Piles of possessions had taken over Mary Satterlee’s home. With 43 years of accumulation filling each room and spilling into the hall, she was ashamed to entertain friends and family but too overwhelmed to tackle the mess.
“My house was a disaster. It was wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling-high stuff,” she said, describing how, when she tried to clear out the clutter in one corner, it would reappear as soon as she started the next. “It still accumulated more. I didn’t get very far up the road.”
Then Satterlee hired professional organizer Angela Ricard, of time2organize. Ricard belongs to OPIN (Organizing Professionals of the Inland Northwest), an organization of local organizers who share a mission to bring order to North Idaho and Eastern Washington by helping people like Satterlee.
At a recent monthly meeting, OPIN members shared stories over coffee and began planning a series of free organizational seminars to present this fall.
The goal of OPIN, said founder Martha Goss, of Organize It, is to support and encourage each other while working together to build awareness of the organizational industry in the local community. She started the group in 2006 by calling every organizer she knew.
“I totally believe in strength in numbers. I’m not afraid of my competition. All of us come together with strengths and specialties. It has made us better professionals,” Goss said, explaining that each member has an industry niche, from office organization to home staging, from home organization to senior relocations.
“It is really, truly a group of women who help each other,” said Cheryl Carriere of Snowflake Senior Relocations, adding that they give each other referrals based on specialty. “You can play to your strengths and make a better reputation for the group.”
While most of the OPIN members are naturally organized, Kater Danford, of Sanity Savour, said she became an organizer six years ago after hiring one herself. “I was a real clutter bug, one of the worst offenders,” she said.
For Danford, learning and applying organizational systems to her life not only cleared the chaos of clutter, it sparked an internal change that led to greater happiness and success. She and the other organizers said bringing this same sense of relief and accomplishment to clients is both the reward and challenge of their profession.
“It changes people’s lives inside and out,” said Danford. “It gives them that connection to themselves. They just have to clear away the excess baggage.”
To help people accomplish this, the organizers said it takes a lot of encouragement, listening and earned trust on top of the ability to coach a client through the process of purging their piles and reclaiming the calm from the chaos.
“I never give advice. You really have to keep the judgments away and be there of service. I’m a conduit. This is what they want and I help them get there,” explained Danford.
For Satterlee, this was crucial and something that wouldn’t have happened if her own family had come to organize and clean her home.
“She never made me feel like I couldn’t keep anything, always encouraged me. She knew how to do it and did it so gracefully, tactfully. She dealt with me perfectly to help me let loose of some things and (decide) where to put them if I wanted to keep them without cluttering up the house,” said Satterlee.
It can be very traumatic, said Carriere, when a family member comes in and tells someone they have to get rid of stuff. Hiring an organizer, instead, means the client has more control over the process because organizers facilitate, rather than dictate, what possessions are donated, discarded or kept.
“We have to be respectful, empathetic, as we help them pare themselves down. We give them this sense that this is going to be an adventure. Without all this stuff to tie you down anymore you can go out there and do some new things,” said Carriere.
“It is about helping people to help them breathe again. They are so overwhelmed. We are there to make a difference. We are there to change their lifestyle,” said Ricard. “I don’t go in there just to get rid of their stuff. It is about mentally living a different life.”
According to Satterlee, this is exactly what happened. Not only does she feel comfortable inviting company over, she said her outlook has changed.
“I was in a very depressed state before I started doing this. I was grumbling, unhappy, down. The biggest help to me was getting my house cleaned and looking nice and presentable again,” she said, her voice breaking with emotion. “Angie helped me do that. I’m relieved. I’m very pleased. I’m proud of my home now. My doctor can’t believe the change in me. It is because my living environment has totally changed, so has my outlook. I’m more upbeat, more energetic. I’m just a totally different person.”