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"Minimalism is BS and it doesn't work"
An organizer who gets us
Today I’m chatting with Hanna Jungbauer, a professional organizer in L.A. whom I learned about while talking to my friend Alissa a few weeks ago. A former caretaker for kids and the elderly, a lot of Hanna’s work is dedicated to helping folks tackle downsizing, hoarding, and later stages of life but she also helps families get organized as well, which is relevant to our interests. You can check out some of her before and after pics on the “Client Homes” stories on Insta. I include a few links below to serve as some examples of products she mentions but due to inventory, many are similar but not identical to what she mentions. None are sponsored or referral links so shop or don’t shop—that’s between you and your god. Also, we don’t talk about this in the interview but you need to know that Hanna is a “professional nose,” testing scents for Fortune 500 companies—she told me, “I smell a lot of armpits.” Don’t we all!
My parents are nearly 75 and they get around well, but live in a big house where you have to use stairs to get to everything basically and don’t have plans for the next phase. What is one thing you can low-key do to get the ball rolling to at least prepare for when you have to downsize?
We live in a death-phobic society. We don’t talk about end care, elder care, the process. It’s always a jarring shock because we didn’t confront it. I think desensitizing is key. So lots of conversations of, “Do you use that tchotchke on the shelf? It’s been there since 1967.” “No.” “Do you like it?” “No.” Out the door. Or if they’re not willing to part with anything, get a plan.
I just dealt with an elder cousin of mine who lived an hour and a half away who up and died on me this summer. Me being the sole beneficiary of everything, I had to dole out things. There was never a plan. “Who gets the China, who gets this, who gets that?” And you’re stuck with this. So I’m a huge advocate for making a plan of who gets that paper clip, because this will otherwise cause fighting.
Maybe peruse lightly once or twice a year what type of facilities are available. Do they cost eight grand a month? Is it within your price range? What type of functionality are you looking into? Is it a 2000-square-foot apartment you’ll be getting? Or 500 square feet? So you might just need a love seat, a bed, and your clothes. Or you might need half of your house. So just start getting a feel, because you just don’t want the shock.
What do you find yourself saying the most frequently when it comes to talking clients into letting go of stuff?
I always ask, “Do your loved ones live in the stuff?” They always look confused. I say, unless you’re holding their physical ashes, “Is that painting them?” “No, it’s not them.” “Well, if you get rid of that painting, are you never going to remember your grandma again?” “No. They live in my heart; they live in my head.” “Great. Well, they’re already in you. Let’s get rid of that, then. I promise you their memory is still alive.” The trauma response is to say, “This is all I have. This is all I own.” If you only own one item from your father, absolutely keep that item forever and ever. Bronze it. But if you have a whole house full, different story. If the memory is only invoked by said item but said item is taking up too much space, my next solution is to take a picture of it. It lives in the cloud. Now you have that invoking memory right there.
What is your perspective for parents of small kids in terms of what is realistic for them to expect, organization-wise, in a house that is lived in vs. an Instagram before-and-after?
I just want to shout to the stars, “Pick a reason why I’m angry about Instagram and Pinterest.” I worked for a very successful heiress to a vitamin company. Her home looked like Instagram. You have to ask yourself, if you have an all-white floor plan, and you have your wooden shelves, and you have a closet you can park a car in, what are you doing with your life that that closet you can park a car in is not extremely hoarded out? What have you spent your money on? Who are these people? Hey, guess what? They’re not hoarded out because they can afford help, and when they afford help the stuff stays manicured.
Let’s break it back down to regular people who have 9-5 jobs and kids. You probably have a stain on the rug. You probably have controlled chaos in your kids’ room. That’s normal and that’s life. It has nothing to do with going to the Container Store and buying all the jars that match. That does not make your aesthetic. It does not make you organized.
I just wish people would realize these color schemes in the light, bright, and airy is just a feel they’re selling you. It’s just a feeling. It’s not reality. Pick your battles. Furthermore, can we please address that Marie Kondo is a sadist? Minimalism is actually way more expensive than just downsizing. The families I work for, they want the spark joy, hug your item away, goodbye experience. But guess what? You need a pantry. You need supplies. Your kid’s going to run out of pencils. Where’s the extra box of pencils? You need that second box. Minimalism is BS and it doesn’t work in a functioning, busy family. Everyone’s like, “I need to spark joy.” I’m like, “Do you realize you’re just going to replace that item five more times by throwing it out?”
I try to upcycle, but eventually food containers in particular start to spill over. What’s your philosophy on how much or to what extent to reuse those when to move something along?
Reused food containers I think of as good for cold food storage, nails, hammers, craft supplies. After getting that hot food delivered to you, you don’t want to reheat it, as chemicals and formaldehyde and leach into your foods and then potentially make a problem later on in life that is way more costly than anything.
For the space in general, if I have a drawer that pulls out and I can fit all five fingers into it and five fingers can pick up five different containers, great. Everything else is either glass, or BPA-free, or whatever. But containers pile up. You will not use 10,000 of the containers unless you’re using them as plates, so start recycling, or put plants in them, or go to wrap up a shirt for Christmas. Put it in the fast food container and now they don’t know what they're getting if they’re nosy kids. There are so many alternatives to just storing them.
What’s your philosophy about getting rid of incomplete toy sets? It kills me when I want to get rid of something but I can only find 80% of the pieces.
There’s also the part of you paid $29.99 for those LOL Dolls and it builds up in this inventory of how much you have spent on your child, but at the end of the day you’re looking at your cash rather than the functionality, and if you were to just say, “Does my child play with this toy at all?” Well, no. Okay. It can be donated. Goodwill, Savers, and the like, and they’ll essentially undo the toys and sell them in little plastic bags for half the price. At least it’s going out the door.
Yes, it was used. Yes, it’s lost. It’s got to go. You can cycle your toys out too in sections where you say, “Oh, well, he or she hasn’t played with it six months. Let’s put that in the back and then bring out the newer toys, then switch it back out later,” and so you have constant stimulation. But if you’re not willing to do that, just get rid of it. Even if it’s half played with just you got to do it.
Can you help me figure out what to do with these drawers and cabinets of mine? They pull out but that doesn’t help the pile situation:
I literally just did this in a home where it was the same problem. We went out and we got potholders. We put those in the top rack, so where you have your cutting boards, I would actually move those up to the higher space and then do vertical, because you can always go vertical in your cabinet space.
If you can go get those for the lids of your Tupperware you can sort and separate lids. Also, for the door, on the second shelf, if you prefer not to have anything go vertical, I would go out to either an office supply store, and get magazine holders. You could store lids in those. Or, assuming that this is a larger cabinet and when you do close the door that can rest there you can go get a mail separator sorter and put that on the door so it can close. That could also house the lids away from things and that allows you to separate your pans and your Tupperware by size. You can have the larger ones in the back and more used in the front.
Overall, do you recommend separating bowls and lids when it comes to food storage? Or should you keep them together so that you always have your match right there?
No, no, no. Whatever. I was working with a lady who was in her mid-40s who has ADHD. She wants to be organized but she cannot stay focused. She needs simple solutions that are quick because she doesn’t have the capacity to keep on task. So, are the socks in the sock drawer? Yes. Okay, that’s all you need. With the lids, as in my kitchen, if you were to go look at it it’s all the glass over here, all the plastic bins for storage right there, and then in the front every lid. There is no rhyme or reason but the lids are there. If you’ve got to grab and go you can at least visualize the sizes and go, “Oh, that’s large. Boom.”
Here are some reader questions. First: “1. How do you keep shoes organized? 2. How do you keep your whole closet from smelling like shoes?”
I went out and got a three-tiered shelf. I think mine’s from Walmart, and has more material pull-out drawers. So, all the flip-flops are in one. All the shoes are in another. Then just keep out the basic mainstays of one pair of flip flops, one pair of tennis shoes out in the main catch-all, so that way I’m not cluttered with shoes. For the seasons, I rotate, and so that goes back in the bin, either out in storage or under the bed, et cetera.
But this three-tiered thing has really saved my sanity because I don’t have a common space that has good airflow, just like some closets don’t, and so I don’t want shoe smell to overwhelm this corner of the front entranceway. Since this is more of a material drawer, I just spray it with essential oils on the inside, like Jojoba oil and tea tree. Tea tree is a natural disinfectant as is lemon, and then also with seasonal change, more peppermint. You just keep that in or around the lining and you’re good to go.
When you have kids, especially more than one, you are very often ahead of the game in terms of clothes. You get hand-me-downs from people or things to grow into. What systems have you advised people on what to do in terms of like how to keep clothes for the upcoming season, in a way that's out of the way, but also something that you remember is there?
This family that is my mainstay family, they just keep coming back for more because their kids are always growing. We do The Great Clean Out seasonally, after the end of the school year. Her kids are in private school, so uniforms cost enough, and she doesn’t want to relinquish every single top, so we go through everything that the in-between kids own. Not the oldest. We say, “Okay, what's ripped, stained, torn, gross? Goodbye. That’s gone.” Once that’s been either donated or disposed of, what are the staple pieces? Like seasonal coats, they always stay. Shrink wrap them. Put them in a box. You’re good. Shoes stay. Shoes are expensive. But as far as shirts go and everything else, does it fit the next kid’s personality? Because after age eight, they start going, “I don’t like that. I don’t want to wear that.” Well, now you’re storing stuff for literally nobody, so if it’s a neutral color shirt or neutral pants that are nice, pass them along. But other things, let them pick and choose. But store winter wear and summer wear in space bags. Absolutely vacuum seal that stuff down to a flat piece of paper and put it in the garage.
We put it on the Google calendar, and we schedule six months to a year out. We say, “Okay, on Christmas break for your kids, you’re going to dedicate one day to go through the closets because the kids are here. I can have them try it on.” It takes a three-hour block of your time and if they don’t like it, it goes or it lives in the next closet. You just do the great shift and everything just moves right along. After a while you realize this is not a whole day affair. It’s just a couple short hours. Yes, the kids might not be in the mood, but you get through it. “Put it on. Take it off. You’re good.”
What have you seen that is smart, especially for people in smaller spaces, when it comes to kids’ beloved papers and projects?
When I was a child, it was keeping all the artwork, every single math paper, everything for the year, and you put it in one 10-gallon tub, and that’s your tub for the year. At the end of the year when you do the clothing clean out, you sit down and you go, “Okay, you get five pieces of artwork from this year and two tests.” And the kid gets to pick. If the kid is not into it, you get to pick. If they don’t want any of it and you want all of it, you’re going to be scanning. Have it live in the cloud. Because guess what? If your house burns down tomorrow and they can’t get the stretchers in because you have too many damn papers, you’re in trouble. You have all this artwork you’re never going to hang up and now you’re just a storage facility. If everything is sentimental and important, nothing is important. Be very choosy.
Another reader q: “Every night after bath or shower, doesn’t matter which, my kids’ bathroom floor is like a wading pool. I end up wasting a perfectly good towel nightly wiping the stupid thing up because we’ve had some actual slips and falls. They’re not splashing like crazy so it’s baffling why there’s so much water but I would love some ideas on how to control it better! Is there a fancy bathmat that absorbs and dries better than the gross sponge (absorbs but never seems to dry) we currently own? Or a better system in general?”
I would guess that the shower head is just slightly angled or maybe there’s a mildew blockage on the head itself where it’s aiming outwards, and so it’s something not being caught. Moving forward, if they have a shower curtain, go to the hardware store and get the magnets so it can magnet to the wall. If it’s a track door I’m willing to bet it’s a caulking issue and it's coming out the track because the track is filling up with water.
But when it comes to your bath mat, and if it’s wet in there, what, just hang it up until it dries out? Or how much can you let something air dry on the floor? I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud.
I live in a 1939 house with lots of problems, and so in rehabbing this house, we have a thing called DampRid. It dries out the air while we’re not in there because our fan is just nonexistent in there. You don’t want to take a fresh towel, because now you’re doing laundry forever, so take the bath mat up, and if the kids are still leaving puddles and pools on the floor, save one old towel before you wash it and that could be the one that mops up the floor and now you wash your towels. Yes, you have a wet towel sitting in the dirty bin, but it will get washed, hopefully quickly before mildew forms. Instead of taking more supplies that are good, take what you have that’s been used to mop up the excess. The super absorbent bath mats, from what I’ve dealt with in other homes, don’t always dry completely. Something that’s cotton-based or something that isn’t polyester, something that has more airflow—they’re not always the best for catching water but they’re great for drying, so it’s kind of what evil I want to pick.
Are you the kind of person who lives in an extremely organized home and life? Or is it more of “Do as I say, don't do as I do?”
No, my mister is a chef, so in his off time, because he designs menus for restaurants, he likes to shop in bulk. We live in a tiny Los Angeles house, and we don’t have the real estate for it. If I need to go in there and cook for myself one day or whatever and I’m trying to find things, and it’s a nightmare. I give him free rein over that room, but it ends up being just a cluster of everything, and a lot of anger, and there started to be resentment, so I would go in while he’s at work and throw half the stuff away. It’s a delicate balance because I’m human like anybody else, but I try very, very hard to have a very organized home because I like knowing where things are and not wasting time digging. Because that just annoys me to no end.
Do you have a storage or organizing trick that’s good-enough instead of perfect that you think could help another witch? Please share below!
Thanks for reading Evil Witches, a newsletter for people who happen to be mothers. Feel free to forward this to someone who might find it useful. If you haven’t yet, I hope you consider becoming a paid subscriber which gets you bonus content and helpful/honest subscriber-only threads. This Friday’s we’re tackling the topic of expectations to have around young kids’ behavior and attitudes when there’s been a death in the family.
If you have any questions, feedback, or suggestions for the newsletter you can reply to this email or talk to other witches on Twitter. The newsletter archives live here. Here’s an issue from the archives about being a witch who works in a governmental role and another about how some witches tackle raising their kids with religion, or not.
Are you a witch who sent a child off to college in the last few years? I’m trying to pull together some practical advice for a future issue on eventually getting your child to campus and all set up. Some other upcoming topics to look out for or weigh in on include changing your last name after a divorce and how to arrange your professional resume to reflect your whole set of experiences, even if they’re not all 9-5 situations. What do these latter things have to do with children? Who cares.