New Year, Better Organized
A professional organizer offers advice and insight on the matter of clearing clutter
By Rachel Collins – Dated Jan 4, 07
As the ball dropped in Times Square this New Year’s Eve, were you wondering how you were going to fit your new holiday gifts in your home? Where the new shirts and shoes would go? How you’d find space for the new kitchen appliance or latest gadget? Luckily, New Year’s Eve is not only a time for revelry but a time for resolutions and cleaning house, literally. For Meryl Starr, owner of the organization company Let’s Get Organized and author of “The Home Organizing Workbook,” and her latest release, “The Personal Organizing Workbook,” every day is an opportunity to keep or reaffirm that familiar New Year’s resolution to remain tidy. Ms. Starr, who founded her company in New York City 14 years ago, said she was always an organized person but had not found her calling until one fateful day in a friend’s kitchen. “I was staying at a friend’s house,” she said in a recent interview. “I was trying to make breakfast, but everything was a mess.” All she needed was a little compliance from her messy friend, and Ms. Starr was in all her glory organizing the space. The task took all day, but the payoff was a neat and organized kitchen and, as it turned out, a new career. “It’s been the perfect job for me,” Ms. Starr said. The business of organizing has become a serious one in the last five to 10 years, and Ms. Starr, now almost a decade and a half into her career, has been at the forefront of her profession. Thanks to the San Francisco-based Chronicle Books, which approached Ms. Starr in 2004 to write her first book on home organizing, she has become a nationally cited expert on the subject, appearing on television shows—Bravo’s “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and HGTV’s “Smart Solutions”—and in major publications, including InStyle, Ladies Home Journal, Woman’s Day and Real Simple magazines. “It was challenging,” she said of writing the book, “but it was great to be able to share these ideas that are second nature to me.
“It’s just a matter of dividing the home up into the rooms, and then, you know, thinking about what is the reader looking for,” she said. “Is there too much clutter? Not having enough storage space or closet space?” Ms. Starr approached the book the same way she approaches a home in need of her help—room by room. The kitchen, living room, laundry room and home office are all spaces that can attract chaos, for different reasons. Space is of the utmost concern to Ms. Starr; one could even say it is the backbone of her business. Her clients can never have enough of it, and the lack of it can bleed into parts of a person’s life in ways you wouldn’t think possible. The culprit robbing citizens of their space, she declared, is clutter. “Clutter is such a big issue. I think once you get organized, you don’t want to bring clutter into your life,” she said.
See ORGANIZED, Page R2 Ms. Starr offered a timely example of clutter that can be excised from your life: gifts. “If it’s something you don’t like, then don’t feel like you have to keep it,” Ms. Starr said matter-of-factly. “Once it’s yours,” she reasoned, “you can do whatever you want with it. “In our personal spaces, we should be surrounded by things that we enjoy, because they are our spaces.”
While re-gifting or simply throwing away gifts doesn’t seem like the sentimental option, Ms. Starr is quick to point out that it is our overabundance of stuff that eventually drives us to an unhealthy stress level. “I think that people … are so busy, they are so stressed, they just can’t handle it anymore,” she said. “This is one of the ways to decrease the stress.”
Getting organized and getting rid of clutter can be addictive, according to Ms. Starr, because it feels good to simplify. When your house looks good and feels good, you have the “motivation to go on,” she said.
The best way to get started organizing is to assess what you have. One of Ms. Starr’s practical tips for organizing drawers and closets—which can easily be translated to organizing any room—is to start by emptying the closet and laying its contents out for review. With a sharp eye focused on culling out the clutter, each item and its usefulness should be considered. Clothes that don’t fit, or have fallen out of favor, should be removed. The remaining items can then be categorized and hung, folded and stacked accordingly.
For Ms. Starr, who eventually hopes to organize everyone’s lives through her own television show, the books are just an extension of her everyday life, both personally and professionally. While she is admittedly very organized—her closet is color-coded—she also believes one’s personal space should be filled with things that make its inhabitant happy. For example, when her teenage daughter’s room went the untidy way of most teens, Ms. Starr respected her daughter’s choice and simply asked for the door to her bedroom to remain closed.
It is just such tales, from Ms. Starr’s own experiences, that help her to relate to clients. While she understands not everyone is built to organize as she is, she sees definite room for improvement.
“You can’t look at the whole house,” she warned, “do something small, and the difference in the energy is so good you just keep going. Getting organized is a life changing experience.”
Meryl Starr’s new book—”The Home Organizing Workbook”—offers frank advice and lots of inspirational photographs of successful organization techniques.
Hudson Valley Connoisseur
February – March 2007
First, You Have To Want To Be Neat
People: Organizer Meryl Starr – Judith Linscott
February, 08, 2007
It’s 1:15 p.m. on a recent Sunday at the Merrit Bookstore in Millbrook, NY, and Meryl Starr is holding up her own reading. She’s greeting friends as if it’s a cocktail party: She sets up a workout date (scheduling it verbally into a teeny recorder fished from her bag); she discusses her kid’s sports team with another mom. She goo-goos somebody’s baby.
Hey! We don’t have time for this. Starr is here to read from her most recent book, "The Personal Organizing Workbook: Solutions for a Simpler, Easier Life," and this chatting in the aisle thing on our time seems a bit disorganized to me.
Not to mention annoying. So I’m prepared not to like her when she finally takes to the podium.
Well, the gal wins me over, because she’s cute. She has a great smile. She has glossy dark hair and she moves around a lot. And she is incredibly, almost unbelievably, enthusiastic about what she does. She’s on a mission.
By the time she’s through regaling us with tales of decluttering the lives of the desperate, I’m ready to leap to the front of the Dump the Junk brigade.
Starr (yes, it’s her real name, sort of; Starr was her middle name) started her business in 1993 after she spent six hours helping a friend clean out and organize her kitchen. When the friend’s husband came home and saw the miracle Starr had wrought, he said, "You could charge for this." Et voila!
Starr launched Let’s Get Organized and built up a clientele from her original base in New York City (she now lives in LaGrangeville, NY) and points around the country. She wrote a piece on organizing for Rosie magazine; a publisher called and her first book was born. Like the new one, "The Home Organizing Workbook: Clearing Your Clutter, Step by Step" (2004) is glossy, well-organized and easy to read, with nice color photographs. Whether or not they’ll get you organized is a whole separate issue.
Hey, it’s like losing weight or giving up alcohol. "You’ve got to want to do it," said Starr, who also claims there’s virtually no one who’s willing to do it that she can’t help. (Listen up, all you lost causes).
To Starr, junk is an emotional issue. There’s stuff you love (go ahead, keep it; just get it organized) and then there’s stuff that’s just in the way (get rid of it). In the end, "You’re doing this for yourself," she emphasizes. "You’re going to feel so goood when you’re through. Trust me."
This woman has a gift. In high school, Starr actually color-coordinated her closet; in fact, she organized within each color from dark to light. She thought it was perfectly normal (her brothers, who knew better, called her closet The Museum and brought their friends to stare). You might imagine Starr would have little sympathy for the clutter-addicted. You’d be wrong. She understands we have fears (I’ll never again find another pair of pantyhose in this shade of mauve) and ridiculous attachments (my third-grade boyfriend gave this to me!) and plain neurosis (it’s a can opener! It works!). Good missionary that she is, she wants to show you a Better Way.
And that, she says, is what sets her books apart from the plethora of organizers out there. "The content is really pretty similar," she admits. "Mine is very motivational. It’s inspirational."
Once you get beyond your fear and decide to do it, she says, (with nary a hint of irony) "The rest is just organizing." And, to those who mumble, Easy for YOU to say, she responds, "It’s a process. Start small—one closet. One drawer. There’s no way to get rid of clutter on the first round. You need to give yourself time." And she means it — like a year.
Well, it took years to get to this point, so I suppose it should take awhile to get out of it. "Make little goals for yourself," she said. "That’s what you do with every part of your life. You need to take it down to the lowest level. Just say, ‘Let me cross one little thing off the list.’"
Start in a place that’s disturbing you, she said, say the bedroom or the kitchen. Don’t think about the whole house; you’ll be overwhelmed.
Phase One, she said, is to get rid of unwanted stuff. Phase Two is to organize what you do want. "It’s a process," she said, more than once. "There’s no way you’re going to get rid of clutter on the first round."
Her books are organized, she likes to point out, so that you don’t have to read the whole book: pick a problem, find your page. Like "The Home Organizing Workbook," Starr’s "Personal Organizing" book is divided into sections — Stash Your Stuff, Manage Your Relationships, etc. — with questionnaires and directions to helpful pages.
Is your shoulder aching at the end of the day from lugging your purse around? See page 34 for ways to give new life to your old pocketbook.
Are there certain responsibilities that always seem to fall through the cracks? See page 73 for tips on delegating and eliminating.
How many questions do you ask before you accept an invitation? Believe it or not, Starr would have you ask five (page 116 will illuminate).
You get the drift. "This book promises to make your dreams come true," declared Starr. Well. Maybe, maybe not. A few personal reviewers on Amazon.com thought not. Several loved the book. Maybe you need to have Starr herself at your side, cheering you along. You can, for $150 an hour. (Which, when you think about it, is about what you’d pay a shrink to help you figure out why you’re hoarding all those plastic bags. And your shrink doesn’t make house calls. Which, when you think about it, is probably just as well.)
You might need one session, you might need 10. You might need a maintenance coaching session. Starr, who hopes to write another book (there’s no end to organization issues, apparently) and eventually her own television show, will do it all.
She insists her books can change lives. "By doing this, you’re going to make yourself feel so good, you’re never going to want to go back." she claims. "Ever."
For information on the books or "Let’s Get Organized," go to firstname.lastname@example.org.