You know the surface of your desk is there. You can’t quite remember its color, but it’s there, hidden underneath a pile of paid electric bills, auto repair receipts and forgotten to-do lists.
If it’s not a cluttered desk, it’s a junk drawer full of odds and ends, a spare bedroom turned storage unit for holiday decorations, or a workshop crammed with tools and half-finished projects.
You may even be buried under a mess that qualifies for TLC’s “Hoarding: Buried Alive.”
Lori Nadeau, 53, of Carmel can walk into a disaster area and visualize everything in its place.
When Nadeau’s mother passed away three years ago, she waited about a year before clearing out her mother’s belongings from her 78-year-old father’s house and garage. Her mother went to many yard sales over the years and collected everything from knickknacks to blankets, bureaus and bookshelves, stacking them in front of windows and doorways, creating a hazard for her father.
While Nadeau and her father were cleaning, he turned to her and asked, “What would I have done if it wasn’t for you? What do people my age do if they don’t have a daughter like you to help them?”
Nadeau said she was saddened by the thought of elderly people having to go through a loved one’s clothes, jewelry and photographs on their own.
“A couple of [my father’s] friends came in while we were finishing up the garage and they said, ‘Jeez, can I rent your daughter for a day?’” Nadeau said. “A lot of times family members just won’t help them. Or the people won’t ask family members to help because they don’t want to be a burden. They’d rather pay someone to come in and do it than to ask a son or daughter to help.”
This spring, after being on unemployment off and on for more than two years, and with the encouragement of friends and relatives, Nadeau turned her organizing skills into her own business, Desperate Spaces. Her business’ logo, displayed on the side of her truck, reads, “I’ll help you accomplish what your own kids won’t.”
The logo includes a cartoon character who bears a striking resemblance to Nadeau: tall and slim, brown hair, holding a hammer in one hand and wood shelving in the other, dressed in jeans, T-shirt and sneakers, with a pink tool belt wrapped around her waist.
Nadeau doesn’t sport a pink tool belt, but she provides her own tools, cleaning supplies and organizing materials.
As a professional organizer, Nadeau’s goal is to help clients eliminate clutter and maximize space. Her services include decluttering rooms, helping people move and even straightening out budgets. She helps clients decide which possessions to keep, which to donate, and which to throw out and then takes care of them all.
“Some people can’t picture how to get started; I can. I can walk in and see that this can be like this, and they can’t get that far, so they just turn around and walk out. So once I talk to them and get going on it they get excited,” Nadeau said.
After seeing an advertisement for Desperate Spaces, Jane Knight, 86, of Bangor called Nadeau for help. Knight, who lives alone with her tabby cat Morris, is considering going into assisted living in the spring and wants to be organized if she decides to move.
“I’m a pack rat, and I realized that,” Knight said.
The first thing Nadeau did when she came into Knight’s home was sit down at her kitchen table with her and go over what she wanted to accomplish. Knight was impressed with Nadeau’s work ethic and how willing she was to work around her schedule.
“She was very cheerful and agile,” Knight said, noting that Nadeau went down on all fours to clean out drawers and climbed up shelves and stairs to organize packed closets and an overloaded bedroom. “I hardly had to do anything. It worked beautifully.”
Knight continued, “If I ever need help of that type again or if I do end up moving, I’d definitely hire her again.”
Starting a business in this economy was surprisingly easy for Nadeau. After spending $250 to get her logo and contact information displayed on the white 1998 GMC pickup she already owned, and getting pamphlets and business cards printed, her business was off and running. She joined the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce and advertises in the Carmel newsletter.
“Getting people to know that I exist, that’s the hardest part,” Nadeau said.
Nadeau’s only business experience was from taking courses in high school and working as a secretary in offices.
“You have to just take chances,” she said. “You can’t be scared to try something. Invest a little bit and see how it goes. Every business is different of course, but with this, you just have to go for it.”
Nadeau’s jobs can take either a couple of days or a couple of weeks. She offers free estimates. The hardest part is determining a price.
“I take a look at the job first before I give anybody a quote because if it’s a small job or an elderly lady that’s all alone, I’m definitely going to do something for her,” Nadeau said. “It averages $25-30 an hour.”
Nadeau hopes to expand her business to include outdoor tasks such as revamping flower beds, painting tool sheds and putting up window boxes. “Lawn service is still a desperate space,” she said.
Nadeau is happy with her business’ progress. She estimates that Desperate Spaces has had about 10 clients since she started this spring, and she has made back her upfront costs of about $1,000.
“This isn’t about money,” Nadeau said. “This is about keeping me busy, not being idle, having a little income coming in and helping people. That is the biggest thing I want to do. Because I was doing this for free way before I thought of the business.”
Helping others and watching their faces light up once everything is organized is the most rewarding part of Nadeau’s job.
“We have a lot of fun,” she said. “We make it fun. It’s not a job, it’s fun.”
On the Web: www.desperatespaces.com.
Q & A about organizing with Lori Nadeau, owner of Desperate Spaces
Q. Do you think it’s hard for people to ask for help decluttering?
A. Yes, they have to be ready to part with stuff and if they’re not, we’ll just put things aside. And sometimes with stuff, once you get going they’re just like, “Oh that can go too.” Once you’ve broken the ice on that, they start letting go.
Q. What’s your best advice for trying to make the most of a small space?
A. Adding shelving; hideaway stuff like baskets; drawers; hooks; dividers; a seating chest that could be used for storage. There’s a lot of different things you can do with a small space. Mostly things that can be used multiple ways.
Q. What’s the best way for someone to decide what gets thrown out, what gets donated and what gets kept?
A. If they haven’t seen it in three years, they probably don’t need it. If they did find it after three years they have to figure out if they can get along without it now. They have to have a mindset and be ready. If they’re not ready, if someone’s making them do it, they’re not going to do it. If they’re ready, if they’ve had enough, they’ll let stuff go.
Q. How do you think an unorganized and cluttered area affects someone’s mindset?
A. People get stressed and overwhelmed, they feel smothered. Even if you have a desk that is sky high with clutter and stuff, you get overwhelmed. When your desk is cleared you’re not going to feel half as smothered. So, just by organizing it makes a big difference in your room too. When you organize your home, you begin to start organizing other areas of your life. Usually with an unorganized person, everything is unorganized.
Professional organizer Lori Nadeau names
her favorite organizing items.
1. Totes: Set of three storage totes, different sizes; $10.88; Walmart.com and select stores
2. Boxes: Grocery stores and restaurants usually have extra cardboard boxes and will most likely give them away for free.
3. Bubble wrap: Staples Standard Bubble Wrap, 12 inches by 25 feet, for wrapping individual items; $6.49; Staples.com and select stores
5. Markers: Sharpie Fine Point Permanent Markers, black, five pack; $4.99; Staples.com and select stores
6. Blank labels: Avery Removable Label Pads, 2 by 4 inches, white, 40 pack; $3.49; http://Staples.com and select stores
8. Vacuum: Shop Vac 8 Gallon Wet-Dry Vacuum; $55; Walmart.com and select stores photo available from walmart.com
9. Dolly: Magna Cart 150-pound Capacity Hand Truck; $24.88; Walmart.com and select stores photo available on walmart.com
10. Screw gun: RIDGID 1/4 in. AC Collated Screw Gun; $99.98; homedepot.com and select stores