Home Improvement

Published on Thu, Sep 25, 2008
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Home Improvement

Home organization can lead to better head space

By Tara Nelson

Having a clean and organized house is like reading that classic Russian novel. Most people would rather have already accomplished it than pursue the task at hand. And for some, the very thought is downright exhausting.

But while not everyone is raised or genetically predisposed to being an organized genius, there are some simple steps everyone can take to make their lives easier, said Shalana Lake, of SP Services, a professional organization and cleaning service based in Birch Bay.

Lake said hiring a professional organizer can help an individual get inspired and motivated to get their belongings – and their lives – in order.

Lake, who was born in Nova Scotia, Canada, earned her degree in dental assisting from Orange Coast College in southern California. She moved to Whatcom County 14 years ago when her then-husband was transferred for his work. “When I moved here, I felt like I had come home because it reminded me of Nova Scotia, beautiful nature and trees and water,” she said. “I realized then I would never go back there.”

Lake said ever since doing chores as a child on the farm, she enjoyed cleaning and her 14 years as an office manager at a dentist’s office gave her additional experience in organization.“I grew up with a lot of self-discipline and chores, which helped. I really love cleaning and organizing, it’s like second nature,” she said.

Q: How did you get interested in helping people get organized?

A: A few years back, I moved to Seattle but then I decided to move back because I missed Whatcom County. I was going to stay with a friend and I gave away 90 percent of my furnishings and 60 percent of my clothing. So when I was coming back, I felt so cleansed and lighter, like I was starting over. So I’m not as attached to things anymore, with the exception of photos and my cunila dolls, of course.
I also decided I like the feeling of being able to pick up and move quickly and have feng shui in my house. And you can always replace things that you need when you’re in a certain space.

More than just organizing, though, I feel like my job is to help motivate people to get things done. Some people tell me they would never have done this if I hadn’t been there to help them do it. I’m a giver, and maybe that’s why. I like making people feel good.

Q: Is there a psychological element to clutter?

A: Yes, definitely. I think it’s an emotional thing for a lot of people to hang on to things that they don’t really have a lot of use for. I’ve been into some homes and all their space is taken up with things to where they are surrounded by mounds of stuff and there is just a little pathway through it all.

On the other hand, I had a customer who was going through marriage counseling tell me recently that since I’ve been going into their home twice a month it’s helped make their relationship better because they didn’t have the time or energy to put into cleaning their house, so that gave me a real satisfaction. It was a nice complement to their work while they were going through marriage counseling.

I also think it can help a person’s self-esteem. When you go to someone’s home and you do something for them and they come home into a very clean, organized house, it makes them feel happy because it’s one less thing they have to do.

Q: Have there been any customers you were not able to help?

A: I had one customer where I entered her home and there were no open spaces in her home anywhere, it was all filled with things. At first I was overwhelmed, and after working with her for a few weeks, I realized I wasn’t going to change that because she wasn’t really willing to let any of those things go. She did not want to throw anything away. So after awhile I gave up because I felt like I was wasting her money. She just wasn’t emotionally ready to let things go.

The bottom line is when you’re working with a customer they have to be willing to say goodbye to certain things and lose those attachments or you really can’t do much for them.

There have also been people I’ve met that I just didn’t feel comfortable with, but I don’t turn down very many people. If my gut doesn’t agree with the situation, I won’t take the job.

Q: What about rates?

A: I generally charge the same hourly rate for indoor and outdoor. I also charge almost the same hourly rate as I did when I started the business, although I did give myself a $1 an hour raise a month and a half ago. But I can somewhat go in and bid a job with a fair degree of accuracy. I usually do a free estimate, too.

I have liability insurance. It was unbelievable. Some people have so much stuff, there is just a path, it was starting to affect me psychologically.

Once you go in and you actually start and you go in on a regular basis, that will give them the motivation to pick up in between so they won’t need to retain my services as often.

Q: Do you have any helpful hints for our readers?

A: Going through closets once a year and updating your wardrobe is a good one. While you go through it, try to be totally unemotional about it and consciously ask yourself if you want to donate each item or save it.

Other good questions to keep in mind are how often you wear it, when was the last time you wore it. If you haven’t worn it in two years, you should probably donate it. It’s difficult, though. Some women will not throw anything away.

It’s all about keeping similar things in similar places to make them simple and easy to access. For example, you put things away in the closet if you have no use for it but want to keep it. However, you will label it. Putting your keys in a specific place also helps. Being aware to keep the things around you that you really need to use and then everything you don’t use on a daily basis, just get rid of it.

And then it’s easy to actually find things because you don’t have much clutter!

In the kitchen, just keeping objects and appliances like the toaster and the blender off the counter is huge. Instead, keep everything you need closely accessible in a cupboard. Also, don’t have 15,000 containers with no matching lids.

In the living room, magazines, newspapers and mail often get strewn about. Get a special basket for your mail, throw out old magazines and put the newest ones in a specific place. Have a section by your computer where you put your bills that will be paid.

And remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you start somewhere, it’s always a good start. Start with one room at a time, and it will build momentum as you go. People try to do everything at once and then get overwhelmed. Just start with one project at a time.

Shalana Lake provides professional cleaning, organizing, house sitting services, as well as skin care therapy through her business, SP Services in Birch Bay. She can be reached by calling 360/371-2352.