As a professional organizer Kim Schlichting often helps people declutter their homes and run them more efficiently.
From tackling a junk drawer to a hoarder’s house, she helps clients part with unused, unneeded items. She’ll organize a closet or set up a home office. She helps clean out garages and coordinate moving sales. She helps busy moms with meal planning and setting up a system to keep track of children’s activities. And along the way, she tries to give clients the tools to live more organized lives.
“They call me for a lot of different reasons,” said Schlichting, who operates Northland Organizing in the Duluth area. “I’m a problem solver.”
But during the holiday season, she sees a shift in her clientele - to people stressed and overwhelmed by holiday preparations.
It starts around Thanksgiving and by December it has grown to half her business, she said. They range from inexperienced young adults to busy parents and career people to seniors with less energy and strength to get things done.
It’s no wonder anxiety strikes.
Hosting a holiday party can be a big undertaking. If people have houseguests, it’s not just getting the guest room ready. Bathrooms need to be readied and the house well-stocked with food and snacks. Then there are the family holiday traditions that people try so hard to keep up.
“There are a lot of expectations,” said Schlichting, a professional organizer since 2005. “We try to do so much. We raise the bar so high. We want everything to be perfect. We want the perfect tree, the perfect decorations, the perfect cookies. That’s where people get overwhelmed trying to fit it all in. After Thanksgiving, we have four weeks to pull it off. With our busy schedules, how can we fit it in?”
Prioritize and simplify
In helping clients plan, Schlichting will ask them to think about what they want the season and the holiday week to be. She urges them to focus on what’s most important to them.
She encourages them to simplify their holidays - with simple gifts, simple times and baking a few cookies - and eliminate what doesn’t absolutely have to be done. She’ll ask them: Do you really need to host a Christmas party? Must the gifts be perfectly wrapped? Instead of 10 baked goods, why not make fewer?
“We just can’t do it all,” she said.
Schlichting also will do what it takes to lessen their burden and get them ready in time. With a concierge service, she’ll run errands, pick up packages, make appointments for them, decorate their homes, even do their gift shopping and wrapping.
“It’s doing simple things, but when people are busy and work 40 hours, there’s not a lot of time to do these things,” said Schlichting, who charges $40 an hour for her services.
Last year, she did the Christmas shopping for a single man in a high-powered job. She got all 20 gifts on his list, then wrapped them elegantly with ribbons and handmade tags.
“I enjoyed it,” she said. “He didn’t have the time to stand in line.”
This year she helped a family turn a bedroom that had been used for storage into a guest room for out-of-town guests. In the process she dropped off a vanload of items from the room to charity.
She’s spending this week with a family in Minneapolis, getting their house ready for the holidays.
“It was a huge last-minute corporate move,” Schlichting explained. “I will help them settle in and do the decorating.”
Much of the problem comes down to time. People don’t start thinking and planning for the holidays early enough, then try to do too much in too little time, she said.
“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to try to fit it all in,” Schlichting said. “We want that June Cleaver ‘Leave It to Beaver’ Christmas. People wait too long to get ready or they just honestly don’t have the time.”
Lifting the burden
Sarah Maddy of Duluth, who grapples with winter depression, has called Schlichting more than once for holiday help.
“If I were organized, I maybe wouldn’t need as much help as much as I do from her,” said the mother of two. “I’m not on top of things.”
She faces other challenges.
“The holidays are a mixed bag of emotions for me,” she said. “There’s the getting ready for happy things to come but also the baggage of Christmases that weren’t so happy.”
“Kim is really good at pulling me out of that,” Maddy continued. “Kim has helped me plan my time, simplify and let go of what I don’t have to do.”
Schlichting also helps with her “to do” list.
Last year, Schlichting and Maddy’s daughter went out and got the Christmas tree, tied it to the car and put it up in the house.
“She got the ornaments up from the basement, so when I got home it was ready for us to decorate,” Maddy said. “The hard part had been done.”
Schlichting also has strung their window lights, bought gifts, arranged for the carpet cleaning and picked up the family dog from the groomer.
“It’s all the little things that need to be done before Christmas,” Maddy said. “She’s an amazing second self almost.”
Maddy said having that help reduces her anxiety.
“Kim’s great,” she said. “She’s just really good with people and helping them move from where they are to where they want to be.”
That’s why she does it, Schlichting said, describing her work as a personal ministry.
“The big picture is taking the stress off of their shoulders, especially for the chronic and the (attention deficit disorder) folks who have a hard time focusing and concentrating,” she said. “It’s simplifying their Christmas and offering peace of mind that it will get done. ... It’s just so rewarding.”