Ben Soreff is a professional home organizer at House to Home Organizing. Read more about his company at h2horganizing.com. Here is the interview we did for my book, The Naked House: Five Principles for a Minimalist Home.
Mollie: What was the most cluttered home you worked in like? How did the process of organizing affect your client?
Ben: We have seen everything from estates to apartments, but the only clutter difference is the volume. In some cases, no room is being used for its intended purpose: the cars can’t go in the garage, the home office isn’t being used for work, the dining room isn’t hosting anyone. When you add to that situation not being able to find what you are looking for and having to do multiple purchases, this puts a lot of stress on relationships between family members. The children feel they can’t have friends over and the adults don’t entertain. This creates a feeling of being trapped.
Organizing takes time. Busy people usually just start putting everything in the attic or basement. After that they hide everything in bins and drawers, but eventually those areas fill up, too. This isn’t organization. Being organized is different from being neat or tidy.
Mollie: What circumstances led to your passion for simple living?
Ben: Growing up as a child of a difficult divorce, having control became pretty important to me. People have anxiety when they are not in control and in life there is a lot we cannot control; however, we can control our physical space. My belief is that nothing good comes out of chaos and being a minimalist and having organized systems allows me to be more productive. I see this with my own children: when their room is a mess they simply don’t play in it, but when the floor is clear they actually build things, use their toys and imagination.
Also, as a child I always liked jigsaw puzzles. There’s something about putting a giant mess together into something complete that calms the mind.
When I was young the desire for stuff seemed pretty cool but getting married and having children focuses you on experiences. A kid is excited by the new toy but she is also just as excited by the box it came in, and after a few hours it just goes on the pile with the other unused toys. The older you get you realize that happiness comes from within, that buying stuff doesn’t solve your problems or actually make you happy. Having experiences with friends and family leads to great memories and at the end of the day, all we have are our memories.
Mollie: What are the common mistakes your clients make when it comes to managing their home environment?
Ben: For a lot of people, the act of shopping or the thrill of getting a bargain is the real juice and getting the thing is more important than the actual thing. Also, in our clients’ homes we see items unused and crammed into closets and after reviewing we discover they are gifts the receiver didn’t want, doesn’t like and doesn’t know what to do with.
Most people give gifts to make themselves, not the person getting it, feel better. If someone took the time to give something wanted it would be experiences or consumables; a night of free babysitting is worth more than two hundred items from the Christmas Tree Shops or the Dollar Store.
Mollie: Any additional tips for simplifying the home?
Ben: If you’re a parent, you are the gatekeeper. When your kids are a certain age, they may get up to thirty or forty gifts for their birthdays and holidays. You know how your children play and what they like and steering people to give swimming lessons or tickets to the movies will save everyone in the end.
Another suggestions to cutting down on accumulating because of retail therapy is to pay cash for it. If you really want it, take the time to get cash out. You can also print the page out from Ebay or Amazon and wait a week. If you really still want it, then get it. My economics professor used to say, “More is preferred to less,” but the stress of clutter hurts relationships and your free time and creates anxiety.
Mollie: One final thought?
Ben: Good things aren’t cheap and cheap things aren’t good. Well-made items that you can depend on are more important than quantity.
A place for everything and everything in its place. Get The Naked House: Five Principles for a Minimalist Home.