Last week I had the wonderful full-circle moment of working again with my VERY first client. Mike hired me in 2001 when he saw my ad in DC’s City Paper. I had no experience as an organizer, and stated my rates at $25/room and $80/for a whole home. Mike knew a good deal when he saw it and my strategy was to get some “firsts” under my belt. Hopefully that would include a stellar first testimonial. We worked together for months, leaving no stone unturned. It was when he found his high school job application for Crusty’s Pizza and was able to laugh at the ensuing rejection that we both learned together how cathartic story-telling can be in processing the relics of one’s history. (I think I encouraged him to keep the application.)
Mike and I stayed in touch ever since completely finishing organizing his one bedroom condo. Fast forward to 2019 when he reached out again for help. We did exactly what we did 18 years ago: chose a place to start and started discussing things one by one. Last week after I left he sent me this text, verbatim, unedited:
"[My girlfriend] was asking me last night about our organizing session and she wanted to know what it was about Kacy that made her so helpful. One of the things that I realized was that for us sentimental sorts, of which she is decidedly NOT, we keep a lot of things because they hold some meaning, some connection to the past, they have a STORY.
So, part of what makes you so great as a professional organizer, is that you are a truly kind, patient, and compassionate LISTENER. You hold up an object and ask me about it, and then with a look of sincere interest, and without interrupting me, you let me tell my story about it, whatever it may be, whether it is 10 seconds or 10 minutes. You don't rush or hurry me, you just wait and let me tell it. And so once I've told you the story, it often makes it much easier to let some of those things go. Because it is comforting and gratifying that someone else simply knows the story, and we all want to tell our stories and be heard, and most importantly, to tell them to someone who CARES.
You seem to understand that so well and get that it is the emotional attachment to objects, more so than the physical act of organizing and/or getting rid of things, that is often so deeply important to sensitive souls and the roadblock to clearing clutter, and you are that conduit and sounding board to help others process those feelings in order for the physical moving of things to proceed.
That quality, to me, is one of your greatest gifts, and I appreciate you so much for it. 🤗"
As you can see, one of Mike’s gifts is with language. He so precisely and eloquently can put feelings to words, and make a girl feel like she might be on the right career path. Aside from being floored by his generosity of spirit, I heard something else so clearly: sentimental people must involve storytelling in their letting go process. Another client once told me that it was enough for me to be there to “bear witness” to her stories of her things.
Some people struggle to see what needs to go. Other times, it is abundantly clear what needs to go but it can feel unceremonious to just drop something into a donations bag - be it meaningful or mundane. Storytelling helps us honor the item, honor the place in our life when it was important, and feel like we’ve squeezed the very last drop of meaning out of the item. We learn something new about what we value and feel a necessary sense of resolve.
If this rings your bells, my assignment to you is to find someone who can bear witness to the stories of your stuff. If not an organizer, perhaps set aside 5 - 10 items that you’ll send off once you set a date with an acquaintance or loved one for some story time. Create a ceremony of letting go, even it it’s a 5 minute story. Try it and let me know how it goes. Have you already found storytelling to be a sharp tool in your decluttering toolbox? Please share in the comments.
After 2 hours together, including lots of storytelling.
After Mike put in another 6 hours after I left. About this picture he said, "I am not kidding when I say it has been 5 years since I've seen this much of my actual desk. It feels like waking up from a coma moving things around and discovering little trinkets and pieces of paper just as they were when I last saw them so long ago."