Two Helping Hands, Helps Everyone
Christine is a Senior Program Manager at Microsoft with several years experience in the .com industry.
She recently started social venture labs, an idea incubator for those leading small mission-driven businesses or organizations looking to create relationships, share ideas and get feedback on common business practices. She is new to StartupNation, and looking to profile mission driven companies and discusses related themes.
So I met with Elizabeth Lee of Seattle Organizing Works the other day. Her Biznik description says “I’ve been “the neat one” my whole life. That’s a lot of experience! I spent 20 years reporting to “The Man” in increasingly responsible roles in residential and corporate real estate, marketing and customer service, small business and – importantly – project management. All that learning, all that experience, all at your disposal.”
And that pretty much sums it up – she worked for The Man, made the choice to walk, and now does work that completely fulfills her. Who wouldn’t want to be able to say that at The Great Cocktail Party of Life?
After only a year, her business has doubled and her ears are burning with referrals. She takes care of the things people with limited time or who are overwhelmed with the task at hand and responds to the call:
- “I need someone to help me with my Christmas shopping. I have 18 nieces and nephews at various ages and don’t know where to start.” *gulp*
- “I’m selling my condo and need help prepping it.”
- “I need my tennis racket restrung.”
- “I need all these audio tapes transferred to digital.” *double gulp*
To many, these requests might sound like a never ending classroom of nags – to Liz, opportunities. “People say ‘just take care of it’ and don’t want to be bothered with the details. These things are important to someone and the projects need to get done. I like that I can help, that every day is different.”
Most people who are moving and want to get rid of things assume that the only place for it is Goodwill. “There are homeless families moving into their first apartment, or flood victims that would really appreciate and benefit from these items. Sometimes I consign these things and donate the money to a charity. I try to find the right place for these peoples’ personal belongings.”
Somewhat of a pixie herself, it’s hard not to imagine her as one of the Disney Fairies – flitting around with her punch list, refinishing and reallocating items from one family to other families in need.
With a combined 15 years experience in areas including residential and corporate real estate, marketing, project management, small business and customer service, we are always up to a new challenge.
Elizabeth manages a full house with 13 year old twin boys, two disrespectful dogs and a husband. She is constantly amazed that there is no bread and milk in the house when she just went to the grocery store, and that there is more laundry to be folded!!! In her spare time (ha ha ha) she is an active fundraiser in the West Seattle community.
About Seattle Organizing Works
A friend of hers was sitting in a sea of moving boxes two weeks before Thanksgiving one year. The movers had packed everything for her. It was now up to her to unpack and she found out how thorough they were, they had even packed her trash. Liz stepped in, putting thing away, creating easy organizing systems… After helping her overwhelmed friend move into a new house after a remodel, she realized she had found a niche. She started assisting real estate agents before stagers were called, to help move all the excess items and store them until the move.
Five ways Seattle Organizing Works can help you today: (taken from her website)
1. Avoid doing things you don’t wanna do. OK, show of hands: who loves organizing? (Why am I the only one raising my hand?) Don’t misuse your limited resources by doing it yourself. Delegate neatening, packing boxes and purging obsolete files and spend that time with your kids, building your business, whatever.
2. Seal the deal. Hey, realtors: I am an expert at getting your clients to de-clutter their homes.
3. Find stuff. I will neaten, yes, and then give you simple project management, storage and time management techniques so you can always find your stuff! (Nothing more aggravating than misplacing some papers that you need)
4. Downsize. With office space at a premium, companies purge and stick employees in teeny, tiny spaces. I can help make the most of those spaces for you and your employees. We also have an active Boomer market as kids leave the nest and it’s time to move into a condo. What to do with all of that stuff? (Call Elizabeth Lee, that’s what!)
5. Improve your karma. Unwanted furniture, poorly fitting clothes, old books? You get the the tax deduction and good is spread throughout the city. I go above and beyond the Goodwill drop off site and find the right place to donate your items.
How Does Seattle Organizing Works Give Back?
With every move she is asked to manage, she has to figure out what to do with items families no longer want. Liz works with the following charities:
- Project Cool for Back to School which is an arm of Seattle King County Coalition for Homelness: provides 1,700 homeless youth with school supplies each fall. Project Cool gives students whose young lives have been disrupted by homelessness a jumpstart on their first day of school. Each child and teen receives a new backpack filled with age appropriate school supplies, along with a gift certificate for new shoes.
- Northwest Hope and HealingThe mission of Northwest Hope & Healing is to provide financial assistance to patients in need, for non-medical support services such as child care, meal service, transportation, and emergency rent. In addition, our signature “Healing Baskets” are assembled and delivered, at no charge, to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients.
- The Sharehouse Collects usable furniture and household goods that you no longer want or need. Recycles these items to individuals and families who are making the transition from homelessness to permanent housing.
Espresso Shot Insights what’s this?
- Find Happiness Where You Are At
- Help People Where They Are At
- Think Creatively
Find Happiness Where You Are At
There seems to be a common misconception people that work in larger companies believe that the small business owner is less educated and as a result left only with small business opportunities. “I want people to know that I’ve taken graduate classes. Small business is not about mom and pop candy shops or little insurance agencies as life’s last resort. It was a choice, not an afterthought.”
When thinking about the advice she was given or what mentoring she has had, she says: “It took me a while to get over someone saying ‘when you are not working you are losing money.’ I no longer subscribe to that notion…so I think you have to assess why you work, and love what you do. I have days I want to put a pencil in my eye, like everyone else…but ultimately, if I didn’t like it, I would stop doing it.”
We talked a little about the satisfaction she gets from her business and several times she emphasized the benefit of flexibility (to her). “I don’t think my boys think it’s great I’m around a lot, but it means a lot to me to be present for them. I know it is important.”
Like many owners, she wishes she had more focus on the planning aspect of her business but is frustrated with the pressure all businesses face to grow-grow-grow. “People are telling me I should do this or that…and sometimes I just have to shake my head and ask ‘why?’ Right now, I don’t want to Twitter, blog, make CDs or speak. I just want to do my job, be there for my kids and wake up another day to do it again.” Liz has a very strong sense of what she wants out of “today” and is good at living in the moment. She doesn’t believe that she is not successful simply because she is outside the hamster wheel, looking in. “I like to tell my kids that I want them to be happy healthy (and that they better go to college.) If they want to be a park ranger, they should be the best one out there.”
Help People Where They Are At
Liz loves it when her client’s have that “AHA” moment. They either find something that was lost, or they discover being organized is a whole lot easier than they realized. Her degree in psychology helps her read her clients’ needs well.
“People like to collect things. There are a lot of hoarders out there. I have been in places where there is no free surface—everything has something on it.” It’s clear she has a lot of patience and kindness when you hear her describe her clients’ relationship to their things.
“When you come across people who make the decision to trim down on consumption you have to be supportive. They have huge separation issues with their belongings. You have to create a map for them, hold their hand—because what they say and what they do are always two different things.”
With some, she tries to bring a certain amount levity to the situation—they need that approach and the experience can be quite cathartic. Others are embarrassed or treat the change like a death in their family. “It can be like losing a spouse or a family member. They keep the clothes that they don’t fit into any more, that they have no business keeping. In that case, they are seeing that a part of them died. Some hang on to the contents of a lifestyle from their past and assume their kids will deal with it – that is a tremendous burden, for them and their kids. These people have to become accountable for themselves, and that is a hard thing to do.”
Liz’s job satisfaction is fed by working with people who want some real change in their lives. “Some people will call me back and I’ll have to start all over. In some cases, an organizer isn’t the first call some of these people should have made – a PhD should have been the first stop.”
Some folks need her to tell them to get rid of things; others need her to sit with them while they hug each thing goodbye. “Each situation is ok. I’m there because there was something that sparked you to want to get out of that unit and make a change and I want to help with that.”
Her attention to detail and the small things is really unsurpassed. She helped plan a family’s bar mitzvah “…and everyone was so busy at the event that they forgot Aunt Tilly who flew in from Minnesota. I had someone on staff to be with her, so that she felt important. Those details matter.”
Need I say more?
Liz is constantly playing with inventions. “My sister is always nagging me that we invented toilet seat covers in the 70s…and now, they are everywhere!”
It would be hard for me to imagine her an heiress to the toilet seat cover, but I am interested in seeing what she comes up with.
“I have to give birth to something and see it through the Chinese factory — so that my kids will say “she finally shut up and did it. Check back with me in a year.”
And I will.
- My most rewarding business moment when a client found her mother’s driver’s license photo in a pile of what she believed to be garbage in her home. This was the only photo of her mom that she had left after a flood. She was so happy she just sat and wept.
- My scariest business moment are blocked out.
- Every entrepreneur should work with their sister. I do and we laugh all the time.
- Success to me means I get to have family dinner with my husband and sons every night.