The 12-Step Program for Making Major Changes

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Our friend, Jill, has enough energy to run a small, third-world country (the electric, we mean), so it was not surprising that she submitted a The 12-Step Program for Making Major Changes out of the blue this week, which she feels will be to the benefit of all. We are not ENCOURAGING long non-fiction pieces, mind you, but it is Friday, and she has done such a good job.

So……If you are faced with moving or have ever suffered through a move, read on……

“How many people in the world are messy and how many are anal retentive/obsessive compulsive neat freaks? Are people born with innate leanings toward one extreme or the other, or does this grow, develop, and/or mutate at a rate parallel to the maturing process?…..

These are questions that have spun around in my head of late as a result of re-organizing two apartments with my immediate family.

I just finished a 6 week stint of serving as the personal mover, designer, carpenter, organizer, shopper and all around slave for my mother and sister in New York City and Washington DC respectively.

It was, on the whole, a satisfying exercise both physically—putting in long hours of manual labor—and psychologically—learning how different I am from my family.

In general, if there is a pile to make, I will make it, clothes to fold, I will fold them, dirt visible, I will remove it, chaos in my midst, I will organize it. My mother and sister seem to be able to readily coexist with above imperfections but are happy when their environment improves. They pick up something, lose interest, get distracted and leave it somewhere else. They are not bothered by chaos. They make piles of which heavy things are at the top and little things
are at the bottom. Enough said.

As a result of moving each of them into their first owned apartments, I have created a 12-step program for making major changes to an apartment. It includes tips for all stages of the transition from departing the old apartment to living a content life in the new one.

1. Expunge during the packing process and then again during the unpacking process. When doing the expunging, question when the last time said object was used and whether it is upsetting to see that it exists in your life in the first place. When unpacking, place all like objects in a line so that you get the full effect of duplications. I did this for my mother, and my favorite moment was lining up 7 pair of nail cutting scissors in a row for her. When faced with the madness directly, it is hard to deny certain redundancies. It is easy to keep 6 flashlights when they live in various boxes and under random piles of clothes, but when you line them all up next to one other and count a total of 3 rooms in your apartment, you realize that you might not need all of those flashlights (even in our country’s permanent state of emergency).

2. When packing boxes, try to put very similar items together and label the outside of the box with the full range of its contents. Label 5 out of 6 sides of the box. You might even want to label different rooms’ boxes in different color marker so that they might be placed in the right area when first arriving at the apartment. Get similarly sized boxes so that they are easy to stack in piles—thereby using space as efficiently as possible—both in your first apartment, in the truck, and in the new apartment.

3. Place things that you might need immediately—a light, some food, a set of utensils and plates, a set of work clothes/nice clothes (you never know when a holiday will fall in the midst of your move process), toothbrush, soap, computer, cables and extension cords, bills to be paid with phone numbers of companies who will provide you with essential services—in a separate box labeled as this special box. This box will stay at the top of the current of boxes and will be available to you even when you lose knowledge of the location of any other single object. You never know when you will be delayed in unpacking and
settling in. My mother thought she would settle into her new apartment right away but because the paint, kitchen, and floors were not ready upon our arrival, we have been living on the perimeter of piles of boxes for the past 3 weeks, napping on park benches, showering at the JCC, and eating out every single meal!

4. Make sure that you provide as many details as possible to your contractor before the work begins. During the process, you might want to check in and provide feedback. If you are not happy with how something looks, make sure that it is corrected. Do not feel like you can’t complain about a certain result. As long as it is fixable, it should be fixed. That which cannot be fixed is somethingyou should be prepared to live with unless you want to pay additional costs. But also try to pick your battles. You want to remain on relatively good terms with this person throughout the renovations. (Can you tell that I threw a fit one too many times?)

5. When thinking about organizing the new apartment, try to first assess what you have. For example, it is a good idea to reveal all of your bathroom possessions—toiletries, makeup, first aid, pharmaceuticals, etc—to see what scale of storage needs you have. Similarly, you will want to take stock of the volume of books/records/cd’s you own before thinking about the kind of shelving unit you want. In addition to being familiar with the volume of content you possess, you should also evaluate how immediately you will want access to these things; whether you will want to hide it all, and lastly how much you want to spend to achieve your shelving needs.

6. Try to envision your closets serving ALL your needs. Things that have to be stored should find a home on a shelf—either open or behind a closed door. Don’t think of furniture as the solution. When working on my sister’s large studio apartment, I told her that the wall of shelves and the closet shelves that I was putting up were there to store EVERY SINGLE thing that she owned. If she succeeded in putting EVERYTHING away, she would then have the luxury of thinking about the aesthetic needs of the apartment. Furniture and decorative accessories could then be purchased for the sake of making life beautiful and comfortable and not because they would fit in the one remaining corner of the apartment or because they might be useful in being a receptacle for STUFF.

7. Have the right tools for every job. Yes, IKEA shows a little screw driver and a hammer in their instructions for assembling most items, but if you had a drill, your hands would be less sore from the permanent death grip required whenusing your Philips head screwdriver for many hours in a row. A level, a pencil, a tape measure, a drill with multiple drill bits, 2 screwdrivers, a hammer, tape, and good lighting should be sufficient.

8. Remember to drink water and listen to music you like, talk radio, or riveting NPR stories while you are in installation or assembly mode. It makes the work go more smoothly. Pay attention and use patience when measuring and connecting pieces. There are many ways to make mistakes and it is so little fun to have to do the same thing twice.

9. Even if you don’t live where there are earthquakes, it is a good idea to anchor bookshelves. When putting up shelves, use screws with anchors as most walls are plaster or dry wall and if you put in a naked nail or screw it will likely come out when you least desire it to do so.

10. In small apartments try to save floor space for nothing. Don’t be afraid of plain ol’ space. Space that is just there for you to be happy to see in all its emptiness; space that will hold friends standing around holding cocktails at a cocktail party; space for wheeling in a suitcase after a vacation and knowing that there will be somewhere to lay it down before putting it away; space for rolling around in when you are suddenly struck by the desire to do such a thing.

11. If you are scared of planning a color scheme for the bathroom, bedroom, or kitchen, don’t be afraid to buy white—towels, sheets, plates. There will be other ways to add color to the room—wall paint, a rug, furniture, artwork.

12. Lastly, remind yourself throughout what will undoubtedly be a difficult, stressful, and anxiety rising time in your life, that it is a good idea to do it right the first time and be happy for years to come. Don’t just “do it like this for now”, as tempting as it might be. ‘Now’ will become a very long time. You might as well sweat another 10 minutes, or make one extra trip to the hardware store, or paint the same corner for the 15th time because it really is easier now than later. And when it is all finished, you will be so proud of yourself and what can be achievedwith a little perseverance and a lot of patience.” Jill S. NYC