Tips from an Expert Organizer

Home Solutions of WNY, Inc. owner and organizing expert Jamie Shaner

Photo by kc kratt


Jamie Shaner, owner of Home Solutions of WNY, Inc., is an expert in home and office organizing, senior move management, and decluttering and downsizing. In this interview, she provides some professional insight into what goes into moving to a smaller residence. And she knows what she’s talking about. In September 2013, Home Solutions earned full membership status in the National Association of Senior Move Managers, and in 2018, join their Circle of Service, honoring commitment to the industry. Thinking of making a move? Read on.

Forever Young: What are some unexpected issues that seniors who are downsizing confront?

Jamie Shaner:
•  Not starting soon enough. I tell people it’s never too soon to start the downsizing process, the more time you have, the less pressure you’ll feel and you’ll be less likely to make hasty decisions you regret later.
• Not going through years of old paperwork to determine what should be kept, shred, or recycled. Years ago, social security numbers were commonly used on documents such as financial reports, school records, bills, etc. Anything with a social security number, confidential information, and financial data should be shredded. A basic name and address doesn’t need to be, since that’s not confidential information; we’re all “Google-able.”
• Wanting to keep all the mementos, collections, artwork, and décor items but not allowing for the space they’ll take up in a downsized home. Oftentimes, people are leaving a home with built-in storage/display furniture and don’t think about where the contents will go in the new place. I encourage people to think “vertically” and use taller furniture pieces such as bookcases, entertainment centers, or other items that are multipurpose and can hold more, without taking up any more floor space than a shorter piece.
• When moving into a facility that provides meals, most people still want to take way too much of their kitchen contents. If they plan to keep everyday dishes as well as the good china, I suggest downsizing the sets to a service for four or six each, and letting go of the rest.
• Every home has junk drawers that should be cleared out, keeping only the essentials. Drawers become prime real estate in a downsized home.
• Framed family photos take up a lot of space. I suggest keeping the most important few in frames, and putting the rest into a photo album.


What’s the best way to decide what to keep and what to toss or give away? Is there a process to make it easier?

JS: As a professional organizer, here’s what I ask clients who are either organizing or downsizing as we review items:
• Do you need it? This can be anything from last year’s tax return to a roasting pan.
• Do you use it? If there’s a quantity of similar items, choose the best/most functional. How many measuring cups are enough? Do you still knit, or has it been years?
• Do you love it? If it makes you happy and you enjoy looking at it, let’s give it a home and get it out of the box in the back of the closet. Otherwise, let it go.
• Do you have the room to appropriately store it? I tell people to “let the grocery store keep it for you.” Food that’s shoved to the back of the pantry cupboard is often wasted because it expired years ago. Bulk shopping might save a few pennies, but it’s foolish to do if there’s nowhere to keep twelve rolls of paper towels or a gallon jug of olive oil.
• Linen closets are often filled with sheets that don’t belong to current sized mattresses. Unless there are incontinence issues, two sets of sheets per bed is typically enough.

I encourage people to prioritize:
• Keep the clothes and shoes you wear most often, that fit your body and your lifestyle. Let the rest go. Same with accessories such as purses, scarves, ties, and belts.
• If you have a collection, instead of taking it all, choose your favorite pieces and sell or donate the rest.
• Saved things from children’s childhoods can go to their homes now – it’s time to stop being the keeper of everybody’s past.
• Sometimes knowing items can be sold via consignment, estate sale, auction, or even Craigslist is a great incentive for letting it go.


What’s the number one worry of people who are getting ready to get organized?

JS: The number one worry people have before we start working together is that “an organizer will make me get rid of all my stuff.” I tell clients that being organized is about finding what you want when you want it, but there’s no one right way; it’s different for everyone. My goal is to help people create a space that is functional, visually pleasing, reduces stress, and meets their current needs. Whether it’s organizing to stay in their current home, or downsizing to senior living, I work hard to determine what’s most important to someone, then incorporate the important things into their living space.


De-cluttering can be an emotional and even painful process. What makes it worth it and how do people feel once they’ve succeeded?

JS: I’ve been doing what I love as a professional organizer for over twelve years now, and a common refrain I hear from clients is, “Thank you, you’ve changed my life. I couldn’t have done this without you.” The hardest part is taking the first step. After that, most clients are thrilled with the progress and wonder why they waited so long. Part of the problem is being overwhelmed and not knowing where to start.


Home Solutions of WNY, Inc. services Buffalo and the surrounding WNY area. For more information, call 984-4841 or visit


Wendy Guild Swearingen is editor of Forever Young.




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