Content and Editorial Director
Everyone has that space. That garage you can’t park in because it’s packed with boxes, bikes with flat tires and who knows what else. Your crammed closet with its decades-old sweaters spilling out. The office with piles of papers you’re going to file away one of these days. Just thinking about decluttering and organizing any of these spaces can make you want to give up before you even get started. But don’t worry, that’s perfectly normal. And there’s a simple solution.
Hire a professional organizer. At first blush, that might feel ridiculously indulgent. After all, you could do all this yourself, right? Not necessarily. Getting organized means getting rid of your things, and things come with memories, which can make tidying a deeply emotional process. One so daunting that most of us don’t even know how to take even the first baby step. Which is where a professional organizer comes in.
Professional organizers are like personal coaches. The good ones see organizing as a team effort and work with you to clarify your goals, uncover the underlying reasons for your clutter and create an action plan that will address it all. What’s surprising to many people who embark on an organizing odyssey is the sense of peace and calm they find along the way.
Orange County-based organizer Ariane Lucas, aka the Clutter Nanny, has seen the emotional benefits her clients experience by ridding themselves of clutter. “Many times I start with a client and they are anxious and agitated and don’t know where to begin,” Lucas says. “They feel hopeless and incredibly stressed. When the project is complete, they feel an enormous sense of relief. It’s like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders.” In her experience, decluttering can help people’s relationships, too, with many couples reporting less tension and fewer fights after they organize.
But even if you really want to pare down, it still isn’t easy getting rid of your things. Ariane attributes this to the fact that people attach sentimental value to so many items — the first pair of scissors a child used, for example. For many people, it’s particularly difficult to get rid of items from a child’s baby and toddler years, especially artwork and crafts. “My child was so proud when they created that!” people will say.
Amy Koivu, a married mother of two from Seattle, experienced this first hand when she hired a professional organizer. “My organizer pulled out a sack of kindergarten number and letter cards, and the prospect of tossing them literally made me cry,” Koivu says. “I felt terribly guilty. I thought that I should be using these with my kids, but wasn’t. And deciding whether to get rid of baby blankets was also upsetting, because it made me face the fact that I’m done having babies. But I had to come to the understanding that it’s okay to give things away. I’m a big memento person. And decluttering helped me break free of that.”
Indeed, an important part of a professional organizer’s job is to assure people that it’s okay to get rid of things. This really hit home for Amy when she was deciding the fate of her children’s multitude of science kits. “Did each kid need five science kits when we didn’t even use one?” she asked. Still, getting rid of them made me feel guilty. “They were gifts,” she says. “People spent money on them. But my organizer told me, ‘memories aren’t going to come from those.’ And she was right. Memories come from family trips in our camper van. Game nights. The walks we all take together each evening. Not from yelling at my kids not to get sparkles everywhere from their slime kit.”
When Lucas’ clients feel guilty about getting rid of something their child owned or created, she suggests taking photos of the items and then sending away for a photo book of the treasures. “Then the physical thing is gone,” says Ariane. “But the memory is still there. It’s still challenging convincing people to get rid of sentimental things. But I like to open people up to the idea of other options.”
And the benefits of working with a professional? Lucas often finds herself reassuring future clients that asking for help is okay. “I always tell people, when you start to work out or decide to take better care of yourself, but don’t know where to begin, you get advice,” she says. “For example, maybe you hire a personal trainer to start getting in shape. What organizers do is the same. We’re here to facilitate. We don’t need to be there from beginning to end, but we’re here to help get you started and keep you going.
Koivu had an excellent experience with her professional organizer, and is still reaping the emotional rewards. “It’s provided such a sense of calm in our home, for me and the rest of my family,” she says. “It’s so therapeutic. I’m into wellness. I put collagen in my coffee. I work out every day. But this is the most ‘wellness-y’ thing I’ve ever done!” And, she adds, “It feels good to have fewer things. I just don’t need five meat thermometers!”
Ready to reap the rewards of cleaning up your space? Here’s some expert advice from Ariane Lucas, professional organizer extraordinaire, in her own words.
Ariane Lucas, Clutter Nanny, clutternanny.com
The Clutter Nanny’s Five Top Tips for Getting Organized
1. Starting is the hardest part. Even I sometimes walk into a space and think — where do I begin? My advice is to just start. If there’s a particular area you want to tackle, start small. Clean out a drawer, or complete some other manageable task. Work in chunks. Take one section of clothes out of the closet, determine what you’re keeping and tossing, and then move on to the next.
2. As you’re beginning, assess the space and determine a realistic time frame for what you want to accomplish. If you don’t, you’ll be left with a half-finished mess. And if you don’t complete a project, be sure to document where you left off so that you know where to pick up moving forward. That way you can stay on track.
3. I tell people to get rid of trash first because it’s the easiest, such as papers you don’t need, and cups and other garbage. Empty boxes are a big one. Almost everyone holds on to old computer boxes and phone boxes. Toss them.
4. When you’re going into a space to organize it, have everything you need with you. Water, your phone, trash bags, a box for your donations and a box for things that belong in other rooms. Because if you need to leave the space for any reason, it’s very easy to get distracted. Staying in the space is crucial, so go in prepared.
5. The biggest mistake people make is buying storage containers before they start a project. And it makes sense because, for most people, this is the fun part. A much better plan is to pull out everything you want to find storage for, measure the space you have to work with, then find the containers. Leave the bin buying as a treat you give yourself for finishing the job.
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