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The Business of Being Neat
How a professional organizer can help you banish mess for good


November 2016

Photography by Michelle Drewes

Surely by now someone has told you how wonderful and how truly life-changing “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” is. The self-help book by Marie Kondo tapped into a shared feeling that we are overwhelmed by clutter, and it sold more than 1.5 million copies in the U.S. and more than 5 million copies worldwide, according to her publisher.

“It’s a quirky little book,” says East Sider Jennifer Grasse, owner of Perfect Wave Organizing. “It resonated with me, and I like her take: ‘Does it spark joy?’ We all have too much stuff, and we’re looking for a lens to sort all this stuff. Marie Kondo picked up on that. We’re ripe for that; we’re post-consumer.

“It’s not about organizing what you have; it’s about having what you want to organize,” Grasse explains. “We all want to spend more time on things that make us happy and not managing our things.”

While you can declutter the do-it-yourself route, it can be quicker to hire someone to work with you.

“We start with a comprehensive consultation, where we really get to know you, your lifestyle, your space and your things,” says Liz Girsch, a Milwaukee-based professional organizer with NEAT Method, whose consultants work in more than 15 cities. “We talk through your everyday life and habits.” Then she measures the space for shelving and other possible storage solutions, and she provides a quote with an hourly estimate for the project.

Photography by Michelle Drewes

Grasse, who has been helping home owners get organized for 20 years, describes her process with an acronym: RSCR, pronounced “rescuer.” She removes the clutter; sorts like with like; culls for keeping, donating, recycling or trashing; and “resets” — with her clients’ surroundings in order, they feel lighter, she says.

Similarly, Girsch eases the burden on clients by diving in and sorting their possessions for them. “With clothing, our team will sort by type and then by color,” Girsch says. “Then we will ask the client to come in and just look quickly through the dresses or blazers. (This) approach often makes the decisions much easier.”

After all, people hold onto things for sentimental reasons or because they worry they may need certain items in the future. That’s why professional organizers also need to be well-versed in helping their clients deal with emotions that arise throughout the process.

“I’m there to give them permission to let go of things,” Grasse says. Sometimes replacing an unused item with a photo of it — a ceramic pot made by a child, for example — can relieve any anxiety about removing it from the home, she says.

“We can even suggest or help clients work with apps that help categorize or document sentimental items like kids artwork, so you don’t feel the need to save it all,” Girsch adds.

But the process isn’t all painful; it allows room for fun and humor, Grasse says. “About a year and half ago, I worked with a professional couple in a huge house (who) had a basement with many rooms stuffed with different hobby-related items. The wife was ready to get rid of this stuff,” she says. So the husband had a burning ceremony for his model airplanes. “He looked really sad, and then he saw the humor in the situation. Momentum, humor and energy are key in this job,” she says.

Both Grasse and Girsch say that their clients are able to maintain their streamlined homes after a big reorgan-ization. That’s likely because the process, much like Kondo’s book, causes homeowners to rethink how they relate to their surroundings.

“I tell people their space will be beautiful and organized, but they will also have more control over their space,” Girsch says, adding that it’s about being more efficient.

“After they go through this process,” Grasse says, “people are much more careful about what they bring into the house.”

What to Ask an Organizer

If you’re thinking of hiring professional help to get your home in order, the National Association of Professional Organizers suggests questions to ask before you shake hands or sign a contract. Below are a few. For more, go to

» Who is your typical/usual client?

» What services do you specialize in?

» Do you have any training or hold any certifications in organizing or related areas (chronic disorganization, coaching, feng shui, interior design, etc.)?

» How long have you been in the organizing business?

» Can you provide references?

» I have tried to get organized before. How will this be different?


This story ran in the November 2016 issue of: