By Jane Applegate
Sometimes a simple act of kindness spawns a successful business. That’s what happened to Susan Kranberg, founder of Simple Solutions, a professional organizing company based in Brooklyn, NY.
Kranberg, was working at a non-profit when she devised a simple, color-coded system to help a friend who was seriously injured in a bike accident keep track of her paperwork. “I didn’t intend to do this for a living, but I like helping people do things that are tough for them to do themselves,” says Kranberg.
Based on that initial success, she started working with seniors to de-clutter their homes and lives, conducting group sessions similar to other 12-step programs. From there, she began working with a variety of private clients ranging from serious hoarders to an elderly man who was paying about $50,000 a year to store a lifetime of possessions in six storage units.
“He had no family, no one to pass things on to, but the possessions were his connection to the people he loved,” says Kranberg, adding that many of her older clients are motivated to eliminate possessions because they don’t want to burden their children with their stuff when they die. “When doing this kind of work, you become a witness to people’s lives,” says Kranberg. “I don’t judge them, but I need to uncover what’s there.”
Many people are aware of hoarding because of reality television shows. Yet hoarding is a mental illness, not to be taken lightly. Kranberg will work with a hoarder, but only if he or she is also seeking professional psychological help. And, the hoarder, not a family member, has to hire her directly. You might think just clearing out the house is the solution, but not so. Kranberg says removing a hoarder’s possessions can be traumatic and does not cure the mental illness.
However, if a person’s hoarding becomes a threat to the person’s health or safety, family members can contact Adult Protective Services or similar agencies in their area. “Some people are buried in stuff,” says Kranberg. “At that point, the city can intervene, especially if there are infestations of rodents or insects.”
But, what if you are just plagued with piles of clutter and an abundance of clothes or household items? The first step is to really look at your stuff. Get out all the bags and boxes and see what you have to deal with. “Then, start small,” she advises.
Kranberg, who charges between $100 and $125 an hour for her services, says “organizing is a process, not an event,” and offers these tips to help you get started.
- Visualize what you want your home or office to look like. Make a wish list. Don’t limit your imagination.
- Start: Begin in the room where you spend the most time, or in a small area. It could be a pile of papers which is causing you the most distress.
- Develop a goal. Just one to begin. No long to-do lists.
- Prioritize what needs to be done. Break your goal down into manageable tasks.
- Challenge assumptions of “must have.” Ask yourself: Do I have room for it? When did I last use or wear it? Can I get the information online?
- Decide what to keep, toss or gift. This creates space.
- De-clutter surfaces (tables, floor, dresser tops). Remove unnecessary items that belong elsewhere. Organize like things together.
- Containerize. Find the right storage container. Stuff lying around looks messy and takes up more space.
- Schedule organizing time. Put it on your daily calendar. Be realistic—such as “once a week, I will spend an hour or once a day, I will spend 10 minutes.”
- 10. Bookend your actions. Set a kitchen timer; call a friend when you start a task and share your accomplishments.
- 11. Ask for help. Consider getting a “clutter buddy.” Make organizing fun.
- 12. Enjoy your success. Reward yourself as you go along.
Jane Applegate is the national correspondent for SmallBizDaily.com, author of four books on small business success and co-founder of the FabulousFemaleNetwork.com. The Applegate Group is a multimedia production company.