New Year’s Resolution #1: Get Organized
Bard attacks messy situations non-judgementally; your secrets are safe with her.
“Organizing,” says Johanna Bard of Milan, “is not necessarily about throwing things out.” Bard, whose company, Your Hudson Valley Organizer, is dedicated to helping its clients reclaim their time, space, and energy, belongs to the National Association of Professional Organizers, which routinely holds conferences in far-flung cities to discuss how best to tackle a mess. The sort of sorry fact she picks up at these meetings: the average person spends 55 minutes a day (about two weeks a year) looking for things they know they have but cannot find—not just the keys, the sunglasses, the electric bill, but the right lid for the leftover container. “At the last one I attended, there were 900 people in the room who all think the same way,” marvels Bard. “Only eleven were men.”
Bard claims her organizational skills stem from having grown up in a chaotic household. As a child, she realized that her sense of equilibrium depended on keeping her own space in order. Many of her clients are facing major life changes that threaten their equilibrium, too—the loss of a loved one, a move to a nursing home, or even just to a much smaller house; a passage that, according to Bard, is not so much “down-sizing” as “right-sizing.” “My goal is to relieve stress and worry,” she says. People get very attached to their possessions. And it’s sometimes difficult for family members to muster the requisite balance of objectivity and empathy. “It’s not helpful when a family member just wants to bring in the dumpster,” she says. “Sure, it’s important to be realistic, but it’s just as important to honor the elder’s position in the family as the memory holder.” Helping to decide what memorabilia is to be kept and what must go takes tact.
While much of an organizer’s job is finding a home within the home for things, Bard cautions against buying storage pieces—hanging files, plastic bins, metal shelving, and other container-store nine-day wonders—before the mess is at least semi-sorted out. “In a garage or a basement we first find zones for things: tools that need to be hung up, flammable liquids, then we look around to see if we have the right storage equipment. I do my best to use what they already have.” Once it’s all finished, there are usually three piles left. “The client is responsible for the trash. And I’ll take one carload to a charity. Whatever we’ve decided to get rid of leaves the house when I do.” And the third pile? Things the client can’t decide should stay or go. “We put those in a box and date them for six months later. If an object is still in the box when that date arrives, out it goes.”
Bard offers free classes to groups of (usually) women. “I’ll give a Clean Out Your Junk Drawer Night at someone’s house,” she says. “And I’ll actually ask them to bring their junk drawers. Or I’ll ask each to sweep all the papers off her desk into a brown paper bag and bring it. Then I’ll tell them how they might get it all organized. It’s embarrassing, but it’s fun, too, and it gives them a sense of relief.”
People have different learning styles and Bard tries to adapt to them. “I was working with a clown magician,” she says. “I was in her basement, and I picked up something and asked, ‘What’s this?’ She said, ‘It’s some magic I need to learn.’” So Bard replied, “That’s what we are going to mark the box, ‘Magic to Be Learned.’ It’s not what I might have called it, but it pushes the right button for her.”
The rates cited on Bard’s website have been reduced from $60 to $45 per hour, with a nine-hour minimum.. “To help people along in this economy,” she says.
Your Hudson Valley Organizer