Philadelphia Organizer Creates Space to Spare for the Residents of Philly
Whether you prefer to catch a concert at the Mann Center for Performing arts, lean more towards a cheesesteak at Geno’s, or spend your days tossing frisbees at Fairmount Park, there’s always something to keep you busy in Philadelphia. Add to that the hustle-and-bustle of the fifth largest city in the U.S., and a well-earned reputation as one of the hardest-working, nose-to-the-grindstone cities around, and it’s no wonder that Philadelphians can’t find time to get organized. Enter Debbie Lillard, professional organizer, owner of Space to Spare, and president of the National Organization for Professional Organizers (NAPO). With close to 15 years of experience in the business, she says that our current state of disorganization has been good for business, and is a direct result of the busy lives being lived in Philadelphia, and across the country.
Busy Lives Breed Disorganization in Philadelphia
“People hire me to organize their closet, and then you become their personal assistant,” says Lillard, when asked about what’s fueling the demand for professional organizers in Philadelphia. “The issue is time. Everybody is so busy nowadays they don’t have the time to slow down and say let’s create a system to help us get organized.” And once things get away from people, it’s very hard for them to know where to start in order to get back on track. “People look around and they’re just overwhelmed,” Lillard explains. “We help them focus one room at a time. We say let’s start with that. Let’s just get the Kitchen done. Get into that hyper focused mode and get things organized.” Once that happens, Dillard says the results are often contagious. “Clients will say, Oh My God, we got the kitchen done in 1 day!” she says, “and then they’ll want to move on to organize other areas of their homes.”
Small Accomplishments Lead to Big Time Organization
It’s a pattern that Lillard regularly uses to her advantage, regardless of the project she’s working on with a client. Start small, think manageable, create a structured system for getting it organized, and move forward from there. Take most Philadelphian’s home offices, for example. Lillard gets a lot of calls from clients who simply don’t know where to start when it comes to organizing those mountains of paper. “Paperwork is a big thing,” she says, emphasizing that the key is to realize you don’t have to get through it all in one sitting. “We set up routines. File up for 5 minutes a day. Maybe schedule one or two hours Saturday morning.” The key, she says, is separating out what has to get done from what has to get done right now, and then chipping away at what’s left over. By establishing those kinds of common sense goals for her clients, and placing emphasis on small victories, she claims just about any organizing goal is attainable.
Develop a System that Works for You
Despite all that talk of systems and routines, Debbie doesn’t believe in a one-size-fits-all formula when it comes to getting her customers organized. The key is understanding each client’s individual needs and specific goals, and then getting a system in place that sets them up for long-term success. “I don’t impose my system on anyone,” she says when asked if she follows a set of specific steps to help her clients get, and stay, organized. “I ask them a lot of question and we set up something specifically for them. It’s really about creating new habits. It’s something we try to pass on to our clients. Ultimately we want them to function without us.” Another key to success, she says, is the importance of understanding the type of client she’s dealing with, so that the routines she does create for them are effective ones.
Chronically Disorganized vs. Situationally Disorganized
As Lillard sees it, she generally deals with two types of clients: the chronically disorganized and the situationally disorganized. For chronically disorganized clients, organization is always going to be a challenge, and they can benefit from the time management and life coaching services that professional organizers often offer. “They’re just all over the place,” says Lillard, noting that the keys for these clients are strict routines, and regular reminders to stay organized. “They need a check in every few weeks,” she points out, “It’s like needing a cleaning person. They just need somebody to regularly come in and make sure they’re staying on track.”
The situationally disorganized, on the other hand, usually just need a little help getting back on top of things. “They usually have an answer to the question of ‘how did it get this bad?’” says Lillard. “My mother passed away. We moved here and had new baby. Life transition type things. People don’t have the time to set up their house. Some event has caused them to get out of a normal routine. They just need a couple of days to work with an organizer and get things back under control.”
Finding Balance in Philadelphia
Regardless of who she’s helping, at its heart, Lillard’s work is about providing relief and structure to those suffering from the daily grind. “I work with a lot of professionals—professors, lawyers, doctors,” says Lillard. “But they also have families. They are dealing with that whole work life balance.” It’s through providing concrete organizational strategies and services to her clients that Lillard helps them begin to regain that sense of control. “We organize a physical space,” she says, “but in doing that we‘re really . . . creating systems for (people) to keep up.”
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