Organisational home-gurus making a tidy sum

Some professional organisers here advocate having a tidy space to have a less stressful life

While sorting through the clutter in the living room of her three-room HDB flat, Ms Chris Lim was surprised to find six refill packets of fabric softener.

The 27-year-old administrative assistant says: "My mother and I had bought them separately while they were on offer, but because we did not put them in one place, we thought we didn't have enough and ended up buying too many."

Last month, she engaged Ms Kris Tan, 33, an organising expert from The Declutter Professionals, to help tidy up her living room, sections of which had turned into storage over the years.

Ms Lim, who is single, lives in the flat with her parents, two siblings and an aunt.

During the three-hour session, Ms Tan sifted through the items in the living room, throwing away or donating things that had not been used in the past year or two and reorganising the rest.

  • Five tips

  • Organising gurus Georgina Wong, founder of Asian Professional Organisers, and Nathalie Ricaud, who owns Get Organised & Beyond, give tips on how to bring order to chaos. Both are part of the Australasian Association of Professional Organisers, an industry association for professional organisers in the region.

    1 Start with the goal in mind

    Visualise the space you want to have. This keeps you motivated when the going gets tough, for instance, when you find it difficult to discard things.

    2 Start small if time is short

    If you want to organise the kitchen, start with one area - such as the refrigerator - and move on to another the next day. Decide on how much time to commit and secure a slot in your timetable.

    3 Put visibility and easy access as priorities

    Remember: You are unlikely to use something you cannot see.

    4 Store it smart, store it well

    To maximise space, use the full vertical height. For example, hang knives on a magnetic strip on the kitchen wall.

    Group similar items together and keep them closest to where they will be used. Always return the item to its storage after use to save time searching for it later.

    5 A new item in, an old one out

    Make it a habit to give away or discard an old item each time you buy something new.

The mountain of clothes on one side of the sofa, for instance, was placed in the wardrobe in her room, while a stack of old study notes next to the shoe rack was put into a box.

Ms Lim spent $110 on the session and felt it was worth it.

She says: "If I had not sought help, I would not have realised that it's important to designate a place for everything."

She is among a growing group of people here who are turning to professional organisers to declutter and organise their homes, and occasionally even their desks at work.

To get started, most ask their clients to send them a photograph of the problem area or conduct a site visit to assess how much work is involved and what storage equipment is needed.

This is followed by a visit to get things sorted, discarded and reorganised. This can take from half a day to a few days. Fees range from $30 to $125 an hour.

One of the earliest companies here to offer such a service is Asian Professional Organisers, founded by Hong Kong-born, Singapore permanent resident Georgina Wong in 2011. Ms Wong, who is in her early 50s, now sees six to eight clients a month, up from a couple two years ago.

French national Nathalie Ricaud, 48, who is also a Singapore permanent resident, has seen her revenue grow by 30 to 50 per cent since she founded the company, Get Organised & Beyond, in 2013.

Then there are Ms Tan and Ms Haw-San Au-Yong, who founded The Declutter Professionals and Edits Inc respectively, in 2012.

Ms Tan, who also works as a financial planner, handles about one case a month. Ms Au-Yong, who is in her 30s, sees about five cases a month. Both firms have received more inquiries over the past two years.

Ms Au-Yong, who used to set up warehouses and their processes, believes that the demand for professional home-organisational services has always been there, but it is only in recent years that people have become more aware that such help is available.

She says: "This could be due to media coverage on the profession and the influence of Marie Kondo."

Kondo is a Tokyo-based organising guru, whose books have sold millions of copies and have been translated from Japanese into other languages.

She is said to have propelled decluttering into the mainstream, fuelling the trend of the minimalist lifestyle - the belief that a clean house leads to a clean mind and that simplifying one's life leads to greater happiness - in developed countries such as the United States and Australia.

In Singapore, those who seek expert help to purge their homes vary, according to experts interviewed by The Straits Times.

There is the singleton who wants to rent out a room in his flat, the eager parent waiting for the arrival of a baby or the parent with a child transitioning to primary school.

There are also expatriates who have either just arrived and want to organise their new home or who are leaving and need to get rid of junk.

Ms Au-Yong has also helped senior citizens planning to move to a smaller apartment after their adult children have set up their own homes.

Most clients are looking to organise physical clutter, though a few have asked for help with digital clutter, including e-mail, files and photos, and even with time management.

These issues may come hand in hand. Ms Ricaud says: "A physically cluttered space usually indicates a cluttered mind and some may also have problems with time management."

While a life event may trigger someone to take action, Ms Wong, who also works as a real-estate agent, says people should not wait for things to happen before they get organised.

Referring to studies that have shown that decluttering can eliminate 40 per cent of housework in a home, she says: "Being organised saves time and money. You don't have to waste time looking for things and end up paying the bills late because you cannot find the statement. Being organised is about living a less stressful life."

But there is still a stigma to getting help. Ms Au-Yong says: "People are afraid of being seen as lazy or called a hoarder. But organising, like cooking, is a skill that needs to be learnt."

One woman in her early 30s, who wants to be known only as Tiffany, hired Ms Ricaud to declutter her master bedroom and study.

Her baby was due in two weeks and she wanted things organised before the child arrived. Tiffany says: "I wouldn't have known where to start... And once things get sorted out and organised, it is easier for me to keep them that way."


Money well spent

For the past few years, Madam F.C. Han, 41, has wanted to get the storeroom and toy room in her three- room condominium unit organised.

The mother of four never found the time.

Meanwhile, the storeroom - in which beach toys, bicycles, toilet rolls and other household supplies were stuffed - had become so packed that she started to store things in her kitchen toilet.

Over in the toy room, toys were spilling out of the 1.6m-tall shelves onto the floor and her children - aged four, eight, 10 and 12 - often could not find what they wanted.

Madam Han, a civil servant, says: "The older children's toys were mixed up with the younger children's toys. They could not play with some toys as the sets were incomplete."

In December 2015, she learnt that a friend's friend, Ms Haw-San Au-Yong, works as a professional organiser and decided to seek her help. Madam Han was renovating her home then and thought that she would take the chance to declutter the two rooms and the kitchen toilet.

Ms Au-Yong and her team of three workers took three days to complete the task.

On the first day, they took everything in the rooms out into the corridor and arranged them by category. Stationery, for instance, went into one box and tissue paper and other household items went into another.

The second day was the most painful for Madam Han and her children - they had to decide what to keep and chuck. They eventually threw out or donated half of the things. She says: "With the workers waiting, we had to decide quickly."

On the last day, the remaining things were placed in their new spaces. The kitchen toilet was cleaned out and the items kept in new boxes in the storeroom.

A floor-to-ceiling shelving system replaced the old shelves in the toy room with the younger children's toys on the lower levels and the older children's toys on the higher ones. The room became so spacious that Madam Han could add a foldable bed for her new helper.

Madam Han, who paid about $3,000 for the re-organisation, including the shelving system and storage boxes, feels that it was worth it. "I wouldn't have had the time and energy to do it on my own. And even if I had, I wouldn't have done it so systematically and would have taken very much longer."


Semblance of order in just two hours

Professional organiser Haw-San Au-Yong dug out a container from the deep recesses of my refrigerator and opened it. The food had turned so mouldy, I could not tell her what it was.

Ms Au-Yong, who is in her 30s, was at my five-room HDB flat in Upper Bukit Timah on Wednesday to help declutter some of my spaces and, as she put it, "make the biggest difference in the shortest time possible without throwing much away".

But I had to discard the mouldy food, of course.

Since my helper left last October, my refrigerator had not been in a good state. After taking an item out, I would stuff it back into any available space before rushing on to the next task. As most of my containers were opaque, I was unable to easily see what was inside and left them be, allowing mould to fester.

Ms Au-Yong's first tip was to use transparent containers instead. Another tip was to use large plastic ones. She whipped out a few she had brought and got down to it. I ended up with three larger boxes for cooking condiments, medication, jam and other breakfast items.


BEFORE: Clutter in a kitchen cabinet. PHOTOS: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES, LEA WEE

She said: "This way, things will stay in place and won't go into another unrelated space."

Moving on to my kitchen cabinets - which store lunch boxes and water and food containers on the upper shelf and dried produce on the lower shelf - she worked swiftly and systematically, combining things of the same type.

Lunch boxes were moved to one side, water and food containers to the other. She separated the covers from the containers, stopping every now and then to ask me how often I used an item. The ones that were used more frequently went in the front.

It was common sense really.

Then came another tip: Do not stack items on top of one another.

Instead of stacking the covers, she placed them vertically next to one another.


AFTER: Containers are arranged according to usage. PHOTOS: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES, LEA WEE

This, or the practice of "slotting", she said, takes up less space and makes things more visible and easier to access.

At my eight-year-old daughter's desk, which had been cluttered with worksheets and stationery, I learnt another principle: Flat surfaces such as desktops are for working, not for storage.

In two hours, Ms Au-Yong restored order to one of my kitchen cabinets, the refrigerator, my wardrobe and my daughter's desk. As she went along, she explained where things went and what I needed to do to keep things neat.

My daughter was very pleased with how tidy her desk looked.

And determined to never again be caught out with rotten food, I was convinced it was worthwhile to organise my home.

I might just start with my desk this weekend.

Watch the video for tips on decluttering your home. Go to http://str.sg/4sVW

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2017, with the headline 'It pays to be neat'. Print Edition | Subscribe