Growing up, Rose Hathaway loved organizing and folding the clothing at her parents’ Bellevue clothing stores, but she never dreamed that activity would lead her to someday create order in the lives of others.
“Who knew that I would use those skills later on when I’m doing somebody (else’s) closet?” says Hathaway, a professional organizer and owner of Fly Away Clutter, a Kalamazoo company that helps organizations and businesses recapture lost time, organization and opportunities.
A lifetime of preparation
Prior to opening their side-by-side stores, Maxine’s and Jerry’s, Hathaway’s parents, Maxine and Jerry Groesbeck, owned Groesbeck’s, a Bellevue store selling everything from hardware to home goods. There, Hathaway threw herself into sorting nuts and bolts in the hardware department, creating displays in the toy department and showcasing kitchen items in the home goods section. Hathaway says she comes by her organizational skills naturally.
“It’s in the genes,” she says. “We say, ‘Either you have it or you don’t,’ and we help the people who don’t.”
For more than 25 years, Hathaway applied that aptitude in medical and law office settings, where she was “always the organizer,” purchasing supplies, organizing supply closets and planning parties. She went on to work for the speech, pathology and audiology clinic of Western Michigan University’s Unified Clinics and became a senior administrative assistant in WMU’s planning department, from which she retired in 2010. Both jobs further honed her organizing skills.
“You have to be organized in the paperwork and understand it,” Hathaway says, but her work experience also gave her a skill she didn’t know she would need.
In the clinic, Hathaway worked with individuals struggling with aphasia, a condition that affects their ability to communicate. Many of these patients were senior citizens and stroke victims.
“Now I work with a lot with seniors who are downsizing, and that has helped me in dealing with people with dementia, Alzheimer’s, physical problems,” Hathaway says. “I learned a lot from those years in the medical setting.”
Five years before retirement, Hathaway began looking up information about organization and stumbled upon something intriguing: careers in professional organization.
“I thought, ‘Really? It’s a profession?’”
Hathaway discovered the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO), an organization with 3,500 members whose mission focuses on education, business connections, furthering industry research and increasing public awareness. Hathaway trained with The Organizing Specialists, a Grand Rapids-based company that provides organizational training.
The clear path
After retiring, Hathaway launched Fly Away Clutter, adopting the mission “Because everyone needs a clear path and I help them get on that path — no matter what it is.”
Her clients include those seeking ADD/ADHD support, chronic disorganization support or help with moving and relocation, downsizing, garage and estate sales and more.
Hathaway’s expertise extends into both the office and home realms, and she has helped people of all ages and walks of life.
Evaluation starts with a phone conversation and then a face-to-face meeting. Hathaway always starts with one question: “What does being organized look like to you?”
Everyone has a different idea of what organization looks like, she explains. Hathaway encourages clients not to clean up before her arrival because she “wants it real,” to determine the issues and arrive at solutions.
“People are always embarrassed,” Hathaway says. “They ask, “Have you ever seen anything as bad as this?” and my response is always, “Everybody’s different.” I don’t gauge on how bad something is. We all have something in all of our houses, including mine, or an area in our life we feel like we’re not the best at.”
Hathaway and her clients key in on problem areas, prioritize them, set goals and timelines, and identify roadblocks. Then they get to work.
Benefits of organization
In both home and office settings, Hathaway says, two things are victims of disorganization: time and productivity. At work, when people can’t locate items such as paper, folders or paper clips, they will often repeatedly purchase the same items. And not being able to locate important paperwork is a significant problem.
“Whatever the business is, that’s costly,” Hathaway says.
At home, disorganization reduces the ability of people to properly function and feels burdensome to them, Hathaway says. While working through rooms with clients, she routinely hears similar feedback.
“They always feel like it has lifted their energy,” she says. “The energy flow in the house with clutter and extra things is burdensome, so I really try to have people get in touch with their feelings and visualize what they want their life to be in their office, in their home, and that’s why I say, ‘What does being organized look like to you?’”
Hathaway has witnessed transformations. Many times clients’ disorganization has been prompted by a sudden loss, she says, such as a divorce, death, loss of a job or another event that triggers “getting lost.”
One of Hathaway’s clients lost his wife three years before he began using Fly Away Clutter’s services. When the man went to bed, he couldn’t look at his bedside. His wife’s clothes and purse remained there — where they had been for three years. After the process of clearing everything away, he was able to move on and now even travels.
“For some people,” Hathaway says, “it makes them feel like they’re just buried in it, and (they wonder,) ‘How do I get out?’ And once they’re out, it just lightens the load and they move forward.”
Hathaway says there is a common element that makes homes and offices inefficient: flat surfaces. “People kind of fill them up,” she says, “and the other thing — people tend not to go vertical. Everything is horizontal.” Her advice: Look up at the walls. Hang things — maybe a cabinet or mail slots for mail.
Hathaway also suggests to clients that they view their spaces from another perspective by sitting where a client or friend or co-worker would sit in their home or office.
“Look around your space,” Hathaway says. “What would that look like to somebody else? I tell people to do that in their homes. Go to a corner of a room that they never go to. They always come through the door and look the same way. If you stood in another corner of the room, what would you see?”
Once a space has been organized, Hathaway says, one technique in particular will help it stay in order: putting things back where you found them. “There’s a home for everything, and everything has a home,” Hathaway says, citing a common saying.
Besides working one-on-one with clients, Hathaway gives seminars and has spoken at places like the Comstock Community Center; the Cass County Council on Aging, in Cassopolis; the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center, in Battle Creek; NorthPointe Woods Senior Living Community, in Battle Creek; and to a women’s legal marketing group in Kalamazoo and a mom-to-mom group for mothers with children with disabilities.
Topics have included organizing, downsizing, archiving files, setting up functional offices, moving, providing safe living arrangements in the home for seniors, going to and taking notes at medical appointments, and retaining medical and home information.
For the past four years, Hathaway has offered a seminar through WMU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute called “The Art of Downsizing.” Last month she added another component called “Moving On,” bringing in a professional mover to talk about preparing for a household move.
Hathaway is well versed in the topic of downsizing. Many of her clients are moving from a house to a condo, senior apartment or assisted-living facility. She works with her client to whittle down their belongings and then
brings in a team to pack everything. While the client stays in a hotel for a couple of days, Hathaway and her team unpack the clients’ items in their new residence and put everything away. An interior designer lays out the floor plan. With everything complete, the client then enters the home — stress-free.
“They can come in and feel comfortable the first night,” Hathaway says.
Though Hathaway has always loved organizing, she says the people she works with provide even more enjoyment.
“I’ve met some of the most interesting people that I never dreamed that I would meet,” Hathaway says. “And for each client I work with, I maybe learn as much from them as they learn from me.”