updated 4 Jan 2011, 12:47
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Wed, Dec 29, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer
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Decluttering-don't know where to start? A professional organizer can help
by Anne A. Jambora

"CLUTTER IS a physical manifestation of indecision. It's there because you haven't decided what to do with it," says professional organizer Kat Ong.

When you've tried your best clearing your stuff and failed; when you buy things and then you can't find them; when you're always missing things; when the mess is so overwhelming you don't know where to start unloading; when you're fed up-it's time to seek out a professional organizer.

A professional organizer like Ong clears your home, and your mind, of clutter and brings order back into your life. As one of Ong's satisfied clients declared, ridding her home of eyesores that bugged her for so long felt like losing 30 pounds.

Like a personal trainer, Ong motivates clients to keep going as they rummage through their houses accompanied by her, one block of space at a time. Like a life coach, Ong makes people aware of their relationship with material things and teaches them how to let go of those they don't really need.

"Ideally you keep what you love and use. You have to weed things out. There are some things you keep because you use them, but you don't really love them, like a hammer. But most people hold on to things they might use someday and never really get to use them at all," she says.

Honoring stuff

Filipinos, she notes, are especially notorious for holding on to so many keepsakes that actually do not bear any sentimental value. Not that keeping mementos is wrong. If you want to keep them, she says, you have to honor them for what they are and put them in proper storage. If they end up collecting dust and getting dumped in one corner until they get damaged, what's the point?

"You have to be brutally honest. What's the worst thing that could happen if you let go of an object?" asks Ong.

Holding on to stuff can probably be traced back to World War II when things were scarce and Filipinos held on the anything they could get, she says. It was practical at that time, but not today.

The Filipinos' "sayang" attitude is also probably caused by how difficult it is to acquire things in the country. For instance, you must wait weeks, sometimes months, for your items to get shipped into the country. Compare that to someone who lives in the US who has easy access to practically everything s/he needs.

System, order

Organizing is also about rethinking the meaning of sayang and mahal kasi. People like buying fancy things they never use because it's sayang. Ong says it becomes sayang if you bought an expensive item which never gets used. One client, she says, lost to a flood her collection of several nice things she never even got to use.

If you don't need it, give it away, says Ong. If you don't want to give them away, rotate your things so you get to use everything.

"Clutter is anything that is not in its proper place. If everything has a proper place in the house, you know where everything goes when you purchase more items. Nine out of 10 homes have some form of clutter. A lot of people just need to put a system into organizing and a 'buddy' to do it with," says Ong.

The problem with most people is they look at a room, and immediately begin unloading stuff. Then they get overwhelmed and put them back in. So they're back where they started.

No matter the amount of clutter, people should start clearing one block at a time, she advises.

A professional organizer will set up a system to clearing so things will flow well, Ong says. It's a process of sorting and editing, but so many people get lost in it that they don't know where to start.

"Every household has some semblance of organization. It's a system that simply went wrong. It's not a moral issue. Like some people know how to cook, some people don't," says Ong.


After interviewing a client, Ong takes photos of the room/house and studies them for some hours. When she's come up with a solution, she consults with the client about moving things, rearranging furniture, getting new storage systems, etc. She never does anything that is not approved by the client.

"The real challenge, for me, is not the amount of task to be done; it's how the client is willing to make changes. If nothing is decided on what to do with the excess things, nothing is ever going to move. If a client is not ready to let go, nothing will ever change," she says.

When she studied professional organizing in the US nine years ago, Ong was lucky to be mentored by Julie Morgenstern, dubbed the "queen of putting people's lives in order" and an occasional guest of Oprah. Her works with Morgenstern have been featured in foreign glossies.

As a pioneer in the local industry, Ong had a hard time introducing the concept to Filipinos. She once told her dentist-friend that introducing professional organizing is like moving into a country where people are born toothless and trying to convince them that to have teeth would make their lives so much better.

"I don't really like the term 'cleaning' because I'm not a professional house-cleaner. This is about teaching people to finally take charge of something that's been bugging them," Ong says.

Read also:

Decluttering made easy
Closet therapy
Dare to change
Spruce up your home
Clean start (Part 2)


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