Interview: De-clutter, Organize And Spruce Up For Spring With Benicia’s Ann Corcoran
Lisa Duncan Photography
At a time when Ann Corcoran could be slowing down, she is picking up the pace.
In fact, Ann is a pro at picking up stuff these days. Unused china, old books, obsolete modems, outdated clothing, cables of unknown origin—these are the flotsam of life that Ann deals with in her new business, Annie Fix It!
Ann launched the home-services business last spring, offering to help people clean, prepare for a move, plan parties, and other tasks. Organizing and decluttering are her specialties. At the end of each day, her car is full of items to be recycled or taken to second-hand shops. “You don’t have to think about it again.”
She draws on skills learned throughout her life, including her decades at the Benicia glass studio she ran with her late husband, Michael Nourot.
“It was always, ‘You throw the party, you clear those shelves, you carry that stuff to the dumpster.’ Whatever it was that needed doing, I did it all,” she recalls.
Now she is doing it all for others, often when an in-law moves in or a family member passes or it’s time to move to a smaller home.
She knows personally about downsizing. “I had a big life, a big house, a big business,” Ann says. The couple moved from a five-bedroom house to a condo before Michael died in 2015. Ann closed the glass studio in 2016. “It was the end of an era and I just wanted to turn the page.”
Ann and Micheal moved to Benicia in 1974 and raised their three children here. The youngest is in college and the older two live with their families in Benicia. Their oldest son, Nick, is carrying on his parents’ glassblowing tradition.
Ann admits she isn’t immune to clutter. “My junk drawer is no better than anyone else’s. It’s got sunscreen, old batteries, scissors, tape—all that and more.”
What prompts people to call you for help? Often something happens and the house goes into disarray. Someone’s moved in, moved out or died, or they have too much paper and need a filing system, or they need help packing and moving, or their closet is out of control.
Sometimes it’s, “I’ve given up on my garage and I just need to find stuff,” or “I’ve held on to too much for too long.” …
Very little of your material things really matter. It’s more important to let things go as life winds down. You have to figure out what matters to you. …
How do you start each project? I try to get the number one thing that they want to get out of this, even if it’s just how they want to feel about their space after we’re done.
Clients always express embarrassment, thinking they’re the only ones with spaces like this. That’s the beginning of every meeting. … By calling me, they’ve already broken the pattern of letting things go on as they have been.
I’m doing exactly what they want me to do, exactly how they want me to do it. With some rules.
What rules do you have? You start at the top, you don’t start by cleaning the floor. …|
The shorter the period between when you decide you don’t need something and letting it go, the better. If you hold on to something, it’s agonizing. You’re thinking, “Should I save it? Is it wasteful to let it go? Would someone I know like it? Might I need it in the future?” Let it go. …
You have to be willing to stop doing everything else until this is done.
Do you follow the rules in Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up? That’s not going to work for most of us. It says to start with the closet, so you’re supposed to start with the things that are most personal.
She is very tough about rules, and that doesn’t work in our culture where you’re working with people with a lifetime Costco membership.
My clients want to purchase relief for a specific area, and that’s what we focus on. … You have to validate people who want to change. They don’t know how to feel unstuck.
Have you ever felt stuck yourself? Yes! The last time I tried to clean my own garage (chuckling). I worked on it an hour or two and I got bored so I stopped. But with someone else’s stuff, I can keep working and see the progress.
What do you spend most of your work time doing? Sorting and gently applying a little forward pressure. If people get tired, you can give them a break and slow things down, or you can push them forward.
Sentimental people have an extra burden. You don’t have to have a manifestation of every memory. Everyone has their thing that is the hardest, most difficult thing to part with. For some people, it’s heirlooms, for some it’s paper, for some it’s clothes.
We have too many duplicates, and we have a lot of things clogging up our lives because of a sense of obligation.
Is there anything you have too much of? I’m guilty of that with area rugs, sheets and towels. I got my degree in textiles, and I find a pattern I like and I get it.
What do clients get from decluttering and organizing? You end up with so much more space in your life for new things, and they may not be actual things but things you want to do.
What advice do you have for those doing spring cleaning? Begin with the end in mind. You have to have a goal in mind. If it’s a big goal, do it in small pieces.
When you do a room, start at the top. Get help if you need it. Recognize your limitations; recognize what stumbling blocks are in your way.
We can all do with less. It’s no good to us if we don’t know where it is.
What do you do to relax? I like going to the parks here in town. I hike a lot, and apparently I’m good at single travel.
What’s next for you? I don’t know. I wouldn’t hazard to guess. This is an interesting stage of life. I’ve passed so many milestones, said good-bye to so many people. … Life is all about moving forward.