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On March 3rd, seventy-five people arrived at the Jewish Seniors Alliance workshop at the JSA headquarters in the Hewlett Centre. They were eager to learn how to ‘DOWNSIZE and not AGONIZE’ – the title of speaker Ranka Burzan’s first book on ridding our homes and lives of clutter. It is what most of us wish to do, but what causes agony for many; the overwhelming thoughts that plague us of not knowing how to or where to get started that prevent us from attempting the monumental task of downsizing.

Reverend Dr. Steven Epperson of the Unitarian Church of Vancouver warmly welcomed those gathered by telling the crowd that he enjoyed having the JSA, a Jewish organization as part of his centre. He went on to say that through the years he has had to deal with many life-changing events in counselling the members of his church-marriages, births, health setbacks, including deaths – necessitating life-altering moves for families. These can be very difficult, trying times for the people themselves, their children and families to deal with – especially if no plans have been made in advance for the necessary transitions now having to take place.

RankaMarilyn Berger, President of the JSA, while introducing our speaker, Ranka Burzan, pointed to her walker and said this reflected her home too – as the top of the walker held a coffee cup, papers and other items strewn there. Berger spoke of Burzan’s being a Professional Organizer and Founder of Solutions Organizing Simple, who has published books, written articles to assist people with the physical and emotional demands of transition and change. Berger said she hoped to learn some pointers which may help her and others.

Are you organized?

Burzan proceeded to ask the crowd how many of them were organized. A few hands went up. She then asked how many of them would like to be organized and all hands shot into the air. According to her, one hour is wasted in searching for things such as keys, scissors, staples, necessary papers, which leads to another hour of being overwhelmed with frustration at not being able to start the task we had wanted to begin.

Ready for a change?

Change is very difficult and we are afraid of it. We procrastinate – we stress – we start and do not finish tasks – we hold onto things given to us because of guilt. Plan for the change.

“You must be the change you want to see” –Gandhi. A quote Burzan used to illustrate that it is up to us to initiate the change and proceeded to give us tips on doing so.

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?

• Do you still enjoy it?

THEN – listen to your answers.

We only use 20% of what we own – the other 80% we keep – just in case – our children, our grandchildren, our friends or the neighbour down the street may want it. Some of us actually rent storage to keep those ‘just in case’ items.

Make a start, make a plan

As I sit in my condo surrounded by my “house-size” amount of possessions which I have accumulated over the years, I can hear the dynamic voice of Ranka Burzan saying “Make a start! Make a plan and do it in small increments of time. Commit to 5/10/15minutes of time – set a kitchen timer to the allotted time and stay with planned task until the time has elapsed.” Using tools will aid you in accomplishing your task – even simple tools such as boxes, bags, tape, markers – all gathered before the task is begun. It is advisable to start with a small area to sort through – to keep or toss – perhaps a junk drawer or a purse. It will give you the necessary boost of confidence once you have been able to carry a task through to completion.

Burzan had someone pass around a small wastebasket and asked the audience to toss any unwanted items from a purse or pocket into it, in order to illustrate how simple it can be to discard things within a planned 5-minute time period. Serge wryly remarked he would prefer a truck be sent to his house to help him get rid of items there, rather than use that tiny waste basket. He thus created a ripple of understanding laughter in the audience – the little wastebasket rapidly filled up and its contents were tossed out. Burzan proved that it CAN be quite easy to throw something away – a theatre stub, an old wrapper of gum or even just a cash receipt!

Enjoy the benefits of organizing

The benefits of organizing are multiple; more productivity, less stress, more free time to socialize, perhaps actually earning cash, feeling personal pleasure knowing others are benefitting from your accumulated clutter and that the discarded “trash” may become possible treasures in other households.

Clutter is a barrier to life and creates guilt. We keep things because of emotional attachment, paintings, cards, wedding/prom dresses, sets of crystal, dishes – again – just in case the children/grandchildren may want them.

We start projects, for example, scrapbooks for souvenirs to store the memories we have, however, if after 3 months we have not completed the project, it is time to discard it.

Ask yourself – what’s holding me back? When is my energy level highest—morning, noon or night time? And START THEN! What would I take in case of fire?

Ask for help from family or positive thinking friends who can help you reach your goal. Ranka Burzan pointed to her friend and assistant, Mara Lees, without whom she could not accomplish as much in her own day.

We walked away with our minds full of ideas, our hearts committed to the change we had all thought about when we first decided to attend this workshop– happy with the knowledge that the ideas we had heard can be put to use – now – before we started to procrastinate – so that we may implement them to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and see the results a rewarding experience.

Ranka Burzan can be reached at:

604-427-4445 (office)

604-441-2067  (Cell)

Gyda Chud, using her talent for maximizing in a minimalistic way – highlighted the key points we had learned and thanked our speaker, presenting her with an honorarium and invited the crowd to enjoy bite size portions of food while mulling over which bite size portions of change they will attempt at home.

A raffle basket donated by Ranka Burzan containing her cleaning tips, tools and one of her books was won by a lucky member of the audience. Photo of the happy winner and other participants will be posted on the JSA website.


The Jewish Museum and Archives of BC

AlysaTo compliment this session which dealt with discarding and downsizing, Alysa Routtenberg of the Jewish Museum and Archives of BC (JMABC) spoke of their work of collecting hundreds of thousands of items documenting the 150+ Year history of Jews in BC. To date, they have over 300,000 photographs, 300 meters of textual records and over 725 oral history interviews. The archives preserve the history of Jewish life in BC, provide material for research, for mounting exhibitions and for storing family memories.

Some of the hallmarks of the JMABC collection are:

Oldest Collection of Congregation Emanu-El

Major collection of Canadian Jewish Congress-Pacific Region

Leonard Frank Photo Studio

We were asked NOT to THROW away our personal family treasures but to help the JMABC enrich their collection of small personal items; pins, medals and similar keepsakes.

They can be reached at 604-257-5199 or

To those already planning to promptly put to use what they had learned at Ranka Burzan’s session, this was a most welcome request.

Many thanks to Stan Shear, who filmed the event. This will be available for viewing on the website.

Thanks to the JSA-Snider Foundation Empowerment Series Committee, chaired by Gyda Chud, and to Karon Shear, Rita Propp and volunteers Bev Cooper, Jackie Weiler and Jennifer Propp for a successful event, which included a light lunch of pita, vegetables, hummus and fruit. Few leftovers to discard but much food for thought.

A raffle basket donated by Ranka Burzan containing her cleaning tips, tools and one of her books was won by a lucky member of the audience. Photo of the happy winner and other participants will be posted on the JSA website.

Binny Goldman, March 2016

Binny Goldman

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