Decluttering With Scott Roewer

Scott.jpg picture by Celynthia       By:  Cathy Green

Most of us have had to deal with clutter in our lives. But if we are not careful, clutter will continue to collect and it has the capacity to take on a life of its own. Below is an interview that I recently had with the DC/MD area’s premier organizer, Scott Roewer. In it, he shares the difference between cluttering vs. hoarding and tells us some things we can do to get ourselves organized:
Q – How did you end up in the business of organizing?
My career as an organizer really came out of nowhere. I moved to DC in 2003, and the cost of living compared to my prior home in Kansas City, MO was jolting to my bank account. So, I began the search for a part-time job to supplement my income as a Conference Planner for the Department of Defense. My search led me to the Container Store. Around the same time, a business-consultant friend, Stephe McMahon, went away for the holidays. I had keys to his home, so I decided to surprise him with a home and office fix-up. I rounded up some friends and together we painted, bought more functional furniture, repaired a hole in the ceiling, installed new business furniture, filed 10 years’ worth of paper, and organized his closets. McMahon, delighted, told me that others would pay me to do the same for them. I never worked for the Container Store, but it did begin my life as an organizer.
Stephe became my biggest booster and gave me advice me how to run a small business. I consider myself a teacher and a business owner who happens to be an organizer. I joke that I organize 30% of the time and run a business the other 70%.
Q – What was your major in college and is there anything in your past studies that have helped you in any way with your service business?
I studied music education as an undergraduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and I have a Masters degree is in Education from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. I certainly rely on my education background to work with my clients. I observe a client’s learning styles (visual, auditory, kinesthetic/tactile) to determine the best way to teach the organizing process and identify organizational systems that work best for them. I also rely on the psychology courses to manage the emotional aspect of some clients’ experience.
Q – Are you a naturally organized person or do you have to really work at it?
As a child, I loved to do puzzles and today I think organizing is like doing a puzzle. Each home or office I enter has a different reason it’s disorganized and I like to solve that puzzle. In my own home, everything has a place. I can find most things very quickly. With that said, I am not a neat freak. I kick off my shoes in the living room and they may stay there until I wear them again or I put them away in the closet. I don’t have a dishwasher so there are usually a few dishes in the sink and you’re likely to find a few managed piles of paper on my desk. I’m very visual and like to keep things out until I am done with them. My piles are organized and I can easily find anything on my desk.
Q – How do you draw the line between dealing with a “hoarder” who clutters and a non-hoarder who is a clutterer? And do you ever turn down potential clients?
You’re right, there is a very fine line between being extremely cluttered and being classified as a hoarder. As a member of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (NSGCD), I use the Clutter Hoarding Scale to determine which level (1-5) or severity of hoarding someone might be experiencing. This assessment measurement tool gives organizers definitive parameters related to health and safety.
The line you mentioned is determined by talking to the client about his or her past efforts to be organized. If she has a history of disorganization and the traditional self-help methods have failed, or if she has a current poor quality of life caused by disorganization and the expectation of future disorganization exists, then they’re likely chronically disorganized.
Sometimes, people are ‘situational disorganized.’ This occurs when a person finds they’re living in clutter or chaos for a short time period. This is usually caused by a major life event, such as death, change in living arrangements, a shift in work life, marriage, birth of a child, etc. This type of disorganization is easier to resolve than a chronically disorganized client.
I have turned down working with clients and stopped working with others. This is mainly due to the restraints put upon the client by himself or herself, family, or sometimes the city/state. Pressure to get organized or to clean up the home of someone who is chronically disorganized is almost always going to fail. The person living in the environment must want to make change. If he or she is not ready for it, they will fail. I’m not going to work with that individual because he or she is not ready. I want my clients to be successful and only work with chronically disorganized individuals who are emotionally ready for the positive change we can make together.
Q – Okay, so let’s now discuss your “typical” client. What type of person generally gets in touch with you?
Our client base varies, but typically they are 30-50 years old, men and women, couples with kids, and single city dwellers who are trying to maximize their space. I have worked with reality TV stars, politicians, CEOs of media empires, busy moms, association executives, administrative assistants, and stay-at-home dads. Everyone needs organization!
Q – Are your clients generally receptive to your advice (about throwing out certain things) or do you often bump heads?
I explain before we begin the process: my clients can keep whatever they want. I’m not going to make them throw anything away. However, I do expect them to know what they have, be able to find what they keep, and to honor the memories in their lives. Bumping heads with clients is best kept for reality TV shows, not real life. It doesn’t help the process and simply makes them upset.
I tell them a memory isn’t a memory if it’s in a dark corner of the closet or in a box in the basement–it’s just stuff. So, we work on honoring those memories and not personifying the object. I’ll offer ideas, such as photographing the quilt grandma made in 1960. You know the one–it’s Harvest Gold, has holes from moths, and is so scratchy you’ll never use it. We may take a photograph of the blanket and include it in a photo album with a photo of grandma where the client can write a memory about the blanket. Or, we may create a slide show of the photos and put them on the computer. The visual of the blanket is what the client wants to hold on to, not the scratchy blanket. With the memory now honored, we can donate the blanket and gain the space in his or her home.
Q – Do you have repeat customers? In other words, do any of your clients ever fall back into their old clutter habits?

I have three types of clients: those who are successful, follow the organization systems, and who learned how to do it on their own; clients who start and never finish, so they may be better off than when we started, but they never reached their goals; and maintenance clients who would rather have someone come in at various intervals to maintain a certain level of organization.
Falling back, or what we call ‘back sliding,’ happens. It’s part of the process when you make change or break bad habits. I strive to teach clients organizing and maintenance skills, so if backsliding occurs, the clients know how to catch up.
Once you’ve organized your closet or home, maintenance is very important. Just like a diet, once you stop, if you begin your old habits the weight will come right back.
I explain to clients they need to prepare their family to follow the rules of the organized space.
As another example, I’ll tell them to take time in their closet as they get dressed. While in the closet, remove the dry cleaning bags, place the clothes in the hamper, and put the shoes back in their place. If an article of clothing is clean enough to wear again, it’s clean enough to hang or fold and place back in the closet or drawer.
To maintain the volume, use the ‘One In/One Out’ rule for items stored in the closet. Keep a bag in the closet so you have a place to put donations each time something new is purchased. If you buy new jeans, and old pair goes out, find a new skirt, and replace an old one by dropping the other one in the sack. Once the sack is full, drop it off at your favorite charity.
Q – If there is are just one or two tips that you can give to those of us who are not naturally organized about de-cluttering, what would you advise?
Each person’s situation is unique because there is such a continuum of clutter. Usually the big projects are when someone describe his or her clutter as suffocating, or they are drowning, and overwhelmed, or don’t know where to begin. If that’s how your readers feel, it might be time to call a professional.
If it’s not that drastic, first, consider how you want your space to look, feel, and function. Also ask yourself, “what’s the purpose of this room?” Is the problem your closet, and you need to maximize clothing storage for two people? Is it the one room in the house that needs to serve as an office and library, or perhaps it’s the sanctity of your bedroom? Know what you want before you begin.
Once you’ve organized the space, maintenance is very important. Just like a diet, if you stop dieting, you begin your old habits the weight will come right back. Being organized is more like a lifestyle change. You must commit to putting things away after you use them, not over buying, managing your daily mail, and using systems that work for you. Not everyone will live a clutter free life, and that’s ok. I believe each person should be happy and comfortable in his or her own home.

Contact him:

Scott Roewer can be reached  by  WEB       202-249-8330
Also, he has a new blog. PRESS HERE


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