Victoria Times Colonist

Clutter busters put homes, lives in order
Professional organizers help people make best use of their living space

Clutter busters put homes, lives in order
Before: Two decades of clutter
Photograph by: Adrian Lam, Times Colonist, Times Colonist

The evidence was laid out on the garage floor. It was clear what had taken place.

Two lawn blowers. Two weed whackers.

A confession quickly followed. "It was easier to just go and buy another one because I couldn't find it in here," said Rockland homeowner Jack Petrie.

But Petrie won't be tempted to shop for extras anymore now that Jen and Jessica Mason, sisters and organizers who founded Chaos to Calm Consulting Ltd., have sorted out the mess in his garage.

Jack and Brannan Petrie hired the company ( to help organize their crawl space holding more than two decades of clutter. Even though the couple has only lived in their current house for four years, "we brought stuff from our house that we'd been in for 18 years," Jack said.

The Masons helped the Petries pare down their pile, sorting out what to keep and what to donate.

Little is thrown out. Love letters and a video of their wedding are among treasures saved. ReStore, a building supply outlet supporting Habitat for Humanity, received some items.

Their goal is to be environmentally responsible and keep garbage to a minimum, Jen said.

They ask questions like:

- When was the last time you used this?

- What will happen if you get rid of it?

- How will the space be used?

The Masons launched their company last year to organize homes and businesses. They charge $45 per hour, and the initial consultation is free, Jessica said Friday.

Now that there's plenty of space in his garage, Jack is looking forward to listening to jazz music and doing projects such as building bird houses. "If miracles come true, I might even be able to park my car in here again," he said with a smile.

Organizing fever is a popular theme for reality television shows. Viewers can tune into everything from a professional tweaking of a luxury house to heartbreaking tales of hoarders.

Barbara McDonell was an early entry into the local organizing sector when she started Clutter Queen Services (www.clutterqueen. ca) eight years ago. Clients are often downsizing, taking a fresh look at possessions after children move out, or wanting to clear a home before putting it on the market.

In the past three months, McDonell has been busier than ever. She figures gloomy weather resulted in people staying inside and noticing accumulated clutter.

One woman became so enthusiastic about clearing out her home that she stayed up until 3 a.m. filling boxes. "She is just thrilled with the extra space she's got now."

Questions McDonell encourages clients to consider include: Does it still fit? How long since it has been worn? Is this used? Do you love it?

Storing items carries a cost in terms of "time, maintenance, insurance and space," she said.

Typical rates locally are between $50 and $60 per hours for homes and from about $65 to $80 per hour for businesses, said Stephanie Deakin, chairwoman of the Vancouver Island and Gulf Island chapter of the Professional Organizers in Canada.

Cleanups can also lead to lucky finds, said Deakin, owner of Re: Organized ( One client discovered $30,000 worth of art in a storage locker not visited for years.

She recommends making sure you need something before bringing it into the home and knowing where it will go once there. And don't try to declutter all in one go.

A background in mediation and counselling has been useful, she said. While some are comfortable using an organizer, others may find the sorting task "hugely emotional."

At times, clients just need to talk about an item before letting it go, she said. Organizers need to be patient and respectful and listen.

Piles of possessions can cause stress and guilt for not managing the problem, Deakin said.

"I love to see people's reactions when we have accomplished something," she said. That could be the ability to use a room cluttered for years, or the discovery of something that had been lost.

Jobs include downsizing, estate-clearing and business and office organizing - including how to manage email, she said. And it's not uncommon to find stacks of empty storage bins and baskets bought with the unfulfilled intention of sorting through possessions.

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2011

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