Decluttering in Midlife: Erica Ehm Makes Space for Her Next Chapter

by | Apr 23, 2024

Erica Ehm reads a book in front of her newly organized book shelf after decluttering her home.
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Last updated on May 1st, 2024

Featured image: Erica Ehm next to her newly organized book shelf | Photo by Erica Ehm

Making room for new adventures (and travel)

by Erica Ehm

There comes a time in the lives of many women when we prioritize experiences over possessions. After raising our families and living rooted lives, the time comes when we can divest our stuff and make room for new adventures. For me, that time is now.

Humming the melody to “I’m going to wash that man right out of my hair”, I wait for decluttering specialist Allana Lytle from to arrive. Recently separated and an empty nester, I am eager let go of years of accumulated stuff cluttering our family home.

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woman cleaning basement decluttering

Allana Lytle supervising the decluttering process/ Photo provided by Erica Ehm

Letting go can be hard

To be frank, I’m messy. When I don’t have a place to put something, I do one of three things: haphazardly stuff it into a drawer or cupboard, hide it in the basement or, most commonly, let it sit and become invisible to me.

Allana, on the other hand, has the willpower and skill to dive into debris and literally make it go away. This is what I needed, not just from a mess perspective, but emotionally as well. “Decluttering is a physical metaphor for opening up, and make space for something new,” Allana explains to me as she gives me the ground rules for a successful purge.

The toughest part of clearing out years of accumulation is having the inner fortitude to let stuff go, according to Allana. By that, she means being okay letting go of material things that may have emotional significance but are no longer useful. Hiring a professional declutterer provides a calm, objective voice to guide you through an effective purge.

“It’s an intimate experience,” Allana tells me, “You get to know pretty quickly what your clients’ triggers are.”

Decluttering: Start with the kitchen

Allana chooses the kitchen to start. The first step in her decluttering process is removing every single item out of drawers, cupboards, and off shelves, categorize “like with like” piles on a large area like a kitchen table or the floor.

After hours of emptying and sorting, I am called in to make executive decisions. It became painfully clear to her (and me) that I am a chronic cupboard stuffer and semi hoarder.

I am horrified to see how much I have accumulated over the years. I mean, who needs a dozen serving platters when I barely entertain?

She gives me four choices: keep, donate, sell, or toss. She points at a piece, I decide.

When I waver, she asks me “do you REALLY need this?” With her gentle prodding, my “keep” pile become the tiniest of the four. After wiping down every storage surface, she methodically reorganizes each drawer and shelf, bags the rest, and immediately removes it from my house.

I feel weight lift off my shoulders looking at my half-empty kitchen, excited to tackle the next cluttered space.

Erica Ehm's cluttered bookshelf before organizing

Erica’s bookshelf before / Photo provided by Erica Ehm

Erica's bookshelf after being decluttered and organized.

Erica’s bookshelf after being decluttered / Photo provided by Erica Ehm

Next, the bathroom

We head to my equally disorganized bathroom, where I confess to Alanna that I freeze, procrastinate, and avoid when faced with a mess.

Alanna tells me this is not uncommon. Her advice? Baby steps. Start small to avoid overwhelm. Set a timer for 30 minutes and tackle one drawer. Empty it, sort “like with like”, (Come on, how many light pink lipsticks do you need?) and decide to keep, donate, sell, or toss each item.

Allana promises the process becomes more intuitive as you go.

“You get in a groove and realize what you are gaining outweighs the stuff you are giving up,” she says.

The hardest part is yet to come

A few days into working together, Alanna pinpoints my emotional trigger.

While it’s easy for me to get rid of kitchen gadgets, books, and kitschy gifts, I find it painful to part with memories – boxes of photos, career mementoes and anything related to my family.

After pulling out yet another large plastic tote overflowing with every piece of my kids’ homework over 20 years, Allana points out, “If you keep everything, then nothing is special.”

Oof. She is right. I empty the box, ditching a ton of math quizzes and ripped artwork, keeping the storytelling projects to go through with my kids one day.

Disorganized jewelry box before being tidied

Jewelry prior to being organized / Photo by Erica Ehm

Jewelry box after being tidied and organized

Jewelry after being organized / Photo by Erica Ehm

Making space for the next chapter

Decluttering my home was a long process. I learned a lot while Allana helped me clear space, both emotionally and physically, for my next chapter.

She reminds me that doing a big purge wasn’t just to my benefit. The bags of clothes, kitchen utensils, linens and surplus school supplies I donated would be a gift to those in need. That alone is a compelling reason to part with stuff you’re hanging on to “just in case you need it down the road.”

Like Mary Poppins whose work was done, Alanna’s parting advice sticks with me.

“People say to me ‘I need more space’. I say, it’s the reverse. You just need less stuff.”

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1 Comment

  1. Whisper

    Very inspiring and best of luck with the next chapter in your life!


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