Curves Welcome

How to Declutter Your Life - with Felice Cohen

February 11, 2021 Suzie Carr Season 2 Episode 24
Curves Welcome
How to Declutter Your Life - with Felice Cohen
Show Notes Transcript

In today's episode of Curves Welcome, we welcome our special guest, Felice Cohen.

In our chat, Felice shares:
Tips on ways you can declutter your life immediately
How clutter affects us physically and emotionally
Biggest lessons on living large in a small space (90 feet to be exact!)
And more!

About Felice Cohen:
Felice Cohen is an author of 5 books, a professional organizer, motivational speaker and Holocaust educator. She's shared her tips on living large in a small space on many platforms, including Good Morning America, NPR, ABC News, WNBC, CBS NY, and more.

Check out her infamous YouTube video of her 90-square-foot Manhattan studio.

Connect with Felice:

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Suzie Carr  0:08  
Hey, thanks for joining me today for this episode of Curves Welcome a podcast about facing and embracing the curves of life. If this is your first time tuning in, this is Suzie Carr.

Thanks for tuning in everyone. I'd like to welcome a special guest to the podcast today. Felice Cohen. She's here to chat with us today about ways you can declutter your life. Felice, it is great to have you here today. Thank you so much for being here. 

Felice Cohen  0:36  
My pleasure. Thanks for having me, Suzie. 

Suzie Carr  0:39  
So you've got an interesting background, about how you've lived large in small spaces. There's an infamous YouTube video of you where that I've seen about how you lived in 90 square feet in an apartment in New York City while you were writing your first book. Can you share your experience with us about that, and a bit about your background? 

Felice Cohen  1:01  
Sure. So I grew up on Cape Cod in a large home. And my I had a walk in closet, I to walk in closets that together were almost 90 square feet. And as a kid, for fun, I would take everything out, I would reorganize it, I would put it back, I had no idea I could or would become a professional organizer. When I was in college, I would organize dorm rooms in exchange for slices of pizza, because that's what you do. And then when I graduated, you know, my grandfather and I were so close. And he had asked me to write his story about his Holocaust experience. And I thought, okay, so it was kind of thinking about being a writer and moving to New York. And then I saw a woman on TV who organized apartments for a living, and I thought I can do that in my sleep. So I'm going to move to New York. And that's what I did. I worked as an organizer, and I was with billionaires and hoarders and everybody in between famous people's crazy, it was fun. I love doing it. It's like jigsaw puzzles. And then I had other jobs. I worked with the Daily News, I was chief of staff to the president and Hunter College. And then my grandfather got cancer, and he said, I want you to finish the book. And I was calling it a book. So I was like, okay, so I thought I have to quit my job. There's no way it's, I was working so many hours. So I found a tiny apartment, the rent was low enough that I could still organize a couple clients and, and I didn't have to worry about rent so much. And it was 90 square feet. And one of the papers I worked for us heard I lived in a tiny place. And they said write an article about how to organize it. And then a woman contacted me about making a video. So she came and made the video. And when the video came out, it came out shortly after my grandfather's book came out. Now my grandfather's book, I never expected to sell any copies. Thanks for the video. It's sold around the world. It sold 1000s of copies. And I was just like, Whoa, this is great. Because of the tiny video, people would email me and ask for my advice on organizing and decluttering. And so that's what was the impetus for writing my second book about how to, you know, organize and declutter a small space, it was also about how living tiny made my life larger, because I had moved into 90 square feet, which is the circumference of my Honda Accord. And, and because of that, it opened up my world. And suddenly, I was being asked to speak all over the country on organizing on my grandfather and talking about the Holocaust. So suddenly, I was a holocaust educator as well. And it just it just proved to be the best gift there was almost like it was fate that I moved into that tiny place. And then the tiny place did a marketing job of the books. Wow, that is really fascinating. 90 square feet. This Yeah, it's the circumference of a Honda Accord. 

Suzie Carr  3:43  
Now, I had a Honda Accord. So I know what that size is and

Felice Cohen  3:47  
 twelve by seven and a half feet. So like Michael Jordan could touch both walls.

Suzie Carr  3:54  
Wow. Now when you I just have to ask when you first moved into these 90 square feet. What was your initial thought? Were you like God, okay, this is really ridiculous of me to even consider doing this. Or did you? I don't know, what was your attitude towards it? 

Felice Cohen  4:11  
Well, before I moved in, I went and looked at it. It was a friend of a friend who found who had the place. So I went and looked and I brought a friend with me. And we walked in and it was just stuff everywhere. There was a futon table, close garbage bookcases stuff everywhere. And there's a little ladder up to the loft bed. You've seen the video. Everybody knows about the loft bed, you can't sit up in it. But my friend was like, we got to get out of here. You can't live here. And I thought to myself, it's just for a year. I'm an organizer. I'm trained at seeing the order amid the chaos, because we don't take up space. It's our stuff that takes up space. So when I moved back in a couple weeks later with I had put 77 boxes of stuff into storage. I ended up getting rid of all those boxes over five years that I was in because you realize you don't need it or want it and I organize the place I know like Manhattan, you have to go up. So I got these shelves and everything kind of went and totes and went up. And suddenly it was just like, when I was working, the whole space was my office, when I was preparing my meals, the whole space was my kitchen. And when I was doing yoga, and the little strip of space was my yoga studio, but you know, I was in Manhattan, I was a block from Central Park. So the city became my backyard. And you know, in New York City, we you go out and you meet people everywhere, and you walk in. And so this was my little space and, and what I realized was, that was my priority. Because, you know, when I speak at tiny house festivals, I always tell people before you do it, because it's not easy, is to have your why. And for me, every time I would be like, I wish I had a couch or I wish I could cook something on a stove. Because I didn't have a kitchen, I would remember remind myself of my why which was to write my grandfather's book. And I had only planned to stay one year. But at the end of that one year, my life was so much better, I wasn't getting up to go to a crazy job, I would get up when I wanted to, or I'd go for bike rides, and I was still working. But I was doing it on my own schedule. And that was worth so much more. 

Suzie Carr  6:14  
There's a lot of value in being able to have that sort of freedom of personal space of personal time, not being so bogged down with having to work, like a major full time job, that's really strenuous that you don't even like because you have to pay the bills, or worse having to do two or three jobs. On top of that. I mean, I I think I've worked pretty much my whole life. I've done at least two jobs at once. And I continue to do that. Now I like what I do, I do. But you know, I always say my spouse, and I always have this conversation. And we say if we could just figure out how to get rid of all of our stuff. We could live in a little trailer and travel the world and still work remotely and be able to really enjoy life. And that is sort of a goal in a way is to be able to declutter, simplified. And yeah, just be able to do that. And so there I think there's a real art and science to that. And I'm really curious to pick your brain about that. Before I do. I just want to say to my listeners that I'm going to post that video a link to the video in the show notes. In case you're really curious about this video, because it really I've watched it and it's fascinating. So you just tuned into that video. It'll blow your mind. But getting back to this, what what are your views on clutter in regards to how it affects us as people?

Felice Cohen  7:34  
Yeah, so clutter affects us in lots of ways. I always say this, it's really two major ways. One is emotionally. When you see clutter, it is overwhelming. It creates anxiety, it tells you, you should be cleaning this up, you should be going through this, you should be doing blah, blah, blah, and it makes you feel bad. So right away, you feel defensive, you feel frustrated, you feel sad, you get depressed, anxious. I've had clients who this one woman, one of my very first clients, sweetest woman, she had a business, a master's in business, a law degree, and she had every paper she'd ever written and book, all around her living room, you couldn't sit on our couch, considered dining room table, the floors, everything in her bedroom was filled with clothing, because along the way, she had gone from like a size 18 to a size eight. So she had full wardrobe. And so she hadn't had people over in years. So she felt isolated. And a lot of people do feel isolated. And also there's the safety aspect when you get into other won't get into the physical part. But she just felt like she just had no life. So we got rid of stuff. And I had to I don't tell anybody to get rid of stuff. But I had to encourage her. And I had to show her how much better her life could be. So you know, now we have Google, it was just at the time of Google, I said, everything you learned can now be found on Google. So we got rid of books paper, little by little, we could see the floor. We could see the couch, we could see the dining room table. And then she said, Well, I want to save the clothes that are larger in case I get back to that size. I said that's wishful thinking. We don't want to go back to that size. If you don't, if you do, that's fine. No judgment, but let's get rid of it by the time your body changes or whatever, they'll be out of fashion. So we got rid of kind of that emotional because that's a big thing. But then there's also the physical aspect of clutter, which is, like I said, safety fire hazard. mold, mice, bugs, I've seen it all rats, I've seen it all. Also, there's you know, safety because I also teach a class for elderly you know, tripping, or you don't want to fall trip over stuff. You want to also feel clean and like you were saying you have a lot of stuff. What do you have to do you have to work to pay for that stuff. So you have to work more and you have less time to actually use that stuff to wear that stuff to eat that stuff. We have food in our cabinets that go bad. I mean it's it's kind of ridiculous. So we have all these things. But at the end of the day, for me, it's about time. Because this is all this is worth most, that of anything we can own is time because you want to have more time to do the things you love. So whenever I work with any client, my first question is always, what do you love to do? And the second question is, why don't you do it more often? And the answer is usually, because of stuff. You know, you have to clean the stuff work to pay for the stuff, organize the stuff. So it's about finding your priorities and what you want.

Suzie Carr  10:30  
It's really powerful. You know, one of the things that I was thinking of when you were speaking about clutter, is that that emotional part is, when you know, my spouse and I had the conversation a lot about, there are certain things like maybe it's a tool that we haven't used in five years. But what if we need it? Right? What if we need it? If five years down the road, now we've got to go by it again. And that's always been both of us. That's kind of our little argument as to, we just need to save this stuff. We need to put it we can put it in the attic. Our attic is filled to the brim. I'm afraid to go up there. But I imagine, oh, we might need that shovel one day for the yard that we don't have. But we might have a yard that we need a shovel. Right? What would you say to somebody about that? 

Felice Cohen  11:17  
Oh, that's a big thing. We call those the just in case items. And we all have them how many old cell phone plugs? Do you have, like ridiculous keychange from some event you went to? And for the most part, you're never going to need it. And if you need a shovel, you know what if you think of that shovel, and you donate that shovel now to someone who needs it, who needs it? Now, you'll feel better than when you really need a shovel, maybe borrow one or you go get a shovel? chances are it really depends on what it is because it's the same with sentimental items. You save all this stuff because it's sentimental. But if it's up in your attic, how sentimental could it be? Or you really have to at some point, say what's really what do I really need and those just in case, maybe you say I take one tote, and go through everything only. Only when I fill this one tote. That's all I can keep for just in case, everything else has to go. It's not easy. But you know what? It's your life and you're paying that space, you're paying for square footage of storing that space. You mean you could put a zuba you know studio in your attic instead of storage. 

Suzie Carr  12:22  
I love it. I love zoom buses that would work really great for me. I don't know if the floors would hold up. But you know, it's a great concept. I really like that. The Justin case tote. That's a beautiful concept. And it's something that that's practical. And it's something I feel like emotionally people can wrap themselves around that idea of you still you don't have to take everything out you can you have this tote. And like you really have to prioritize and think about what is the most important, why is it important to put that in there? Is it really important? What if there's something else that's even more important? So I think that helps people to prioritize their important items. 

Felice Cohen  13:01  
Sure. And I will be generous and let you each have your own you and your spouse can each have your own code. 

Suzie Carr  13:06  
That's great. that would that would work that would work wonderfully.

Felice, what are some of the biggest lessons you learned from living large in a small space?

Felice Cohen  13:17  
Well, I have to reiterate that it's one it's about time because I only plan to stay one year and I stayed five. And I only left after five because I was evicted. Because of the tiny video, the landlord saw me and Good Morning America. And I was subletting I wasn't supposed to but that being said, I I got so much more from living with so much less. And I got more time to do the things I love to do. I got my savings grew if you could believe it, I ended up buying the place after because I wasn't buying a lot of stuff. my credit card bills went down because I had no place to put it. So my freedom went up. I got more happiness. I got more everything that you could want. It was like Oh, please, you want to go for a hike? Okay, let's just go and it was like it was a Tuesday at 11 Yeah, let's do it. I mean, you know, I would work I could get up at seven in the morning and start working I could work till 10 at night different things but I could stop at a moment's notice and do what I wanted to do. I got more of my life and what I love to do and and it was just this freeing experience you know I didn't have to work so much more to pay for stuff I had so little time to use. And you know even my clothes that I whittled down to bring I barely wore any of it. So I mean, you we kind of wear the same thing especially now in a pandemic. I mean it's like if it passes the smell test, I'll wear it again. I you just like whatever. 

Suzie Carr  14:45  
But it's funny you say that because the T shirt I'm wearing right now this is like my favorite t shirt. It is my go to T shirt for working at home. It's just comfortable. And you know it looks okay and so absolutely how dirty my getting it sitting in my dining I'm at my dining room table, which is now my office because we're on remote working. Yeah, I, I'll tell you what I could, gosh, I could definitely use an organizer because it is really hard. Speaking of pandemic wise, a lot of people used to work in an office building, and now they're working from their homes. And sometimes they working multiple people living in the same household and working from home, which is the case for us. And so I've taken over our dining room, that's my new office and sitting on my dining room table. And I've got, you know, a setup over here for my laptop, and it's set up over here from my drawers that hold my stuff for work, and trying to keep myself organized. And it's evolving. Now it's becoming more organized as the time has growing. It's growing for me to be here. But there's something to be said about, I can't stand having things all over my dining room table, like my ruler in my you know, my pan and have calculator, I'd rather have those in a little draw that if I need the calculator, I pull it out. So there's something to be said about that emotional clutter, the physical clutter, and what it does to you emotionally. I know, it makes me blocks my creativity. When I see clutter, it drives me crazy. I think so much more clearly, when everything's just wide open. I have a space, and it feels really good.

Now, do you have any advice on how people can become less cluttered in life? If they don't have an organizer? Or can afford to hire an organizer to help them or their, you know, is there other little tips that you would give people? 

Felice Cohen  16:36  
Sure. I think the first thing you want to do is tell yourself, you know, it's not easy for everybody. For me, it's a jigsaw puzzle, I love it. But for a lot of people, it's not easy. So don't beat yourself up. There are tips to make it better like you like when you're at work right now I would have instead of drawers and stuff or rulers and calculators I have a little tote bag. And then at the end of the day, everything goes in the tote bag, the tote bag goes in the closet and you can sit down and have a nice meal at your dining table. But I can't I can't work I can't write when I see clutter as well. So for me, I think of my home as a jigsaw puzzle. Okay, so the home is the frame and all your stuff are the pieces that fit inside. So when you do a jigsaw puzzle, every piece has one place that goes for the most part, there are some challenging puzzles. I'm talking about basic puzzles. So everything has one place that goes when you come home from doing food shopping, your eggs always go in the fridge, they always usually probably the same shelf or whatever. You don't put the eggs in your underwear drawer. Everything has one place to go. So if you can come up with a place a home for everything, your underwear goes here, your pots go there. Tupperware, snacks, everything goes in one place, what's left, what's still not put away. What are those things? Do you need them? Do you want them? If you really do find a home for them? Is there something that's a way that's taking up space that you don't really want or need? That's what those because I got back to New York yesterday, I've been away in Massachusetts, and I had a lot of stuff to kind of put away and it didn't take long because everything had a place. I paid a bill that went there, I put this away everything had a place. And so if you have a first a place for things, that's what you do, but the first you want to kind of get rid of what you don't need and want and that's the hard part. So I'll give you a few tips on that one. I say if I told you Okay, Suzie, I want you to get rid of five things today. They could be a paperclip, they could be a Tupperware missing a lid and old sock. If I said, Can you get rid of five things today? You probably say yes. Now I do this. When I do speak to large groups, everybody raises their hand. I say if you did that every day for a week, every day, that's 35 things. So if I said to you, can you go up in the attic every day? Take rid of five things, just five things. And you'd probably or two things or one thing? And you'd probably say yes, one thing. And then after a while eventually it's little by little or you know, we all have cell phones, I love setting my timer. If I really need to get my butt in the seat to write. I'll set my timer for 45 minutes, shut off my notifications, and go because I know 45 minutes I can stop and I'm not you know overwhelmed. So if I said set your timer, 45 minutes go through the attic, when the alarm goes off, stop you're done. Or you walk around your house, seeing what you can do one closet or whatever.

Another thing I I do this with my mom, kids love this is you take a pair of dice, you roll the dice, whatever number you get, that's how many things you have to get rid of. And when I say get rid of I mean toss or recycle or donate and this is a fun thing to do. Another thing is rewarding yourself. If I do those five things. If I do 45 minutes, then I get a reward. I can watch Netflix for an hour I can eat a cookie whatever. Because sometimes that motivates me like I can't watch TV at night until I've done bla bla bla you know, I also think routines are big, you know, if you have in your schedule book, which for most of us, it looks blank right now. But if your schedule book had 230 dentist appointment, you would stop whatever you're doing and go to that dentist appointment. If it says 230 get rid of five things, chances are, you might be more likely to do it because you've scheduled it. So you kind of put yourself in the position of having to do it. I always say it's great to have a partner. If you live alone, you can maybe do this on zoom, or, you know, get rid of five things and show your friend or say go through your closet, should I keep this? Does it look okay? You know, you can, you know, sometimes you need a little encouragement to say, you know what that looks like, it's from the 80s get rid of it, but my sister said that to me all the time. But um, you know, sometimes it's these little tricks, because at the end of the day, it doesn't feel like a task or a chore. It's more like a game, put on music, Michael Jackson, get your move in whatever gets you moving Guns and Roses, the whole gamut anything, put it on for 20 minutes, and just do something. Because it's like when you go on a diet and you it's hard, but you lose one or two pounds, you get a little more motivated, I can do this. And the more the more you get accomplished, the more you see that you've done, you get a little more motivated, I can do this, I can do this. And and that's encouraging, because it's not easy. 

Suzie Carr  21:23  
But no, I know what I love about what you just said all of these little tips are easy to implement. They're not complex, which will make this if they're easy, they're people more OPT or more are more apt to do them, I should say. And at least that goes for me. And I love the little that does simple tricks as like that the dice. That's a fun thing to do, especially if you have children, and you want them to clean up their room, that closet, it's a great activity that keeps them engaged to I would imagine. But it's one of these things. It's goal oriented, too. Because I just, I work well when I have a structure and a plan and goals. And so when you were saying the tips, they spoke to my soul, because I love timing myself, when I write I do that I use a timer. So I love the idea of setting the timer. If it's not 45 minutes, if somebody only has 10 minutes a day to do that, then set it for 10 minutes and find an item in that 10 minutes. And I feel like that would empower somebody to by the time they're done with these little these these fun ways of decluttering. They would feel empowered, and they wouldn't feel bad. Because I feel like there's this whole bad feeling that comes with, you have to get rid of things. And it's almost like taking a piece of your heart. And the way you framed it. It's not like that at all. It feels like it's wholesome. Like it's a great activity. It's your well being is at stake. And so thank you for that, that my biggest takeaway was the dice because that will tell me Okay, today I one item I can do Oh, six items. And it's almost like okay, there's structure there. And I love that. Thank you. 

Felice Cohen  23:07  
If you get doubles, you got to go again. 

Suzie Carr  23:09  
Oh, is that right? No.

Felice Cohen  23:13  
But you know, it's it is you do feel good. And I always say think of the donation box as a helping box. Because you might think well, why do I have 17 sweaters? Do I wear them? If I got rid of this one? Would I really miss it, somebody could really use that sweater so you feel good about giving you've made space in your home, you might get a tax write off either way. But you do feel good about knowing you're helping others as well. 

Suzie Carr  23:37  
Yeah, you've inspired me to go into my kitchen today. And I have I think everybody has a junk drawer right place where you just put all the odds and ends that you don't know what else to do with. And mine is so full that it it gets stuck, I can't open it. And I have to put my hand in there and squeeze things down to open it up. So I feel very inspired to go through that draw today I know who is going to be more than five items, probably going to be 30 items. But honestly, the only thing there's only like one or two things that I go in that show forever anyway, so maybe I should just keep those one or two items. 

Felice Cohen  24:09  
And that's probably and I mean, I didn't get into it. But I have hot zones and cold zones. And a junk drawer is probably in a space where you could really put something you use every day in that drawer. So you know all that stuff. Maybe after a week, if you got rid of five things a day, then say what do I really need that drawer for? Maybe you know, you want to keep at the end of your workday? That's where your calculator and your ruler go. That's your work drawer. And then you don't then you don't see it when at the end of the day. 

Suzie Carr  24:35  
Yeah. Oh, that's really good. I love that. Thank you for Thank you. Is there anything else that I haven't asked you that you think would lend value to this conversation about decluttering and reorganizing your life that you think listeners might find value in? 

Felice Cohen  24:50  
I think it's good to have your priority at the start your Why? Why are you doing this because it's gonna get hard. There might be times where you get frustrated, you're going to be up in your attic and you're gonna look around and you're going to feel like you're not making a dent and why am I doing this? And how do we let it get like this? And you're going to if, if your why is so that, you know you don't see it's out of sight out of mind in the attic but it literally and figuratively it's over your head. It's looming over your head. So if you have your why, to remind you, when you're up to your elbows in crap that's up in your attic. I'm doing this because I want to clear this out, I may be want to have something else in here, just nothing in here. Remind yourself why I'm doing this. I want to have a Zoom Room, I want to have peace of mind. I know when eventually we're going to move and we're going to have to do this. Or you know what, if there's an extra room, my mother might have to come live with us eventually. Whatever the thing is have that as a reminder, so it's not about cleaning the clutter. It's about having that end goal, because then you're know you're working towards something and not just working away a mess. 

Suzie Carr  25:57  
Yeah, that's a really good way. A really great way to look at it, felice. This has been an incredible conversation. What I'd like to do is, can you tell people how they can connect with you

Felice Cohen  26:07  
Sure. telepathy. If that doesn't work. Then they could always go to my website You can email me It's all on my website. So and I'm sure you put it on your thing. 

Suzie Carr  26:25  

Felice Cohen  26:26  
Yeah. Anybody feel free to send me an email and say, Hey, I'm stuck in this closet. What do I do? I'm happy to give you a tip or two. 

Suzie Carr  26:33  
All right, that sounds great. It has been really wonderful chatting with you today. felice, thank you so much for coming on to the curves. Welcome podcast. 

Felice Cohen  26:41  
Thank you. It was great fun.

Suzie Carr  26:44  
Hey, friends. Thanks for spending time with me today. I hope you enjoyed today's topic. If there is something you'd enjoy exploring in a future podcast, please reach out to me via my website at And I'll work it in. While you're there, grab a free story too. It's my way of thanking you for your support of my podcast and romance novels. Also, be sure to follow the curves welcome podcast to channel to keep up on the latest episodes. So thanks for tuning in. Until next time, go out there and continue to learn, grow and embrace life's curves.