Tips on Organizing and Space Planning from a Professional

chamberlane podcast

Today on the Forever Bride Show we are talking about newlywed nesting. It’s all about cleaning and organizing and getting ready to start the next chapter of your life.

[Ashley] Hi everyone. I’m Ashley Hawks. This is the Forever Bride Show. Thank you so much for tuning in. Hopefully you guys have subscribed to our podcast. I am so excited, I have a guest with me today that has actually come into my house and has helped me clean and organize a little bit! Melle Hartley, with Chamberlane Interior Services, is here as my guest. Melle, thank you so much for being here.

[Melle] Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

[Ashley] So today we’re talking about newlywed nesting and what couples can do as they’re starting this new process and there’s a lot of transitions happening during the engagement process and starting the marriage together. Before we dive into that tell me a little bit about you and how you got into this home organizing field.

[Melle] So it was kind of a fluke actually. Well so to go way back when I was about 15 years old I started an organizing business and I just figured that I don’t think anybody is going to actually use this. And you know when you’re young and it’s kind of a different time, there wasn’t as much of the Internet back in time. So I kind of just put that to the back burner and then in 2014 I put an ad on Craigslist and I just decided: hey I’m going to go for it. And I actually had a lot of people really interested and my business started growing and it went from just the organizing to hey can you help me with space planning and moving furniture and hey can you help me with ordering furniture and buying furniture and then design and color palettes and all this stuff. So it just kind of snowballed into this big huge business that I have now and I really enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun for me. And this year I’m really focusing on taking it from the next level of just me coming into people’s homes and doing all the organizing to more of a coaching kind of like what you and I did. So yeah there’s lots of new things exciting things coming up.

[Ashley] That’s so awesome. And I remember when you and I first started talking it’s it’s more than just cleaning and home organizing, I mean you do everything from people’s offices, actually at their place of business, to everything down to their pantry.

[Ashley] I remember we talked about the pantry in my kitchen on the way out, I’m like Is there anything you can do for this. And we’ll have all these notes up on our website with links to Melle’s website. You can learn a little bit more about what she does. But today what I want to talk about is is this transition period when when two people are deciding to start living together whether that’s during the engagement, before the engagement, the first day of you know their marriage, whatever that may be but there’s a lot that goes on in moving in together and combining two different people’s stuff.

[Ashley] Not even the stuff, but where does it go, and how is the house used, how is the room used, things like that. So you have three different pieces of advice that you want to share with our brides listening, correct?

[Melle] Yes. I just want to say too that a good time to start thinking about this is even before the engagement has taken place or right shortly thereafter and before you’re moving in together. So my first point is communication. Communication is key, it’s really important to decide early on, and it’s kind of an interesting conversation to have, but really sit down with your partner and say what kind of a family do we want to start? Even if it’s just the two of you and you know, is it just us and the dog? Just really figure out -do we want to be a clutter free family, like do we want to start getting rid of everything. I really think that minimalism that’s kind of like this is new trend. I hope it’s not a fad, but I mean it’s kind of been popping up a lot like on Pinterest and stuff but I’m a big advocate for minimalism and if you haven’t heard of that I suggest googling it and start getting some research put together. There’s extreme versions of it that I think some people would be like ” Oh my God!” But just you know kind of go with what works for you. I don’t think you need to throw everything away. And that’s another thing too of that misconception about organizers, is that we’re going to tell you to get rid of all your stuff. That’s not what we’re trying to do. But yes, communicating I think is really important early on and just making sure that you’re on the same page. And I think that is going to solve a lot of problems up front and you might not figure everything out in one day. But just to get those conversations going and getting those started. So then by the time you do move in together you’re kind of on the same page, you have a plan.

[Ashley] Yeah. That’s so good.

[Ashley] I remember when we were going through that process of moving in together I didn’t realize that his form of cleaning meant walking away with a garbage bag and throwing everything away. And it just set me in a panic mode because I was like, “You can’t do that.” He’s like, “That’s how I clean.” So again communication is huge because like you can’t do that to my things, you can’t just walk around the house throwing things away.

[Ashley] I liked what you said too about figuring this out ahead of time and if you are planning to either move into a new place together, or if one of you is now moving into the other’s place, you actually have a service where you’ll come in and do some cleaning, organizing, and going through, because there’s no sense in moving everything you own. If you each have a vacuum – you don’t need two. So that’s where you can come in with the communication and making sure everybody’s on the same page. So you’re not doing extra work.

[Melle] Yeah. And it’s also sometimes just nice to have a third party perspective who’s not biased either way, it’s just like this is what it is. Again, it it is sometimes hard for couples to communicate those sort of things and that can start a lot of arguments and fights in regards to that, and having me or somebody coming in and just being like this is how it should be, I think is helpful. It’s like having a mediator of the situation so to speak.

[Ashley] So for those of you listening, if you haven’t caught on, I had Melle come to my house recently to help me with my home office and I’ve never had a professional come in and help me. And it (the office) wasn’t horrible but it definitely needed some help. But what I loved so much about it was, you’re right, you didn’t come in and just want to throw everything away. You were very gentle and I think the best thing that I took away from our experience was that you asked questions so instead of telling me what to do, you would ask me questions in the very beginning. You said, “How is this room being used? How would you like this room to be used in the future?” Like what’s your vision for this room. And then as we started going through some of the things in the room, even though you knew that they were supposed to be thrown away, you would ask me a question and say, “Do you use this? Do you think this item should be in this room? Is this item something that makes sense with your future vision?” And then I was able to make the decision. No, you’re right, we should toss it. So it was a much smoother process than what I thought it was going to be.

[Melle] I think some people get really, like you said, they get really tentative to let someone come into their house and start going through their stuff. Yes it’s scary. And that’s why we are really big on building that trust. And it always, it usually, starts off with a consultation. So you’re getting to know that person who is going to be coming into your home and going through your stuff, because there are some people too and this is a side note, but when you are looking to hire an organizer I’d always start with the consultation you can get because it’s a creative process and most creative types of people who have creative types of jobs, you have to mesh with that person. You have to make sure that you can vibe really well and that you’re gonna be on the same page because I know there are some organizers out there, that give us all a bad name, but they will want you to throw everything away and/or they’re very extreme minimalist and they’re teaching that upon their clients and that’s fine. That’s something that you want to be coached on and learn more about. It’s like yes, teach me how to be a minimalist and I want to do this but most people aren’t ready to take it to that level like right away.

[Melle] So I think just start with that consultation and an interview. You know it goes both ways too. I know I wouldn’t work with a hoarder, because I just don’t have that level of experience and honestly psychology training. You have to be able to figure out why is this person holding onto stuff as if it were a person or a memory. I’m not on that level. By the time most of my clients come to me they are like “I’m ready. Let’s do this, let’s get rid of stuff”, like they’re ready mentally to let go of objects.

[Ashley] Yeah that’s a really good point. I’m not a hoarder, but even some things, like things that have been in my life for years, obviously they needed to be thrown away but sometimes it would take me a minute. I’ve kept this for so long. You actually have to go through this weird thought-process of why am I keeping it. So actually, I do want to give you credit because you were very gentle and I think you have a lot more training and experience than you’re giving yourself credit for. The second piece on here you call it, The Blank Slate Method. What is that?

[Melle] Yes. So that’s actually I think the most helpful for newlyweds is The Blank Slate Method. It’s more-so concerning with decor and furniture and that sort of element, like the design portion of the home. You can do this too, even if you already are living with your significant other. So basically just starting fresh and thinking that since we’re starting this new life together, do we really need this sofa that you’ve had since that frat party back in the day. It’s thinking of things in terms of: we are building this life together, it doesn’t necessarily need to be like “this is all of her stuff” and “this is all of his stuff” and then smashing that together into this weird non cohesive design palette, if you want to even call it that. It’s like you take the IKEA furniture from her place and his place and then you try to put it together and that doesn’t always have a nice look to it. So again it kind of goes back to point number one, the communication. What kind of household do we want to have? What’s our style? And figuring out your style together, instead of separately, and that’s going to be hard for some people, but if that means letting go of everything and starting fresh, I think from a design point – it’s harder with things, obviously you can’t get rid of like paperwork and like certain things like that, that’s more on the decluttering and the organizational side, but as far as like decor and knickknacks and furniture, like that stuff is all replaceable – it is hard because yes, some people spend a lot of money on furniture. But I’d say the majority of people don’t invest a lot into furniture and this is a great time to actually start investing into those nicer pieces for the two of you to share your home. People spend a lot of money on things, but not the right things to make their home like a cozy happy household if that makes sense. So yeah, starting with a blank slate and an open mind, like if we need to get rid of it so be it, I’m starting this new life with my person and I just want to make the other person happy more so than I need to hold on to this object because you know x, y, and z reason.

[Ashley] That’s so good. We had talked a little bit before the show about gift registry and how to register and I don’t want to go into that. I honestly think that’s that’s a whole nother wonderful podcast. I’d love to have you back, but with the point of the blank slate method with getting rid of a lot of your old pieces from each side it actually gives you the opportunity to register for some of those new pieces that you’ve always wanted. You know couples today are getting engaged and married a little bit later in life and so you see a lot of people already have those things. Years ago gift registry was so important because it was you starting your first home together. I remember when we got married, we had all the things. We’re standing at Macy’s with those little guns, again a lot of time ago, and we’re standing there like what do we need. It was horrible! So yeah I think the blank slate method is great. It’s the perfect time to do this, because it’s giving you the opportunity to let your guests get you some of those nicer things. Yes. Then, you had mentioned decluttering, because there’s a difference between organizing and decluttering. So tell me more about your third point here.

[Melle] Yes. I have on here decluttering in small doses. So essentially the difference between decluttering and organizing, I mean it goes hand-in-hand, but decluttering is actually getting rid of these things that you don’t need or want and then organizing is finding a home for these things.

[Melle] So when I say declutter in small doses, I think that is really key to getting really any organizing or decluttering done. Because if you try to do something all at one time, like all right I have a weekend open I’m going to organize my whole apartment. It’s great in theory, but when you get into it it’s like you get overwhelmed even just like looking through the closet. It’s like, okay now I have to try all this stuff on and figure out does it still fit me and then okay this fits but I don’t know if I like it but I might need it. And then you start second-guessing and then it just becomes this overwhelming thing and then you know halfway through the day you’re like I’m not even halfway through my closet!

[Ashley] And then you just made a bigger mess.Then what I started with. That’s me. Yeah.

[Melle] And then at the end of the day it’s like your left with this huge mess, you’re not even halfway done. And it really psychs you out and it makes you want to not even finish it. I’ll just leave this here. I’ll finish it up tomorrow but then tomorrow comes and then the next week comes and it’s all still laying there.

[Melle] Another point too, is knowing that the decluttering process is not the pretty part of organizing. That’s what you see on the “after” picture of the before and after.

[Melle] It’s like the decluttering portion of it is the mess. Things are just going off the shelves and going here and there and everywhere, and then you’re putting things in trash bags getting rid of a bunch of stuff, which is great. The purge is feels really good, but that’s not the part where it’s going to be the impressive attractive part.

[Melle] So it does kind of psych you out. So when you do the decluttering in small doses I highly suggest to just take on little by little. Alright, I have a weekend available. I’m going to start with my closet or just start with something small that you know is something you can easily obtain because it’s like “Oh cool I finished this”, and then pat yourself on the back maybe give yourself a little a cookie, a treat, reward yourself and then relax. For me it’s different. But for the average person going in and doing their own closet try to finish what you start. And then that’s why I just have small projects here and there. Because if you started the closet project and you have all the clothes every which way in the bedroom and then you go into the kitchen pantry and then you start that and then everything’s left – it’s just a hot mess all over the house! And then spouses get mad!

[Ashley] That’s why you hire Melle, because if I were to be left on my own I would be home with a glass of wine and everything is halfway done. And Melle will keep you on track. That is why you pay her.

[Melle] So I mentioned earlier, I’m trying to bring more of a coaching element into it. Where I will walk you through the process from start to finish. So then you can start being aware of how to do this on your own. Personal organizing, it’s a luxury service. It’s something that not everybody can afford. I do offer payment plans, because I truly believe that organizing should be for everybody. I think everybody should learn. It’s something that we take for granted, but we’re not often taught how to run a successful household when we’re young. I remember in school, we had a home ec class and we learned how to sew. And I think we learned how to bake something. I don’t remember what that was, but that’s all I really remember and I don’t remember, like how do we do laundry. How do you know how to file our paperwork or that we need to pay our taxes and do all this kind of stuff. It’s such basic things that we all need to do. You know #adulting that we need to do, but we were never taught that. I mean some people have really great parents and they are teaching them this like basically out of the womb, but I wasn’t taught this ever.

[Melle] I didn’t know how to balance a checkbook. I didn’t know how to do any of this. I learned the hard way and I think a lot of people are the same. So I’m trying to bring this to people. It should just be something that we should already know, like from school, and I’m actually surprised that they don’t teach it more in school. Yeah. So it’s when you say it’s more than me coming in and organizing, you’re right. It’s household management. It’s like adulting classes. I don’t really have a name for it yet, but it’s so important because the way that your household is run not only is it going to make things run smoothly for you, just day to day, you’re gonna save hours and hours of work. My keys go here. Then, if you have children you want to teach them good habits. You want them to grow up having good habits so they’re not just repeating patterns and then it’s just this never-ending cycle, because how are they going to figure out if they’ve never learned it from anybody.

[Melle] The cycle has to break at some point and I think I was lucky enough and fortunate enough – I don’t know a gift or a curse – but I learned how to organize very young and decluttering was a big part of my life. And so I want people to be able to have this as an option and I don’t want people to be scared away that, “Oh my God it’s so expensive,” because it’s an investment. It’s just like anything, it’s an investment, and especially if you are getting married. It’s an investment in your future together, you’re not just an individual. I mean you are an individual person, but you’re building this life together. You’re sharing with somebody else and especially if you plan on having children, you know it’s not just about you as an individual anymore, it’s like you are a family unit. And so you know whether it’s just you and your significant other you have children you want to be setting up good habits in the household so you can live that life that you’ve always wanted to live.

[Ashley] I would say within the first five minutes that you were at my house and my children were running around and I don’t think the baby is wearing pants and it was chaos and I had hired you just to come in to do– I have a small home office on the first floor, which has become the toy room and I have a little desk which had just piles of stuff and papers and you throw your purse on it. What I didn’t realize, and you helped me realize literally within the first five minutes of you being there, Melle, you asked me, “What is this room being used for now?” And you know, how ideally would this room be used and right away I said, “Well you know I would love to be able to come here and set my purse down and go through the mail and have some quiet time, pay the bills, and do things like that. Sometimes I work in the evening after the kids go to bed, and what had happened was that room became so cluttered and so stressful for me and I had no room to sit down because kid stuff was everywhere. So then my office now became the kitchen table so I would come home from work I’d set my purse on the kitchen table, I had my laptop and all this stuff was on the kitchen table. So guess what we were eating dinner at the counter.”

[Ashley] And so now all of a sudden it was more than us going through my home office and reclaiming that room. We’ve reclaimed the table and now we have family dinners at our table. And we have little kids and I want them to learn that this is how we do dinner because for almost a year straight when that office was a mess the kids would sit at the counter and my husband and I would stand over the sink and eat standing and cutting up little tiny pieces of hotdogs and stuff like that. But it’s just I didn’t realize how much of an impact just having that room clean would have on the rest of my family and how we do dinners, like it’s this beautiful ripple effect. It’s taken away a lot of stress that we have at dinner time because now the kids know we’re gonna sit here, as a family, we’re gonna pray, we’re gonna have a meal together. Like literally in the first five minutes of you being there it was more than just an organizing project. I think some people don’t realize how huge that can be. I had asked you before we started, what is one piece of advice that you want to leave couples with. And you wrote down something here and I love it so much. First tell me what your mantra is but tell me more about what it means.

[Melle] So coming into 2019, and I’m sure I’m not the only one, but I have this: I want less so I can experience more. That’s my mantra for this year, because I want to have more experiences – whether it’s traveling or just being able to connect with other people, go to more events – and the less tied down I am with like physical things, the more I have time or money or whatever to go explore what I want to. I just want to explore the world and I want to really take things in and I think when your focus is like, ok you know I’m going to go shopping so I can buy all these purses or I’m going to buy this or I want to buy that and put more of the focus, whether it’s putting more of your money into, “Well yes I’m going to buy things but I’m going to buy things that are specifically going to make me happy. Like I’m moving in with my significant other, we’re getting engaged, and we want to have a really nice big cozy comfy sofa that we’re going to splurge a little bit and we’re going to stop spending so much on Starbucks or whatever and then we’re gonna get some nice furniture for our home.” And I think that people just put their focus on things but the wrong things.

[Melle] And then it’s like you spend all this money on depreciating assets, and technically furniture is a depreciating asset as well because it’s not as valuable, but for the time being if you spend 500 dollars on a sofa whereas maybe you could spend one hundred dollars on something from Ikea, and you splurge a little bit but you know for 5-10 years, or however long you have that sofa, it’s going to make you really happy and it’s going to tie everything in to make that house a home and especially if you’re buying a new home. There are these little things that you can do to really make your house a home and make that a family thing. Every room has a purpose. For your living room or you have a family room that’s where the family gathers and dinner time is hey we’re in the dining room whether it’s a formal dining and you have the whole thing set up or it’s just in the kitchen. You’re creating memories. And I think that if we take it back a little bit too like to the olden days where it was all about the family dinners and the family time and and less about how we have to go here and there and do this and do that.

[Melle] We’re creating these hectic lifestyles for ourselves and they don’t have to be. I think my takeaway from the last couple of years is that I was busy, but I wasn’t productive. I wasn’t doing things that were making me happy or making me money or really anything I was all in a fluster because I don’t think I was as organized as I could have been or I didn’t have things planned out. And I think the more you plan, you don’t have to be super intense about it because obviously spontaneity is good too, but I think some people just don’t have structure in their home at all. And then it just becomes chaotic for not only you, but then for your whole family as well and the whole family is running round because we don’t know this and we don’t know that. And just from observing families a lot, you just start to realize like what’s really important and that you know some people just make bigger deals about little things.

[Melle] And I think if we’d focus less on stuff and put more on, we’re gonna take this money that we would normally spend on stuff like toys and whatnot and we’re going to take a family vacation. You’re creating this memory that your kids will remember forever or that you and your significant other will remember forever. For me personally, I just want to have more experiences. I want to enjoy life and I don’t care that much about things. When I lived in L.A. for five years and I moved a lot, from that I could never get attached to stuff because I was moving and I had to either sell it or give it away or donate to Goodwill or something. Now if I have to move and I have to get rid of stuff, no big deal. I don’t get attached to things as easily and it makes it so much easier. It’s liberating. I can just like get up and go if I wanted to move to Mexico and live off the beach! I don’t have any stuff tying me down.

[Ashley] Well yes. So I don’t I don’t know when this is going to be published, but for us Minnesota girls, it is -15 degrees without windchill. So Mexico sounds lovely! I mean wedding planning can be such a stressful time in somebody’s life. What we tried to do here with the Forever Bride Show and with all of our vendors that we work with is this can either be the most stressful time of your life or one of the most amazing times of your life. There are small deliberate steps that you can make to keeping your house organized and starting off your marriage on the right path and having that great communication. It’s more than just cleaning. It’s more than just organizing. You’re really laying that healthy foundation for an awesome marriage and you’re going to avoid so many fights

[Ashley] The other thing I wrote down is, this is the best gift for the bride who has everything. So if someone listening right now and you have a wedding coming up and the girl has everything. She doesn’t need a new blender. She does not need a cute little dish. Get her a gift card to have Melle come to her house for an afternoon. It was so much fun. We hired Jimmy Johns, we talked the whole time, the kids were running around, it was chaos, but we had fun and it was so good and this was weeks ago and instantly my house has had such a more peaceful energy to it. It’s so crazy with whatt cleaning one room will do. I’m sure you could do a gift card if someone called you.

[Melle] Oh absolutely. Easy!

[Ashley] I’ll put her phone number on the show notes. So Melle, thank you so much for being here. This was so much fun and just thank you for sharing your advice and your story. We’ll have links to her website on our show notes or you can follow her on social media. Thank you so much for listening. I’m Ashley Hawks and this is Forever Bride.

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Tips on Organizing and Space Planning from a Professional