By Nicki Toler
Her clients call her a wonder, a coach, guide, partner, teacher, motivator, and a force of nature. But Laurie Lindemann, M.A. ’02, just wants to help people simplify their lives.
Most of us spend our waking hours feeling overwhelmed. We have too much to do, too much to think about, and too much stuff—our actual physical possessions—weighing us down. Have you ever noticed how many items on our to-do lists are related to managing our stuff? Where did it all come from, and do we really need it?
LET GO AND BREATHE
Enter Marie Kondo, the decluttering guru who started a movement with her first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, published in the United States in 2014. Kondo’s novel approach did not focus on finding the perfect container, storage unit, or custom-designed closet. She wanted us to let go, to release things that were not serving us well—even if they were “still good” and we “might want them someday.” She wanted us to be able to breathe.
It actually was a life-changing message for Laurie Lindemann, M.A. ’02, who lost her husband, John P. Caito ’81, to cancer in 2010 when their daughter was only 7. When Lindemann read Kondo’s book, she realized that in addition to raising her daughter, working, taking classes, and dealing with grief, she was struggling under the burden of all the things her husband left behind. That included “a house and two enormous barns full of old cars without engines, useless farm machinery, soup cans full of nails, and more. So much more. Too mind-boggling to even describe,” she says. “To add to my grief, I had to admit that all these things weighed me down both mentally and physically. I understood that although they made John happy, they had the opposite effect on me.”
Lindemann was inspired by Kondo’s book and followed its guidelines to declutter her home—and she saw something different, something that worked for her. When she learned Kondo would be appearing at New York City’s 92nd Street Y, she hightailed it from her East Greenwich, Rhode Island, home to Manhattan for the event.
“It’s really about discovery. In this process you learn, or relearn, what is important to you.”
By the time the presentation was over, Lindemann was sold—and was the first to put her name on the Kondo mailing list. “That night, on the drive home, I was already thinking about how I could do what Marie Kondo was talking about,” she says. Before Kondo had even mentioned training consultants, Lindemann imagined she was one. She knew she could do it. A natural entrepreneur, she had started a graphic design business when she was still in her 20s, earned a master’s degree in communications at URI, and completed a web design certificate—also at URI. She had worked for years in communications, design, and operations and was running her own web design business. But her interest in Marie Kondo’s approach was based on something deeper and more basic than her entrepreneurial spirit.
“After doing the process myself, I finally felt hopeful again. I felt a renewed sense of energy, of myself,” she says. “I wanted to help other people feel like I did.”
Today there are 353 certified KonMari™ consultants in 43 countries worldwide. Lindemann was in the first class of consultants, and formed her business, Declutter Pronto, in 2016.
Now, five years after that trip to New York to see Marie Kondo, Lindemann is a certified master consultant, the highest level of KonMari™ certification, which requires 1,500 hours of client work. Her company’s tagline is “organizing without judgment,” and she works with people throughout New England, and beyond.
FINDING THE MAGIC
Lindemann says there are plenty of misconceptions about her work. The Kondo promise of the “life-changing magic of tidying up” is a pretty tall order. And it’s not easy. “This is hard work, both physically and emotionally,” says Lindemann, who adds that like all work, it can be tedious.
The goal is not to eliminate your possessions and live a minimalist life—and at its core, it’s not really about organizing. “When people ask me what I do, I tell them I help people simplify their lives,” she says. “Isn’t that what most of us want?
“I think we all want to live and work in a space that supports us, that makes our lives easier, better, without spending so much time and energy managing our possessions,” she says. “How much of our time, and our lives, do we want to spend managing our things?
“People don’t realize why they are holding onto things. That is why so much emotion comes with letting go.”
–Kerry Evers, co-president and CEO, Pro-Change Behavior Systems, Inc.
“In the KonMari™ method, we touch everything and we work by category instead of location,” says Lindemann. The five categories are: clothing, books, paper, miscellaneous (a huge category that includes kitchen items, electronics, etc.), and sentimental items. Clients start with clothing, the easiest category, and work their way toward the most challenging: sentimental items. Lindemann says completing the earlier, easier categories—and experiencing that success—can create a powerful momentum.
“What’s important to understand is that I don’t tell my clients what to do, what to keep. They choose. It’s really about discovery. In this process you learn, or relearn, what is important to you.”
According to Lindemann, the magic is the outcome of the process. “Decluttering is the critical first step,” she says. “Once we declutter, we can actually see the things that have meaning for us. That’s when the magic happens. We can be reacquainted with something we love, something that’s been buried under clutter and life’s responsibilities. We can, in some ways, rediscover ourselves. And that can feel like magic.”
READY FOR CHANGE
People call on Lindemann for many reasons. They are downsizing, moving out, moving in, or moving on after a significant loss—of a loved one, a job, a way of life. What they have in common is a need to change something that is burdening them—and to be successful, they have to be ready to change.
“Change is hard, and change without assistance is harder,” says Kerry Evers, M.A. ’96, Ph.D. ’98, co-president and CEO of Pro-Change Behavior Systems, Inc., a leading behavior-change consulting firm, founded 23 years ago by URI psychology professor emeritus James Prochaska, director of the Cancer Prevention Research Center at URI, and developer of the transtheoretical method of behavior change, which integrates stages, processes, and levels of change.
“What Laurie is doing is helping people see the benefit to changing their environment,” says Evers, who is familiar with Lindemann’s work. “When people reach out to her, she can help them through the process. She’s like a coach who can tell what people need and take them through the changes.”
We know letting go of well-established behaviors is difficult. So is letting go of the things that surround us. “People don’t realize why they are holding onto things,” says Evers. “That is why so much emotion comes with letting go.”
- Matching hangers in your closet (above, left) showcase your clothes, provide a cohesive look, and allow you to easily find what your’re looking for.
- No more piles! Organize your drawers vertically—the Kondo method encourages folding so items stand vertically (above, right), making them easier to see and retrieve. Also great when packing a travel bag!
- Boxes are the quintessential organizer. They divide drawers, or other spaces, into sections. Use what you have—shoeboxes, gift boxes, bamboo cutlery holders—as long as they are rectangular or square.
- Make everything you use visible. Don’t tuck things away in hidden spots—you’ll forget where they are. Take ownership of your things and eliminate plastic bins and storing items off-site.
IT’S ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS
Lindemann says her ideal client is anyone who calls her and asks for her help.
A lot of people fit into that category. Many have read Kondo’s book. Some have stacks of books about organizing. They are retired, recent grads, couples, singles, families with children. With families, Lindemann works with each person individually—including the children.
“This work is about relationships. It’s so personal. Trust—and the absence of judgment—are essential,” says Lindemann. “People are trusting me to be in their homes. I take that very seriously. It’s a privilege to help remove clutter so that they can live more meaningful lives. I’ve experienced this myself and I’ve seen it repeatedly with my clients.”
Kerri Leonard is one of them. She lives with her family outside Boston, runs three businesses, and is a mom of two. Leonard, who discovered she had attention deficit disorder when she was in her late 30s, says her home and family life were defined by chaos. Concern for her children is what brought her to Lindemann. How was growing up in such a disordered household affecting them?
She had read the Kondo books, but knew she needed help. “Somehow Laurie knew exactly what I needed. She’s intuitive. There’s a depth there. She understood the emotional impact of the work we were doing,” says Leonard, who stresses Lindemann’s empathy, endless energy, humor, and her ability to know when it’s time to take a break, which is important because, says Leonard, “this is exhausting work.”
Leonard says her children have enjoyed working with Lindemann—and have learned from her. “They see the improvement in their lives. I feel a lightness in them when there is order in the house,” says Leonard. “It has a calming, freeing effect on them.”
As a business person, Leonard says the paper category was most difficult for her. “I had paper from the 1980s. It felt like a hill I was never going to be able to climb. Now that I’m on the other side, I feel less burdened,” she says. “I didn’t realize how much pain and grief it was causing me to be buried in so much paper. That’s where I really learned to let go.”
The learning goes both ways. “I learn something from every one of my clients. It’s all about listening,” Lindemann says. “People will tell you what you need to know. There are so many stories, so much emotion attached to our things. Working together, we cry, we laugh. It’s all real.”
Lindemann admires her clients, the hard work they do, their commitment to change, to letting go. “I understand them. I’ve walked the walk of loss, of feeling so overwhelmed. I realize this is hard and it takes time,” she says.
“It’s very powerful for me to watch people let things go that have been weighing them down. I love what I do. I’m proud of it,” she says.
“I work alongside my clients. I’m with them every step of the way, and when we’re done, it feels so good to stand back with them, look around, and say ‘Look at what we’ve done.'” •