My college friend Bernice was impressed with my feng shui research and spent the past week trying to rid her home of excess clutter, making way for feng shui. "I am such a packrat," she complained to me. "Parting with things is so difficult." I detected Bernice's frustration and called Dana Korey, founder of Away with Clutter (858-481-9191; email@example.com ). "Being organized is really about the ease of retrieving what you need when you need it," said Korey. "That's the key. It is not about Martha Stewart perfectionism or minimalism. It's about 'Where the heck are my keys' and 'I need my wallet.' If you can't find these things, you're tortured. When I was a kid, my room was always in disarray. When I went to college, homework and having a part-time job stressed me out. I couldn't find the things that I needed; I was overwhelmed, and I realized that this way of being was causing me incredible anxiety. I realized I had to create plans and systems for myself so I could be more effective. I was my own worst challenge, yet I was able to self-teach because I knew what my challenges were."
What does your company offer?
"We have a team of professional organizers that come into people's homes or offices and create an organizational makeover in one to three days, top to bottom. We do the physical hands-on organizing in addition to bringing all the organizational supplies and space-optimizing products. We also do an in-home or in-office organizational workshop to educate the clients and give them the skill set and support they need to be able to carry on without us. Because our goal is not to have repeat clients, it's about creating something that is a life-long solution for them."
Do you organize all areas of the home?
"We do kitchens, garages, closets, bathrooms, attics, everything in the home. We also work with businesses, entrepreneurs, and individual business staff members to help them increase their productivity by creating organized systems for them in their work environment, because that's a huge loss of time and money for people."
Korey walked me through their system.
"We start out with a consultation, which typically runs two or three hours. We speak with them about what the challenges are in their lives, so we understand where all the holes and gaps are so we can create an effective system and implement it." Then, in the space to be organized, "we go through and we sort everything by category. We fancy ourselves the ultimate puzzle people; if a puzzle has 500 pieces or 50,000 pieces, you still have to sort it and put it together. So we sort into categories: electronic, beach gear, holiday décor, memorabilia, etc. Then our lead organizer walks the client through the process of deciding what to keep, toss, sell, trash." Having sorted into categories, the client then sees how much of something they have, "so it's a lot easier for them to let go of things. Not that they have to let go of anything, because we can organize what they have. We tell our clients to be aggressive. 'Do you love this item?' 'Have you used it in the past year?' People often say, 'Well, some day.' But some day is not on the calendar. And if you are waiting five or ten years for some day, you are spending money holding it, housing it, caring for it, dusting it, shifting it, for some day.
"Once we've gone through the editing and paring-down process, everything is put into space-optimizing containers and labeled for easy retrieval. Then everything is zoned accordingly. If you were organizing a garage, you might have a holiday décor zone, within that you have outside lights, tree lights, ornaments, dishes."
Are there certain items that are indispensable when organizing?
"Clear, plastic, snap-on lid containers of various sizes are invaluable. They also make clear plastic drawers. We find the better you can separate and contain your items, the easier it is to maintain your system. You're able to see the contents of the box, and the sealed box keeps it protected for life."
Korey says that through watching the organizing project, the client learns the system. "There's a lead organizer on every project and they become that client's personal organizational coach, their support system, and their educator and trainer during the process. While we are doing the hands-on work, the client is observing the way the systems are being implemented, so that when they bring new things into their lives, they understand."
How do people end up in these organizational disasters?
"If people don't know what to do with stuff, they shove it in drawers. When it doesn't fit in drawers, they shove it in cupboards. When it doesn't fit in cupboards, they shove it in closets. When it doesn't fit in the closet, they shove it in rooms and then in garages. And, before you know it, you have an archaeological dig that you have to go through. And then they go out and end up spending hundreds of dollars buying duplicates of things that they have already but can't find."
Korey says that they get a lot of hugs and tears from their clients when the process is completed. "The transformation is so fast and has such a huge impact, it's life-changing. It's like their world just did a 180. Many of our clients have gotten to a point where they are embarrassed to have people over, and they shut themselves off. Then, all of a sudden, they are in a space that they can breathe in; it is like this emotional release for them to have freedom in their own environment."
Prices vary according to the amount of stuff to be organized, but Korey says it is not unusual for projects to start at $1500 and go up from there.