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Personal Loss Leads to Professional Pivot

As we approach the holidays, many of us slow down a bit to focus on upcoming family gatherings and reminisce about the past. When pondering what to write for this November article, I couldn’t help but get nostalgic, myself.

Tragedy Hits Home

Life as I knew it changed forever in July of 2015. My 45-year-old brother, Mark, had died within three months of his cancer diagnosis. Our grandparents lived well into their 80’s and 90’s, so the thought of losing a sibling never even crossed my mind. Like ever. I was devastated.

I remember when most of the family was finally together in Tennessee to begin the lengthy grieving process. While I could recount endless details here of that time, I want to jump ahead a few weeks. After the funeral, everyone made their way back to their respective homes and my parents remained at Mark’s house. There was much to do and they had driven down there from Washington on a previously scheduled road trip, so there was no specific timeline to wrap up his estate. I can assure you, they never thought this is how they would be spending their retirement.

My son and I stayed for a while to help clear out my brother’s two-story home to include 40+ years of collecting. Four decades of borderline hoarding that he just couldn’t conquer. I loved that he asked me to help get his daughters organized when they first moved from Oregon to Tennessee. It was so important for him to help them feel settled in a totally new environment. He had big plans for the house and we were able to tackle some of those projects together years earlier.

But now, here we were without him . . . grieving, sorting, laughing, crying and making countless trips to Goodwill. Because I had started my organizing business seven years earlier, I was able to somehow switch to “business mode” and approach the process methodically and keep us moving forward. I can be a pretty intense workaholic, though, so I had to be aware when I was pushing too hard. My best memory is going through the memorabilia Mark had saved from his childhood. We sat in the living room with my parents one evening looking through photos, toys and trinkets. Looking at those things sparked some memories which brought smiles and laughter. I immersed myself in the task at hand. There was no time to sit and process the weight of it all. That would need to happen later.

It took a week or so of nonstop work for us to empty the house. We had the usual decisions to make (keep, toss, donate), but knew that the “keep” pile couldn’t get too big. On the other hand, I didn’t want to push my parents to make any permanent decisions they weren’t ready for. Yes, we had to be out of Mark’s house at some point, but there were things my mom simply couldn’t part with yet. Let’s just say the UPS store started to recognize us. My mom and dad drove 3,000 miles in a truck, but definitely couldn’t haul all of the keepsakes cross country. My son was very close to his uncle and this was an equally difficult time for him. He was a huge help when my mom asked him to photograph the items she wanted to keep. The idea was she could hold on to the photo and let go of the item.

Business Pivot

This was a turning point for me and my business. Watching my parents endure one of life’s greatest heartbreaks was a helpless feeling. Over the next couple of years, my heart really started pouring out to those clients who were experiencing grief due to loss of a loved one and/or empty nesters who were overwhelmed with decades of sentimental stuff that had just consumed their homes and lives. And they are often simultaneously dealing with the estate of parents who have recently died. It took some time for me to really notice this change in my business. Looking back, I can see this was when my focus started to shift.

Six months after Mark died, I bought a work van and added a little tribute to him on the inside. He would have thought it was pretty cool that my business had grown to the point of reaching this milestone. He was very proud of both of his sisters and he had his quiet way of showing it. On the other side is Scripture that reminds me Who I do this work for.

New State, New Chapter

My husband and I relocated last year. After 15 years in Louisiana, we are starting over . . . again. I won’t necessarily turn down “regular” organizing jobs, but I am using this opportunity to niche down and connect with fellow empty nesters who could use some help and a fresh perspective as they navigate their next phase of life. There is so much to look forward to and be thankful for. And I have learned, living with less can really help you focus on the life you want.

There are countless blogs out there that do a stellar job offering tips on how to effectively downsize. After years in this business, I know that not everyone is equipped or motivated to DIY it. Let me take this opportunity to suggest why hiring a professional organizer to assist you in this process is a worthwhile investment:

1. Organizers guide you through the process, offer helpful advice to aid in decision-making and keep you from getting bogged down.

2. If you are downsizing for a move, we can make sure you focus on what you will have space for in your new, smaller abode.

3. When family or friends offer to help, it often ends up being more challenging for you. Their intentions are well-meaning, but they can’t remain emotionally detached. An experienced organizer will be empathetic, yet still able to get you to the desired result.

4. At the end of each work day, we haul away donations so that you can see and feel the weight being lifted.

I am aware that the holidays can be a difficult time for some, but this story was not meant to bring you down. God used a terrible loss in my life and through His healing gave me a greater sense of purpose moving forward.


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