Hi, I’m Tinka Markham Piper and I love bright colors, coffee with lots of milk, yard sales, stationary stores, problem-solving and meeting new people.
I’m a “chaos counselor”—part organizer, part redesigner and part therapist and my business is “Solve My Space.” I’m an American/Canadian and have called Montreal home for the past 16 years.
I had an itinerant childhood—my family lived in 7 countries because of my father’s job as a foreign correspondent—which gifted me a strong sense of curiosity and wonder about people and places. The question “where are you from?” was always the hardest for me to answer, however, I am grateful for a very close family bond that made me realize that home is most often found in people.
After college, I received my teaching degree and worked for AmeriCorps in San Francisco. At the same time, I started working on a suicide prevention hotline as a way to cope with my father’s death and realized that I wanted to work in mental health. My next stop was moving to NYC for graduate school where I received a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) and a Master’s in Public Heatlh (MPH).
I worked for 15 years in health and mental health: suicide prevention, emergency management and urban epidemiology. However, nine years ago, I had that lightbulb moment—my real passion is transforming lives by transforming homes! So I combined the counseling elements of social work and the project management training of public health to create my business, Solve My Space.
What would you say has been the biggest shift in your life since turning 40 or 50?
It’s an intangible positive but a very important one for sure: I have more clarity and confidence. I love the saying that “No is a complete sentence” and I feel that this is something that I’ve learned as I get older. I used to say “YES!” to almost everything—either to please people or because the opportunities sounded truly interesting—but I would end up totally exhausted, sometimes resentful and often disappointing others and myself.
So being more intentional about choices and opportunities is the biggest shift for me. And it’s about being aligned with and clear about priorities, goals and hopes.
When do you feel you are most powerful? Who are you being? What are you doing?
My mission is to transform lives by transforming homes because organizing and space-solving is a form of mental health care. I feel most powerful when I’m working with my clients and helping them figure out how to make their home feel better for them. I feel so grateful that I found a way to incorporate my background into a business to give people tools to make their homes work for them and their families.
In addition, talking about stress, anxiety and vulnerability is such an essential part of working in someone’s most intimate spaces. For me, it’s not about creating a home that looks good but about creating a home that feels good. By working at both the emotional and physical level with each client, my hope is solving the most challenging spaces can be a joyful and rewarding experience.
What are the top 3 most important things to you right now?
Family: Ever since I was a child, my family has been my core and anchor. I’ve also struggled with my own anxiety since I was young—mainly about losing loved ones—so I am constantly working on being present for the now. My husband and I have been together for 30 years (yes, high school sweethearts!) and I am grateful to be raising our very vibrant teenage children together. However, as my mom, stepfather and in-laws get older, I feel a sense of anticipatory grief and so am working on managing those emotions.
Connection: Connection can look like so many things—a smile to a stranger, a phone conversation, a new client-turned friend, you name it. But fostering connection and collaboration in so many different forms (personal + professional) is critical for me.
Finding joy: Gosh, life can be intense and complex, especially now in this pandemic stage we are all living in. For me, finding joy in small moments is so essential to everyday life. Whether it’s seeing a rainbow painted door on a walk outside with our dog, receiving a message from an old friend or goofing around with my teenagers, joy-seeking is a daily goal. Other joyful things I like to do include moving furniture around at home, researching cool small businesses and artists, vintage store browsing, avoiding exercise, eating chocolate and drinking coffee. Lots of it!
How do you make sure your actions are aligned with what’s most important to you?
Emotions and feelings. I find that getting to the root of how I FEEL helps to align my actions and priorities. It’s the same exact strategy when I work in homes. When I ask someone “How do you want to feel in your home?” all the sudden, we have our road map for how we can work together.
What seeds are you planting today for the future?
Oh this is a fun question!
On a personal level it’s all about time and connections with my family and friends.
On a professional level, I am dreaming up new collaborative programs and projects about supporting mental health in our homes.
On a physical level, I will admit that this is my achilles heel. I often neglect my body (oh, exercise, why do I find you so challenging to do?!) so this is a seed that I need to tend to more proactively. I need a body-solver for my physical health ☺
What advice would you give someone who is interested in redesigning midlife?
My grandmother always said to me: “Don’t think about your age. It’s just a number. Think about your spirit.” And even at 84, my grandmother wore bright pink sneakers and used a cane that she covered with rainbow sequins.
So my advice is: “if you want to start or try something new, go for it!” I think we can overfocus on our age and think it may be too late to begin a new project or stage in life. There have been times when I’ve wondered “Oh I wish I had started my business in my 20’s..imagine where I would be now!” And then I quickly realize that is coming from a place of regret which is so not helpful AND also, everything I did in my 20s and 30s helped inform where I am now.