How to clean up in the decluttering business
Professionals helping businesses to get organised can make a tidy sum
Sarah Reynolds, founder of Organised Chaos.
Are you neat and well-organised, with a talent for maximising space? Then clear your diary – you could have a career as a decluttering guru. With bookstore shelves groaning under the weight of decluttering books, and TV schedules packed with programmes about making over your living space, it does seem there’s a tidy sum to be made from helping people tidy up. And, as people realise the benefits of decluttering (calmer living space, less stress, fewer family arguments, increased concentration and more productive working environment), the decluttering industry has grown exponentially.
Just as authors look in envy at the book sales of Dan Brown or JK Rowling, and singers covet the chart placings of Ed Sheeran or Coldplay, decluttering experts dream of making the global impact of Marie Kondo. The Japanese tidying-up guru’s KonMari method of organising your home space has swept the world, and her Netflix show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, has families everywhere clearing space on their couch to binge-watch. Her method can be summed up in one neat motto: keep things that spark joy – get rid of those that do not.
Kondo didn’t just burst onto our screens like a sprucing-up superheroine or a tidy godmother wielding her feather-duster wand. The series is based on her bestselling declutterers’ bible The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Since its publication in 2011, the book has sold about 11 million copies in 30 countries, and Kondo’s empire has grown to include seminars, professional consultations, and a range of products designed to help you keep your home organised. According to the Celebrity Net Worth website, the 34-year-old is currently worth about $8 million (€7 million) – that’s a tidy sum.
Kondo’s success has sparked an entire industry around decluttering and tidying up, and it’s forecast to be worth up to $11.8 billion (€10.4 billion) by 2021. But what does it take to set up as a professional decluttering guru, and can you make even a fraction of the money raked in by Kondo?
‘Incredibly hard slog’
“I’m not going to lie – it’s been an incredibly hard slog, and a hard sell,” says Sarah Reynolds, who set up Organised Chaos, a home and business organising service, 10 years ago with the aim of helping homeowners and business owners reclaim their space from clutter and disorganisation. “I started when nobody had a clue what it was. Everybody knows Marie Kondo, but before Marie Kondo there was Julie Morgenstern and Peter Walsh. I was watching them on Oprah Winfrey and thinking, hey, this could be a business.”
Reynolds was working full-time in television when she founded the company, “so it was my side-hustle for a number of years”. She took a year’s leave of absence from her day job to study in New York under Morgenstern. “It gave me a great insight in how to approach a client, what to say when you go in, give a bit of structure to your appointment.”
Now, Reynolds is going into her fifth year as a full-time professional organiser, and in January 2018 she published her first book, Organised: Simple Ways to Declutter Your House, Your Schedule and Your Mind.
I call myself a professional organiser, because I want that more positive association, rather than look at the decluttering side, which can seem monotonous and boring
“I call myself a professional organiser, because I want that more positive association, rather than look at the decluttering side, which can seem monotonous and boring. Now I’m finding that offices and businesses are taking an interest, and you have this huge wellness aspect to the corporate world, so organising for me ties in quite well with this. I give talks around the stress levels and anxiety levels that clutter can cause. And then also you have so many offices moving, relocating, coming into the country, and all of those places need to be productive and their space maximised. Not only do they have to declutter when they’re moving out of the old space, but when they move into the new space, they have to organise that as well, so that’s where we come in.”
With the rise of office hubs and shared workspaces, the need to have a well-organised workplace is crucial, says Reynolds. “It’s not just about improving staff productivity, but also giving a good first impression to visitors. You have to have balance. You can have stunning office design, but when people bring in their stuff, then you have clutter, and if there’s no clean-desk policy, things can quickly deteriorate.
“You also have a lot of older buildings and older companies who may not have the money to have great designs, but they can do so much to organise the space they have by bringing in a professional organiser.”?
Despite the hard work and the hard sell, Reynolds says she still hugely enjoys her work.
“It’s been a really slow growth, and I feel I’m only really getting into it now and getting the message out. The amount of work that has gone into the business to get it this far, through major life upheavals and everything, it’s been a slog. But I really enjoy it and I’m really passionate about it, and I believe in the benefits, so that’s why I keep doing it. But running an organising business will certainly test your levels of organisation!”
‘Let it go’
Clutter can weigh on your mind and make you feel overwhelmed, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that “declutter therapist” Breda Stack helps people whose surfeit of stuff has clogged up their home space, work space or headspace. Stack is the founder of National and International Declutter Day, is a regular guest on TV and radio, and writes numerous features on the art of tidying up. She set up her business in 2010, and her website (thedecluttertherapist.ie) sums up her philosophy in three little words: let it go.
“I felt there was no template around for a more ‘holistic’ decluttering approach – beyond the practicalities of organising, storage solutions or what was in fashion – that I believed people could really benefit from,’ says Stack.
“I was lucky to get a lot of media coverage from the very start and sharing a fresh decluttering message also helped me get the word out around what I do. Having always worked as an employee, I had so much to learn about the world of self-employment – that was probably my biggest challenge.”
Stack founded her Declutter Academy in 2016, developing training courses for people around the world who wanted to set up their own similar services.
“I was really passionate about sharing everything I’d learned about decluttering, and packaging all the decluttering information, tools and techniques that I’d developed.”
You need a number of skillsets to make a career as a decluttering guru, reckons Stack, including “an understanding of the many unhelpful myths around decluttering that are unfortunately still keeping so many of us stuck in our clutter” and “great patience and empathy with common decluttering emotions like overwhelm, guilt, shame, sadness, impatience, doubt, etc”. You also need “an ability to help and inspire people to declutter in a way that transforms their lives on all levels beyond the wardrobe and home, including self-image, finances, relationships, career, well-being, etc”.
The type of clients who mainly come to me have tried everything else where their decluttering is concerned
“The type of clients who mainly come to me have tried everything else where their decluttering is concerned. They come to me when they want to learn to ‘let it go’ and be free from their clutter so they can enjoy lighter, happier lives.”
‘Getting your shit together’
Some might call it decluttering, or organising, or creating a sense of order in the home, but Laura Hutchinson cuts to the chase and calls it “getting your shit together”. Her popular YouTube channel, How to Get Your Shit Together, contains all sorts of advice, from clearing out clutter to cleaning the bathroom to reorganising your office – you name it, Hutchinson’s got a life hack for it.
Hutchinson, from Athy, Co Kildare, started her website (howtogyst.com), blog and YouTube channel while working as a barrister, and when she moved to the US with her husband, Sam Monson, in 2017, she kept her online business going. The couple live in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Monson – a former Irish Times sub-editor – is a well-known American football TV analyst.
Monson may soon be upstaged by his decluttering guru wife, because since they moved to the US, audiences for her YouTube channel are growing by the day.
“Being a new mum, I found there wasn’t much advice out there for busy mothers – before I’d have been giving productivity advice for businesses, but that didn’t fit in with my new lifestyle. So I started the blog, and got great feedback.”
Hutchinson admits it was nerve-wracking at first to script and present her own videos.
“I feel more comfortable behind the camera, I was a bit shy and reserved at first, but I get a great reaction from American subscribers, and it’s great to be able to get the message across to a broader audience.”
Hutchinson describes herself as a “productivity expert” who helps people get the most out of their busy lives and make their homes work more efficiently.
“I enjoy doing it – when I was young, I was very organised, and in my legal career I really enjoyed organising case files and legal briefs. So, when I started implementing that same discipline at home, I felt other people around the world would benefit from online videos helping them to get their home running smoothly.”
She’s a convert to the KonMari method, and an unashamed Kondo fan.
“I was one of the first people to try out KonMari method, and I saw the results for myself. Now it’s gone mainstream, a lot of people are watching the Netflix series, and it’s very entertaining, but if you want to get to grips with your clutter, then go and read the book.”
Now that she’s up and running as a productivity expert, Hutchinson would be reluctant to go back to her old career.
“Law was excellent, but it was tough and competitive, and you could be at work all day and half the night on a case. This allows me a lot more flexibility, and it’s evolved into a career for me. I’ve found my new thing.”