Most of us know someone who chose a professional direction in college, got the credentials they needed, entered the field and was happy and successful. We say, good for them.
For the rest of us, however, the route to professional satisfaction and sustainable income may have been circuitous. It may have involved a few stops and starts. That’s why, when we hear of a community member who truly found their professional niche mid-career, we celebrate their accomplishment.
Ellen Smith of Highland Park is one such success story.
A dozen years ago, Smith found herself at a professional crossroads. By a curious turn of events, a local friend, recently widowed, offered to pay for her help in organizing medical paperwork. Smith found that she liked the work and was really good at it. The friend agreed and hired her to help organize her bedroom, then other rooms, then her friend’s entire house, then to help stage the house for sale. The house sold quickly, after which the friend had Smith assist her in downsizing into a small house.
Smith learned from another friend that organizing is a professional field all its own and there’s a well-regarded organization, the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO), that provides useful resources, continuing education and networking. She joined the national group and appreciated what she saw. Later, she joined the North Jersey chapter of NAPO as well and got involved there. She’s now the program director for NAPO-NJ and a member of the board.
Her business, iDeclutter, has grown to provide support in five distinct areas: closets, home offices, organizing entire homes, kosher-kitchen set-up and environmentally friendly disposition of unwanted items. iDeclutter has served dozens of clients seeking professional help in organizing projects, big and small.
Smith worked with one client whose clothes bar and shelves in her large walk-in closet had collapsed and she needed to organize everything in one day, outside the closet, before a carpenter came to rebuild the closet. Another client, a single mom and her daughter, hired Smith for one fall day. She worked with the mother to free up the dining room table from being used as a desk and “catch all,” then worked with the daughter to improve the usability of her room for studying and to clear up a chaotic (and potentially hazardous) tangle of electrical wires.
In January 2018, a woman called her with an urgent situation—her home was out of control, she had a lot of cats, and she had to move out in two months! Smith worked with her carefully, for roughly 50 hours, to sort and purge and they emptied the house in time for the transition. Smith saw her on move-out day and the client was very happy that Smith had helped her reach that point relatively stress free.
Smith is passionate about what she does and loves her work. She said that the best moments in her business are “when the client notices the results and gets excited about the changes in their living spaces.” She recalled one client who, after working with her, declared, “I don’t hate my kitchen anymore!”
Smith also takes pride in the professionalism of her work. iDeclutter is fully insured and covered for any unintended damages to clients’ homes, accidents while driving for work, and errors and omissions in referring other contractors. And Smith regularly takes continuing education classes and webinars on topics like organizing techniques, running a small business, using social media and other subjects.
Smith observed that the biggest challenge in working with a client is “to identify what they really need and want to accomplish, to clarify their goals and to help them get there as comfortably as possible.” To do this, Smith asks lots of questions and keeps in mind that, especially at the outset, one of her key skills is to be an expert listener. Then she tailors the analyzing, sorting and scaling-down process to meet the preferences of the client.
iDeclutter recently introduced a new line of services, “Outfits by Ellen,” in which Smith reviews a client’s entire wardrobe, suggests ensembles matched to different settings or situations, and reorganizes their closet to better showcase the client’s options.
One of the clients for this new service, Gayle Gruenberg, commented, “Ellen worked with me one day this past March to take an inventory of my wardrobe and use what I already have to create new outfits. I was constantly exclaiming, ‘I never would have put those together if you hadn’t suggested it!’ She helped me see different ways I could coordinate individual pieces into stylish combinations. She put colors and items together that I wouldn’t have tried, which was a very welcome new way of looking at what I own.”
Ellen Smith and iDeclutter also get rave reviews for her “standard” services.
Donna Mensch of Edison stated: “After my mother passed away, two years ago, Ellen helped me to clean out her apartment, sort between what to keep and what to discard, and find suitable organizations to receive the lightly used things I didn’t want. She was very respectful and very patient, which I appreciated a lot as she worked with me for close to a year. And she has a good clear mind; she’s not just a great clean-up coordinator but a great coach in the decision making. I recommend her unreservedly!”
By Harry Glazer