With New Year's resolutions possibly still in mind, and spring cleaning right around the corner, perhaps you are thinking of getting organized. Tamah Vega and Sheree Hellinger (pictured at right) certainly think of organization often: They are professional organizers who recently joined forces to create Amaree Living. Both had substantial experience as independent organizers; their joint venture allows them also to delve into design, event management and relocation, among others. Getting advice from them is not like your mother telling you to clean your room: For starters, they will give you strategies for cleaning your room, a section at a time. And they believe it's not about pleasing Mom or anyone else; it's about creating a functional space that will work for you. That said, there were some things your mother was right about.


Q: What are some sure-fire tips for keeping a closet organized?

Tamah: Hang up your clothes! Seriously. And have a place nearby for donations; keep your hamper nearby. Keep like items together.

Sheree: Turn your hangers the wrong way, so it's hard to pull items out. As you use things, turn the hanger the right way. After a year, if the hanger's still facing the wrong way, it's time for that item to go. And hang as many clothes as possible, especially in children's closets. Tamah: Also, not everything has to be in your personal closet. Jackets can go in a hall closet, if you have one. And shoe storage doesn't have to be in the closet you can have baskets by your entrance, if you remove your shoes when you come in the house; or you can have cubbies. That will give you more room in the closet.



Q: How do you deal with paper clutter?

Tamah: First thing, get your name off those [catalog, junk mail] lists. Keep a shredder and recycling bin handy. You can have the kids do the shredding for you!

Sheree: But be careful -don't let them shred your bills! You have to give them some guidance.

Q: What about the adage of handling paper just once?

Tamah: That's not always realistic, especially if you have a lot. Twice might be more realistic. Categorize your paper, then deal with it.


Q: Speaking of children How can parents instill good organizational habits in their children?
Tamah: We meet with a lot of moms who are doing things for 7-, 8-year-olds You can set guidelines for children at a very young age; they can be doing simple tasks. Teach them to be responsible for their belongings, to take care of them. Teach them that when something no longer serves them, it's OK to let it go. Parents are often guilty here "You only wore that once!?? Create routines: At least once a year, perhaps at birthday or holiday time, go through toys and clothes. Discard broken things; if they're still usable, give them away. It's great to teach children that other people can enjoy things once we're done with them.
Sheree: Parents can support them by providing a place (for donations). Make it easy for them; make it fun!
Tamah: Make sure the solutions fit the child, not the parent. It's great to take advantage of vertical space, but children need to be able to reach [to put things away]. Don't forget lists [of chores].

Q: It's not easy for adults, either. Why is it so difficult for some, and what are some ways to overcome it?
Tamah: [Organization] is something [many people] have never been taught.  And people get extremely overwhelmed. On that note, one thing to remember [when starting an organizing project]: Do not ever pull everything out!
Sheree: Another way people get overwhelmed is by underestimating time [needed to complete a project]. If you think it will take three hours, allow six. If you finish early, great! Set yourself up for success.
Tamah: Break it down [into manageable tasks]. Delegate, or work alongside a buddy. Sometimes it's good to have a timeline - say, "I want the house to be a certain way so we can have family over for Thanksgiving.?? But you also want accountability. It's good to have a buddy to share your plan with, to help hold you accountable. And a [secondary] plan if [the first] doesn't work. I know it's an old saying, but it's important to have a home for things. And they have to be functional and accessible.
Sheree: If it's not functioning, get it fixed!

Q: There are many organization books on the market are they helpful, or do they just clutter the bookshelf?

Sheree: Many have useful suggestions, but often they're more for people who are halfway there already.

Tamah: One that I like is Peter Walsh's It's All Too Much. It addresses what else is going on; it's not all about the pretty stuff. Sheree: That comes at the end! The time spent talking [with clients] is what's important.


Q: At what point should a person seek help from a professional organizer?

Tamah: We can come in at any point. [The turning point for most people] is when it's affecting your daily life when you're losing time, losing money, damaging relationships. People have different thresholds for dealing with clutter. I've had clients where I've gone in and wondered, why do they need me? We can help [clients] figure out [the problems] and help them change. Some people say, "You can come in and fix me," but they're not really ready and we'll be back in a year or so. The goal is to have a handle on your belongings. We're like personal trainers for your life.