Person of the Week
Ellen Madere: It’s Just Stuff
Professional organizer Ellen Madere has seen a lot of clutter in her career, but in all cases, she says, creating a more organized life can be done. (Photo courtesy of Ellen Madere)
It’s a vicious cycle: Make the New Year’s resolution, break the New Year’s resolution. This is the time of year you promise yourself you will finally organize the garage, or the closets, or the storage-by-default room that the children, now grown and gone, once lived in.
But do you? Ellen Madere has some ideas about that.
Ellen, who lives in Essex, is a professional organizer. Her first piece of advice is not to do what many people do: Go out and buy things to organize and store things. That, she points out, just gives you more things, not more organization.
“Organizing should not be an excuse for buying more,” she says.
Start out by looking at what you want to organize.
“Okay, right now, what do you have?” she asks.
The next step, she admits, is harder: asking, “Now, what do you need?”
According to Ellen, studies have shown that people wear about 20 percent of the clothes in their closets.
“How many winter coats do you really need?” she asks
Facing the process of deaccessioning things, nonetheless, can be challenging.
“It can be very emotional,” Ellen says.
She says she always asks clients what their goals are before beginning on an organizing project.
“Some people know from the get go; some people need to tiptoe in,” she says.
Ellen has a number of local organizations to which she suggests donating things; some will pick up items at a donor’s residence. In other cases, Ellen can arrange for things to be transported.
Trying to do to much too soon is many people’s downfall.
“Start slowly and don’t punish yourself. Set a timer, set it for 15 minutes,” Ellen says, “and then give yourself a reward. Sit down and have a cup of tea or call a friend.”
She is not a devotee of the hoarding shows on reality television.
“I watched one only once and I turned it off,” she says, but she has worked with hoarders. “It’s a lot of hand-holding, but it makes their lives so much better, so much calmer, when it is done,” she says.
Ellen, who grew up in West Hartford, graduated from Pratt Institute, originally intending to become a photographer. While at Pratt, however, she met several professionals who interested her in photo editing. As a result, she worked as a picture editor at a number of national magazines, among them Fortune, Rolling Stone, and Esquire.
After moving to this area, Ellen spent time at home when her children were small before reentering the work force. She became involved with the Regional Multicultural Magnet School in New London, which both her son and daughter attended, and worked to create a foundation, which still exists, to support the magnet school program.
Ellen’s daughter Charlotte now teaches English at King’s School in Madaba, Jordan. The school was set up by King Abdullah II of Jordan, a graduate of Deerfield, inspired by the education he received at the American prep school. Ellen’s son Jared is an artist, known for his avant-garde installations and computer-generated images, who has had a solo exhibit at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art.
When she reentered the work force, Ellen became the director of development at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in New London, but that job disappeared in the 2008 recession.
Two doctors Ellen knew asked her to organize the papers of a recently deceased relative so they could be archived at Cornell and Brown universities. She hadn’t done anything quite like it before, but she understood that she had a talent for organizing. She did the papers and a few months later the couple suggested she turn her organizing skills into a business. Now she has done organizing for more than a decade.
Realtors have asked Ellen to help clients get their houses de-cluttered for sale; she has organized lawyers’ files; she has put people’s wine cellars in order and systematized their libraries.
“I’ll do [the library] however they ask; by author, by subject, by title, by Dewey decimal system; by groups like American authors or British authors. I’m here to make it work for them,” she says.
She has even been asked to organize books by color.
Ellen will also do event organizing and make eldercare arrangements.
In working to help other people get organized, Ellen says privacy is always a paramount consideration.
“I am not on Facebook; I don’t do social media. It is something I am very careful about,” she says.
She organizes things for herself on her cell phone and her computer—“Less paper,” she says.
Her own desk is uncluttered but she adds, “I am not a minimalist.”
Still, she takes a minimalist approach to everyday dressing, a white shirt with dark pants.
“It comes from wearing a school uniform for six years,” she explains.
Ellen has encouraging words for would-be organizers as they tackle the New Year’s promise they made to get started.
“You can do it. Don’t put it off,” she says. “It can be done.”