BY Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Mary Vraa was working in the home mortgage field in 2016 when many of her colleagues, who were around retirement age, called it quits due to the stress of trying to rebound after the 2009 market crash.
“They then closed out parts of our business and my whole division was closed out,” says Vraa, a Cave Creek resident.
“I was pretty shocked by that. I thought I was going to retire with them.”
But the change was fortuitous. After a year-long renovation of her home, Vraa forged a close relationship with her interior designer, Wendy Woodard.
“She called me up out of the blue to ask if I wanted to go on a road trip to Ojai, where she was working on a house,” Vraa says. “We just really clicked. We had such a blast. We sketched out an idea for a small business helping seniors with downsizing and transitioning to an older adult community.
“Between my project management background and Wendy’s fabulous skills, we thought it would be a great approach.”
Furthermore, Vraa wrote a book about her occupation, “PopUpurge: Release Midlife Clutter & Reclaim Inner Clarity.” Geared toward women in their 50s, “PopUpurge” is a guide for discovering a new and fabulous midlife chapter, she says.
“Once the kids are grown and on their own, you can refocus on where you want to be … but where is that now? Not quite sure?” she explains.
When clients accept that clutter is not just in the closet, they realize that it’s really the emotions wrapped around the items that have them stuck.
“What really hit me was how hard it was for our clients to make these decisions to let things go,” says Vraa, 58. “It can be under a tight time constraint. You have to commit to a living space. You can’t straddle both forever.”
Vraa has experienced many of life’s customary heartaches herself, including divorce, cancer, job loss and loss of a loved one. She moved on to a new chapter in her life.
Mary is a certified senior move manager and master life coach. Now, through her writing and speaking, she continues to guide women with decluttering for their next life chapter.
“I’ve been amazed by the things people have,” she says. “They had ‘As Seen on TV’ things, every piece of artwork their kids made for them, or this was from grandma or Uncle Bob. I’d come home and say to my husband, ‘People have to start sooner.’”
Some of the Vraa’s clients have held on to things from negative situations in their lives, like a former relationship that ended poorly.
“Who wants to look at that?” she says. “Why would you want something that reminds you that it ended badly?”
Two books really inspired her — “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo and “The Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” by Margareta Magnusson.
“When you hit 50, you have to start looking at what’s around in the house and start to make decisions,” she says. “The premise is you don’t want to leave a big mess behind for people you love. By going through all your stuff, you validate where you’ve been.
“With Marie Kondo, I do like the idea that your house is going to be beautiful. If I kept everything that sparked joy, I wouldn’t know what to let go of.”
Vraa prides herself on having patience with her clients. She encourages them to go to the closet and pull things out. Vraa then asks her clients, “What do you think about this?”
“Some things they just really needed to talk about and then they’re alright with just letting it go,” she says. “When I walk into somebody’s house and look around, I get a sense of who the person is. What’s featured there tells me what their interests are and hopefully their inspirations, what’s mattered to them. We’ll prioritize that.”
It’s uncomfortable to live in a warehouse-like setting, she says. With the cluttering, clients need to have things that are familiar as they step into the unknown. It’s all about change.
“The 50s are a really liberating decade,” Vraa explains. We’re in a position to do things just for ourselves. We’ve raised a family, supported a spouse or partner with their endeavors. We’ve worked.
“Without having to have those foremost, you have to think of what do I want to do now? Maybe it’s a passion you shelved some time ago. When you start to go through your stuff, you’re going to figure that out.”