America, we’ve got a clutter problem.
A survey commissioned by SpareFoot found that 27 percent of Americans think their homes are “very” or “somewhat” cluttered. In some cases, we simply let that clutter build up and eat us up. In other cases, we hire one of the thousands of professional organizers in the U.S. to help us overcome the clutter.
Why have we become a cluttered nation?
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“We all have bigger houses, more money, more time to shop and to want stuff, and cheaper available goods than in decades past. And it’s not like the basic principles of organization are taught in school,” professional organizer Hazel Thornton said.
By and large, Thornton and her counterparts across the U.S. are the ones teaching us those principles. And those principles can yield tremendous results. Here, Thornton and three other professional organizers share some of their best before-and-after decluttering success stories.
Clearing an Emotional Hurdle
Back in 2012, Melinda Massie, a professional organizer in Fort Worth, TX, worked with a client who was on disability leave from her job as a schoolteacher. “Since she wasn’t able to physically lift most things, her house started to quickly pile up,” Massie recalled.
To make matters worse, the teacher’s mother and father died within a relatively short time span, so she was grappling with both physical and emotional pain.
“By the time she called me, there were some areas where we were literally over our heads in clutter,” Massie said. “Through a process of slowly but steadily working through the home in a very methodical way, we were able to get rid of all the clutter and create a home that she could easily manage.”
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Massie said she guided the client through conquering emotional attachments to all of the stuff that she’d amassed. Those items included belongings that reminded her of childhood and belongings from her tenure as a teacher, as well as an assortment of painkillers and anti-nausea medication.
“Pain and nausea had often sent her to the ER,” Massie said, “so she hung onto all of those medications to avoid future trips to the ER.”
The clutter that needed to be weeded out consisted mostly of typical household items that made the client feel good.
“Once we were finished, it took her just a few minutes a day to maintain a neat and tidy home,” Massie said.
Shedding Clutter and Weight
Heidi, a wife, a mother of two, co-owner of a family business and a college professor, felt physically and mentally cluttered. She turned to Hazel Thornton, a professional organizer in Albuquerque, NM, for help.
Thornton teamed up with Heidi to organize her home, carving out space for a home office and developing a system to keep her home free of clutter, such as clothing and paperwork. Thornton jumped into the project in March 2013 and wrapped it up in January 2014, racking up 18 hours for decluttering and time management.
“Now that we are finished,” Heidi told Thornton, “our home feels like a home again—warm, peaceful and fun. I know where all my things are now, and I feel more in control of my environment and of my schedule.”
On top of that, Heidi lost weight—more than 30 pounds.
“Heidi really did lose weight as a result of feeling lighter mentally and feeling more in control of her environment and her schedule,” Thornton said, “and she’s lost a bit more by now and kept it off, too.”
Turning a House Into a Marketable Home
Earlier this year, the family of an elderly couple felt overwhelmed. The wife had died and the husband was being moved to a home closer to his only adult child. Family members were eager to sell the couple’s house in Westchester County, NY, but they had no idea where to begin decluttering the home so it could be put on the market.
That’s where professional organizer Colleen Ashe entered the picture. Collaborating with an auction house, a flea market specialist, a painter, a handyman, a cleaning service and others, Ashe whipped the home into shape so it could be sold. She maintained a logbook to track all the decluttering activities.
Over the course of eight weeks, Ashe helped clear out stuff that the couple had accumulated during their more than 40 years in the house, such as:
- Museum-quality paintings.
- A Steinway grand piano.
- Closets stuffed with photo albums, travel books, yearbooks and clothing.
- VHS tapes, DVDs and CDs.
- A garage full of screwdrivers, hammers, paintbrushes and other tools.
- An array of wigs.
- A World War I and World War II rifle collection.
Those possessions were scattered throughout three bedrooms, the living room, the dining room, the family room, the kitchen, the home office, the basement and the attic.
Ashe said the family was thrilled with the results: “My client’s daughter wrote me a note that said, ‘You are more than just the services you provide. Thanks for all the support, crawling around, heavy lifting, resources, phone calls and sound advice.’”
Decluttering a Home and a Life
The most challenging yet satisfying decluttering project that Ginny Underwood, a professional organizer in Hilton Head, SC, has ever tackled was for a woman whose home had fallen into disrepair and whose life was falling apart.
For years, the woman had coped with depression and other health problems, and had become somewhat reclusive. Her home had become littered with newspaper and mail, and even opened packages that contained new, unused purchases such as clothing, cosmetics and diet food. Her closets were crammed with clothes; many items still had price tags hanging from them.
Furthermore, the woman had been collecting all sorts of stuff that she hoped would someday be valuable, including Beanie Babies, Pokemon items and magazines featuring Princess Diana.
“After touring her home, I suggested a quality-of-life approach,” Underwood recalled. “She was constantly falling in the rubbish strewn on the floor, only slept on one side of her bed and could not use her kitchen at all, except for a microwave and a coffee machine. The sink was full of stagnant water, and just about every dish she possessed was dirty.”
Underwood added: “She was ashamed and overwhelmed by the job ahead, but she knew she had to do something.”
Underwood’s first job: Clean and organize the kitchen, including the refrigerator stocked with spoiled food. That task took 12 hours spread over two days. She then moved on to the living room, the master bedroom and bathroom, the two spare bedrooms and the sitting room, methodically organizing and cleaning pretty much everything in her path. Underwood assigned daily “homework” to her client, such as doing two loads of laundry and sorting through accumulated paperwork.
So far, Underwood has logged more than 50 hours on this decluttering project, and the job still isn’t done. However, the work that has been completed so far has allowed the client to turn her life around.
“The greatest reward for me was the day I arrived to tackle the master bedroom to be greeted by my tearful client,” Underwood said. “For the first time in years, she had received visitors. She tearfully explained who had sat where and how she had been able to make them drinks in the kitchen and how wonderful it had been. I was delighted as she told me about the meals she had prepared and cooked for herself.”