Surrounded by stuff? Clear the clutter
When Susan Tilley's mom passed away last year, she had been living in her rural Janesville home for 47 years. Tilley went through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
“I was stuck on anger for the longest time,” Tilley said.
In part, it was because of the mess she inherited. The house her mother left was full of stuff that had to be gone through, cleaned up and cleaned out before the house could be sold. Tilley took a week's vacation from her job to get it ready.
“It took me six months and a dozen trips back and forth. I don't want to say that my mother was a hoarder, but if she wasn't, she was something pretty close to it,” Tilley said. “At first, every time I had to make a decision on what to do with something, I got angry all over again. I have to say, I was angry at her, angry at the mess she left, angry that I was having to deal with it.”
This is a normal reaction according to experts.
According to David Kessler, author of “Healing Grief,” letting go of a loved one's possessions means letting go of something that was important to them, and by extension, a part of you. Letting these items go is another loss, sometimes a series of losses.
“It's very much different for different people,” Kessler said. “You may feel like you want to handle that very quickly; for other people, it takes longer. And that's understandable.”
Kessler's books offer this advice: Hang on to items only if they bring you joy. Enlist the help of a friend and divide possessions into three piles — keepsakes, charity donations and items to give away or sell.
This same advice applies to everyone, especially this time of year.
“Spring is a time of renewal and we just naturally want to lighten up, dig ourselves out of that winter den we've created for ourselves,” said Edith Connolley of Burlington.
Connolley spent 10 years in Chicago as an efficiency and organizing expert. Even though most of her clients were companies, she found that clutter, both paper and digital, was one of the biggest problems she had to confront.
“People in business tend to keep excessive records and now that a lot of that is digital, it's even worse — we tend to think of paper or records as valuable information and we keep it because we might need that.”
In reality, this accumulation of stuff only slows us down, Connolley said.
“Personally, it weighs us down — like a weight around our neck,” Connolley said. “In business, it tends to make people overthink things and it slows down reaction time to problems. It's slogging through the past when what you need to be concerned about is the future.”
If you are procrastinating on cleaning up or holding onto items left behind by a loved one, you may need help, Kessler said.
It's a truth Tilley realized quite quickly.
“I don't think I'm overly sentimental, and usually I'm pretty efficient, but I couldn't have got mother's house cleaned up without help,” Tilley said.
She hired Mister Trash to help her get the job done.
“It was expensive, but so is holding onto a house because you can't sell it,” Tilley said. “They cleaned out the shed, garage, basement and attic, plus they donated a lot of stuff that I didn't want just thrown out.”
Not all declutter jobs are so big or so complicated. Some people just need a nudge in the right direction. Closets get overstuffed with clothes that are out of style or don't fit. Junk drawers start to overflow onto counters. Boxes and bins get moved to the garage but are never opened again. Basements get filled with plastic bins full of stuff you never use.
Beth Heaney of Get It Together, a declutter and organizing service out of Fort Atkinson, said hiring someone you can work with is key.
“It's really hard to have someone dig through your stuff,” Heaney said. “It's important to establish that trust.”
According to the National Association of Professional Organizers, members keep client information confidential and treat all clients with integrity, objectivity and courtesy.
“It's not your job to judge, it's your job to help,” Connolley said.
As an organizer, it's a great feeling to see people when the job is done.
“I like to help others and this is actually relaxing for me,” said Ashley King of Delavan's Live Happily Organized. “It's definitely something people can learn. And once we get a system in place, they feel relieved.”
King and Heaney charge by the hour for their services. Typical rates in the Midwest can go from $25 to $80 an hour. King charges $25 for an initial consultation but offers that as a credit once she's hired.
Declutter organizers can do as much or as little as you want and will go through everything to set aside valuables.
“I found important papers — bank information — stuffed in the most unlikely places and we found my mother's wedding ring inside a pot in a kitchen cabinet,” Tilley said.
Some organizers combine their services, offering cleaning and decluttering or organizing and decorating or staging a house for sale.
For Heaney, organizing is an innate ability that comes easy to her.
“Even as I kid, I wouldn't so much as play with my Barbies as organize them,” she said. “It's like 'Sesame Street' — which one of these things doesn't belong.”
Once the job is done, a feeling of satisfaction sets in for organizer and client.
“It's like they can breathe easier,” Heaney said.
Get a grip on clutter
• Everything in its place. If you don't have a place for it or can't find a place for it, do you really need it?
• Do you love it? Ask yourself, “Do I love this? Does it bring me joy?” If not, it's time to let go.
• Multiple items that do the same thing are not needed. Save space for the things you really need.
• If you haven't used it in a year, you don't need it. Enough said.
• Bring one thing in, take two things out. Valuable items can be sold. Useable items can be donated to someone or some organization that will use them. Trash is just that, but be sure to recycle.
These groups will accept donations and/or items for resale
In the Walworth County, Wisconsin area:
• Circle of Friends, 23 E. Walworth St., Elkhorn, 262-723-8177.
• Goodwill store, 1402 E. Geneva St., Delavan, 262-728-5688.
• Inspiration Ministries, N2270 Wisconsin Highway 67, Walworth, 262-275-2264.
• Studio 84, 121 W. Center St., Whitewater, 262-473-9845.
• Salvation Army, 248 S. Pine St., Burlington, 262-342-0005.
• Army Lake Camp, Salvation Army, N8725 Army Lake Road, East Troy, 262-642-6400.
• Lakeland Animal Shelter, 3615 Wisconsin Highway 67, Delavan, 262-723-1000.
In the Stateline area:
• Goodwill Store, 2543 Prairie Ave. Beloit. 608-299-0072
• Goodwill Store, 8010 N. Second St., Machesney Park, Illinois. 815-639-4963
• Salvation Army, 628 Broad St., Beloit. 608-365-6572
• Salvation Army, 809 Broad St., Beloit. 608-362-6755
• Humane Society of Southern Wisconsinm 222 S. Arch St., Janesville. 608-752-5622. Blankets, pet food and supplies
•Salvage Too, 907 S. Main St., Rockford, 815-963-6236. Building salvage and supplies.
• Disc Replay, 6085 E. State St.,Rockford, 815-227-0532. Movies, music, video games
In the Janesville area:
• Goodwill Store, 2003 Holiday Drive, Janesville. 608-758-8794
• Salvation Army, Family Thrift Store and Donation, 1819 Center Ave., Janesville. 608-754-8577
• Salvation Army, Corps Community Center, 514 Sutherland, Janesville. 608-757-8300
• Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin 222 S. Arch St., Janesville. 608-752-5622. Blankets, pet food and supplies