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Headshot of APDO President Katherine Blackler

Presidents Day: An interview with Katherine Blackler, APDO President

18th February is Presidents Day – what better day than to have a catch up with our APDO President Katherine Blackler. Katherine runs her company SortMySpace Ltd in South East London, but has taken some time out today to share her story with us.

How did you get into your chosen career and why?

I left a fast-paced project manager role in the corporate world to work out “what makes my heart sing”. I had spent 15 years in the City organising people and processes but was experiencing a disconnect. Whenever I was plugged into the day job, I just couldn’t reflect easily.

In the past, I’d travelled between work contracts to gain perspective and inspiration. This time I decided to stay put in London and refurbish my small home instead. While I was sleeping on a friend’s sofa-bed to dodge the dust of the building work, I noticed an article on minimalism which my best friend had left out. The William Morris quote “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” jumped out at me. It changed the way I created my new space and saw my possessions. And, unbeknown to me, it started to shape my new career path.

I then took a six-week road trip across the USA where I found myself helping out my host families: organising the trunk of a sleep-deprived mum’s car to have items for the ‘top-end’ of their kids in one box and items pertaining to the ‘bottom-end’ in another!  I made suggestions for my cousins in Chicago on how to use their space differently to save the hassle of moving to a new house. I even found myself in IKEA with a tape measure within 24 hours of meeting one of my brother’s friends in LA!

At that point I’d never heard the concept of a professional organiser and declutterer, but it made me realise this was something I genuinely enjoyed and that it could be an expanding market in the UK in the near future. Amusingly, I initially googled the term “efficient living consultant” as I had no idea what I’d be called if I made the jump!

A group photo of APDO Board members

The APDO Board in January 2019, one of 3 live meetings a year that the APDO Board hold

How did you become APDO’s President?

I first volunteered to be part of the APDO conference team as I have experience of running events from my corporate life. The Board felt I would be a good fit for a new role as Head of Partnerships and Campaigns helping to connect the Association with relevant businesses and charities whose focus or products overlap with the work our members do. I introduced the concept of Donate a Day during National Organising Week 2016 whereby our members get together to give their time and expertise to a charity for the day. It started with one event in London with six organisers and by 2018’s National Organising Week, we had almost 40 members supporting 12 charities across the UK. That’s one of my proudest APDO achievements – thus far!

I then introduced a second campaign week to APDO’s diary and we launched Spring Clearing Week in 2018 as a twist on the traditional spring cleaning idea. We are expecting Spring Clearing Week to grow year on year now in the same way as National Organising Week has.

In April 2017 I became APDO’s President-Elect, shadowing the then President Ingrid Jansen (Organise Your House). I stepped up in April 2018 for a two-year term as President. When I step off the board, I’ll become Past President for one year, on-hand for advice and support to the next President.

Group photo of Katherine Blackler and APDO colleagues

Katherine and APDO colleagues during the first Donate a Day at Dress for Success during National Organising Week 2016

What do you hope to achieve during your Presidency?

I’d said in my manifesto that I want every household in the UK to know what a professional organiser and declutterer is before I step down! Nothing like an enormous goal to keep you focused (or permanently in post!). That’s not to say every household will also engage a professional organiser, but without knowing that our members and their services exist they won’t be able to even entertain the idea.

I’m convinced the concept is catching on. Anyone joining the industry now is getting an easier time finding clients and building their business than even a few years ago, even if it still feels slow to them! But we still have a long way to go until our services are as recognised and embraced as those of a window cleaner or a plumber.

I appreciate that you can now watch videos on YouTube on how to tile a bathroom (or indeed improve organisation in your wardrobe) but if you call in an expert it’ll be done in a fraction of the time, be tailored to your exact needs and it comes off your to-do list so you can do things you enjoy more!

What do you get from the President’s role?

Volunteering for APDO is undoubtedly a big commitment but it’s such an exciting time to be involved in this growing industry; I wouldn’t miss it for the world! We’re at a challenging transition point for the association as we position ourselves as THE go-to resource for professional organisers and the public. My board members, past and present, are a true inspiration. They are an enormous support as I learn and develop to be the best version of me that I can.

I see this role as supporting my personal goals of spreading the word further whether that’s speaking on stage, radio or TV (as well as continuing to work one-to-one with my clients). I feel our physical environment is so important to the way we operate and how we respond to the world and life’s curveballs. If I can help more people achieve some balance and joy that brings me huge satisfaction; it’s the ‘personal connection’ puzzle piece I was missing in my City days!

Screen shot of a video conference screen during an APDO virtual Board meeting

An APDO virtual Board meeting, one of 3 virtual meetings that the APDO Board hold each year

Why the sudden massive interest in decluttering and organising?

It’s been growing steadily for the past decade, but conversations have undoubtedly spiked with the Japanese decluttering expert Marie Kondo and her new show hitting Netflix this January. The fact that APDO has doubled our membership from 150 to over 300 members in the past 3 years demonstrates an increase in awareness as this as a career or business choice too.

With time being the most precious commodity of all, we’re all trying to find ways to gain time for friends, family and memorable experiences. One way to do that is to reduce what you need to curate, maintain, repair and replace in your home.  Great initiatives like the Library of Things are expanding where you can borrow household appliances that you only use once or twice a year instead of buying and storing them yourself.

I feel that social media is helping spread awareness about our buying patterns and the impact on the environment, especially issues like single-use plastic or throwaway clothing, so consumer habits are shifting too. These environmental trends align with the work we’re doing decluttering and asking our clients to consciously consider what’s necessary or joyful for them whilst trying to stem future influxes of items into their space.

I’m excited to see how things unravel over the next few years for APDO and all its members.

If Katherine’s story has inspired you to consider a career as a professional organiser, you can find out more about joining APDO here.

Welcome to Simplicity concept on road billboard

From Harvey Nichols to Diggory Lifestyle

Dee Hope runs Diggory Lifestyle covering Warwickshire, Cotswolds, Worcestershire and Oxfordshire. Her aim is to help clients to ‘dee-clutter’ for a simpler life. In this guest blog she shares her story; how she found her true calling by going on her own journey – and how this gave her true insight into to how to help her clients.

Dee Diggory

I am a declutterer. I help people release the things in their life that are not important and then help them create more space for the things that really matter.

My chosen career path emerged from the experiences I have had in life, and looking back, it is quite clear to me, that helping others is the most rewarding and fulfilling way to spend my days.

I was lucky to learn very early on in life that “things” will not make you happy, it was a very expensive lesson to learn, but I do consider it my most valued learning. I was 23 living in London as a professional nanny, I wasn’t very happy, I was new to the city and I felt quite isolated. I had just sold my flat and had several thousand pounds sitting in my bank account; so, what did I do? I went shopping. I walked up and down High Street, Kensington on my days off for months buying whatever grabbed my attention, skirts, tops, dresses, shoes, boots, sometimes two of the same item, until eventually, the money was all gone….

I remember standing in my room just looking at the stuff I’d bought, piles of it, most of which was still in bags and boxes, with tickets on, I’d never even opened them. I had felt the rush of the purchase, it had made me feel good, happy, but it was only fleeting.

It wasn’t real.

There was nowhere to hide, the money was gone, all I was left with was an empty feeling; and as I stood there silently looking at all the bags, I allowed myself to admit the truth, I was still unhappy and all these “things” had not helped.

So, I resolved to make some changes…

I gave notice to my employer and I sold all the ‘stuff’ that I had bought to friends at a fraction of the cost I paid for them. It was surprisingly easy to ‘let them go’, which was strange because at the time I bought them, I felt ‘I had to have them’. With the money I made, I just had enough to buy a ticket to Australia. I travelled for a year as a backpacker, I did all kinds of jobs, from crewing on a yacht to picking capsicums on a farm to working on a horse ranch. I had no money, certainly no things, but…I was happy. I met some weird and wonderful people and had some amazing experiences.

As I reflect back now and think about when I have been happiest, it is, in fact, a series of moments, involving people, my beloved dogs and sharing experiences, “never things”.

These days I try to help people recover some of the freedom that I felt after making such bold changes. Less radical perhaps, but by reducing and organising possessions it is very possible to create space for life rather than “things”.

I have had many jobs, from nanny (expert with small children) to Executive Assistant (expert with big children) and use my skills and experiences to help my clients big and small put the important things back into their lives. Not only organising and prioritising their world, but also sharing techniques and tools, systems and insights, motivation and methods to maintain the process long after I’ve gone.

As I have said, this is the most rewarding work I have ever done.

One of my very first clients was a young mum suffering from post-natal depression. She asked for my help, her self-esteem was so low, she didn’t trust herself to know when to turn the dishwasher on. She told me I was her last chance if I failed, she believed she may not have a future with her husband and baby. I am delighted to say I did not fail, she sent me a lovely card in which she wrote:

“Dee, thanks so much for the support, help and problem solving. Just having a listening ear was enough to help me move forward, let alone the decluttering and pro-activeness that followed! My confidence has soared and I’m finally being the organised mum I’ve always wanted to be!”

As if I ever needed reminding, this letter always tells me where happiness lies…and it is not in Harvey Nichols or Peter Jones.

Diggory Lifestyle has many services. Each tailored to match different moments in your life and adapted to your unique circumstances and budget.

Perhaps this guest blog has inspired you to consider professional organising as a career change! If so, find out more about training and joining APDO. If you feel you could benefit from the services APDO members like Dee have to offer, find a local organiser here.