Downsizing – A great opportunity to ‘downsize’ the household paperwork

Downsizing – moving from a bigger to a smaller place – is a huge life transition.

It’s also a great opportunity to create a simpler and easier paperwork-organising system.

This is the third in a series of 3 posts.

Read No.1 here: Downsizing – Why we should declutter BEFORE we move’ and here No. 2: ‘Downsizing – Why we shouldn’t rush while making let-go decisions.

During the next 4 weeks, Ellen made huge steps in her declutter, organise, and change journey.

With the help of her friend, she managed to sort through all her clothes and shoes. She decluttered a lot.

When we met again, she told me that she now was best friends with the people in the charity shops in her area. Four times she had dropped off boxes and bags of well-preserved clothes.

Books were ‘the heroes’ of Ellen’s second success story.

Ellen had invested the time to take each of her more than 220 books in her hands and to make a deliberate ‘keep-or-give-away’ decision. She kept only 25 books!

Luckily, she found new homes for all the books that had to leave: Half of them went into the little library in her retirement village, and the other half she delivered to the local community library.

It had been a good decision not to rush through the decluttering process.

Working slowly through her clothes, books, and other belongings, making hundreds of little ‘yes-or-no’  decisions, had helped Ellen to regain clarity about what she really valued and liked, and what not – or no longer. And she now was perfectly organised: she knew exactly every item she owned and where she could find it.

Taking enough time for the sorting process had also helped Ellen to change her mind about a decision she probably would have regretted later.

Some weeks earlier, when she had felt in such a hurry to sort things out, she had been sure that she no longer loved cooking and entertaining people at her place. She had wanted to discard all her cooking and recipe books, most of her cutlery and crockery, and many of the kitchen appliances.

Now she had changed her mind. She had become friends with some of her new neighbours and wanted to revive her qualities as a host, regularly arranging dinner parties and Sunday breakfasts in her apartment. This was something she really was excited about!

The last decluttering task: The Paperwork

Ellen was not so much excited about her paperwork – this was the last area she still needed a helping hand with.

She said that she had never been a ‘paper-person’ and that this hadn’t been a problem during all the years of her marriage when her husband had taken care of any paperwork.

Since his death 7 years ago, no piece of paper had been filed away in Ellen’s household. Yes, she dutifully opened her mail every day, and she immediately paid the bills, but that was it.

I now understood why she had 21 archive boxes with paperwork from the old house stored in the garage – filled with binders (compiled by her late husband), magazines, journals, photo albums, and masses of loose pieces of paper.

And since her move into the new apartment about 7 weeks ago, Ellen had started to gather a new pile of paperwork, sitting on her kitchen counter.

The paperwork-management system should ‘respect’ the organiser’s personality.

We talked about different approaches to paperwork management but quickly agreed that to make it work for Ellen we had to find a clear and very simple way to get – and keep – the papers organised.  

In total, it took us three 4-hour sessions to clear up all the paperwork that had accumulated in Ellen’s life.

We started with the fresh paper pile in the kitchen and all the boxes from the garage which contained the loose papers collected during the past years. Then we continued with the archive boxes – until the very last one was empty.

This was our paper-clearing procedure:

Sitting next to each other at the table, we worked hand-in-hand. I took one piece of paper and passed it to Ellen. She had a look at it and then we made a decision.

Sometimes this took a while because Ellen had a little story to tell about an event or experience related to a paper.

The slow sorting process was actually a kind of ‘therapy’ for Ellen:

By remembering all these stories she deliberately appreciated them one last time and then she felt free to let the piece of paper – and the related memory – go.

Yes, we found a few still important documents but most of the stuff could go. And it did go: We compiled a huge amount of bags for the recycling bin and some smaller bags for the shredder.

A personalised filing system makes it easy to find a home for the documents we have/want to keep.

Finally, we took the pile with the to-keep papers and went through it a last time.

We assigned each piece of paper to a sub-pile on the table, and labelled those with Post-it notes, for example: car (registration, insurance, repairs), utilities (electricity/water, Telstra), legal (passport, birth and death certificates, etc.), financial (tax, paid bills, investments, life insurance), health (insurance, medical records), traveling (bookings, tickets, etc).  

In the end, we knew how much storage space we needed and were able to file everything into three binders, using dividers to separate different sections.

We used one thin folder to keep all important contact details (family, friends, estate manager, neighbours, doctors, etc.) in one place.

Ellen’s new paper-flow system consisted of only 3 parts: a ‘Today tray’, a ‘Friday tray’, and the three binders.

This simple system can only work out for Ellen because she is a very disciplined person and hates to postpone any tasks.

This is the workflow plan:

  • Every day Ellen gets the mail in and places it in the ‘Today tray’.
  • On the same day, always before dinner, she works on her ‘today’ stuff:
  • She sorts out anything useless / not interesting and puts it in the recycle bin.
  • She completes any to-do tasks such as paying bills, confirming bookings or invitations.
  • Then she places the finished paperwork into the ‘Friday tray’.
  • Anything she can’t do/finish on that day, she also puts in the ‘Friday tray.
  • Every Friday, she sits down and gets the pile in the ‘Friday tray’ done – in most cases just filing the paperwork into the binders.
  • At the end of the year, she goes through the three binders and sorts out anything that is no longer relevant.

As I said, this simple system doesn’t work for every household/person but for Ellen it does.

I met her recently at a networking event and she said she has made an incredible personality change: She now is ‘a paper person

Downsizing – Why we shouldn’t rush while making let-go decisions

Downsizing – moving from a bigger to a smaller place – is a huge life transition.

That’s why we need time to decide what to keep and what to let go.  

This is the second in a series of 3 postsClick here to read No 1 ‘Downsizing – Why we should declutter BEFORE we move’.


When we met again 2 weeks later, Ellen appeared to be a younger and more confident version of herself.

She said she liked the suburb, and the area around her new place, the park and the small shopping mall close by. She had also made contact with her new neighbours and had already been out for coffee twice.

However, Ellen said she didn’t feel good about herself.

She felt ashamed that in the past she had put so much attention and care into her belongings – instead of focusing on her values and interests and the people around and important to her.

She hadn’t opened any boxes in the garage and only missed a few things, particularly some clothes.

However, she had worked on her ‘stuff’: She had kept her thoughts in the journal and had developed some ideas about new activities she wanted to try out in the future.

She was also very determined about some past interests she no longer felt excited about. She, for example, no longer wanted to entertain friends in her place as she no longer enjoyed cooking.

Ellen said she now wanted to get rid of the boxes and the pieces of furniture we had stored in the garage, all of them, as soon as possible.

She felt able to arrange this on her own because she believed there were no big decisions to be made.

The only area she didn’t feel confident to manage was the paperwork. She asked me to help her sort out all the boxes filled with papers and documents.

We had a longer conversation.

I felt happy for Ellen, of course, and it was great to experience her excitement and the energy she radiated. However, I also felt that her mind and attitude shifts were quite radical, and sudden.

I suggested she should take some time to consider all the options she had in this phase of her life and to deepen her understanding of herself and of what was now important to her.

It wouldn’t be good for her to hurry through important decisions, just to get things done, risking she might regret some of them later.

Ellen thought about this and then agreed – yes, she would be patient and give herself some more time before making final decisions about her belongings.

We went down to the garage and picked up the numerous boxes with her books, and some boxes with clothes and shoes and brought them up to her apartment.

Ellen wanted to sort through the books and keep only as many as would fit into the shelves in the living room. And she wanted to ask her friend to help her get a clearer picture of her personal fashion style so that she could get rid of some of her clothes, with confidence.

We arranged to continue working on the many remaining boxes in the garage 4 weeks later. We also decided to sort out her paperwork at that time. 

When we met again 4 weeks later, … (This is the second in a series of 3 posts – to be continued. Click here to read No 3)

Downsizing – Why we should declutter BEFORE we move

Downsizing – moving from a bigger to a smaller place – is a huge life transition.

That’s why you need time – and courage – to prepare the move carefully. 


When Ellen called me, she was desperate.

In fact, I got quite confused and even worried during the first 3 to 5 minutes of our phone conversation – Ellen was crying so heavily that she couldn’t talk.

She then managed to calm down, and she introduced herself and described her problem:

It was her removal day: that morning she had moved out of her 3-bedroom-house into her new home, a 1-bedroom-apartment in a retirement village.

The removalists had just left her, in the middle of a ‘terrible chaos’ as she said. As she continued to explain her situation I started to understand her distress, and I agreed to meet her at her new place 2 hours later.

Ellen waited at the entrance gate of the retirement village when I arrived at the address she had given to me. She was still very upset, she said she feared she had made a huge mistake, and that she didn’t know what to do, and that she felt help- and hopeless. She started crying again.

When we entered her new apartment, I took a deep breath.

It was so full! It was understandable that Ellen felt like being in the wrong place!

The apartment was so fully packed with furniture and removal boxes that it was difficult to walk inside and around.

There were no empty surfaces and all around stuff was stacked up to the ceiling. Even the bathroom was not usable, cluttered with containers and lose items. The bedroom and the kitchen – the same.  

We couldn’t sit anywhere and finally walked outside and sat down on a bench in front of the building. I have to admit that I felt very angry with the removalists who had left Ellen – alone – in such a mess. However, it was not their fault, of course.  

The cause of the problem was that Ellen hadn’t been able to let go of any of her personal belongings, she had hoped that they ‘somehow’ would fit into the build-in wardrobes, and into the storage area that belonged to the apartment.

Yes, she had sorted out a lot before the move, particularly several pieces of furniture, such as the large dinner table, some chairs and arm chairs, the huge desk, some bigger paintings, and the outdoor furniture.

However, she had kept everything else, everything that had been stored inside the discarded furniture and built-in cupboards. And had now ended up with all these belongings in a place that had to offer just one quarter of the space that she had had before.

The underlying reason for this seemingly ‘irrational’ behaviour was that Ellen had been so afraid and anxious about the big changes coming up with the move – the new place, the new neighbours, the new life – that she had kept all her belongings as a kind of ‘safety net’. She had thought she would feel o.k. if she had all the things around her that had been with her in the old life.

Also, she didn’t have any plan or idea of what her new life would look like, thus she felt unable to decide what she might no longer need.

It was late in the afternoon, and we couldn’t do much on that day, but we created an ‘emergency plan’ to help Ellen through the near future and to finally get her problem sorted out.

I didn’t have a client appointment the next day which was followed by a weekend, thus we had 3 days to create a temporary solution – an apartment that was sufficiently cleared up and safe to live in.

These were our short term actions:

  • Ellen called a friend who offered her a bed for the next 2 to 3 nights.
  • We talked with the retirement village manager and Ellen was able to rent 2 additional parking spaces in the garage for the next 2 to 3 months.  
  • We made a list of all belongings that Ellen needed to manage her daily life during the next weeks: all the furniture and things required in the kitchen to prepare her meals, all the personal belongings she needed in the bathroom and in the bedroom, the furniture she wanted to place in the living room.
  • We carried all furniture and other lose/bigger items that were not on the list downstairs, and stored them in Ellen’s 3 parking spots in the garage.
  • We cleared the kitchen table to get a free surface for our unpacking and sorting activities.
  • We opened every removal box and took out only what was related to our list of needed items.
  • We started an inventory and kept notes about all boxes with currently not needed content before we stored those boxes in the garage.
  • We organised all the things which were to be kept in the apartment in the available build-in wardrobes, cupboards and shelves.

On the first morning of our 3 working days, I was a bit worried about how Ellen would cope. But she actually managed very well.

I assume it helped her to know that all the belongings leaving the apartment didn’t disappear forever, that they just moved downstairs into the garage.

Ellen also said that it felt good to get active and to do something, she felt no longer so desperate and more in control.

At the end of the 3 days, Ellen could finally move into her now clear and spacious apartment. She had all she needed for her daily life easily accessible and close to her, and anything else safely stored in boxes in the garage.

I had arrangements with other clients for the next 2 weeks, and Ellen decided to use the time to get to know her new living area and her neighbours.

She also agreed to keep a journal and to think about what was really important to her and how she wanted to live now, in this not only new place but also new phase of her life.

She also decided to take notes in her journal whenever she missed anything of the stored away stuff.

When we met again 2 weeks later, … (This is the first in a series of 3 posts Click here to read post No 2)

Life-decluttering after divorce – Let go of the past and move on with life

A divorce not only affects the two people directly involved.

Often, it’s a huge life-change challenge for other family members, too. A bold decluttering project can help to redefine relationships within the family.


For many years, Stephanie had been very good at organising her busy life.

As one of three senior partners in a law firm, she was used to working not only full-time but extremely long hours every day.  Until recently it hadn’t been a problem that she had had only the weekends to spend time with her family. Her husband had managed the daily family life and taken care of their two teenage girls.

However, life had changed for everyone in the family 6 months ago when her husband moved out. They had both suffered in their unhappy marriage for some years and had decided to get divorced.

Now Stephanie struggled to find her way into her new role as a single mom.

Keeping the household running and taking care of her daughters’ daily needs was very demanding.

And her relationship with the girls had changed and become difficult after the divorce.  She had endless discussions with them about the separation and why it had been the right decision (or, in her daughters’ opinion, the wrong decision).

Stephanie felt lonely and overwhelmed, and her daughters felt angry and wanted their father back.

When I met Stephanie for the first time in her house, she told me that she wanted to make bigger changes in her home which – she hoped – would make life easier again.

Stephanie wanted to declutter, massively, and as quickly as possible.

When she took me on a tour through her home, I understood: The kitchen, the living room, and especially the home office and the basement were really ‘stuffed’, up to the ceiling.

Stephanie wanted to ‘get rid of everything’ and asked me to order a skip and ‘just’ get the house cleared.

But then we had a longer conversation, and she changed her mind.

She began to see that the decluttering process could become a ‘healing’ process for herself, and hopefully also for her relationship with her daughters.

She now wanted to get the girls involved and asked me to organise the decluttering activities as a ‘team project’.

We decided that I would take the role of the ‘neutral’ organising expert who would treat Stephanie and her daughters as three ‘housemates’ with equal rights.

We invited her daughters to our next meeting.

When we all were sitting around the dinner table, I presented the plan:

  • The main goal was to create a home in which each of them could feel relaxed and happy.
  • The basic requirement for achieving this goal was that each of them felt responsible for the creation and maintenance of the new order.
  • The bathroom, kitchen, and living room were declared as ‘shared spaces’ and the design, furnishings, decorations and contents of these rooms would be discussed between all of them. Everyone should make suggestions but also be willing to make compromises, if necessary.
  • The girls’ rooms were completely their responsibility. They were free to re-arrange their rooms if they wanted and they both got a budget to be used for any desired changes or renovations.
  • The basement was full of stuff nobody any longer wanted to keep and would be decluttered and organised together, over a long weekend.
  • An action plan and a time schedule had to be agreed on.

At the end of my presentation, nobody said anything and I got a bit nervous.

The success of this project depended completely on the willingness and motivation of the two girls to be part of the team. We didn’t have a plan B. Stephanie also looked nervous.

However, suddenly the girls both started to talk, at the same time. And they were as excited as we had hoped they would be! Yes, they wanted to be part of the decluttering/organising team!

We could get started!

Of course, during the decluttering process – which finally took 3 months – it wasn’t all ‘rainbows and daisies’ all the time.

We could only work on weekend days and in the very beginning it couldn’t go fast enough for Stephanie’s daughters.

After some working sessions, however, everyone’s motivation levels went down and we needed more frequent breaks with ice cream and burgers.

Also, the girls would have wanted to work on the redesign of their rooms first but the action plan determined that the basement and the shared spaces had priority. They didn’t like that.

It was actually a lot of fun for them to clear out the basement – most of the stuff ended up in a skip we had organised. But we took the time to sort everything with care and carried a lot of still useful items to a charity shop. The girls also collected some of the things that had belonged to their father in 2 boxes and took them along to him. (Which he very much appreciated.)

However, the decluttering and reorganisation especially of the kitchen and the living room required many – sometimes very heated – discussions and arguments. Yes, and some difficult-to-digest compromises.

The biggest fun came up, of course, when everyone started to declutter and re-arrange their rooms.

Stephanie, too, enjoyed this part. Yes, she shed some tears when she cleared up the master bedroom. But she took all the time she needed to find out what was really important to her now and how she wanted to feel in this – her! – room in the future.

She felt excited when she then started to design the room completely according to her very personal ideas and needs.

We all agreed that the ‘after-divorce-decluttering project’ was a success:

We had achieved the main goal: The house was clutterfree and freshly organised, with open spaces and clearly defined activity areas.

However, even more important was that Stephanie and her daughters had successfully ‘decluttered’ their relationship, too.

Everyone had been part of the team and had contributed to its success. Stephanie and her daughters were more aware now of their respective strengths and weaknesses, and they all felt responsible for what happened in their home.

Stephanie no longer felt lonely – she felt closely connected to her daughters.

Home organisation – Easy ways to improve your daily life – Re-arrange your home & your routines

Change the purpose of a room to open up new opportunities.  –  And setting up new ‘rational’ routines & rules can help you to create a healthier lifestyle.


Dr. Baker had been a successful dentist for many years but now he enjoyed his retirement.

He was happy because now – finally – he could focus on his hobby: Stamp collecting/sorting/sharing. Over time, his collections had grown to an amazing size. It was time to get them sorted! And now he had the time!

However, his daughter hated his stamps. It was not because she wouldn’t grant her father his excitement about his hobby, as she told me during our first phone conversation. She hated his ‘preoccupation’ with stamps. It took so much of his attention that he didn’t care much about himself.

Dr. Baker spent hours and hours upstairs in his little dark office. He forgot about everything while studying the history of a special stamp. Or exchanging letters with other stamp collectors.

Most of the time he was so concentrated on his work that he didn’t realize the time of the day. He forgot to drink and eat, and sometimes he even fell asleep at his desk.

How change gets easier if the benefits are clear and attractive

My first meeting with Dr. Baker didn’t have an easy start. His daughter wanted him to change his lifestyle and to re-organise things in his home. However, he didn’t want to change anything.

Things became easier when I asked Dr. Baker about his daily life, and how he organised his stamp collection and kept it sorted.

He then explained his ‘dream conditions’ of working with the stamp collection. He said he’d love to have more light when studying the stamps with his magnifying glasses. Also, a bigger working table would allow him to spread the stamps out and sort them into sub-categories.

We started talking about how he could get more light and space for his stamps. And we discussed how he also could also put more attention into organising himself and his days in a healthier way.

This is how Dr. Baker finally got his stamps and himself ‘sorted out’:

How redefining the purpose of a room can make life easier

The living room with its many large windows and huge dining table became his new office:

First, we cleared it up completely and took out everything that was kept in the many cupboards. We arranged some items from the cupboards onto the kitchen shelves, but Dr. Busy Hobby transferred most of the dishes, cutlery, table linens, vases, etc., and also some of the furniture to his daughter. (She agreed to take everything we sorted out because she so much liked the upcoming changes in her father’s house.)

Finally, we moved all the many boxes with his stamp collection and his books downstairs, and all the files and letters and directories which we placed in the now empty cupboards and shelves.

Dr. Baker was so happy about the changes that he’d have loved to sit down at his new desk to try out studying a stamp in bright daylight.

How setting up new routines can support a healthier lifestyle

But first, we had to go through the second part of our ‘organising agreement’:

We sat down and created a list of new rules and time schedules which we thought would help him better organise his daily life.

The weekly timetable was designed to remind him on which days he planned to do the grocery shopping (we also compiled shopping lists), on which days to do the washing (we created washing lists, too), on which days to put the rubbish out, and so on.

An alarm clock and an everyday schedule worked together to structure his days: breakfast time, lunchtime, dinner time, and in-between reminders for having some water or coffee. And, the most important new rule: no working on the stamps after dinner!

Another person might have struggled to hold to our ‘organising agreement’ and the detailed and strict schedules and rules.

Dr. Baker, however, had all his professional life used organising-structures and -systems, he accepted them as being ‘tools of a rational mind’, and he also was a man who always kept his agreements.

Decluttering and organising together with your partner – It can intensify your relationship

Decluttering & organising together can be an exciting (and useful) way to learn more about each other, and about the goals and dreams you wish to share.


Moving in with someone else is a big life change:

We not only transfer our furniture and belongings into the new joint home, but we also bring along our unique personalities, values and beliefs, personal habits, and lifestyle expectations.

Consider decluttering together before you start living together.

Kevin and Claudia had been living together in their new apartment for about 6 months when I first met them there.

I immediately understood why they had decided to get the support of a professional organiser. Their tiny space was fully packed and cluttered with stuff.

However, this was a problem that could easily be solved. Thus, I didn’t understand why they both seemed to be so extremely stressed and sad.

During our conversation, I soon started to understand better.

Claudia and Kevin were disappointed and confused. They both said they still felt in love with each other but they now feared that they were not able to live with each other.

They both didn’t feel at home in their apartment because it was so cluttered, untidy and disorganised.

  • They never could find what they were looking for and they didn’t know where to put away what they’d just used.
  • Getting dressed in the morning took much too long, having a shower in the cramped bathroom was an uncomfortable exercise,
  • and cooking together in the evening was no fun because the kitchen counters were covered by stuff that didn’t fit into the cabinets.

They hadn’t talked about this with anyone else so far because they felt so unhappy and also ashamed. They felt they should be happy all day.

Instead, they had started fighting about actually unimportant issues. And they no longer looked forward to coming home and meeting their loved one and having time together.

I remember that I was very impressed. And absolutely optimistic about the outcome of this ‘organising’ project.

  • I was impressed by the bold decision of these two young people to ask an outsider for help, and about their willingness to try to get to the root of their problem.
  • And I was optimistic because their problem – although it seemed to be a very tough one to them – was nothing unusual or untypical. They were experiencing what we all encounter when we move in with someone we haven’t lived with before.
    • We have to get to know each other in a new and very private environment,
    • we have to know and openly discuss our values and expectations,
    • and we have to be willing to cooperate and compromise,
    • and to coordinate our individual ways of organising our lives.

It took us only two sessions to get them on the right track.

From there on they could easily continue organising together without any further outside support.

The first step is to discover and understand the different organising styles.

Keven is a keeper, he doesn’t like to sort things out and wants to store everything in case he might need it in the future. Claudia doesn’t have a problem to give away what she doesn’t use. However, she never comes to that point because she has no interest in getting her stuff sorted, so she actually doesn’t know what she has and what she needs.

For Kevin, the most difficult part of the organising task was to sort and declutter their belongings in the kitchen and living room. When they had moved together, they had just combined all their possessions. The consequence was that they had many duplicates: two coffee machines, two toasters, several pans and pots, too many dishes and cutleries, vases, tablecloths, bed linen, etc.

The second step is to find out together what each partner likes and needs.

As soon as we had taken everything out of the cabinets, dressers, and drawers, Kevin and Claudia could clearly see that they had too much of nearly everything. Now the seemingly tough part began: They took up every household item, discussed its necessity and usefulness, and then they had to decide whether to keep it or toss it. This quickly became an exciting process. They realised that

Sorting and decluttering together is a great ‘relationship-improvement-opportunity’.

It helps

  • to get to know our partner better,
  • to understand how and what he/she thinks,
  • and to discover what’s truly important to him/her.

Kevin and Claudia barely noticed when I left them at the end of our session – both still sitting in the middle of chaos on the floor of their living room and discussing things.

When I arrived two weeks later for our last organising session, the apartment had changed its outlook significantly. The kitchen looked neat and tidy (only one coffee machine and one toaster on the countertop!), the little bathroom was perfectly organised, and the living room had become an inviting spacious and comfortable space.

The bedroom was the only problem area we still had to work on. This time, Claudia felt she had a tougher job. Her clothes and shoes occupied much more than two-thirds of the wardrobe and additionally covered the dresser and two chairs.

Again, it was not as tough as assumed.

We took out all her clothes and accessories and sorted them into categories. This helped Claudia to see what she had – much too much. And as a natural declutterer, she had no difficulties to sort out more than half of her possessions. Kevin packed them into bags and got them to the local charity.

Don’t do it just once. Sort out your stuff on a regular basis to keep your relationship clutter-free.

Claudia and Kevin know now for sure that they definitely can live together. But they also know that they have to continue to declutter and re-organise their belongings from time to time, and that they need to do it together.

However, that’s no threatening task any longer, because they know each other so much better, and how to work with their weaknesses and combine their strengths to make their organising projects successful. And fun.

How re-organising your home can help you to re-gain flexibility

If your physical fitness and capabilities change, a re-organisation at home can help you to re-gain flexibility and independence.


Getting older is not always an easy job! – It can be hard, for example, to accept and manage changes in physical fitness levels.

Ellie had all her life been very independent and active.

She had invested her energy into her professional career and had been very successful in her job – which was quite untypical for a woman of her generation.

She also had many different leisure interests and a vivid social life – which helped her to continue her active lifestyle when she retired many years ago.

Now in her early eighties, Ellie no longer was agile and active: after her fall from the stepladder she had to spend some weeks in hospital, and now, back at home, she suffered from pain in her hip, and could only move around very slowly. She couldn’t do her shopping any longer, and couldn’t do all the housework on her own.

She had become so depressed and inactive that her niece worried a lot about her aunt and wondered how she could help her feel better again. She called me for help.

At my first meeting with Ellie, we talked a lot about her past, and I got fascinated by the active life she had had! Listening to her lively stories, I could easily understand why her friends had always called her ‘Running-Ellie’.

A bit further on in our conversation, we realised that this actually was the root of her problem (and her depression): Elie couldn’t ‘run’ any longer, she felt no longer independent and active – she felt like having lost her personality.

How could we re-organise Ellie’s place in a way that would allow her to move around easier again and make her able to get her housework done on her own?

How discarding and re-arranging furniture can bring back mobility and flexibility

First –Ellie had agreed on a reduction of her furniture – we took out what stood in her way: two coffee tables, a sofa, and 4 big armchairs from the living room, two chairs and a dresser from her bedroom, and a huge plastic table from her balcony. We also removed any loose rugs and carpets from all rooms.

This was a great improvement because now Mrs. Ellie could use her (wheeled) walker to move easily and safely around her apartment. What she did!

How re-organising all possessions can make them accessible again

At our next meeting, we talked about how Ellie had spent her days before the stepladder accident happened. We also walked together through all her rooms to find out where she used to spend most of her time, what she did in those rooms, and which cupboards, wardrobes, shelves, etc. contained her mostly used household and hobby items.

Ellie didn’t want to give away any of her belongings – she felt she would lose even more of her past life (which she missed so much) if she would discard the things that related to it.

Thus, we didn’t throw anything away but we took everything out so that we could re-arrange all her possessions. Ellie sorted them into two categories: ‘Used on a daily basis’ and ‘Rarely used/sentimental’.

She could no longer reach out to anything that was placed higher than her shoulders’ level or lower than the height of her waist.

That’s why we sorted the items from the ‘daily-use-category’ only into those drawers, cupboards, shelves, etc. which had the right height.

Finally, we arranged all rarely or never-used items in the remaining storage spaces.

I visited Ellie some weeks later again,  and she told me with a lot of excitement about her ‘new’ life: how agile and active she felt, how often she invited friends to come over for coffee and self-made cakes, and how much time she spend with her crafts and other hobbies.

She had even started thinking about giving away some of her belongings which she no longer used!

How an ’empty nest’ can make space for new developments

Entering a new phase in life can be confusing and unsettling. A bold home re-organising project can give your life and ambitions a new direction.


When the kids move out (and leave their stuff at home)

In the past, Sue was an ‘all-time organiser’: she ran a busy household, managed the family life (three daughters), and also looked after the paperwork of her husband’s small business.

This phase of her life ended when her daughters moved out after finishing school – and left behind three empty rooms in their parents’ house.

However, those ‘empty’ rooms actually were the opposite of empty: posters on the walls, overflowing bookshelves, the wardrobes full of teenager clothes, and the floors covered with plastic containers of toys, music boxes, and tennis rackets and much other stuff.

Becoming an ‘empty nester’ definitely hadn’t been an enjoyable experience for Sue – the fact that there no longer was anyone around she had to take care of, had turned her life upside down. She felt she no longer had a purpose, or mission, and that her life lacked direction.

Recently, Sue had become a grandmother, and that, somehow, had opened her mind up to new opportunities. She now accepted the fact that her daughters had moved out, that they had their own lives and families and would never come back.

She had to (and could!) concentrate on herself and her interests now. 

Sue decided she was ready to move on and she booked some coaching sessions with me to help her find out where she wanted to go.

At our first appointment, we took a tour of the house and Sue presented what she thought was her main problem: What should she do with the stuff in the former kids’ rooms? And how could they, she and her husband, make use of those rooms in the future?

Her daughters had decided they didn’t want to take any of the stuff – a very easy solution for them, I found. But it made it finally easier for Sue to make bold decisions.

When we were talking about her home-reorganising project, Sue realised that she felt angry about the mess the girls had left for her to take care of, and that this anger intensified her motivation to get things sorted out. 

She ordered a skip bin and organised some boxes to collect the stuff she wanted to donate.

We got started and she was able to make a series of quick decisions (she was still angry). It took us only one day to create three ‘truly empty nests’.

When I left that evening, Sue said she would call me as soon as she had made a decision about the future use of the three rooms.

I didn’t hear from her for some weeks.

Then Sue called. She was very excited because she had made some bigger decisions and wanted my help to realise them.

How an ’empty nest’ can make space for new developments

One decision was to use one of the rooms as a guest room for her daughters and as a playroom for her grandchildren. She wanted to have a dedicated place for them, so she would be ready prepared whenever the kids came to visit during the school holidays.

Sue’s second big decision was to use the other two – now also empty – rooms for – her new business! She wanted to open a sewing school in her home, offering sewing classes for beginners.

Sue had loved sewing all her life. She hadn’t done much sewing during the past 20 years but now she’d started again and she enjoyed creating unique clothes for herself and her friends. And her friends actually had brought up the business idea.

It was not difficult for Sue to make the decision to start her own business. She had the space she needed – two empty rooms in her home. And she had made space in her mind because all the decluttering and rearranging of physical stuff had helped clear up her thoughts about herself and her future as well.

We didn’t need much time to create a detailed action plan for Sue. And it took her only two weeks to organise the two rooms around her business needs. She added some furniture – and 5 sewing machines for her future students! – in the new sewing training room and a desk in her new home office.

She now has all she needs to become a successful business woman – the space and the equipment and the courage, determination, and confidence.

And, as an empty nester, she has the time and energy to make things – her things! – happen.