Monthly Archives: December 2014

Why I go Home for Christmas

why I go Home for Christmas


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December 21, 2014 · 9:42 pm

The Weather Outside is…well…nothing like Buffalo

It has been a week of titchy weather. We have run the panoply from clear and damp chills under the collar evenings to tuck-yourself-under-the-comforter, don’t want to get out of bed mornings. It pressed us to plastic up the windows to block off those errant breezes around the window casements. It also prompted some out there to seriously consider snow tires – some.

Now I’ve already been snow tire bound for months. But sure enough when last weeks plunking dollop of snow descended on us like some great pillow fight gone awry in the sky the roads were filled with the unprepared.

I had given my wife a lift into her office at the university of Toronto – a mere bagatelle of a hop of 100 kilometers there and back. Wouldn’t you know it, despite being prepped with tires my windshield wipers decided it was a fun time to stop working entirely. I had to cancel a client appointment as nobody could make it up Avenue Road. There is nothing quite as diverting to focus the mind like driving in a blizzard with your window wide open, being blasted by bone chilling gales and yanking your wipers back and forth with a snow scraper to open a postage stamp sized peephole on your windscreen while doofuses (doofi?) fishtail nutcracker ballet style across your path, swerving mere inches from you. It takes your breath away.

I reflected upon this yesterday when I fell into conversation with a neighbor and her young son. Beneath a Belgian sky we cringed at the thought of what was in store. Her boy joyously beamed that winter was coming in a few days and he was pleased. It meant snow and snow meant fun. It struck my neighbor and I simultaneously, like someone had thunked us both with phone books – it was still Autumn!

It’s about this time when the realization hits that we collectively pucker up and ball our fists against the next two months. We do our time standing up. But something has happened over the last decade or so – a noticeable something that one can see played out on the nightly news. It used to be when watching American news the bad weather culprit was us. The plaid coated, bad hair local weather guy would admonish Canada for allowing a swoop of frigid arctic air to descend on them. Now it’s the Canadian news that intrigues with bulletins of plus temperatures north of the border and stark images of glacier entombed American cites just across the water.

I don’t know how many times lately I have sauntered on green grass in the waterside boardwalks of Oakville, to the clatter of birdsong, albeit with hat and gloves, and glanced across the water to imagine that so close to us in Buffalo they are living a polar nightmare.

I remember that we used to have such snows in Ontario and Quebec in Autumn. No longer it seems. Even the winters, while having some very nasty days, aren’t as piled as it used to be. No more does one have to run a gauntlet of snow forts bracketing either side of a neighborhood street with ten foot castles and dodge between a hail of snowballs. You don’t see that any more. But Americans it seems have to start picking away at the wall of snow as soon as they open their doors. What gives?

So as winter and Christmas approaches, my friends, take cheer in that even though our Canadian newscasts are about to be filled with dire warnings of temperatures plummeting to negative single digits we will survive. It’s only getting better it seems. Global warming aside I urge one and all to enjoy the holidays and put on your friggin’ snow tires.

– Stephen Ilott is a Professional Home Organizer living in the balmy lakeside resort town of Oakville Ontario. You can find him at

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Christmas Parking Lot Confidential

Christmas Parking Lot Confidential


       Nothing a cattle prods the luster out of Christmas shopping like the forty minute prelude jockeying for a parking spot. It has become the Canadian Gladiator extreme elimination challenge and a sport more suited to type ‘A’ gamers than the average Joe or Josephine.

This was brought riotously home to my wife and me when we ventured over to a local big mall to ‘snap’ up a prize or two to add to the holiday offerings. Obligation is the word of the day when buying gifts these days, even if it’s for a person who potentially, just might, maybe get you something and you don’t want to be embarrassed. I call it the tyranny of gifts. Every Christmas afterwards you have to mount the awful bit of business they thrust upon you on the mantle or forever live under the shadow of fear they’ll ask about it.

Guys honestly could care less. It’s not that we’re cheap (we are) or that we’re thoughtless; we’re thoughtful, we just think about buying someone something before we don’t. We’re kind that way. We certainly do not see the necessity for the ritualistic pre-Christmas parking lot scramble. It’s why we love gift cards. Nothing proclaims Merry Christmas like a nice piece of colorful plastic that says, “Here buy your-self something nice, as long as it’s under $50.00.”

The lurching about in parking lots certainly primes us for the season. It’s the outright tossing out the window of politesse that irks me to no end. Then you have to adopt the very tactics you despise in the competition.

With all spots taken you resort to spotting the returning shoppers with bags, anyone fishing for keys or scanning the lot wistfully trying to remember where they parked. You cruise close behind them like a hunter with a foliage hat. You second guess where they may be going – this row or that. Should you jump a row or wait? Will they duck between cars to get to …? In desperation they lift their keys upward in a tired salute. You strain to hear the beep-beep of their car lock, the squeak of a trunk popping opening. Heads rotate and eyes narrow to peer into the maze of roofs. There – you see the car lights flash and the shopper moves to it, taking their sweet time. Don’t they know you’re in a hurry? Then you see it – they’re only dropping off packages; your shoulders slump.

So off you go hunting for another prospect. It’s then you notice a palpable heave of disappointment around you and realize three other cars are following every move as well. Off they scatter like roaches to follow another lead, your lead, your spot.

It’s a game of chance. When you finally snag a prime spot a mile from the mall doors it’s usually because a car has just popped out right in front of you previously unseen and unexpected and you are poised at just the right angle to cut off the other three cars who couldn’t reverse backwards fast enough. You can’t help but do a victory dance in that moment, something your spouse always finds distasteful.

When my wife and I finally found a spot, the parking ordeal was quickly forgotten and we plunged into the chaos inside the mall, shopped, did our obligatory duty and exited relatively intact. There is no greater joy for a man than when he leaves a mall.

As we walked towards the car we were acutely aware that there were eager eyes upon us and the air held hopeful anticipation. As we vacated the coveted parking spot I don’t believe the air even had time to suck back into empty space before it was quickly and victoriously filled.

Stephen Ilott is a Professional Home Organizer/Declutterer lurching about parking lots in Oakville Ontario. His company is and can be found and hired via 416-460-8098 or Web site

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Cat on a Hot Tinnitus Roof

Cat on a Hot Tinnitus Roof

I have a dodgy elbow I call Manny, echoing sciatica I call the Doctor, a wobbly bursitis knee I call Jazz Man and a tender thumb that goes by the name of Jennifer. I name my injuries. Injuries are a part of life; with 20/20 hindsight, laughably predictable. One has time to reflect upon them as you hop around gripping a pummeled thumb and whooping, “Stupid, stupid, stupid!” Fortunately those wee setbacks are a mere bagatelle of fun that fades like the din of a bell after a few moments of song and dance.

When working in a client’s home, now and then, the universe peppers our path with these little insults so we become more attuned to potentially larger landmines generously strewn about as a courtesy detail. When the old war wounds bid hello to me I nod back and remember a lesson learned; my own traveling circus of characters and aversions reminding me that the average home is fraught with danger and that I should always expect the unexpected. When you drop your guard it’s usually on your foot. When you’re not paying attention they become life lessons served cold.

Here are a few lessons culled from years of experience recalled with warm regret:

  • Shins transform to several tones of mauve from sudden scrapes along hidden wider than expected bed frames cleverly draped beneath a comforter or decorous skirt. Toes also frequently splay around those unexpected center support leg posts beneath, usually when moving fast. Wear your indoor shoes when decluttering a bedroom.
  • When sweeping an arm under a bed to grab a shadowy form you may discover it has claws and teeth and is brimming with unpleasantness. Surprise!!
  • One should never stretch up on tippy-toes to pull books from high places on long neglected shelves. You never forget the first time mouse poop rolls off into your gaping mouth.
  • When removing screws from the underside of a dining room table…close same mouth.
  • Never offer to relocate a dead anything for a client and transport it in your car (birds, mice, raccoons). We bury things for a reason. You’ll never forget the sudden quiet look on your spouse’s face, the corners of their mouth pinioning downwards, as they ask, “What’s that smell?”

(I once remarked to my wife that I hate the smell of rotting apples. Her always quick witted retort was, “I hate the smell of rotting anything.”)

  • Speaking of smells – freezers long unplugged but not emptied of turkey meat and dairy products should not be opened on an inhalation of breath, especially as you bend down forward to look inside.
  • Another olfactory assault comes from all those client boxes glued by dark stains to basement floors, usually under the stairs. If you gleefully pop open mildewed flaps without a mask a nice puff of mold is yours for the asking.
  • Never move ancient daybed couches older than your client, especially the kind made of solid cast iron and switchblade out like spasmodic guillotines halfway down a staircase.
  • Never move a daybed down a staircase that has paintings on either side… framed in glass… painted by the owner…who is in a hurry to get past you to answer the front door to catch the Fed-Ex man.
  • Never attempt to untangle a long forgotten closet full of intertwined metal hangers alone. You may never be seen or heard from again.
  • Cantilevered garage doors can be swung down by distracted clients and knock you right out. You can’t hear the word sorry when you’re unconscious.
  • Garage lofts are a guy’s locale of choice to store useless wood with un-yanked nails that offer free belly button piercings. Guys also keep a life time supply of old sheets of glass that slide freely to take off your head at source if you don’t duck in time. (Think The Omen’, part one).
  • Never move lawn darts, ladders or garden gnomes from a loft in a garage over where the client’s expensive BMW is parked. Nervous moments may ensue. (Pick any scene from the ‘Final Destination’ movies) You never regret asking them politely to move it out.
  • Never yank an innocent looking bag from a loft while balanced on a ladder. It invariably turns out to be a gravity sucking, un-holdable, solidified sack of cement.
  • Never catch anything while standing on a ladder – like an un-holdable, solidified sack of cement.
  • Never shove anything next to an old fire extinguisher; they don’t like it. The resulting pyroclastic surge cloud of fine powder takes ever so long to tidy up.
  • Never touch a leaky pipe you’re not prepared to mop up after.
  • Speaking of pipes – crawl spaces have even lower pipes, many with butterfly screws that neatly cleave scalps. Some pesky pipes fail to budge at all upon full impact with a skull.
  • Always turn off the circuit before you use pliers to unscrew and extricate the base of a broken light bulb unless you like to stutter and tap dance.
  • Upon fixing a chair for a client never demonstrate the job is done by sitting on it.
  • Don’t carry twirling garbage bags of broken glass any distance. Arms get tired and lower inexorably towards your shins. Remember the killer chariot spokes in Ben-Hur?
  • Don’t carry objects tucked under an armpit. They will fall out. They always do and always will, especially if breakable. Carry less, make more trips. Full stop.
  • Never move a piano with a client. Period. Never, unless you like sciatica.

All of those moments and more from my tossed salad of a life deserve, if not a name, then a nod of remembrance. Many will be addressed in a bit more detail in my book ‘The Domestic Archaeologist’ which I hope to finally get cooking out the door in 2015. And you’ll hear all about Manny and Jennifer, The Jazz man and of course – The Doctor. Love to hear from my subscribers and their tales. I am collecting other stories now for another tome later on. Stay Tuned!! – Steve Ilott – Oakville, Ontario – Professional Organizer, Speaker, Writer.

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The Psychology of Clutter – The Domestic Archaeologist – The Dom Arch Speaks up

Emotion and getting blocked

For a growing number of Canadian home owners household clutter has become an emotionally charged reaction to overwhelming pressures and expectations. The pressures are many; the pressure to succeed at work, to pay relentless bills of all kinds, family pressures to be the perfect parents, commercial expectations to own all the trappings of modern life – just like everyone else etc. etc.
The increased acceptance of Professional Organizers, for the most part by the women in the household, has opened the door to this common psychological problem. Many don’t want to regard clutter as a psychological problem but what is emotional distress caused by overwhelming disorder if not psychological?
The good news is that people now know they are not alone in being “messy” and that there is a cure.

__________________________________Time and Motivation

There is no doubt that, for many, time plays a key role. There’s never enough of it and cleaning up after a less than stationary child can become numbingly relentless. So what does it take to stay organized in your home, keeping up if not ahead of the game? Generally the answer is moot, pick it up when it falls down. Specifically and more productively, carve out moments from the day to re-focus to dedicate to zeroing in on one small piece of the concern at a time.
More on that in a moment. But whenever possible clean it up when it gets dirty. If you knocked over a potted plant wouldn’t you be inclined to vacuum up the dirt? If you knock over a glass of cranberry juice don’t you feel the urge to scramble for a cloth. Extend that thinking to a few fleeting moments of maintenance each and every day for junk mail, laundry, toys.

But what if you’re overwhelmed by the immensity of the work. Where does one start? How does one start?

What happens is that inertia sets in and the world stops at the doorstep. It’s a case of stop the world I want to get off. Less and less gets picked up and the flow of the home – the Feng Shui ceases. To walk in such a home feels as though you are wading through molasses. There is no lightness, no breathing spaces from which to draw energy. One of my clients whose home was similarly and alarmingly cluttered was prompted to seek my help when her four year old daughter asked her if, “Daddy could move us to a neat house?” My new client’s motivation suddenly became crystal clear – her children’s health, mental and otherwise.
Restoring the flow requires guidance, patience and a few tricks of the mind. Read on for a good way to ‘re-perceive’ and start you on your way:

_________________________________Escape Mechanisms

With the help of a good organizer one can be guided to live life less large and reclaim not only breathing space but peace of mind. It first it has to be recognized that one has a few mental avenues of escape that become ingrained habits the moment those suffocating feelings of being overwhelmed start to tighten the chest and weigh the mind down. Some look at the entirety of the clutter then instantly do an about face, have a sandwich or watch some TV or call a friend or have a little lie down, anything but “tackle the problem”.

_________________________Answers and small exercises

Let’s get past the nature of the things we own and how we simply own too many things we don’t need. Let’s concentrate on doing something small to get you over overwhelmed. Let’s use the psychology that’s been blocking you and make it work for you to return flow one open space at a time. It works Trust me.

The answer is not to look at the entirety of the whole mess whether it’s a pile of laundry or papers or toys or tools or lots of everything under the sun jumbled in a pile in your room of shame.
One has to refocus, change one’s perception. Develop a new outlook, a paradigm. Reinvent your viewpoint. Stand back and shake your eyes and when you look again see only one single item to work on. And as the Buddhists say, “if you’re going to do the dishes, DO THE DISHES.” Make it tactile. Enjoy the feeling of the water on your hands, the small exhilaration of each cleaned dish, dried and put away as a triumph. Pat yourself for each small victory. Make a point of it.
Enjoy the moment in time as if it’s a meditation. It means drawing the experience into your life. It has to be done anyway so instead of making it an onerous ‘away’ experience make it a ‘toward’ experience. Bring it into the present moment, don’t dwell on all the other pressing tasks that await you.

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