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Tackling the Pack Rat or Hoarder in All of Us

It took moving from one house to another for me to admit how much “stuff” I had accumulated in my home office over the last 6 years (since our last move).  Suffice it to say it was a lot of “stuff.”   Our reason for moving was to downsize.  Our daughter moved out earlier this year, and took (most of) her stuff with her.  We decided that 3,300 square feet for two people was unnecessary.  So we downsized to 2,400 square feet.  We also lost 1/3 of the garage space, as well as the unfinished basement and attic space that was used for storage.  This all translated into “junk had to go.”

The first step was to decide what was to be moved, versus getting tossed.  The brochures dating back as far as 2007?  Those got recycled.  I even thinned out the current brochures, tossing at least 50% of my stock.  Anything pertaining to clients (i.e. invoices, confirmations, etc.) was kept.  The 15,000 postcard blanks from one particular cruise line (I’m not exaggerating that number)?  Well, I tried giving them away to other travel agents since they were still perfectly useful.  I got rid of approximately 300 of them.  The rest of the postcards (in approximately 20 shipping boxes) ended up at the recycling center.  Then there were the old magazines, like Agent@Home, Vacation Agent, Travel Agent, Agent Life, and more (I had EVERY issue going back to early 2006).  First I skimmed through EVERY issue.  If there were any articles that were still relevant and I wanted to keep, I tore them out and put them in a file folder.  Note, the future project for these articles is to scan them and keep them in an on-line folder.  For now they are in a file drawer, taking up much less space than the piles of full magazine issues.

It actually took several weekends to completely go through everything.  As items were deemed worthy of keeping, they were packed in moving boxes.  The rest turned into three very large, expansive piles that eventually were hauled off to the recycling center.


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After the move I still ended up with a few dozen boxes in my office that needed to be unpacked and organized.  I froze.  If anyone had seen my previous office, you knew my organization skills were lacking (to be kind).  I didn’t want to recreate that mess in my new office space.  I finally broke down and hired a professional organizer from one of my networking groups.  In round one she came in to assess the areas around the house that I wanted to address (my office, the spare bedroom that was going to be storage space, as well as some storage shelves in the new garage).  Then we scheduled an appointment for her to come back a few weeks later.  On that return visit we spent six hours working side by side tackling my office and boxes of stuff that made the cut to be moved.  As we unpacked a box, everything was put away in a specified location.

Some of the tips that I picked up from her:

  • Divide your “real estate” into prime, secondary and tertiary areas.  Prime real estate would be what is most conveniently located to your desk, which is within easiest reach.  Secondary and tertiary real estates are the areas that require you to get up and walk over to it.
  • Analyze what you use, and how often you need access to it.  This is how you decide what is stored in prime real estate or other areas.  For example, I need to get to printer paper, mailing supplies (envelopes, stamps, address labels), and banking supplies more than once a week.  Those are now within reach of my desk chair.  I swirl around and there they are.  No getting up and walking to another part of the office.  However, items I only need for trade shows are now stored on shelves in the garage.  Even if I went to a trade show once a month, and it’s more likely to be once a quarter at best, these are not items I need to be able to access in my office for day-to-day tasks.
  • Let go.  I thought I’d done a great job before moving, by sorting through everything and deciding what should be tossed.  But alas, as she and I went through the boxes in my office, we still designated quite a few things as trash/recycling.  Ultimately we filled three 36 gallon trash bags which went out with the weekly trash; so not nearly as much as I’d pre-sorted before the move.  However it still surprised me that I moved stuff that ended up in the trash heap anyway.  The lesson learned is to look at things more than once, and try to be objective about them.  Will you REALLY use them?  Do you really NEED that (if so, why? What for? When?)?  Learn to let go.
  • Organization doesn’t mean having to buy any more furniture or storage containers.  My personal organizer worked with the drawer space, filing cabinets, and shelf space that I already had, and maximized every square inch available.

My husband recently unearthed 13 more boxes that belong to my office (they’d been mis-stored in the little attic space we now have).  I feel confident that I can tackle these on my own and won’t need to bring in a professional organizer to get it done.  But I must admit, she was worth every dime that I paid for her service!

So who else out there has an organizational nightmare to relay, or tip to offer?

Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel (www.shipsntripstravel.com) located in Brentwood, Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations (www.kickbuttvaations.com) she focuses on travel for young adults under 35. Susan can be reached by email at susan@shipsntripstravel.com or by phone at (888) 221-1209.

  3 thoughts on “Tackling the Pack Rat or Hoarder in All of Us

  1. Amy Gerling "thetravelgerl" says:

    Hi, after reading your article and looking around my office, I have such a pain in my stomach just tihinking of what I need to do!! Hopefully, it will happen sooner then later!!

  2. Lori Derauf says:

    I moved my office last year and did a major purge. I haven’t missed anything that I got rid of. After reading your article I’m going to go make another run through and see if I can do better.

  3. Well, after my experience, I definitely recommend tackling the “purge” on an annual basis, and not wait until you move. 😉 My plan now is that every year between Christmas and New Year’s Day (when hubby is off work and home to help) I will do an annual purge … dump expired brochures, throw away magazines (after ripping out the relevant articles), organizing client files, etc. I’ve told my husband that he WANTS to help me with this, so he’ll have less to tackle when I die (morbid, but an effective way to motivate him to help now).

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