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Published June 15, 2012, 11:30 PM

Making the move ... again and again: Designer, organizer shares some tips learned from her family’s many moves

FARGO - The framed map commemorating Colleen and Jason Stevens’ anniversary tells the story: 10 years, seven states.

By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM

FARGO - The framed map commemorating Colleen and Jason Stevens’ anniversary tells the story: 10 years, seven states.

In the past decade, as Jason has moved up the ladder with Cargill, Colleen has become a bit of an expert at quickly settling into new houses, turning each into a home for her family of five.

The most recent move was in March to a Craftsman-style six-bedroom house in southwest Fargo’s Osgood neighborhood.

The framed anniversary map is propped on a table in the entryway, greeting guests. Sleek furniture, chevron-patterned curtain panels and an ornate gold frame waiting for just the right insert adorn the newly painted living room.

A wall of baskets adds texture to the open kitchen, and a display of family pictures personalizes the main floor. Only unpainted wall edges belie the fact the family just recently settled here, though Colleen has many more decorating plans.

Colleen, a New York native, went to school for human resources, but the frequent moves plus motherhood made maintaining that career difficult. Now she puts to use the experience gained designing her own homes by hiring out her services to help others redecorate and organize.

“I’ve always been in love with homes and decorating and design. And I’ve always been an organizer,” Colleen says.

So organized, Colleen says she didn’t even realize she had a relocating routine until she started writing her design-centric blog, 58 Water Street.

“There’s definitely a method to what I’m doing and it works for me,” she says.

As soon as she knows they’re going to move, she hits the web, looking at homes for sale, checking out neighborhoods and reading local blogs.

When it comes time to pack, Colleen goes into every room and sorts items by where they will be placed in the new home. For example, everything across the entire house that will go into the new living room is grouped together in the existing living room.

“If it’s packed in this room, they’re going to put it in the living room in the new house. So at least everything is going to be in place, whether it’s immediately put away or not,” she says.

She remembers unpacking after their second move, from California to Iowa, and wondering why a lot of the items were hauled halfway across the country.

“Why did I not just throw all of this away, give it to Goodwill?” Colleen recalls thinking. “I didn’t want it when we were there; I don’t want it now.

“It’s a really good time to unload a ton of stuff,” she adds. “In the new place, you want a fresh start and new beginning in the new house. It’s like a cleansing to get rid of all that extra stuff.”

If furniture is worn out or won’t fit in the new space, it may be time to sell the pieces through online classified ads, Colleen says. Kids’ clothing, toys and papers often needs to be purged.

Once in a new space, Colleen focuses on making the three kids’ bedrooms cute and comfortable as soon as possible.

In the Fargo house, daughter Natalie’s room features turquoise shelves and end table, a fabric-covered headboard and hand-painted graphic art. Ella’s is decorated in hot pink and zebra stripes. Four-year-old Owen shows off his new Mario Kart poster.

“I want them to feel like they have a wonderful space in the new house, because they’re out of their element and everything is new,” she says.

Colleen also distinguishes between “comfort” rooms and “functional” rooms. “The kitchen has to be functional,” she says. “So I could wake up in the morning, have a normal routine.”

For example, at night Colleen sets out breakfast dishes for each of the kids.

“It just makes them feel taken care of,” she says.


Deb Williams, owner of Ducks in a Row Organizing in Fargo, agrees good organization prior to a move is key to it going smoothly.

“Know the space you’re moving in to and plan how you’re going to use it,” Williams says.

She suggests people ask for time to just stand in the new house, as well as pictures and drawings of the space, so they can plan how each room function, down to each kitchen drawer.

While some of the things a house’s previous owner did may work, others may not, Williams says. It’s important to bring a fresh perspective to each room.

Think about what each space in the new home will ideally be used for, and what needs to be in that room to accomplish those activities, Williams says. For example, if you’re going to watch movies in the family room, then the sofa, end tables, TV and DVDs should be moved into that room.

Every box needs to be labeled, “not just what’s in it, but what room it goes into,” Williams says. “It could even be helpful to say what room it’s from.”

Williams also says people need to be ruthless in getting rid of their possessions.

“If you have a good plan for the house you’re going into, it’s easier for you to say ‘This isn’t going to work for us anymore. We don’t have a spot for it,’ ” Williams says.

This purging is an important part of preparing the old home to sell, says Kelly Mapes, an agent with Park Co. Realtors. The staging process she takes clients through gets a lot of the work done in advance, she says.

She encourages people to take pictures of items they never use but hate to part with. To lessen a child’s sadness at getting rid of toys, she suggests giving it to a neighbor kid as a memento.

Once all the items are in the right place, then the home’s design can take shape, Colleen Stevens says.

“Get your house to the point where you can function, and then let the esthetics come,” she says. “You need to live in the house for a while before you decide what’s going to where as far as pictures and that kind of thing.”