Organization, Simplicity or Both?

My by-line has always been simplicity – but what has that meant for me and for my clients? Granted my experience in this field is relatively short; my business is barely three years old.

However, one general trait I’ve noticed with people who seek out help from organizers is that, in one way or another, they share an underlying belief that more really is more. Most Professional Organizers, when pressed, will tell you that, in fact, less is more – there’s no way around this truth.

When working with clients, in order for me to be true to myself, and my clients I have never circumvented this truth. There is a crucial difference in being sympathetic to and supporting a client’s belief that any kind of overconsumption is healthy or in any way helpful. I cannot support the belief that anyone really NEEDS 20 black dresses or enough office supplies to open their own Staples (even though one day all of the Staples close and there is no other way to find a three ring binder).

While it is possible to reduce the size of your off-season wardrobe with bags that shrink wafer-thin (and suck the life out of your clothes) and it’s possible to double the size of your rod space with skinny hangers, there is a larger question which needs to be addressed. Here it is: how do all those things you struggle to keep under control in your space – how do they relate to your life in a larger sense? Are they helping you to accomplish what you want in life? Do they help you to relate to your family and your friends? Do they help you to fulfill your purpose?

I will now go out on a limb and say what I believe: overconsumption, in any form, whether it is activities, stuff or information, is the root of disorganization. Simplicity forms the basis for being and staying organized.

Simplicity is the antonym of complexity. For many people the first is synonymous with boring and the second, with exciting. Simplicity also means clarity, to see clearly what is important and what is not. How to spend the limited amount of time we have here on earth, to relax and enjoy what’s available to us right now, to listen and care for other people, to accomplish what we set out to do, every day.

Simplicity is not simple – it requires discipline, self-examination and honesty. Is this something that a professional organizer is equipped to help you with? This is a question that I and many of my colleagues struggle with and, perhaps, have not yet answered. I could never offer my services with integrity if I did not continue this struggle. Such questioning forms the basis for growth and change, for me and for my clients.

Sharing Space

Recently, I read that since 1950 the average new house has increased by 1,247 square feet.  Yet since 1970, the percentage of households containing five or more people has fallen by half.  Overall, the average number of people per household decreased from 3.14 to 2.57.  What is it about this phenomenon that is so telling of the change in the psyche of our culture? As to the downsizing of the American family, one could point to population growth, change in gender roles, increased mobility and dispersion between generations, the economy, and countless other factors.  I sense a paradox. Why is there a need for increasing amounts of square footage required by, and allotted to, each family member? Would it not follow that given the decrease in bodies, decrease for time families spend together and increasing amounts of alienation in our society that we should desire to be closer to loved ones – that we should require less space? In the past 50 years or so, movies, TV, music, and books have alluded to a growing lack of connection between people. We are all familiar with the problem. I dare say many of us would be uncomfortable admitting this influence in our own lives. Ever growing use of technology as a means of relating, eliminating the necessity of any contact, is creating a new population uncomfortable with physical contact, one that often prefers Facebook to “face time.” I have traveled a few times with my husband Mark to his homeland, the former USSR. I learned that there was no Russian word or idiom for “personal space” nor has there (until recently) been any need for the concept. Togetherness – close proximity, visibility, being within earshot – has always been the normal state of affairs. Remember the old TV commercial that exhorted us to “reach out and touch someone?” That was quite a while ago and the dictate was only figurative (i.e., call your mom!) Today, it would be quite a leap to take that literally. So – how could any American family go from a McMansion to a “junior 4” apartment? Aside from economic downshifts that would force such a drastic move or the inevitable population squeeze that in the future may necessitate such a trend on a global level, are there any unseen benefits? Is there a way to re-frame downsizing as a means of re-establishing connection? Between our marriage in 1991 and 2001, Mark and I progressed from my tiny bachelorette pad to owning our first co-op apartment, a beautiful space that was palatial by New York City standards. We reveled in the expanse even as we struggled to pay for it! Being well-informed homeowners and looking to the future we flipped our large apartment and downsized to one roughly two-thirds the size. The first year was at times quite painful. Besides the necessary “content purge” to get us and our two very large dogs into our new home we were suddenly much, much closer to each other – and not always for the better. However, I can honestly report that the diminished physical square footage has enhanced my life in many ways. First, it has forced me to work out differences with my husband. Without the luxury of being able to avoid my partner in a large space, I face the reality of conflict. Like a grain of sand in an oyster, conflict is a motivating irritant, which if borne patiently can yield a pearl – a closer and more communicative relationship. Second, sharing a smaller space has opened me up to the idea of letting go of territory. Third, being in constant and close proximity to Mark forces me to consider the needs of another, who has his own perspective and opinions on what is, and what is not, important. I have become more flexible about my living environment; I am able to see it more as a process rather than a static result. Last and most important, sharing space has led me to an inner space which stills all preconceptions of how everything should be and which invites in other ways of being, other points of view, and other people. I believe that this new awareness has been the most precious gift, borne of the necessity of sharing a small physical space. I believe that the ability to open up to the ones closest to us – our families and friends – is the beginning of compassion and understanding for everything and everyone else. To say that loving my husband leads to loving all of humanity may sound ridiculous. Then again, I did not coin the well-worn phrase: “charity begins at home.” Love begins and grows when we are willing to share space with those we profess to love and need. That, even if taken no further, is an achievement worthy of a lifetime.


In the year 2000 I was invited by a good friend to visit Japan.  This was long before I ever dreamed of becoming a professional organizer.  While there I made a solo trip to Kurashiki to visit the Museum of Folkcraft.  Upon entering the museum, I read the slogan “Usability Equals Beauty” and, indeed, everything in the museum (mostly household items) was not only useful but beautiful.  This little phrase made quite an impression on me.  Slowly, over the years, this slogan stuck with me and informed how I chose to live, what I chose to let into my life – and what things to leave out.

Without being aware of it, my husband, Mark, is a strong proponent of this slogan.  He comes from a place where, at one time, useful and frivolous things were scarce.  I only got a taste of what life must have been like in 1970’s USSR when Mark and I visited St. Petersburg in 1996.

Mark scavenges the streets of NYC for small and large things, which he always finds useful.  To me, they are rarely beautiful but in his hands they become so.  The apartment we sold in 2005 had a pot rack made from an old bike rack and a wall unit with a pull down Murphy Bed made from lumber scraps scavenged from other apartments in our building.  Both creations fit both criteria found in my favorite slogan and attracted many prospective buyers.  Still, even now that I have evidence to the contrary, when Mark occasionally hauls these treasures into our apartment, often all I see is junk.  Like so many of us my knee jerk reaction is that only the shiny and new can be beautiful.  The old and dirty has lost its value and, once lost, that value is irretrievable.

I see my attitude echoed when working with clients.  Here, in New York City, in the US, there is so much to have.  The options never end and my clients’ overflowing closets attest to this.  Are we fortunate?  Or rather, as we drift in a sea of stuff, have we lost the ability to discern usefulness in what we own?  Anxious to get even better things tomorrow, can I actually find the time to use what I have today?  And, if I don’t use it wherein does that object’s beauty lie?  Who is there to notice it?