Let's get right to the point, because that's what Martha Goss would do.
Martha Goss, you see, is a professional organizer. She started in January 2006, and has since helped nearly 150 people clear their clutter, scrap their stuff, create command from chaos, and even surrender dust-covered shotglass collections and bottle openers.
The Twin Lakes woman operates Organize it with Martha.
"I've always been one of those organized people, but not annoyingly so, I'd like to believe," she said, smiling.
Goss, a wife and mother, grew up just outside Cleveland and attended Kent State University. She entered into the small business world for a time, and worked briefly for IBM.
Nothing, though, beats the joy of sensing there is a flow to life, that work is busy but moving smoothly, that there is order at home - even in the garage.
"That's the feeling that I love, that flow feeling," she said. "But you have to be organized to have that happen. So that's why I do what I do."
Others have noticed she's good at it, too.
Goss, along with professional organizer Cindy Vanhoff, owner of reclaimed spaces, llc, will appear in an upcoming episode of Prime Time Emmy nominated A&E TV series, "HOARDERS."
The pair unite "to provide organizing assistance and aftercare to an Inland Northwest family working to overcome the debilitating and often-stigmatized disease of hoarding," according to a press release."
"When you help transform someone's life for the better, that's really cool," Goss said.
How did you become a professional organizer?
First I thought I wanted to become a business consultant. I'm a really hands-on person, so I started doing some online research and I found the National Association of Professional Organizers. And who knew there was such a place? That's what they do, hands on organizing, helping people with their stuff.
So why do people have so much stuff?
We don't want to make a decision on it, so we'll just put it in the garage or the spare bedroom or that one closet. Whatever. It's so easy to buy stuff.
What do you tell them?
Basically, I teach people how to make decisions. Because they say that clutter is like a delayed decision, basically. If you have a bunch of stuff hanging out in your garage that you haven't touched in years, you have a bunch of delayed decisions that you don't really want to deal with.
So we need to make decisions?
If you want your garage back. (laughs) If you like parking outside, that's fine. It's up to you.
I like to see a home or a business where a person can utilize all the space. You pay for all that space. If certain parts of your house have become like a storage unit, you're still paying for it. You want to be able to enjoy that space.
What's the typical phone call you receive from a potential client?
It's usually, 'I need help. I have a ton of stuff. I have an office I can't get into. I have a mess. I can't find things. I'm always looking for stuff. I'm always late.' A lot of times, I get a call from a little home-based business. They started out on the kitchen table and they moved to the living room, now they're in the spare bedroom, but they left a trail. They're trying to figure out where they can do this, how they can make it happen. Or it's the business professional who wants to go through their closet. They have a ton of clothes, but they never feel like they have anything to wear. So we go through their closet, we get it organized and suddenly they have more confidence because they know what they're wearing and it reflects in the way they work.
What about people who collect books, albums or cassette tapes? Why do we collect and save things like that?
Some of the collections, there's a perceived value. I'm reminded of this one client four or five years ago, before the economy went bad. They had thousands and thousands of Beanie Babies, and that was their retirement. I can't imagine they're worth anything now, maybe there's a market for it. It's the perception this is their retirement or this is worth a lot. And honestly, our stuff is not worth near as much as we think it is. I'm sorry to tell you.
How hard is it for you to convince people to get organized, to give up their stuff?
I only work with clients who are really ready to make not just a change, but a transition to a new way of being. They've been messy their whole life. They're ready to transition out of that and into being that organized person.
They're so ready that they're like sponges. They really listen to what I suggest. I also have to gain their trust, because if they don't trust me, they're not going to listen to anything I say.
I do take training on what I do, from the National Association of Professional organizers. And there's another organization called Institute for Challenging Disorganization and they deal with chronically disorganized people and hoarders. So I take training through both of those places.
So I have a whole toolbox of techniques I can use with a client. If one doesn't work, that's fine. But I have a whole bunch of other ones. But it's basically to help them see their stuff so they can understand what stuff is important, really to their life and so they can make an informed decision. I don't want them to have purging remorse. I want them to be happy that 'The best thing I ever did was let that ceramic chicken collection go.' That's what I want them to feel, that happiness that it's good that they've moved on.
Have you ever been surprised by a client's amount of stuff?
There's not much that surprised me. They always say, 'Mine is the worst, I have the most stuff.' I'm not running a contest. Really, I'm not overwhelmed by what it is. As long as they're excited about moving forward, they kind of have an idea of what their goals are in their life, that they don't want to be that messy person, that they want to be organized, that they want this room clean, then we can move forward.
Were you a neat and tidy kid?
Let's get my mom on the phone. (laughs) No, I'm human. I lean that direction. I like systems. I like to see how that work flows, even if it's in the home and you're cooking dinner, how you can struggle when you're cooking dinner, or it can feel really good. It's just the simplest little things.
So yes, I have always been this person, but I am not over the top. I do not impose my own lifestyle or values onto somebody else. What's important to my clients is what we focus in on.
Do you always get results?
Pretty much. They want to make those choices and changes. Sometimes the results are amazing. One client I was just working with before Christmas, they had a room that was supposed to be a homework, craft room and it had bookshelves. It had become the place, 'I don't know what to do with this, I'm going to dump it in this spare room.'
So we removed everything, we went through all the stuff that had been in there, we put all the books back and we set up a craft area.
The next weekend I came back, and the mom is so happy. Her son has never done homework at her home. He always goes somewhere else to do it, and he was doing homework for the first time ever in that room. That brings tears to my eyes. That's like changing a whole family way of being.
It's a really cool thing to change somebody's life like that.
Are we aware of what the lack of organization, clutter, stuff, does to our lives?
Some people do. They just need some help. For some, it's situational disorganization. They just moved into a place that's smaller than they had before. They just need some help going though boxes. That's one thing.
Some people don't. The hoarders and the chronically disorganized know there's something that's not 100 percent right, they're not 100 percent aware of just how damaging all that stuff is.
Think about it. Stuff gives out fibers. It becomes a breeding ground for mold. It invites rodents to move in. And heaven forbid if you have a lot of clutter and a cat because the world is their litter box. There's a lot of health issues that come from having a lot of stuff and living amongst it.
What's the best part of your work?
Transforming somebody's life. It seems so innocent. We're going to organize the bedroom. OK. But suddenly, they start looking at life in a whole different way. It's more than just the stuff. It really changes their life and the way they interact with their stuff, with other people. I know that sounds so cliche, but it's true.
What about the challenges of your work?
The hoarders don't want to come out and let people know they exist. There's a lot of stigma with it. They don't want to let go of anything. I have to utilize every tool in the toolbox.
Is there a client you had to convince to surrender things?
One client had a fabric collection that stemmed back to 1973. She was well into her 80s and she was a joy to work with. She just had come to the conclusion that she needed to get down to the stuff she wanted to sew with. She didn't want the stuff from 1973 for sure. She let a lot go.
How long will you usually work with a client?
Depends. If it's situational disorganization, it's probably just a one time deal, like I help them unpack those boxes that have gone untouched in their garage for five years and they're tired of parking outside during a snowy winter. That might take 12-16 hours to really get it all sorted through, put stuff away, make the garage shine.
A chronically disorganized person, I might work with them more than once. And some people, I come in, do a project and leave for a while. They call, 'I'm ready to hit the craft room,' I'll come and do that and go away.
Chronically disorganized people do best if they have somebody come in on a regular basis to keep them on track, even it it's just quarterly.
Is this a serious problem in America?
It doesn't just affect them. If I'm late to an appointment because I'm disorganized, we affect the whole day of somebody else. It affects families, it affects friends, it could effect neighbors, there's just all kind of effects from this, not just what happens to the person.
What's one piece of advice you would give to people looking to sort out their life?
Bite off little pieces. Don't think you have to do the whole project. Don't say I'm going to go out and clean the entire garage in one weekend. That's ridiculous. Maybe just get your tool bench organized, or one set of shelves, so you can have a little bit of success. Then, build on that success.
By the way, do you have any collections at home?
I had a ceramic chicken collection. I sold it quite a few years ago. Best thing I ever did.