This past week I was able to talk to Melissa Schmalenberger, or Ms. Simplicity, who is a professional organizer with years of experience in the areas of clutter and organization. In this interview Melissa and I cover information about professional organizers, specific advice for dealing with closets, and a few more general questions about clutter, organization, and how to best deal with and help yourself declutter. I really enjoyed the information that she shared and hope that you find it useful as well.
Without further ado, here is the interview with Melissa:
Melissa, let's start off with a little bit about you – you have an interesting path that led you to being a professional organizer; was there ever a moment or something that happened that made you think “aha! Organization and helping deal with clutter is for me!”? What led to this?
I was on a trip with my husband and I seemed to have the first time in my life to really take the time to think about what would make me happy. I was not happy being a lawyer, and I needed a change. Helping people create a more organized life gave me satisfaction when I left and left my clients happy as well!
Would you describe yourself as always having been organized? Is it something that you had to work on, or have you always “had it”?
If you were to ask my mother, she would tell you that I was not always organized. However, I have been blessed to marry an organized man. When I slack off, he will pick up and make sure that our home stays organized. I create the systems in our house and he makes sure that we maintain it!
Most of us deal with clutter on a daily basis, and even when it does not reach the proportions of what might be called hoarding, it can still cause issues in our lives. If you had to give one piece of advice to someone to help them with their clutter issues (big or small), what would it be?
Really if you just take baby steps every single day. As long as you are moving forward and taking action you are doing the right thing. The hardest thing to do is to get started, so simply set the timer for 10-15 minutes and work until the timer goes off. Take a break and set the timer again. Focus on the project at hand while the timer is going and don’t lose focus.
As someone who actively helps people with their homes and other spaces in person, what would be a good “test” for someone in order to find out if they need the help of a professional organizer?
It really is the personal level of frustration or maybe the frustration level of a family member. I walk into homes that are 90% organized, but they need help going the rest of the 10% and they are frustrated and it is causing them stress. If you walk in your home or office and just cringe at what you are walking into and just feel overwhelmed, it is time to ask for help.
If someone decides to go the route of hiring a professional organizer, what should they expect? What is the range or types of fees that are typical?
There are so many types of professional organizers. I would suggest that they visit napo.net which is an organization for professional organizers. There are some tips on that website about our profession and what we can do. The range of fees can be all over the place, just like any service industry.
I'm a proponent of using tools to help reduce clutter and increase your organization – while we need to limit the amount of items brought into the home, I think that certain things can help: a scanner for reducing paperwork, cabinet racks for improving organization, etc. Do you have any tools that you find work well for people?
My number one tool is the label maker. I use it to label everything. Once things have a label, it makes it easier for everyone in the home or office to find where things need to go. Clutter is delayed decisions, and if we already know where things go, chances are we will put things in their proper places and eliminate clutter.
Now for a personal favorite – closets! I've recently gone through my own closets in the bedroom and office, it's good to have them clean again! I recently wrote an article dealing with my method for clearing out closets – what do you recommend as a good method for cleaning out a closet?
You really need to figure out what you are actually wearing in your closet. The reverse hanger trick is the best way to implement this philosophy. Turn your hangers on all of your clothes backwards in the closet. As you wear something and return it back to your closet, place it on the hanger the proper way. After 6 -8 months, whatever is still on the reverse hanger you don’t wear, this is your 20%. Write a note on your calendar for when you are going to remove the clothes on the reverse hangers.
I'm a fan of Pareto's Law and your article was what first had me reading on your website. How do you apply it in your work and with your clients?
By getting my clients to focus on what they really do use, they quickly understand how much they don’t use and are more likely to get rid of it. Once they understand the sentimental reasons we keep things, they are then ready to get the 80% out of their home or office. For some clients we have to switch their brain to left brain thinking and take the emotion out of their items. By focusing on when they last used it or when they will next use it, this is not an emotional question. If they can’t remember, chances are it has been a long time. If they are still hesitant about getting rid of an item I ask them to give me a date in the future of when you will use it. We then put the date on a post-it note and if the date passes and the post-it note is still on the item, out it goes into the donation pile.
Thank you so much for sharing with my readers – is there anything else you would like to let us know about?
Simply, if you do not know where to start, just start. Your journey towards organizing is particular to you. You will not be able to find an example in a book or a blog that is perfect for you. Perfection is not the goal, simply working on it and making forward progress is the important piece.
If you are interested in finding out more about Melissa and what she does, you can visit her website - MS. Simplicity. She has a lot of good information about clutter, dealing with organization, and professional organizing services.
I whole heartedly agree with Melissa's belief of getting started in any way shape or form - if you are unsure or don't know exactly what to do then just get started. The path forward will often become clear once you have already begun.