One thing I really love about my work as a counsellor is that I get to meet other individuals who have chosen to base their work around helping others. I enjoyed this pleasure only this week when I met up with, and interviewed, Helen Mitchell and Dympna Franklin, who founded 'Your Space Sorted' almost four years ago. Their warmth and professionalism made a great impression on me, not only because they bought me cake, but because they have a sincere passion for what they do and the difference it makes to the lives of those who make use of their services.
Chatting over the delicious homemade sweet treats at Amici's, Fleet, the enthusiasm for their work was immediately evident, as was their warmth and sensitivity to their work. Both had originally worked in the corporate world: Helen in banking and Dympna in insurance, so what had motivated them to set up as professional organisers? For Helen, her interest in organisation and storage came from the necessity of having to do it in her own life as the wife of a husband in the forces. Frequent house moves meant that packing up their belongings and labelling boxes in preparation for each move formed an interest in what she now calls 'realistic minimalism'. In Helen's words realistic minimalism is the process of reducing the amount of stuff you own, standing back from it and being able to say 'I don't really need all this stuff'. For Dympna, for whom organising an office was something she was paid to do everyday, the growth of her family meant that her home environment had become disorganised. Dympna had also grown up with a father who hoarded, and she was very much aware that she didn't want to end up in the same situation. Out of their own evolving relationships with their belongings, their business, 'Your Space Sorted', was born.
As their business has grown, Dympna and Helen have attracted all kinds of clients. Just some of the people they have helped declutter are owners of small businesses, struggling to organise their home office and paper work, the children of hoarders, who have called in their services on behalf of their parents, and crafts people who, like magpies, have collected all sorts of bits and bobs they think might one day 'be useful'. Although their work centres around the organisation and removal of 'stuff' in people's lives, Helen and Dympna's work also has a deeply emotional dimension and it's this aspect of their work that motivated me to meet them. As Helen says, clearing your stuff is 'a mental thing as well as a physical thing; it's a life edit.' Speaking of the emotional impact of what they do, Dympna adds, 'it's almost as if (the emotions is) in their stuff, and when you start to move it all, things come out.' The link between people's material lives and their emotional lives is perhaps why many of the clients the duo deal with are suffering from issues such as grief, whereby they are holding onto the possessions of loved ones who have died. Even certain needs, such as ADHD, whereby the client finds it difficult to process things and to complete tasks, are things that Helen and Dympna have found themsleves working with.
Given the emotional dimension of the work Dympna and Helen carry out with their clients, it's no surprise that they include skills, such as being empathetic, being a good listener, eliciting trust, and being non-judgmental, as being part of the service they offer and they are skills which put them apart from the other people in their clients' lives: 'people like sons and daughters can be too bossy,' explains Helen. 'We don't 'gang up' on the person like those closer to them might; we show sensitivity to their emotional needs.' As Dympna adds, ' sometimes it's because you're a stranger, and that they don't know you, that they'll let you in.' The process the ladies go through with their clients, which can be anything from short term work, lasting a few hours or weeks, to long term work, lasting up to a year, often leads to some amazing moments of emotional release for clients.
Their sensitivity to the emotional charge of their clients' accumulations is reflected in the carefully honed process they follow when in a client's space; as Helen says, 'we don't want people to doubt what they've gotten rid of.' During the time they spend with a client, one of them will help sort through items with the client, helping them to assess their need for each piece, and the other will be the 'runner', who is responsible for removing or reorganising items as decisions are made. During this process, Dympna will be 'listening for clues', meaning they will be listening carefully in an attempt to work out what's important to the client. As both ladies explain, part of this process is about 'listening to the story of an item; if people can tell you the story and get that out, then they can then let go.' Their goal during this process, as Helen explains, is to 'get them into the habit of what it feels like to let go and get used to it so they can continue to do it once we've left.' It's almost as if Helen and Dympna re-educate their clients and help them to learn that it's OK not to have something they've held onto. When their clients reach the moment they are ready to let go of items, Helen and Dympna might take a photograph of the item for the client, before giving the items a new home.
Indeed, a striking feature of their business is its environmental ethos: for anyone wondering where all the stuff they remove from their clients' homes goes, Helen has an emphatic answer: 'not into landfill; once the decision has been made about an item, we take it for them and let them know that it will be re-used; it will become someone else's.' The items that Helen and Dympna remove are often reallocated to charity shops or charities. One charity they work closely with is Step by Step in Aldershot, who can use things the ladies donate to them in the course of their work in order to help their service users to live independently. Other places that take the items that Helen and Dympna remove are schools which benefit greatly from any craft items they might have to offer.
As our coffee cups emptied at Amici's, it was clear to me what the benefits of using Helen and Dympna's services would be: they are emotional, physical and, quite often, financial benefits. Not only do clients end up living or working in a space which is physically more spaceous and organised, but also one which they can, once again, enjoy a clear mind in and entertain friends and family in. Helping clients to rationalise and reduce the stuff they have can often also lead to relieving the financial burden of keeping extraneous things in storage. It's at the end of the interview that I ask the ladies what their top tips are for decluttering your space . Here are Helen and Dympna's top 5 tips for getting your space sorted:
1. Keep only what you love; avoid keeping things out of guilt or because you think there's still life in it
2. When decluttering, focus on one small area at a time; be realistic about how much you can sort through in a given amount of time
3. Use a timer set to 10 minutes so you can declutter in short bursts; that way you can ensure you won't become overwhelmed
4. Don't be so hard on yourself: let go of any 'fantasy selves' you might be holding on that has led you to accumlating things you think you need but never use
5. Don't keep things 'for best'; use your best stuff everyday rather than leaving it to accumulate dust
To find out more about the services Helen and Dympna offer, follow this link to go to their facebook page: https: www.facebook.com/YourSpaceSorted
Or look them up on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/your_space_sorted
Alternatively, visit their website: http://www.yourspacesorted.co.uk/