Ashes and Stashes by
(304 Stories)

Prompted By Stuff

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Ashes and Stashes

When I retired after my long career as a librarian,  I embarked on a new venture – helping people declutter and organize their stuff!   (See Second Career – Home Organizer!)

I advertised my organizing services and I started getting calls from folks who said they needed help getting a handle on their paperwork;  or their closets and drawers were a mess;  or they were drowning in clutter;  or were simply overwhelmed by too much stuff.

Those who I suspected were hoarders I referred  to colleagues who had specialized training.  Hoarding is a serious problem and in fact has been identified as a mental health condition.

But I was eager to help the garden variety clutterers,  and I soon learned when folks let you into their homes and you earn their trust,   they often share their secrets and their guilty pleasures.   One client showed me where she kept her mother’s ashes,  and an elderly woman I was helping pack for her move to an assisted living residence showed me her trove of love letters.  They were from an old beau she had known 60 years ago,  and she invited me to sit and listen as she lovingly read them aloud.

And then there was the guy whose studio apartment I was helping declutter who showed me where he kept a secret stash of his own.

That story I had  to share with the press!

New York Times,  Sept 18, 2023

– Dana Susan Lehrman

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: Clutter, Decluttering, Orgsnizing
Characterizations: funny, moving, right on!, well written


  1. Once a do-gooder always a do-gooder.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Earning trust is not to be taken lightly, but you do get to learn a lot about your clients, Dana. I love your notice in the NYTimes!

    My husband says that I hoard things, but, as you’ve discerned, I like to keep my history around me – quite the collection of family photos, datebooks, old programs (I did purge the less important of those a few years back). I am the unofficial family historian, as well as that of the Rose Art Museum, it would seem. There is some value in keeping those old records, as long as I have the room to do so. My closets may be brimming, but the public parts of my home are spotless. Just last week I got requests from two cousins who wanted information about our grandparents’ connection to Arkansas. I had little to offer, but shared what I could.

  3. Jim Willis says:

    Wish I would have known you were in the decluttering business! After a year of talking about cleaning out our garage, I just backed a city dumpster up to it and held my breath. My garage is clean now. Sort of.

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    Dana, I had no idea you had the decluttering skill! What a gift! Would love to use those skills. You have had some interesting glimpses into others’ lives with the attendant stories.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    I worked with a home organizer to help me toss most of the contents of my home office after I retired. She kept asking me how I would use things I may have once used for my work but no longer needed. It helped to have someone objective help me let go of the last vestiges of my work life.

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