Part 12: Enter Organizers

On a recent sunny Saturday, two “Professional Organizers,” Mary Cate Claudias and Annie Powell, entered my condo. Before they arrived, I had no idea what to expect. The closest I’ve come to professional organizers are my impressions from the cable television show, “Hoarders.” Would the organizers arrive with a therapist, a Hazmat crew, and a 1-800-JUNK truck?

Two professionals from Charm City Organizers arrived with pleasant smiles and kind words. In their hands were garbage bags, marking pens, paper, tape measures, and iPads. They toured my condo and we sat down to discuss goals.

I have been planning and researching a move to senior living in Southern CA for more than a year. During this time, I have cleaned closets and donating items to charity. Still, I have multiple boxes, drawers and shelves of photography, memorabilia, personal and business correspondence. My goal with the organizers is to develop and execute a system to move to senior living with only necessary and cherished papers and memorabilia. As a secondary goal, I want a system that I can maintain in my downsized living space.

Powell produced a Charm City Organizers Worksheet. First, in bold ink, read “Goals.” Stage 1 accomplished. Next, in bold ink, read – Process:

  1. Sort and Categorize: Sort into “keep,” “trash/ recycle,” and “donate” piles. Then categorize the “keeps.”
  2. Purge: The smaller the keep pile, the easier the process. Purge freely and donate generously.
  3. Set up new system(s): A “system” is a plan, strategy, or organizational tool used in a space. A system may be a mail sorter by the front door, a set of hooks for tools in the garage, and a drawer divider in the bedroom. Each system is unique to the client’s needs.
  4. Maintain: Unfortunately, no automatic system exists that is maintenance free. A professional organizer helps the client select a system that works for the client and space, making the system easier to maintain.

According to Claudias, for clients moving to senior living, Steps 1 and 2 take place in the client’s present home. Steps 3 and 4 generally take place in the senior living residence. Since the same organizers rarely can be present for the entire move process, for consistency she recommends hiring National Association of Professional Organizer (NAPO) affiliated professional organizers.

With the Charm City Organizer’s Process in mind, Claudias, Powell and I began. Powell identified a box of randomly collected photos. Sitting at the dining room table, Powell and I began to sort, identify and trash unidentified and duplicate photos. We identified categories:

  1. Very old photos.
  2. My three children’s childhood photos.
  3. My professional and personal photos, awards, and memorabilia.
  4. Photos for family and friends.

For this project, I purchased from The Home Store, six attractive keepsake boxes, with three in the shape of treasure chests — one for each of my children. Powell and I concentrated on sorting these photos into meaningful content and placed them into the appropriate clearly labeled boxes.

Meanwhile, Claudias, CEO and Founder of Charm City Organizers, selected a box of photos in frames. She picked up each item and asked me if I wanted to keep the frame and/or picture. At this point, the organizer’s skill shined. I hemmed and stalled, not wanting many frames, yet not wanting to part with them. Claudias walked me through giving the frames away and adding the meaningful pictures to their keepsake boxes.

This process continued throughout the first and second sessions. At our third session, we will inventory the items for packing and shipping and, if time allows, tackle downsizing more boxes of pictures.

Join me for the next Joan’s Journey, as we continue to explore the preparation necessary to downsize comfortably for senior living. Until then, enjoy the journey, day by day.


Joan London is a freelance medical and social services writer living in Baltimore with her rescue cat Mia. When she sells her condo, London plans to move to senior living in Southern California.

Read Part 13 of Joan’s Journey: Moving Forward

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