(guest blogger and podcast guest)
Podcast guestI have always been organized. My childhood bedroom had two walk-in closets that combined were almost 90 square feet. For fun, I removed the contents of both, got rid of what I didn’t want and reorganized the rest. I had no idea I would—or could—become a professional organizer; it was just something I loved to do.
In college I honed my organizing skills in my small dorm room. Friends asked me to organize their rooms. That’s also when my grandfather asked me to write his story of surviving the Holocaust.
Following graduation I saw a woman on TV who got paid to organize apartments in New York City. I could do that in my sleep. I moved to the Big Apple and worked as an organizer to pay the rent, writing about my grandfather on weekends.
From small studios to five-story brownstones, I learned how to organize all kinds of spaces. I also learned to motivate people—from hoarders to billionaires—to part with their stuff. After a few years the work took a toll on my body and I got a job as an editorial assistant at the New York Daily News. I left a year later to start a women’s sports magazine. When that went belly up, I got a call from the newly elected president of Hunter College. At 32 I became her Chief of Staff. It was a demanding job and utilized all my organizing skills. Four years later, I realized I had followed the money path, not my dream path. I quit my job and gave myself one year to finish my grandfather’s book. At the same time I searched for a new place to live.
A realtor said, “Look on the Upper East Side. Your money goes farther.” I think she meant faster because rents were astronomical. One day a friend called. “I know someone subletting a studio on the Upper West Side.” My ears perked up. “But,” she warned, “it’s small.”
The fifth floor walk-up was one block from Central Park, didn’t have a kitchen and was seven feet by 12.5 feet. It’s just for a year, I told myself. How bad could it be? I put 77 boxes of stuff into storage and moved in.
That first night I had a panic attack. The loft bed had only 23” of crawl space. I was sure I’d made a mistake moving there. Then a friend asked, “Why did you agree to live there?” When I said, “To write about my grandfather,” my anxiety melted away. Recalling his horrific stories, the tiny studio was paradise compared to what he endured. I never had a panic attack again. In fact, my life got better. I had more free time, my stress went down and my savings went up. I wasn’t buying stuff because I had no place to put it.
At the end of that year I decided to stay another. I loved my new lifestyle. I stayed for five years. Every year I went back to storage and got rid of stuff I hadn’t needed or wanted. Eventually I got rid of all 77 boxes.
During those years a videographer made a video of my tiny studio. Months later the video went viral on YouTube. And my grandfather’s book—which I wrote only as a gift to him—was selling around the world. But of the millions who saw the video I never expected the landlord to be one of them. I wasn’t allowed to sublet and got evicted. Studios in my neighborhood were four times what I was paying which meant I had to get a full time job to pay for space I didn’t need. I had been working hard during those years, but it was on my schedule.
Meanwhile, I was speaking around the country about What Papa Told Me. When I told my grandfather about my rental search he said, “Buy a place. I’ll give you the down payment.” I started crying. “Sweetheart,” he said. “You lived in a shoebox so you could write about my life. Now let me help you enjoy yours.”
Back in New York I fell in love with the first apartment I saw—a sunny one bedroom, two blocks from the tiny studio. I moved in two months later. Friends joked I wouldn’t know what to do with so much space. One thing I wasn’t going to do was fill it with stuff because my life had become about collecting experiences.
My next book was in response to the hundreds of emails I received from strangers saying I encouraged them to get rid of stuff. 90 Lessons for Living Large in 90 Square Feet (…or More) is a “want to” guide motivating people to get rid of stuff so they have more time to do what they love.
To learn more about Felice: www.felicecohen.com
To listen to her Fun. Feisty. Fabulous podcast: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX