De-clutter, discover

Home fire prompts new business

Sentinel photo by BUFFIE BOYER
Professional organizer Betsy Kramer makes a point during her de-cluttering program at the Juniata Valley Home and Garden Show in Reedsville.

REEDSVILLE — Pretty much everyone has clutter in their homes, especially the people who stopped by Betsy Kramer’s presentations at the recent Juniata Valley Home and Garden Show.

It was apparent that clutter is rampant by the chuckles and head-nodding coming from the audience at the program “De-Clutter and Discover Life’s True Treasures,” put on by the professional organizer, motivational speaker and author.

Kramer has been in the business of helping people de-clutter their lives for 12 years, a business that evolved after every single thing she and her family owned was destroyed in a fire.

In 2001, Kramer, her husband and daughter were on vacation at Disney World in Florida. As they were enjoying the park, they received a phone call with the news that there was a fire at their house in Elysburg.

“My father, who lives about three miles away, could see our home burning from his house,” Kramer said.

“We lost everything.”

Being forced to start all over again led Kramer to make the decision to also become more organized. That led to her helping family and friends with organization, which led her to the Small Business Development Center at Bucknell University. That led her to create her own business, Cash In Clutter, in which she offers professional organizing services.

Kramer’s life experience taught her lessons she she imparts to others:

1. We are not our things.

Kramer explained that she, her husband and daughter went to Disney World with a house full of things. When they came back and had to live in a spare bedroom in her parents’ home. “We were the same people,” she said. The things that were lost in the fire were just things.

2. Memories do not collect dust. Kramer told the audience that in the fire, she lost a collection of glass baskets that had belonged to her grandmother. The collection was stored in a bin in a basement storage room. At first, Kramer said, she was upset because she thought she had lost the only thing that she had of her grandmother’s. But she soon realized that the glass baskets were not her grandmother’s. Kramer actually “inherited” a love for enthusiastically celebrating holidays from her grandmother, and that was not destroyed in the fire.

“Be very careful that your memories do not collect dust,” Kramer said.

3. Things are what we use to fill the void between who we think we are and who we really are.

The fire that destroyed her family’s home was not the only unexpected trial in Kramer’s life. In February 2016, while organizing a client’s home, she suffered a seizure that led to the discovery of a large brain tumor. A few days later, she had surgery, which proved to be successful.

Her story inspired a list of reasons why people should organize their lives.

“You organize not because you are going through something now, but because you are planning for what might happen in the future,” she said.

One reason people do not organize is because they are overwhelmed, Kramer said. She offered five steps for overcoming that feeling of being overwhelmed:

1. Stop worrying about it. Take a step back.

2. Take baby steps. Create small tasks, rather than focusing on the end goal. For example, understand that you are not going to do the entire job in a weekend — remember that it took much longer than that to accumulate the clutter in the first place. Set up smaller tasks — such as filling one bag of clutter to discard each week, or vowing to get rid of 10 items at a time.

3. Ask for help, or accept help when it’s offered.

4. Prioritize your time. Don’t say “yes” every time someone asks you to do something, or you will be the one who will be asked time and time again.

5. Re-evaluate your standards. Even if you have a preferred way of doing a task, like folding towels, let a helper do it his or her way. “Give up the control,” Kramer said. Give up perfectionism, and just do the best you can.


Clutter is in the kitchen, in the garage, in your purse, on the kitchen table, Kramer acknowledged. And it comes in many forms:

1. Things that were once useful, but no longer are. People say they don’t want to get rid of these things because they don’t want to fill up the landfills. “But your home then becomes a landfill,” Kramer said.

2. Things that do not inspire you. “If you don’t like it, let it go,” she said.

3. Items that do not have a home. Newer homes are larger than ever, with two and three bay garages, and there are now storage units available for rent, so if there is no place in your home for all of your things, you have too many things.

4. It might be worth something. Kramer advises checking with an antiques appraiser or eBay to find out what people might pay for your items, then decide what to do with them.

5. Unfinished projects.

6. Put-off decisions. Try not to store off-season items and clothing in attics or you’ll forget about them and may purchase more when the season comes around again.

After identifying clutter, Kramer pointed out the reasons people have clutter.

“The number one reason is guilt,” she said. People keep things because someone gave it to them, or they spent money on them, or they once loved them.

“The number two reason is fear,” Kramer added. People keep things, especially paperwork, because they think they might need them one day.

“My whole house burned down,” Kramer said. “And I’m just fine. You don’t have to keep everything forever.”

Find out the length of time it’s necessary to keep various documents and statements, and discard the older ones. “Paper clutter is a big issue,” Kramer said. Just keep the most important papers — such as wills and deeds — in fire- and waterproof boxes.

Kramer pointed out that clutter comes with a great cost — from avoiding relationships because you’re embarrassed to invite people to your home, to a loss of productivity, a loss of income, a loss of self-respect, and an inability to live for the future by being stuck in the past.

She offered a few steps “you can do now:”

1. Stop the guilt –if you don’t really like something, don’t keep it.

2. Stop being a perfectionist. “Perfect isn’t real,” Kramer said.

3. Prioritize your life and goals.

4. Stop buying stuff to store stuff. “That’s not the first step. The first step is to minimize. Minimize, then store,” Kramer said.

5. Allow yourself to get rid of things that are not inspiring to you.

6. Shop your home. Utilize things you’ve been storing; move things around to change the decor.

7. Stop putting off decisions about whether or not to keep items.

For more information, visit www.cashinclutter.com.


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