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Sandra WheelerSandra WheelerCheryl ReedCheryl ReedOrganizing our homes always seems to land high on our “to do” list, even if only to tell ourselves how important it is to get to it later. But if we can understand the impact that getting organized can have on our lives, clearing our clutter and downsizing our doo-dads might just become our top priority. 

Messiness, clutter, disorganization—whatever we choose to call it—has a profound impact on our stress level, our ability to cope with challenges in our lives, and how we generally feel about ourselves. If we are surrounded by things we genuinely love that bring us joy, we feel good. And if we are surrounded by things we don’t care about, have no use for, or don’t know what to do with, we can feel bombarded and overwhelmed.

If your junk drawer no longer closes and an avalanche occurs when you open your hall closet, it might just be time to call a professional organizer like Sandra Wheeler, who left the corporate world more than seven years ago and discovered a passion for helping people get their homes in order. She began by helping friends who were struggling to downsize or had significant changes in their lives that prompted them to see their homes and their clutter with greater clarity. That effort expanded into a professional organizing business known very appropriately as “For Peace of Mind.”

“Organizing has always been very natural to me,” says Sandra, who also serves on the board of the Connecticut Chapter of the National Organization of Professional Organizers. “I thought it was natural for everyone.”

She learned quickly that it isn’t. People have reached out for her services from all sorts of backgrounds. Some folks have grown up in an environment so chaotic that it’s all they know until she can show them otherwise. Others have an attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with difficulty focusing amid the distractions of the things that surround them. Some folks just don’t know where to begin.

“I help people focus on one drawer or one room at a time, usually working side by side with the client, teaching them skills. Other clients want me to do it for them. Most clients have an idea of what they want me to work on initially; then they discover other areas that also need attention. Typically [the task] snowballs.”

Some of her work, like cleaning out basements or attics, is very physical and labor intensive, while other times she finds herself creating files and organizing paperwork or lifestyles. She can be found through her website at www.ForPeaceofMind.biz, but most of her business comes through referrals from happy clients. Angie’s List, which reviews services like Sandra’s, rates her business with an overall grade of “A.”

In fact, Angie’s List (www.AngiesList.com) has collected loads of reviews for professional organizers over the years. Site users report on their experience in different formats, including personal narratives, to describe the quality of their experience and to make honest, valuable recommendations. Since Angie’s List began in 1995, the membership has increased to more than 2.6 million members. Membership to access reviews is a tiered pricing model that starts at $9.99 per month and includes some discounts and deals, according to director of communications, Cheryl Reed.

Cheryl suggests that in the case of people dealing with significant loss in their life, it is important to find an organizer who can deal with not only the practical application of organizing but with the emotional aspects of letting things go, recognizing that the process can be emotionally draining.

“Hiring the right professional organizer, the right one for you, can be miraculous,” says Cheryl. “We hear stories and stories and stories of people surrounded by possessions of a lost loved one, and it can be overwhelming. A professional organizer who is sensitive to these issues can be a wonderful gift.”

Often people are so steeped in sorrow it is difficult to move past the things left behind, the things that hold their memories. An impartial professional can make a difference in making decisions about what to keep and honor, and what to release.

In selecting a professional organizer in your area on Angie’s List, Cheryl suggests looking for someone with a high grade. Then read the narratives about the service they have provided to other consumers. Lastly, talk with the professional before hiring to explain what you are looking for and to explore any sensitive concerns.

What a professional organizer like Sandra brings to the table is formal training in organizational skills and a natural ability to work with people and things. With older folks she has found it useful to be another set of eyes. For example, by grouping similar items together, people are better able to see that they may not need quite as many of that one item. The organizer asks the right questions that might guide the client in making prudent decisions about when to honor an item in a special way and when to let it go. Some organizers have specialties, so it’s important to ask questions up front while looking for a good match for your needs, and to be comfortable with the person you choose.

“We see everything under the bed and in the closets, literally and metaphorically. You can get very close. There is a fine line between therapy and organizing,” says Sandra, who happens to have a psychology background. One question she might ask is, “If you love it so much, why is it covered in dust? Why is it broken and missing a leg?”

She has some long term clients who return year after year. In one case during an organizing session, a woman who had lost her husband came across his false teeth and insisted on keeping them. As they sorted and gathered things, they explored together which items really brought joy to the woman, which things brought a smile to her face. That wasn’t the case with the teeth, but when they discovered her husband’s eye glasses her face lit up, as memories returned to the familiar sight of her husband wearing his glasses. The widow let go of the dentures and kept the glasses.

Sandra’s clients run the gamut from corporate clients who are too busy climbing that corporate ladder or young families who need a hand to make life run more smoothly to the majority of clients in their late fifties or older who are done accumulating and are ready to downsize.

Older parents find themselves saving treasured heirlooms for kids who don’t want them. “It’s hard to acknowledge the kids are gone and it’s time for a new chapter,” says Sandra. “It’s about coming to terms with the person (kids, spouse, parents or partners) really being gone. Working through the stages of grief . . . allows you to be more present. Making peace with the past we can live more fully today, while honoring their memory.

“I love what I do. I notice [clients] physically look younger and freer when we are done. Our stuff impacts our lives that much. Life is simpler and easier [for them] and that gives me great joy, to see their joy.”

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