In the Scramble to Simplify, Organization Is Big Business
With home becoming more important as both a work site and family center, a sense of order is key
CHRISTINA LARSON had a problem. Her closet had turned into the Bermuda Triangle. Things went in, never to come out again.Skip to next paragraph
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But there wasn't much mystery to it. The culprit was clutter.
So Ms. Larson, a busy hospital administrator, contacted Mary Lou Andre, a professional organizer. After spending seven hours with Ms. Andre sorting and organizing, Larson says she can now get up in the morning, pull an entire ensemble off one hanger, and be dressed ''in seconds.''
''It was the best thing I did for myself in years,'' Larson says.
Larson is not alone in her quest for more control over her closet and her time. By all indications, Americans' desire to organize, categorize, and compartmentalize is on the rise.
From stores and catalogs that sell bins and baskets to closet designers and home-office consultants, organization is a bona-fide commodity and a growing industry.
Reasons for the trend include:
* Economics of space. People have to pay more for space, so they must do more with less of it.
* Time is money. Americans don't want to waste time looking for things they've misplaced, wondering what to wear, or picking up after themselves.
* Dual-income families. With nobody home full-time, families crave help on the home front.
* Busy baby boomers. Now considered the ''sandwich'' generation, they are either willing or finding it necessary to pay for special services, from moving an aging parent closer to home to helping a child set up a college dorm room.
* Focus on home. Downsizing and telecommuting has yielded home offices. People are spending more time - even vacation time - at home.
* Less is more. Americans still have too much stuff, but slowly they are becoming interested in decluttering and buying things that will last.
The organizing industry enters the picture having changed with the times. What was once considered a luxury, called custom design or management services, is increasingly seen as a necessity, called clutter control.
Put another way, the same organizing industry that made way for more material possessions in the ostentatious '80s has, remarkably, found a niche in the ''simplify'' '90s.
Perhaps no one knows this better than Neil Balter.
Mr. Balter started California Closets in 1978 at the age of 18. He sold it in 1990, only to find that early retirement was boring and that he missed the business. Now, five years later, he's back, this time with Organizer's Direct, ''custom closets at a price that makes sense.''
Home storage is a $1.5 billion industry in the United States; within that, closet design is a $600 to $700 million industry. In most metropolitan areas, if you look in the yellow pages after ''Clocks,'' you'll find two pages of listings for ''Closets.'' Competition has grown since the late '70s, but demand is still high. Balter says: ''Mess equals stress. People want to simplify and deal with clutter in their lives.''
Kathy Waddill can attest to that. A few years ago, the mother of two quit her job as a systems analyst to be a full-time professional organizer because demand was through the roof. Today, her business, the Untangled Web, in Medford, Mass., is thriving.
Almost all of Ms. Waddill's clients are mothers who work full time. ''Usually people call me because there are these piles, and they don't know where to start.... They're not chronically disorganized, they've just gotten behind and can't catch up,'' she explains.
Waddill does not clean up for them, rather she goes in and asks them questions. ''Then I give them a set of skills to help them stay on top of their life.''
The number of professional organizers in the US has more than doubled in the past five years, according to The National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO). NAPO's membership - organizers who are now starting to specialize in anything from estate sales to kids' rooms to law offices and, of course, closets - is just over 800 and is expected to reach 850 by March.
While most professional organizers are women, NAPO reports that referral requests come from an equal number of men and women. Training is through on-the-job experience, though NAPO is in the midst of establishing a certification process.
More often than not, word-of-mouth fuels business.