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  • Cheryl Libutti

Insights and Observations.


When I started doing this organizing gig last year, I had no idea how much social work I would be doing.

The vast majority of my clients call me because something in their house- their stuff, their closets, their papers, their hobbies- is totally out of control. And usually, as they begin to open up about what road they took that lead them to having me standing in their house, it usually comes back to some kind of trauma. A loss, a death, a change in situation, a move, an illness, an accident. Sometimes more than one.

And this trauma is usually not really well-processed or thought out and suddenly the closet/basement/bedroom/paperwork becomes the outward manifestation of what is going on inside their heads.

The majority of my clients have cried at some point in front of me about the state of their space or about their trauma. Sometimes both. Sometimes multiple times.

And while other organizers may shy away from this, I welcome it. I am a big proponent of letting it all out, processing grief, and moving along. And my social work background has given me a good handle on the skills I need to help a little and at least do no harm. I can point out connections. I can be sympathetic and a good listening ear. I can provide emotional support.

I can acknowledge the trauma. I can't fix it, but I can say, "I see it. I see it, too, and it is HARD."

As I have come in contact with more and more clients, two questions invariably come out during our sessions:

1. Is my house the worst one you've ever worked on?

2. What are your other clients like?

And I can see people's natural curiosity about this. People in general in our over-consumed, over-scheduled and over-saturated lives are curious about professional organizing, the gasping horror of hoarding, and the soothing neatness of Pinterest-worthy organized spaces. But I think it goes deeper than that. What people are really asking for are assurances: assurances that I am not the "worst" one, my space is really not as bad as I am fearful it is, that other people are in the same boat as me, that other people had to also ask for help, and I think that I as the organizer am not going to betray confidences or judge other clients and then in extension, pass judgement about them to other clients.

And my answers are usually the same: No, you are the not the worst. This is very manageable. I like working in all situations, major and minor. I work with moms, with artists, with men; I clean out basements and closets and spare rooms; I design closets and paperwork systems. I keep it all very light and generic. And everyone smiles, happy to hear that I am not going around telling stories out of school.

I had a really interesting experience last week that provided incredible insight for me into my work and business. I go to a wonderful salon that offers a whole range of services and one of the things they offer is a closet makeover. Not to organize the closet (which was very confusing to my husband, who asked, "Don't you do closets for a living? Why are you hiring someone to do ours?") but to look at the content of the closet, rearrange outfits in new ways, and give suggestions for what I needed to buy that would help update and complete my wardrobe.

And when I approached her last week at the salon to ask about the closet makeover, I found myself saying almost the same thing that people say to me. I asked her, "How embarrassed do I have to be that I have awful old clothes?" And I felt like a lot of clients of mine probably feel: embarrassed, judged, and not enough. And of course she was wonderful and warm and reassuring and said everything I wanted to hear... and I made the appointment the next day.

I was nervous before she arrived on Thursday and did my best to prepare. I re-organized my closet by item type and season, made a chart for her of the different types of outfits I need to have (casual, night out, church, work consultation, work organizing) and included what I am usually wearing for these different situations. I made a Pinterest board of the styles I like and went through some catalogs to show her outfits I'd love to have. I cleaned my room, opened the windows for fresh air and even lit a candle.

So do you know what we did most of the time she was here? We talked. We talked about my life today and my history. We talked about my struggles with weight and finding clothing that fits. We talked about being 41 and the temptation to give up style-wise since I'm married and have three kids and am really comfortable in my life right now. We talked about the years I had of budgeting for a family of five on one income and how I have put all our extra money into our children and our home, and now with my business my needs are changing and I have some extra income to put towards my clothes.

And when she left, after discussing what I have and what I need, I felt AMAZING. I felt like anything was possible. I felt like she was already putting a plan together for me in her head and was excited to help me reach the goals I had. I felt like huge roadblocks in my own thinking had been moved aside and I had a partner to lean on in the process. She has a whole skill set that I just haven't developed yet and in a few weeks we are going to go shopping together and I am so excited.

I gained such great insight into what it's like for my clients to go through the process of fixing their spaces like I am fixing my wardrobe. I am hopeful that clients feel a tenth of the happiness I felt after my first session with my closet makeover helper. It was so much more than what shirts I could add to my closet... it was about who am I as a person right now, what do I want to project out to the world, what is possible, and how do I get there.

And I think organizing is in the same vein: it's more than putting things where they belong. It's about creating the space where you live, it's about being comfortable in your home, it's about your space being functional and appealing and inspiring... for work, for relaxing, for entertaining, for raising a family.

Takeaways:

1. We're all in the same boat here in life. And it's hard sometimes. Really hard.

2. Everyone has their own skill set and everyone needs help with something. There's no shame whatsoever in asking for help. You may be able to do things on your own, but why not ask an expert who may be able to give you ideas you never considered?

3. Talking to a willing, connected, listening ear is incredibly, incredibly powerful.


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