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Local organizers give tips, tricks for tackling clutter

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News
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There’s a reason professional organizer Jen Heard has taken graduate level psychology courses.

That’s because when it comes to getting people to part with their belongings — a hot topic for many at the start of every new year — it requires a certain amount of knowing why people are so attached to their stuff to begin with. One way Heard, who works primarily in Oakland County but has clients all over Metro Detroit, gets people to let go of items is by passing them on to organizations or charities that will offer them a good new home (see box for suggestions).

“There’s not as much sadness or guilt if they know it’s going to a good home,” said Heard, owner of Clean Sweep Consulting, who works with two partner organizers and a team of subcontractors.

As 2018 takes hold, cluttered homeowners all over Metro Detroit are looking around their homes, vowing to make this the year that they finally get organized. And it’s becoming an even more pressing issue for a growing number of baby boomers as they retire and decide to downsize their homes.

Local organizers say January — which also is National Get Organized month — is a very busy month for them as people assess their homes and “stuff” after the holidays.

“People are just generally overwhelmed from Christmas — between the decorations and toys and mess the kitchens are in,” said Heard, who has found two wedding rings and a World Series ring while working with some of her clients.

Overwhelmed indeed. A 2016 University of New Mexico study looked at the associations between people, their belongings and how they viewed their homes and the more cluttered their home, the more negative associations they had about it.

But not everyone has the time or wherewithal for a marathon “tidying” session as Japanese organizer Marie Kondo recommends. Still, there are definitely places to start. Local organizers offered some of their tips and trick. It starts with having a plan and setting aside time for getting your problem areas in order.

Turn your hangers around

If you have clothes you haven’t touched in years but aren’t sure where to start, Donna Lindley, professional organizer and owner of Organize Your World in Rochester Hills, suggests turning around all the hangers in your closet. As you wear things throughout the year, turn the hanger the right way.

At the end of the year, you’ll see what you truly wear and don’t.

“The hangers don’t lie,” laughs Lindley, who also recommends having a bin right in your closet for items you’re ready to donate.

When it comes to getting organized, Lindley says two of the keys to success are carving out time for it and having the right systems in place for staying organized. She says even for clients who weren’t taught the fundamentals of organization growing up, it’s never too late to learn these skills even as an adult.

“We have so many clients and they’ve called and said, ‘I’m hopeless’ and what they realize is especially when they are part of the process is that they’re learning along the way,” says Lindley. “And they have buy-in because they’re helping to create the systems” for getting organized.

Have a plan

Fenton-based professional organizer Betty Huotari of Logical Placement LLC agrees that not only setting aside time is key for getting organized, but also having a plan. That means don’t just wake up on a Saturday and dig right into your cluttered closet. Instead, measure your space for shelves or get a scarf organizer if you’re going to be tackling your closet.

“They’d have more success if they do a little planning,” says Huotari.

Heard, of Clean Sweep, says one of the ways she helps her clients downsize is by bringing in an interior designer who actually uses a computer-assisted design program that helps them arrange their furniture in their new house. That way, they can see what fits and what won’t.

“It’s a matter of prioritization,” says Heard.

And that means starting with what could be passed on or purged.

“Rule No. 1 is you purge first,” says Heard. “Otherwise you’re wasting time with things that aren’t going stay.”

Clear bins

For those tackling big jobs like a disheveled basement, Huotari recommends getting a shelving system — you can find them anywhere from Home Depot to Target — and then organizing items by category. Put all your holiday decorating items together, for example.

Use clear bins and make sure you label them, says Huotari.

“I have one client where she loved to decorate for each season and what frustrated her is she couldn’t find it in the basement,” remembers Huotari. “She went to Walmart and bought some shelving. We bought clear bins and five years later, it’s still in place.”

One organizing tool that continues to grow in popularity is using a more digital approach, such as scanning photos, kids’ artwork or other documents rather than keeping a hard copy. Huotari is a big fan of books.

Just remember to back up your computer so you don’t lose everything if something happens, says Huotari.

Huotari says she often asks her clients, especially older ones, what legacy they want to leave to their children. She worked with an older couple who relocated to mid-Michigan to be closer to their son.

“Their garage was packed from top to bottom,” said Huotari. “The son mentioned, ‘One of my greatest fears is you’re going to leave this to us kids.’ ”

Huotari worked with the couple to downsize their belonging, organize it and their son was so grateful.

“The biggest gift you can give them (your kids) is a de-cluttered, simplified home,” she said. “And people recognize that and don’t want to do that to their kids.”

(313) 223-4686

Twitter: @mfeighan

Pass it on in 2018

An array of local organizations accept used furniture, clothes and other household items.

Furniture Bank of Southeastern Michigan: Accepts gently used mattresses, box springs, sofas, dressers, dining sets and more. No tears or stains allowed. 333 N. Perry Street, Pontiac. Call (248) 332-1300 or visit

Humble Design: Accepts bed frames, lamps, dish sets, artwork, desk, dressers, throw pillows, TVs, toys and more. 180 N. Saginaw, Pontiac. (248) 243-7144 or email

Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore: Accepts appliances, doors, flooring, light fixtures, toilets and home decor. In Oakland County, call donation pickup line (248) 365-4090. In Macomb County, call (586) 263-1540 or email

Dress for Success Michigan: Accepts gently used professional work attire for low-income women who need clothing for job interviews. Call (734) 712-0517 or visit

Win ‘Remodelista’ book

Need some inspiration as you tackle your clutter in 2018? Win “Remodelista: The Organized Home” (Artisan Books), written by the editors of Send design writer Maureen Feighan an email at by 5 p.m. Jan. 25.

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