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Panic Organizing

​I have written before about the value of being organized in case of emergencies. FEMA has a great guide for creating an Emergency Financial First Aid Kit that contains the names and numbers for bank accounts, insurance policies, investments, doctors, etc. Another emergency situation which I had not considered is when a landlord unexpectedly tells his or her tenant that they have a limited time to vacate. When one is not expecting to move, being forced to move in a hurry is extremely stressful, especially if the tenant has been accumulating things for years.

This summer, two clients came to me with this predicament. The first is a single woman on a month-to-month lease who was told she had 31 days to vacate. She learned this less than a week before a scheduled 3-month trip abroad. She had to postpone her trip, pack everything, and find a climate-controlled, affordable storage unit that would fit all of her things including her car. While she managed to do so in just 3 weeks, she does not have a home to come back to.

The other is a family with an 11-year old daughter. The mother, who was the planner and organizer in the household, recently sustained a traumatic brain injury from a car accident and was under doctor’s orders to rest her brain and avoid stressful situations. Their landlord decided to sell the home they had lived in for many years. With over 40 showings in the first few days it was on the market, the home sold immediately leaving the family limited time to find an new place to live and move.

If you have children you know how much can accumulate each year. Living in a home, this family had no reason to whittle down their possessions. Both parents have large, local families who, in addition to gifts, gave their daughter things her cousins no longer used. The house was neat and clean, but they had a lot of stuff.

Unfortunately, their move was very stressful. They decided to buy a home instead of rent again. Thus, while starting to pack their things (with no real deadline for when they had to be out), they secured financing, found, and purchased a home. The seller postponed the closing date leaving them homeless for over a week. Fortunately, friends came to the rescue and while they are not in their new home yet, everything seems to be working out.

The first organizational challenge was brought on by a lack of a schedule. Because they did not know when the house they were in would sell, they had no way to gage what to start packing. At the same time, they wanted to be ready in case the house sold immediately (which was good, because it did!). We went through the house and identifying what would not be used in the next few months. Holiday decorations were an easy one. We also went through some of their daughters’ things. She had a lot of board games and toys that she had outgrown.

In the basement we found extra cookware and dishes that the family had never used. Some of it was donated while other pieces were given to relatives. She also assigned family members certain areas to pack where neither parent had to be present. (Mom packed the Christmas dishware, etc.) While these things were already stored in boxes, it was not packed safely enough for a move.

The first area that I tackled with the mom was the home-schooling supplies. Because of the brain injury, the family had to take a break from school (and it is summer). I helped the mother decide what to keep and how to organize the boxes so the school space could be reassembled in their new home. We also went through old paperwork deciding what needed to be kept and what could be recycled or destroyed.

As the move got closer we moved to materials used on a more regular basis. We went through the bathroom closets. Like so many families, they had a few partially used bottles of shampoo and hand lotion, a bunch of travel toothbrush holders, soap left over from trips and small bottles of products from hotels. My roll was to help her decide what to keep, support her decisions, and follow-through with discarding, donating, or packing items. While moving is not the worst trauma that can happen, it can be incredibly stressful. While being forced to move unexpectedly will hopefully not happen to you, we never know what could happen. Even if you own your home you could find your life being impacted by a job transfer, a relative who fell ill and needs round-the-clock care, or your home gets damaged by a storm. I hope something like this never happens to anyone, but it is murphy’s law that says the more prepared you are, the less likely it is! So – stay organized! Keep your things manageable! Sort as you go! Don’t wait until you need to do it in a panic.

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