The Toughest Things to Throw Away

For all but the most stoic, letting go of our possessions is tough. My book, and many others, explore the psychology of object attachment, and the “why” and “how” of saying goodbye to things that don’t serve us. We know what a challenge it can be to sell, donate, recycle, or trash things like:

  • Clothes that don’t fit our bodies or lifestyles, or are in poor condition or out of style

  • Childhood artwork

  • Books and publications we’ll never read

  • Kitchen gadgets we don’t use

  • Decorative items or gifts we don’t like, etc…

But even though it’s hard to give them up, objects that fall into these categories are what I call the “low-hanging fruit” of de-cluttering. No matter how much space you may have in your HOME, it’s worthwhile to get rid of things that you don’t like or need because it frees up space in your LIFE.

Objects that fall into these categories are what I call the “low-hanging fruit” of de-cluttering.

Sometimes, though, circumstances demand that even more is sacrificed for the sake of peace and productivity. Whether you’re facing space constraints, budget limitations, reduced time, or minimized energy levels, a reduction in resources requires a change in priorities. The hardest things to let go of are things we actually do love and use.

The hardest things to let go of are things we actually do love and use.

Downsizing, job and income changes, new babies, illnesses, and other life changes sometimes necessitate getting rid of perfectly good belongings in order to honor changing priorities. Take for instance, a busy working couple living in a two-bedroom apartment and expecting a child. The first step toward making space for a baby in a small space is to tackle the low-hanging fruit: old clothes and papers, rarely-used kitchen supplies, unnecessary decorative items, outgrown hobby supplies, etc. But what if, after all of that, there’s still not enough space to accommodate a new addition?


That’s when this couple must identify where sacrifices can be made to serve the new, higher priority. Our expectant mother might take great pleasure in dressing to the nines. She may have spent years and thousands of dollars assembling a beautiful, extensive wardrobe. But the spare room that once accommodated extra clothes, shoes, and accessories is needed now for a nursery, and the time required to assemble, clean, and maintain those fabulous outfits is now redirected to childcare. What once was a high priority (dressing in a certain manner and with a certain degree of variety) has been replaced with a new, higher priority. This woman’s affinity for fashion hasn’t diminished but her new life choice has, nonetheless, taken its place on the priority list. A new, stricter set of parameters must be outlined for her to determine which of her clothes to keep.

So how do you say goodbye to perfectly good stuff that you use and enjoy? The answer is the same as ever:

First, remember WHY you’re making the sacrifice. You’re giving up an object so you can gain an experience. As always, it’s best to focus not on what you’re losing, but what you’re gaining.

Remember why you’re making the sacrifice.

Also, concentrate on the opportunity you’re passing on to the object’s next owner. When you’re parting with items that are in good shape, you can usually sell or donate them. Think about the next person who will have a chance to wear that sweater, rock in that chair, or read that book.

Finally, keep in mind that letting go is usually the hardest part. Once it’s gone, it’s unlikely that you’ll think much about it…especially when you’re cradling your new infant, watching your savings account grow, or sailing around the world!

The Danger of Coat Racks

It's an unpopular view in the organizing industry, which thrives on product sales, but most professional organizers warn against owning things like coat racks. 

Imagine if your employer proposed putting your paycheck in your office mailbox every other week. Sounds okay, right? The mailbox, though, has a lock on it with a constantly changing code. Human Resources promises to tell you the code at their convenience.  Would you accept that deal? Of course not. The check is written out to you but who knows when you’ll have access to it? In the meantime, you’ve got no funds to pay your rent. 

The point of a paycheck is for money to enter your possession. A way station may be helpful for your employer’s cash flow but it does you no good. 

Similarly, the point of having a coat closet is to store your coats. A “temporary” place to put your coat may be a shortcut for your tired family at the end of the day, but it does you no good. In fact, that holding place gives everyone in the household a certified excuse not to hang up their coats. 

After some time, the coats pile up and start falling. It’s hard to get to the one you want. So, you spend twenty minutes one afternoon hanging them up in the closet. Congratulations, you’ve taken the longest possible amount of time to achieve your end-goal, without having enjoyed the benefits of that goal (a tidy entryway and easy access to your coats). 

The first part of organizing is, of course, dedicating a “place for everything.” But even the best system is useless if you don’t maintain it. If you struggle to put “everything in its place,” consider what shortcuts you’ve built into your home that enable bad habits.

Coat racks, entryway wall hooks and console tables are common examples, but there are less obvious culprits, too. And, frequently, they're marketed as organizing products. Be wary of products that allow us – encourage us, even - to delay tasks. Often, these items are clutter creators masquerading as solutions. 

Drying racks often become substitutes for kitchen cabinets because they offer a sanctioned alternative to simply using a dish rag. The same is often true for bedroom chairs, which beckon us to toss our clothes upon them. Not only do we then not enjoy a peaceful place to sit, but we also have to deal with the tumbling mess that accumulates. 

Removing “shortcut” pieces from your home may not prompt you to start putting things away, but it will at least remove the excuse for the behavior, which is a first step toward eliminating clutter. 


“My kids can’t reach the closet rod.”

Add a second, lower rod or set of hooks inside the closet or on the back of the closet door. Your kids will be less dependent on you in the short run, which is good for you – and for them. Bonus: they’ll learn to take responsibility for their belongings from a young age. 

 “What about guests’ coats?”

Extra. Hangers.

“I live in an apartment. I don’t have a coat closet.”

Welcome to New York…? Congrats on prioritizing lifestyle over closet space. You’re making do with your small home. Carry on!

“Who cares if my coats pile up! Get a life!”

Good for you! But why are you reading this blog? Seriously, this blog is not for you. 

Aligning your money with your values

While visiting a friend last week, I skimmed a book from her shelf and was reminded, once again, that quality living comes down to clarity about and dedication to our values. 

Smart Women Finish Rich by David Bach offers step-by-step guidance for responsible financial practices, not only for women and not only for those looking to get "rich." In essence, it's a financial parallel to my own Breaking Up With Your Stuff, exploring how we should reevaluate how we invest our resources - our time, money, energy, and space - and ensure that they are aligned with our unique priorities. 

Bach offers customized advice for defining one's priorities and values, setting appropriate financial goals, and optimizing their pursuit. From budgeting and saving, to investing and retirement plans, "Finish Rich" is the textbook that we all need but weren't taught in school. 

I recommend this book if you're intimidated by financial matters or simply want to ensure your best future. As Bach says, it's never too late - or too soon! - to take control of your finances.


Need help getting started? Let's assess your current situation, create a workable household budget, and discuss techniques for sticking to it. Schedule an appointment with Marin. 

The Dancer's Closet, featuring modern dancer Laura Halzack

You know that I have been a personal organizing coach, helping people to define their priorities and live in service to what's most important, for 8 years. But you might not know that I'm also a lifelong, though amateur, dancer.

I realized only in recent years that the things that drew me to ballet as a child are the same things that make me a successsful organizing coach. I think of both dance and organized living as disciplines. We dedicate ourselves to a daily routine to develop a strong foundation so we can be free and fly! 

Laura Halzack dressing for the 2018 Paul Taylor Gala backstage at Lincoln Center.  With Taylor dancers Michelle Fleet and Christina Markham. (Photo: Michael Trusnovec)

Laura Halzack dressing for the 2018 Paul Taylor Gala backstage at Lincoln Center. With Taylor dancers Michelle Fleet and Christina Markham. (Photo: Michael Trusnovec)


Like dancers, Libra Organizing is devoted to the principles of order, balance, and beauty. That's why I was expecially excited to work with Paul Taylor American Modern Dance company member and Dance Magazine cover girl (February 2018) Laura Halzack.

For a worldclass NYC-based artist often touring the world with the Taylor company, maintaining order at home is a challenge,  especially for a style-minded gal like Laura! But it's even more key than usual to staying "grounded" between flights.


Stay tuned for my upcoming video (produced by Alex Cruzvergara @ East Broad Media) to see how we edited Laura's messy wardrobe, strewn across three closets, down to a single, organized, beautiful master closet. 




A Toy Storage Story

So, you bought the cute-sy bins and boxes touted on Pinterest and you're STILL wrestling with toy clutter? 

Here are adorable "solutions" to three toy storage challenges that simply don't work - and practical alternatives that do!

Challenge 1: Books

Adorably useless book ledges vs. practical bookcases

Useless ledges 

Useless ledges 

Book ledges are popular in nurseries and playrooms these days because they invoke the cozy feeling of a little library. They're completely impractical, however. By the time your infant is three months old and you've read "Goodnight, Moon" to her ninety times, you'll both be ready for A LOT more books.

Books are the one item that even organizers know kids can't have too many of. So give yourself the space you need to store them all.


Stick with horizontal bookcases and cubes:

Pratical shelving

Pratical shelving

  • They accommodate many books per unit.
  • Each book is visible (by the spine). 
  • You can always add more, either side-by-side or stacked.
  • Young children can actually reach the books inside.
  • As they grow, kids can practice alphabetizing by title or author. 
  • They leave wallspace for photos, posters, and your child's works of art.
  • Bookcases are easy to move around and repurpose as your child matures. 


Challenge 2: Large toys

Charmingly tiny bins vs. hardworking tubs

Tiny bins

Tiny bins


Although our kids would probably be healthier if even one child's toys could fit into a bin unit like this one, that's simply unrealistic in today's America. And what about multi-child families? There's no way this little guy will accommodate all that stuff. 


When it comes to storing younger kids' toys like plushies, pushies, puzzles, and plastics, skip units with many small bins and opt for fewer, larger tubs:

Hardworking tub

Hardworking tub

  • Accommodate entire categories in tubs to teach kids "like with like." 
  • Line them up with the lids off or stack them on shelves. 
  • Store them in a closet to reduce playroom clutter or clear bedroom floor space for play. 
  • Save money on flimsy novelty units. Durable, spacious tubs are cheaper. 
  • Repurpose tubs to store memorabilia or offseason clothing when toddlers become teens. 
  • Choose charming or utilitarian options. Tubs come in plastic, canvas, wicker, and wood. 


Challenge 3: Small toys

Opaque cubes vs. visible containers

Opaque cubes

Opaque cubes


You thought toddler toys were tough because they took up so. much. space. But now that your baby is done with that noisy Bubble Mower, his sharp little Legos, puzzle pieces, and action figures are strewn across the floor, sticking your feet with every other step. One way to be sure these tiny weapons are never properly put away is to recruit this cube unit for their keeping.



It's "out of sight, out of mind" for most kids. So choose see-through bins with lids to store tiny treasures. 

Labeled and lidded

Labeled and lidded

  • Visible playthings are enjoyed more frequently and, therefore, put away more willingly than hidden ones.
  • Categories are better maintained when they're visible. Invisibility breeds sloppiness. 
  • Plastic bins with lids stack easily so buy enough of them to accommodate everything.  
  • Closed containers require your slightly older child to take care in putting away items. If he's not just tossing things into open cubes, he'll drop fewer of them on the floor. 
  • Labels and/or photos help younger children identify each category. 
  • Repurpose containers for craft or school supplies, toiletries, or just about anything else as your child ages. 

How many TVs does a minimalist have? Trick question!)

Minimalism is selecting the option that’s just right for the life you wish to live. 

Not the option that: 

  • your neighbor chose. 
  • your mother would choose for you (sorry, Mommy!).
  • your friends assume you will choose.
  • was right for you five years ago.
  • you hope will be right for you five years from now. 
  • the bigger option.
  • the luxury brand option. 
  • the option on sale. many TVs does a minimalist have?

Two correct answers:

  • Five. Jane is a diehard sports fan and aspiring sports journalist. Jane keeps abreast of the sports world from her home, following games and industry news as she prepares her morning coffee in the kitchen, brushes her teeth in the en-suite, and dresses in her bedroom. On weekends, Jane’s family and friends watch seasonal sports in the family room. Huge sports fans with divided team loyalties, they watch two games at a time. 
  • Zero. John is a father. When he’s not at work, John invests his time and energy in quality time with his son, and taking online classes to be qualified for a job that allow him a flexible schedule and more income to save for his family’s future. He and his son play, exercise, learn, and spend time outdoors almost every day. The enjoy a hot meal for dinner at the kitchen table together each night.

The true answer to the question is: the number that supports the minimalist’s essential priorities. No more, no fewer.

Cultivating a persona of unreliability?

A friend shared with me an article that espouses "cultivating a persona of unreliability" as a way of prioritizing one's activities and bucking the patriarchy. The Catapult article, "Do You Want To Be Known for Your Writing or For Your Swift Email Responses?" made several excellent points. Author Melissa Febos encourages us to value our contributions (especially as women and people of color), to decline invitations, to honor appointments with ourselves, and to stop striving for perfection. For these points, I recommend the article as a guide for reaching your goals. 

As a personal organizing coach, I ask my clients to define their top priorities and then live accordingly. I believe 100% in cutting out the excess so that we can focus on what's important. However, I had a strong reaction to Febos' first and second points, advocacating for ignoring or delaying responses to emails. As much as I believe in prioritizing, I also believe in being a good person - someone who's there for others (who deserve it!), who's reliable, and polite. I am disappointed when someone fails to respond (not immediately but) promptly and politely to my email. I am disheartened by the self-absorption apparent in some of the exchanges I witness - invitees failing to RSVP or replying "Maybe!," colleagues who don't respond to requests, those who fail to acknowledge a gift given, etc. And I think that simply writing "Thanks!" or "Sorry, I can't get to this today!" or "Got it!" is worth the extra half a second it takes to type, rather than responding "no" or "ok" - or not at all. 


There are, of course, cases that don't deserve our time and attention. Some people are one-sided in their relationships, always asking and never offering, or presuming that we are always available for their needs. I send a brief note saying "no" to those people, and gently explaining why if it's someone who might actually be open to hearing the "why."

But ignoring a person's email is fundamentally disrespectful. It only takes a moment to acknowledge receipt or to RSVP. I believe in leading by example: take that moment to acknowledge another person's communication. Perhaps they will do so, in turn. A society of reliable people, who don't leave each other hanging or cause one another to feel invisible, sounds excellent to me!

There's also a practical reason to respond to emails promptly. Disorganization is a result of delayed decision-making. That's not to say that I interrupt my client time - or my personal time - to respond to every email, but that I schedule time each day to address all the email I receive. It's easier in the long run to take this moment to reply than it is to have that request sitting around for days, weeks, months...

What do you think?

  • Are we (especially women and P.O.C.) conditioned to be responsive? To always say "yes?"
  • Is unreliability the answer? Or can we balance our priorities with our politeness? 



Minimalism 101

It's a new year and a new opportunity to live with more intention and less stress.

Is Minimalism the answer? 

That term, "minimal," can be intimidating and it's admittedly a little misleading. Because minimalist living has little to do with the volume of stuff one owns. Rather, it's defining one's individual needs and priorities, and eliminating the excess. That's why I work with clients to find their unique brand of minimalism - or, as I like to call it, "essentialism." 

What are the essentials in your life? Are you ready to live with less so you can live with more? 

SEATING IS LIMITED.  TO RESERVE A SPOT,  contact Marin .   Credit, checks and cash also accepted at the door.


TO RESERVE A SPOT, contact Marin

Credit, checks and cash also accepted at the door.

Organizing just one drawer? Don’t waste your time!

You see it all the time on organizing blogs and in magazine articles. “Pros” suggesting you take  a small step toward order by purging and organizing just one drawer or cabinet. 

Here’s why doing that is a complete and total waste of your time and energy, and will actually set you back in your quest for organized living: 

1.    You can’t make decisions in a vacuum. It is near impossible to decide whether or not to keep something without considering it in the context of your other belongings. For example, how can you decide to keep or trash this tube of toothpaste if you don’t know how many other tubes you have, what brand they are, and when they expire?  

2.    The efficient way to purge is not to decide what to trash but what to keep. If you started out with nothing and were moving into your first home, would you search worldwide for all of the trillions of items you didn’t want to buy? Of course not! You would search for the few items you did want. So “shop” in your own home for the things you want to keep and discard the rest. Again, this requires considering an entire category at once. 

3.    Making quick, uninformed decisions means your results might be inappropriate for your needs and lifestyle, and almost guarantees you’ll have to do the whole process over and over again. Sure, you might have a day or two to enjoy your orderly drawer, but you’ve done nothing to evaluate your actual needs so you’ll be right back where you started before you know it. Now, you’re frustrated and have lost faith in the value of purging and organizing. You’re worse off than you were before!


So what should you do instead to make progress toward order? 

1.    Identify a small category that is the least emotional to you. Begin with toiletries, for example, as opposed to clothing or memorabilia. 

2.    Choose a category and collect ALL of the items within it. Don’t forget to look all around your house, car, and office! You don’t want to leave anything out. Gather it all onto a large table or in a cleared area on the floor. 

3.    Sort everything into subcategories. For toiletries, for example, sort into piles of hair products, dental care items, makeup, etc. 

4.    Select from among these items, the few that you know are immediately useful. One subcategory at a time, “shop” for the few critical items you have no doubt you need. 

5.    Discard the rest. No second guessing! Just let it go. 

6.    Congrats! You have made thoughtful, strategic choices about your needs and priorities. Rest assured that THIS process has created positive, sustainable results.

Now, on to the next category … !

Ship shape

Traveling offers a great opportunity to get by with just the essentials. There's a certain freedom in carrying only the basics and living in a simple space like a hotel room. 

So sharing a small stateroom on a cruise ship offers a special lesson in efficiency. 

My week on the Celebrity Reflection with my mom was a ton of fun and I got by with a bare-bones wardrobe, which meant that everything I had fit into a small gym bag. And getting dressed was a breeze!

Daytime: Six t-shirts, 2 pairs of slacks and 1 pair of shorts with one pair of flip-flops. One bathing suit and cover-up. And a giant hat with SPF!  Evening: Two dresses (plus the slacks and tees), Plus 1 dressy cardigan for breezy nights! One pair of dressy sandals.   Plus sneakers and leggings for working out, and pajamas for sleeping. 

Daytime: Six t-shirts, 2 pairs of slacks and 1 pair of shorts with one pair of flip-flops. One bathing suit and cover-up. And a giant hat with SPF!

Evening: Two dresses (plus the slacks and tees), Plus 1 dressy cardigan for breezy nights! One pair of dressy sandals. 

Plus sneakers and leggings for working out, and pajamas for sleeping. 

The ship was designed for maximal use of space. From over-bed (as well as under-bed) storage, to these flex-use clothing rods, our stateroom was appointed with more storage space than we could use! 

Bullet Journaling pros and cons

I do ALL of my planning digitally but I understand that not everyone is comfortable with that process. For my clients who are creative/artistic/visual, a Bullet Journal offers an elegant alternative to the traditional calendar or list. 

Bullet Journaling is getting popular, which means that some people are accessing a useful way to "record the past, organize the present and plan for the future." However, others are feeling incentivized - or even pressured - to employ yet another planning "solution" that a) they don't need and/or b) doesn't work for their personalities or lifestyles. 

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Watch the video about the principles of the Bullet Journal system, and then consider these pros and cons to determine if it might be a good fit for you. 


  • Great for those who enjoy the old fashioned feel of pen and paper. 
  • Fun and effective for visual learners. (Learn about decorating your Bullet Journal). 
  • Not subject to technological malfunctions. 
  • An effective alternative to scattered lists. 


  • Requires time and focus to start and maintain. 
  • Deleting/editing can get messy, unlike "erasable" digital formats. 
  • There's no "backup" in case of loss or damage. 
  • As with any organizing system, users must remember to consistently update and refer to it. 


A few of my favorite things

If you know me at all, you know I rarely advocate for products. But there are seven items that perfectly fit our purposes in our new NYC apartment so I thought I'd share them with you.

Considerate this less an endorsement of these particular products and more a fine example of when good planning meets with careful shopping. 

Laundry Cart - This narrow, rolling, 3-tiered cart is just the right fit in my laundry closet. It holds cleaning supplies, batteries, lightbulbs and more. It could also be used in kitchens and bathrooms. There are several similar versions available for about $30 online. 

Floating drawer - These matching floating drawers for our bedroom hold a lamp and store the basics, without cluttering the floor visually or physically. I love being able to mop right under the bed without hindrance.  Several retailers carry similar products but I found my perfect size and design at Urbansize on Etsy. 

The IKEA Raskog Utility Cart is quite popular on the Internet. Now I know why. It's versatile (we use ours to store pet food and cookbooks), attractive (it comes in grey, white and turquoise) and sturdy. 

Casper Mattress - I'm so glad my brother told me about Casper. Rather than lugging our old mattress set from Georgia, we bought a new king-sized Casper mattress for only $950. It was delivered to the apartment for free. It came in a small box and easily unwrapped into the most comfortable bed we've ever enjoyed. No need for a box spring. It lays on any flat surface. 

Magnetic knife strip - We didn't want to sacrifice drawer space for knives or counter space for a knife block. This magnetic solution is sleek and so easy. And since we're renters, we used velcro Command strips to hang it. 

Turkish towels - When you think Turkish towels, usually you think "ultra plush." We traded in our luxurious bath sheets, though, for black-and-white striped Peshtemal towels. They are large and versatile - you can use them as throws or wraps - and they absorb water and dry much more quickly than regular towels. They also wrap around my hair nicely and take up a lot less space. 

Roomba - When you have two cats and a dog, and OCD-style cleanliness needs, a Roomba is an ultimate luxury. It's not hard to vacuum a one-bedroom apartment but it's incredible to come home each day to a fresh, clean floor. We set ours to clean once a day. You can set yours to do it more or less frequently. It stores handily underneath our bed. 






Downsizing: a personal journey THE FINAL RESULT

Living in New York can take many shapes. For us, returning to city life meant having less stuff and more experiences. 

Although we dearly loved our historic home in Georgia and enjoyed hosting our friends and family there for visits, our New York apartment perfectly suits or New York lifestyle. Like our routines, the new space is sleek and bright, beautiful but practical. 

We spend most of our time outside of our home in the city. We walk everywhere and take in the many sights and activities on offer. We watch less TV. We spend less time cleaning and caring for our home, and more time exploring with friends. I don't miss our charming southern home. I am too busy enjoying the Big Apple to miss our big house. 

That said, our apartment is a welcoming respite at the end of a long day among the crowds. 

Downsizing: a personal journey THE MOVE

Have fun with your packing supplies!

Have fun with your packing supplies!

Most military families take advantage of the moving services provided. In this, our second and final military move, we opted again to move ourselves. When you are doing the packing, loading, unloading and unpacking yourself, you're very motivated to minimize the volume of stuff you bring. Forced to examine every object in our Georgia home during the packing process, we turned up in New York with just what we needed - and what our new, smaller space could comfortably accommodate. 

You also have a lot more control than you do when you hire movers. We chose our move dates, for instance, and unloaded the truck in an order that made unpacking easy - breaking down and exiting boxes as we went to make space to maneuver in the apartment. You can do that when you're not paying an hourly fee. 

One of the things we did that made for a smooth move was to order new furniture instead of bringing our old things with us. Obviously, this doesn't always make sense financially. When we left our DC apartment for our house in Georgia, we took every stick of furniture we owned. In downsizing, however, we found that the proceeds from our estate sale exceeded the cost of ordering a few essential pieces (a new mattress set and 3 chests of drawers). Our coffee table and 3 occasional chairs accompanied us on our journey - but they took up very little space on the truck. We saved a lot of money not having to transport major pieces up the coast, and we were thrilled to have our new pieces delivered to the apartment rather than having to move them ourselves. 

We were sad to trade in our antique wooden dressers for pre-fab Ikea ones, but the new look works well in our contemporary-sty;e apartment. We didn't have to worry about damaging our furniture and there's actually a lot more room in these drawers than in our old ones.  

Downsizing: a personal journey SPACE PLANNING

Planning is essential to a smooth move. As soon as our apartment-hunting trip was complete, and we'd signed a lease on our new place in New York, I sat down to plan out exactly what would come with us to New York and where it would "live." 

Walking through our home in Georgia to be sure I didn't leave anything out, I made a list of all the categories of stuff we would need. These included clothing, accessories and shoes, toiletries, linens, cookware, serveware and pantry items, and pet supplies. Also included were cookbooks, paper files, memorabilia, office supplies, electronics and cleaning supplies. 

With that comprehensive list, I mapped out our apartment on paper and assigned "homes" for each category. Only then could I estimate how much space we'd need for each category - and order furniture and organizing products appropriate for each area. 

As you might guess, this process took several hours. But it paid off. Within 24 hours of unloading our truck, our new home was unpacked and organized. 

Downsizing requires some tough decision-making. Here are some of the choices we made to ensure we'd be comfortable in our small space: 

Enjoy the china - I sold our set of everyday, white plates and bowls, and instead packed only my grandmother's china for use in our new place. Having two sets of dishes didn't make sense with our limited kitchen storage - especially since entertaining is not our top priority in New York - and I decided I'd rather risk damaging the china in the process of enjoying it, than pack it away where it would be "safe" but out of sight. 

Reduce, reduce, reduce - I also halved our numbers of serving pieces and linens. Although we welcome overnight guests on our extra-large sofa, we only needed dishes and glasses for 6, and a single extra set of bed and bath linens. (That's what laundry and dishwashing are for). We also thinned out our wardrobes significantly. A versatile wardrobe that suits our lifestyle is easy to store, and means laundry never gets too piled up. 

Prioritize - You may have noticed several categories "missing" from my list of items. We choose spaciousness and ease of access over owning holiday decorations, sports equipment (except our yoga mats), tools (except a hammer), and gifts and gift-wrapping, to name a few. Rather than supplementing our large kitchen island with a dining table, we chose to use the extra space in the living area to house our files and electronics. Once again, the primary function of our apartment is to support our daily routines - not to host dinner parties. 

Your choices may look very different from mine, but the bottom line is that prioritizing high-frequency-use items makes for a beautiful, practical small home. 


Downsizing: a personal journey THE ESTATE SALE

When my husband's job took us from our hometown of DC, where we shared a charming one-bedroom apartment, to Augusta, we chose the smallest home we could find: a beautiful, historic four-bedroom "cottage." There was a lot of furniture to buy to properly outfit the house but the enjoyment we derived from it in the four years we've spent here were well worth it. 

But tomorrow we throw our pets in the car and move to Manhattan, where we'll be back in a one-bedroom apartment - one quite a bit smaller than our first place in DC. We are thrilled to be returning to city life and, as luxurious as our home has felt, we're also eager to live simply with only the essentials. It'll be less to move, to manage, to maintain, to clean. And we'll spend more of our lives out in the streets than curled up at home. 

In preparation for smaller living, we gathered the 3 pieces of furniture we decided to bring to New York, our minimalist wardrobes and kitchen supplies, our crucial paper files and a couple other odds and ends into our upstairs sunroom. Everything else was left out to be sold in an estate sale. 

Estate sale: the bottom line

  • Hire an expert. Kara Chavous of Antique Unique Estate Sales knew how to price and market our sale. She would have laid out everything for display but, as the Type A control freak I am, I did most of that before she arrived. 
  • Sell EVERYTHING. We were told not to throw anything away, that people will buy anything and everything. We were skeptical, but listened and it paid off. People walked away with things we'd have surely trashed. Half a can of bug spray? Someone wants that. 
  • Get out. On the day of the sale, we did our best to stay away from the house. This is more comfortable for buyers and less stressful for sellers. Unlike most, we weren't emotional about parting with our stuff or sensitive to comments about it, but we sure didn't need to witness firsthand the stream of strangers parading through our home. 
  • Build a barricade. We were warned that estate sale buyers show up early and often, and try their hardest to access the off-limits areas of the home. I was still surprised, though, to walk downstairs at 7am in my pajamas and find two men on our front porch rocking chairs. And shocked when, twice, buyers tested the door handle on our bedroom door, which sported a giant "X" in duct tape and sign that said, "Do NOT enter. NOT for sale." Luckily, the handle locked from the inside. It would've been awkward to be barged in upon in my bed watching Hulu. The next day, I added to the sign, "Seriously." 
  • Cash in and move on. Today we will receive a check that does not match the total amount we spent acquiring our belongings but it's 100% more than if we kept this stuff. Instead of dragging our past along with us or spending thousands on storage, we will purchase a new bed and sofa in New York, and keep chugging. With money in the bank and a very small UHaul, we're ready to start living large (small!) in the next phase of our lives. 


Sharing the Joy of Books

As a newly published author, I am thrilled to know that people are enjoying my book, "Breaking Up With Your Stuff." But as a minimalist, I loathe the idea that, once it's read, the book will sit on shelves collecting dust in my readers' homes.

So, what should you do with books, after you've read them, to ensure they live many more lives?

Book clubs
Homeless shelters
Women's shelters
Halfway houses
Retirement communities
Nursing homes
Charities (local, national or international) 


Gifts for the organized parent

I've said before that the best gifts are gifts of experiences. So rather than adding another toy to the pile this year, give the children in your life special treats of time and attention, like family movies packs, passes to your local children's museum, or one-on-one day with grandma at the park or zoo.

But everybody likes to unwrap a present from time to time - and a minimal amount of toys is a healthy part of any child's life. So...what are the best toys for little ones? Items that inspire imagination and creativity.

Look for gifts that:

  • can become many things in the child's play.
  • encourage independent thought.
  • store and travel easily.
In a world of carrots, 3-year-old Zack Zahn is thrilled to receive his very own box of hot chocolate.
In a world of carrots, 3-year-old Zack Zahn is thrilled to receive his very own box of hot chocolate.

Stay away from:

  • branded toys.
  • electronic toys.
  • toys that have many pieces.
  • very large, space-consuming toys.

For example, instead of a Disney costume, choose a simple accessory like a wand. Elaborate toys do all of the "work" for kids. It's healthier and more fun for kids to use their imagination. Your nephews don't need a play castle when they can build a fort out of the sofa cushions.

Food gifts are fun, too - if it's a package of special treats for Mom and Dad to dole out appropriately over time - and if you choose well, it won't hang around the house forever collecting dust!

The Power of Good Habits

If you're not familiar with Charles Duhigg's bestelling book, "The Power of Habit," let me be the first to recommend it. The below flowchart, which outlines precisely how to form a new habit, is a testament to the author's expertise.

The premise of the book is this: that positive habits are key to success and that habits aren't formed or changed by reliance on willpower, but rather by gradual, intentional neurological conditioning. In other words, positive habit-formation is difficult but crucial - and possible for anyone.

As an organizing coach, I work to instill new habits in clients' lives. Small, repeated gestures like making your bed, sorting your mail and putting things away as soon as you're finished using them, are difficult at first but eventually become automatic, like brushing your teeth in the morning. And they are critical to getting and staying organized!

What single new habit can you start forming today that would put you one step  closer to organized living? Hanging up your coat at the end of the day? Paying your bills at the same time every month? Laying out your clothes each night before bed? Choose one and follow Duhigg's path to success.

Power of Habit flowchart
Power of Habit flowchart