I had to reach out to Melissa Picheny after seeing amazing before and after photos of kitchens that she had de-cluttered and designed.
Holly Bohn-Weiss: How did you get started?
Melissa Picheny: I had a natural desire to help friends and family get organized. I found that once they could let go of old habits they were able to move forward with their lives.
HBW: That’s a really profound observation, we could probably stop now [smile], but I have too many questions. Were your parents organized? Were you organized growing up?
MP: My mom was very organized, but my dad would hold onto things. My room was pretty organized, but I placed an emotional attachment to everything I owned. After moving to the city [NYC] and into a tiny apartment there was one weekend that I was stuck in my apartment and surrounded by my stuff. There was a particular moment that I was staring at all of my stuff and I began evaluating my things, questioning my reasons for holding onto them and it was a life-changing moment. It started with tossing just one item, but once I started letting go of these “things”, it felt so good I kept going. I spent the weekend going through my entire apartment and donating or tossing what I no longer needed. That process definitely changed me; helped me grow up. I loved the way I felt and I knew I wanted to help others have that same feeling of letting go.
HBW: When did you actually start organizing as a business?
MP: In 2004. I started doing it part-time for two years, while I was working as a TV Producer. It was a natural transition because producing has a similar skill-set to organizing. You have to be able to visualize the end result and all the little steps it takes to get there.
HBW: So you were a TV Producer and organizing on evenings and weekends? You must be organized. I’ve known people in production and that is one crazy busy job. I don’t know how you did it. Those are two very demanding jobs.
MP: The word lazy is not in my vocabulary. [Laugh]
HBW: Obviously! Were you scared to leave your “real” job?
MP: Not really. I had this blind faith that it was going to work out. Kind of like when you first fall in love.
HBW: That’s such a great analogy. I imagine that most entrepreneurs experience that same feeling or they wouldn’t take the leap.
MP: I have been very fortunate in that I’ve had a lot of encouragement from friends and family; my parents were really supportive. I also took a very methodical approach to starting the business. During the two years I still had my other job I was building the business on the side. I saved money, created a business plan, and networked. By the time I took the leap to organize full-time I had enough organizing clients and booked my first staging job.
HBW: So would you consider yourself a type A personality? Do you think all organizers are?
MP: When I saw that you were going to ask this question I went and looked it up. I realized that if I’m looking it up then I am Type A.
HBW: [Laugh] That’s going to be the gold standard now for assessing whether or not someone is Type A. So now we know you’re Type A, but what about Type C. Everyone tells me I’m Type C, which stands for crazy because I’m not only obsessed with organization, but I’m obsessed with closets and storage being perfect—you know matching containers and labeling.
MP: [Laugh] No I’m not like that at all. If you’re too perfect it will make you crazy. I tell my clients that on a daily basis not everything has to be in its perfect place; it’s not realistic. You have to be able to live and enjoy life. I tell my clients they are successfully organized if they can put it all away within 30-60 min. Let’s say someone calls to say they are stopping by, if you feel comfortable having them come over because you can get everything in its place, then you’ve reached the goal.
HBW: You have so many great one-liners. That’s a great way to assess personal organization. It’s ok to have stuff out, but can you put it away quickly when you need to? I want to ask you a million more questions, but I better get to the subject matter. Have you ever struggled with kitchen counter clutter?
HBW: Really, never—that’s annoying I thought everyone did. Is it a major problem for your clients?
MP: It’s a big problem.
HBW: Is it a problem for people with kids or everyone? I like to blame my kids for all my problems so I’m just checking.
MP: Many people struggle with kitchen counter clutter-or KCC as I like to call it-whether they’re single, married or have kids.
HBW: KCC, I’m using your buzzword for Kitchen Counter Clutter, was a struggle for me because my kitchen is very visible from anywhere in the house and I didn’t want ugly organizing stuff all over the counter. Have you had this same concern from clients?
MP: Clutter is debilitating no matter where it is. It just happens in the kitchen because it’s a home base; it’s where most people use as a dumping ground for all of the “stuff’ that comes into their home.
HBW: You work in NYC and with the popularity of the TV Show Selling New York I think everyone wants to know if the people in those luxurious 5th Avenue apartments have a problem with clutter.
MP: I work in those apartments all the time. Kitchen Counter Clutter is not a financial issue; it’s a time-management issue.
HBW: So the only difference with those clients is they have the space for a dedicated area in their kitchen and can afford to build custom cabinets to your specifications?
MP: Yes [laugh]
HBW: I’m jealous. Is there one system you recommend or do you come up with a new plan for each client?
MP: I create an individual plan for each client so there is no one method. You have to consider someone’s personality and schedule before creating their system. The one commonality is teaching them to make this a priority, to better manage their time and to learn to deal with things immediately rather than putting them off.
HBW: Without giving away your trade secrets can you tell us what steps someone should take to come up with a plan?
MP: Set aside time. Evaluate incoming paperwork. Make rules. Set locations.
HBW: Can you give me an example of a rule?
MP: Well a lot of city clients get their mail as they come into their building and then they have the ride in the elevator up to their apartment. I encourage them to use the elevator time to make decisions about each piece of mail. By the time they get into their apartment they can quickly put it where it goes, rather than piling it on a counter or chair because they know where everything should go.
HBW: What are some tools that you use? Go to places for supplies? [Whispering] Please say seejanework.com, please say seejanework.com. Just kidding, be honest tell me where you go.
MP: [laugh] I do go to See Jane Work a lot. I also like Bed, Bath & Beyond and The Container Store. I like to go where there is a nice looking consistent offering.
HBW: Favorite products?
MP: It’s hard to recommend products because everyone is so different.
HBW: I can understand that. I am sometimes hesitant to recommend a product because people with organizing issues run out and buy it thinking that that one product is going to solve their problems.
MP: That’s so true. That’s why I named my firm declutter + design. First you declutter, and then you design. Don’t buy ANYTHING [she didn’t yell anything, but she did emphasize it], until you have a plan. I also try to repurpose items in my client’s home, there’s no sense in buying more stuff if it’s not necessary.
HBW: Do you have an area for paperwork or a junk drawer in your kitchen?
HBW: Nothing, what about take-out menus?
MP: Nope I use Seamless Web. [www.seamless.com, sadly this is not available in all cities.]
HBW: What about a junk drawer? I have bins in my junk drawer so everything has a place, even little pieces to my kids’ toys. [I thought she would be impressed that my junk drawer is organized. I was wrong.]
MP: Why do you keep pieces to the toys?
HBW: Well they break off and if I throw them away the kids get upset.
MP: Do their toys have a place that they belong?
MP: Then why don’t the pieces go there as well?
HBW: I guess because I’m too lazy to take the tiny piece to their room. I could have a weekly family meeting and everyone takes their stuff and puts it away or I throw it away.
MP: That’s a good idea.
HBW: Thank you so much for talking with me today. When I’m next in NYC let’s have lunch [I’m really just trying to find a way to get into her house and look in her kitchen drawers.]
Melissa is like a therapist. She led me to a solution rather than suggesting it for me. She didn’t even come to my house and she helped me get organized. But wait, I’m supposed to be an organizing professional. Now I can’t decide if I feel better or worse.
To learn more about Melissa and her services visit her website at www.declutteranddesign.com.
When you're feeling overwhelmed and having difficulty getting started, it helps to make a list. Get all that stuff in your mind down on paper. Limit yourself to one line per item, if you have a due date include that next to the item. Don't worry about priority or additional detail at this time, just get it on paper. Once you've finished, group items into categories by priority, then type, for example errands, calls, urgent, etc. Relief will come as you work through the list and cross things off. To read past Quick Tips click here