All posts by Michaela Hackman

About Michaela Hackman

Author of three books of poetry, I write to lift and inspire people who have found their way out of difficult relationships and on to a fulling life of joy and love. Visit my author page at Visit my blog page at

The Cedar Chest

I haven’t quite embraced the minimalist lifestyle to the level my husband wishes.  While I preach minimizing to my clients, and I enjoy a tidy home with little to fuss over or dust, I do have a few secret stashes I’ve yet to deal with.

In the cedar chest my mother gave me long ago, that once belonged to her………..wait a minute…who has a cedar chest anymore?  I know what you’re thinking; if she didn’t have the cedar chest, she wouldn’t have it full of stuff!  Ok, guilty.  But, hear me out….because there really isn’t much in there.

As I was saying….in the cedar chest, packed carefully away, is a poncho with a matching beret my loving Aunt Jo knitted for me when I was about 4 or 5.  I remember wearing it often, but there isn’t a single picture in the hundreds of family photos of me wearing it.  I love the idea of it…..a 1970’s look, handmade with lots of love by my Aunt who loved me and all my siblings and cousins a lot.  But why do I still have it?  If I were to have a granddaughter, I doubt that I would ever be permitted by either of my sons to put her in that awful green multi-colored patchwork ball of yarn.  Who wears ponchos anymore?  But it’s just so cute, and so vintage, so retro!  And Aunt Jo made it!  How can I just get rid of it!

I also have in this treasure trove cedar chest, a hand crocheted afghan, made by my grandmother.  It is the very traditional granny square color block afghan made by the dozens by every woman in the 1960’s and 70’s.  It looks exactly like the one on Amy Farrah Fowler’s couch in the old episodes of Big Bang Theory.   Now, Amy Farrah Fowler isn’t exactly a trailblazer in all things modern, quite the opposite, actually.  But, there has been a resurgence lately of vintage, and “hipsters” (those in their 20’s, I guess), are supposedly loving the vintage look, and flocking to flea markets to find treasures like my afghan to place lovingly over their couch to create that vintage feel.  I tried to put that afghan over the back of my couch.  It made my living room look like my grandma’s living room.  Not the look I was going for.   When a 20 year old throws it on her couch, it’s a cool vintage look.  When someone older throws it on her couch, it looks like a grandma’s house.  I find the same thing holds true about gray hair.  All the rave about the cool look of gray hair is only when a 20 year old dyes her hair gray…what a cool, retro look!  My gray hair?  Screams Grandma!

That reminds me, time to book an appointment with Jules.

Back to the cedar chest.  In there I have my first teddy bear; he’s a raggedy little brown bear with bright eyes.  Quite pathetic looking though, with matted hair and a loose neck.  Also wrapped up is my first little prayer book, a dress I wore at 6 months for a formal picture, and my first little pair of shoes.  The shoes were a gift from my Aunt Lee, who lived in Florida.  My mom saved the letter my aunt sent along with the shoes.  What do I do with all of this stuff?   I considered a shadow box.  But truly, it doesn’t fit the feel of my house.  Maybe if I had one of those Victorian style girls’ rooms, but I don’t.

One of the projects I’m working on is digitizing my mother’s photos.  Decades of prints that tells the story of my life.  I’m not likely to get any use from the objects I saved, so I decided to take a picture of each item, and put it as part of the digital photo album I am creating.   This way, I can refer lovingly to my little teddy bear without sneezing, and recall warm memories of my grandma and aunt when I look at the picture instead of at the actual awful colors needled with love.

Material things require care, and should be used and enjoyed.  When a thing has served its purpose or no longer fits in your home, it’s time to pass it on.  Some things are worth keeping, for sentimental value or family historical purposes, and I encourage that as long as it is meaningful and has a place in your home.   If you struggle with tossing it, take a picture of it, then find a vintage consignment shop, or just donate it to a thrift shop for a good cause, and be done with it!

It’s freeing to be freed up from material things, and I won’t burden my two sons with the task after I’m gone to decide what to do with stuff that clearly serves no purpose in their lives.   As a matter of fact, I’m doing the same thing to them that my mother did to me, except their little baby treasures are in plastic bins in the closet.  That will be my next rainy day project, and my final secret stash of stuff.   If only I can get them to sit still long enough to go through the box with me!


Wait! Before You Buy That

     I try to imagine the way of life centuries ago…families living in huts, shacks, and spaces so bare and so small that there was no point in deciding on a color scheme for the kitchen, or a decorating style for the living room.  They didn’t even know they should care.

    Shabby Chic…because handmade and hand-me-down were all they could afford.

    Farmhouse…they actually had chickens and cows.

    Craftsman…Daddy had a woodworking shop out back and Mamma did a lot of sewing.

    Vintage…that just meant Grandma died and you got all of her stuff.

    Fast forward to today.  While most 3rd world and developing nations don’t put too much thought into the decor of their homes, Americans do.  But not all of us have the knack for putting together a fabulously furnished home, so we are heavily influenced by marketing.

     Better Homes and Garden, Southern Living, Magnolia, Country Living and other magazines put together perfectly polished interiors to showcase in their periodicals and online, complete with a buyer’s guide so you can create that look at home.

     Furniture store chains across the USA create a complete look for a room, and all you have to do is walk through the showroom, pick out the look you like, sign on the dotted line, and wait for delivery.  WhaaaLaa!  An instantly decorated home.

     But does that home truly reflect who you are?  Was it worth the thousands spent?  Would you allow the neighborhood children to come in and play?

     Could you see yourself facing an empty room and creating the complete look yourself, using nothing but second hand pieces purchased from thrift shops, consignment stores, estate sales, and yard sales?  OK, maybe not the whole room…but how about a few complementary pieces to go with a newly purchased couch or bed?

     Did you know that in almost every town there are local craftsmen and artists who take used furniture and refinish to your specifications at a cost often less than buying new?  There are other artists out there who take something old and upcycle it into something completely new with a new use, creating beautiful home decor items very inexpensively.

     Imagine, if you will, how much stuff could be saved from the landfills if we were more open to recycling, repurposing, and upcycling used stuff instead of thinking that we must buy it new.

     Imagine creating more income opportunities locally for craftsmen and artists, and reducing the amount of new imports from foreign countries if we took something old, and made it new again.

     Imagine your home reflecting you and your family, and not a marketing person’s idea of you, when you allow yourself to be open to possibility and step away from the big box retailers, and walk into the thrift store.

     Also, consider mindful shopping no matter which way you choose to fill your home.  Bring in only those items that bring you joy and serve a purpose.  Make sure they have a place in your home, and that they are cared for and maintained.

     When you have exhausted the usefulness of an item, release it, with no attachment to it’s value, to the next person who can use it.

     Please share your comments on any upcycling efforts you have made, any recommendations to local craftsmen whose work you admire, and any other thoughts on this subject.

Moving Mom

I had to clean out my mother’s house today. Oh, don’t feel bad for me…this is a great thing! While I am going to miss her, she is safe and sound in a senior based independent living apartment back home in Pennsylvania, just in time to hold her great-grandson on the day he was born.

When the time came for her to make the change from living alone in her house, to living in a retirement community, we were fortunate that it was all about the positives…fewer living expense checks to write out each month, lunch and dinner available in the dining hall, housekeeping once a week, an instant social network. Mom’s health is still good, but at 81, some things just aren’t worth worrying about any longer.

When she moved to South Carolina 10 years ago after Dad died, she did a major downsize. Thankfully she was vibrant and had the energy to unclutter all those closets, cupboards, nooks, and crannies. This time, with energy lagging, we focused on those items she needed to take with her.

During our first visit to see the new apartment, I took measurements, pictures, and notes as we talked about what would go where, what her daily routine would be like, what wouldn’t fit, and what new things she may need. As we packed from her house those items she wanted to take, ensuring each had a purpose and a place, we talked about those items she was ready to leave behind. Moments of her past, wedding presents from 1955 still well cared for, pictures, the large collection of elephants….

She found that letting go was much easier by picking up all of these things, reflecting, then releasing. It really is as simple as that.

She picked out a few precious items to keep, then selected very few items she wanted to pass on to us kids and the grandchildren. I promised her I will preserve all of the pictures, and then find good homes for everything else.

We moved her into her new home, then I returned to the old one to start the task of sorting, selling, donating, and cleaning out the remaining contents. I thought I would be sad. I thought I would dread doing it. This was my mother’s life!  But I wasn’t sad, and I jumped right in because I knew she was free from her attachment to all of it, and she was happy.

So as I move through this process, I am as much at peace with selling off a 1950’s milk glass bowl of my mother’s as I am when selling one for my client. I am blessed to have had this move happen in such a positive light. I hope if you are faced with the same situation, that you have the time and space to plan and push through it. But if you don’t, for whatever reason, let me help give you peace of mind. I can step in at any stage to organize, downsize, pack, move, and so on, for you or a loved one.

Reach out for me by phone, email, or facebook message for a no-cost consultation and let’s get started!

Oh, wait….did I say a 1950’s milk glass bowl? Well…maybe there is a little space in my kitchen!

After the Storm

It’s scary to think that I’d ever be chased out of my house because of a flood, a fire, or a hurricane.  Will I have time to grab anything before leaving? What will I be sad to have lost?  Will I be able to replace essentials quickly?  Will I know what to list on insurance forms to document what was lost?

I am fortunate to have never experienced that, but I know of many who have.  My brother lost everything he owned in Hurricane Katrina.  Three co-workers of my husband have lost their homes to fire.  As a volunteer with my church’s emergency disaster relief organization, I have worked to clean out flooded homes after both the South Carolina flood of October 2015 and Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.  It isn’t just something we hear about on the news, such as the horrific and deadly fires in Gatlinburg TN or the threat of a spillway failure in Oroville CA that has caused an evacuation of 188,000 from potential flooding.   It isn’t something that happens to other people, somewhere else.  It happens to our neighbors, it happens to our families, it happens to us.

It may not be possible to lessen the impact of such a disaster, but there are a few things we all can do to  be better prepared…just in case.

In the case of house clean outs that I worked after a flood, the structure stood but the contents were destroyed.  All of the things that the homeowner would touch, see, and use daily were now water logged, moldy, and useless to these families whose homes were in the water’s path.  It’s amazing how quickly mold grows from flood water.   My team and I covered up with face masks, gloves, and safety goggles to minimize contact with the allergens in the air and on the contents.  We carried item after item out of the house, stacking it alongside the road in piles to be picked up for disposal.  A person’s possessions were quickly categorized into construction debris, appliances, furniture, and everything else.  Trucks would drive by ready to haul off appliances.  Dump trucks would come by to collect the construction debris for proper disposal.  Everything else would be picked up and hauled to the landfill.  A lifetime to accumulate, a moment to wash away.

So how can I prepare for such a loss?

While we can’t eliminate all of the stuff in our lives, as a good bit is necessary for our everyday living, we certainly can reduce much of what we have.

Open any closet in your house.  What do you see?  Can you even see everything?  Is everything in there useful?  Is there anything in there that would devastate you to lose?  What about the rest of it, is there a reason to keep it if it isn’t useful or meaningful?

Can you look at each room, each closet, each nook and cranny, and start pulling things out and discard what is not useful or meaningful?

It’s OK if you can’t, that’s what I’m here for.  I will be happy to help you work through that process.

Then when we finish, I’ll get you prepared for the “just in case” disaster.

Important paperwork stored in the proper container.  Meaningful family heirlooms displayed, used, or stored properly.  Portraits, photos, letters, cards, etc. digitally stored and backed up properly.  An inventory of items to be reported for insurance purposes.  Clean floors, organized closets, uncluttered space….and a new sense of calm.

Please don’t wait for the day Mother Nature comes sweeping through your house to cleanse it of your belongings.  Start today to simplify your life.



Photo Organizing Tips

How Do I Reduce All of These Pictures?

Boxes of printed photos. Album after album containing a lifetime of pictures. Inherited photo albums from beloved family members long gone. It may be time to reduce all of it, or maybe it’s time to share it all with others. Where to begin? What is the plan of action? How do I get there from here?

I’m here to help. I will take your vision of what you want to do, and run with it and produce results. Before long you will have your lifetime of pictures telling the story of your life; manageable, organized, and viewable for you and for generations to come.

If you want to get started without me, leaving me with the grunt work, I want to give you a few tips on how to get started.

First, and most important, gather up those photo albums with the magnetic pages (commonly used in the 1970s and 1980s), and remove those pictures! The pictures are likely sticking, the color fading, the paper deteriorating. This is the first priority! Stop the deterioration and gently remove each picture. If the sticking is bad, try using dental floss to separate the photo from the page. As you remove the pictures, keep them in order and place them in an archival photo storage box (available at all craft stores). If you need to copy any written information from the album page, either lightly pencil in that info on the back of the picture, or write it on a sticky note and attach to the back of the picture.

If you don’t want to tackle this task alone, please reach out to me! I will do this for you.

Once that is done, start with your most current photos. We are going to work backwards through time. It is surprisingly easier to work backwards than to work from the beginning. Most of my hands on help will be with tackling printed pictures, but you likely have 15 years worth of digital pictures. Some of those years may have an overlap of both print and digital because you took film to be developed and ordered both the prints and floppy disk or CD (remember those??).

Working backwards from the current month, gather the digital prints and drop them into a folder labeled with the year_month. Depending on how many pictures, how many separate events, and how you want to group the pictures, you may want to extend the folder name to group further than the year and month. For instance, if in January 2017 you have pictures from a birthday party, a family dinner, and an outdoor event, with several random pictures snapped for no apparent reason other than a perfect moment on random days, you may list the folder this way:





You get the idea.

Once you get to the printed pictures, double check your records, your cabinets, your desk drawers and see if you saved the floppy disk or CD (I can transfer files from floppy and CD to a flash drive for you). No use scanning in when a digital copy already exists. When sorting printed pictures, keep with the same grouping as you did with the digital files.

Within each event, discard all blurry shots, unidentifiable shots, and unflattering shots. Now that you’ve reduced your photos by half, staying within your comfort level, further reduce the photos to cover these basic categories (interpreted from Life magazine’s photo story requirements of photo journalists):

  1. Signature Image. Which picture gives the strongest visual impact? This is the event cover story, inviting the viewing into the story.
  2. Portrait. Who is the key player of the event?
  3. An Over-all View. This wide view image gives a sense of the space in which the event occurred.
  4. Detail. One picture that delivers an eye catching detail of the event.
  5. Action. Which picture shows what is going on?

For some events, you will keep as few as five pictures. But there will be events when you need to expand a bit more. A few additional categories to consider:

  1. Sequence. Longer events can’t be captured in one single picture, and you may want to keep a few sequential pictures that help move the storyline along.
  2. Medium View. Similar to a sequence shot, a step in from the overall view, but not as pronounced as the detail or signature view, the medium view offers a bit more detail.
  3. Closing. The end shot may be significant to the story line. Finish telling the story with a picture of the closing.

Once you’ve worked backwards from digital to print only, you want to scan those prints to a digital file for permanent preservation and for sharing.

There you have it. Photo Organizing 101. Make a commitment to work on one month at a time, working backwards. If you are uncomfortable getting rid of pictures, still sort as I recommend, but move those not chosen to a storage file for now, still keeping in chronological order. Whether print or digital, you don’t have to destroy those pictures forever, but you do want to keep out unnecessary pictures from your photo story lifeline. Just as too many redundant and unnecessary words can make a story unreadable, too many redundant and unnecessary pictures can make the picture story too cluttered to tell. Reduce it down so the story your pictures portray is the clear and beautiful story of your life.

Examples of photo digitizing

The above images show examples of printed photos digitized with minor editing.  Over time pictures can deteriorate.  Corners can rip, ink colors can fade, pictures can stick permanently in magnetic albums, or tear when removing from older albums.  Scanning photos to preserve the memories is a necessary way to ensure future generations have access to this family history.