Skip to Content Skip to Navigation

Barrelhouse Bonni:

Organize Your History


OVERWHELMED  By Paper and Stuff?

Do you, a friend, or a family member need to downsize or move, and the house is full of stuff? Want to increase your chance of saving heirlooms or documents of historical, financial or sentimental value? Do you hate throwing things away that can be recycled or useful to someone?  

“Barrelhouse Bonni” McKeown is a well-suited Declutter Director.  A blues piano player and writer who dwells in small spaces, she’s also fond of old stuff. She has the experience, energy and focus to help you whittle down the clutter and keep what you really want to keep. She will help you sort, remove, clean,  store your possessions usefully, and catalog your history. The process tends to replace feelings of heaviness and gloom with lightness, relief and completion—and helps you save time, lugging and storage fees.



Bonni says:

As a child, my favorite books to read were biographies of movers and shakers and pioneers like Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earhart. As a lifelong journalist, musician, producer, and historian, I’ve written countless news stories, poems, songs, a blog, a film script and two biographies.* I’ve set up archive files for myself, family members and our 85 year old family business, Capon Springs and Farms, in eastern West Virginia.  I try to always be grateful for my stuff, for I know folks whose lives don’t allow them to keep favorite things or often even basic housekeeping items.

To shrink a mountain of stuff, where do we start? When I was a confused young mother, a wonderful counselor, Florence “Flow” Feldman showed me the Decluttering Principles (See below) :
I’ve used them many times during the stages of life.  I’m now a downsized senior.

    * Biographies: Peaceful Patriot, the story of West Virginia’s Tom Bennett, an Army medic and conscientious objector killed in Vietnam; and Stepson of the Blues, as told by Larry Taylor, today’s bluesman from the West Side of Chicago.


As we go through life and the world constantly changes, our stuff can accumulate and start to control us. Dilemmas arise: what to keep? what to toss? My mom died; do I go with the urge to keep all her clothes?   Is my uncle’s 7th grade report card historically significant?  Do I need certain items for a future project—or a change in the weather?

We only occupy this planet for a time, and can’t take stuff with us.  So who will we leave it to? Who wants it? Would they have the means to keep it?


1) ELIMINATE what you don’t need.  Ask:  Do I like this item? Have I used it lately? Do I want it? Do I need it?  Do I have space for it?  Can I maintain it?
If the answers are “No,” it’s time to put the item in one of these outgoing piles:
Give to someone who’ll need or appreciate it;
Appraise for cash value;
Donate to a thrift shop or rummage sale;

2) SORT:  Put items of the same kind, or function, together and see what you really need to keep.  CLEAN as you go.  Decide on storage spaces and containers.   

3) LABEL storage boxes, drawers, shelves, envelopes and file folders with a magic marker.  If you’re moving, you can more easily find them at the destination.  If you’re staying, put things you use often in a place that’s handy.  Stash seldom-used items like holiday decorations on a high shelf or low place out of the way.

4) MAINTAIN your system. You’ll save the time and frustration of hunting for things you need. You’ll also eliminate any shame about a house or storage space feeling dirty and messy.



While sorting, tidying and cleaning, we often come upon hidden treasures. Valuable or sentimental jewelry, maybe an old family Bible. Or an old newspaper story that ties your family with a historic figure or answers a long-standing question about your family or business.  
If you have a lot of paper, you can begin sorting by dates. This quickly leads to historic topics that you can  label and file with dates:  “Taxes: 2010-15” ; “Dad: World War II”; “Our Town , 1960-1985”,  ““Baseball Team, 1992-2009;” : “Smith Family 1800-1930”.


1. Call your Declutter Director, 773-209-4712 about your situation and the goals you want to achieve regarding your stuff.  It may be to clear a room , or find certain things that will go to a certain destination. Set aside a date to begin work.  Clear your day of responsibilities and interruptions.

2.  Send a $25 deposit and confirm the date for the Declutter Director to come to your location.

3.  Get ready for Declutter Day. Have on hand a supply of heavy plastic trash bags,  and various sized boxes to use for giveaways, recycling, trash and temporary storage. Also file folders and marking pens.  

4. Start with the easiest room or section and clear it first. Put your unfinished work in temporary order.  Some of it, such as history, will become detailed projects for later.

5. Pay Bonni, your Declutter Director, for the day’s work—it’s like a music gig where you pay the day of the performance.  Determine the next day’s schedule.
Depending on how many rooms you have, you may need several days with your Declutter Director. Some people find they can carry through and finish the job themselves, having learned the principles of decluttering. Make a realistic plan to finish the whole task.

GEOGRAPHIC RANGE:  Based in Chicago and in Huntington, WV, Bonni the Declutter Director can work anywhere around and between, with compensation for travel and arrangements for lodging.

PRICES: Negotiated by the job.