THE night before Vera Keohane, a Cork-based professional organiser from Enjoy Your Home, was coming to ‘tackle’ the growing mess in my über-busy home, I frantically ran around trying to make it look visually acceptable.
Our home is like Grand Central Station, with everyone running here, there and everywhere, so it is little wonder there is no time for micro-tidying.
Fear, shame, and overwhelming guilt at not having the mental band width or time to tackle the mounds of clutter, combined with a sense of claustrophobia every time I looked at them, made me reach out to Vera.
I didn’t care how much her service cost. I just knew I needed to do this for my sanity.
“You have to want to change,” Vera assures me, citing the many clients who book her in a similar moment of desperation.
Growing up in a family of 11 kids, Vera admits that the only way they could function was through systems and order.
“My Mother was the Queen of Organisation,” she insists. “There were six of us girls all in primary school together with the same navy knee-high socks and mum stitched in different thread to the toes so we could tell one from the other.”
So it is little wonder that tidying is indelibly etched on her DNA. But, the path from childhood to where she is now, one of the busiest and most high-profile professional organisers in the country, was more an evolution than a calculated game plan.
“When I turned 50, my own five kids were reared and I decided now was the time for me to pursue something for me. I had read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up and I had a light bulb moment.”
Vera had always been the go-to person for friends and family to help get their houses tidied or visitor-ready and couldn’t fathom how, weeks later, they would be back to the mess where they had started. Her own home too.
“I was a working mum, with five kids, and felt like the proverbial hamster on a wheel. I was working three days as a nurse, then spent my three days off catching up at home for the three days I was working. There seemed to be no time for me.
“I was tidying by room, just moving the stuff from pillar to post, moving out of one space and into another. And it was never-ending.
“I signed up for a course run by Marie Kondo herself, which was happening in New York, and decided this was my moment. It was my 50th birthday present to myself.
“I suppose when you are menopausal, you feel like life is passing you by. I decided to do this for me without ever realising that you could make a living from it.”
She combined it with a trip to see her daughter Laura May, who was based in New York at the time.
When she came home, the first person Vera worked with was her mother.
“Mum was such an organised person, but her one bugbear was the utility room. She was often heard saying “Close that door, it’s so untidy out there”. I remember the day so well. She sat on a chair and, as we were tidying, I found three old biscuit tins full of buttons,” she continues.
Vera was instantly transported back to the many times she had played with these buttons as a young child. Despite all the clearing they were doing, her mum insisted on keeping the buttons.
“They were important to her and obviously had sentimental value. So, I suggested we put them on display so she could enjoy them again.”
Vera got three large Kilner Jars and filled them with the buttons, and when they were finished in the room, the only thing on the shelf was those three jars.
“Mum got so much joy from looking at them and even started to leave the door to the utility room open again to admire the display. That is the magic of tidying up.”
When her mum passed away in 2019, Vera said the grandkids made button-lapels for all those who came to her funeral.
“People assume Marie Kondo is just about folding. That is obviously part of it, but only about 2% of the overall experience. It is a method-based system designed to help you get to a place where your house is working with you, not causing you stress, the goal is to establish the lifestyle that you want by eliminating all that you don’t want.”, explains Vera.
“The KonMari method is about confronting yourself, and your need to keep items you longer need or use. It teaches us to express gratitude, trust our intuition and let go!
“We ask Siri, and Google, and even our friends and family for answers, but the answers lie within ourselves. We need to reawaken those cells, to realise what to keep and what to let go. The more we do that, the more we begin to trust ourselves, these skills and behaviours improve our emotional and mental wellbeing as much as if not more than the tidiness of our physical space.”
Vera believes the KonMari method, if adhered to correctly, can cure anyone of a lifetime of consumerism, as it did her. She now practises mindful materialism. She loves things, but is very mindful about how they enter her life, how they are cared for, and how they are disposed of when she no longer needs them.
Vera’s epiphany moment came on learning that Marie Kondo tidied by category rather than location. The categories are clothes, books, papers, Komono – Japanese for miscellaneous stuff – sentimental and photographs.
In 2019, Marie Kondo landed on Netflix and there was a consequent huge surge in people wanting to get organised. Across the country, people were taking stock of the state of their living spaces and realising the negative impact that chaotic surroundings were having on their wellbeing and family life in general.
Almost nine months after that first training session with Marie Kondo in April, 2018, and, with the help of her MK mentors, Vera became a certified consultant.
“I’m a few hours shy of becoming a Platinum consultant now (that equates to 900 hours of client consultations which, in two and a half years, is some achievement).”
When it was discovered that Vera was the only (at that time) Marie Kondo trained practitioner in Ireland, her business took off.
“I was instantly catapulted into a world I knew nothing about, doing TV, radio and press interviews, then moved online, into the world of social media (with the help of my daughter Olivia), and have never looked back.”
The pandemic closed her business down, though she was fortunate to still be able to do big corporate webinars on the subject of the impact of clutter on mental health.
“The more you possess, the more occupied you are physically and mentally. You need to change your habits and have a shift in your mind-set for real change to occur,” she insists.
“Sometimes a client will ask me to organise their kitchen, but I will start in the utility room, or maybe even the garden shed. The house needs to flow and work with you.
“It’s all about finding a place for everything and putting everything back in its place when you are finished with it.
“There is a big difference between clutter and mess,” she explains. “Mess is what happens when we live in a place and it can be tidied up within 20 minutes. Clutter is reflective of ongoing issues that have a negative impact on your daily living. Even your sleep. Procrastination breeds chaos.”
I found myself identifying with this aphorism. Just looking at the little mounds of clutter in my home was enough to derail my good humour.
Before we did any tidying, Vera got me to close my eyes and visualise the type of life I wanted to live in my home. Then she asked me to thank my home for the years of shelter, warmth and happiness, and to ask it to help me in my tidying endeavours. That little shift in mind-set made me look at the task ahead with a positive embrace and to enjoy the process of letting go and re-purposing anything that could be donated to charity. It felt so good and cleansing.
And, when she burned the sage and moved around my home clearing all the residual negativity energy, I felt as if a door had finally been unlocked.
“My classic clients are usually busy professionals with young children. I have worked with men, women and children, and what I have discovered is that tidying is indeed contagious and everyone benefits from a bit of order.
“Clients learn the method and get a kick out of it, and after our consultations, they still communicate with me about their tidying journey and where it has led them.
“I have seen people change jobs, not proceed with an extension, and even move home after working with me. Clearing the physical clutter is a gateway to dealing with the mental clutter, and the clarity that flows after a deep cull of your possessions is truly life-changing. You begin to believe that you should no longer be short-changing yourself, that you are worth this investment.”
Yes! I hollered. The five hours in her glorious company were just so transformative that I have signed up for a return visit this month.
You can find Vera on Instagram @enjoy_your_Home_ or on Facebook Enjoy Your Home. Or log onto enjoyyourhome.ie