The Art of Order

—Professional Organizers

2019 / December

Chen Chun-fang /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Phil Newell

People in modern times are rich in material possessions. Yet mountains of “stuff” do not bring happiness, and in fact people get lost in their clutter. It is for this reason that the role of “professional organ­izer” came into existence.

Come with us to the workplaces of organizing consultant Sasha Ho and “closet visitor” Lai Tinghe to take a look at this mysterious and fascinating new field.

When you open your closet door, objects fall out onto your head; your room is full of books and clothing, leaving no space to move around; or there is a huge stack of cardboard boxes in a corner, out of which mice and cockroaches run as soon as you touch it…. Situations like these are the daily bread of professional organizers.

All in a day’s work

People often confuse professional organizers with cleaning services. Home organizing consultant Sasha Ho says that home cleaning is about getting rid of dirt, and is achieved simply by sweeping or washing away the dust and dirt in the home. But organizing is about getting rid of chaos, and it requires dealing with the clutter of possessions that have been placed without any logic and rooms in which it is difficult to move around.

Organizers change the placement of furniture and create storage areas to realize the client’s vision of having a comfortable space where they can feel at ease. Sasha Ho says that she once simply rearranged the flow of a room to turn an unattractive space into an area with four functions: bedroom, living room, library, and yoga space. The client said this was the most satisfying room she had ever had in her life.

Organizers often have to deal with clients’ moods. Sometimes clients will get in a pique and stop the project halfway through, or they will get dejected seeing all the objects they wasted their money on, or there will be family arguments in the middle of the organizing process. Sometimes organizers must not merely beautify the space they are working on, they also have to investigate the source of the problem. For example, once a wife commissioned Ho to rearrange her dining room, but the husband and wife had different opinions and stuck to them. It was only by understanding the couple in depth that Ho discovered that the wife wanted to give her children the same happy memories she had from her childhood of the whole family chatting as they ate together at the dining table, whereas the husband had been eating in the living room since he was small. Making the dining room more attractive wouldn’t necessarily fix the situation, but after Ho uncovered the root cause of their disagreement, the couple understood each other better, so that once the reorganization was complete they could be more considerate to each other and work together to create the atmosphere they wanted in their home.

To be an organizer takes not only skills in spatial design and in organizing people’s belongings, but also the ability to communicate, advise and persuade, as well as a good portion of empathy.

Natural talent

When Ho set up her consultancy in February 2016, she was one of the first professional organizers in Taiwan.

When Sasha Ho was small, twice a year her father would get her and her younger sister to help rearrange the furniture, and taught them how to measure spaces and think about the interrelationships in the placement of objects. The two sisters often changed the layouts and furniture in their rooms, painting walls and decorating closets by themselves, and this planted the seeds in their minds of how to beautify space. After Ho got married, she and her husband lived in an old house, and most of their furniture was secondhand stuff given to them by relatives. ­Although it was practical it was not appealing to the eye, so she continually rearranged it. Moreover, in 2015, after she had saved enough money, she had her kitchen and floors renovated. She chose the materials and drew up the design herself, personally creating the kitchen of her dreams.

Seeing his daughter transform her home into an orderly and beautiful living space, Ho’s father suggested that she launch an organizing business, to identify the problems in other people’s homes and help them beautify their living environments. So that is how Ho got into the business.

Ho has shared what she has learned from renovating her own home over the years on her Facebook fan page, and created her personal image of always wearing a qipao (traditional Chinese dress).

When she first started out she got one or two commissions per month, but by the end of 2017 she was getting them in the teens. Today, Ho offers training classes for professional organizers, lectures widely, and even has founded the Heart, Hope, Space International Organization of Professional Organizers, which staged Taiwan’s first-ever certification exam for professional organizers this October. Ho feels moved every time she sees the transformation of clients from anxiety and unhappiness before their homes are reorganized to satisfaction and smiles afterwards.

The closet visitor

To get ahead in the world of professional organizing requires a distinctive skills profile. Lai Tinghe has leveraged her superior fashion sense to set up her own brand, “Closet Visitor,” which offers closet organizing and clothes shopping advice.

On the day of our interview, we go with Lai to a client’s home, where she gives the client a color test. To avoid being distracted by other colors, Lai first drapes a white smock over the torso of the client, who is wearing no makeup. Then, she uses pieces of colored cloth, two at a time, to evaluate which color combinations best match her client’s skin, eyes and hair. The concept of “seasonal colors” assigns color palettes to individuals based on the natural colors of the four seasons, with warm colors for “spring” and “autumn” types and cool colors for “summer” and “winter” types. Across the different palettes, the “same” color can have many variations of chroma and color value.

Every individual has a different skin tone, eye color, and lip color. By observing how each of the colored cloths affects the appearance of her client’s face, such as giving her a better complexion, Lai can determine which “season” she belongs to, to provide a color palette that can guide her in choosing clothes and makeup.

Lai Tinghe says that the ways in which people use seasonal colors can be heaven or hell. Some base their clothes buying entirely on their color swatches, doggedly seeking out the exact colors, but this takes all the joy out of shopping. The heavenly approach is to know what colors best suit you, and to keep the main focus on yourself. Lai cites herself as a case in point. Although she knows that white does not suit her, it matches the personal image she wants to project, so she combines white clothes with scarves in “autumn” colors. So long as colors that suit her are positioned close to her face, she can make herself look good.

A new aura

Since she began taking commissions in 2017, Lai has had many clients who have been distressed that they don’t fit the mainstream aesthetic in Taiwan: light-­complexioned, slim, and beautiful. But in Lai’s eyes the things these clients worry about, such as having a long face or small eyes, are in fact part of their individuality, and as long as the right clothing can be found, they can be shown to their best advantage. This is why she has analyzed the hundreds of cases that have passed through her hands, studied the different races of the world and the attire of different regions, and compared face and body shapes, to develop her concept of the “three categories of role-based style.” She divides clients into three cat­egories—care­givers, leaders, and dreamers—based on their facial features, the length of their faces, and their body shapes, thereby revealing the basic principles for the appropriate attire of each individual. For example, a leader will project a sense of power when wearing a Western-­style suit and trench coat, whereas these would look out of place on a dreamer, like a child wearing adult attire.

Lai also organizes closets. She starts by taking all the clothes out and having the client separate them into five categories: I like it; it’s OK; I don’t really like it; it’s functional around the house; it has memories attached. As the classification proceeds, the client will gradually be surrounded by clothing, which Lai calls the “magic circle” of organization. Over time, it becomes increasingly clear which category each piece of attire belongs in. For example, if a person thinks of placing a garment that they don’t ­really like but can’t bring themselves to throw away onto the “I like it” pile, they will ask themselves, “Do I really like it?” Throughout the process, Lai observes the client’s facial expressions. Especially for apparel in the “it’s OK” section, through continual questions she unravels the connection between the client and the garment: perhaps it was a gift from a friend or family member, or perhaps it is associated with some beautiful memory. Some clients even discover that they have lived their entire lives guided by the judgments of others, without ever listening to their own voices.

Everything that is related to a person’s style falls within Lai’s purview, including clothes, shoes, bags, makeup, hairstyles, and eyeglasses. After helping the client organ­ize her closet, Lai will set out several appropriate outfits and give advice on cosmetics and coiffure. Take for example a person who is in the habit of wearing simply a shirt and pants. With Lai’s skilled mixing and matching, she might brighten up her appearance by wearing a plain dress over a camisole with a colorful scarf collar, or improve a long face by turning her blouse back to front. Even without movie-star looks, with the right clothes anyone can project a certain aura.

Since founding the “Closet Visitor” brand, Lai Tinghe has always had an eye toward environmental protection. By discovering the potential for beauty in each person’s closet, and helping clients to know themselves better, she hopes they will no longer buy things blindly, and can escape from the dizzying treadmill of fast fashion. As ­Sasha Ho says, “The first character in the Chinese word for ‘organize’ is zheng, which means ‘to put into good order,’ and this applies to the space we are working on; while the second character, li, means ‘to rationalize’ or ‘make rational,’ and that refers to the confusion and fatigue in the client’s mind.” Professional organizers guide people to discover problems, see their own real nature, and find more beauty in life.        

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