Certified professional organizer Jodie Watson says that when she is hired to help bring order to a cluttered home, she can make one small change that will dramatically alter a family's daily life.
She helps the family clear off the dining room table. All the backpacks and craft projects and papers are moved elsewhere.
"I put down a runner, and that one little thing can transform them from being scattered around the home eating or pulling out tray tables in front of the TV to having a family meal together," the Sherman Oaks-based organizer says. "The clutter is squeezing the family out of their home."
Professional organizers help people with a wide range of organizing tasks, but helping them get a handle on their possessions is a big part of what they do.
"First and foremost, it's the stuff," says Tanya Whitford, a Burbank organizer. Until the clutter is cleared away, it's hard for people to look more deeply at how they are organizing their lives. But that often comes next or is an underlying issue being addressed.
People often reach out for help in times of change, says Studio City-based Deborah Kawashima, who, like Watson and Whitford, is a member of the National Assn. of Professional Organizers. A baby is expected and the family needs to make room. A parent has died, and furniture and keepsakes are overflowing out of the garage. A move is in the works or children have gone off to college. Or it's time to finally make room to write that book.
Watson starts her jobs with a phone conversation to collect information and try to understand what's going on in people's lives and their relationship with their things. She makes an assessment and meets with everyone involved. Then she reworks the physical space.
That means helping people let go of the worn-out clothes, outgrown toys, outdated electronics and tired decor, and then setting up systems to make what remains in the home easier to use and enjoy. It could be a new closet setup or a revamped office filing system. Maybe better storage cupboards in the kids' rooms so stuffed bears and books all have a home.
Whitford asks questions to see how people are using their space, then she tries to create a simple organization plan that they can follow. "If it's not easy to get out and easy to put away, it's not going to happen."
After a family's physical space is in good shape, organizers focus on retraining people to adopt better habits. It's not always easy. And that's why organizers says it's ideal to train children when they're young — as early as age 3 — to pick up after themselves.
"It's about sharing spaces and being respectful of one another," Kawashima says.
How to donate unwanted items in the L.A. area
You've gotten serious about spring cleaning and have cleared out your shelves, closets and drawers. And instead of throwing everything away, you'd like to pass it along to people in need. Many of us donate to organizations such as the Salvation Army or Goodwill, which sell items at their stores, at auction and in bulk and use the proceeds for charitable programs. But if you'd like to have a more direct effect, you might also consider the following groups.
Baby2Baby, a Los Angeles-based group, supplies more than 50 nonprofit organizations with baby gear, furniture, diapers, books, school supplies and clothing for children in need up to age 12. It accepts new and very gently used items at about 20 drop-off locations in Southern California. http://www.baby2baby.org
Big Sunday, a Los Angeles community service group, matches donated items with registered nonprofits and schools. Recent donation matchups include computers for Selma Avenue Elementary School and office supplies for LAMP Community. Anyone can post items to donate at http://www.thebiglist.bigsunday.org.
L.A. Shares online donation system matches your donation of office supplies, electronics and furniture with pre-screened schools and nonprofits that have made specific requests. Free pickup. www.lashares.org
Music & Memory accepts donated iPods and chargers by mail and reworks them for elderly patients suffering from Alzheimer's, dementia and other cognitive and physical challenges in elder-care facilities in Burbank, Encino, Duarte, Northridge and other areas. www.musicandmemory.org
National Cristina Foundation will help you donate your used computer, printer or other electronics by connecting you to a nonprofit group near you that arranges for pickup. Local recipients include the Downtown Women's Center and the Adult Learning Center at Union Rescue Mission. www.cristina.org
Operation Blankets of Love, based in Granada Hills, collects and distributes recycled pet items to comfort animals in shelters or housed with rescue and foster groups. www.operationblanketsoflove.com
Re-Book It is a free community service provided by downtown L.A.'s Last Bookstore that shares books, CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes and LP records with local charities, homeless shelters, hospitals, libraries and schools. Free donation pickup in Los Angeles County. www.rebookit.org
Stuffed Animals for Emergencies donates new and "like new" stuffed animals and blankets, books and clothing to homeless shelters, hospitals and emergency aid workers. Drop-off locations throughout Southern California. www.stuffedanimalsforemergencies.org
Topanga Women's Circle works with Venice Community Housing and the Salvation Army Westwood Transitional Village to provide homeless families with gently used bedding, kitchen items, towels, rugs, clothing and toys for transitional housing. www.topangawomenscircle.org