For Lynda Davis of Great Falls, it was like having office space added to her home.
For Sherry Keen of Fairfax Station, it was like discovering an extra room in her home and an extra hour in the day.
Home improvement usually means redoing the bathroom or finishing the basement, but for others it’s taking on a whole new meaning, one that doesn’t require a hammer or a saw.
Instead, people like Davis and Keen are choosing to seek the help of professional organizers to make their homes not only more spacious and functional but also more relaxing and comforting.
“You can have your house remodeled or you can buy a new house, but if you don’t know how to structure the inside, then you’re going to end up with the same old mess,” said Davis, a mother of three and owner of three businesses.
Davis, who enlisted the help of Susan Kousek, owner of Balanced Spaces, has had help organizing several areas of her home. Two of the most “dramatic” changes to her home came when she hired Kousek to help organize her home office and her husband’s personal library.
“We had stacks of materials and books,” Davis said. “It was hard to find anything. You didn’t know if you a had one copy of a book or four copies.”
Now the books are catalogued, and her children find her office so inviting that they want to do their homework there, she said.
“It’s made our lives just so much more pleasant,” said Davis.
ACCORDING TO ORGANIZERS, a lack of organization can make a home feel cluttered and small. It can disrupt work. It can even make the home a stressful place. When the clutter fills the house, some people think their house is too small or that they need to pay for off-site storage space.
“People propagate the theory that they need a bigger home because they have so much stuff, when they might just need more organization,” said Jill Grzankowski of Conquering Chaos Consulting in Burke. “They often find out their house is fine as it is.”
Grzankowski not only organizes people’s homes or offices but also passes on to clients the education needed to stay organized, a common theme among professional organizers. “Once I’m done, they’re fully independent to maintain the system,” she said.
Kousek, who has been an organizer for more than 10 years, said that people can sometimes be embarrassed about their homes, uncomfortable about having people over or overwhelmed about cleaning up. “When someone opens up their home to an organizer, they open up their soul,” she said. “So people have to feel really comfortable with the organizer.”
Keen hired an organizer because her basement was a “wreck,” so much so her family stopped using the area. “I was overwhelmed at how out of control it had gotten. I used to dread going down there,” Keen said. Working with Balanced Spaces, Keen transformed her basement into a “pleasant” living space and office. “It’s more spacious and it looks so much better now,” Keen said. “I wish I had before and after pictures.”
Organizing involves much more than cleaning up rooms and closets. In general, it means saving time, saving money and saving space. But specifically, it means paying bills on time, having a place for things, and knowing what to throw away, according to several people who turned to organizers for help.
Organizers and their clients often talk about the psychological impact of being organized — about finding focus and direction in what they are doing. It can save you money, it can save space and it can save your sanity, said Grzankowski. “[My clients] say they’re more productive, more relaxed and end up having more free time.”
A PROFESSIONAL organizer might not be for everybody, some organizers said. Sometimes just learning more about good organization can help. But they all agree that a professional will save people space and time and alleviate stress.
For Christine Drew of Falls Church, the clutter had gotten so bad she’d lost her organizing day planner, which she now jokes about. Her problem, she said, was that she had too much “stuff.”
After receiving an unexpected bonus upon entering a new job last year, Drew hired Grzankowski to help her organize her entire apartment.
“It’s something I’d been struggling with for years,” said Drew, who had made several attempts to get organized on her own. “But I kept hitting a wall.”
Drew, who does a lot of arts and crafts at home, said that she couldn’t host her book club because her place was “just too messy.”
“Now I can have anybody over at a drop of a hat,” said Drew, who is still amazed at how fast she can find things. Drew acknowledges, however, that she wouldn’t have been able to do it without help from an expert.
“People sometimes equate it with a personal trainer,” said Kousek, referring to the use of a professional organizer. “You might be able to do it on your own, but often it won’t get done unless you hire someone to help.” She also added that organizers teach people how to sustain orderliness and develop good organization skills for the long-term.
“The goal is to help people stay organized because getting people organized to where things are put away is just the first step,” said Kousek. “When I work with people, I want to change their habits.”
Organizers often give free tips for getting and staying organized. Melinda Mitchell, an organizer for 10 years, provides friends and contacts with a free brochure that lists 53 ways to “simplify your life.”
“Everyone’s clutter looks different,” said Mitchell. “If you feel physically, emotionally or spiritually stuck, look to your immediate surroundings for clues to the solution,” she said. Breaking down big projects into smaller chunks helps people grapple with clutter and get over large, threatening messes, she said.
Mitchell now works with Sun Designs Inc., an architecture and design remodeling company, which she says is the only company that incorporates a professional organizer before remodeling jobs. “One of the things I found, especially in this area, is that people were remodeling and then hiring me after the fact when things got out of control,” said Mitchell. “Now I’ve become part of the design process,” said Mitchell.
Vicki Hancock of Thought2Action suggests on her Web site that a good present for a special occasion might be the gift of organization. “Instead of adding more ‘stuff’ to their lives, try a Thought2Action gift certificate,” the site says.
“For me, as wonderful as it is to find things, it’s so nice to have a nice looking living space,” said Drew.
Organizers are usually paid hourly rates between $30 an hour to as much as $100 an hour.