3 Valley Pros Can Help You Get Organized
Professional home organizers weigh in on the life-changing benefits of less.
By Carly Scholl
As homeowners continue to discover the value of smaller square footage, and Netflix audiences across the country are “Kondo-ing” their sock drawers and bookshelves, home organization has extended beyond annual spring cleaning into somewhat of a cultural phenomenon.
Here, we chat with three local organizational pros about their philosophies, personal experiences and most productive tips for achieving the clean, uncluttered abode of your dreams.
The Tidy Bungalow
When asked how she got started in her career as a professional organizer, Amber Ehrlich’s response is remarkably honest: “I did it as an act of self-care.” After struggling with depression and anxiety for years, Ehrlich realized she wasn’t taking care of herself or her home. “When I stepped back,” she recalls, “I saw that I wasn’t in a healthy place.” It was the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by cultural sensation Marie Kondo that helped Ehrlich find order and healing.
“When I first read the book, the KonMari Method seemed very logical and manageable to me,” she says. “It can be a very loose, flexible system, and it approaches organizing in a positive and loving way.” Kondo’s book, and subsequent hit Netflix series “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” launched the question, “Does it spark joy?” into the popular vernacular and inspired people, including Ehrlich, to approach organizing with gratitude and self-kindness instead of tough love and pure practicality.
“There’s a fear that when you hire a professional organizer, they’re going to show up and make you throw everything away,” Ehrlich explains. “But every house and every individual is different, and I want to help you achieve what you dream of as your ideal home. It’s completely up to you to decide what stays and what goes.”
“The process will take care of the things, but my job is to take care of you.”
-– Amber Ehrlich
Today, Ehrlich is the only full-time Certified Gold KonMari Consultant in Arizona and works with many clients across the state. “I always say, the process will take care of the things, but my job is to take care of you,” she notes, adding that supporting, listening and engaging with her clients is the key to helping them tidy up. “People come to me for the same reason you’d hire a personal trainer—sometimes you just need another person to motivate you and give you permission to either keep or get rid of certain things.”
1 Organize by category, not by room. Start with the five categories of KonMari: clothing, books, paper, komono (miscellaneous) and sentimental. This helps alleviate feelings of anxiety that arise when you are faced with an entire room of clutter and disarray, and gives time for you to work up to more emotional items.
2 Transform your closet with flocked hangers—they are a great, inexpensive investment because they look uniform and keep clothes from slipping to the floor. A closet is a perfect space to put family photos, trinkets or things that don’t match the rest of your home. Walking into an organized closet decorated with meaningful mementos is a cheerful way to start your day.
3 Start small. If you have a limited amount of time, begin with purely practical items, such as old electronic cords/cables. So much of the electronics in your house is stuff you don’t need—it either works or it doesn’t; it’s either current or outdated.
NEAT Method Scottsdale
After nearly a decade as a fourth-grade teacher, Emmaley Otis realized what she really enjoyed about the job was setting up and making order of her classroom. Four years later, she is the owner of the Scottsdale branch of national luxury home organizing company NEAT Method. “I have always loved the quote, ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful,’” she says. “I keep that in mind as I organize my own spaces, and as I am helping others decide what to keep and what to discard.”
As downsizing becomes increasingly appealing to modern homeowners, professionals such as Otis are aiming to make it less intimidating. “We all know that the more space you have in your home, the more you will buy to fill it up,” she explains. “Larger homes can often feel like a storage unit for our belongings, but downsizing allows us to decide what is meaningful and important enough to keep, which means that we end up owning items that we truly love and use regularly.”
This kind of material mindfulness not only clears up your home but it can also clear out your stress. “Living in an organized space frees up your brain to think of other, much more important things,” Otis explains. “Knowing exactly where you can find everyday items saves so much time and prevents quite a bit of anxiety. Organizational systems help to create a rhythm for your day and bring a sense of calm to your house. It might feel overwhelming to get started, but the payoff of an organized home is so worth it.”
While she knows the value of a fully ordered house, Otis’ favorite spaces to organize are the kitchen and pantry. “It is absolutely the heart of the home and where most family members and guests end up spending the majority of their time,” she says. “I love planning out a kitchen to make meal prep, school lunches, grocery shopping and entertaining enjoyable and efficient. I always use labels in the pantry so that everyone can pitch in to maintain organizational systems.”
1 Always follow the same steps and start with a clean slate. It is so important to remove everything from a space and then edit, categorize, measure and place your items back into cabinets and drawers. Then—and only then—should you buy bins or baskets. If you start with the last step, you may end up with the wrong type of product for your space.
2 Create zones in your home. Grouping like items together makes it much easier to maintain systems in the long run. A few examples of possible zones are crafts, home repair, cleaning supplies, gift wrap or pet care.
3 Honor your new systems. Take time regularly to return items to their designated space. If an area feels full or cluttered, you know it’s time for a quick editing session to get right back on track.
All Your Ducks in a Row
In 2017, Leslie Lehr launched All Your Ducks In A Row, a professional home organizing business dedicated to providing orderly living solutions for her clients. “My husband encouraged me to follow my desire for organization, tidiness, style and function and to start my own business,” she explains. “I decided to celebrate this desire and embrace it. Now, I consider my need to organize as my passion rather than my compulsion.”
As a professional organizer, Lehr has noticed a trend with Phoenix homeowners to downsize from large, supersized homes for a number of reasons. “Children leaving the nest is always a catalyst for change,” she explains, “but people are also enticed by the opportunity to live stress-free that is often afforded by smaller homes. Less maintenance and expenses equals more time to ‘stay and play’ in Phoenix or conveniently ‘lock and leave’ to escape the heat.”
Downsizing isn’t just a national trend for Lehr, but a personal decision she and her family made last year. With considerably less space, she had to get creative with how each room was used. In addition to her organizational abilities, Lehr also has a knack for creating multipurpose space solutions. “A spare guest room in our new home was originally designated as the teen lounge,” she recalls. “In the past, we had guest rooms go unused for years, so we decided to create an area for my daughter to hang out with her friends. Once we finished our renovations, I learned that my daughter uses the lounge only a few times during the week.” To maximize the usefulness of the space, Lehr transformed the room’s closet into her home office where she can work during the day and still preserve the lounge as a space for teens in the evenings and weekends.
“I believe organized design should be stylish and functional,” she says. “When we eliminate clutter, we honor our home by creating a sanctuary that radiates pride, serenity, joy, relaxation and comfort.”
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1 Assign designated areas. Well-appointed space eliminates wasted time searching for belongings and household essentials.
2 Remove superfluous items. A clutter-free environment improves mental clarity and focus, and an organized home can inspire creativity and reduce distractions. Begin by removing old vases, unused decorative candles, complimentary plastic cups, mismatched party and paper products, decorative gift bags and plastic bags.
3 Identify a goal when you’re planning a multipurpose room. Decide what spaces are absolutely necessary for you and which ones can be sacrificed. If you don’t need that extra closet but are dying for a workout studio, there are always creative solutions to achieve the home of your dreams.