Ideas: Resolved: Get organized
Resolved: Get organized
Organizers help clients declutter, organize their homes
Story: Jodi Heckel
Teri Pfau admits she is a perfectionist. She’s the one with her spices alphabetized, and her lingerie drawer neatly organized.
You don’t need to be that meticulous, though, to have an organized and clutter-free home.
Pfau, of Bement, is a professional organizer who operates Simple Solutions. She works with clients who want to declutter their homes and organize their belongings. She’ll also help with packing and unpacking for moves; with downsizing to a smaller, retirement home; with estate sales; and with holiday decorating.
Dana Cohen of Champaign has a startup business called Your Simple Home, also helping others organize and declutter their homes. Cohen’s business came out of her experience making two international moves in one year.
She and her husband moved to Israel for Cohen to take an internship while completing her master’s degree in social work from the University of Illinois. They moved back last July when Cohen’s husband got a job offer here.
Cohen was initially living out of one suitcase at the apartment of her in-laws in Tel Aviv while her husband looked for work.
“Eventually I didn’t remember what was in those other suitcases. I started thinking about what I really need,” she said.
She started trying to get rid of everything that didn’t serve a purpose for her and her husband, and she wrote about it on her blog, called International Green Minimalist.
“I feel like I had a unique opportunity twice now to start over with a clean slate,” she said. “I felt lighter, more in control in sense that I knew what I had. I was learning to enjoy what I had and not want more.”
Both Cohen and Pfau talk with clients about what their vision for their homes, and whether their possessions contribute to that vision. Along the way to a more organized home, they ask a lot of questions.
Pfau said clients often fear she will make them get rid of things they want to keep. She emphasized she does not do the work by herself, and she would never get rid of something without a client’s permission.
The client must work with her, and as she and a client go through things, she asks: Will this get you closer to your vision of what you want in the end? How often have you used this?
“I keep asking those questions and I can help them see, maybe I don’t need this,” Pfau said.
Helping older clients who are downsizing is a particular challenge.
“They’ve had these things 40 or 50 years. And most of them have lived through the Depression, and their attitude is, ‘I might need it someday,’” Pfau said.
She treats those clients with kid gloves, noting they also hold onto items because of sentimentality.
“You have to tread lightly,” she said.
Cohen said dealing with emotions attached to certain objects is the hardest part. With sentimental items, she asks her client to consider: “Are they buried under other things and collecting dust, or is it in a place where it’s being honored and it brings you joy every day?”
Giving up an item may also mean giving up a vision of yourself as a certain type of person – the mom who bakes all the time, for instance. But if you never use the cookie cutters or cake pan, it’s not serving you well to keep it, Cohen said.
Donating items rather than throwing them away can help someone part with them, Pfau said.
Some of the most common problem areas Pfau and Cohen see:
— Paperwork. Clients often want to convert their paperwork to electronic files but aren’t sure how, or they have loads of email that isn’t prioritized or placed in separate folders. And they aren’t sure how long to hang onto the paperwork they have – bank statements, tax returns, 401(k) paperwork.
Another kind of paper is junk mail, magazines and newspapers – things people might think they need to read, but which actually end up sitting in piles. Pfau advises people to deal with junk mail as soon as it enters the house, and throw it away rather than putting it into a pile with other mail.
Cohen suggested taking photos of sentimental papers, such as cards from a special occasion, and then tossing the paper items.
— Clothing. Cohen quoted a statistic that most people wear 20 percent of their clothing 80 percent of the time. When she recently invested in a new wardrobe because she was in a new work environment, she tried to buy things that would serve more than one purpose and, at the same time, get rid of some of her more casual clothes. If you can’t bring yourself to get rid of clothes right away, Cohen suggested putting the clothes in a bag or box and storing them for a while. If you don’t go looking for an item, you probably don’t need it. Cohen said it’s a good way to start because it’s not as scary as taking items out of the house right away.– Kitchen items. “A lot of people think they need every little gadget on TV, and every small appliance,” Cohen said, adding she and her husband fell into that when they were doing their wedding registry. She urges clients to be honest about their lifestyle and needs.
One of the biggest obstacles to dealing with clutter, Pfau said, is a feeling of being overwhelmed.
“A lot of people either don’t want to deal with it or don’t know where to start,” she said. “People go into a cluttered room and think of taking it all on and they get overwhelmed.”
Take in small chunks, she advised. Start with one drawer. Getting it organized will serve as motivation to move on and tackle another drawer or another corner of the room.
In both tackling a cluttered household and then trying to keep an uncluttered, organized one that way, being conscious of why you have particular items is crucial, Cohen said. When she and her husband moved back to the States, they lived without a couch for two months while deciding whether they needed one.
She suggested having a list of questions to ask when shopping: Why do I want an item? What purpose will it serve? Do I have something like this already that fulfills that need? Will it truly bring me joy?
In her first week back from Israel, Cohen went to Meijer for groceries. She hadn’t unpacked yet and saw many items that she wanted to buy to fill her empty apartment. Instead, she took out her iPhone and took photos of the items.
“I didn’t end up buying any of the things I took pictures of from that trip,” Cohen said. “It was definitely an emotional response I was having, because I was feeling unsettled.”
It’s OK to buy things, she said, but you should do it consciously.
“It’s excess, when it is affecting how we function in our homes, that becomes an issue,” she said. “When you can’t just open a cabinet, see what you have and select an item and take it out.
“If not conscious of what you’re doing, homes fill up with clutter, it causes people stress and anxiety, and it sucks away at your finances as well.”
On the other hand, getting rid of unused items and making room for those that are used or loved energizes people, Pfau said.