November 11, 2018

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Never Give Up: Organizing in Detroit, Pontiac & Flint

September 8, 2018

From the launch of my business in 2012 I've had 3 main markets: West Michigan, Ann Arbor & Detroit.  I rolled my business out in each market in that order, knowing I loved all 3 areas of our state & given that I was in transition from leaving my home of 6 years I had the choice to live wherever my business thrived & that I wanted to live.  I was fortunate that all 3 markets supported my business well & I was able to make a choice on where to live based on what I wanted to be near while still getting to work in my other favorite cities.  Even though I didn't choose to live in Detroit I have always traveled to the city & the surrounding area to organize with the families that do live there.  I celebrated the 1st Anniversary of my business in Detroit, not the suburbs but the city.  I went to Detroit often as a teen & as an adult.  Growing up in Swartz Creek, which is about 20 minutes outside of Flint, having a parent that worked in Flint, going to church in Flint later in my childhood & working at Border's in Flint when it was still open as my 1st job (outside of my family's grocery store) it never occurred to me to not organize in Flint, Pontiac or Detroit as a Professional Organizer.  Some of my most meaningful projects, interactions & moments have happened in these cities as an organizer.  These areas have supported my small business & helped my launch year explode.  I've never once been harassed, car jacked, held up or physically hurt while working in these areas.  In fact, scary things happened while I was organizing in Flint with my client but we were fine inside her home.  Those same scary things have happened while living in Grand Rapids too & I was safe inside my home as well.  It didn't stop me from going back to her home.  She lived blocks from the church I went to as a teen.  I knew the neighborhood & knew that everyone saw whose home I was going to, she was an anchor to that street & neighborhood, a longtime resident.  I figured odds were I'd be okay.  And I was.

 

As I continued to grow my business I continued to receive testimonials from my clients thanking me for "being willing" to come to the urban areas like the city of Detroit & Pontiac.  Every time I heard this I felt appreciative but it made me cringe that it meant others weren't willing to go there so I always open up the door for a conversation & ask, "Who isn't willing to work with you because of where you live?"  Now, these clients are all black.  Their response each time was always thoughtful, kind and well spoken.  Never angry.  The response I've received is that there are businesses, from lawn services to at-home pet hospice that won't come to their home because of their zip code.  These clients have the money to afford these services.  One of them lives right downtown Detroit & when I organize with her I get Valet Parking & I feel like I'm likely to run into a celebrity at any moment when I arrive.  The view from her place at night is stunning.  That does not happen in West Michigan or Ann Arbor.  Ever.  So, based on what I heard from one of my Pontiac clients is that she feels it's rooted in "media influences."  She feels that my willingness to work in "urban areas" is "very impactful."  It filled my heart with gratitude to hear her say that.  She pointed out that the people that want these services are not the people you see in the news living in these cities.  Good point, right?  While none of my clients have said this in these words I have to wonder if it's racism, classism or a combination of both.  You see, I don't think about the bad news about any area when I make my choice on who to work with.  Nor the socioeconomic make-up.  It was never a conscious choice to "serve" these areas, I just always did.  I often say to my clients thanking me, "Why wouldn't I?"  I have a phone call to make sure my way of organizing is a good fit for the person that has reached out, hear about their story, struggles & triumphs & make the drive over if they schedule an appointment.  They're people, not zip codes nor stats.  On top of that, if we cut an area or a city off from services how can it thrive & potentially change?  How will I grow as a person & business owner if I don't work in all types of homes?

 

My client in Pontiac agreed to let me share our story of human connection that isn't bound by zip codes.  She's one of my clients that supported my business when it 1st launched.  We've known each other since 2013.  I know her daughter & knew her sister a bit when she was alive.  I've met her mother & father.  She makes me laugh when we work together.  She's also a nurse & has been through a lot, but chooses to never give up.  Our story is one of synchronicity, connection & strength.  When we first worked together her sister appeared from her room (she was living with her at the time) & said "You are disrupting my way of life," in the sassiest, funniest way you can imagine.  She made me laugh.  I helped my client's daughter in her bedroom & closet & then eventually helped my client in her living room & basement.  I was just starting to get healthier myself & was starting out with my business.  Later, in 2016 I came back to her home.  We organized her kitchen, linen closet, master bedroom closet & home office.  When we were in her kitchen she showed me a mug that read "Aunts are Angels too," I said, "That's so sweet," not realizing that her sister had passed away until later in the appointment.  The mug held a different meaning than in how I first read it once I learned that.  I had assumed her sister had moved out.  My client was handling the loss well but I knew it wasn't as easy as she was making it seem.  On a break we talked about our dream that we share to travel to Italy, she was on her way to saving for a cruise there in a couple of years.  We looked at a live cam set up in the streets of Venice and both went there for a moment, forgetting the tough situations of our own lives.  She made a goal to stop shopping on Amazon to cut the clutter and save for the trip.

 

When we made it to her home office it clicked that this was her sister's old bedroom.  That morning, on my way down the flight of stairs in my apartment building I found a penny.  I picked it up & put in in my pocket like I often do, looking at it in detail & thinking "a penny from heaven" as I turned it over in my fingers.  As we worked, my client shared with me that her sister had passed in that room.  She had committed suicide.  My heart ached for her.  The struggle to get started on this room & the paperwork & the timing all made sense.  I gasped, "I found a penny this morning on my way out of my building, I call them pennies from heaven.  Maybe it was your sister."  We made it through the office & my client remained strong through the moments that were toughest.  The room not only looked but felt different by the time we were done.  I thanked her for letting me into that vulnerable space with her.  

 

Fast forward to this year, 2018.  My client reached out to me again, clutter was becoming overwhelming, particularly in her home office, and she has been diagnosed with breast cancer.  She is one of many of my clients that is a nurse & works nights.  I believe that my clients that are healers, like nurses, are often so spent from taking care of others they have very little left for themselves when they return home.  For example, within weeks of one another I recently worked with 3 different nurses including this client.   All strong, smart women that had hit a wall in their own home.  I was there to help them through it & felt honored they let me go there with them.  Not easy for people that are used to taking care of others to let someone help take care of them.  

 

While my client & I worked together on her office I pushed her to go through what she didn't want to, guided her through decisions & watched her stand up to that dreaded paperwork & clutter.  I watched her strength & was inspired.  You see, while visiting from out of state, her mom had gathered a bunch of clutter from other rooms, dumped it in totes she had purchased & moved them into the office.  These totes were causing a lot of anxiety for my client.  I told her that was understandable & that this is what I call the Rubik's Cube of Homes, where stuff is just shifted from one room to another as a band-aid fix until I show up & we start lining the colors up, a systemic fix.  Her mom & I are similar in that we're on the minimalist end of the spectrum however, our methods are very different.  In one of the totes her mom had dumped stuff into I found an Oprah Magazine with "Let It Go" as the article title on the cover, right after I was talking with her about the root of the clutter & focusing on keeping only what she Needs, Uses & Loves.  I read the article tag line to her, "If you can't love it, eat it, wear it, sleep with it, make peace with it, gain strength from it, find joy in it the time has come to Let It Go!" & said, "Now how about good timing?"  She smiled a huge smile & said "We did not just find that in here from Oprah with Melissa reading it to me!"  I laughed.  We moved the magazine from the tote of dreaded clutter to a station for her vision board, transitioning the magazine from clutter into a treasure & a good memory for both of us.

 

The next time I arrived to continue our work in the office (it took 14 hours to get through Phase 1: Sort & Purge, which is normal) we came across a little container of Canadian money.  "Whoa," I thought.  The night before as I tried to go to sleep early due to my early departure time in the morning I kept having the thought "Toronto" pop into my head.  "What in the world?" I thought, "Why am I thinking about Toronto?"  Next the thought, "It will be easier" came into my mind.  "What does that mean?  Easier for what?  Am I supposed to go to Canada?  Get dual citizenship somehow?"  "Okay thoughts, I need you to stop so I can sleep," and to sleep I went.  When we found the Canadian money I told my client that I couldn't fall asleep the night before because I kept thinking about Toronto, her Canadian money made me remember.   She looked up at me from the chair she was in and said, "I was looking into flights from Toronto last night." We paused & stared at each other.  I said, "I also thought 'It would be easier." She said, "I was doing it because it would be easier to fly out of there to Spain than from here."  Remember her cruise to Italy she had told me about a couple of years prior?  It's happening soonish.  She was looking into flights for that.  She then told me she also thought, "I should be taking care of my 1st floor redistribution right now."  The 1st floor redistribution is what I call the stuff she wanted to keep during our last appointment that didn't belong in the office but instead in another room in her home on the 1st floor.  So, she had also thought of me & that stuff at the same time she was researching flights out of Toronto to make her trip easier.  I asked her what time it was that she was thinking about all of this & she gave me a window that matched when Toronto kept popping into my head as I tried to sleep.  Amazing.  I believe that is God at work.  I like to think we're all connected that way, we just have to be open to it & listen.  I find it comforting but always with a twinge of "that's so weird" in the back of my mind.  After asking her I found out that these things don't normally happen for her.  I told her they often do for me.  All the time in fact.  She told me later on that when you look up her address on Google Maps it shows a picture of her house on the streetview but it's my car in her driveway.  Again, what are the odds?  I've worked with her several times but am most definitely not there all the time.  But, my car looks like it belongs there on Google Maps.  "So weird," I thought.

 

After the appointment, once we finished Phase 3: The Walk-through in her home office, we talked about her sister & how funny she was.  She told me that her sister would often joke that my client's gravestone should read "The B*tch Who Never Gave Up."  I laughed, I could hear her sister saying that.  Another reason that I love my East side of the state clients, they don't mince words.  She laughed too & said, "Those were her exact words."  When my client was told she needed her Masters to get the job she was seeking she got her Masters.  When she ran into bumps during that time, she got her Masters anyway.  Now she's talking about getting her Doctorate.  That's what her sister saw in her.  I told her Never Give Up is one of my main mantras.  I told her that one time, while on a run & worrying about things that I can't seem to fix in my own life I let my anxiety take control.  I became short of breath, and not from running.  I wasn't trusting in God, I was worrying.  I was forgetting that I needed to turn my thoughts into prayers not my enemy.  My feet pounded the pavement loudly as I ran.  My ears filled with the noise.  I looked up as I crossed the street, and there, in front of me, was a guy wearing a backpack that said "Never Give Up" with a basketball player on it.  My breath returned to normal.  It was a message I needed at just that moment.  I've never seen that backpack since nor had I ever seen it before.  On my own vision board I have "Don't Give Up, Get Up" cut out from a magazine.  I also recently saw a license plate on a car, directly following a stressful moment that I leaned into & just accepted without worrying, that said "NOGIVEUP."  I texted my client in Pontiac & another as well in West Michigan that it made me think of.  Like Detroit, like Flint, like Pontiac, we all need to remember to Never Give Up.  No matter the circumstances, no matter the situation, no matter the odds, keep fighting.  Reach out for help when you can.  Lean on those you can trust.  Most importantly, take time to fill your own cup up so that you can take care of others.  Never give up.

 

As my client & I talked about this blog post & what I could share in it she told me, "Your transformation from when we 1st met I can't believe either!"  I felt gratitude for her kind words.  The time I left her home in 2016 she told me I looked 10 years younger than when she saw me in 2013.  Such kind words always sending me back on my way!  Since she & I first met I've gotten fit, took control of my physical health in a new way by quitting smoking, rarely drinking alcohol, working out at a higher level & cracking the code on nutrition for what works for my system.  I've been purging toxic relationships & situations of all kinds & had been delving deeper into prayer & meditation.  I was growing as a coach through professional organizing.  She was noticing.  She had watched the transformation & my transformation was possible with her support.  Her optimism as I left her last appointment this year was contagious.  Our story made me feel more connected.  Our story is a human story, not restricted by zip codes nor race.  Our story is one of unity and connection.  Our story is a story of never giving up, no matter the odds.  For that I am grateful.       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 © 2012 by Melissa Fortino Designer. All rights reserved

Organized by Melissa L.L.C. serves Saugatuck, MI Douglas, MI Grand Rapids, MI Detroit, MI

Ann Arbor, MI  as well as the rest of Michigan, throughout the United States

with a special focus on Los Angeles, CA and the state of California as well as Internationally.