The secret life of an organiser: I clear my clients physical and emotional clutter | Anonymous

Many of them are so overwhelmed with belongings that theyre on the verge of a breakdown. I advise them to simplify and let go. Its transformative

My day is busy from dawn until dawn, installing pretty containers, colour-blocking books within designer spaces and folding socks, Marie Kondo style. I wish. Professional organising is in actual fact dirty, physical and disappointingly almost never involves styling.

I might organise the removal of an old car or a pile of excess bricks. I sometimes declutter a paper-filled office or pack up a deceased persons estate. I could even track spending and create a budget for someone whose poor organisation tumbles out of their wallet.

I have always been highly organised, even as a child. I heard about organising as a career in a magazine and pursued it, not knowing how to translate my skill set into consulting with clients. I had worked for nearly 20 years as a nurse, but felt organising was my calling and it has not disappointed since I took it up in 2000.

Im self-employed and make a good hourly rate which I discount if I get a lot of work from a client. I dont turn down any jobs, unless the person involved is showing signs of hoarding behaviour; I have no mental health training, so I dont really feel I can help.

I love big jobs when I can transform an entire home or workspace, but thats a big commitment from a client and they must trust and like you for it to work.

Most people outside of the organising industry think we tidy up, but tidying is only a visual thing. What a good organiser does is help with the functionality of a space for example, making sure that frequently used items are in prime storage areas. Or maybe having a system in place to manage bills that arrive on email. Whatever it is I am helping with, I also want to teach my client how to tackle other areas of their space or life when Im not there.

About 90% of my work is hands on going through what is owned, reordering what is kept, and taking away items for charity or recycling. If I had once piece of advice for people it would be that 80% of the items you think you need are only fit for the tip, recycling or donation. Want to save some time? Use the bin, my friend.

Sometimes prospective clients break down on the phone before Ive even met them. They are so overwhelmed with stuff, so overcome with shame at the mess they have created. For them I have nothing but compassion. There are so many factors that can impact a clients ability to stay on top of things: illness, change in circumstances, relationship troubles, relocation to a new home, poor time management. Most often its washing dishes and doing the laundry that people struggle with. I dont mind mucking in to get a backlog under control, and advise clients of methods to stay in control, particularly getting all members of the household to contribute.

Clients often cry with gratitude at my results. I often cry, too. Its thoroughly rewarding to help people on such a practical and emotional level. To take an unusable space and make it usable again, or to empower someone to take charge of an aspect of their life that is not working for them is incredibly satisfying.

I encourage clients to make sound choices about what to do with their overwhelming belongings: the things weighing them down that are not contributing in a positive way. But Ill never to force them to discard even the smallest item; the choice always needs to be theirs. Some people are very easily lost in the minutiae of their possessions and cant see the forest for the trees. I bring perspective.

What makes my job so satisfying is hearing peoples stories. Am I a voyeur? Perhaps a little, but I have had ample opportunities to read things like personal letters and Ive always turned my head. Discretion is very important and I have never taken advantage of the trust placed in me.

Surprisingly Ive had very few clients I didnt warm to, but the rude ones stand out. One in particular springs to mind because she didnt want to get her hands dirty and sadly you cant make decisions about the many things in someones domain without their input. At times like these I try not to judge. I didnt know her full story and what caused her discomfort with me trying to help her.

On the flipside, a good number of clients have become close friends. I am lucky that Im able to separate the people I enjoy working for from their sometimes unsettling behaviour. A family I adored had cats and dogs that they allowed to go to the toilet inside and no one would attend to it promptly. Urine would soak into the floorboards and faeces got mushed into whatever was left on the floor. When you are constantly in an environment that is chaotic and smells, you become desensitised. So while it may seem extreme to you or I, the owner of the clutter barely notices it.

Of course you see all sorts of things and luckily it doesnt bother me in the slightest. I thought it was funny when a client saw me spot lube in her bathroom and she said: Oh, Im sorry you had to see that. Do they think I dont have lube at my house?

Being at the coalface of unwanted belongings has changed my relationship with stuff. I rarely shop, I encourage friends and family not to give me gifts and I easily discard unwanted items. Im a sucker, however, for saving things from clients like plastic bags they put in the bin, which I find wasteful.

I often come home from work and feel that my small apartment is like a five-star hotel: clean lines, most of the washing put away, and I know exactly what is in the fridge. I highly value that my down time is truly my own with nothing to do after hours. So many clients I see are playing catch up, with paper, belongings, information. When you simplify and let go, life has so much more grace.

Organising is very physical work, mentally demanding at times as you are constantly problem solving and sometimes an emotional journey when the client is struggling. The hardest is when a client has a difficult life or if they are in denial about the cluttered and unhealthy environment they are forcing their family to live in. But despite the dirt, the emotions, and the overwhelming stuff, I really wouldnt change my job for the world. Well, maybe just a bit more colour-coding would be nice.

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/15/secret-life-of-an-organiser-clearing-clutter