Prize winner Irene Behrmann, left, and speaker Ranka Burzan. (photo by Binny Goldman)
On March 3, 75 people attended the Jewish Seniors Alliance Snider Foundation Empowerment Series workshop Don’t Agonize, Organize/Downsize, led by author and professional organizer Ranka Burzan, founder of Solutions Organizing Simple.
Rev. Dr. Steven Epperson of the Unitarian Church of Vancouver welcomed those gathered at JSA’s headquarters, telling the crowd he enjoyed having a Jewish organization as part of his community’s centre. He shared that, over the years, he has dealt personally and professionally with life-changing events in his church members’ lives: marriages, births, health setbacks, deaths. He said these difficult times are especially hard if no plans have been made in advance for the transitions.
JSA president Marilyn Berger pointed to her walker when introducing Burzan, and said this reflected her home, too, as the walker held a coffee cup, papers and other items. Berger spoke of Burzan’s work to assist people with the physical and emotional demands of transition and change, and said she looked forward to learning some pointers that would help her and others.
When Burzan asked the crowd how many of them were organized, a few hands went up. When she asked how many of them would like to be organized, everyone’s hands shot into the air. According to her, time is wasted searching for things like keys, scissors, staples, papers, which leads to time spent being overwhelmed with frustration and not able to start the task we set out to do.
Change is very difficult and we are afraid of it, she said. We procrastinate, we stress, we start but do not finish tasks, we hold onto things given to us, because of guilt.
Quoting Gandhi – “You must be the change you want to see” – Burzan illustrated that it is up to us to initiate change, and proceeded to give tips on how to do so.
She said, ask yourself these questions: Do I like where I live and with whom? Do I like what I am doing in my job? Do I need this item or do I just want it around emotionally?
Then – listen to your answers.
We only use 20% of what we own, she said. The other 80% we keep, just in case – our children, grandchildren, friends or neighbors may want it. Some people rent storage to keep those “just in case” items, she said.
Commit five to 15 minutes of time, she continued, recommending that people set a kitchen timer and stay with the planned task until the time has elapsed.
Simple tools – such as boxes, bags, tape, markers – gathered before the task is started will aid in its accomplishment. She advised people to start with a small area to sort, like a junk drawer or purse. This will give the boost of confidence needed to carry it and other tasks through to completion.
To show how simple it can be to discard things within a planned five-minute period, Burzan had someone pass around a small wastebasket into which she asked people to toss any unwanted item from a purse or pocket. Serge Haber wryly remarked he would prefer a truck sent to his house to help him get rid of items there rather than a tiny wastebasket, which caused a ripple of understanding laughter in the audience. And, indeed, the wastebasket rapidly filled up and its contents were tossed – proving that it can be quite easy to throw something away: a theatre stub, an old gum wrapper, a cash receipt.
Burzan said the benefits of organizing are multiple: higher productivity, less stress, more free time to enjoy socializing or working; feeling the pleasure of knowing that others might be benefiting from your accumulated clutter, that the discarded “trash” might be treasure for someone else.
Clutter is a barrier to life, she said, and it creates guilt. We keep things because of emotional attachment. We start projects – scrapbooks, for example – that go untended. But if, after three months we have not completed a project, it should be discarded, she said.
So, ask yourself what’s holding you back. Start organizing when your energy level is highest during the day. Consider what would you take with you in the event of a fire. Ask for help – from family and positive-thinking friends who can help you reach your goal. Burzan pointed to her friend and assistant, Mara Lees, without whom she said she could not accomplish as much in her own day.
After Burzan’s talk, Empowerment Series chair Gyda Chud highlighted the lecture’s key points and thanked the speaker. She then invited the crowd to enjoy bite-size noshes while mulling over which bite-size portions of change they will attempt at home.
Complementing the workshop session was a talk by archivist Alysa Routtenberg of the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia, who spoke of the JMABC’s work in collecting hundreds of thousands of items documenting the history of Jews and Jewish life in the province. The JMABC provides material for research, mounts exhibitions and stores family memories. Routtenberg asked attendees to not throw away their personal family treasures before checking with the JMABC (604-257-5199 or [email protected]), as there may be items that would enrich their collection, such as letters, photographs, pins and medals.
To those planning to promptly put to use what they had learned at Burzan’s session, this was a most welcome request. We walked away with our minds full of ideas, knowing that we needed to start now, before we procrastinated, so that we could reduce, reuse and recycle and see the results – a rewarding experience.
A raffle basket donated by Burzan containing her cleaning tips, tools and one of her books was won by Irene Behrmann. Karon Shear, Rita Propp and volunteers Bev Cooper, Jackie Weiler and Jennifer Propp contributed to the event’s success, and Stan Shear filmed it. The video can be viewed and more information about JSA can be found at jsalliance.org.
Binny Goldman is a member of the Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver board.