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A View on 'Stuff' from a Professional Home Organizer

Ellen Goodwin, Artifcts
September 21, 2021

Just before the launch of Artifcts, I was introduced to Jennifer Singleterry, owner of Sort and Order, a home organization company based out of New Braunfels, Texas. As you might expect, we hit it off. She deals with stuff all day, and we at Artifcts want to help people to remember, record, and preserve the stories behind their stuff.  

We laughed over a shared frustration, too. I told her my brother in Wisconsin always quips that someday, if left to his own devices and he was forced to clean out the home our parents have lived in for over 40 years, he would just give it all away. That makes me cringe. But all the stories! Grandpa's clogs from Holland, the country barn painting Mom did in college, the vinyl records that are a part of my parents' youth and my own Christmas memories. Everything just gone?!  

Jennifer had a similar story to share of a son she worked with recently who hired her to help transition out of their family home of 60 years. As it turned out, the family's ‘stuff’ included war memorabilia dating back to the civil war, such as tintype photographs and well-preserved handwritten notes from the era. The project was rich with legacy and family history. Jennifer said she felt emotionally exhausted by the sense of loss because it was so hard to go through these items and appropriately manage them and often the sons felt the same way and defaulted to getting rid of it. 

She felt emotionally exhausted by the sense of loss. 

A week later I could not stop thinking about my conversation with Jennifer. She said she works regularly with women especially who tend to take on the role of the family "keeper." You know that person I bet in your own family. The person who not only knows the birthdays and anniversaries, but keeps track of family photos, brings people together over the holidays to remember the origins of favorite ornaments and recipes, and, in the end, manages who gets what when a loved one passes away. 

Women especially tend to take on the role of the family "keeper." 

My complete interview with Jennifer

I sat back down with Jennifer last week to unpack this a bit more and get her perspective on how Artifcts could help. We thought that everyone could learn and benefit from us sharing our interview notes. So, here we go!

Ellen Goodwin: Why did you get into the home organization business? 

Jennifer Singleterry: My first foray into this business started with the passing of my grandparents and then my mother. When you're in this process personally you realize the emotional toll it takes on those closest to the situation. The emotional and physical attachment to things and the weight that bears in going through them. Another component here is that a lot of families may not have that person who is equipped to take on a project of that scale. That's where we can come in and help lighten the load. As an impartial but considerate party it is easier for our team to go through and delineate what is precious and boil it down to just those items in question and then decide how we handle these items. 

Goodwin: Tell us about the typical project you take on.

Singleterry: (Laughing) I've never had a single project that is remotely similar to another! They are as individual as our fingerprints. Never the same chaos. Actually, it's not even usually chaos. Usually people just don't know what to do with the stuff. We work with a lot of garages, closets, and pantries - high turnover, daily use places, that need to accommodate change. I go in big picture, with the first priority being to clean it all out and then intentionally put things back in a manageable system. We cannot see our own things! We have to bring it to light. 

We cannot see our own things! We have to bring it to light.

Goodwin: Is there a typical client?

Singleterry: Yes and no. Really it's simply that someone has finally had enough of the inertia of not knowing what to do or how to do it with their own space and was referred to us while telling this tale of woe. Or they have just gotten overwhelmed with their situation and need someone to help. It's the feeling that made someone Google "home organizer" or "estate transition." You know this feeling on a project.  

Goodwin: You have an inside track to everything personal and mundane that we all keep (and maybe forget about!) in our homes, garages, etc. Has a client ever been surprised or excited maybe when you've discovered something they forgot about or thought was lost?

Singleterry: Every. Single. Time. A funny anomaly about humanity - we don't know what our “thing” is that contributes to the overwhelming situation. In every project it's been fun to see what a person's thing is. For one person, it was journals, 30 of them or more. Some journals had just one page used, in some none of the pages were used. For another person it was makeup and other beauty products, some in daily use, some for travel, some for special occasions. We had a whole box at the end and the woman said, "I had no idea I had this problem!" For another it was reusable bags, many with the original price tags still on them. There were more than 100 of them! 

The coolest thing that I have ever found was in an 80-year-old woman's closet. Her family was a founding family of New Braunfels. She asked me to pull down a box from the very top of the closet. Inside was the original bible from 1843 that was brought over on the boat with her family from Germany. It was in wonderful condition. It even had the family genealogy in it. I felt like we should have worn gloves to handle it! It should be in a museum, in a collection somewhere, kept safe, because what happens if the keeper isn't there to keep it anymore? 

In an 80-year-old woman's closet ... was the original bible from 1843 that was brought over on the boat with her family from Germany.

Goodwin: Some stuff really is just stuff. What happens to the stuff your clients decide not to keep?

Singleterry: We do our best to take things where they go, to give items another life. Some call it re-homing. We try to take women’s and children's clothing, bedding, and toys in good condition to the local women's crisis center. A lot of home goods, lumber, surplus hardware, and industrial items go to Habitat for Humanity, because they have the need and foot traffic to utilize it. Miscellaneous goods go to local charities. When an estate sale is part of the project, the majority goes through that avenue and then we work with a company that takes goods that did not sell to be sold onward from another location. If at the very end it's trash, unwearable, unsaleable, unusable... it goes to trash.

Goodwin: You know the story of Artifcts. How do you think Artifcts could help you in your work with your clients? 

Singleterry: Artifcts is invaluable. If I had known about this, even just weeks ago, I could have employed this system for good. Families have histories and members of a family can engage with that history together on Artifcts from anywhere. One sister has the desk, but here's the story, and all family members can see it.  

Artifcts gives objects another life. So often when I'm hired, especially if the person is deceased, the history is lost, the stories do not transfer with the items. This would literally be a way to continue the story, to carry on the life that they began. A person had a bond with an item and there was a story there - what did a postcard mean to be sent from someone far away and to be saved by the recipient? It's a piece of an experience, a bigger story. 

Artifcts gives objects another life... a way to continue the story, to carry on the life that they began.

< End of Interview >

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the stuff in your life, try Artifcting (start free here). You might find that by taking it one Artifct at a time, it is fun and rewarding to parse out the meaningful objects from the other stuff that might be crowding your garage, bedroom, closets, attic, and other convenient hiding places! If you need help getting started, explore our virtual and in-person Concierge Services. 

If you’re in the New Braunfels or surrounding area and likewise need help rescuing a chaotic space to clearing out an estate, contact Jennifer at jenn@sortandorder.life or call her directly at (830) 500-0142.

###

© 2021 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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1. CONNECTION

If you are going to make your niece cart around a sitting Buddha sculpture for her remaining days as part of your last will and testament, you could at least tell her why!

Wills and estate plans by nature focus on the what and often neglect the why. And that’s if the will even references an itemized list of tangible assets! The reality then is loved ones may act out of obligation to respect your wishes and hang onto the items you give them but with a tinge of disgruntled acceptance. 

2. REDUCED CONFLICT

Imagine two people who feel equally attached to an object that once belonged to a deceased loved one. In the will, the object goes to one of those people. To squash any potential disappointment or misdirected anger at the recipient, the owner could share the why and explain the bond between the person and/or object and recipient. Closure, in this case, is another great gift of the why. 

3. LASTING MEMORIES & LEGACY

Your loved ones want to remember you. But memory is fickle. And sometimes, that's your own doing. Did you make up three different versions of events as to how that painting came into your collection? Did you ever tell the story? Set the record straight with any combination of photos, video, audio, and a brief (or long!) story as you Artifct the truth of that object. 

Your loved ones want to remember you. But memory is fickle.

4. BETTER PREPARATION

How many of you reading this have an up-to-date will or estate plan? Odds are you do not, at least according to a report from Caring.com, which said that two out of three US adults and half of UK adults do not have a will.  

Introducing items you cherish into your plan and/or at least into the discussion if you're working with a real live estate planning attorney helps to ensure that your assets will be directed to the correct people, your wishes carried out. It also helps the professionals you rely on to guide you to better understand you and support the full scope of your financial, insurance, tax, and estate plans. 

Join us tomorrow as we discuss these themes and more during Evenings with Artifcts, with guest speaker Dutch Miller. RSVP now > 

Happy Artifcting! 

###

Did we miss a superpower of “why?” Let us know at Editor@Artifcts.com and we may feature your addition! 

© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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The Evenings with Artifcts Series, Fall 2022

Throughout fall 2022, we're hosting Evenings with Artifcts on Thursday evenings. Our guests in this nine-part series dive into the world of 'stuff' and stories. Below we've provided a week by week feature for each speaker in the series and direct links to the speaker's Artifcts, other related ARTIcles by Artifcts, and the Evenings with Artifcts event recordings. 

Want to suggest a speaker for future live events? We'd love to hear from you! Please contact us at Editor@Artifcts.com.

EVENINGS WITH ARTIFCTS

Matt Paxton joins Evenings with Artifcts

Week 1: Matt Paxton (@IAMMATTPAXTON)

Host of the TV show Legacy List with Matt Paxton

DOWNSIZING, CLEANING, ORGANIZING, STORY TELLING

 

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Week 2: Jeff Greenwald (@Jeffji)

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Week 3: Dutch Miller (@Gardenboy)

Estate planner, hobby family historian, Smithsonian volunteer

ESTATE PLANNING, FAMILY HISTORY & LEGACY

 

Related content:

- Gift Your Loved Ones a "Why" (Coming soon!)

- Visit Event replay on YouTube > (Coming soon!)

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Not Sure What to Write? Tips from Guest Jeff Greenwald

He's authored 1000s of articles, several books, and what's maybe the first known travel blog. And on Thursday night during Evenings with Artifcts Jeff Greenwald shared with us simple but powerful tips, and a healthy dose of perspective, to help us craft our own stories behind the objects of our lives.  

Watch the full Evenings with Artifcts event here.

  • It is hard to write about an object with no personal meaning but even harder when it has tremendous personal meaning. Bear that in mind and go easy on yourself. 

  • Start with something true. This is the trick to writing anything nonfiction. For example, start with a little line about where you got the object: “I bought this in a street market in Istanbul.” And from there go on to describe the scene a little bit and what happened there that connects you with the object.  

Start with something true.

  • Other starters for your Artifcts:  

        • Where were you when you acquired the object? 
        • Was it a gift? Who gave it to you? Tell a bit about them. What was your relationship with them that they felt they should give you a gift like that? “The moon Rocket was a gift for my friend Dave Mccutcheon, and he and I have been friends for many years and share a love of robots and spaceships and dinosaurs... all those things we loved when we were kids.” 
        • Why is it important to you?
        • What feelings does it evoke in you?
  • If a story comes to mind, you can just start jotting it down anywhere. Let your thoughts go where they will. It can be a collection of random thoughts that you can look at later and put together into some sort of a story structure. 

  • We all have stories. Writers block comes from our internal critic. It challenges you with, “Why would anybody want to read it? What could you have to say? What makes you think you're so great that anyone should listen to anything you're telling them?” You have to tell yourself, “I have a right to do this because I’m a human being with a story, and the story deserves to be told whether or not you, my internal critic, thinks that it does.” Push the internal critic aside. 
I’m a human being with a story, and the story deserves to be told.
  • If you value the stories and need motivation to begin capturing and preserving those stories with Artifcts, make a deal with yourself like Jeff did. Jeff made a pact to give away the objects once their stories were told. Maybe you’ll choose to Artifct twice per week. Or perhaps you’ll start with those items that are most meaningful to you.  

  • A bit of advice Jeff shared from esteemed author Kurt Vonnegut: Write your stories as though you are writing them for one person, as if you are telling this person each of the stories. It gives all the stories a similar tone, a singular voice. 

  • Always include when and where the object was acquired. These are important details.

  • Struggling with a title? Write out 10 of them. It will help you to start to shape your story, too.

Our stuff, the objects that we collect, that inspire us, they are really not what's important. We do not need to keep them. The only thing that is important are the stories, and the only way to keep the stories is to tell them.

###

© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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