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I teach you how to get organized so you can THRIVE!

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[July 2019]: A New Chapter

I hope you’re doing well! Some of you have expressed interest in a personal update since we moved, so I thought I’d take time to share an update with you! I posted a couple of videos in November and December and there was so much confusion in the comments about where we’re living, so this update feels needed! Thank you for your patience as I gathered and organized my thoughts! 🙂

As some of you know, we just moved again after being in transition for 17 long months. It may seem like Ed and I love to move but we don’t! We really don’t, especially after the last two moves! Now that we’ve moved, we hope to be settled for awhile!

 

Why We Moved

Some of you have asked why we moved. I’m happy to share 🙂

We moved for several reasons.

The main reason was to simplify even more and live more intentionally. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made was back in 2014, which was to simplify life after a long period of feeling overwhelmed.

It’s led to beautiful places.

One of which was our last home!

We loved our last house. We created so many memories there with friends and family. And we put so much time and energy into making it feel like home.

Living in that house gave me the opportunity to help so many get organized.

It’s where we launched SimpLESSity, which has helped thousands of people declutter, simplify life, and focus on what matters most.

It’s where I chose to become a life coach, which has been a transformational experience for me, my marriage, relationships, and my mission.

I’m so grateful for that chapter of life. The gatherings we hosted. The fun we had. The people we met. The people we helped. The opportunities that presented themselves.

At one point, that house was my “dream house.” I have much appreciation for that stop on my journey.

While we were so grateful to live in that house, the home wasn’t a reflection of Ed’s and my core beliefs, values, and intentions.

Does your home have to match your beliefs, values, and intentions? No, it does not.

But we wanted it to. And if you measure us by our actions, we were willing to do what it took for that to manifest itself.

That’s the main reason why we moved – to simplify further and live a more intentional life where the things we own (house included), the decisions we make, and the actions we take are all in alignment (doing the best we can) with our core beliefs, values, & deepest intentions!

In a nutshell, less indoor square-footage, more outdoor acreage! 🙂

There was another family better suited for that house than for us. I felt it. Ed felt it. And once we feel something, we always follow our hearts.

 

Selling our House

Selling the house was easy and almost felt effortless.

We sold the house for sale by owner.

We bought a “for sale” sign from the hardware store, labeled it with my label maker in the biggest font possible (not joking!), and stuck it in the front yard.

We hired a photographer to take photos and also created a listing on Zillow.

One Sunday afternoon, Ed & I organized an open house. We posted signs with red balloons around the neighborhood. We made cookies. We created very organized and detail-orientated spreadsheets about the house and neighborhood and put them out for visitors to read.

We ended up finding an enthusiastic family (during the open house) that loved the home and made an offer that day!

A local real estate attorney did the settlement for a very reasonable fee. It was simple for all parties. They were happy. We were happy. All was well.

The most stressful part of the move was the uncertainty of where to move to next. I also felt some stress about trusting that we were making the right decision to sell what was once our dream home after less than two years in the house! More on that later 🙂

 

Moving into a Storage Unit

We ended up moving nearly everything into a storage unit in June of 2017 because we couldn’t find a house before closing that matched what we were looking for. If you live in Northern Virginia, you probably know the real estate market is mostly composed of townhomes or large single-family houses.

We wanted something in between.

A house the size of a town house but with privacy, more greenery, and room to roam outside.

Hard to find in this area!

 

House-Hunting

Once we moved everything into a storage unit, we ended up stumbling upon an old farmhouse on an inspiring plot of land with pastoral views.

It was a split-level house on a couple of peaceful acres. The house felt like a manageable size (about the size of our old townhouse) with moderate room to grow when we’re blessed with children. It felt very ideal!

It just needed work…

Everything was still original inside from the 1960s/70s – the cabinets, flooring, wallpaper, appliances, bathrooms, etc. And there were some issues that needed to be addressed.

Charmed by the land and enthusiastic about the potential, we ended up making an offer and eventually buying the house.

Originally, we thought we’d just refinish the floors before moving in. Ed wanted to remodel the kitchen and baths (which involved taking walls down). I was okay keeping things simple and just moving in as-is with green carpet and a pink (desert rose to be exact!) bathroom!

After all, the original plan was to simply sell our house and find something cozier surrounded by more nature with minor disruption to life.

However, after much discussion we agreed to remodel the kitchen and baths.

At this point (August 2017), our stuff was in storage and we planned to live with my parents during the renovation which we anticipated would only take 3 months. HA!

 

The Search for a General Contractor

We called about 15 general contractors in a 3-month time period. Some never called back. Some we couldn’t afford. Some were busy for months. And some just didn’t work out after a couple of exhausting months of working together.

Six months after buying the house and fully living with my parents, we ended up receiving a referral from a friend for their general contractor. Feeling hopeful, we gave him a call. Sure enough he called us back! He was available! He was interested! He was reasonable! We were excited!

 

Starting the Renovation

At this point it was early 2018 and we had a contractor lined up. The plan was to take down a few walls and renovate the kitchen and baths.

We felt excited and optimistic!

But one Friday night Ed and I drove to the house to take care of something after not being there for a few weeks. The second we entered the house, we could smell something was wrong… (literally)

There was a leak.

But not just a small leak… a good chunk of the basement was wet and had water damage in the tiles, carpet, drywall, ceiling, paneling, etc.

There was visible mold as the water had been sitting for weeks.

The air was absolutely horrible which was what we instantly smelled when we first walked inside the house.

Being a “first-time renovator,” it felt like a real-life nightmare. Especially after moving out of a nice, new, bright, & shiny home!

Not knowing much about home renovations or how this would be fixed, I cried many tears that night and questioned the decisions we made. I now understood why Consumer Reports Magazine warned that some couples end up divorcing after taking on a home renovation!

Long story short, we were left with few options but to renovate the entire lower level too, which was not part of the plan or budget (and far, very far, from the original plan when we first decided to even move!).

But one thing led to another…

And soon enough the “partial renovation” ended up being a whole-house renovation (all new plumbing, electrical, windows, HVAC, etc.) – down to the studs (mostly).

The general contractor managed about 70% of the project. Ed & I ended up managing the other 30%. Again, not part of the original plan at all!

 

Renovating

While I will spare you the details of the seemingly never-ending journey, the actual renovation took about 8 months. It was filled with expensive unexpected repairs, getting quote after quote, some work being re-done multiple times, delays, more delays, research, more research, decisions, more decisions, driving around from place to place, uncomfortable conversations, and lots of uncertainty.

It was time-consuming, energy-draining, risky, costly, and was a true test of our marriage and faith. But it’s the path we chose. And we had no option but to take responsibility and surrender to the project we signed up for.

At the same time, the renovation was also filled with amazing progress in a well-built solid house, helpful people generously giving us advice and support, hard-working crews, jaw-dropping before & afters, and lots of laughs with good folks.

While it was challenging and this update doesn’t really do it justice, we had a lot to be grateful for. Finding the right contractor who was honest, knowledgeable, and flexible was key to its completion.

I now know more about asbestos abatement, black mastic, air quality testing, mold, french drains, humidity issues, chimney repairs, and lead paint among other things than I did two years ago! Would I have been okay not knowing any of this? Sure, but now I know 🙂

The renovation ended in November 2018 with everything getting fixed properly and our vision precisely manifesting itself as I prayed for years ago (another story in itself!).

 

What We Learned

While the renovation was a huge distraction from what Ed & I would rather focus on and we can’t see doing this again in the near future, it did teach me a lot (or reminded me of something I once knew but forgot as an adult).

It taught me patience when things weren’t done correctly like the basement bathroom countertop that was installed 4 times before it was installed properly. Which by the way, could have been avoided with more organization! Perhaps I was the teacher the countertop company needed at the time.

It taught me forgiveness when an expensive fixture disappeared or when the new floors got scratched in multiple areas as we’re all human and we all make mistakes.

It taught me to keep my heart open during the mess of it all and remember that life isn’t supposed to be perfect! We’re supposed to have problems. Problems are a sign of life. The best thing to do is learn how to be resilient, so when a problem shows up (which it will!), you can handle it without everything else falling apart!

It taught me flexibility with all the 17 months of moving around and having to adjust to four different temporary houses, living with different people & personalities, sleeping in different beds, staying productive despite new environments and an uncomfortable desk & chair, cooking in a shared kitchen while trying hard to resist all the sugary temptations of others’ food, etc. Since most of our systems and routines were disrupted and most of our physical stuff was in storage, our only choice was to adapt accordingly.

It taught me all about expectations. Having high expectations often leads to disappointment.

It taught me how to be confident, speak up, and have uncomfortable conversations when something wasn’t done as agreed upon, costs didn’t add up correctly, or there was some kind of conflict.

It taught me how to embrace uncertain times. When nothing is certain, anything is possible.

The renovation reminded me (as my old boss John used to say) that you can have things fast, cheap, or good. Pick two lol.

But perhaps the biggest thing this renovation taught me was how to relinquish all control and just trust.

Trust others. Trust faith. And continue to trust ourselves that we made the best decision with the information we had at the time plus how we felt, to disrupt our lives for 1.5 years, put everything in storage, live with family & friends, and take on a fixer-upper among everything else we had going on in life.

Looking back on it all, if you categorized all the challenges we faced, most would end up in a bucket labeled “fear.” Fear of making the wrong decision, fear of doing things wrong, fear of losing money, fear of being out-of-control, fear of becoming ill during child-bearing years from something unhealthy in the home, etc. It was mostly fear – some fears being more legitimate than others. But still, mostly fear.

But not all fears are dangerous threats to us like being chased by a bear. Rather, some fears are imagined by our creative minds which are wired for fear to keep us safe from perceived pain. However, we do have a choice to question these types of fears. We can either:

1. Believe the fear and unconsciously react, which leads to playing small and being held back from our hopes and dreams; or

2. We can gently file the imagined fear away in the filing cabinet and carry on responsibly doing the best we can, making our intentions pure, and remaining faithful that all will be well.

The key is remembering to question the imagined fear when we get triggered, but before we react! Because once we react, we’ve chosen to believe the fear is true!

 

We Feel Grateful

We’re extremely grateful for the experience and everything we learned. At the same time, we feel grateful that these seemingly “big problems” are so insignificant compared to the challenges others are currently facing around the world.

While the renovation kept me occupied, these past 17 months were amazing and productive – both personally and professionally.

We’re grateful for everyone that helped transform this home – the expertise, the honesty, the advice, the reliability, the attention to detail, the dedication, the follow through, their patience and trust with us, etc.

We’re grateful to my parents for letting us live with them, in my old bedroom, for the first 9 months of this transition as I’ll always value this time together as their adult child. We’re grateful that the timing of us moving into their home was ideal. We sold our house and immediately moved in which happened to be right after my mom had surgery. This gave me the opportunity to care for her while my dad was working.

We’re grateful to Ed’s parents for letting us live with them for a few weeks while also allowing us to store box after box of bedding and other random stuff in their basement for the full 17 months and never complaining about the eyesore of clutter they had to look at for almost two years!

We’re grateful for the 8’ x 8’ storage closet of office space we were able to rent for 9 months so we could continue running our business while living with my parents! We’re grateful for the colleagues we met there, particularly our new friend Rick who was able to declutter his utility room of old office supplies, which he then donated to us since most of our stuff was in storage!

We’re grateful for our supportive and loving family and friends for checking in on us to see if we were okay and offering us their guest room! Likewise, to our handy/DIY family members for coming over and giving us novices their advice!

We’re grateful to our new friends for letting complete strangers rent their guesthouse in the woods for what was supposed to be 3-4 months but ended up being 8 months!

We’re grateful to our team members for being so flexible and understanding with us for all 17 months as urgent interruptions popped up throughout the workday and threw a wrench in meetings and deadlines.

I’m grateful to my (almost) daily accountability buddy Angela for being so supportive, flexible, and always willing to pick up the phone and listen or offer sound advice.

I’m grateful to my life coach study buddy Laurie for coaching me on the phone for hours and helping me find my light when it felt dark.

We’re grateful to the previous owners of this house for choosing us to bring new life to the home over all the other contracts.

We’re grateful to the family that bought our previous house so we could embark on this wild journey!

But the biggest thing I’m grateful for is my life coach training, which prepared me mentally and emotionally for all of this.

Had I not studied to become a life coach in 2017 prior to the move, it would have been a much more turbulent 17 months. Previously my biggest challenge was managing my emotions through the storms of life and this renovation brought no shortage of storms!

While there were admittedly dark moments where I lost faith, for the most part I was able to stay centered through the ups and downs. I credit this to my many teachers who followed their passions and shared effective tools and strategies for staying resilient. While life will always present challenges, I feel stronger than ever and proud of how I handled this transition.

 

Moving Into Our New Home

We finally moved into the house in December of 2018.

One of the last straws of the project was moving everything out of the climate-controlled storage unit after 17 months to discover some of our possessions and furniture were either discolored, warped, or had mold due to humidity and temperature issues. HA!

At that point I think I laughed and cried all at the same time trying hard to remind myself that everything was happening to help me!

I’ve never been a proponent of storage units unless you absolutely have to use one. However, after this recent experience of wasting sooo much time, energy, and hundreds of dollars disinfecting/professionally cleaning some of our possessions, I’m now an even bigger proponent against using them.

If you don’t absolutely have to use one, don’t do it! Instead, declutter, donate, sell, or do what you need to with the stuff. But don’t store your stuff for the sake of delaying decisions for some time in the future. You may end up paying for it in more than one way.

P.S. – While some things weren’t salvageable (like Ed’s old wallet that was covered in mold!), most of our stuff ended up being okay in the end.

P.P.S. – If you do use a storage unit, know that your stuff is susceptible to cockroach larvae! About 60-90 days after moving in, we had a small cockroach infestation. After much research and working with a pest control company – we feel confident the infestation was from the storage unit! Never again!!!

 

Today

It’s now July of 2019 and this chapter of life is finally behind us. Likewise, we are cockroach free 🙂 Thank you God!

We’re unpacked, somewhat settled, and have been thoroughly enjoying our home for seven months now! I often find myself stopping and just appreciating where we are and all the hard-work and team effort that went into this home.

Everything ended up being just fine. In fact, it all worked out better than imagined! Amazing how that happens.

While the outside of the house still needs work and we still need to decorate and finish organizing the house to my own high standards lol, it all seems so minor now. Our deck may be falling apart and the back-steps may be crumbling to pieces but our hearts are full and life is good!

The daily sunsets, pastoral views in every window, watching the deer and horses go by, hearing the birds sing and watching them fly effortlessly, watching the mature trees stand strong, looking at the stars shine brightly despite the darkness, running through acres of grass with Ed & Mojo, the smell of firepits, picking wine-berries in the yard, and the neighbor’s rooster that cockle-doodle-dos throughout the day makes it all worth it!

The house feels cozy and we feel like this magical property surrounded by nature accurately reflects our deepest values, beliefs, and intentions! For now, we feel home 🙂

 

What’s Next?

I can’t say for sure what’s next. Can anyone? 🙂 While my intentions are set, I realize that you can’t plan everything in your preferred timing or order. The “planner” part of me thrives with this kind of certainty but I’m constantly reminding her that all is well right now and not knowing “what’s to come” is all part of what makes life so interesting!

I had no idea what was to come when we sold our last home. Had I known, I likely would have passed on the opportunity and missed out on all of the growth.

What I know for sure is that the past 17 months of challenges happened so precisely to prepare me for what’s to come. All of this had to happen for something beautiful to come together. I know it. I feel it. And I couldn’t be more enthusiastic because I gave the past 17 months my all!

While I’m taking my time to recharge from the renovation, I feel more energized and ready for the abundance of possibilities now that we’re settled and have our time and creative energy back to better focus!

Whether the next chapter brings nurturing a child, helping more people get organized, a combination of both, or something completely new & different, we shall see! I’m open to the possibilities.

If there’s one thing I can leave you with, it’s this:

Every challenge, problem, or obstacle is here to help you in some way. Your options are:

1. Resist the challenge (this leads to repeating the problem until you select option #2!)

2. Accept what is and do what you need to do (this leads to evolving and growing!)

As Oprah teaches, a good question to ask yourself through any storm is this: What is this here to teach me?

If you’re still reading this, thank you. And if you’re still reading this and going through your own storm, know you aren’t alone and that this too shall pass. 

Alejandra

 

    Alejandra Costello
  • About Alejandra

    Over the past 10 years, organizing expert & certified life coach, Alejandra Costello has taught thousands of students in 132 countries how to get organized through her video-based training programs. Her YouTube videos have been viewed 90+ million times. Named 1 of the 5 most organized people in America by HGTV and "The Decluttering Queen" by Good Morning America, Alejandra's expertise has been featured in The New York Times, Oprah.com, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, Woman's Day, Parents Magazine, and CBS. You can read more about Alejandra here.

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