Moving Along

The $50K Brass Pig - Part 2

Episode Summary

The $50K Brass Pig, the missing KitchenAid, the one lonely sterling silver knife... These are a few stories from Sonya Weisshappel, CEO and founder of New York-based Seriatim, professional organizers and inventory management experts.

Episode Notes

In Part 2 of our interview with Sonya Weisshappel, the CEO and founder of Seriatim professional organizers and inventory managment experts tells stories from her 23 years of helping people assess, get rid of and donate their stuff. Often precipitated by a crisis or major life transition such as a death in the family or decision to downsize or retire, people confront their belongings and often don't know where to turn. Sonya's mantra is know what you have, and once you know what you have you can determine its value. We discuss the importance of having an inventory of household items when bringing caregivers and home health aides into the home to care for elderly relatives.  On the lighter side, Sonya talks about confronting the dusty shoes in the closet and how "stuff" comes to overtake your space. The Scandanavian idea of "death cleaning"--or decluttering along the way rather than waiting till the end. 

Sonya also speaks highly of Brené Brown's book Atlas of the Heart and the importance of not judging people's styles of collecting and decorating.  

Sonya grew up in New York City where she started her organizing company, Seriatim, in 1999. Proudly dyslexic, Sonya founded her business in order to avoid writing a resume and now, almost two decades later, she and her Seriatim team have earned themselves a reputation as consummate Chaos Whisperers. In 2017, Sonya became the first organizer to be accepted into the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program. She is currently President of the New York Council of Relocation Professionals (NYCORP). In her spare time, Sonya organizes her husband, three children, and rescue dog, Finn.

You can reach Sonya at 

Episode Transcription

Moving Along - Episode 7 - Sonya Part 2

[00:00:00] Christi: Welcome to part two of my interview with Sonya Weisshappel known as the Chaos Whisperer.

Sonya is CEO and founder of Seriatim in New York City, professional organizers and inventory management experts. Sonya's mantra is know what you have when you know what you have. She says, you can learn its value you can figure out what it's worth. And with that, we start part two with Sonia's story about the brass pig. 

[00:00:36] Sonya: So here's a story, little, couple rickety deciding no longer to have their pied a terre. Kids don't want anything. They only want a few things to take back up to their primary residence in Connecticut versus Manhattan.

They have a lifetime of possessions of which the wife is convinced that. Her family heirlooms of these Asian pieces that were made [00:01:00] into lights are the most valuable possessions they own. And the husband is yes, dear, you know, . So in the process, it's the, I don't want that. I don't want that.

I don't want that. The kids don't want that. Off with it. So in the putting likes with likes, you put all the tchotchkes together, all the vases together, all the kitchen stuff together, all the art together. And then we brought through estate buyers to look and to see and to test who's interested in.

What catches just people's eyes. Of course, the missus is like, don't you love my urns. And everyone kind of went they're nice, but they're drilled. They were a value before they became lamps. But now that they're lamps, they're not valuable. She's like, but they're appraised for. X number of thousands of dollars from the Seventies.

And we're in the, you know, [00:02:00] many decades later. And she's like, that's what they were appraised at then for replacement costs because they were in vogue, but now they're not in vogue as much, and they're compromised. They're not pristine Asian art anymore. So therefore. They're not their fair market value versus their insurance value is actually their street value.

Selling them today is far less than what you would pay for them that you could earn from them. Lo and behold, in these appraisal and auctioneer walking through one of the desk decorations that the wife was adamant that her husband not keep. And he said, you know, I really like this pig on my, you know, it's a sleeping pig of metal on the corner of his desk is that's been there for 30 years.

I love that pig. She said you don't need the pig . Yes, dear and lo and behold, he acquiesced and said, okay, I'll get rid of [00:03:00] the damn pig. Well, when the auctioneer came through that, he said, this is worth something. Ends up the pig was worth 50 grand, 

[00:03:10] Christi: 50 grand, 

[00:03:11] Sonya: 50 grand. But in her world, she said, just donate it.

Now, if you donate it and you don't know the value of something, you can put a maximum value of $499 on it. If you go into $500, you suddenly need a receipt and, or an appraisal he has no provenance from it. His paperwork. So 499 is all we could put as the piece to donate it. But I said, before we donate anything or trash, anything, we're going to try to sell what we can.

And we're going to try to get the temperature of what people are interested before they, they have to come and sniff before they make offers. So let them come and sniff. Well, that piece got picked up reviewed, and then [00:04:00] ultimately chosen to go with the person who really caught it and loved it.

And it fetched them 50 grand, her urns a couple hundred bucks, you know, it's that kind of thing where he purchased it. He didn't go to auction. He didn't inherit it. He purchased it on a trip somewhere or something, but it wasn't. A huge purchase. It wasn't, it didn't tick the, oh my God. I must get this appraise and covet this in such a way.

It was just, this is a nice something, but over the years that artists became more popular and it became something. And the kids didn't know, they didn't care about his pig. He liked his pig, but you know, it's like that happens all the time, all the time. 

[00:04:45] Christi: That's a great story. 

[00:04:46] Sonya: It's a story because one of the 101s of appraisals is that they expire in three to five years.

So it's like your blood work, your blood work [00:05:00] expires understanding the baseline of the value of your contents it expires things go out of vogue. That's no longer the fair market value. So if you've got a lot of possessions that are unique and you're not redoing your appraisals every few years, you're probably overpaying on insurance or maybe under-insured.

For example, a lot of the carpets in the seventies, Oriental carpets were very valuable. You'd pay 20, 40, 60,000 for these huge, unbelievable carpets. So they were insured for 40, 60, 70, $80,000. These carpets, you can hardly give them away. Now, 

[00:05:45] Christi: Oriental carpets don't have the same value. 

[00:05:48] Sonya: Some. But the mass majority of them do not, unless they're unique.

So if on your insurance, you're paying [00:06:00] for replacement value of an $80,000 carpet. That's. If you have a fire or a flood, or God forbid some other disaster in your home. Okay. You get a check for 80 grand that's well done. Okay, good. Especially if your carpet's only worth two grand, you did really well .

But if you have an insurance company, that's going to say, show me your appraisal that says it's worth 80, and then we'll pay you. Now. You're a little screwed because you've been paying for it. But you can't document it and not every insurance company is so willing to cut a check for what they can't prove.

[00:06:35] Christi: So we're just at the mercy of whichever way the wind blows 

In terms of collectibles, in terms of the value of the stuff that we always thought was valuable, isn't so valuable. Is this always been the way? I mean, I always thought things just kind of went up and up eventually.

[00:06:54] Sonya: No, this is the way 

[00:06:56] Christi: this is the way that brown furniture 

[00:06:59] Sonya: [00:07:00] Currently but if it was 25 years ago, 30 years ago, You paid a pretty penny for it. And frankly, if you go down to New Orleans or Georgia, you'll pay a pretty penny for it. But on the East Coast, you're not going to pay for that. You can't give that away.

You're going to hardly donate it. 

[00:07:19] Christi: Why do you think that is? 

[00:07:21] Sonya: Because it just, it now it's mid, it's not in vogue. It's like, why does fashion. You know, so either you can be Haute, couture, and you can have everything just so, or you love what you love. You use it, you enjoy it and whatever it is, but you just shouldn't be silly with paying for insurance on something that isn't actually worth it.

One of the jobs I did out in California, that was really one of my life lessons. It was for a famous old TV star and his family and that job. They had a very high premium of insurance and the family [00:08:00] office every year renewed the insurance policy and they paid in premiums probably 10 grand a month in premiums

You know, you're dealing with 120, $150,000 in insurance premiums . So when I was hired to come out to start to move and inventory, I said, let me have the insurance policy. I want to see what value some of these things are, because if we're going to turn around and start to liquidate things, what am I looking for?

First of all, couldn't find things that were on the insurance policy. So when you're insuring something and it's on the insurance policy, that's a waste. And then when you're insuring something on the insurance policy, that is no longer of that value, that's a waste. And when you have things that aren't on the insurance policy, that's a problem.

[00:08:49] Christi: Did you ever find where some of that stuff went. 

[00:08:52] Sonya: It was gone. And that goes to, we had at one point talked about [00:09:00] in an estate scenario. What happens when you're selling things in an estate, you go through what you have, you figure out what's there and you try to make the most of it. Kind of you're in a automatic drive moment of trying to make decisions because of parents' passed or a sibling's passed.

And you're trying to just reel and get the job done. And it's normally months later that you're like, Hey. Whatever happened to that blue vase that Booboo had. Do you know? And you're like, I don't, I don't remember seeing it. You don't remember donating it, you don't, and suddenly you start to wind back through, huh?

Was it even there. And I find that in many situations, even in my own life, when you have something that you treasure and you've brought people into your home to caregive for a family member [00:10:00] and they're working 24 7 and they're in and out of your cabinets and you've trusted them with your most precious thing, a family member.

So inevitably you're trusting them to walk freely within the confines of your space when you're absent or you're not conscious. And some people aren't on the up and up and things. Go MIA and a lot of times families after the settling of someone's home now, whatever happened to mom's ring, or did we ever see that broach or, oh, I, I couldn't find the vase.

I walked one of my dearest friends aunt's place who had 24 hour care and she was wheelchair bound and drooling, you know, and not necessarily of her normal, strong self. And I love to cook and there was a midnight blue KitchenAid in the kitchen. And every time I [00:11:00] passed to go and see her, I eyed the KitchenAid thinking that is one handsome KitchenAid that is not being used, you know, .

She never cooked. She didn't like food. She was this big but she had this beautiful KitchenAid and one day I walked through the kitchen and it was a big blank hole. Oh. And I was like, I know that she did not get out of her wheelchair and go and put that anywhere. I know that. So I called my girlfriend and said, WTF, did you know, because you're out of state that she's missing this thing.

And she said, oh, Hmm. So she made some calls to some of the caregivers at which point someone said, oh, she gave her. 

[00:11:45] Christi: That's the answer, isn't it? Your mom gave it to me. Your grandma gave it to me. If she thought I liked it so much, that I would be able to use it because she's not using it. 

[00:11:55] Sonya: And she would give it to her, but you know, she didn't give it [00:12:00] to her.

So what. Did she not give her that is also not there. Cause it's pretty ballsy to take something big, but it's rarely, I had one client who had care for her mother in the house. And I said, you need to have an inventory of what's in the house. She said, no, we have all the appraisals said, it's not the art.

It's not the furniture, it's the small stuff. The stuff that you won't notice is missing. Poo-pooed me, poo-pooed me, you know, kind of thing and said always there was a reason for not. And then I got the call saying, I opened the sideboard in the dining room table and I found one knife. The whole silver collection is missing.

Wow. And I said, Well, that's a 20, $30,000 Sterling silver set. That's now MIA and you don't know who took it and you don't know when, because you weren't in the dining room [00:13:00] visiting that sideboard on a regular basis. So you have no idea. And therefore, who do you blame? You can't call the cops?

I mean, instead of being mad at people, someone clearly needed it. They clearly didn't need it as much, but that's not the point. The point is the family before they made a choice to put themselves in a compromised position, needed to have one more barrier of protection. Just know what's there.

[00:13:35] Christi: So are you a fan of webcams? 

[00:13:39] Sonya: Not really, but I understand why they exist. 

[00:13:45] Christi: And what do you say to people in situations like that? There's so many people now that need, home health care and more and more people think it's a better situation 

[00:13:56] Sonya: than definitely.

Definitely. My, [00:14:00] my whole thing is absolutely keep them at home. Let them have the care at home, but create some clarity around the fact that this is. They, if there was silver or jewelry or things that are small, that are precious, or even not precious financially, but just emotionally precious. Take them out of the house before the caregivers come in, take away the temptation.

And then everyone that you interview or comes through the door or the agency you need to say. I want you to know that we have a complete listing of what's here in the house.

So FYI but you can't BS that you need to know, 

[00:14:43] Christi: Just be upfront 

[00:14:43] Sonya: about it, just be upfront. And that we're trusting you to be not only in charge of this person, but to protect the house and the contents while you are here often alone with our loved one because if someone knows [00:15:00] that, you know,

it's like, there's a thought around not doing it. There's a deterrent. It's like beware of dog. You're like, Hmm. If I'm going to break into a house, do I want to go to the one with the dog sticker and the dog bowl? Or do I want to go the one with the lights out and no sticker and no dog? bowl You know, it's just an added acknowledgement of it.

And not everyone can do that. Sometimes crisis hits and you have to act really fast. But if you know that there's small things that you would really care about, if it was missing as a family, you'd probably need to have that plan . Like if Mom falls and we need to do this, this is the next step that we're going to do in addition to having care in the house, which I think is just logistics and organization.

Emergency plans are fascinating to me. 

[00:15:49] Christi: Is that part of what you do for people? 

[00:15:51] Sonya: No, it's something that I'd like to do for people, but I don't want to talk doomsday. I spend a lot of time talking about death and preparation [00:16:00] around it. And I'm actually a really positive, happy person who just kind of blissfully goes through life typically.

So I don't want to worry, but part of what calms me down is knowing that there's a plan. In place for certain things that I'm like, okay, if something happened, this would happen. So therefore everything's taken care of. I like that, but no emergency planning, September 11th was a good test for that and living so close to the World Trade Center.

And so after that day, it taught me to do the backups for the business and to have redundancy. 

[00:16:38] Christi: You call yourself a Chaos Whisperer. You're not Marie Kondo, although you respect her and her work for clutter clearing. What is this concept you mentioned the Scandinavian concept of Dostadning. Is that how you say 

[00:16:53] Sonya: it?

It's death cleaning and it goes back to the emergency plan in some ways, it's the idea that you are [00:17:00] always preparing, you know, you're going to die. It's making the decisions of, you know, that it's a big deal to tackle the photos, but you're going to nipple at it and you're going to continuously do it versus a lot of people just say, yeah, I'll get to that someday.

And then someday you may find yourself compromised and not able to deal. So then it becomes someone else's problem. So that concept is that you are surrounding yourself with things that you actually use and are supporting you, and that all the excess is being nibbled at. Consciously 

[00:17:42] Christi: Every project doesn't have to be a project you can nibble at the edges. It always seems to me that when you get rid of stuff that makes room for 

[00:17:51] Sonya: new stuff. Absolutely. But sometimes, but sometimes the joy is to have space and not just stuff, filling [00:18:00] the space. And, you know, when people move from small into big space, it's like, Ooh, look at how much closet space I have.

And then you come back 10 years later and you're like, I ran out of room. I can't fit in this space. And it's like, yeah, because things expand to fill what you have. By having the space and the conscious mindset of that's going to remain a blank wall, or I'm going to put a big piece of art on that, and I'm not going to put shelves and I'm not going to put a hundred things on those shelves, or I'm going to get rid of the shelves because that forces my hand to get rid of the contents of the shelves, you know, that's the death cleaning.

Do I really need all this, you know, you're not taking it with you. 

[00:18:46] Christi: What I hear you saying is that it's better in a way to let it have new life by giving it to Goodwill or if you more ambitious to sell a collection or to, [00:19:00] donate it. If it's a valuable collection, if it's art.

Absolute thing that a museum would like, or, one of your children who really appreciate 

[00:19:11] Sonya: that's right. That's absolutely right. And make those plans upfront. Some people bequeath, things to family, some people, bequeath things to museums and other places, but they don't actually ask those people or the museum, whether or not they'll actually take.

Hmm. They just put it in their will and assume that that will be easy to accomplish. And that's not always as easy to accomplish those last wishes. Cause the museum's like, I don't want that. 

[00:19:40] Christi: Then what happens then? 

[00:19:41] Sonya: It becomes the decision of the executor. What are we going to do? We've inquired.

They've shut it down. Do we go to another one like it, or was that the intention only this museum will take it and if this museum doesn't want it, then do we sell it and give the [00:20:00] money to the museum? There's all sorts of ways to do it, but knowing what you own having harmony in your space, the harmony keeps you well.

But knowing what you own. Allows you to make some informed decisions around insurance and security for your items and estate planning. Then you just go on your way. But if you're constantly bringing things into your world, it's like working in a garden. You swear, you weeded that area.

You know that there were no weeds yesterday and lo and behold, you've come back out two days later and there is stuff where there shouldn't be, and that is most people's lives on their kitchen counters and on their shelves. Weeding is what it is. Some people just take their arm across that counter and they put it in a bag and they put the bag in the closet. Another time manana, and then the closet is full and then the bag collection goes to the garage and [00:21:00] then the garage that was empty becomes full. And then you go to two car garage and it just snowballs , and who wants to start unpacking all of those bags that, you know, you didn't want to deal with in the first place.

It's what happens totally is what happens to people 

[00:21:19] Christi: and you've seen the best and the worst. 

[00:21:22] Sonya: I've seen the best and the worst. And I love them all, you know, it's no judgment around it. It's actually, it's fun. It's like, okay, why are you doing it. What is working for you in this scenario?

Because clearly something's working and you need to know that you've got it or you're prepared, you know, there's something that's triggered by not letting it go 

[00:21:51] Sonya: You know that the pair of shoes that sits in the bottom of a closet.

Yeah. The really good ones with the nice heels that give you the [00:22:00] blisters , you know that they're dusty, but you know that you have to have them. If you need to go to that one meeting. But my guess is that you will go to the meeting in a pair of pants that doesn't require you to wear those shoes when push comes to shove.

And so those shoes are really not necessary. I had a pair of shoes with heels on them and on the back of the heel, I guess I had walked in the subway with something and I stubbed the toe a little and there's a little piece of leather sticking up and in the back, the heel had pushed up towards the top and the leather was compromised.

Took it to the shoemaker. He fixed it. It looked better than before, but at the end of the day, I always felt my shoes were semi broken and they weren't just right. And so. I'd get them out. I go to put them on and I was like, Hmm, they're not perfect. They're not going to let me put my best foot forward. I'm just going to leave them right here for now.

[00:23:00] And finally there was, comes a point where, you're taking apart your closet and you're like, you are really dusty. I have not worn you. And no matter how cute you are or how expensive it was. It's like the reality is someone else may find these to be the perfect thing they need, but they are not working for me anymore.

[00:23:18] Christi: Damaged goods for you, but the perfect pair of shoes to wear to the next wedding for somebody else. 

[00:23:24] Sonya: That's right. With glee and joy, instead of being dusty in my closet. 

[00:23:31] Christi: They have 

[00:23:31] Sonya: a new life. They have a new life, the one thing that I really hope for most people Brene Brown talks about it a lot that the people have a lot of shame. They have a lot of shame and they tell themselves that they're not good enough.

With how they keep things or not making enough choices. And I think that it's really important to just sometimes say mercy, hire someone,[00:24:00] resolve your environment to support you so that you can manage it with ease.. Versus feeling like you're starting up the bottom of a very big mountain that you have to transform to get to that oh moment.

That your life is okay. And I think having that ability to be kind to yourself to say, I'm not able to do this by myself. I'm not interested in doing this by myself. This is not as much fun to not have someone laugh with me or to help lift that stuff out or to go through the photos and share the memories there.

There's just, sometimes it's it's lonely 

[00:24:45] Christi: and you don't 

[00:24:46] Sonya: have to be alone. You don't have to be alone. 

And I think just be who you are, if it means that you have.

Weeds in your garden and stuff, growing off the counters and all those miscellaneous drawers, and [00:25:00] you're healthy and happy, then screw it. be right there and just be there with full heart. And if for some reason you're like, you know what? I need a clearer path to getting dressed every day. And every time I open my closet, I'm upset.

Watch how you feel and then figure out who can help you. So that you're not upset, just be kind, your stuff affects you. So just try to watch how you feel in your space and protect yourself. 

[00:25:29] Christi: Wow. Sonia, this has just been so interesting to talk to you. It's just fascinating. I might've said this before. I could talk to you for another two or three hours, Thank you for sharing. Thank you so much 

sonia and her team at Seriatim are full of good ideas and tips for organizing your stuff and knowing what you have, whether it's your closets or an estate, Sonya's got ideas and plenty of expertise to go [00:26:00] around. You can read Sonia's blog at Seriatim dot net. Links are in the show notes.

Thanks for listening and let us know. What do you think? See you next time.