BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Don’t let the stress of clutter cause anxiety in your life. It’s been proven that a cluttered kitchen can cause you to eat more. Organization even helps you with your diet! —Sheri Spielman, Professional Organizer and Re-Designer
With that encouragement—plus the hope of pounds of possessions leaving our house—we felt lighter than air after a conversation with Sheri, who described a client who recently donated 200 pound’s worth of no longer wanted items:
“When you take control of your stuff, you begin a process of discernment about what is truly important in your home and in your life. You can live a calmer life by reclaiming your space. I encourage people to ask these questions: Is there any room or space in your house that doesn’t make you feel happy? Do you feel stuck by living in a cluttered, stressful, and inefficient space? Do the logistics of getting organized seem overwhelming?”
Sheri says being professional organizer is her “third act career.” Formerly a learning disorder specialist working in schools, in private practice, and a hospital clinic, she then became a volunteer and board leader for Marwen, the inspiring non profit that encourages children from underserved communities to participate in the visual arts, she found that organizing gave her a flexible career that would put lifelong skills to work.
“As a child, I loved putting my clothes and toys in just their right places. My mother asked me to wrap all our holiday presents because I did it just so. Over the years I helped friends get organized. I think patience and compassion are great skills for this job.
“I come from an artistic family and studied psychology and art history. With a child on both coasts and a failing mother in Memphis, I needed flexibility that would be difficult to find in a more conventional job. By joining NAPO, the National Association of Professional Organizers, I have expanded my skills and resources.
“It’s fascinating to know that organizers can have a variety of specialties: seniors, some work with hoarders, some with people with Attention Deficit Disorder, others assist with moving. I met with a coach for ‘solopreneurs,’ and I was off to the races!”
How does your work begin with a client?
We begin by assessing, sorting, editing, organizing, and then disposing of items you no longer want. We can work in any room of your house, as well as those difficult basements and garages. My clients are successful in reaching their goals and maintaining the results because they learn new strategies. I am nonjudgmental and encouraging.
You say that your mantra is ‘use it or lose it.’
People usually keep something because they feel sentimental about it or they spent significant money and feel that they made a mistake in buying it. Crystal and china may fall into these categories. This is a big issue for almost everyone. But if you don’t love something and don’t use it decoratively, let it go. Always think of the people who will appreciate what you no longer need.
It is very important for a person to talk with their children to see if they want something; send photos of the items you are considering giving away.
The same is true with personal items like diplomas, photos, and letters. For safety’s sake, as well, take photos of these items and keep a digital record. If you have old prints of photos, organize them by A, B, and C: ‘A’ being those you want to go into a photo album, book, or gallery; ‘B’ being those you like but don’t love, and ‘C’ for trash can.
What about storage lockers?
I admit it, I have a storage locker with things that belong mostly to my children and husband. I have two boxes there. Storage units can be a big waste of money.
When I got married my mother told me to take all my stuff with me and there was space. Today, our children have much smaller dwelling spaces. Definitely get rid of old luggage, so often found in storage spaces. You particularly are never going to use those without wheels!
How about organizing one’s kitchen?
Stack up everything to see what you have. Label things and use rectangular containers rather than round ones—they make for more efficient storage. I go with glass over plastic.
Have a clear counter and keep things arranged by category. For example, everything related to your morning coffee should be kept together.
In my refrigerator I write expiration dates with a marker on an item and have it facing forward. That saves a lot of time and fewer things are wasted.
How do you follow up after decluttering?
Maintenance is key. After I work with a client to make things beautiful, I might go back in once a month, a couple of times a year, or even once a week. You should plan on how to maintain your good efforts. You will have saved so much time in actually getting organized that you have made time for maintenance.
What about clothing?
Most people wear 20 percent of their clothing 80 percent of the time.
I like the SPACE method suggested by the author Julie Morgenstern: sort, purge, assign a home for, containerize, and equalize, which refers to maintaining.
Begin by sorting clothes by type. If you have 15 black tops, do you really wear all of them?
I like the thin velvet hangers for clothing, such as those made by Joy and sold at any number of places. They take up a third of the space of regular hangers. I often use plastic labeled boxes for shoes.
Again, maintenance is key. Put on some music and tell yourself you are only going to spend 10 to 15 minutes on it. You may find that you are having fun and want to continue.
Do you have packing tips?
I sometimes help clients pack for trips. I recommend that you lay out everything you are planning to take, grouping the right shoes and accessories together, and look then at what you can mix and match. I like to use little bags—like those for underwear—and I do a lot of rolling of clothes.
One of your specialties is working with people going through a transition. Why is this a good time to reorganize and redesign?
If you or a family member is going through a change in health status, or someone is moving in or out (such as a baby, elderly relative, or adult child), you are preparing to sell and downsize, or are ready to redecorate or want a fresh new look—these are great times to concentrate on shedding some belongings.
If a person wants to hire a professional organizer, what advice would you give about this process?
I ask of my clients two things: please do not clean up for me and don’t go out and by a bunch of storage supplies. We can choose those after we begin our work and define your needs. There are just so many varieties out there.
I encourage my clients to consider selling or donating possessions they no longer want—but first to clear it with their children or others in the family who might want them. Be prepared, most likely, that no one will.
What if your living relationship is something like that of Felix and Oscar from The Odd Couple—one is neat, the other hopeless?
The key is compromise. Each person should have a zone and be allowed to do it their way in that zone. Also, agree on some limits in shared spaces—if you have a lot of clutter, agree to some clear spaces. Otherwise, what clashes occur!
Any final advice?
By being organized, you know where everything is and are saving time to do what you truly enjoy. Having things beautiful and working for your benefit saves you time and will inspire you to maintain it, as well as take away stress.
For any questions or to set up an appointment, contact Sheri at email@example.com.