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The Power of Stuff

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I love words. They can evoke such an incredible emotional response just by their very sight. Words can transport you into a different time or location. They can enrich your knowledge base and they can provide you with hours of satisfied entertainment. As an organizer, there are peculiar words that I hear from my clients when they first contact me that I hear nowhere else. In describing their clutter condition, the words they evoke are overwhelmed, paralysis, drowning, and suffocating just to name a few. Clutter or too- much-stuff has an ability to invade minds with an incredible power. I’m not sure I can explain the reason behind this, I just know this is true because I hear it most everyday from clients seeking release and freedom from the chains their stuff has over them. Is it any wonder that from magazines and newspapers, to most forms of media, clutter and the desire to be organized has become an obsession in our country?

“Stuff has power, and the stuff we own has power. – Power for good or power for ill” said Peter Walsh, famed organizer and author. Our consumer-oriented society measures the health of our economy by the spending of consumer goods. A hard lesson I try to teach my clients is that “It’s (life) not about the stuff.” I learned that lesson many years ago when I first began my organizing business.   

One of the many defining moment as an organizer came when I was called to help a 9/11 widow take care of her husband effects in the home.  Dealing with the raw emotions was, shall I say, incredibly difficult. But with great care, I thought we could maneuver enough of his stuff to allow her to move on with her life with her two girls. Hardship forces one to look not only at the quantity of one’s stuff but at the quality of our relationships and one’s life.

Discarding and donating his stuff I thought would be easy enough. I was so terribly wrong.  Among the hats, record albums, tools, sports memorabilia, fireman articles and clothes, lay an incredible power to memories. However, my client was intuitive enough to understand that fond memories deserve honor and respect. Stuff is just stuff, but stuff becomes a person’s life when we hold memory to the stuff. Preserving his memory with love was what she needed, not a bin to house it in. After my client and her girls selected the objects that brought them the most joy we decided to create several shadow boxes so that they could display them on a wall. Keeping the memory alive was what allowed her to heal, and the same time, those few items kept in honor allowed her to let go all of the other articles that held a place in his life. She was free from the chains of clutter.

Organization is truly transformative. When we take our clients out of the context of the stuff and put them into the context of their life, all of a sudden, instead of making decisions about stuff based on price, availability, etc., we help people make decisions about the stuff based on the life they want. Our homes are metaphors of our lives. It is truly impossible to make your best choices…emotionally stable choices, in a clutter and disorganized home. It simply can’t happen. Organization is not something you do, it’s a way you life your life. It is not about simply cleaning up; it’s about making mindful decisions about the life you want. By asking my clients their visions for their space, we create a room environment that transforms not just the space but the family. When we change a family, we can change a community…a nation…our world.

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Guest Friday, 15 February 2019

Dear Amy-

We are happy to write you about Eileen Koff.

Both of us are musicians and teachers; Dorothea Cook is a violinist who teaches in the Community Music Programs at Stony Brook University, at the Knox School, and has a private violin teaching studio; Peter Winkler is a composer and professor in the music department at Stony Brook.

We live in an old house filled with the residue of many years of family life. We had read many books about organizing, but we really needed the hands-on experience of working with a wise and thoughtful professional to turn our good intentions into reality.

We met Eileen Koff at an open house at Innovative Nutrition, the health store in Setauket, and quickly decided that she was what we had been looking for.

Eileen doesn't do your organizing for you. She is a teacher, and a very good one.

One of her important lessons is that it's not just about organizing things. We are learning from her that to be organized, you have to understand yourself, your values, what you love, and what your true priorities are. Sorting all that out isn't always easy, and it can require some serious soul-searching.

The organizing process involves both tangible and intangible things; it involves time-management as well as decisions about what to throw out, what to keep, and where things go.

Like all good teachers, Eileen can sometimes makes you a bit uncomfortable, as she challenges your old habits and ways of doing things. But as she says, it takes the eyes of a stranger to help you see your surroundings as they truly are.

The transformation of our house will not happen overnight, but Eileen is teaching us skills that we will be using for many years to come. Best,

-- Dorothea Cook and Peter Winkler