One Woman’s Mission To Declutter, Organize and Donate

first_imgStory and Photos by Art PetrosemoloToday, modern houses with big families can have lots of stuff. It may get out of hand as the reality TV documentary series “Hoarders” so graphically illustrates.Everyone wants to declutter and organize but unfortunately there just isn’t an “app” for that. It takes willpower and, at times, professional help.Home organizer and entrepreneur Jessica Carroll makes her living helping people actually declutter and organize, not just talk about it. But she doesn’t stop there. She works with local charities to see that all that goes out the door finds new life and a new home with families that need it.Carroll, 36, a single mother of four children ages 9 to 17 got started in the business by accident. “I was working in an after-school church program in Asbury Park and many of the children didn’t have clothes or toys. We even had kids in pajamas,” said the West Long Branch resident. Carroll began bringing in clothing her children had outgrown. “But I wanted to do more,” she said.About the same time, the school principal asked Carroll if she would organize the office. “I was organized even when I was in elementary school and thought I could help. I just took to it,” Carroll said. “The principal was happy with the results and I even surprised myself.” It opened her eyes that she might be able to be paid as a professional organizer.The final push into a business came when while watching a TV episode of “Hoarders” on A&E, in which professionals help compulsive hoarders with real life struggles achieve a major cleanup. She remembers thinking, “I can do that – and maybe I can take it a step further and help those organizing and decluttering donate what’s going out to those people who need it most.”Carroll, who started and runs a Red Bank networking group called WINGS (Women, Inspiring, Networking, Giving, Supporting) brought up the subject with her colleagues a few years ago. Everyone was enthusiastic and several in the group hired her to help them organize.She had no idea how broad the business would become. “When you think of organizing, the first thing that comes to mind is a closet,” she said. “Closets are just the tip of the iceberg.” In the past five years, she has organized and decluttered closets, kitchens, bathrooms, garages, basements, attics, sheds and everything in-between.The first step is called “purging” and it means walking away from things that you don’t use, don’t love or don’t cherish. It all goes into large, black contractors’ bags, Carroll explains.She can suggest shelving as part of the plan (strong, plastic and easy to assemble from a big box store) or to work with a small local contractor to have shelves, counters or boxes built as needed. “But I encourage people not to rush out and buy new stuff when they are trying to declutter,” she said. “First, it’s best to use those plastic storage boxes or other containers already sitting in your garage that you bought years ago.”Carroll asks customers to look at organizing in a new way and to focus on one room at a time even though they may eventually need the same thing done in multiple rooms. “Ultimately the client has to make the decision on what stays and what goes,” she said. “My goal is to be sure clients are happy with their decisions.” All the old treasures that a client agrees to part with get hauled to Carroll’s SUV and dropped off (sometimes 30 bags in a week) at her mother’s house in Ocean County. Mary Varian folds all the clothing and separates other items for donation.Organize By Design helps keep the shelves filled at many charities. Carroll knows who uses what, so for example, Birthright in Red Bank gets maternity and baby clothes, Lunch Break will get new toys, and the Goodwill in Ocean gets lots of clothing. “For some clients, knowing what they downsize and declutter is donated to a charity is very important,” said Carroll.Carroll laments the closing of the Clothes Closet in Asbury Park, which was a free community thrift shop and one she kept supplied on a regular basis. “I always am thinking of the kids I taught in pre-school and how they needed so much,” Carroll said. All of her clients receive donation receipts for tax purposes.Carroll’s jobs may be as small as one room or a garage or as big as the 5,000-square-foot penthouse in New Brunswick she helped organize and pack for moving. She works in three-hour blocks (at approximately $100/hour) which gives her the flexibility to see her children off to school and be home as needed.There seems to be no shortage of clients for Organize By Design and new ones find Carroll by referrals or from her Facebook page. Although the primary business is to declutter, downsize and donate, her clients have asked her to do even more – like decorate for the holidays and wrap presents.Carroll’s clients are loyal and use her again and again for her organizing skills. Her first client still retains her 10 hours a month for a variety of organizing tasks. “She is a busy woman,” Carroll said, “and feels better when her non-work life is organized.”As can be imagined, Carroll gets surprised, at times, when she finds valuable antiques, paintings, gift certificates and even cash as she helps a client dive into a mountain of good intentions. She works with local antique shops and appraisers to help clients find out if something is indeed valuable before they part with it. “And sometimes customers are as surprised as I am when they come across an envelope of money or gift cards they had forgotten about years ago,” she said.For a business she backed into, there seems to be a bright future ahead for Carroll as she helps old and new clients part with what they don’t need or use and find it a new home. “Everyone wins then,” she said, smiling.last_img

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