The Most Important Post I’ve Ever Written: The Story Behind Live Simply

Monday, May 19, 2014

It’s just about the dumbest thing ever that this story is appearing on Live Simply for the first time. That it hasn’t been shared up until now, here, with you all, my incredibly loyal readers, is idiocy. This I know.

But to tell my story in such an official capacity has always felt daunting. To communicate something so deeply personal and massively affecting in a way that it inspires understanding, rather than pity, is a difficult task. I’ve let it simmer on the back burner for far too long.

Each time I share that story with others I’m reminded how integral it is to everything. You can’t understand Live Simply, my company, this blog, or me without knowing it, and henceforward, everything will make more sense.

Now, for the first time, I’m ready to share my story.

 

The story of how one professional organizer got her start.

My love of organization, my excitement at the opportunity to sort through people’s belongings on a daily basis is perplexing to most people. When I tell them what they do, their first reaction is always, “How did you get into that?”

“I was sort of born this way,” I’ll say.

I was, after all, the student who volunteered for blackboard duty everyday just because I enjoyed doing it. I was the girl who would occasionally skip recess in favor of cleaning out my classmates grotesquely messy desks; the one who appointed each family member a cardboard box meant for capturing papers, carefully decorated according to their personal tastes (I recall my sister’s being covered in cut outs of dog faces).

But there’s more to the story than that.

I might well tell you that Live Simply began when I was five years old. That was the year my mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and the beginning of the biggest shift and defining element of my biography.

MS, for those of you who aren’t familiar, is a disease of the central nervous system wherein lesions form on your brain, and the sacred Myelin Sheath, this magical plasma membrane that enables the transmission of messages from one nerve to another begins to slowly, steadily—just slowly enough to make it seem as though you are being killed one failed neural connection at a time—break down.

That sounds like jargon and all you really need to know is that MS is the most bloodthirsty disease that, over time, affects the body and its functioning in just about every shit way you can possibly imagine.

My childhood was such: I grew up while my mom grew down.

Little by little, impairment by impairment, the MS began to make its presence increasingly known. Totally exhausted afternoons became the use of a cane became the occasional use of a wheelchair. With each adjustment, I inched my way into the realm of domestic management. Before I could drive and when my mom was too tired to get out of the car, I was the grocery shopper, the bill payer, the “I’ll stay in the car and you run in and do this” girl. Girl.

When I look back, I can’t really believe all the things that happened actually did. Like the nightly fight to get my mom to the top of the stairs.

There was me—ten, maybe, 70 pounds or something (how much does a person weigh at age ten?), and there was my mom, this beautiful 5’8” woman whose own body seemed to resist the notion of stairs.

I would get behind her, right behind and almost underneath. And then on the count of three, she would summon any energy should could, while I would push her up with all the force I could muster. One step.

Can you imagine? I hope you can’t.  

I would be her hands. When she was too tired to cook dinner, she would sit and instruct while I cooked. When she was having too bad an MS day to fold the laundry, I would do that too. When I got my license, I took on all the errand-running.

Over time, my mom’s MS morphed into full-on debilitating disease. The power wheelchair became mandatory, not merely for ventures out of the house, but inside it as well.

The advent of my mom’s seizures added a new element of frenzy into the already chaotic brew. And through it all, there were so many moments that affirmed for me the need for organizational systems; the paramedic’s Simple request for a list of my mom’s medications resulted in a sudden panic at being able to identify only three out of what must have been thirty. “We need to have a current medication and doctor list kept out in plain sight! ” I realized.

Eventually, the clutter that is MS began to manifest itself literally in my family’s home.  

My mom’s chair wheels tracked mud through the house in neat little tire mark segments of dirt. Her eyesight became compromised, and we found humor in her continuing to wear glasses that could do nothing to improve her vision. An almost-blind driver at the joystick. In-tact walls became a thing of the past. And not only walls–the furniture was dented, broken; cabinet doors were ripped clear off their hinges.

MS ruled our home. It became the thing to maintain, to manage. The house stood there. Things broke and were not fixed because we were too preoccupied with trying to fix a person. Rooms dirtied. They collected dust. The routine household maintenance which occurred in my friends’ homes all but ceased. We made small efforts, movements to clean and repair, but they were inevitably swallowed back up into the toiling sea of disease.

Although I’m unable to trace the point at which the house crossed over, eventually it did. It became unmanageable, seemed impossible to recompose to its former state due to the paralyzing reality of what it would involve, or where precisely to start. This is how I find so many of my clients, and up until now, they’ve never realized just how much I understand how it feels to be in that position.

I began to feel the clutter accumulating around us, pushing me further up the stairs towards my bedroom. It’s not uncommon, I think, for teenagers to hide out in their rooms. What is uncommon is for that teen’s room to be the only orderly, clean room in the whole house.

I consciously carved out a den of simplicity. I went downstairs and was greeted by chaos and turmoil and messes of every kind. I would feel my pulse begin to race, my sense of centeredness dissipating. And then I would retreat to my room, feel how the order and beauty around me permeated to my insides.

It was a living experiment in the effects of clutter on one’s wellbeing. I was gradually cultivating a deeply rooted knowledge of how to remedy such a scenario and why one must, but at a pace that couldn’t keep up with the day-to-day struggle.

My life shaped me into a master of the art of navigating chaos, of distinguishing things of little or no import from those of high significance.

I am the cool-headed, rational one, the one you turn to when you’re at a crossroads and you need help seeing the reality of the situation and deciphering the most logical conclusions. The one you drive after when I’ve gone for a run and you find mom has fallen in the night, gashed her head open on the closet doors, and is laying in a pool of her own blood. I am excellent at dialing 911, at greeting EMTs, at assuring everyone it will be fine because I know despite all signs to the contrary that it will be.

I learned long ago how to behave in moments of crisis: speak clearly and at a steady volume; relay exactly what you know to be true and do not burden anyone with the extras; move swiftly but with the utmost intentionality. Be prepared to spring into action at any given moment.

Although my own home felt too overwhelming for me to tackle at the time (as is almost always the case), Simplifying and organizing became my way of being, a trait that I carried with me—to my cousin’s childhood bedroom, which I cleaned on nearly every visit, to the front desk of my city’s rec center that I staffed solo as a 12-year-old, to my friend’s houses in high school, helping them to pack for camp and organize their closets, to the families I nannied for, whose entire households I took on the management of, to the shared houses I resided in during college, to the homes I first organized professionally, to every one I have since, and every day thereafter— to the whole wide world.

This is how I formed my intolerance for clutter and bullshit. This is how I fell in love with helping others chip away at things that are weighing them down. This is how I fell in love with the peace that is achieved through the organizing process, how I acquired a divine appreciation for the feeling of lightness.

In all of it, order was the first thing to go. Before the eyesight, the bladder functioning, before even the walking, a sense of order, ease, and calm were the first things to bite the wretched dust. Because what rules in my home now, still I am sorry to say, is the most palpable sense of DIS-ease, chaos, and struggle that I have ever encountered and am fairly certain I ever will.

A sentiment worth sharing: simplicity is truly precious. Please pass this on.

Having witnessed it wane in the most horribly irrecoverable manner over the course of my lifetime I can tell you with certainty that Simplicity is one of the truly precious things in this life. The moment you begin to see it that way, you will start to Live Simply as well.

The house is better than it was, but the MS is as vengeful as ever. And so it seems as though we are perpetually engaged in a one step forward, two steps back kind of dance. In my quest to spread Simplicity and ease, my desire for my parents to achieve these luxuries is at the top of my list. I return home on a regular basis to support my parents, and I tackle at least one project on each visit. They are my Client #1’s, my VIPs, and my biggest challenge. Nothing can deter me from helping them, just as nothing can deter them from trying to continually move forward.

When clients work with me they do not merely get an organizer. They get a Life Simplifier. A spitfire whose own happiness rests in her ability to help others achieve a sense of lightness, whose ability to care for others comes from a lifetime of caretaking, who possesses a first-hand knowledge of the effects of disorder—both mental and material—who has been at it since before she reached double digits, whose small body is impressively strong, having been raised to lift a woman twice her size who has a habit of slipping like a lasagna noodle from her wheelchair onto the floor, and whose nose, like a bloodhound, can sniff out where the clutter truly lies. I get it. In a way others don’t and will never be able to.

I have already seen every ugliness. What is a messy closet when compared to a closet containing catheter equipment and latex gloves for wiping your own mom’s bottom? What is stress over managing two children’s differing sports schedules when compared to running back and forth between the ICU, where your grandfather lays dying, and the ER down below, where your mom is getting stitches in the same place over the same eye for the third time?

I can handle it. Whatever it is, I have navigated choppier waters already. 

My skill was not acquired through reading books or watching TV shows. It was lived. It is lived. This, Live Simply, this thing, it is my core. It is my truth. It is my gift to share with you. I yearn for nothing more than to pass on the wisdom my life has—for better or worse (and I choose to focus on the better)—instilled in me.

I want nothing other than to teach you to discern what truly matters in this life, to gain ultimate clarity about your priorities, develop the discipline to uphold those priorities, and cultivate an over-arching atmosphere of calm, order, and intention.

Why organization and simplicity matters. Share this with anyone you know who has been struggling with clutter or hardship of any kind.

Sometimes life hands us unpredictable cards that inherently create chaos. I believe that is our responsibility to do everything in our power to ensure that what is within our control is as Simple as it can possibly be. That it supports us in being the best version of ourselves we can possibly be. That it serves us, so that we, fulfilled, can serve the world. 

This is my story. This is my purpose. This is Live Simply.

 

55 thoughts on “The Most Important Post I’ve Ever Written: The Story Behind Live Simply

  1. coco

    Wow…..!
    Living Authentically by Annie works too 😉
    You have truly found your purpose and it is a joy to watch it unfold.
    Thank you for sharing Annie <3

    Reply
  2. Paula Freeman

    Annie…your story resonates with my own. I, too, took refuge in a carefully organized and beautifully decorated clean bedroom, complete with double locks on the door. Outside those doors lay the collateral damage of a Mom who was battling paranoid schizophrenia. I have found joy in creating places of order and beauty and have the ability to do so. I have one client at this writing, a good friend. She comes from a wealthy family of great dysfunction. Material things filled their days where the emotional gaps resided. I am helping her find order and simplicity, and it is working because she is teachable: she wants out of the prison. My creative writing has become another outlet for the angst that was my childhood. It would be fun to visit over coffee some time. I am a 61-year-old grandma with the energy of one 15 years younger. I would love to expand my business!

    Reply
  3. Erin

    Wow, what a story. I know the poison of MS, my aunt is also suffering from the disease, but I’ve never seen it the way you have. I think it’s a testament to strength and courage that you’ve channeled these heartaches into a positive outlet, that is your livelihood and brings you comfort. More power to you! I love your blog and only wish I had more time to devote to reading it and living it. Maybe one day I’ll bite the bullet and be one of your clients! Thank you for sharing this!

    Reply
    1. Annie Post author

      Thank you Erin!! I hope one day you will bite that bullet 🙂 Sending good energy to you and your aunt.

      Reply
  4. Amye Rheault

    Annie, ever since stumbling upon your blog I thought we might be kindred spirits, and now I know it is true.

    For me, it wasn’t my mom’s MS that pushed me toward creating habits of order and control, but rather being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes as a child. Later, when we learned of my mom’s MS diagnosis, we would need to make room in our lives again for this new beast. However, I believe that building diabetes into our lives prepared my family, at least somewhat, to approach MS with the additional strength and perseverance we needed.

    Thanks for sharing this story.

    Reply
    1. Annie Post author

      Thank you for your comment, Amye. It’s strangely comforting to hear how chronic illness has impacted others..the comfort being in those people “getting it.” Sending all the good vibes to you and your mom.

      Reply
  5. David

    Annie, you are an angel. Thank you for shining your light on us, inspiring us, and spreading your joy with us every day!

    Reply
  6. Laffertynyc

    Wow. Incredibly brave of you to share such a story and such real emotion.
    Sounds like God sent you to your family for a reason. I hope your mom is doing ok.

    Reply
  7. Sherri

    It was a lucky day for me when I found a reference to your site and signed up for your emails. From the beginning, it’s been clear that your heart and soul is in your work and that organizing is too small a word for what you do. Thank you for this beautiful essay. I wish you and your parents all the best.

    Reply
  8. Serena

    I can’t even put into words how powerful this article is Annie. Your story is amazing, confronting and inspiring all at once. As someone who has dealt with chronic illness before, it’s amazing how structure and order – and like you say Living Simply – can become such important tools. A lot of people think organisation is about buying pretty containers and labels, but at its core it’s so much more. You not only get this, you embody it.
    Thanks for sharing xx

    Reply
  9. Terry

    Remarkable, Annie. Just like you. I love the first comment here from Coco about Living Authentically. That’s certainly you. Thank you for sharing your magnificent self with all of us. xoxo

    Reply
  10. barbi

    Annie, you were obviously born to do this for a living, you trained your whole amazing life! Isn’t it interesting how such circumstances in life don’t seem to be so great and then they turn into something amazing and wonderful!?! God has a plan for all of us and you are definitely living yours to the fullest! Your mother is so blessed to have you for a daughter. Best Wishes! Toodles, Barbi

    Reply
    1. Annie Post author

      YES!! Love this comment so much, Barbi. It’s so clear to me in this respect that things turned out just as they were meant to. THANK YOU for that incredible compliment. If you knew my mom, you would definitely think I was lucky to have her. 🙂

      Reply
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  12. Laura Morgan

    A beautiful and inspiring post. You really highlight the importance of creating a peaceful and beautiful home, especially for a child. I have been barely surviving the infancy and toddlerhood with my twins, my house is a reflection of the chaos. I have decided to get it together and make my home a sanctuary for our family. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

    Reply
  13. Sarah

    What a beautifully written piece. It is your life and your family is blessed to have you. I’m thankful that there are good things that can come from hard places.

    Reply
  14. simplytrece

    Your story brought me to tears. Thank you so much for sharing it. The thing that I am profiting the most from are these two sentences:
    “In all of it, order was the first thing to go. Before the eyesight, the bladder functioning, before even the walking, a sense of order, ease, and calm were the first things to bite the wretched dust.”
    My house is chaotic now, and driving me wild, because my daughter has moved home permanently, with all her stuff. Since she had back surgery in late June, she will not be able to do much to help create order until October, when she will also be going back to work. All I can do, is all I can do. And breathe.
    May God bless and prosper you. I’m subscribing to your blog.

    Reply
    1. Annie Post author

      Thank you so much for this tender comment, Trece.

      Sorry to hear that things in your life and home are chaotic currently. My advise: believe that that can change and change quicker than you ever imagined it could. Picture what that change would look like and feel like for you and then take small steps every day to move you closer to that vision. Carry inside you the feeling of lightness that you know you’re moving towards, rather than the heaviness of clutter that may now be there. Be bold with your decision making, and give yourself permission to lay down the boundaries–it is YOUR space, after all.

      Reply
  15. Stacie M

    Your story is SO much like mine. I too had a mother with a chronic disease. You articulated it so well that it brought tears to my eyes. I came to your site because I am entering the organization field. And I can say that this inspired me so much. You explained the Why and I thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  16. pvedesign

    How we deal with things creates who we are. Obviously, you have mastered your craft of dealing with things. Rising above those stairs with solutions and steps to restore order, clarity and strength. Your site is incredible, beautiful and I love your work.
    pve

    Reply
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  18. Susan

    Powerful, raw, thought provoking and inspiring. I have never been moved/compelled to write a comment on a blog before. Wishing you and your family the very best.

    Reply
  19. Lauren

    Thank you for writing this with such clarity and optimism. I cannot begin to tell you how much I relate. You get it. You’ve been there. I too am the 911 caller. This article was like reading about my own life experience. You have clearly reached a place of ownership over the situation that I have not yet achieved. I am inspired by your clear headedness and clear affection for your family, amidst the cobwebs of chronic illness.

    Reply
  20. runningyourbody

    Annie thank you so so much for sharing this. Where some may have crumbled you have prevailed. I appreciate your blog and have been reading faithfully for several months now and I have found a lot of comfort in cleaning out and releasing alot of BS from my childhood both physically and emotionally room by room for the past several weeks. Thank you for you Monday Meditations, and all of your challenges. I really appreciate your work!

    Reply
  21. Natalie

    I have spent countless hours perusing the internet for a blog that not only helps me but inspires me to be who I am and be proud of it. Your story set off alarm bells for me, as I feel that your experience was a similar one to mine…….the connection between living a life of order and organisation I now realise is a direct result of my upbringing and the chaos it was. Thank you for sharing your story and continue to cut to the chase as most blogs I find have what I like to call content that is purely just a “Filler”, rarely do you find honesty and substance so thank you xx

    Reply
    1. Annie Post author

      THANK YOU for this amazing comment Natalie!! Reading your words brought on a big old cheesy smile. Thanks for that and for reading! xx

      Reply
  22. Priscilla

    Have you ever read something so intriguing, so honest and so relatable that your skull just tingles?!? No? Well I just did. Wow. Thank you for writing this and making chaos so relatable and, just, ok. I discovered the entity that is Annie, and I’m so glad I did.

    Reply
  23. Carola Rader

    Thank you for sharing your story. You serve not only as a life organizer but a healer to many people who need what you have to offer them. I, too, have found your site to be very authentic and meaningful.

    Reply
  24. Ashley

    Just reading this now, Annie, and it’s so beautiful and honest. Thank you for sharing. You’ve been through so much and for a lot of people, that would have turned them bitter or would have provided an excuse to not be the best versions of themselves, but you’ve found a way through, and better yet, you’re sharing your lessons with others. You’re an inspiration, sweet Annie!

    Reply
  25. Janet

    I feel like I found my twin sister from another mother! I have yearned for organization and simple living all of my life also. To me, that was pretty, and I not only wanted pretty, I needed it. Alas my home growing up was not a happy, let alone, pretty house. It was filled with chaos and never knowing what to expect from day to day. But all of that is in the past and now I have a home filled with spirituality and organization (almost). I still struggle. Having fibromaylgia, a chronic DIS-ease, I need routine and order to keep me from getting stressed and sick. I am in a constant search for the right bin, basket, shelf, picture, cabinet that is going to get me organized and pulled together. So far, I haven’t reached the level of organization I want, but half the fun is in the dreaming and planning, isn’t it? I have a wooden sign in my living room above the couch that says, “Live Simply.” Now I have found the woman who can inspire me. A million thanks for sharing your story Annie, it touched me so.

    Reply
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