Get Inspired: How Decluttering Your Space Can Better Your Life

Tracy McCubbin has always been a minimalist. But it was after her knack for organization had come in handy helping friends of friends here and there that a friend of Tracy’s – Josh Bycel, with whom Tracy actually co-founded the nonprofit One Kid One World – suggested that she might have a business on her hands.

Now, Tracy’s company dClutterfly has been helping clients organize, purge, reflect, and start fresh for almost a decade. Here, Tracy breaks down just what it is about her company that is so beneficial to the people she works with, and what it is about her approach that keeps her client list growing – even as she builds a business based on reducing.

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Getting Started

With a background in accounting and helping people run small businesses, it wasn’t until she was working as a personal assistant to a TV director in 2007 that Tracy’s organizational skills started to come in handy helping others. Tracy remembers that whenever there was downtime, the director would essentially “loan her out” to lend a hand when friends of his would call asking for help with a “weird project,” which usually entailed some sort of organizational component.

“I started doing these jobs on the side not even knowing that personal organizing was a business,” says Tracy. “And they just kept growing and growing, and I had a real knack for helping people get over the hump of being stuck and being mired down in their stuff.”

When she finally decided to take the leap, as per Josh’s recommendation, to create dClutterfly, Tracy was amazed at how quickly the business took off. Today, after recently invoicing the 1,300th client that she’s worked with in the almost 10 years since her business started, dClutterfly is showing no signs of slowing down.

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The Way It Works

Tracy always starts her work with a client by doing a consultation.

“I always want to get a good idea of where each person is coming from,” she says. “I’ve been doing this for long enough that I kind of know the right questions to ask, and I have a pretty good sense of people. Each job is different, and the approach will always depend on the goal that a client is trying to achieve, or their budget – anything like that – but I’m pretty good at figuring out what’s going on.”

Once Tracy has gotten to the root of a client’s tendency to let their belongings get out of hand, she’ll help each client tackle their belongings using one of three possible arms of dClutterfly: transitional organizing, basic household management, and hoarding.

In the case of transitional organizing, Tracy works with clients who are moving onto some sort of new chapter in their lives, whether it’s somebody who’s headed into an assisted living home or a couple that is going through a divorce and needs help essentially “dividing” the home.

Meanwhile, household management takes place when Tracy basically goes into a home to help busy families or individuals create, implement, and maintain good systems of organization for their belongings.

Finally, the third component of dClutterfly, which Tracy notes is easily the smallest part of her business but can be one of the most difficult to work with, is helping people who have a serious issue with stuff.

“I go in to help hoarders, or children of hoarders,” says Tracy. “Basically people who are realizing that they’re at a point where they’re being owned by their stuff instead of actually owning their stuff.”

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The Relationship to Things

A lot of Tracy’s work as a professional organizer comes down to one major thing: helping people identify and own the relationship that they have with their material possessions. Most times, the root cause of clutter or, in the more extreme cases, hoarding all comes down to an emotional attachment or dependence on belongings, so a key to getting things under control all comes down to changing that relationship.

When it comes to helping her clients work through those problematic relationships with their belongings – the most common things she finds that people struggle with are clothes and paperwork – Tracy’s strength ultimately comes from how closely she’s experienced the effects of hoarding herself.

“I grew up with a hoarder,” she says, noting that this is something that’s definitely played into her minimalistic approach to her own life. “I grew up watching one of my parents really struggle with their relationship to stuff and really having it be a full-time job. So I know firsthand how important it is to have an awareness of how you manage your stuff.”

Her own experience ultimately allows her to approach each client and each job that she takes on with a sense of empathy, since she can identify with each person on a personal level to some degree.

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The Importance of Banishing Clutter

The way Tracy sees it, getting rid of clutter is about so much more than freeing up space in a person’s home. For one, the process of evaluating how you relate to your belongings while you work to reduce can help you make smarter choices when it comes to shopping and downsizing on your own in the future. This is especially important as places like thrift shops and secondhand stores, where Tracy likes to have her clients send their unwanted items in the process of reducing clutter, are starting to fill up and turn away donations because of overcrowding.

I remember it started a few years ago where people weren’t taking things like pianos anymore,” says Tracy, “and now books; nobody will take books. So we’ve hit this tipping point and I’m having to rethink everything, because everything is getting thrown away now. I think it’s a combination of an older generation that held on to a lot of stuff and then the millennials that aren’t interested because they’re getting everything new at Pottery Barn or Ikea. So people really have to start thinking about their buying habits.”

Then beyond practicality, there’s the psychological component of reducing clutter, a process which Tracy believes can be significantly meditative and therapeutic.

“Scientists have done a ton of studies about the brain’s ability to process clutter,” says Tracy, “and the brain can only hold so much so we get overwhelmed really easily. And visual clutter just puts people into a state of stress.”

In her mind, clutter is basically like a “constant to-do list” that makes it impossible to really relax. So in a sense, clearing that clutter is a sure way to relieve stress and help ease the mind a bit. 

As for Tracy, the process of helping people get to that point comes with a few emotional payoffs for her, as well.

My personal journey has always been making order out of chaos,” she says. “For me, the reward is having people change their lives in ways that are so positive.”

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