Something that struck me from Reich's approach is that she echo's much of my philosophy with organizing and deciding what to hold on to and what to donate: “But this will free her [client] mind. Her mind will be free.”
Much of Reich's approach is like mine in that our motives are to get the client organized and on your own and then if follow maintenance is needed down the road, that is totally normal.
Enjoy the article and the tips she shares, they are very useful!
Published: January 7, 2011
Ms. Reich zoned in on a pile of books and games on the floor: “There’s no reason we should have a stack of stuff like this.” Then she got to work.
A puzzle with a missing piece? Garbage. A half-assembled Playmobil boat? Likewise. A drawer full of wooden blocks? Gone. Birthday party favors were subject to the 24-hour rule: “You let them play with it for 24 hours, then it’s garbage.” A checkers set was a recent gift from a relative, but had only black pieces. “She won’t love you any less,” Ms. Reich said as she tossed it. Then there were the notebooks, now touching artifacts, filled with the earliest handwriting of the couple’s 8-year-old son, Lucas. “Everybody’s going to learn how to read and write,” Ms. Reich said. “You don’t need the evidence.”
Three hours — and $450 — later, a dozen trash bags had been whisked out the door, containing, among other treasures, a toy pizza, the game Operation and two polyester sports uniforms from seasons past, based on Ms. Reich’s frank assessment that Lucas was unlikely to ever make the Hall of Fame.
“A lot of it is wasteful,” Ms. Reich acknowledged as she glanced at a bag brimming with games and balls and stuffed animals with a lot of play left in them. “Our society is wasteful.”
Then she turned toward Ms. Hitzig and said: “But this will free her mind. Her mind will be free.”
Ms. Hitzig, a svelte blonde in her 40s who worked as a real estate lawyer until her twins were born five years ago, testified, “This woman has changed my life.”
Meet Barbara Reich (rhymes with quiche), home organizer to the rich if not-quite-famous; streamliner of Hermès bracelets and Birkin bags, board games and third-grade art projects; subject of awe-filled recommendations at private school fund-raisers and cocktail parties from West End Avenue to Park. For $150 an hour, Ms. Reich, 42, a former management consultant with an M.B.A., will clear out the clutter, color-code sweaters and classify all manner of storage containers with the vaunted Brother P-touch label makers that she instructs her clients to buy. She is booked three weeks in advance.
Her profession provides a glimpse into the drawers of New York’s elite and, by extension, their lives. Ms. Reich has seen the terms of high-powered real estate transactions, bills detailing the costs of maintaining a pool in the Hamptons, secret prenuptial agreements, pills betraying a hidden sickness. Often, what begins as decluttering becomes something more: advice on how to get children to do homework, or to pick up their toys at home as they do at school or to sleep through the night; guidance on how much to pay the baby sitter or the handyman; suggestions about an electrician who can conceal an unseemly tangle of wires.
Once, Ms. Reich’s organizing efforts revealed stealing by a nanny who was relying on the messy state of affairs to ensure she would not be discovered. More than once, Ms. Reich has known a woman was planning to leave her husband before he did. “What can I do to get my ducks in a row?” she has been asked on such occasions.
When one client’s husband died of cancer, Ms. Reich offered to return, free of charge.
“The image is of me being paralyzed, sitting on the floor of my living room, with Barbara going through piles and piles of papers,” recalled the widow. “A year after he died, she came and helped me go through his closet and put things in bags for charity. I could never, ever, ever have done that.”
Ms. Reich lives in three floors of a renovated town house on the East Side, sharing 3,800 square feet with her husband, who is a real estate lawyer, and their twins, who turn 11 this week. She readily acknowledges that she and her clients are privileged — lucky to have so many things, lucky to be able to throw them away, lucky to be able to hire someone to help them do so. But privilege does not relieve stress. Stress is clutter, and clutter is stress.
“Let’s say you have a home in Aspen and you’re supposed to have a business dinner for 30 there on Friday, and you’ve promised your 8-year-old you’d go to his baseball game, and then the house manager in Aspen quits, and your 8-year-old is crying to go to the baseball game,” she said. “It’s a high-end problem, but the stress is the same either way. And I can help you deal with that.”
Ms. Reich’s organizing business, Resourceful Consultants, began when her children were young and she found herself spending play dates rearranging other people’s things. She describes herself as a “type A-plus” whose knack — no, need — for neat surfaces, uniform storage bins and perfectly aligned right angles is evidence that she is “sick in the head.” Growing up in Florida, she was made uncomfortable by childhood sleepovers. “I never liked people touching my stuff,” she said. “I always wanted to put it right back.”
“This is just who I am,” she said. “I’ve taken my personal neuroses and made a business out of it.”
THE National Association of Professional Organizers has 3,739 members, including 320 in New York State, up from 1,444 members 10 years ago (about 150 in New York). Barbara Reich is not one of them.
Ms. Reich joined a few years ago but let her membership lapse: she does not need the extra referrals. She sees generally two clients a day, for two or three hours each; she could be busier, but why? “I’m not curing cancer,” she said.
Her first organizing client, in 2004, was an associate of a former management-consulting colleague who was setting up a home office. Many clients hire her for about 10 sessions, then get back in touch when they are moving, or redecorating or having a baby. Others she visits weekly. “Some people don’t work out without a trainer,” Ms. Reich said. “Some people don’t open their mail without me.”
Valerie Feigen, who co-owns the Edit boutique on Lexington Avenue — “a luxury shopping experience for women of distinction and style” — has hired Ms. Reich repeatedly over the past three years. “The perfect bag or a great pair of shoes can give you so much pleasure, but it can torture you when you don’t know where to put it,” Ms. Feigen said. “When your possessions are out of control, I think it’s very hard to be organized in general about your life. You don’t want your possessions to own you.”
Mr. Yaffe, the father of the boy whose birthday-party favors and earliest writings were tossed, said that he knew it might sound absurd to pay someone to tell his family to throw things away, but that if he had a fireplace, he would hang an oil painting of Ms. Reich above it.
“I fell in love with my wife for many of her great qualities,” Mr. Yaffe, 47, said. “Organization is not necessarily one of them.”
With her Searle boots and Prada bag, Ms. Reich inhabits the world of her clients, which is essential to winning their trust. It is hard enough opening your underwear drawer to someone without having them gasp at the price of the contents.
Years of untangling people’s messes — seeing what they have, what they use, what they need, what trips them up, what holds them back — has yielded many sociological insights.
Among them: oversize handbags are out of style, but are coming back (this, courtesy of Ms. Feigen, whose purse closet — yes, a whole closet for purses — she reordered one recent morning). Sex toys are more widespread than one might think (Ms. Reich once innocently placed one in a box labeled “small electronics”). And men do not think condoms belong in the “monthly” box, alongside feminine hygiene products (“daily” would be better).
Ms. Reich also has some general pointers:
1. In your “Home Management” file, keep a list of holiday tips for doormen, hairdressers, et al., making it easy to increase each year. (They always remember how much you gave, Ms. Reich warned, even if you don’t.)
2. Have one file labeled “children’s activities,” so when you need to see whether there is soccer on Martin Luther King’s Birthday, you know where to look.
3. Memorize one credit card number: it will “make your life infinitely easier.”
4. You know those “invisible ink” magic markers? They’re not invisible on furniture.
Many of Ms. Reich’s clients have young children, and therefore apartments that brim with papier-mâché art projects, holiday cards and birthday-party favors long past their 24-hour expiration and toys, toys, toys. She believes in keeping schoolwork that exhibits creativity, but there is a high bar: for each child, two years’ worth should fit into a three-inch box. She likes Magna-Tiles, but hates things that talk.
A cast-and-paint T-Rex? Trash it, because by the time the kid is old enough to do it himself, he’s no longer interested. Candy Land? Between sporting events, music lessons and charity galas, who has time? Goodbye!
“How many people have five sets of flashcards and six memory games, and how many of these people never once will take out a memory game, or they’ll never once do the flashcards?” Ms. Reich said. “I think to a lot of people it’s very refreshing when they’re running this race just to stay still, to have somebody say to them: ‘This is ridiculous. Not one of these kids is going to be a professional baseball player.’ ”
“The flip side is,” she added, “as a parent, I have to also keep saying this to myself as a mantra: This is all crazy, this is all crazy, this is all crazy.”
STANDING in a sparkling kitchen, Rebecca Reich, her hair pulled back in a headband, reflected on life as the organizer’s daughter. “I don’t care if there are pillows on the floor, and everyone else in the family thinks it’s the biggest crisis,” she said. “Pillows can wait.”
“No, they can’t,” interjected Rebecca’s twin, Matthew. “It’s distracting.”
Once, Ms. Reich found her son cleaning the bottom of his sneakers with Clorox wipes. “Matthew,” she counseled, “you only clean the top.”
In the Reich household, even the twins’ Silly Bandz are meticulously organized by type (creatures, sports, “rare”). Matthew’s toy cars are parked on the windowsill, perfectly parallel, a few inches apart. Next to them is the rare surviving trophy — Ms. Reich throws away the obligatory participation trophies given to everyone on a team — Neatest Camper of 2010 at Timber Lake Camp.
“Jeff was horrified,” she said of her husband. “He said, ‘This was what he won, not, like, Best Athlete?’ ”
Across town at the Hitzig-Yaffe apartment, little Lucas’s trophy collection remains intact. “There are certain things I can deprive my kids of, and certain things that I can’t,” Ms. Hitzig said. She has discarded a number of Lucas’s old uniforms, over her husband’s objections.
“I hope we will have the last laugh,” said Mr. Yaffe, an executive at the National Hockey League, “because I hope he will be in somebody’s Hall of Fame one day.”