This next question comes from a respected colleague, Naomi Seldin who writes a blog for the Albany Times Union called Simpler Living. Her blog is about how we can all simplify and pare down every aspect of our lives. Please visit her blog at
I've been reading about a Baltimore man who was featured on the Style Network show "Clean House." I'd be interested to know if you've ever worked with someone who had a really serious clutter problem, and how do you work with them?
I have often worked with clients who have some serious clutter problems, and I have some very specific strategies of working with them and helping them to manage the clean-up process.
The first thing that I do is to make it very clear that I am working for them, and that I am working in their home, and that I cannot and will not decide what goes and what stays! They need to be ready to clean up the clutter and to part with a good amount of their stuff. If they are not ready for this step, I will not take them on as a client. We will fail to accomplish their goals which will be both a waste of my time and their money.
The second step is to assess the problem and to set goals. This is painstakingly and specifically done. For instance, we may decide that "the goal is to get rid of 50% of what you have." This is very concrete. This is easily quantifiable; for every item kept, one item is gotten rid of. This number, which normally ranges from 30% to 80%, is based on my experience, how much of their clutter is unnecessary and how large the client's home is. The third part of the assessment is to find out how the client uses the space in their home. Do they work from home? Do they have any hobbies? Do they work outside the home but have a home-based side-business? This will influence our priorities in beginning a process that can last from several weeks to several months.
Next, we roll up our sleeves and get to work. I have had several clients where the amount of stuff to be gotten rid of is so great that we hire a roll-off dumpster for the duration of the process. And we fill it. Sometimes twice. This is often where the difficulties begin. Although the client wants a clean, uncluttered home, they have a very hard time letting go of their stuff. This is where my expertise really kicks in, and this is where I make the difference. If items are truly sentimental to them, but of absolutely no use, we may make a photo album of the stuff (so that they can stroll down memory lane when they choose) but actually discard the stuff itself. Or, I simply point out to them that although the stuff is important to them, it is actually weighing them down. In the case of multiple items, I can suggest that they don't need 6 egg slicers, and why don't we get rid of four or five of them. One other strategy is that we donate items to charity. The client is doing good, and gets a tax write-off to boot!
While lightening the load, I keep them focused on the positive aspects of doing so. In addition, I always take before photos during our initial consultation and bring them with me to every meeting with them. When we appear to be at an impasse, I pull out the album and show them concretely how far we've come. A picture truly is worth a thousand words!
The final step is support. Once we've completed our project together, I do a follow-up visit, anywhere from four weeks to six months down the road, depending on my feeling of how long the client will take to "fall off the wagon." The specter of me coming for a follow up visit often helps clients to stay on the straight and narrow. In addition, clients are always welcome to contact me with questions and issues. I take great pride in building long term relationships with my clients, and I have many clients with whom I have never lost touch. For me, this is the best part of the job!