Cleaning House

Cleaning House

A unt Josephine’s teddy bear collection. The slinky dress that will fit again…someday. Stacks of t-shirts, including that threadbare but irreplaceable souvenir from the Bon Jovi concert in ’87. You don’t wear it anymore, but you just can’t seem to get rid of it.

Clutter—that’s what it is, piled up in closets, stashed in alcoves, stuffed under beds. We yearn to “get organized,” repeating the phrase like a mantra, but can’t (or maybe won’t) find the time.

Elaine Johnson has the time because it’s what she does. As a personal organizer, she restores untidy and underused spaces. And when it comes to getting rid of prized or, at any rate, once-prized possessions, she’ll help you make the decisions that seem too hard to make on your own.

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Edwardian Opulence at the Yale Center for British Art

Johnson started her business, Personal Touch Organizing, in 2006 after leaving a corporate marketing and communications job. Hoping to spend more time with her young children and burnt out on long hours, often far from home, she was in a mood to reorganize her life.

“I started looking at my strengths,” says Johnson. One in particular stood out. “I’m very organized. I’m a taskmaster.”

So she tested the waters, at first helping friends and friends of friends. “Less is more” is what she preaches and practices in everything from her organizing jobs to her website, which she admits is “not fancy” but “speaks to the kind of people who need me.”

Eager to immerse herself in the profession, Johnson joined the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), which meets monthly, and currently serves as President of the Connecticut chapter.

Johnson’s projects range from home de-cluttering (of a closet, a room, a basement, or an entire house) to more specialized projects like photo organization (analog or digital) and “home staging”—that is, making your house look great if you’re in the process of selling it. Looking at the “before” and “after” photos on her website, it’s clear which side of the divide you’d rather be on. Still, she promises a free initial consultation and discusses her hourly fee with clients as she assesses the job firsthand.

Reality shows like Hoarders, which chronicles individuals with possessions so excessive their homes are practically uninhabitable, have been good for her business, Johnson says, by alerting the general public to the fact that professional organizing help is available. But most of her clients aren’t like the people you see on television. Many of them don’t even have messy houses, Johnson says, but simply need assistance keeping a well-maintained home.

For that reason she often sees clients more than once, working with them to develop helpful habits. For example, “I love labeling,” she says. “If everything has a place where it belongs, and you have ten minutes, you know where to put everything.”

Johnson seems no-nonsense by nature, which fits her choice of profession well. However, while her personal approach leaves little room for sentimentality when de-cluttering—“I’m a big proponent of, ‘Out! Bye bye!’”—Johnson has the sympathy required to work with clients who feel differently.

More importantly, she’s got a barrage of suggestions that make parting with treasures (or “treasures,” as the case may be) less troubling.

Take those t-shirts from memorable times in your life, for instance. If their emotional significance truly makes donating seem too drastic (Johnson will even haul items to be donated or dumped when needed), she suggests clients have them made into a quilt, preserving the memories but reducing the precious drawer space they take up. If you’re clinging to a valuable or inherited item you can’t use, she may suggest selling it, then using the money to buy something you can. The clear transference—from original useless item to money to new, needed item—helps preserve the significance of that original piece but also lets you move forward.

With proactive, motivational thinking like that, spring cleaning doesn’t sound so bad.

Personal Touch Organizing
14 Pond View Terrace, Branford (map)
(203) 214-4545 | elaine@personaltouchorganizing.com
www.personaltouchorganizing.com

Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.

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Cara McDonough has been a journalist for over ten years. She writes regularly about family, parenting, religion and other issues for The Huffington Post and chronicles daily life on her personal blog. She lives in New Haven with her husband, two children and two dogs.

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