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A Richmond Professional Organizer Talks About the Joys of Decluttering



You’d be hard-pressed to find a store urging you to buy less. So to claim minimalism — or any variation of word — as a fashion guideline might seem ill-advised for a business.

That’s where a professional organizer comes in.

Kristen Ziegler, an architect by training, came into the business when she had to stay afloat for a couple of years on almost nothing.

“I was organized before but I became even more minimalist,” she says.

Her fashion choices underwent one of the more dramatic evolutions.

“I only have maybe 50 pieces of clothing total — all seasons, not counting loungewear and undergarments,” she says. “I’ve also eliminated all color from my wardrobe because I realized about a year ago that I felt more like myself in neutrals — mostly black, white and gray.”

Ziegler is part of a growing group of professional organizers in the Richmond area, an industry fueled by people’s changing relationships with their stuff. And their rise mirrors a fashion ideology that Ziegler embodies to an extreme.

It’s a look that Need Supply Co. stylist Giovanna Cordero says the company has always embodied, influenced by Scandinavian designers. Though Need was founded in 1996, it got new creative direction in 2007 and launched an online presence in 2008 that expanded its influence.

Its lo-fi 2016 spring look books are awash in clean lines and monochromes.

“There’s black and white baby tees, babouche slides [Moroccan-inspired leather slipper shoes], chokers, simple rings, delicate jewelry,” Cordero says. “Our bags are super-sleek and structured.”

This season’s shade of simplicity is ’90s-inspired. But keep your slap bracelets and grunge wear in storage and think more white T-shirts under spaghetti straps, crisp white collared shirts, bleached denim, and neutral pieces that interchange easily.

“Calvin Klein, Prada, Celine, Helmut Lang, Jil Sander — all of them from the ’90s had these black and white silhouettes,” Cordero says. “It’s very stark.”

Cordero herself admits to being “kind of a freak” for organizing herself — color-coding her closet and cleaning it out quarterly. Though “I’m a big white T-shirt person,” she says. “I probably own like 10 white T-shirts.”

But the minimalist regime is more than a trend, she says: “I think it’s here to stay for a little bit because it’s a lifestyle. It’s very clean and neat and refined.”

Ziegler’s business, Minima, organized Need Supply’s sales floor and studio in 2012, helping the space reflect the clothes. She sees a direct correlation between this minimization and the recession that started in late 2007.

“I actually started my business in 2010 in a down economy. People were re-evaluating what they needed to be happy, investing in quality over quantity,” Ziegler says. “I think minimalism and organizing really took off with the recession. People are being thoughtful about what they’re bringing into their home.”

Ziegler doesn’t think minimalism is a mandatory aesthetic for being organized.

“I always tell clients, I’m really extreme,” she says. “My company’s name is a calculus term for the smallest value on a function curve. You don’t have to be on my curve. [But] people always get rid of way more than they expected.”

The organizing industry had a boost last year from Japanese organizing consultant Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” It was the top-selling nonfiction book of 2015. Its central conceit is simple enough: Move through your items one by one and get rid of anything that doesn’t spark joy.

Once you’ve minimized, how do you start shopping again?

Ziegler encourages clients to make a shopping list as they go, rather than keep items they want to replace. “It’s also easier to get a sense of what types of items you are drawn to when you’ve pared down to only things you love,” she says. “If I buy something similar to what I have that’s of much better quality or style, I’ll likely consign the older piece.”

That’s another clothes industry that may have felt the effect of the Kondo book and minimalism’s advance: thrift stores. Derby Brackett of Goodwill of Central and Coastal Virginia reports a 10.8 percent increase in donations in 2015 compared with a mere 2.7 percent increase the year before.

“It’s empowering to live with less,” Ziegler says. And without having to maintain and deal with all the stuff that means little, “You feel so liberated.” S

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