When people have no idea how to sort through their belongings and get rid of items cluttering up their homes, they call Monica Rhodes.
Rhodes, a professional home organizer who has been helping Peninsula residents declutter their homes for more than two decades, works with residents to decide what needs to go, what needs to stay and how they want their home spaces to work.
“There is a sense of accountability that I bring to a space,” explained Rhodes, who operates Ambry Organizing in Mountain View.
Clearing a home of its clutter can do more than provide a clean house. Research suggests that decluttering can have as much of an effect on a person’s well-being as it does on their physical space, according to the nonprofit Mayo Clinic.
“(It’s) an investment in one’s self care and mental health,” said Rhodes, who typically works with about three clients a day to organize their homes. “Visually, (clutter) can bring up emotions of shame, anxiousness and anxiety ... so clients will choose not to host or entertain in their home,” she said.
Clearing out a space can provide mental peace, she added.
“We can choose to relax instead of looking at what’s undone in front of us and what makes us anxious,” she said.
Eliminating 'junk drawers,' hot spots
To help clients decide what items they want to keep, Rhodes helps create a vision for their living space and removes or rearranges items that don’t fit that vision.
“As I do an onsite consultation, we walk through their space, and clients share their feelings and what’s not working for them ... and I will share my vision for how to simplify and organize the space differently and efficiently,” she said.
This might include adding extra storage to get rid of that crammed “junk drawer” or rearranging a desk in the study to provide twice as much open space in a room, or installing shelving in the laundry area to create designated space for things like a mop, broom and cleaning supplies.
“I simplify spaces and set up a system for all members of the household to follow,” she said.
Each job is a bit different. “It’s totally per client,” she said.
Rhodes said some of her more involved projects have included organizing rooms overrun with items piled on tables, furniture and the floor, and not purposeful to the space. Wherever someone naturally drops things like mail or small items without thinking, that space can easily become a hot spot for clutter, or what Rhodes prefers to call “busy spaces,” she said.
“I often say, 'Don’t put it down; put it away,’” she said.
Since the pandemic, Rhodes said she’s seen demand for her services nearly double.
“Families were staying all at home together for the first time and were discovering that they all needed their own space so they weren’t tripping
over each other,” she said.
How one homeowner finally got her belongings out of moving boxes
Client Flavia Reseende said she and her husband turned to Rhodes for professional help in January 2022 after moving from a rental into a six-room house in San Francisco.
“We were living with boxes and an unclear sense of how the house should work,” Reseende said.
Over a two-day period, Rhodes asked about the couple’s routine and then organized each space to best suit their needs, including making sure that kitchen appliances are easily accessible and items they need to start their day are within an arm’s reach when they wake up, Reseende said.
“Seeing everything where it should be was like ‘welcome to your new life,’” she said. “That felt really nice.”
Finding a solution that works for the entire family
Rhodes said her clientele ranges widely in age and living situation. She often helps young families organize their home space to better accommodate their kids, as well as older people looking to downsize. Because she often works with couples, or grown children and their parents, Rhodes said it’s important to help family members clearly communicate their vision for the space, find what they disagree on, and then help them come to a compromise.
Some people have specific ideas for projects while others just recognize the messiest areas in their home or have no idea where to start, she said. Usually, decluttering a home takes more than one visit. Rhodes said she might follow up months later to make sure everything she’s set up is working successfully. If young children, for example, have outgrown their space and are taking over the adult areas of the house, she will make adjustments, she said.
'Letting go' can require taking many small steps
For clients who find it difficult to part with items and live in homes with “extremely busy spaces,” Rhodes said the process often requires taking small steps at a time and might require many visits.
"'Things' are very emotional," she said. "There is a lot of psychology involved."
Rhodes said she gently walks these clients through conversations, sometimes about every single item, to help them determine what they can let go of. Sometimes, the right solution might be for a person to take digital photos of objects so they can free up the house of items but still be able to see them, she said.
"To walk someone through a space and set it up successfully for both husband and wife or the whole family ... it’s incredibly rewarding."
5 tips to keep clutter out of your home
It’s not just you. Clutter is much more common in American households than one might suspect. In a survey by home storage manufacturer ClosetMaid, 8 in 10 Americans admitted to having at least one “cleaning black hole” — an area that seems impossible to keep clean or organized on a consistent basis — in their homes, according to the company’s blog. In the survey of 2,000 people, respondents said their commonly messy areas include closets, garages and basements. For those looking to unclutter their homes, here are some tips from Rhodes to help get started.
Have a vision
Before any work begins, think deeply about what you want from your ideal living space and visualize how you want to reorganize the “busy” areas.
Changing your shopping habits and adopting a “one in, one out” rule, Rhodes said, can help make this process easier. “We have to manage our stuff,” Rhodes said. “We don’t want our stuff managing us and we want to love everything that we’re saying ‘yes’ to.”
Don't put it down; put it away
Wherever someone naturally drops things like mail or small items without thinking, that space can easily become a hot spot for clutter, or what Rhodes prefers to call “busy spaces.” Don’t put stuff down; put it away.
Edit and simplify
As you sort through your belongings and rethink how to store and display them, begin to edit and adjust your goals. When you realize your initial vision was unrealistic, Rhodes said, don’t be afraid to scale back and simplify. “If it doesn’t fit (your space’s) scope, then it’s edited out or eliminated so your space can be intentional, simplified and beautiful,” she said.
Whether it’s decor that was trendy long ago or memorabilia you’ve held
onto for decades, it is important to ask yourself whether an item is still worth the space it takes up. Some people find this to be an emotional process, while others are more nonchalant about it. “There’s a lot of emotion with letting go of some items,” Rhodes said. “Other people are like, ‘It’s gone!’ “
The final step is to get focused and do the work. Even though your original vision may have changed, following through and reaching realistic goals is essential. Rhodes said most homes have permanently cluttered areas. “Things attract things,” she said. “It takes a lot of deliberation to keep a system running efficiently.”
Former Editorial Assistant John Bricker contributed to this story. This story originally appeared in Embarcadero Media's Fall 2022 Home & Garden Design.
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