in a safe deposit box at the bank, or at home in a fire resistant box (remember, there is no such thing as a fireproof box for the home!). Some people store their vital documents in a regular file folder in their filing cabinet, and keep copies (or the originals) in a separate location. In the event that an emergency causes a very quick evacuation, the people and pets go out first, followed by the vital documents, and then the Memory Boxes.

What goes in a Memory Box? Well, that is up to you, of course. But here are some ideas.

  • Start a Memory Box for your children’s prized artwork, sentimental childhood possessions, schoolwork, etc.  They can decide, with you, what goes in it.  You can have a master Memory Box, and one for the current school year.  At the end of the school year, your child, with your help, can revisit the year, purging any items that are not vital enough to go in the master Memory Box.
  • If you have a few sentimental favorite articles of clothing that you just can’t part with, but don’t wear, store them in your Memory Box.
  • Want to revisit your love life? Store old love letters, poems, your corsage or boutonniere from your high school prom, a playbill from the first date with your spouse, etc.
  • If you plan to store documents or photographs in your Memory Box, consider getting an archival quality document or photo box to insert the paper and photos in, and then store the document or photo box inside the larger Memory Box. This will ensure paper and photos do not get destroyed over time.
  • If an item is much too large to fit into the Memory Box, and you can bear to part with it, take a photo of the item, and store the photo with a description of the item in the box. This works well for items that you are merely keeping out of obligation. For example, that hideous painting your aunt made for you that you will never hang up! Take a photo, write a note saying, “Aunt Gertrude meant well” and donate the painting to someone who will appreciate its unrecognized beauty.

People are often surprised to hear that I have a Memory Box. “You, a professional organizer?” Yes! Organizing is about decluttering your life of the stuff that does not serve your goals, and letting the cream rise to the top. It is about giving your favorite possessions a place of value in your home and life. My personal Memory Box includes select sentimental items, including my handwritten journals, my baton (yes, I was a baton twirler – don’t laugh!), my middle school graduation dress (loved it!), love letters from my husband from before we were married, letters and cards from friends and family members that are precious to me, and poems that I wrote growing up.

Ms. Bisel shares that her new Memory Box will contain her kid’s baby books, drawings from elementary school, some treasured photos, and other memories from her kids’ childhood. She says that her kids love looking through the stuff, and it would be great to have it all in one place. Before she attended my workshop, the items were scattered around the house, and now they will be stored conveniently together, in a place of distinction.

So, what’s in your Memory Box?

Copyright © 2009 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

Want to Use This Article in Your E-zine or Website?

You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2009. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com.

The Clothes Closet Overhaul

  • Remove everything from your closet.
  • Create four piles: Keep, Donate, Toss, Tailor/Clean.  If you haven’t worn it in a few seasons, get rid of it!
  • Try on everything in your keep pile and decide item by item if it is really a keeper.  If you are unsure, try it on and look in a mirror.  Or better yet, ask a kind but honest friend to come over and give you his/her opinion as you conduct a mini fashion show.  The ultimate – get a pro and hire an image or wardrobe consultant to help you.
  • If you have a few sentimental favorites you can’t part with but won’t wear, store them in your Memory Box or out of season storage area.
  • Once you’ve pared down, give your closet an orderly flow.  Organize by garment type (shirts, pants, dresses, suits), season (current in most accessible location), color (only if that appeals to you), use (work versus casual), size (good for babies and little kids who grow out of sizes easily) — whatever makes the most sense for your lifestyle.
  • Consider storing your off-season clothing in separate location if it takes up too much room.  Dress clothes/evening wear used occasionally can also go elsewhere.
  • Use wooden hangers for suits and slacks, clear plastic swivel hangers for shirts, and padded hangers for lingerie and delicate items.
  • Be ruthless about weeding out your clothes on a regular basis, at least whenever there is a change of seasons.  Place a donate bin, box, or bag at the bottom of your closet as a constant reminder! Donate any items not used in the last few seasons, that don’t fit (yes, even your “fat” or “skinny” clothes — it is bad energy to have clothes that don’t fit you hanging around!), or that are out of style.  Remember to keep track of what you donate and get a receipt for a tax deduction if you donate to a tax-exempt charity!

Copyright © 2009 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

Want to Use This Article in Your E-zine or Website?

You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2009. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at Lisa@LMOrganizingSolutions.com.

Spring is the perfect time to switch your cold weather clothes for your warm weather ones. Here is some guidance on how to do this big overhaul for those closets!

The Clothes Closet Overhaul

  • Remove everything from your closet.
  • Create four piles: Keep, Donate, Toss, Tailor/Clean.  If you haven’t worn it in a few seasons, get rid of it!
  • Try on everything in your keep pile and decide item by item if it is really a keeper.  If you are unsure, try it on and look in a mirror.  Or better yet, ask a kind but honest friend to come over and give you his/her opinion as you conduct a mini fashion show.  The ultimate – get a pro and hire an image or wardrobe consultant to help you.
  • If you have a few sentimental favorites you can’t part with but won’t wear, store them in your Memory Box or out of season storage area.
  • Once you’ve pared down, give your closet an orderly flow.  Organize by garment type (shirts, pants, dresses, suits), season (current in most accessible location), color (only if that appeals to you), use (work versus casual), size (good for babies and little kids who grow out of sizes easily) — whatever makes the most sense for your lifestyle.
  • Consider storing your off-season clothing in separate location if it takes up too much room.  Dress clothes/evening wear used occasionally can also go elsewhere.
  • Use wooden hangers for suits and slacks, clear plastic swivel hangers for shirts, and padded hangers for lingerie and delicate items.
  • Be ruthless about weeding out your clothes on a regular basis, at least whenever there is a change of seasons.  Place a donate bin, box, or bag at the bottom of your closet as a constant reminder! Donate any items not used in the last few seasons, that don’t fit (yes, even your “fat” or “skinny” clothes — it is bad energy to have clothes that don’t fit you hanging around!), or that are out of style.  Remember to keep track of what you donate and get a receipt for a tax deduction if you donate to a tax-exempt charity!

I have worked with many clients over the years to organize after the loss of a loved one. Living in the greater NY metropolitan area, I have helped many 9-11 widows and widowers organize after losing a loved one in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. It is an emotionally draining process. My best advice is to take it slow and go at your own pace. After the death of a loved one, some people are tempted to sift through belongings and make decisions quickly. If this feels natural to you, fine (consider checking with a grief counselor before moving too quickly through the process). But most people need more time after a loss to organize a loved one’s possessions. So give yourself permission to grieve first, heal, and then organize later.

Some clients only needed a few months, while others waited years until they took on the task of organizing their loved one’s possessions. Indeed, some clients only took on the project due to necessity – moving, selling a house, clearing room for new family member to move in, etc. If you aren’t ready to handle the project but you must do so by necessity, then you may need to temporarily box up your loved one’s possessions. Label the boxes so that you know what the contents are, which will make it easier for when you are ready to sort them at a later date.

Although many organizing projects can be done alone, some people find it helpful to sort through a loved one’s belongings after a loss with another person – a family member, close friend, or professional organizer. I also recommend doing the project in stages, as it can be emotionally demanding as well as physical. Be careful not to make decisions too quickly and be sure to check in with other family members who may consider some belongings special that you are considering letting go of. You may want to sort into categories based on family members, friends, donations to charity, antique appraiser/estate sale (for valuable pieces that you are not keeping), archive/storage, etc.

I often tell my clients to choose items that embody the person’s spirit, remind you of details of his or her personality, or that carry special memories. There is no magic number of how many items to keep, but remember that sometimes less is more. You don’t want to be smothered by items that you don’t have room for, or that will drudge up painful memories. You want to be able to enjoy the selected items and let them serve as reminders of your loved one’s well-lived life.

Sadly, I recently lost my mother to pancreatic cancer. Many family members and friends assumed that I would quickly go in and sort my mother’s belongings due to the fact that I am a professional organizer by trade. But I recognize that I need time to process this profound loss, grieve, and heal before I can take on the task of going through her possessions. The only items that I am taking quick action on are the medications and medical supplies so that I can donate them before they expire and someone else can benefit from their use. I plan to take my time with the process, include family members, honor the possessions, and choose select items to keep and cherish. That way, my mother will always be with me.

Wishing you warmth and strength if you are organizing after a loss. Be kind to yourself.

The Clothes Closet Overhaul

  • Remove everything from your closet.
  • Create four piles: Keep, Donate, Toss, Tailor/Clean.  If you haven’t worn it in a few seasons, get rid of it!
  • Try on everything in your keep pile and decide item by item if it is really a keeper.  If you are unsure, try it on and look in a mirror.  Or better yet, ask a kind but honest friend to come over and give you his/her opinion as you conduct a mini fashion show.  The ultimate – get a pro and hire an image or wardrobe consultant to help you.
  • If you have a few sentimental favorites you can’t part with but won’t wear, store them in your Memory Box or out of season storage area.
  • Once you’ve pared down, give your closet an orderly flow.  Organize by garment type (shirts, pants, dresses, suits), season (current in most accessible location), color (only if that appeals to you), use (work versus casual), size (good for babies and little kids who grow out of sizes easily) — whatever makes the most sense for your lifestyle.
  • Consider storing your off-season clothing in separate location if it takes up too much room.  Dress clothes/evening wear used occasionally can also go elsewhere.
  • Use wooden hangers for suits and slacks, clear plastic swivel hangers for shirts, and padded hangers for lingerie and delicate items.
  • Be ruthless about weeding out your clothes on a regular basis, at least whenever there is a change of seasons.  Place a donate bin, box, or bag at the bottom of your closet as a constant reminder! Donate any items not used in the last few seasons, that don’t fit (yes, even your “fat” or “skinny” clothes — it is bad energy to have clothes that don’t fit you hanging around!), or that are out of style.  Remember to keep track of what you donate and get a receipt for a tax deduction if you donate to a tax-exempt charity!

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

When conducting an organizing presentation or teleclass, I often mention the idea of creating a Memory Box for each family member.  Many participants share that the Memory Box tip is their favorite, and one they cannot wait to act on. (See, for example, this blog post by June Bisel of BusinessCardContacts.com).

A Memory Box is a container in which each family member can store his or her most treasured possessions. The size should be big enough to fit the prized possessions, but small enough to grab and carry out of the house, in case of an emergency. The actual container can be a no-nonsense functional type, like a plastic bin, or it can be a lovely decorated stylish box, bin, or basket. My personal Memory Box is an old trunk that has handles on the side to carry it in the event of an emergency evacuation.

The location for storing the Memory Box is also a personal decision. Often, because of the confidential or personal nature of the items in the box, it makes the most sense to store each person’s Memory Box in his or her room, at the top or bottom of a closet, under the bed, etc. But some choose to store all of the Memory Boxes for the family in a basement or attic, so that they do not take up precious space in the living areas of the home, and can be grabbed easily in one fell swoop if need be.

I would not recommend storing vital documents such as your will, birth certificate, etc. in the Memory Box. Those items should either be stored in a safe deposit box at the bank, or at home in a fire resistant box (remember, there is no such thing as a fireproof box for the home!). Some people store their vital documents in a regular file folder in their filing cabinet, and keep copies (or the originals) in a separate location. In the event that an emergency causes a very quick evacuation, the people and pets go out first, followed by the vital documents, and then the Memory Boxes.

What goes in a Memory Box? Well, that is up to you, of course. But here are some ideas.

  • Start a Memory Box for your children’s prized artwork, sentimental childhood possessions, schoolwork, etc.  They can decide, with you, what goes in it.  You can have a master Memory Box, and one for the current school year.  At the end of the school year, your child, with your help, can revisit the year, purging any items that are not vital enough to go in the master Memory Box. 
  • If you have a few sentimental favorite articles of clothing that you just can’t part with, but don’t wear, store them in your Memory Box.
  • Want to revisit your love life? Store old love letters, poems, your corsage or boutineer from your high school prom, a playbill from the first date with your spouse, etc.
  • If you plan to store documents or photographs in your Memory Box, consider getting an archival quality document or photo box to insert the paper and photos in, and then store the document or photo box inside the larger Memory Box. This will ensure paper and photos do not get destroyed over time.
  • If an item is much too large to fit into the Memory Box, and you can bear to part with it, take a photo of the item, and store the photo with a description of the item in the box. This works well for items that you are merely keeping out of obligation. For example, that hideous painting your aunt made for you that you will never hang up! Take a photo, write a note saying, “Aunt Gertrude meant well” and donate the painting to someone who will appreciate its unrecognized beauty.

People are often surprised to hear that I have a Memory Box. “You, a professional organizer?” Yes! Organizing is about decluttering your life of the stuff that does not serve your goals, and letting the cream rise to the top. It is about giving your favorite possessions a place of value in your home and life. My personal Memory Box includes select sentimental items, including my handwritten journals, my baton (yes, I was a baton twirler – don’t laugh!), my middle school graduation dress (loved it!), love letters from my husband from before we were married, letters and cards from friends and family members that are precious to me, and poems that I wrote growing up.

Ms. Bisel shares that her new Memory Box will contain her kid’s baby books, drawings from elementary school, some treasured photos, and other memories from her kids’ childhood. She says that her kids love looking through the stuff, and it would be great to have it all in one place. Before she attended my workshop, the items were scattered around the house, and now they will be stored conveniently together, in a place of distinction.

So, what’s in your Memory Box?