MyFixitUpLife rewind: Hellen Buttigieg, professional organizer, talks with Mark and Theresa

Hellen Buttigieg, professional organizer, life coach, and host of the TV show ‘Neat’ talks organization tips w/ Mark & Theresa

Theresa: And you’re inside MyFixitUpLife with my husband Mark.

Mark: And my wife Theresa.

Theresa: And we are getting ready to get a little bit more organized with our special guest that’s on the line.  Are you ready Mark?

Mark: I am ready are you ready?

Theresa: You look pretty tidy today which is a really good thing.

Mark: Well I dry cleaned pressed then re-dry cleaned everything.

Theresa: You’re so well pressed. Anyway, so Hellen are you on the line

Hellen Buttigieg

Hellen: I am here, hello.

Theresa: Hi welcome to MyFixitUpLife we are so excited to talk to you.

Hellen: Thanks, thanks for calling me.

Theresa: I’ve seen your show ‘Neat’ and I think it airs, what is it, on HGTV Canada and it’s on Fit TV here in the U.S.?

Hellen: Yes it is.

Theresa: And it’s a really good show because you are helping all kinds of people get more organized and bringing all your neat tips to all of us at home who can’t hire you to come into their own homes.

Hellen: Well it’s my absolute pleasure.  I think that the people on this show are very courageous and they are totally my heros.

Mark: It sounds like organization is something of a passion for you?

Hellen: Oh absolutely.  It’s been the common thread in every job I’ve ever held, as a kid too.

Theresa: Oh really?  So you got started when you were just a little one?

Hellen: Well, not professionally.  But I was one of those strange kids whose bedroom was always tidy, even as a teenager.

Theresa: Your parents must have been thrilled with you.

Hellen: I think so.  I guess they didn’t know any other way.  You know they played a large roll in it.  They are both super organized and sometimes it’s inherited, sometimes you seen what’s going on in your environment and you pick up those habits and I think maybe it was a combination of both for me.

Theresa: How did you get started as a professional organizer?  Did you just decide one day to do it?  Or people were just asking you to help them constantly?

Hellen: Well I didn’t really realize it was a profession because it was fairly new in Canada when I had started, but I was actually just looking for temporary work to accumulate some money to take life coach training.  And I looked back at my jobs and saw the common thread, so I decided to offer this and start a business. Before I knew it was very popular, things were going great.  I actually did take my life coach training as a result of doing so well in the organizing.  Then I realized the two are so inner-connected.  Clutter does affect every aspect of our life, and as a life coach I could really help people by also giving them some organizational coaching.

Hellen – Professional Organizer

Mark: Really?  So there’s a parallel or a cross over between sort of the metaphorical clutter and the actual clutter?

Hellen: Well from all the clients I’ve worked with, I’ve noticed that very often it starts with clutter in the mind.  Until we could clear the space, they can’t get clarity around where they want to go in terms of their goals.  Their career, their relationships, all the different things that make up our lives.

Theresa: Wow.  So the people that you help do they come back to you later and you have such wonderful stories of people who finally got that job, or found that relationship or something like that?

Hellen: Yes absolutely.  They’re thrilled.  And a lot of times they don’t expect those results.  Very often they’ll call me and they’ll say ‘Well I just want to get organized so that I can have people over because I’m embarrassed to have people over.’  So that’s the initial goal but then I find out not only am I having people over but I’ve met someone special in my life, or I’ve gotten the courage to ask for a raise or decided to change paths and found my passion.  So very often there are unexpected results from simply clearing the clutter.

Mark: So is it fair to say then, Hellen, that sort of the take away from cleaning your house or organizing your life isn’t the clean house, but the clean life I guess?

Hellen: Yeah, I think it’s a combination.  It is the clean house as well because we feel better in our space and we feel better about ourselves when our space represents us.  So you don’t want to walk into a space where there’s chaos and there’s things that you don’t really like in your space and they don’t make you feel good when you see them.

Mark: We wouldn’t know anything about that.

Theresa: We’re currently working on our house, a whole house renovation.  So I’m crazy about making sure everyone puts their things away because we have so many things that can’t be put away.

Mark: Yeah like 300 square feet of flooring in our temporary kitchen.

Theresa: I try to explain to everyone in the family that it makes Mommy happy when you don’t leave your shoes out and everything.  It makes me feel a little bit more calm.

Hellen: Yeah it gives you a little bit of a sense of control of your environment — it is very calming.

Mark: Now, can anyone — and I don’t mean this in a diminishing way — can anyone say ‘Hey I’m a professional organizer’ and put an ad on Google and in the phone book? Or do you have to be certified?  And if you are certified, how does someone make sure they are getting a real organizer?

Hellen: Well I think it is important to ask if someone is certified.  In order to become certified there is quite a bit of criteria that you have to meet, including having several hours working as a professional organizer.  So, do you need to be certified to be a professional organizer?  No, because you need to be a professional organizer to accumulate enough hours to be eligible to write the exam for certification.  So it depends on what you want.  If you want an organizer that’s been working in the field for a while and has been certified you can certainly find several, but if that’s not important to you then you hire a professional organizer and yeah you take your chances.  You need to interview them on the phone and see if they’ve got the credentials that you’re looking for.

Theresa: If we were going to hire you or someone else to help us get more organized, what should we know to do before we even call you?  Is there some way we should be prepared?

Hellen: Yeah I would say go to the association website, either, or if any Canadians are listening,  Those are both trade associations.  So I believe if someone is serious about their profession, they should be a member of the professional association.  Once you go there you will see a list of organizers in your area.  Check out their website, give them a call, find out if there’s a connection because it’s all about rapport.  You have to like the person that’s coming into your home, you have to trust the person that’s going through your personal drawers.

Theresa: That’s so true.

Mark: Well yeah, it must be — for the homeowner — it must be kind of invasive a little bit.

Hellen with a family from the TV show ‘Neat’

Hellen: Well that’s why I said earlier they are my heroes, especially the ones who come on television and do it.  You know air their dirty laundry for the whole world to see.  But it absolutely takes courage, and I think asking for help is a sign of strength not a sign of weakness.  So for someone to pick up the phone and ask a professional organizer to help them, yes it’s very courageous.  But at the same time, if you’re stuck and overwhelmed, doing nothing will be so much worse five years from now or even one year from now.  If you need help, pick up the phone and do it now.  It will be a lot easier than waiting.

Theresa: Now for someone who wants to try and de-clutter their house or whatever it is on their own, how do you even get started?  I know you have a book that’s out, is your book a guide to getting started on your own so you kind of have a little bit of Hellen that you can bring home with you from the bookstore?

Hellen: It absolutely is a do-it-yourself book but I’ll tell you what’s unique about it.  I have talked to so many clients who tell me they’ve read books on organizing, picked up the magazines, watched the shows, and tried the techniques but they don’t work for them.  So there’s a sense of failure, so this book of mine says ‘Hey it’s not your fault, it’s just that the techniques you’ve been using are not a good fit for the way your brain is wired.’  So this book, ‘Organizing Outside the Box,’ the subtitle is ‘Concur Clutter Using Your Natural Learning Style.’  So there’s a quiz at the beginning of the book that helps you determine whether you are auditory — which means you learn by hearing, visual — which means you learn by seeing, or whether you’re kinesthetic — which means your learn by doing.  Once you’ve figured out that key piece of information you go to that section in the book and I’ve laid out all kinds of tips — time management tips, paper de-cluttering tips, all the different things that will be a good fit for you.  So you cannot only get organized in a way that’s natural but so you can maintain it over the long term because it doesn’t require as much effort.

Theresa: Oh I like that.

Mark: What if you’re like me, and you’re none of those things?

Hellen: You bring up an interesting point Mark, because a lot of people will say to me ‘Well I don’t think I’m just one.’  And that’s very true, I think a lot of people are a combination of two or even three of the learning styles, but we all have a preference.  So maybe we’ve been accommodating people in our lives that are a different learning style so we’ve moved away from our natural learning style but there is a predominant one and once you know that it’ll certainly help you.

Mark: Yeah I teach a lot of clinics to professional builders and I can kinda see the lights go on and off you know if I’ve got my hands on something some of the guys are more attuned and if I talking about something then other guys are picking it up and asking questions.  So I’m definitely with you on that.

Hellen: Yes and so it helps you to know what other people’s learning styles are because you can actually ask them the questions or ask them the request in a way that they can understand it.  So this guide is also a communications guide because if you work with people or you have people in your family that learn different than you, and they never think to do anything that you’re asking them to do, chances are it’s the way that you’re asking.

Mark: I’m gonna have to re-jigger everything.

Theresa: That’s very interesting.

Mark: Re-organize that, thanks Hellen

Theresa: I like that, just don’t say it louder, you just have to do it right.

Hellen’s book ‘Organizing Outside the Box’

Hellen: Let me give you a perfect example.  I’m a visual learner and if my husband says to me as I’m going out the door, ‘By the way can you also pick up milk, juice and eggs?’  So when I’m at the grocery store I’m following my list, because I’m a visual learner, but because I’m not auditory I’ve forgotten what he’s asked me to pick up from the grocery store.  So it would be helpful for him to know that as a visual person I need to see it written down.

Theresa: Yeah I’m a visual person too, I struggle with remembering things that I hear.  I have to write everything down.  I have to draw everything out.

Hellen: What do you think your style is Mark?

Mark: I would say that I’m a blend.  I guess if you have to pick one it’s visual, and it would also be by doing and hearing…whatever my wife says.

Hellen: Let me help you out Mark.  If you’re going to a place and you’re driving there for the very first time, what kind of directions do you have?  Do you prefer that they be written or do you use the sound on the GPS, or do you just kind of drive around and get a sense of the landmarks?

Mark: Oh I don’t even print the directions on MapQuest…I look at the map and then I do it myself.

Hellen: Sounds like you’re kinesthetic to me.

Theresa: He is.

Mark: What’s kinesthetic again?

Hellen: Kinesthetic people throw out the instructions — they just build it.  You know find their way, trial and error.  And you know what I find fascinating is you’re both in radio and neither of you are auditory learners.  I think that’s hilarious.

Theresa: If someone gets your book ‘Organizing Outside the Box,’ and they are confused about what kind of learning style they are, or they are confused about something, can the go to your website?  Is there extra information or anything on there?

Hellen: Yes, they can go to the ‘Organizing Outside the Box’ website — — and they can actually take the quiz for free.  You don’t even have to buy the book.  Take the quiz and at least you’ll know what your learning style is and go from there.  We have all sorts of resources on the website as well.

Mark: Now are you doing life coaching too?

Hellen: Yes.

Mark: Can you, for our listeners cause obviously I know, can you explain what life coaching really is?

Hellen: Sure.  We all know in the Olympics that the sports people have a coach, everyone in sports does better with a coach, so why not have someone like that in your life?  To hold you accountable, to be your cheerleader, to ask you the tough questions that sometimes you don’t ask yourself.  I think everyone needs some help with accountability because we all have great intentions but life gets so busy, that we just end up putting out the fires rather than looking at the big picture and deciding what you really want for your life and how are you going to get there?

Mark: I’m so with you.  I already want to have you back on.  I do this to Theresa all the time and I invited guests back on like halfway through the interview.  I want to have Hellen back on to talk about life coaching stuff.

Hellen: I could be back, sure.

Theresa: I have a very specific question for you.  School papers.  We get tons of school papers everyday.  Our eight year old is in 3rd grade and we get so many papers from them.  They sent out about 20 papers talking about how they weren’t going to send out papers anymore.  So what do we do with all of this stuff?  Things that we want to keep, throwing away things, some things I give to her that she wants to keep — you know like a girlfriend will draw a picture for her or something.  But organizing all of it and having a strategy for school papers, is there any tips that you can share?

Hellen: First of all, I would contact the school and see if they could start a new policy where they could email the parents as opposed to send the paper work.  That’s what I would do first.  So many people now with Blackberries too.  Of course there might be the odd person that doesn’t have email, probably very few.  But I would try and make some changes at that level first.  But second, as the paper is coming in you need to have a specific place for it all the time.  Because we know if we put a piece of paper down on a horizontal surface just for now, it will breed like bunnies.  And before we know it, there’s this huge pile and we don’t have time to deal with it because it is over whelming.  So have a designated container for it and deposit it there and then clear it out on a regular basis before it gets too over whelming.

Theresa: It just seems like there’s more papers now then when we were kids.

Before and after shot from TV show ‘Neat’

Hellen: You know we get more mail in a week than our grandparents got in a year.  So that’s why we need to have a system to deal with it.  It can get very over whelming but the system needs to fit.  Theresa for you, visual, out of sight is out of mind, so whether than have it in a drawer where you’re going to forget about it, I would say have an open system.  So a basket perhaps where you can just drop the paper right in.  Or trays would work well for you.  Anything opened and especially clear things where it’s easy to see.

Mark: I’m taking the doors off all of our closets and making her walk around the house.

Hellen: And it’s a fine line because the visual person gets over whelmed when they have too much to look at.

Theresa: Well I have a million questions about organization and we should probably check out your book.

Hellen: Yes please do.  It’s available online at my website.  You can also go to which is my own website, you can buy it there.  It’s available on online bookstores, you can go to Amazon and indigochapters, so very easy to get your hands on it.

Mark: Very cool we’ll definitely have to scope it out.

Theresa: And it’s been a pleasure Hellen, thank you so much for joining us on MyFixitUpLife and we hope to have you back soon.

Hellen: Thank you so much I’d love to.

Check out the MyFixitUpLife talk show that features this interview with Hellen.

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  1. Just need to see some expert ideas for organizing bedrooms with slope ceilings. This house is a old country house.

  2. Would love to help Joceline. Let us know what you’re working with.

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