07 Nov Confessions of an Organizer: Where I Dared to Go!
One of my core values in business is to make sure as little as possible from my organizing sessions ends up in the landfill. Maybe it’s because I live in California where we’re a little more eco/green conscious. Maybe it’s because I’m born on Earth Day. Maybe it’s because a friend and colleague is even more green than I am and I aspire to be more like her – dedicated to preserving our planet in every way I personally can. Mostly, I feel a responsibility to share my knowledge with clients, and do my part to make sure that donated items can be reused, repurposed or recycled, instead of thrown out. This is becoming more and more difficult in our disposable society.
Now days, nearly everything is disposable: paper products, clothing, mobile phones, even cars. We keep items only for a few years before trading in or trading up, even if at a great cost. We’re always chasing after that feeling of ‘new’ items, rather than holding onto items for the long haul. Heck, we even do this with our relationships. The good news is it’s not our fault really. We’ve been conditioned to do this. Marketers are pretty clever. They play on our emotions and get us excited, and that keeps us coming back for more and more goods. Retail therapy, always having the latest and greatest gadget – it’s all our modern way of keeping up with the Joneses. But I’ll let you in on a little secret – you’re in control. Don’t be conned by the marketers. Take control of your needs, wants and desires (and your finances), by determining what it is YOU want in your life. What you NEED in your life. Let’s all focus on moving from disposable to sustainable.
One way I do this is to make sure that anything leaving a client’s house (by their choice) goes to an appropriate home. I go above and beyond the normal call of duty (as an organizer) to make sure that things get to the right places. I do not charge for this service, and spend hours a day doing it.
- For gently used toiletries, travel sizes or samples of makeup or hygiene products, and even some food items, I take to a local organization that provides temporary housing for families getting back on their feet or a local homeless shelter.
- For stained towels with holes in them, or discarded dog beds and cat toys, I take them to the animal shelter.
- I haul off e-waste to the recycling facility, and medication recycling to a local doctor’s office, Sheriff’s office or pharmacy. I can even take stained or discarded fabrics that are no longer wearable to various places (H&M, Saver’s and my local recycling facility).
- I haul off old prescription glasses, used ink cartridges and even old sneakers to various businesses (LensCrafters, Staples, Nike) who will take the times to be recycled.
- I take food in bulk to a food bank, costumes/props or other more difficult to determine donations to a local theater group (think rotary phone or old naval uniform).
- I take magazines to a senior living facility, and leftover arts and crafts to SCRAP in San Francisco or RAFT in Redwood City.
- Discarded kids arts and crafts or office supplies to go the local public school.
- For all other donations, I typically drop to Saver’s, The [Junior League] Shop, or the Habitat for Humanity Restore.
- I even help clients consign certain items via Nextdoor, TheRealReal, Remoov, a location or national auction house, or perhaps their own eBay or Postmark account.
My clients all agree this is the biggest value I offer them – hauling off the stuff they no longer want or use, but can never find the time to take themselves, and making sure it gets to a good home. After all, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure right?
Sometimes I even take it a step further and post trickier items to Nextdoor.com. If you haven’t heard of it yet, Nextdoor is an online bulletin board for your immediate neighborhood and surrounding areas (like Craigslist but requires proof of residency). People post about lost items, ask for or give referrals or recommendations, and attempt to sell or find new homes for items. I have some fun examples for you (and I’ve been given permission to share these)!
I dared to go where no other organizer has gone before – a gentlemen’s club! That’s right! I even shocked my colleagues, who exclaimed, “I could never do that!” It all started when I was working with a client, and new mom, who in her former years enjoyed going to Burning Man, and had some really nice lingerie. These items were all clean and barely used – some of them brand new and not even out of the package – but these were not items I could take to my location donation place. They didn’t quite work as costumes, and I didn’t think they’d be re-sellable (as most people would plan to buy these items new). I didn’t want them to go in the trash, and so I did what anyone would do, right? I took them straight over to the local gentlemen’s club, in the late afternoon, in my yoga pants and baseball cap no less.
I can tell you the manager was as confused as I was! “Donations? You mean, you want to leave them for us? For free?” he asked perplexed. “This is certainly a first!” Believe me buddy; it’s a first for me, too! We had a good laugh and he thanked me for being so kind as to think of them. In the end I’m not 100% sure what happened to the items, but they were left with good intentions and hopefully kept out of the landfill. And a group of people who may otherwise be misunderstood or outcast by society for their chosen profession were thought of and considered. We are all human beings after all – we need to remember that more.
When I shared the outcome with the client she was delighted to hear that I took the time to find homes for everything she wanted to let go. “You really do go above and beyond!” she said. I told her it would certainly be one of my better stories to share with people, and she encouraged me to write this blog!
My other examples are a bit tamer, but still illustrate the same point.
A few years ago I was working with a client in a storage unit full of her parents’ belongings. Her father was a doctor and amateur (but very talented) photographer. He had all sorts of photographic equipment (cameras, lenses, projectors, splicers, slides, 8mm film, dark room items, photo enlargers, etc.) that the client and I sorted through. As an amateur photographer herself, she kept some items but wanted the rest to go to a good home, and not in the trash. I posted the items to Nextdoor and within a few weeks, we found appreciative homes for all the items! My client was elated because these were people who wanted her father’s items. They wouldn’t go to a faceless home by way of a donation center, but rather to people who really did want and would use them. This made it that much easier for the client to let go, especially during a time of grief.
Just recently I was working with a long-term client in her garage and uncovered the removable middle seat of a 10-year old van she had traded in 6 months earlier. “Oops – I forgot that was in there. I took it out shortly after getting the van and never thought about it again,” she said. I immediately knew I couldn’t donate it, and it was unlikely that we’d find the new owner of the van to pass it along. “I hate to throw it in the trash,” I thought. So what did I do? I posted it to Nextdoor and within an hour, a man contacted me that he had the same make/model of the van and was missing that middle seat of his van (purchased many years ago). It turns out, it was the perfect match to his interior and he picked it up one day before his family were headed out on a big road trip. Talk about synchronicity!
That same client also had an old barbecue that would most likely have to go to the dump (they upgraded). I took photographs and explained it was an old barbecue and would need some ‘love and attention’ and again, within an hour of posting to Nextdoor, a local restauranteur offered to take it. As I helped him load it onto his truck, he revealed he owned several BBQ restaurants in the area. My client and I loved knowing where the barbecue was going and that the man cared to save it from going to the dump.
So time and time again I see how one man’s trash really is another man’s treasure. I’ve also seen how it helps people with the fear of letting go, knowing that the items will go on to appropriate and loving homes, and not sitting in a landfill somewhere. So if you’re reading this and trying to work up the courage to downsize/edit/purge/let go, make sure that you take your things to an appropriate donation place, and use Nextdoor to help!
The next step? Working on being more mindful or conscious of what you are purchasing before you get to the checkout counter… but that’s a topic for another blog post!