Decluttering, downsizing, minimizing, tidying up, getting organized. Call it what you will, jettisoning superfluous stuff is all the rage in housekeeping right now.
But Stasia Cymes has been clearing other people’s clutter for more than a decade–since long before Marie Kondo’s bestseller on the topic was published. Today Cymes runs a thriving professional organizing service in New Orleans, offers decluttering advice on the local TV news channel every month, and has been invited to share her wisdom on radio shows and podcasts. The radio station then hired her to clear their clutter (pictured below).
Now she’s offering her services nationally via Skype and Facetime and, if all goes according to her vision, she’ll be sharing her wisdom via books and TV shows in no time.
Clear the Clutter evolved from Cymes’s experience working as a nanny in Seattle for 14 years, where she went beyond childcare duties to help clients keep their little ones’ belongings in order. She worked evenings as a musician, but Cymes spent her days in other people’s homes. “That’s where I developed my system for downsizing and simplicity,“ she says.
For kids’ birthdays each year, she’d help them downsize their collections of clothes, toys, games, and books they’d outgrown, then help them organize what was left. Grateful and amazed parents would refer her to help friends, family, and neighbors do the same.
When Cymes tired of Seattle’s climate, she says, "I decided to shake the Etch A Sketch of life and relocate, sight unseen, to New Orleans. I heard it was a very warm and entertaining place to live.” She landed a part-time job at the city’s legendary Commander’s Palace restaurant, but set her sights on becoming a full-time, self-employed organizer.
“I didn’t know anybody, and my business is all about people and relationships, so I started by submersing myself in the social business community,” she says. “In New Orleans, it’s more about the personal than the professional references. It’s the way the culture is down here.”
Cymes, who is as bubbly and friendly as she is ambitious and organized, thrived in the Crescent City. She quickly built up a client list of busy families, working professionals, empty-nesters, and retirees who needed help clearing their clutter. Within a year she was able to give up the Commander’s Palace paycheck and form an LLC. Today she has 250 clients, 60 percent of them repeat, and says she has steadily increased her annual income by 20 percent each year. She typically works with two clients per day, 5 days a week. The other two days of the week, she works on business administration tasks.
“I’m working all the time, but it doesn’t feel like work. I’m in a great business because not only do I get to do what I love, but it happens to be a great benefit to those who need it,” Cymes says. “Also, the clutter that is being removed is not trash–it’s either recyclable or donate-able, so I work with a lot of charities in the area. It’s a win-win situation for the people who are reclaiming their space and the people who are acquiring things they need.”
Cymes is careful to note that she does not take on clients whose unmanageable clutter is the symptom of an untreated obsessive compulsive disorder. “We work with pack rats, clutter bugs, and shop-a-holics. We do not work with hoarders,” she says. Those cases she refers elsewhere.
She also has a different approach than some acclaimed organizers including Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, and Everything that Remains author Joshua Fields Millburn.
“In the United States, we supersize everything and we’re consumers. That’s how we’ve been programmed,” Cymes says. “In Japan, traditionally you’re living in a much smaller apartment or flat. Here, people have ginormous homes and have been accumulating things for decades.”
Nor does Cymes have time for Millburn’s 30-day Minimalism Game, where people are challenged to eliminate one, then two, then three, and a greater number of items each day for a month. “There’s a best approach for everyone,” Cymes says. “That could be a great warmup exercise for someone flirting with the idea of serious purging. Personally, I just want to get it over with. Let’s get rid of 100 things right now.”
Cymes says she applies the same rule to social media and personal contacts as she does to possessions. “We surround ourselves with stuff. If you consciously edit the things and people around you—make healthy decisions and choices for yourself —you could be uplifted. It’s about consciously making decisions about the life you want to live.”
Her real secret: “I don’t organize clutter, I clear the clutter,” Cymes says. “People have to be willing to let go of things that no longer serve a purpose in their life. If you’re organizing clutter, then you will be back again in three days, but if you clear the clutter, then you’re ahead of the game because you’re maintaining the space, not reorganizing.”
She considers de-cluttering to be an important life skill. “If you already have ADHD or are depressed and are surrounded by clutter, you are perpetually distracted and clutter weighs you down.” Clearing clutter makes people feel lighter, she says. “What I’m really selling is happiness. You can come home and enjoy your living room. If you feel grounded and in control of your personal environment, that is a confidence you will take with you out into the world for the day. If you have a bad day and come home to the organized environment you have created for yourself, you have a place to rest and recover. If it’s out of control, you will feel out of control.”
What’s next for this clutter-busting queen? “I want to teach as many people as possible how to do for themselves what I do,” Cymes says. Watch out, HGTV.