Decluttering with my sister: The finale

So this is the finale about my time decluttering and organizing my sister’s house. I wanted to talk not only about the outcome but my experience helping her over ten days. The one disclaimer I’m going to make right from the start is that I did not feel we were “finished” when I left. There were some things that had to be moved into storage and others that were listed to be sold. There was also still some straight up mess in her living room. However, I felt like we were able to do a lion’s share of the work needed to complete the job.

So I want to give a little set up here: my sister has lived in Germany for about 8 years now. In that time she has moved half a dozen times. Sometimes the moves were quick – the boxes were not really well organized or labeled. Sometimes, I would open a moving box to see 80 sheets of random paper, 3 books, a lighter, bobby pins, two blankets and three tins filled with random trinkets. Or something similar. Anyways, that was what we were working with. Not only the unopened boxes but the random piles of paper and objects all around the apartment.

So here are some of the challenges we faced, the solutions we came up with and the outcome.

A couple of before and in progress pictures:

And a few after pictures:

The Paper Plan 

So a majority of the problem in my opinion was the disorganized paper. At first, I’ll admit that I did not have a solid plan for how to organize the paper. When I said that – I did not know in terms of categories or actual physical organization. One night before bed, I made a decision to sort the paper into some general categories – medical records, banking, work information, etc. – then put it into boxes which fit each category. I used something similar for years – somehow traditional filing drawers just don’t work for me.

One thing I decided to do was to organize papers chronologically with the oldest papers being on the bottom. This way, my sister could just quick pop open a box and shove the newest paper in on top of the existing papers. Jury is out on if this is going to work forever – but it’s definitely a solution for present.

The Break Down 

Around 5 days in, my sister and I had a moment. While I’m not comparing my sister to a hoarder – the show had good ratings for a reason. It’s emotional going through things from years and years in the past. It’s overwhelming to think about what things you need to keep, what things you want to keep and what things you just aren’t ready to toss. So we had a moment.

My sister did not take off time to do this organization – that was my job. However, when looking through documents, I just don’t have the insight to decide what we needed to keep and what we needed to toss. While I don’t keep major medical bills or records, it’s extremely important for my sister to due to the nature of her lifestyle. Even just taking the time to look at each paper – that adds up. This is putting aside actual objects that my sister had to go through and decide what she wanted to do with it.

So yeah – we were both overwhelmed at times. It’s really emotional to do a big declutter if you haven’t done one in years. Every life change or memory can be brought up when you see a letter or a gift or a souvenier. Even though we were both stressed out and anxious – it was a huge positive in my eyes to have this small break. I’m only going to speak for myself but it allowed me to speak honestly about how much more important my relationship with my sister was than any sort of organizational week.

The Ikea Fail

So – as I mentioned before, I decided to mainly use Ikea furniture for my storage solutions. We ordered quite a few pieces of Ikea to be delivered the day after I arrived. Long story short – when faced with 120 Kg of Ikea – my sister and I decided to hire people to put it together. There were some things that I didn’t mind – some drawers that I have assembled in the past. However, the bed we ordered and the dresser – I just didn’t feel comfortable putting them together.

Well the assemblers showed up and let me know that they were just there to put together a bed. There was some miscommunication when we ordered the assemblers – my sister said it was her fault but I think she was very clear in what she wanted –  That left a bookshelf, desk, organization system and dresser to put together. I thought my sister was going to kill me. However, the only really pain in the ass one turned out to be the dresser – the others were pretty straight forward.

The one good thing was by the builders not being that helpful – I realized we didn’t need the organization system I thought we would use. So we were able to return it to Ikea and save some money. I guess that was the biggest positive. Also – I don’t really mind assembling most Ikea. I find it mainly meditative.

The Extra Voice 

So one of the goals of this job was to make a space where my sister’s boyfriend could work. I’m going to underscore the fact that in general he was extremely helpful (including getting me to the airport through a nightmare traffic jam). When it came to the new furniture and solutions, he had a different perspective than either Sam or I. While it’s not a bad thing at all – it sometimes got in the way of us actually accomplishing work.

Of course there were plenty of places to compromise. Some of his imput was important to the final layout of the room. However, occasionally it was difficult to balance all the competing voices. Something really sweet is that right from the onset of having a desk, my sister’s boyfriend immediately started working in the spare room. It was clear that even if it wasn’t exactly to his tastes – he liked having a place where he could work at a desk instead of sitting on the floor. I left feeling that, if nothing else, we made a nice work place for him.

The Outcome 

While we are less than a week from when I left, I really hope we made it easier for my sister to live her life in a more organized way. One thing that I was really excited about is that she wanted to sell some of the furniture that didn’t fit in her apartment as her ceilings are short and these pieces were too tall. She plans to use that reclaimed footprint to buy a piano which I think is a wonderful idea. Not only is my sister absolutely incredible at the piano (not to brag but she just plays by ear with very little traditional training – it’s unreal) – I think it will be a nice stress relief for her.

Some of the projects we weren’t able to complete aren’t that tricky ultimately. We didn’t finish some of her clothing storage. My sister still needs to go through and decide which things to stay and donate. We have the space for it but it’s still something we didn’t complete. I also wasn’t super happy with the fact that I left a small amount of papers to be gone through. My sister throws herself into professional work – often traveling and working on outside projects. Her home is secondary. Leaving a pile of stuff to go through means it’s going to be a little while before it’s gone from her living room.

The last thing I think that my sister needs to finish is her cat furniture solutions. She wants to get some new climbing elements for her cat, Ramos. I think it’s a really good idea. The little babe is always getting into trouble especially when it comes to almost falling out the window. She wants to get some “environmental enrichment” – also known as cat trees. The problem is he’s absolutely giant. So some traditional cat trees don’t actually fit him.


So are things perfect at this point? No. They aren’t. But even as they are – I truly believe my sister can finish it up. Does she need to hang a little art? Yes. Are there a few things to still be filed and stored? Yes. And are there things to be sold and sent to various charities? Yes. But these things are achievable.

I hope that these ideas and solutions may have helped you in some ways. If any of these expriences – let me know below! If you have any other pieces of advice that could help me or my sister – also leave a comment below!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s