A little less than 10 years ago, Melissa Schmalenberger was on vacation with her husband and realized something: she didn’t like her job. She had her own family law practice in town and, as she puts it, “was part of the problem.”
So she started asking around—to family, friends, anyone who knew her well—and bluntly asked them what she was good at. Their response was nearly unanimous: organizing. When she realized it was something she could turn into a day job, she made it her personal and professional mission to help Fargo-Moorhead de-clutter and, as the name of her business suggests, live more simply.
Your alter ego is MS. Simplicity. Where’d that come from?
MS. SIMPLICITY: I think simplicity is what everybody is striving for. It’s one of those words that people can picture in their head. I think it’s a universal message for people to live with less, but how do you live with less when you have three kids who have art projects that you can’t throw away or else they’ll hate you forever. It’s kind of about helping parents deal with that guilt and just the craziness of life.
The idea of a professional organizer is probably a little foreign to most people. What exactly do you do?
MS: A lot of people may have seen the show ‘Hoarders,’ but that’s not what I do. That’s
a different specialty. That’s a mental health issue.
I come in and help the overwhelmed business professional and parent kind of get control of their lives and put systems in place to help them be more efficient. I think people are becoming more and more aware of what professional organizers in our community can do for them.
A lot of the clutter is in our head, and that’s what I’m sifting through. It’s not that your house is a mess. People get that they’re messy, but it’s not because they’re lazy. There’s some other block that’s going on. And we try to get to the bottom of that. They don’t know that when they hire me. They think I’m just going to come in and help them clean their house. That’s not what I’m doing.
What would a sample workflow look like, starting with your initial interaction with a client?
MS: A lot of people want a free estimate, and I don’t do that. What I do is I block in three-hour blocks of time because anything more than that is overwhelming. I book them for one session, and we decide if we like working together.
I go in and create systems so that they never have to call me again. I don’t want this to take five hours every week. That’s not my goal. My goal is to service as many people as I can as quickly as I can. And that doesn’t mean I’m doing a rush job, but what I do with my clients is a transfer of information.
I sit there, have them touch everything and ask them questions. ‘Why did you throw that card in the garbage? Why did you keep that card?’ And I keep asking them questions and get to the bottom of it.
You’re “teaching a man to fish.”
MS: My goal is that, when I leave, they can continue on without me. And a lot of my clients say that my voice is now on their shoulder, kind of like a little angel or devil, challenging them. And I have little rules.
For example, if I’m working with somebody in their closet and they’re just overwhelmed with clothes, I say to them, ‘Now that we’ve organized your clothes, in order to keep a handle on this, we’re going to implement the ‘one-in, one-out’ rule. If you buy a new shirt, you have to go home and pull one out of your closet.’
What niche are you targeting with your services?
MS: Probably the busy professional. And it’s even hard to book them because I only work in the afternoons Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. I don’t do weekends because you need to be distraction-free. Your kids need to be at daycare, your dog needs to be kenneled, whatever it is.
My favorite clients are the ones who are 98 percent organized and they want that extra two percent. That challenges me. It’s really easy for me to come in and organize clutter. But where someone’s already super- organized and I get to take them to that next level, that’s really fun.