Nancy Hopkins, the founder and president of Sort and Simplify, has had an adventurous life. This has included 15 years in South East Asia, where she traveled to remote locations for her work developing agriculture and micro-lending projects; spent a year in Hong Kong doing social work with the refugees known as Boat People, and coordinated workshops in Saigon and Manila for social service professionals. Therefore, she counts 15 separate moves during her married life and knows the anxiety and joy that comes from setting up a household in a new place even in sometimes stressful circumstances.
More recently, she’s spent over seven years with the “Original Storage and Organization Store” helping people solve unique solutions to their organizational and storage problems. She has designed closets and storage spaces from two foot wide pantries to three car garages; and master closets converted from bedrooms. She speaks regularly on topics such as closet and pantry organization, spring cleaning and clothing care. She has a broad knowledge of products and tips to ease the activities of daily life.
An Interview with Nancy
With a background in social service and retail, why did you start Sort and Simplify?
It seemed like a natural progression. I love the helping aspect of finding exactly what works for customers. In my own life, I’ve adjusted to so many living situations-- from a four-bedroom house with a bath for each bedroom to a Hong Kong flat where the master bedroom was just two feet wider than the queen size bed! In those small places the right storage was especially important. More recently, friends have been so appreciative of what I accomplished in their homes that this seemed like the next step.
Why is your focus on older adults?
Well, I’m an older adult! What many people don’t know is that at the beginning of my career, I managed a home health agency specializing in senior care for about a year before I went overseas. I loved going into older people’s homes and hearing their stories. In the 1990’s, I designed projects and managed social workers and activities staff for five senior housing complexes in Detroit. I’m comfortable listening first and going at a slower pace. Then too, I remember how proud my mother was of her studio apartment. It was tiny but it didn’t stop her from putting in an eight foot white silk sleeper sofa!
Isn’t it gut-wrenching to see someone give up 20 years or more of beloved furnishings and collections?
First, not everything has to go. My mother used her bone china teacups right up to her death. But yes, a certain amount of grieving is both human and healthy. Once, my husband and I lost the contents of our home in a storage warehouse fire. The furniture could be replaced but the hand-carved indigenous antiques and the collection of event posters autographed by famous jazz musicians could not. So I empathize with those feelings of loss.
As professionals, we work to make what could be bitter into bitter-sweet. First, we know that a certain amount of what we have is unusable junk; there by attrition and ready to be tossed. Getting rid of that feels wonderful!
The second level is things that are serviceable and could still be of use to someone--but who? Do I sell, donate or store? The third level is that of collections of art, jewelry, or other valuable heirlooms and keepsakes with a sentimental value. Everyone has questions of how much do I keep, put into storage or give now to the next generation? These can only be answered case by case.
Sort and Simplify is the impartial 3rd party that asks all the right questions so that the individual and family can make well thought out decisions that feel right. We’ll make floor plans showing which pieces of your furniture will fit in your new place. Knowing there’s a plan is reassuring. We can even prepare a keepsake book with photos and stories of precious objects for you, your friends and family to enjoy in the years ahead.
So, to wrap up, what do you do in your free time?
Wouldn’t you know it? I’m a thrift store junkie. I love finding those quirky items that others have discarded. That means that I’m pretty familiar with all the charity shops in Chicago’s Western Suburbs that take donations. Some accept high quality consignment furniture while others are great at showing off china. (A list is available on our resources page.)
Finally, I’m a reader. I recently finished the book, “Rhode Island Blues” by Faye Weldon. It’s about multiple generations of an extended family and their secrets. One of the protagonists is a feisty elder who fools everyone by passing off an original painting by Utrillo as a fake in order to keep it with her at her retirement community. Then she decides not to live her life in the past and spirits away the painting to fund a more joyous life!