I have been a professional organizer for 15 years. This is what I learned when I helped my father get rid of it.

Lisa Kanarek and her father

author and his father.Courtesy of Lisa Kanalek

  • I worked as a professional organizer, helping people clear their clutter.

  • I no longer work as an organizer, but I decided to take my father as my last client.

  • We had a great time looking at old photos and documents together.

As professional organizer For 15 years I have been teaching weeding to individuals and couples. decades of clothes When forgotten papersAfter telling myself I had my last client sorted out, I offered to work with another one, my 94-year-old father.

I never imagined that the skills I had honed over a career I had come to despise would provide valuable insight into his past.

At the age of 89, my father closed his pediatric clinic. During my visits to my hometown, he often asked for help with his home office. He was in good health and worked out at the YMCA four times a week. He felt no urgency.

Three months before his 94th birthday, my father collapsed on the way to the kitchen, leaving his once-strong legs like noodles. As his health deteriorated (he was crippled without a walker), my slow crawl toward his messy office accelerated into a 50-yard dash.

he used to be very organized

I knew he had strong organizational skills. As a child, he remembers running his hand through a collection of silk ties hanging inside his closet door. His crisp shirts hung over his freshly pressed trousers, sorted by color. Every morning, with his dark hair slicked back and his black mustache combed, he left the house dressed as if he were going to a photo shoot instead of an office full of children. As a geeky kid who used to make to-do lists in grade school and arrange stuffed animals by size and type, I appreciated his father’s attention to detail.

When he couldn’t climb the stairs to his upstairs home office, I emptied his desk drawer into one cardboard box and the folder in his file cabinet into another. I brought them into the family room and placed them next to his favorite chair.

“Look, Dad, this is the first contract with the doctor at the clinic you attended,” I said, going through the paperwork.

“It seemed like a lot of money at the time,” he said, shaking his head at the meager starting salary.

Every time I’m in town we tackle some boxes. An hour into her second session, I found 12 black-and-white photographs of unknown relatives of hers.

“Dad, who are the people in this picture?”

I stopped him as he started reciting who each person was. As the last member of his family from Poland, he was the only one able to identify the subject of a faded image printed on thick paper.

The next two hours were spent organizing photos and playing an impromptu game of “name that relative.” Three years before he started our organizing project, my father agreed to let me document his life story. Finally, I was able to match the names and faces of my aunts, uncles and cousins ​​who died in the Holocaust to the people my father described during the recording.

he died shortly after we finished

During the last streamlining session, I opened the remaining file cabinet drawers. It contained everything from old report cards to financial statements. Like old maple trees, paper had to be pruned.

This was the first time I helped someone get organized with the threat of death looming over us like an anvil. Instead of dreading the process, I looked forward to spending time with my father. What I imagined years ago would be a chore turned into a welcome expedition into his multifaceted life.

Sadly, he passed away less than a month after dropping the last bag at the donation center.

I thought about how my father and I achieved our goals. He was relieved that he didn’t burden our family with piles of papers and keepsakes. I was grateful for the opportunity to ask him questions in real time about the photographs I had discovered and the documents he had kept for decades.

My father trusted me to help him preserve his legacy by organizing the evidence of a challenging and rewarding life.

Lisa Kanarek is a freelance writer from Texas. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Her Post in Washington, The Independent, HuffPost and Wired.you can find her lisakanarek.com,

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