Blog by Beebe Cline

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7 Things That Stand in the Way of Having an Organized Home

If you watched the popular Netflix series following Marie Kondo as she guides clients through decluttering and organizing their homes, you probably already have a good idea of the benefits of paring back your belongings. What you may not realize is that the KonMari method is just one approach. In my work as a professional home organizer, I’ve found that some people need more assistance with the process.

Good professional home organizers tailor their services to match the client’s needs and particular organizing challenges. Here are seven roadblocks to reducing belongings that a professional organizer can help you address.

1. Feeling Overwhelmed

A good home organizer knows how to break a large job into manageable pieces that feel less daunting. Marie Kondo recommends that clients organize by category — starting with clothes. Her approach has the clients pile all their clothing on a bed to be sorted. Though this works for some, many of my clients would be overwhelmed by a ceiling-high heap of clothes on their beds.

With our clients, we instead recommend dividing belongings into smaller, more manageable subcategories, such as dress pants. We remove all dress pants from the closet so that the client can see exactly what he or she owns, compare the items and eliminate any ill-fitting or outdated pants. Then we move on to another category of clothing.

At the end of the organizing session, we help the client hang clothes neatly by type, season and color. Smaller apparel gets folded vertically in drawers so that the entire contents of a drawer are visible at a glance. Vertical folding also allows clients to easily remove items without messing up the organization of a drawer.

Again, methods for decluttering vary, and approaching the challenge by category is just one possibility. Some of our clients prefer finishing one room at a time. A good organizer can flex the approach to meet the needs of the client.

2. Young Children

For some of our clients, hiring a baby sitter is not an option. A good organizer can keep the process moving forward even with minimal interaction with a busy parent.

For example, we recently decluttered and organized a large kitchen for a pregnant client with a 3-year-old son. While our client volunteered in her son’s preschool classroom, we started on the pantry, pulling out all food and discarding anything stale or expired. Next we removed the pots, pans, bakeware, utensils, small appliances, tableware and party supplies from the cabinets and grouped items by category.

When our client returned home, she could quickly assess each category and see that she did not need three vegetable peelers or a waffle maker that she hadn’t used in years.

Next we discussed storage solutions with the client and got her input. She then left for the remainder of the day to attend to her son. We stayed and arranged her items on the appropriate shelves and drawers. We measured the cabinets and drawers and recommended some storage containers that our client could purchase to corral her smaller utensils and food items.

A few days later, we returned to unpack the new storage containers and fill them with the appropriate items. Our client had spent very little hands-on time during the process but was extremely pleased with her decluttered, organized kitchen.

3. Lack of Time

If time is a problem due to work or other commitments, a good organizer should be able to manage a large project on his or her own. As with hiring a contractor to remodel your bathroom, you should be able to trust an organizer to work independently without constant supervision.

Before hiring someone, I recommend that you read reviews and ask about a business license and insurance. You might interview the organizer over the phone to see if you’re comfortable with the pro’s approach and communication style. It’s a good idea to be available for an hour or so on the first day to give an overview of the project and answer any questions.

Recently, we worked with a professional couple with young children who had just moved into a large home and desperately needed help unpacking and organizing their belongings. On the first day, our client worked from home, gave us an overview of her needs and then handed the project over to us. We jumped right in, unpacking boxes and measuring belongings. By the end of the day, we recommended storage containers she could purchase online.

On subsequent days, we removed the key from a handy lockbox and let ourselves in. We continued organizing while our client and her spouse were at work. Over the course of a week, we unpacked boxes of books, kitchen items, clothes and other belongings and neatly organized them in closets, drawers and cabinets. By the weekend, our clients were able to relax and show off their new home to family and friends.

4. Lack of Energy

A good professional organizer can make the process easier for people who lack energy, whether due to aging or poor health. When a client has a lifetime’s worth of belongings to sort through, sometimes decisions take more time. Or a client may need to take frequent breaks or remain seated during an organizing session. A good organizer is compassionate and nonjudgmental yet keeps the client moving forward.

A few years ago, we worked with an elderly, blind woman who was moving to a new home and needed help sorting through four large closets filled with clothes she had accumulated over many decades. We began by asking our client about the types of clothes she enjoyed wearing now — and she said items that were comfortable and stylish. She also said that we could donate formal dresses, business clothes, shoes with a heel, and anything that showed signs of wear. She wanted to say goodbye to items smaller than a size 12 and anything from the 1970s or ’80s. Even after eliminating items in these categories, we were still left with a large collection.

Next we selected current, comfortable clothing and created coordinated outfits for her. She sat in a comfortable chair while I described each ensemble to her. I was rewarded by the recognition on her face as she recollected clothes she had not seen in years. I also helped her select a few dresses, a winter coat, several jackets and multiple pairs of shoes.

We packed the items our client wanted to keep and arranged for a donation pickup for the rest. Our client felt ownership in the process because she was making the decisions. And she did not lose steam because she took frequent breaks and we did not overwhelm her with too many choices.

5. A Short Deadline

Many of our clients decide to move and then face a quick timeline for packing, donating, selling or tossing their belongings. In our experience, the timeline from listing with a real estate agent to hosting the first open house is often quite short, and a sale can happen fast. A good professional organizer can take the stress out of the process — both in terms of readying the home for an open house and getting ready to actually move.

We recently worked with a client who had lived in her home for 40 years and was downsizing to a retirement community. She had only a few weeks before her home was going on the market. We worked with her room by room to help her decide what to pack, donate, sell or toss.

Then we packed — including purchasing moving boxes, tape and other packing supplies. We donated her excess items to a charity, sold some items at a local consignment store and ordered a dumpster from the local waste management company for items that were trash. We also identified local places that she could dispose of hazardous waste, including old paint, and took care of those items for her.

6. Difficulty Making Decisions

Some of our clients need a little more hands-on coaching when it comes to deciding what to keep and what to let go. A good professional organizer can be immensely helpful with decision-making.

For example, many clients have feelings that hold them back from making decisions. Common issues include fear that they may regret letting go of something they might need later, fear of getting rid of something valuable, guilt over not finding a good home for an item and guilt over getting rid of something sentimental, inherited or that was a gift. A good organizer understands these emotions and can compassionately guide clients through difficult decisions. Sometimes a client just needs permission to let something go.

Of course, if there is a question about whether something is valuable, we recommend consulting an appraiser.

7. A Partner Who Isn’t on Board

An extremely common problem for many of our clients is a partner who does not want to declutter. A good organizer can get past this hurdle with a variety of approaches depending on the situation.

Recently, we worked with a client whose partner was visibly stressed by the thought of getting rid of anything. He agreed to leave the house while we focused only on the willing partner’s belongings. We then spent the first day decluttering and donating a large quantity of her clothes, making sure to get the donation bags out of the house before her husband returned. We meticulously organized her remaining belongings in her drawers and closets. When her husband returned, he was so impressed with our work that he agreed to let us help with his belongings on our next visit.

The husband had very little he wanted to part with, so we focused on organizing his things for efficiency. We removed sentimental clothing he no longer wore — old college sweatshirts and old sports uniforms — from prime storage areas and placed them in storage containers on high closet shelves. We encouraged him to toss unusable clothing like socks without mates and clothes with rips or stains. Beyond that, he kept everything.

We hung and folded remaining items neatly by category, season and color. Rearranging his items opened up some space in drawers and closets, which was more visually pleasing and an encouragement to him to keep things neat in the future. He had not gotten rid of much, but he and his wife felt happy with the organization.

If your partner is unable to let go of unsentimental items like excess plates or too many vegetable peelers, simply stay focused on decluttering what you can: your personal belongings. Neatly organize the rest.

A final note: As you’re looking for a professional home organizer to work with, keep in mind that flexibility and good communication skills are key attributes that make the relationship smooth. You also want someone you are confident can manage a project and help you overcome any of your own decluttering obstacles. If in doubt, hire an organizer for one day to see if the fit is good before committing to a whole house declutter.