Plus, an expert's top 5 tips for decluttering success.

By Lindsay Tigar
January 14, 2020
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I’m a tidy person. Blame it on my Virgo tendencies, but I appreciate a freshly made bed, a spick-and-span dining room table, and blankets neatly folded on my couch. 

And if you can’t see a mess, it doesn’t exist, right? I’m lucky to have three reach-in closets in my Boston, MA, one-bedroom apartment. In fact, it was part of the reason I signed the lease for my humble abode. What I didn’t predict—or know about myself quite yet—was just how much clutter can pile up with the option to hide it. 

With Marie Kondo practically a household name and other home organization philosophies like Swedish Death Cleaning catching on in the states, it’s clear home organization is having a moment. The National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) now boasts 32 chapters with 4,000 members across 22 countries, up from 16 members in 1985. And that number is likely much higher, as you don’t have to be certified to become a professional organizer. 

After months of throwing another thing into my closet and swiftly shutting the door, I realized I needed help. And while I didn’t have a full weekend to dedicate to organizing my closets, I desperately wanted them to be neat. Inspired by the tidying trend, I decided to hire a local storage and organizing guru. 

Finding the Right Home Organizer

It might be an unpopular opinion, but the Konmari method always seemed a little far-fetched for me. While I do hold some items sacred and admit they bring me joy, generally speaking, I don’t have a hard time donating or letting go of goods. So I knew when hiring a professional organizer, I needed someone who would help me declutter on a tight schedule. That’s why Jeana Buckley of Realistic Organizing was the woman for the gig. 

I found Buckley by tapping into Boston Business Women, a local female networking group I belong to, and searching for options in my area. After considering many home organizers, I ultimately landed on Buckley for her realistic approach. 

Buckley launched her business two years ago after realizing what she’d already been doing for years was her passion. As a mom of three, Buckley knows firsthand just how out of control stuff can become. She believes thinking critically about what we keep in our homes is part of the wellness movement, and is a way for people to live happier, healthier lives. 

“Organizing, I think, has always been a bit underrated and something that seemed insignificant in the big scheme of things,” she says. “It was something that was always bottom of the list for folks …  The reality is that your time doesn't become freed up, nothing gets done, and you don't really have spare time until things are organized.”

Buckley’s company focuses on creating practical, effective, and livable solutions for individuals and families. She believes folding your shirts in a certain way might keep your drawers tidy, but if you don’t like the way they look or you know you’ll never actually maintain the system, it becomes a waste of time. At the core of Buckley’s approach is implementing systems that adapt to everyday life. 

So how did she take my closets from unsightly to streamlined? It started well before she set foot in my apartment.

Identifying the Problem

To begin the process, Buckley first schedules an in-home consultation with every client. This allows her to see the space she’ll be working with and, more importantly, understand her client’s visions. She also asks questions about routines, pain points, frustrations, and ultimately works with her client to identify core goals. 

Because I’m a travel journalist, I spend limited time at home in Boston (hence why my closets were so messy), so we weren’t able to meet in person before the big day. Instead, we communicated by phone and email, and I sent her a bunch of photos of my space. 

My biggest storage woes were: a front entrance closet where I keep winter goods, cleaning products, and other daily items; a hallway closet where I keep bedding, suitcases, and beauty products; and my bedroom closet, where I keep clothes, shoes, bags, and laundry. 

Although it seemed like a mess to me, Buckley came up with a solution in a snap. “You didn't have specific designated areas for things so they ended up all over and looking aesthetically displeasing,” she says. “This also leads to spaces being minimized rather than maximized when things are just tossed about.”

Could organizing my closets really be as easy as creating zones? I was about to find out.

Conquering My Closet Clutter

After seeing photos and chatting, Buckley asked me about my style preferences. This included what colors I liked (white, gray, and blues), what material matched my overall apartment mood (soft textures), and how much I wanted to spend (less than $300). She often finds mega sales on bins, boxes, stacking shelves, and more organizing essentials from HomeGoods and other retailers. When she arrived at my apartment, her SUV was packed to the brim with options. She quickly reminded me not to worry, since she always brings more than she needs, and I would only pay for what gets used.

After a brief run-through, Buckely got to work. She tackled the front closet first since she said it would dictate what she would need to find space for. She was able to maximize the space so that everything fit nicely with a little room to grow, meaning baskets were left half-full to accommodate new items. We were even able to add things like gloves and scarves from my bedroom that belonged more appropriately in that front closet. The same technique worked for the hallway closet. “Adding a little storage to your master made things less cramped and left it feeling fresh,” says Buckley. 

Like many things in life, home organizing is messy before it’s clean. Buckley pulled every last thing out of my closets so she could make a game plan, while I worked at my desk in the living room, trying not to freak out. Buckley organizes stage by stage, finishing the most cluttered area first, then moving to another spot. “I have found tackling things by location or by some other means of realistic accomplishment to be a very successful method,” she says.

Once all three spaces were given the seal of approval, I stood in awe of how much room I actually had. Without all the mess, I finally had a spot for everything. Perhaps most surprising to me was how functional shelves and bins can be for organizing miscellaneous goods. Before this, I didn't think to go beyond the racks and shelves already built into my apartment. Now, I not only have room for more items but a few months later, I’m happy to report my closets are nearly exactly the way she left them. And that’s her ultimate goal: for her clients to no longer need her.

The true benefits of a home organizer, for anyone, is taking away the initial stress of decluttering, and giving you the tools to maintain a tidy home. And it’s worth the cost. For my home, Buckley was there for eight hours, and the total came to $550 for the three closets, plus the items she purchased for my apartment, totaling $220. If she hadn’t spent that day working tirelessly in my closets, I’m sure they’d still be chaotic, so I was okay with spending more than my original $300 budget.

And while I’ve been able to keep up with Buckley’s results, chances are high I’ll hire her again in March to set myself up for success when my boyfriend and I move in together and join our mutual clutter. 

Buckley’s Top 5 Tips for Organizing Success

1
Start Small

"Choose a kitchen drawer, a medicine cabinet in your bathroom, an under-the-sink bin, a desk drawer that has been organizationally frustrating and go from there. Very often, tackling a space no matter how small will only encourage one to continue [to organize]."

2
Take a Moment to Acknowledge the Work

The act of completing something brings a sense of relief and accomplishment, which in turn brings happiness and satisfaction. “Pause, acknowledge this, and keep going! Reaping the benefits of that accomplishment is incredibly motivational.”

3
Make a Rule to Quit “Deal with it Later” Piles

"Try your best not to delay giving everything a place when you're organizing. Finding a home for it all is part of the job, and admiring a closet that you cleaned out … isn’t that great when you turn around and have piles of 'to-dos' behind you."

4
Donate the Same Week

"If you choose to donate during your decluttering, bring items to your donation center within that week. Put it in your car and set a reminder. Do not let it sit in a corner of a room; this is not finishing the job."

5
Don’t Just Do Something That You Saw On TV

"Don‘t go out and buy 40 of those clear organizing bins that you saw in someone’s Pinterest pantry. Think about your daily routines and how you use your spaces. Sure, it’s great to gain inspiration, but if you implement a system that just doesn’t align with the way you live, it’s only going to end up as time and money wasted."

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