Are you a ‘neat freak’?
No, but I am a very organized person and that’s very different. I have things out on my kitchen counters, for example—but they are all organized and contained.
So, do your husband and kids think you’re too rigid about organization at home?
Yes—did you call them? My husband complains that if he leaves anything out for an hour or a minute, it’s fair game. I move it, and then he can’t find it.
How did you get into this type of work?
When my son was five, he was diagnosed with ADHD and learning differences, so I did everything to try and help him organize his tangled-up world. A friend who is a family therapist saw the work I had done and said she had clients who could benefit from my help.
What kind of training do you have?
I received my training from the National Association of Professional Organizers and the Institute for Challenging Disorganization. I have two certifications from the ICD—one on chronic disorganization and the other on hoarding issues.
Who are your typical clients?
All of my clients are chronically disorganized and forty percent are compulsive hoarders. Within that, they run the gamut from students who are challenged by time and paper management to a mom who’s managing a household with a child who has OCD.
How many hoarders are there in the U.S.?
Experts estimate about two million.
Is hoarding more a lower-class phenomenon?
Hoarding knows no economic boundaries—I have worked with very wealthy, prominent people who have hoarding tendencies. However, you don’t have to be wealthy to hoard things. There are lots of things people bring into their homes that are free or low-cost, like paperwork, mail, and the like.
Where do you draw the line between being messy or a pack rat versus a bona fide hoarder?
A hoarder has ‘doorbell dread’—his worst nightmare is somebody dropping by his home unexpectedly and seeing its condition. A hoarder’s home causes him extreme distress—a pack rat, not so much. His home may be crowded and full of clutter, but the rooms in his home are still being used for their original intent.
What are some of the more outrageous strategies you’ve seen people employ to deal with their hoarding?
I had very wealthy clients who actually bought a second home nearby so they’d have an additional place to store all of their overload. Others have rented storage units for the same reason.
What causes someone to call in an organizational specialist?
Often they are overwhelmed. Clutter in someone’s home is like another person living in the home—and it’s the most dysfunctional resident there.
How much do you charge?
To hire a member of my team, the hourly rate runs anywhere from ninety to one hundred fifty dollars an hour.
Were you always organized, even as a child?
Yes. My mother was terminally ill when I was four years old, so I was left to fend for myself and grew up in a very disorganized household. Lists and structure spoke to me and helped me to make some sense out of a very disorganized childhood.
What’s the most severe case of hoarding you’ve ever seen?
One home had so many people living in so much squalor that there was literally no room inside the house, so they had to sleep in a tent in the backyard.
Can you recommend certain pieces of furniture or organizing systems to help people organize their stuff?
I love the Container Store’s Elfa shelving systems because they’re very flexible and can be changed around as your needs change. And they have a roll-out basket system, so you can see what you own.