Confessions of an Organizer: I’m just like you!

My best friend and I have a long standing tradition of sending each other cow cards - going on 20 years now. These are the cards I've saved.

Confessions of an Organizer: I’m just like you!

More often than not people assume that because I’m a professional organizer, I expect you to get rid of all your stuff, especially the sentimental stuff. Those who don’t yet know/work with me assume I have no feelings and am ruthless when it comes to memorabilia. I like to tell them a little story.

In the spring of 2017, I was assisting my father with downsizing in our family home prior to his move to Florida. He was going from our bigger home into a smaller, retirement condo, so of course he couldn’t take everything. In fact, he had to be selective about what he could take, since he was limited on storage space, and the goal was to streamline and make life easier to manage in his golden years.

Granted we have moved a lot in my lifetime and moving tends to help clear out the clutter. So he didn’t have a ton of extra stuff, but there was still plenty of memorabilia to sort through. I worked with my dad in his office, packing up his awards, plaques, framed photos and certain important items he wanted to take with him. As I did this, I watched him clean out his desk drawers.

A few hours in, my dad couldn’t take it anymore (clearly I didn’t get the organizing gene from him), and said he needed to head to the driving range to clear his mind. An hour and a half later he came back to me still at it – this time working through my own memorabilia stored at his house – and he said, “Oh my God you’re still at it?” “Yes, Dad. This is my marathon. I have the stamina to do this for 8+ hours a day, 6 days a week.” He was stunned.

While he was gone I made myself useful and tried to tidy up a bit. I took the trash and recycling downstairs. Something caught my eye in the box he used for the recycling. There were several of greeting cards there. Wait, I recognize those greeting cards. Wait – those are the greeting cards I wrote to him!
Disclaimer: there were ones from other people too, not just mine.

I’m going to be honest: I felt a pang of hurt, just for a moment. Was he really throwing out all the father’s day, birthday and Christmas cards I had sent him over the years? Did they mean nothing to him? What about all those sweet messages I wrote to him about being the world’s greatest Dad? Or thanking him for all he’s done for me in my lifetime. Didn’t that mean anything? Weren’t they worth keeping?

It got me to thinking why I was so triggered. I advise clients on a daily basis on what to keep and what they can donate. Of course this is all custom to the individual, but all in all I’m constantly advising clients not to allow guilt to be the reason they keep something that someone else gifted them or left as an inheritance. So why was I so triggered by seeing the cards I had sent my dad bound for the recycling bin?

A pile of the greeting cards I've kept over the years that include sweet messages from family and friends.

It helped me to realize that the decision to keep those cards or not was his, and his alone. It didn’t mean he loved me any less or didn’t appreciate the words and thoughts behind the cards. It meant he already knew those things to be true, and didn’t need the physical cards as a reminder. I’m sure he kept one or two that he really appreciated but did I really expect him to keep 36 years worth of my cards? 29 years worth of sister’s cards? 44 years worth of my brother’s cards? 6 years worth my niece’s cards? You get the picture – that would add up to a lot of paper to manage/store.

And yet, I see clients all the time who save nearly every card sent to them. It’s not uncommon. These cards make us feel good and we want to hold onto that memory. But we also can’t hold it against someone who doesn’t want to keep the cards – or presents – that we give them.

Remember, the gift is in the giving. It’s the thought behind the physical object or card. Sure the object or card can trigger the memory or good feelings, but it’s not necessary to keep. And we especially don’t want people to keep gifts that aren’t their style, that they don’t need/use, that they simply don’t like – because it just ends up as clutter. This is why I urge clients and friends/family to be conscious gift givers. Part of being a conscious gift giver, is understanding that once you give that gift, you have no control over what the receiver does with it, and you must be ok with this. No one wants to live with an object that they feel obligated to keep out of guilt or fear. You want people to think happy thoughts when they think of you, or that object. And understand that sometimes gifts make sense to people, and other times people outgrow the gifts they’ve been given. That’s why experiences or time with people is the best gift – take some photos of your time together and add to a NIX digital photo frame (or print them; we don’t print enough photos anymore).

So see, I’m just like you. At first I felt upset that my dad didn’t want my cards but I looked at it from his perspective (and that of an organizer) that he didn’t need all those cards to remind him that I love, adore and appreciate him. He already knows that. He didn’t need to take all that to his newly downsized space. I quickly let the feeling pass, and emptied those cards right into the recycle bin and got back to work. And more importantly, I never said anything to him: no need for guilt. I respected his decision despite how it momentarily hurt my feelings. I hope you’re able to do the same when you are triggered: see where the feeling stems from and why; then try to see it from a different perspective to help you understand it and feel less triggered.

Do you have a similar story? Please share it below in the comments. As always I love hearing from my readers.

Lauren Mang
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