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Relief Is In Sight

Reclaim Your Life and Home with Knoxville Home Organization

Article by Jennie Treadway-Miller

Photography by Megan Haun Photography

Originally published in West Knoxville Lifestyle

The Sandwich Generation – middle-aged folks who are still raising kids but also on the hook for helping their aging parents. This transitional season of life can be fraught with stress, worry, and exhaustion, and according to Pew Research Center, more than half of Americans in their 40s (and more than 30 percent of people in their 50s) are currently experiencing the squeeze of being pushed and pulled in multiple directions. 

One area of contention is centered squarely around the brick-and-mortar home, or rather, the stuff inside it. 

“One thing that happens a lot is adult children calling me for their parents because they are ready,” says home organization expert Allison Holt. “But when I ask them if they’ve talked to their parents, they often say no. The assumption is that an organizer is going to come in and throw everything away. Some people are ready to embrace where they are and let go of the past stuff so they can hold onto something else. Some aren’t. It’s about finding a balance.” 

Allison knows all about what it’s like to live sandwiched between her adult children and her mother and mother-in-law, both widowed, in their 80s, and still living independently. With more than 26 years of experience as a licensed Physical Therapy Assistant, it was her keen knowledge of function, dexterity, coordination, and other physical factors that prompted her to start her own home organization business ten years ago with a specific focus on helping people age in place.

“Part of my process in that first phone call – the Discovery Call – is to ask how ready they are for change. Are they willing to let go? People are usually honest. If they say they aren’t ready, then I’ll say, ‘think on it and call me back in six months’,” says Allison. “We do some measure of coaching, walking them through the process. Memorabilia is the hardest, but we don’t start with those things. That’s the last thing.” 

Knoxville Home Organization isn’t exclusively an aging-in-place business. Allison has had plenty of clients who need help cleaning out garages, reworking multi-purpose rooms, and scaling down belongings for empty nesters. However, Allison encourages everyone to think ahead and not wait until Mom or Dad has an emergency and the house suddenly needs to be wheelchair friendly. 

“The word I hear the most is overwhelmed. Following that would be shame and embarrassment. They don’t understand how they got here with the stuff. It’s almost like a confessional,” says Allison. “Part of what I recognize over the years is the gap between adult children and aging parents. They’ll bring things to me and say, ‘I’ve been saving this for my son,’ and I’ll say, ‘Have you asked him if he wants it?’ We’ll snap a photo and text the question to connect that gap. It provides an opportunity to address all the stuff and then it will lead to questions about if they have a will. It seems morbid, but I want to help people at my age so it’s not so touchy and taboo. We want to be proactive instead of reactive.” 

If the Discovery Call reveals that the client is indeed ready to do the work, then Allison sets an in-person consultation to review the space, discuss goals in more detail, and discern the next course of action. For the motivated person, sometimes an Organizing Blueprint is enough. Allison creates a plan of action, follows up with accountability phone calls, and stops by on occasion to check progress. 

However, most of her clients opt for the Done-For-You service, which involves a team of folks who walk alongside the homeowner on whatever project needs to be completed. Some clients prefer to be present for each step, but there are also clients who’ve handed Allison the keys and trust she’ll carry out the work within their agreed-upon parameters. Trust is crucial here. Allison is quick to say that nothing is thrown away without the client’s consent.

“We decide, based on what they’ve said and what I see, to get started with a team of guys and gals in a decluttering phase. We go through things that they must keep. We go through closets and discuss what sizes can be gotten rid of, what styles are out, professional clothes they don’t need… We reiterate their goals and the things they’re willing to get rid of,” says Allison. “If someone wants to touch every little thing before it’s gone, we’re probably not a match. It would take too long. I did more one-on-one in the early years, but we have a team approach now. It’s efficient, so we can get you to your outcome more quickly than if you were on your own.” 

The two biggest hurdles when it comes to home organization that involves some amount of downsizing are decision fatigue and addressing the emotional component of meaningful belongings. There are a lot of decisions to make when it comes to sorting through boxes, bins, closets, and garages. Knowing where to begin can be a paralyzing concept, one that prevents many people from tackling the same goal that resurfaces each year, wondering if this is the year they’ll finally clean out the attic.

“The questions I ask help us eliminate a lot of things. We don’t open the junk drawer and ask you if you want to keep each thing,” she says. “There are questions I guide them through: Do you use it? Do you love it? Does it fit? They’ll eventually get to, ‘Why did I keep this?’”

Technology is handy when it comes to memorabilia, particularly loose photos that can be digitized, while prioritizing function can help with meaningful gifts or hand-me-downs from loved ones. 

“An object triggers a memory, so some of the thought processes we go through is asking if there is something else in your home that’s from your grandmother that’s already displayed or useful? If so, we can get rid of the teapot in the back of the cupboard that’s never been used,” she says. “Structure and momentum are big things we bring to a project. Yes, it’s a service, but it’s also a relationship we’re building. We come into their home. They are trusting us with their personal things. Sometimes people need to go to counseling and work through some things, but we all have to deal with this stuff.” 

For more information, or to schedule a Discovery Call, visit KnoxvilleHomeOrganizer.com.

  • Allison Bolt