June 17, 2024
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June 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

It’s a Family Affair

Shepsi organizes independently.

Can hiring and working with a professional organizer be a family affair? Anecdotally, I can relate experiences working with husbands and wives and also with families. For this column, I will be concentrating on the role a husband takes throughout the process of working with an organizer.

Way back before COVID, I helped a young couple take control of their compact and crowded townhouse. Our first session was on a Sunday and the three of us worked together for a short time, concentrating on the kitchen until he bowed out, saying the kitchen is his wife’s province.

The next session was in the middle of the week so the husband was at the office. The wife and I went to town clearing out overstuffed drawers and eliminating piles in their bedroom. We reorganized her entire side of the room and she was overjoyed with the results. Upon my next visit, another mid-week session, I was surprised to see the husband at home, casually dressed. He explained that his wife had been having so much fun transforming her side of the room it prompted him to take off from work to have a decluttering session with me. I was thrilled that this husband was not only supportive of his wife’s wish to get organized but joined the process as well.

Another instance of a supportive husband stands out for me. My job was to help a senior couple move to an assisted living facility. While the husband, who hired me, encouraged his wife to be part of the decision-making, it was clear he enjoyed the process more than she did. He masterfully took on the bulk of the project. This is not always the case. Early in my career as a professional organizer, a woman sought me out to discuss using my services. I spoke with her at length about her organizing goals and needs. Being that I was still a newbie, I was keeping my rates low until I gained more experience. When I told her my very fair prices, I naively believed my services were so affordable that she would hire me on the spot. There was a moment of silence before the woman said, “If only my husband would let me.”

Indeed, sometimes purging and reorganizing irritates or angers a husband who may consider it a waste of money to pay a stranger to go through his belongings. Besides feeling threatened, he may feel he will be judged while his possessions get donated or tossed without his consent. Without anyone to explain the process of organizing to him, he may have preconceived notions that stand as a barrier to his wife’s desire for getting help to restore order to their home.

How could he know that professional organizers have a strange goal of making themselves obsolete. That’s right. A good organizer sets out to teach organizing and often time management skills to each client so they can eventually do the work on their own. They are cheerleaders for their clients. The money spent working with an organizer is an investment.

Of course, women can also be in the dark about the benefits of an organizer. One of my cringiest moments was attending a fundraising event where my services were to be raffled off. Part of the fun of these events is the viewing of each of the goods and services available to win. I reached the iDeclutter prize offering and heard the woman behind me say, as if on cue, “Win an organizer! Huh! I’ll show everyone how to organize. You walk around with a garbage can and throw everything out.”

This is a good opportunity to bust the myth that effective organizing must be done silently. My client and I were clearing out papers in the home office, a tedious job that can be brightened by a little conversation, when her husband arrived home early. He sat down in the next room where I could not see him. Every time one of us spoke, the man would clear his throat as if in disapproval. After the fourth throat clearing, I took his message and stopped talking. My client would attempt to initiate a conversation and all I would say was “hmm.” The throat clearing ceased. Is it a coincidence she never called me again? I think not.

After that day, I added a key question to my initial questionnaire: “Does your husband support you in your goal to get organized?” If a wife does not know, I ask her to discuss this with her husband before going forward. One prospective client was honest and told me her husband does not want her to clean out the garage because it houses his workshop and tools. Nevertheless, she persisted and scheduled a session. Two days before our appointment, I called to confirm and the woman said her husband was disturbed to think anything in his garage would be touched. From then on, I decided if a wife says her husband does not support her intentions to get organized, I will wish her well and end the conversation.

I have many more lovely stories of supportive husbands who have thanked me for helping their wives take the difficult steps to get organized. One particularly caring husband contacted me on behalf of his wife with a list of questions she had in order to save her time. I also have fond stories of working with children, both young and grown. The day after my session with two sisters under the age of 10, their mother told me they went to school and proudly announced to their friends that their Mommy’s organizer “fixed their rooms.”

Often, I work with widows who are downsizing or who would like to age in place and want to make the necessary modifications to reduce their risk of falling in their homes. They like to reminisce about their husbands, including stories of these men’s fine character traits. I asked one widow if her husband would have supported her decision to hire an organizer. She believes he would have said, “If it makes my wife happy, then I’m happy.”


Ellen Smith is Central Jersey’s kosher organizer and a member of NAPO, the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals. For over 15 years, Ellen has helped people restore order and create calm in their homes and souls. See Ellen’s work on Instagram @ideclutterbyellen. Contact Ellen for a complimentary phone consultation at ideclutter407@gmail.

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