Decluttering guru Marie Kondo is so famous that her surname is now being used as a verb to refer to the act of tidying up meticulously.
But not everybody has the time or inclination to organise all the stuff they’ve built up over the years, so when you can’t afford Marie Kondo, who do you call? What sort of people find joy in sorting out other people’s mess and are making money from it?
Lizzie Grant gave up her £60,000 job in London and six-year career as a family lawyer to become a professional declutterer. She says her legal training has provided her with lots of transferrable skills.
“I’ve always loved decluttering and raved about the mental health benefits of doing it. However, I didn’t realise it was a job until I Googled it and discovered there was a whole industry out there. I took a calculated risk and if it doesn’t work out, then at least I tried,” she says.
Lizzie charges about £40 per hour per session, with each session a minimum of three hours long, with the hope that one day she’ll be able to match her previous salary.
“When I’m in someone’s home, we’ll go through their belongings together. We work through it all practically. We’ll pull out items, usually by category and then, depending on which items are causing the most stress, we’ll discuss what they want to keep in their lives, what is serving them now and what they want to let go of.”
Fifty-seven-year-old Nina in south London called Lizzie to help her during a house move, when she found it difficult to let go of “a lifetime’s worth of acquisitions”.
“I don’t want to dishonour people who’ve given me gifts, I’ve not wanted to put things in landfill, and want to find a valuable use for everything I possess. With so much stuff, that’s not realistic and I’ve learned I need to live with less.”
She adds that it was important to her to find someone she could trust. “I liked the look of Lizzie as her background was in family law and I know that family lawyers deal with a lot of emotional mess. For me, the process is about going through lots of emotional stuff and I needed someone who understood the importance of confidentiality.”
Professional organisers can be found across the world including Japan, Chile, Australia, Canada and Dubai.
In the US, the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals has more than 4,000 members, while the UK’s Association of Professional Declutterers (ADPO) has approximately 300 members. Although clients are a mix of genders, ADPO says that nearly 90% of its organisers are women.
“I think perhaps part of that is because women still have a major role in the household and in the home. That is clearly changing but they are the ones that generally have to deal with the stuff that’s around, and also the flow of items in and out of the home,” Lizzie says.
Shivani Gulati in Gurgaon, India, charges at least 1,000 rupees (£11; $14) per hour for her services as a professional organiser – a job she’s been doing for nearly five years.
“I’ve worked as an interior designer for 20 years. For me, it was a natural move into organising. When I would return to a client’s home, I found that they couldn’t always maintain the space we had created together.”
She says her clients include spiritualists, homemakers and industrialists.
“They are people who are very busy and don’t have the time to maintain their space but they have money.” So she categorises their items and gives them a timeline to do it in.
“But Indians don’t let go of things easily,” Shivani adds. She says the partition of India in 1947 meant that older generations had experienced the loss of many of their possessions and so are more likely to want to keep things “just in case”. Younger Indians, however, are more willing to let go of items.
In the US, the idea of hiring someone to do your decluttering for you has a much longer history.
Rhea Becker advertises herself as the “Clutter Queen” of Boston. A writer and editor, she’s been offering professional decluttering services for 16 years. She charges clients between $75 to $125 (£57 to £96) an hour.
She warns that the job is a demanding one. “When you meet clients, they are often stressed so you need to have people management skills. You’ve also got to be physically capable of lifting heavy items and having a lot of stamina.”
A lot of mental strength is needed too, she says.
For Annelies Mentink, a move into the decluttering sphere has led to other work. She’s now authored a book on the topic of tidying up and has another one due out later this year, and she’s also set up her own academy teaching others how to sort out their lives.
Annelies lives in Belgium and works across Flanders. She became a professional organiser in 2016 following burnout from a stressful job in the banking industry, the birth of her two premature children, and subsequent post-natal depression. She charges between 350 to 500 euros (£305 to £435; $395 to $565) for half a day of decluttering work.
“I wasn’t happy and I was appalled by the mess in my house. In my depression, I went to see a psychiatrist and she helped me regain a sense of energy and figure out what I really wanted to do. I discovered that helping people to sort stuff was a real job and I love doing it.”
But what makes the position different from cleaning – a job that’s certainly not new?
According to Marie Kondo: “Tidying deals with objects; cleaning deals with dirt.”
Rhea Becker adds: “A declutterer needs the participation of a client and looking at how to keep, toss and dispose responsibly. A cleaner will keep what you have but will work around it.”
One thing everybody agrees on is the importance of sustainability and not contributing to landfill and being far more considerate about what you choose to buy and bring into your life in the first place.
The professionals say their jobs involve a lot of networking and making contacts with charities, NGOs and other companies that might want to take all the items they are helping people to dispose of.
“Beauty banks, food banks, even neighbours might want your stuff,” says Lizzie Grant.
But that’s not always a good thing, as the manager of Waiwhakaiho HospiceShop in New Plymouth in New Zealand found – she had to ask people to temporarily hold off on donations as there were just too many to cope with.