Dealing with Grief and Organization as Professional Organizers

I bought an oversized stuffed bunny the day my mom died. I am not sure why I did, but it seemed to help me at that time. My mother died in March and, as for most people, it is a very difficult experience to go through, not only as a daughter, but as a professional organizer. 

My mom and I were not real close — I was raised by my father from the age of ten and lived with him in Wisconsin. My mom lived in El Paso after their divorce. She suffered from various mental health issues and addictions, but waited to deal with them near the end of her life. She lost her left arm in a horrible trolley car accident at the age of seven, which affected her life quite a bit and may have contributed to her addictions and issues. I became very involved with my mother’s care a few years ago as her POA and executor of her will. I have three siblings; however, they are estranged from my mother, so I took on the task of making sure bills were paid and things were being taken care of for her. I live in Pittsburgh and she lived in El Paso adding geographical challenges. I usually went to El Paso every few months for the last few years to take care of things for my mom and to visit her. Luckily, I have a cousin in El Paso and a wonderful nurse’s aide who was my eyes and ears with me living so far away.


I realized as her daughter and POA, I needed to make sure issues were taken care of and organized. Having life issues addressed and organized with a loved one is very important, as I found out firsthand through this experience. I always have heard and known as a professional organizer how important it is to have a will in place, funeral arrangements taken care of, and what will happen to belongings.  With my interests focused on helping the chronically disorganized, the professional organizer in me needed to make sure these things were done.

One of my first tasks was getting her will in order and becoming her POA. I went through many months of getting bills switched over to me and setting up a bank account in Pittsburgh for her so I could take care of her bills. I had to deal with getting Social Security and an Army pension deposited into this account and it took a little while and considerable effort to do so.

My mom went into hospice eight months before she died and the hospice asked me several times about whether funeral arrangements were in place. I procrastinated, of course. Facing your parent’s mortality is difficult; however, it made sense to get these things in place. I finally did make the funeral arrangements for my mom six weeks before she died. I am so glad I took care of the arrangements prior to her death. It made an enormous difference in my life to not have to worry about what to do and make these decisions after she died.


Fortunately, I was able to get to El Paso to see my mom the day she died. I got there just after noon and she died around 11 pm on March 16. After she died, the funeral home was called. Having it already set up was a relief for me. The next morning, I needed to go to the skilled care place where my mother lived and clean out her small room. Prior to her death, each trip I would go through her belongings with her and take things back with me. My mother had me take most of her photographs, memorabilia, and more. I also had discussed with her what her last wishes were. This was not an easy conversation to have, but it allowed for her to make decisions and also prevented me from always wondering if I did as she wanted. The last trip before my mother’s death, I took her art supplies (my mother was an artist). As I loaded paint brushes and palettes in my suitcase, I realized all the things that are important to her are going with me and she probably was not going to live much longer. 

After her death, it was very emotional going through her clothes– folding them for donation to the community. I didn’t think it would be that hard, since we were not that close and I had things organized ahead of time, but it was. My cousin and my husband came to help me clear out the room, too. My cousin wanted to let go of her clothing very quickly and then I realized how hard it is for our clients to do this. My cousin was helping me; however, I felt these things were not being honored.

My mother’s ashes were buried at Fort Bliss National Cemetery six weeks after her death. This decision had been made and arranged before she died.  Now I understand how being organized was so important.


Many of our CD clients procrastinate about many things, including dealing with the death of a loved one. As a professional organizer, it is so important to help our clients with these issues. For example, we must realize the importance of understanding their feelings and emotions while honoring their loved one’s things as they are letting go of them, giving them the space and time to do this.

If we are working with a client in making prearrangements, it is important to guide them in:

· gathering paperwork so you know what is happening

· updating the will or making a will

· understanding the bills so when a death does come you are organized and not searching for things

· talking to a parent about what they want done when they die

· asking if they want to be cremated or buried

· finding out if they want to have a service of some kind

Knowing what your loved one wants and starting the process of helping them or you taking care of the funeral arrangements before their death is very important. It was peace of mind for me knowing to have the funeral prearranged. I didn’t have to worry about what to do with my mother and run around trying to find a funeral home in the city I was born in, but not familiar with, with little time. As professional organizers, it is important to stress to our clients the importance of being organized when caring for a loved one.


As for the bunny…I went to store to buy some cookies for the staff at the skilled care place that had taken care of my mother. As I was going to the checkout, a big stuffed rainbow colored bunny was staring at me. I recalled my aunt telling me that when my mom lost her arm at seven years old, she received many stuffed animals from the people of El Paso who read about her accident in the newspaper. That may have influenced me as I picked up that giant stuffed rabbit and bought him. As professional organizers, we know how hard the stuffed animals are to find a new home for. When I got to my car with my husband and drove to my cousin’s home, I hugged that big bunny. I guess I needed it for my own grief. The bunny helped me. As a side note, my cousin has a granddaughter who is two years old and the bunny now lives with her. 


Don’t Toss My Memories in the Trash

Don’t Toss My Memories in the Trash: A Step-by-Step Guide to Helping Seniors Downsize, Organize, and Move has been rated by as one of the top 100 books on aging. Ophelia has been reading Don’t Toss My Memories in the Trash and wants to ensure you are aware of this guide and also The Moving Workbook. Utilizing both of these tools are essential to ensuring a smooth transition for you or a loved one you are helping to downsize, organize, and move.

Vickie Dellaquila, author of Don’t Toss My Memories in the Trash, draws her experience as a professional organizer and senior move manager to share her most valuable tips on downsizing and moving. This book will help you downsize, organize, and move in an organized, efficient, and caring manner. With her background in healthcare and social services, Vickie brings expertise and warmth to helping seniors face the physical and emotional aspects of moving to a new home. Whether you are a senior embarking on this new chapter of your life or are helping family members or friends downsize and move, this book is your roadmap.


The Moving Workbook is based on the Don’t Toss My Memories in the Trash. This 32 page workbook will help keep you organized for your upcoming move. The workbook is filled with practical forms that will help you easily track the details of your upcoming move. It is large (8 1/2 by 11) with large print, and it is meant to be written in.

Included in the workbook:

  • A checklist of rooms to downsize
  • A form for mover information
  • Forms for antique, eBay information
  • A place to keep track of charities
  • A furniture placement floor plan grid
  • Real estate agent and other service provider forms
  • Utilities form
  • Methods for keeping track of address changes, including newspapers, magazines, doctors, banks, and more!


Get both and save! Please visit for more information on how to save by purchasing both Don’t Toss My Memories in the Trash and The Moving Workbook.

Avoid Emotional Chaos

Ophelia is back to reading today and is reading Chapter 11 of Don’t Toss My Memories in the Trash. Here is an excerpt from the chapter:

Matt had been an avid hunter and gun collector most of his life. As a teenager, he collected a wide range of firearms, from rifles to historical guns from World War II. He displayed his collection in his study and enjoyed telling the history of it to anyone who was interested.

When Matt decided to move to a new apartment in a retirement community, he knew he wouldn’t have room for the gun collection and tried to decide what to do with it.

HIs nephew, Ryan, loved to listen to Matt’s stories about each gun. Though Matt knew the collection had some monetary value and could be sold, he felt he would rather give it to Ryan. He thought Ryan would appreciate the collection and care for it. So Matt kept a few pieces for himself and gave the rest to his nephew.


However, Matt’s daughters, Nancy and Elaine, disagreed with that decision. Though they never liked their dad’s gun collection, they thought it should be sold. “He could use the money to help furnish his new apartment,” Nancy said. What Nancy and Elaine failed to understand was that it was Matt’s collection, and its fate was totally his decision.

Matt explained to them that he did not care as much about the money as he did about the collection finding a good home with someone who appreciated it. Though they still didn’t agree with his decision, they now understood why he gave the collection to Ryan.

Lilly’s Story

Lilly was an only child and only grandchild on one side of her family. Her parents found the perfect home in which to raise their daughter: a large home with plenty of play room. Lilly’s parents had moved from their home from another part of the country, and some of the boxes from the move remained unopened and unpacked for decades in the basement and attic.

Over the years, Lilly and her parents were fortunate enough to travel all over the world. In these travels, they continued to collect and acquire many treasures which filled their large home and summer home. The number of items, including art, sculptures, jewelry, along with several thousand magazines, newspapers, letters, books, mail, clothing, photos and slides, continued to grow in their homes. They worked hard to acquire their things over many decades.

Lilly’s grandparents owned a home and farm and had acquired keepsakes throughout their lives as well. Having lived through the Great Depression, and in addition to building their treasures from around the world, they had accumulated many newspapers, magazines, letters, receipts, and clothes.


After fifteen years of the living in the house, Lilly’s mother became ill with a debilitating long-term disease. Lilly’s grandfather died prior to her mother’s illness and her grandmother became ill during this time period. Lilly’s grandmother passed away while her mother was sick, and Lilly and her parents inherited the items from one of her grandparent’s homes and the boxes and items were placed in the basement, where they sat for a decade. Her father was too involved with taking of his ill wife, so he unfortunately never got a chance to deal with the grandparent’s homes. The main house, along with its contents became frozen in time.

Several years later, Lilly’s mother passed away when Lilly was in college. Lilly and her father were devastated by their loss. In dealing with the loss of their wife and mother, not only were the grandparents belongings not dealt with, but their own home was left and little was done after her death. Since there was limited family, all four homes belonged to Lilly’s father after the death of her grandparents and his wife. Each of the four homes remained cluttered and untouched, for many years.

My work with Lilly lasted 14 months. When Vickie first met Lilly, she was embarrassed and ashamed of her home and the other homes. She didn’t like to have any friends over to her home because of the clutter. The home was filled with treasures from the past, hospital supplies from her mother, and years and years of accumulated clutter.

Vickie began to work with Lilly. Typically, they worked with a team of two or three professional organizers, along with others as needed, as they unearthed her house and other homes. Lilly was overwhelmed and, like so many people in these situations, did not know where to start this process. She went through many emotions: she learned so much about her family-her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. She found many treasures of monetary and sentimental value as a result of the de-cluttering and organizing process. She also learned quite a bit about herself and her family, what she is capable of accomplishing, and she also achieved emotional closure for herself. We moved on to the other homes in the same manner.


Here are some of things we found during the process:

  • A considerable amount of cash
  • Approximately 20,000 slides and photographs
  • Mounds and mounds of paper, including letters and junk mail
  • A large stamp and coin collection
  • Large amount of jewelry
  • Approximately 3,000 magazines
  • Several thousand books
  • Closets of used and unworn clothing and shoes

Lilly also received a significant amount of money from selling items on eBay and to an antique dealer. We filled five dumpsters and had several loads of items donated to various charities.

Lilly is now able to invite friends into her home without embarrassment, and is ready to move on with her life. After all sales and finishing up with the homes, Lilly moved to an apartment and is happy, organized, and has closure.

Here is what Lilly had to say about her experience….

“I couldn’t have done this without Vickie’s help. I remember the first day I met with her, and showed her around my home. She took everything in without judgment, and explained how she worked, and how I would work with her. For the next 14 months, Vickie and her team of organizers helped me immensely. We spent days on end clearing out rooms, working with haulers, and filling up dumpsters. Vickie’s expertise on antiques was also extraordinarily useful – she knew who to call and connect me to in order to get the best prices for the antiques and collectable items in the house. Cleaning out these houses was a huge project, but the end result was an organized house that I could be proud of. I would recommend Vickie’s services to anybody who is interested in clearing out a house, downsizing a house (and their life!), or even someone that’s let their clutter get the best of them. Through the process of cleaning out my houses, Vickie became my friend and ally. She’s a consummate professional, and a supportive and effective organizer!”

Senior Move Management

What is a Senior Move Manager/Professional Organizer?

Senior Move Managers and Professional Organizers assist seniors with the emotional and physical aspects of moving from their home to a smaller home, apartment, retirement community, or to assisted living. Senior Move Managers/Professional Organizers becomes the “project manager” for the entire event. From the beginning of making the decision to move, to the unpacking and making of your bed, we do everything so you don’t have to. Moving is stressful enough, but leaving your home of 5 to 60 years can be very difficult. We are the expects and we are here to help you.

If you are at the point in your life where you have too much stuff in your home and want to downsize, Organization Rules can help.

Chronic Disorganization and Hoarding Services for Seniors

Many times, senior moves to a retirement community, senior high-rise, or assisted living and sometimes organizational issues occur. It may be paper disorganization, stuff disorganization, chronic disorganization, or possibly hoarding. Sometimes a senior wants to age in place, but has problems with organization in their home. We can help a senior, whether in their home or a retirement community, with chronic disorganization or hoarding.


How Organization Rules Will Help You

  • Meet with you in your home and make a plan with you of how we will go through the process of downsizing.
  • Establish timeline for the downsizing and moving process
  • Sort through your things with you and help you decide what you really want in your new home
  • Help you decide if unwanted items can be donated, sold or if they should be discarded
  • Assist in deciding where to donate items
  • Make referrals to antique dealers, estate sales dealers, E-bay dealers, real estate agents, cleaning services, and others
  • Overall management of the move from the beginning to moving day
  • Assist in making a plan for placement of your belongings and furniture in your new home


Passing Things On

Ophelia is in a reading mode today and her recommended reading of the day is a passage below from Don’t Toss My Memories in the Trash: A Step-by-Step Guide to Helping Seniors Downsize, Organize, and Move.

When Harold realized he could no longer live by himself, he and I began to go through his memorabilia from his long career as a salesman. He had saved everything from his job – old pay stubs, employee handbooks, advertising campaigns, personal logs, and even a lighter with the company’s logo that he received as an employee appreciation gift. His career was a very important part of his life, and he did not want to toss the evidence of his hard work in the trash. Though Harold had no close relatives, he wanted someone to remember him.

He and I visited our local historical museum and found many artifacts from churches, Girl Scout Troops, and local companies. They were interested in using some of Harold’s personal records, pay stubs, and even the lighter to showcase his former employer.


Harold was pleased with the donation. He enjoys visiting the museum and is able to tell his acquaintances that he has contributed to a small piece of historical preservation.

The following is a passage from Don’t Toss My Memories in the Trash. Please visit to learn how to get a copy of this book today to read more about this topic.

What is Virtual Organizing?

Virtual Organizing is a process that helps you organize your space ( a room or your whole home) and your time without the organizer being physically present, but rather virtually connected! We utilize photographs and communicate via phone, Skype, or FaceTime. We can connect with you wherever you are.

If you enjoy connecting virtually or have limited time and budget, Virtual Organizing may be for you!


For Virtual Organizing to be successful you need to be able to…

  • Connect via phone, Skype, or FaceTime
  • Send digital or physical photographs
  • Do some physical organizing on your own with a plan that is laid out for you
  • Complete assigned tasks between sessions? (You certainly don’t have to complete any tasks you don’t want, however the organizing process moves along faster if you do)

Virtual Organizing sessions are held in one or two hour scheduled sessions. The length of the session will be determined by the client and the professional organizer based on schedules and availability. Sessions are paid via MasterCard, Visa, or check upon booking. Upon scheduling, you will receive a series of questions to start the process. A combination of virtual and on-site organizing can be done if the client lives in the Pittsburgh area.

Let us help you! Connect via phone, Skype, or FaceTime to get started with virtual organizing!

For more information or to get started, send an email to .