Having that ‘aha’ moment: Home renovation lessons from an expert organizer


These past two years have been a learning experience on many levels for me and my husband. It all began before we ever heard of COVID, in August 2019, when I finally had enough of the damaged countertops in our kitchen. That was my first “aha organizing moment” when I realized that it was time to remodel the kitchen.   

When it comes to the kitchen, keep the essentials and scrap everything else. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

I don’t cook; hence, the kitchen is my husband’s domain. We both work in the field of home organizing, so together we sorted through all the drawers and cabinets to determine what we were going to keep, recycle, donate or toss. I discovered that we had what I felt was a ton of unnecessary gadgets and supplies, many of which had never been used or were past their expiration dates. (Hard for me to admit this, but yes, it’s true.) “Aha!” 

Many decisions were made, including colors, materials for cabinet doors, countertops and the backsplash. We made some minor design changes to allow for us to continue to age in place. In the end we downsized our supplies, dishes, glassware and utensils to exactly what we use. The selection of random coffee mugs that were gifted to us were donated since the sizes of the mugs were not to my liking. Although each mug had a fond memory of the person or company who gifted us, we did not want our new cabinets filled with items kept for reasons of guilt. It was all about usefulness. Sound familiar?  “Aha!” 

In the bathroom, narrow down the number of cosmetic products to make best use of limited storage space. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Further into 2020, we decided to put a plan in place to remodel our primary bathroom. It’s a small space with limited storage, but it works for us. We chose to go with a pedestal sink versus a cabinet under the sink, although we knew that we were giving up valuable storage space. All items stored under the old sink were removed, sorted and decided upon. We installed a large vanity mirror that better suits our baby boomer need for bright lighting and has more storage shelves inside than your typical medicine cabinet. The new, decorative glass shelving over the toilet became the perfect place to display a few of my hair products, narrowing the selection down from four to one.   

I had a bit of remorse for money spent on products that brought little or no value to my life, but I quickly got over that once I saw the remodeled bathroom (which we now refer to as the “spa”) take shape. Just as we tell our clients when we enter their home, “we enter with no judgment,” I maintained that credo for me. I was now my own client.   

Garage organization decisions are often much easier because they’re less emotional. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

In case you think I had enough of downsizing our home contents, we decided to make 2021 the year of the garage remodel. In preparation for the demolition, one cool summer morning my husband and I moved everything out of the garage and sorted into piles. Keep: the two cars (of course), the garage vacuum cleaner, the organizing supplies such as wrapping paper for moves, cartons, contractor bags and the car washing supplies (hose, bucket, nozzle). Gone: rickety ladder, lawn chemicals, half the number of old towels and rags for car washing, parts of appliances that we no longer own and old milk crates that I got from my parents’ home. The garage decisions were much easier because they were less emotional.  “Aha!” 

For 2022, we are planning on new roofing and siding, a simple project from an emotional standpoint. Neither of us are going to shed a tear about taking down the old siding, or ripping off the roof. However, come 2023, we plan on gutting and remodeling our basement. That area is one filled with the hardest task of all, culling the family photos/archives and mementos. My father was an amateur photographer, a World War II veteran and a small business owner. The initial organizing of this space began several years ago after my parents’ deaths, so photos have been culled, and the slides are organized in date order. Hey, it’s a start!   

With any item you decide to remove from the home, consider donating instead of throwing it away. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

When asked “where to start with a home organizing project,” my answer remains the same, “Start small, start now.” For the past seven years, we have been changing the lives of clients one drawer or closet at a time. During the past two years, my husband and I have been changing our lives one room at a time. May the “aha” moments never end; that’s called progress. 

Happy Organizing! 

Eileen Bergman is a professional organizer and a proud member of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO). Bergman is listed in the resource directory for the Hoarding Disorder Resource and Training Group. She lives in West Orange and may be reached at [email protected]   

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of Jersey’s Best. Subscribe here for in-depth access to everything that makes the Garden State great.