The idea of hiring a professional organizer just might create as much stress as the mess that you want to clean up but we met with a couple of At Home on the North Shore readers who made the call and brought in a pro to control their clutter and chaos.

Jacinthe Bennett or “Jiggy” as she is more affectionately known in many circles in Pictou County is one of those people that you seem to run into everywhere. Most Saturday mornings she has her coffee bar set up at the New Glasgow Farmers’ Market. Her customers are lined up for a chat as much as they are to grab a hot cup of java before they make their rounds to their favourite vendors. She’s a regular at the local Y and spends a lot of time at the grocery store stocking up on ingredients she needs for those home cooked meals she prepares daily for several members of the Weeks Crushers Hockey team that board at her home in Little Harbour.

Walking in to Jiggy’s house you would never guess that she would need to call in the help of a professional organizer. Her house is pretty much always Bed and Breakfast ready and she enjoys the welcoming atmosphere that she has created with her husband Tim. But to take a different spin on the old saying, “you never know what goes on behind closed doors,” Jiggy opens the door to her own little messy secret.

Now to be fair most of us have a room and a closet or two that catch all of the odds and ends and we stockpile the things that are just to good to throw away or might have a use someday. Jiggy’s room is in her basement where her school teacher husband retreats to read, mark tests and make lesson plans.

In the last couple of years Jiggy found that the pile in the middle of the rooms kept getting bigger and she was starting to worry that the “sprawl” might not be contained much longer.

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A basement office space became the catch all for excess in Jacinthe Bennett’s home in Little Harbour. Photo by Heather DeVouge.

Her problem like most people when faced with a daunting organization task was where to begin. She had to consider a few special pieces in the space that she and her husband could not part with, as well as a lot of personal items left behind when her two young adult children made their moves. She had read about professional organizers and decided her first step was to look for a little help.

Enter professional organizer Heather DeVouge. Her process is pretty much consistent wherever she goes. There is an initial consult that allows her to see the space, discuss the problems they are encountering, look for the root causes of the clutter and determine the end goal and use for the space.

“The goal is not to make the space “Pinterest Perfect” says Heather of her approach to organization. There are a lot of ways to achieve success without a lot of money. The goal is to make the space more functional, enjoyable and easy to maintain. Heather generally tries to customize a plan for each client. In Jiggy’s case she was looking more for direction than my time to sort things out. She really wanted to tackle this but needed some guidance and some affirmation that it was ok to get rid of things.

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With very little going to the landfill, repurposing and donating Jacinthe reveals her paired down, clutter-free room. Photo by Steve Smith, VisionFire Studios.

Letting go of items that are no longer useful to us is challenging and perplexing. “We feel the need for abundance,” says Heather. “We are a consumer driven society. It’s often more about quantity than quality. On average our homes are bigger today and have more storage space than they did 60 years ago but the self storage industry has been growing at the same time. We are buying and keeping too much.”

Once Jiggy got on a roll she says she found the process actually made her feel happier. “There was a lot of stuff that was still really good but I just didn’t need and it made me feel good knowing that it went somewhere that it was really needed.

“The process is very psychological,” says Heather who had to learn about the physical and psychological aspects of organizing when she took her certification. “The brain doesn’t want you to make these decisions because it causes anxiety. For some people the thought of getting rid of something triggers the same part of your brain as panic.”

While Jiggy is still a going concern and just in middle life she did pull out the term Swedish Death Cleaning. It’s not something that any baby boomers like to think about however there is a practicality to cleaning up and decluttering so your loved ones don’t have to wallow through decades of accumulation.

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The pantry in Kristina Jones’ county kitchen was lacking functionality and appeared to be cluttered because there was no system to how she inventoried her cooking supplies and implements. Photo by Heather DeVouge.

Jiggy’s project took about a month to complete. She invested in a few plastic bins and started to deconstruct the small mountain the had piled up in front of her husband’s desk. There wasn’t much that had to go to the landfill which made her feel much better about the process and she even found some uses for a few items that were buried and she forgot about. She still has a little more that she would like to tackle however she feels that she has regained control of the space and no longer feels like she has to keep anyone wondering what is behind the closed door.

When Kristina Jones and her husband Mitchell Fraser took possession of their century old farm house on the outskirts of the town of Westville they had most of their décor planned out and their belongings paired down so they could appreciate all of the little details that went into the remodeling of the home that had been in Kristina’s family for several generations. Like Jiggy’s house everything had a place and there was a place for everything. The only area that seems to elude her in her passion to maintain control over the natural compulsion for clutter was in her open door pantry.

For Kristina the utilization of an organizing professional had its greatest value in the generation of new storage and organizing ideas. While the pantry of her farmhouse kitchen was far from an eyesore it certainly craved a little attention and by implementing a few details and a different approach to grouping food and cooking implements you could say that she did achieve her Pinterest Perfect Pantry.

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Kristina (left) and Heather DeVouge of Whole Home Organizing enjoy a cup of coffee after they put the final touches in the pantry. The sight lines into the pantry are now more in keeping to Kristina’s simplified style. Photo by Steve Smith, VisionFire Studios.

“I had things grouped together in how they were packaged,” says Kristina. “However I learned that it is better to group things in how you would use them.” This made a lot of sense and actually is a time saver as well when you are rushing home to make a meal. Kristina also learned how a few small baskets can make a big difference when trying to isolate little packages or pantry items.

“Kristina’s pantry was just disorganized,” says Heather DeVouge when talking about the before and after pantry project. “I pulled everything out and sorted it. There was nothing to purge and then just put it back in but with a new order.” Heather also helped Kristina with some labeling so when she replenishes the pantry she will remember what items go where.

EDITORS NOTE: We loved Kristina and Mitchell’s farm house so much we want to go back for the full story of their century home cellar to roof top redo. Watch for their story in an upcoming issue of ah!


LOVE IT OR LET IT GO

Professional organizer Heather DeVouge shares stress-free steps to get rid of your mess.

We feel the need for abundance. We are a consumer-driven society.
It’s all about quantity over quality. It’s like we’re “keeping up with the Jones’”…  American homes are over 60% bigger than they were 40 years ago while the self-storage industry has been growing at the same time. We are buying and then keeping too much! Need to realize that stuff does not equal happiness. Decide how much is enough.

Find security with having more.
This may be common among people who lived through the Depression or grew up in low income families. They struggled to survive and find a sense of security in having more.

Thinking you might need it someday.
Decide when someday is. You could box it, date it and see. Or decide now:
What are the realistic chances I will need it – 20% or 80%?
What is the replacement cost?
How much space would be recovered if you let it go?
What is the worst thing that might happen if I needed it someday and no longer had it?

We feel a sense of obligation if it was given to you.
Many feel a sense of obligation to keep every gift or greeting card they’ve received, every letter or piece of art, or hand me down. You do not need to feel obligated to keep things if they are intruding on your space, time and sanity! At that point, the gift has become a burden. Take the fact that the item was a gift out of the equation.

We fear losing the memory if we get rid of something.
Many fear that if they get rid of an item, they’ll forget that person, experience or important time in their life. But those items are only physical objects…that can’t take place of your memories and you will not be dishonouring that memory by letting go of something you no longer need.

We’re holding on to the past.
Sometimes it’s hard to let go of items that remind you of a happy time in your life. A time where you felt youthful, happier, or successful. (Career award, or skinny jeans we once fit into). Stop holding on to the past and cherish what you have right now.

I paid good money for this.
Strategy: Accept that the money is spent.
No amount of hanging-onto an item can bring your money back. Whether you keep it or not, the money is gone. Cut your losses, let it be a lesson learned, and move on.

I could make money selling this.
Call this “garage sale syndrome” – when you have decided to let go of some things and yet they continue to linger, waiting for the big garage sale. Waiting for a garage sale simply extends the process. Instead, find a charity you’ll feel good about donating your items to.
When faced with the decision of letting go of items, a part of our brain lights up – the same area of the brain that lights up when you feel physical pain. Your brain views the loss of one of your valued possessions as the same as something that causes you physical pain. And the more you’ve committed emotionally or financially to an item, the more you want to keep it around. However, the more you let go of things and start to experience the positive feelings, the easier it becomes!

Steps that can help us in the decluttering process.
Ask yourself these questions for each item:
1. Do I love it?
2. Do I need it?
3. Do I use it?
4. If I saw this item in a store today, would I buy it?
5. When was the last time I used it?
6. When do I plan on using it?
7. Can I borrow or rent it?
8. What’s the worst that will happen if I got rid of it?
If you answered “yes” to any of the first 3 questions…keep it! If you answered no or you are unsure, ask yourself the remaining questions. Question #8 is perhaps the most poignant and sobering question…but one that makes you take action and often allows you to let go.

What are the benefits of clearing out the clutter?

Save time because your home is arranged efficiently.
You’ll get your day to day tasks done more quickly and no longer have to hunt for misplaced items.
• Have more time to spend with friends and family relaxing and enjoying activities you love to do!
• Save money because you’ll no longer lose things and have to buy replacements.
• Lowers stress and worry.
• Improve your relationships by alleviating the strain clutter can cause.
• Feel comfortable welcoming guests into your home.
• Enjoy your home, family and life even more!
• Feeling more calm and energized.
• Your mind sharpens and increases your ability to concentrate and focus.

What can be done to prevent clutter?
• Everything needs a home.
• Don’t bring it into the home (don’t buy or accept things you don’t need or want, stop subscriptions, sort out junk mail at the post office, etc.)
• If one is added, then one needs to go. If you buy a new shirt, make sure you take one out.

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Crystal Murray
Crystal likes to think about her forays in journalism like interval training. " I have had a wonderful freedom to be home when I needed to be and work when the spirit moved me. In the spaces between I have learned things about myself, my family and my community that I hope will find a rightful place in the new and refreshed pages of At Home on the North Shore. "