How Losing Everything I Owned Changed My Relationship with “Things”

W&D Podcast

If you lost everything you own, how would you rebuild your life? A house fire completely changed Liz Tornell’s life and inspired her business Hello, Liz., which provides a tailored approach to organizing, decluttering, styling, and staging. Our relationship with things is far more complicated than being a minimalist or maximalist.

I sat down with Liz for our latest episode of the Wit & Delight Podcast, knowing she would be the perfect guest to kick off our April theme. We get into questions around what to do with sentimental objects, the one room in your home you should always *try* to keep organized, and why her work is, in many ways, a form of therapy. If you live in the Twin Cities, you’ll want to know (and hire) Liz! Then you’ll want to be her friend. 

Read our interview below, or listen to it on the Wit & Delight Podcast!

Name: Hello, Liz
Business: Organizing, decluttering, styling, and staging business

Tell us about your career and what brought you to launch Hello, Liz?

Liz: I spent the first 12 years of my career working in the PR and marketing industry for agencies, healthcare companies, and nonprofits. I LOVED my job, but after a substantial house fire in the fall of 2016, my outlook on life and work changed almost instantly. We lost almost everything we owned and were forced to live on the basics for several months before we were able to re-establish our living situation.

During that time, I re-evaluated the idea of “things” and “stuff” and decided I wanted our family to live a more streamlined life. By “streamlined”, I meant I wanted to keep things simple, thoughtful, and purposeful. By doing so, I found myself feeling more balanced and a hell of a lot happier. There were fewer things to stress about and I liked the sense of freedom that came with it.

The “simple, thoughtful, and purposeful” mantra was always top of mind when I was refurnishing our house, rebuilding my family’s wardrobe, styling our home with decor, organizing our kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms, closets, playroom, etc. I wanted to feel a little balance in my home and personal life because I had less control in my professional life. It made me feel REALLY good and I wanted to help others feel the same way about their life.

So I left my job and have been taking on these projects ever since!

Wow! So it was clear there was a demand. Do you have a designated process you have clients go through?

Liz: At Hello, Liz I work with clients to help restore balance and simplicity through personal organizing, decluttering, styling and staging services. My holistic approach takes into account each client’s unique personality, their current stage of life, and long-term living goals. While the journey for each client is different, the end goal is the same: to achieve a home and work life with a bit more balance and simplicity.

You lost nearly everything in your home due to a fire in 2016. How did this change your relationship with your material possessions?

Liz: After the fire, I immediately rejected all material possessions. It was a really surprising reaction. I wanted nothing to do with “frivolous” or “useless” things. Some of those feelings were a simple response to the claim and insurance process (a total chore and headache), but truthfully I was just attempting to cope with the reality of losing our sentimental possessions. We choose to respond to this crisis in a positive way and I feared if I started to grieve these sentimental possessions, I might find myself headed to a dark and negative place. In retrospect, it wasn’t a super healthy reaction. However, it set me on course for simplifying and streamlining our lives—something that I’m very thankful for.

After the fire, I thought a lot about the hypothetical question: If your house was on fire, what’s the one thing you would save? And the answer is nothing. I promise. You would save nothing. Because after something like this happens, you immediately realize that you are the luckiest person in the world. Your partner is safe, your kids are safe, and your pup is safe. Other families aren’t so lucky. That’s the sad and scary reality. There is not a material possession in the world that is important enough to save.

Where am I at with material possessions today? I’ve loosened up and settled back into a safer reality. However, that initial response to the fire has created a set of principles on how we evaluate our material possessions. I have a tendency to think A LOT harder when I buy things that aren’t a necessity. Is it simple? Is it purposeful? How does it make me feel? What gap does this fill? I’m human. I still have wants for material goods that make me feel good or look good, but based on our experience with the fire, I want a lot less.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

Liz: Getting to know my clients on a deeper level. When you are sorting and decluttering someone’s possessions you are bound to create a bond. I do. They trust me to guide them to make the right decision about keeping or ditching some of their most beloved and prized possessions. How can you not create a bond?! The same goes for when I style a home. Home styling is a unique and creative way for a client to feel their best in a space that makes them feel confident and comfortable.

Do you think decluttering someone’s home can be life-changing?

Liz: 100 percent. Choosing to simplify your life by removing and rejecting meaningless “things” is deeply cleansing. The clearing of physical clutter is a great first step in the clearing of mental clutter. A clearer mind creates space for positive change and personal growth.

What advice do you have for parents who want to get rid of the clutter?

Liz: Oy! This is a tough one. The biggest advice I have for parents is to try to eliminate the need to remedy their kids’ boredom with toys and trinkets. I’m definitely guilty of this. Instead, try more experiential based gifts, rewards, or activities—arts and crafts, the zoo, the aquarium, the park, scooter and bike rides, home science kits, the mall, the waterpark, sidewalk chalk, playdates, etc. In the end, you’ve just gotta survive parenthood. So do what you’ve gotta do! No judgment from me.

You’ve voiced some concerns you have with Kondo method. Can you explain why you think people should proceed with caution? Or just perhaps manage their expectations?

Liz: First off, I’m a huge fan of Marie Kondo and the KonMari Method. She is a pioneer in tidying and organizing and her book has truly changed millions of people’s lives. Including mine! However, when I started styling and organizing professionally, I began to see a little breakdown in the method for me and my clients. Specifically, the method doesn’t account for one’s personality or stage of life. Based on my interpretation of the book, the method should not change to suit personality or your stage of life. To me and my clients, it’s not that simple. Life is more complicated. Don’t tell Marie, but I’ve adjusted the method and adopted other methods to create solutions based on my client’s unique personality and life stage. To me, it’s the most realistic and approachable way to achieve that “life-changing magic” of decluttering and organizing.

What is the most important room to keep organized?

Liz: I have two answers to this question: The space you feel most vulnerable and the space you feel the most confident. If cooking intimidates you, make your kitchen the most organized. Maybe it will inspire you to tackle a new skill. If you love cosmetics, make your bathroom the most organized. It will provide you with confidence and encourage self-care.

How do you handle sorting through sentimental items?

It’s a unique process for everyone. When I’m working with a client on sentimental items we just have to talk it out. I’ll start by asking a series of questions that ultimately lead my client to the right decision. Sometimes they talk themselves into keeping the item because that’s the conclusion that makes the most sense for them, at this life stage. Sometimes they talk themselves into saying goodbye because in the end, telling the item’s story to someone else was all they needed to honor it and move on.

Where do you like to shop for organizational products? What do you look for in pieces that are both functional and stylish?

Liz: Pretty much Ikea, Target, and The Container Store. It depends on the client. For most clients, I try to pick pieces that blend in with their current environment and design situation. They value streamlined and design forward organizational solutions. For other clients, they love color and bursts of texture; they care less about it looking cohesive, and more about function.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

Liz: See answer to question two! Creating deep and life-long relationships with people.

What parting advice do you have for someone who is a self-proclaimed “hoarder”?

Liz: What I’ve discovered with my self-proclaimed “hoarder” clients is that the “stuff” isn’t the real problem. The stuff is a way to regain control of something that feels out of balance in your life. I was working with a client who told me that she online shops all the time. Whenever she has a moment alone to  herself, she’s on her phone shopping. She gets the stuff, usually hates it and then puts it in her closet “just in case”. Now she feels like a clothes “hoarder”. For me, I can help her feel more balanced by addressing the physical nature of the problem. Beyond me, I often find that my “hoarding” clients have something much deeper going on in their lives that require more attention. So my advice for those clients is one step at a time. Get someone into your life who can help you tackle the first step (of many) and keep going from there. One step… and then another.

Hear more of our conversation with Liz Tornell of Hello, Liz here:

And please share with your friends and subscribe to the Wit & Delight Podcast wherever you listen!

BY Kate Arends - April 4, 2019

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April 7, 2019 8:33 pm

It is crazy thinking about how much stuff I actually have…most of it I actually don’t need or even use. Whenever I watch moving vlogs, one of the most common phrases people say is “I can’t believe how much stuff I have”. Our relationship with things is sometimes concerning. I am trying to live more minimally, but it is hard. I really enjoyed the transcript of the conversation. I will have to listen to the podcast!



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