At Home: Inside Secrets of a Well-Organized Home | Way of life
It takes courage and more than a little confidence to let a stranger into your home to rummage through your belongings in an effort to rationalize ownership for their greater good.
For most of us, that sounds like as much fun as a full body wax.
That’s why Jennifer McCarthy of Lake Oswego, Oregon did what any brave, driven wife and mother would do. She got a professional organizer started in her husband’s home office.
The desk was somewhere under piles of papers. “He was never good at filing,” McCarthy said of her husband, a business class instructor at a local college, who appreciated the help. “He has to see what needs to be done, and that won’t happen if the papers are tucked away in a filing drawer.”
Enter Danielle Tanner Liu, certified professional organizer and owner of Totally Orderly. She understands the out of sight, out of mind mentality, so she worked with his style and created a storage system for mail and papers he could see through. Everything about his rental properties went in one locker, paperwork related to his Cub work in another, bills to be paid in another, and so on.
“He could see everything from his office, but it was out of his office,” McCarthy said. “It was ingenious.”
And the trust built from there. Next, Liu helped McCarthy organize her kitchen, then her daughters’ closets. Now, three moves and 15 years later, Liu has improved the functioning of almost every area of the McCarthy household.
“A little chaos is fine for a while, but I can’t live in the mess,” said McCarthy, 61, who works part-time at the local high school to coordinate the volunteer program. “Things have to be in place and have a place or I can’t go about my daily life, whether it’s being home with kids or doing work projects at home.”
When their three children started moving out, the couple went from a 4,800 square foot home to 3,100 square feet, and then to a 2,500 square foot home they built. “Dani helped me anticipate and visualize what would go where,” McCarthy said, “and see that if we were going to have that much room for pots, some have to go.”
Along the way, Liu also helped McCarthy’s husband, at his invitation, reduce 30 keepsake boxes, including a box of about 25 baseballs, to four boxes and a baseball.
“He and I had some epic sessions,” said Liu, a board member of the National Association of Productivity and Organizational Professionals and president of its certification program.
“Dani understands the issues people have with their stuff,” McCarthy said. “Work is much more emotional and psychological than you might think.”
Over the years, McCarthy estimates she’s paid a few thousand dollars for Liu’s services. “I would have paid more. It was totally worth it,” McCarthy said, adding, “A good organizer also helps reduce clutter because the whole family knows where things are going.
Wait. Stop there. In a family home, this is the key to ending clutter. Read this twice: everything has a place that makes sense. Everyone knows where this place is and puts things there.
“In other words,” I said, to make sure I heard correctly, “The linen closet only has laundry, not dog toys?”
Jeanann McCoy, another longtime Liu client and mother of six, agrees: “The house stays clean because everyone knows where everything belongs. Once things have a meaningful place, they tend to come back and stay there.
Well, isn’t that a big hallelujah?
“It’s not rocket science,” Liu said, “but there’s a science to it. Because people who live together connect to things in different ways, the process involves knowing those differences, respecting them, and to create systems that become habits that the whole family will adhere to.
Notably, none of these women had messy homes to begin with, Liu said. “Their homes were spotless. But looks can be deceiving: Clean doesn’t always mean organized.
So I asked these women what else they learned from the process that might help the rest of us:
• Enter the Zone: McCarthy’s house runs on stations. “If it has to do with baking, it goes here. If it has to do with grilling, it goes here,” she said. “Everything related to coffee can be found in the coffee station. If it’s sharp, it goes in that drawer. It’s that simple. The bar is not your drop zone; this is your drop zone.
• Sort it out. It’s not until you put similar things together that you realize you have eight sets of measuring cups, she said. It’s a great way to start decluttering.
• Choose someone you like. If you want to work with an organizer, talk to a couple. You have to like the person, McCarthy said. “It’s a personal relationship. You often work together closely. They touch your business and manage your emotions. You have to want to hang out with them.
• Be confident. Certified professional organizers are bound by a code of professional ethics which includes the protection of client privacy. Whether they know about financial documents, medications, personal items or family disputes, they keep it confidential.
• Do not be afraid. The organizers don’t force you to get rid of things. This is a common misconception. “However, they help you see your things in a new way,” McCoy said. “Dani is good at saying, ‘Do you really want this? Then you can choose to get rid of things. Once on a roll, this awareness helps you keep going.
Join me next week when I hire a professional organizer to come to my house.
Marni Jameson is the author of six books on home and lifestyle, including “What to Do With Everything You Own to Leave the Legacy You Want” and “Downsizing the Blended Home – When Two Households Become One”. You can reach her at www. marnijameson.com.