Omahan Ellie Archer was practicing the Marie Kondo method long before the Japanese organizing expert became a household name.
It’s the result of downsizing five years ago from a three-story home in the Benson neighborhood to a 1,200-square-foot apartment in Elmwood Tower near 52nd and Leavenworth Streets.
She estimates that she had to shed 70 percent of her belongings after living in Benson for 30 years. She moved most of what was left a carload at a time.
“I gave a tremendous amount of thought to what I brought with me,” Ellie says. “I didn’t want it (the apartment) to be cluttered.”
Definitely nothing fussy. She wanted a living space that was soothing and warm, done in her favorite shades of cream and brown. It had to feel as welcoming as possible.
She’s happy with the result although she hasn’t stopped downsizing. She just sorted and gave away most of her cookbooks.
“You’ve got to feel in a ruthless mood,” she says. “It makes it a lot easier.”
Almost everything that’s left in her home has a history. A high chair once used by her father has been transformed into a plant stand. A piece of Ethan Allen furniture that her mom saved so hard for was converted into a vanity for the guest bath.
Works by local artists Steve Bauer, Sidney Buchanan, Catherine Ferguson, Micah Clark and others brighten the walls. She likes to be surrounded by the endeavors of friends.
“There’s not a single thing I can point to that doesn’t have a story,” she says.
The view from her windows looking east, though, can outshine even the most cherished painting, especially at night.
“It sometimes catches my breath,” Ellie says.
That’s just one of the perks of living in the 21-story co-op. Once called the Masonic Manor, it offers easy living for those 50 and older.
Residents buy their units. Don’t be daunted, Ellie says, by a waiting list.
The building includes a secure entrance, restaurant, common area and library on the main floor, exercise and laundry rooms in the basement and plenty of covered parking. Gardening opportunities are available on the grounds for those who had to leave their yards behind, like Ellie.
There are even three “motel” rooms for when residents need a place for guests to stay. Grocery stores and a pharmacy are close by and deliver.
Ellie’s apartment is a combination of two smaller units, giving her a bedroom and a TV room with a fold-out couch covered with pillows reflecting longtime Omaha businesses.
What was the kitchen on one side is now the laundry room.
Neither room is spacious, but she loves the convenience.
“Everything in my kitchen is within easy reach, or a 180-degree turn, and I love the expanse of countertop for cooking or serving,” Ellie says. “In my house, I had to cross the full length of a large basement, then up two flights of stairs and long hallways with the laundry. Now I’m literally 12 steps from machines to closets.”
She laughs that when you call for repairs, you better be dressed because the 24/7 maintenance staff responds so quickly.
There are clubs galore, and residents look out for one another. But Ellie says she’s still too busy to partake in the many social activities.
The founding director of the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau and retired executive director of the Omaha Women’s Fund has a wide circle of friends, sits on a few boards, swims several times a week and is a docent for the Buffett Cancer Center art collection at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Son Sloan Dawson lives in Seattle, so she travels often.
“I love retirement,” she says.
As a single mother and someone who cared for aging parents, she’s loving her stress-free lifestyle, too.
She is, she says, a happy camper.
“I have no responsibilities. I am as free as a bird.”