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Linda Samuels, CPO-CD®

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Monday
May062019

Ask the Expert: Felice Cohen & Thoughts About Clutter

Dynamic thought leaders are featured for the “Ask the Expert” interview series. In the past, we’ve spoken with experts including Todd Henry about next steps, Joshua Becker about fresh starts, David Allen about time management, and Gretchen Rubin about life balance. For May, I’m excited to have with us author, professional organizer, speaker, and Holocaust educator, Felice Cohen to share her insights about clutter.

Several months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Felice when we taped an organizing segment for the “Let’s Talk With Jodi!” show, airing this June.  Aside from being fascinated by Felice’s tiny apartment living experience, I enjoyed her wonderful sense of humor and practical ideas about organizing. Before we begin the interview, here is more about her.

 

Felice Cohen is an author of five books, a professional organizer, motivational speaker,  and Holocaust educator. You might have seen Felice in the YouTube video of her 90-square foot Manhattan studio. She moved into that small space for one reason: the low rent allowed her to quit her full-time job and finish writing her first book. She planned to stay only one year, but something happened during that time. Her life improved. 

When the YouTube video went viral, people asked for her advice on organizing and decluttering, and praised her philosophy about “living large” in a small space. That was the motivation for her second book, 90 Lessons for Living Large in 90 Square Feet (…or more), which tells how living tiny made her life larger, but it also offers lessons on how to live the life you want in any size space.

You can connect with Felice on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, blog, or website.

 

Linda Samuels: You pursued your dream of moving to Manhattan and becoming a writer. To afford that life, you chose to live in a tiny space with a minimal amount of stuff. What is one of the lessons you learned about living clutter free?

Felice Cohen:  In truth, I planned only to stay one year in that tiny space, but at the end of that first year, I discovered that living tiny and living with less gave me more. More time to do what I loved like writing, cycling, going to the theater, traveling. Plus, my stress went down. I no longer had to work long hours at a job I didn’t love to pay for extra space I didn’t need. As a result, my happiness went up, and I wound up staying 5 years.

 

Linda: In your book, 90 Lessons for Living Large in 90 Square Feet (…or more), you talk about the “Buh bye” concept, which you found helpful when you worked with organizing clients. Can you describe what it is and what made it useful?

Felice:  Getting rid of stuff can be hard. We are attached to things for many reasons, some because they’re sentimental or because we think we might need them. The “buh bye” concept adds humor to what can be a tough activity. When my clients say, “buh bye” out loud as they put something into the giveaway pile or in the trash, it not only lightens the mood, but it empowers them as though they’re saying, “I don’t need you. Buh bye!”

 

Linda: Some of us tend to accumulate more than we release, which can result in clutter. Can you share some advice to encourage us to let go?

Felice: Start by asking yourself: “What do I want my home to look like?” Everything in its place? No piles on the counters? Closets you can open without the fear of something falling on your head? Keep that image in mind as you work. Remind yourself this is your home, you should be happy there. It’s not easy to get out from under clutter, but it’s doable. Take baby steps. Also, as we grow up and get older, our lives change, and so do our tastes and passions and goals. You might be holding onto things from a previous chapter in your life. By letting them go, you’re making room for new chapters.

 

Linda: What is your most surprising discovery about clutter?  

Felice:  About how clutter has a huge effect on people, both mentally and emotionally. Clutter can cause depression and stress. It can also keep you from being productive and happy. Many people want to get rid of the clutter, but it can be overwhelming when you don’t know where to begin. Seeing clutter also tells your brain “you should clean this up” and makes you feel bad for not doing it. The trick is not to beat yourself up.

 

Linda: What has been your biggest personal challenge around clutter?   

Felice: I’m a very sentimental person so holding onto things from my past is my Achilles heel. Things like letters from friends and my varsity high school jacket. This stuff is still in my childhood bedroom on Cape Cod where I now spend my summers. At the beginning of every summer, when I get to my parents’ house, I spend a few hours the first weekend going through all of it. And every summer I get rid of a lot. I’m down to 2 totes from 10. Sometimes it takes us a while to get rid of stuff. Every year I get further and further from that time in my life, and it gets easier to let it go. 

 

Linda: Is there anything you’d like to share about clutter that I haven’t asked?   

Felice:  At the end of the day it’s not about the clutter, but about you. If you’re okay with the piles and the disorganization, fine. But if you’re not, do something about it. It’s not easy, but it’s not rocket science. Put on music that gets you moving and try to get rid of 5 things a day, whether for trash or donation. After a week that’s 35 things. That’s a lot.

Thank you, Felice, for joining us. You shared so many inspiring ideas and showed us that for you having less clutter and space equated to lower stress, more happiness, and time to pursue what you loved doing. It’s clear that you understand how letting go of things can be challenging. I love your suggestion to release five items a day and notice how quickly that yields significant results. As you said, “By letting them go, you’re making room for new chapters.”

Join Felice and me as we continue the conversation. What resonates with you?

 

 

 

 

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Reader Comments (14)

I love the idea of saying 'buh bye' as loudly as possible to the belongings as you let them go. Holding onto the positive images of how you want to live your life and how you want to feel in your space helps make the decluttering process less painful. I also like the way Felice has gone through her own memories in her childhood bedroom. So often people think they have to get it all done. What if you don't and go about the process over time? There are so many great take aways here. Thank you, Linda for this insightful interview.

May 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDiane Quintana

@Diane- I'm in total agreement with you about Felice's "buh bye" phrase! There's something powerful about being able to verbalize and acknowledge as we release those things that no longer belong in our lives. And having an action call that helps us feel the lightness as we go is especially effective. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get things done quickly or all at once. But being able to relax into the editing process (if we have that time, which we don't always have,) can make it more enjoyable and less stressful. We can lean into appreciating what was and then let go.

May 6, 2019 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Enjoyed the interview. I've seen Felicia's video on her tiny apartment and am fascinated by tiny living. She is on point about how clutter affects people.

May 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Schiesl

Another great interview, Linda. I love Felice's testimony about living large with less. This is the kind of idea we are discussing in our Minimalism meet-up group that meets once a month. I will definitely be sharing her book with our group. I am struck by her statement that living this way reduced her stress. Plain and simple. I can totally see this. It is a balance, and that balance is different for each person. It really is about how each of us, individually, wants to live. I'm also smiling about her still having items at her parents' house. I have boxes of my girls' memorabilia, and think I will for a long time. They are both in small and transitional living situations, so for now, it lives here!

May 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSeana Turner

@Janet- Thank you so much. I am fascinated by tiny living too. I can't get enough of the small house photos and how cleverly they organize everything so well in a small space. I fantasize about what it would be like to live in one of those homes and live with less stuff. My husband isn't ready to do that, and I don't think I am either. But it's enticing to think about.

May 6, 2019 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

@Seana- I'm so glad you enjoyed Felice's interview! I love that you have a monthly Minimalism meet-up group. Felice's book is definitely in alignment with that movement. I know she presents and attends at Tiny House and Minimalism conferences and is connected to many of the leaders in those movements. I hear you on having some of your daughters' memorabilia stored at your house. While they both edited their "keepers" before they left for college, some boxes remain. At some point, I know they will take them, but we're OK with storing them for now since we have more space. I remember when my mom kept asking me to take my 7-8 boxes of memorabilia from their house. I'd agree to take them, but then never did it. One day I arrived to discover the boxes neatly stacked in their entryway. There was no more postponing. I went through them, reduced them down to one or two boxes, which now reside in our home. That was probably 30 years ago. It's perhaps time to revisit those. :)

May 6, 2019 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Great interview, Linda. Memorabilia is my achilles heel. I do find the more the years between me and the experience or event, the easier it is to get rid of stuff.

May 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSabrina Quairoli

@Sabrina- I'm glad you enjoyed it! I hear you on the memorabilia part. Every so often I'll revisit a file or box of stuff and enjoy looking through it. But then again, I also find things I'm willing to release. For many items, the distance of time helps to let go. For others, it only makes it harder. It just depends upon what it is.

May 6, 2019 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I've missed your expert interviews. Thanks for introducing me to someone new and very interesting!

May 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Barclay

@Janet B.- Awww. That's nice to hear. I've missed doing them, but am looking forward to starting them up again. I'm glad you enjoyed this one with Felice. Did you have a chance to watch her video about living in the 90 square foot apartment? It's incredible and inspiring!

May 6, 2019 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Loved talking with Linda on this topic! Clutter is a huge part of our lives and a constant battle. Laughing and taking our time through the process can make it less painful and dare I say, fun!

May 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterFelice Cohen

@Felice- Thanks so much for joining us and continuing the clutter conversation. Never underestimate the power of introducing fun and laughter into the decluttering and organizing process. Going through stuff that brings up memories, disappointments, or long-gone aspirations can be painful. Any methods we can use to move forward in a gentler, kinder, more joyful way are excellent. That's one of the reasons I love your "buh bye" phrase so much.

May 6, 2019 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Great interview! I remember that viral video of Felice's small apartment. I like her tips on taking baby steps when letting go of stuff.

May 7, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Haworth

@Nancy- Thanks so much. How cool that you had already seen Felice's video that went viral. Taking baby steps is an excellent way of continually moving forward. Sometimes when we take on too much, we psyche ourselves out, or the process becomes too overwhelming. That can cause inaction. But taking small steps makes the process more doable and encourages our continuation of letting go of more.

May 7, 2019 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

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