If you let Michele Vig into your closet, you'll see her eyes dance as she assesses and imagines how it could be better. So much better.
She says she's tapping into the same skills she honed in two decades as a leader in corporate America, most recently as a top executive at Caribou Coffee. But last year, Vig and Caribou parted ways at a time when she was already feeling vulnerable. Three members of her extended family had suffered serious illnesses — the kind that made her look at her own time on Earth, call on her faith and ask herself what she was meant to do.
Her gift, she knew, was organization and design. And she wanted to help people. So she decided to blend the two into a brand-new career. First, she became the only person in Minnesota to be certified in the KonMari Method, a decluttering system made famous by Marie Kondo via her bestselling book "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up." Then she launched a new business, Neat Little Nest (neatlittlenest.com), with a mission of transforming people's lives by helping them pare down, get organized and find peace.
Vig visits people in their homes and guides them through Kondo's orderly way of sorting first through clothes, then books and papers and finally komono — everything else in the house. Clients take out and touch everything they own and decide whether to keep, donate/sell or toss.
Her work is important, Vig maintains, because all of our stuff can really stress us out, and that stress can be paralyzing, keeping us from happiness. Here's what Vig had to say about clutter and …
"What is clutter? It represents unmade decisions. If you have a lot of stuff in your house that you don't actually need, you have to make a lot of choices about where to keep it, when to use it. And decisionmaking is hard. If I go into someone's house and it is full of clutter, it tells me that person likely has been putting off a bunch of decisions. People don't even know where to start. It's stressful and exhausting."
"Marie Kondo has you ask yourself if an object 'sparks joy' as part of your assessment of whether or not to keep it. If it doesn't, she tells you to thank the object and release it. I only ask people if an object sparks joy when they are having a hard time making a decision about it. I ask other questions, like: 'Would you choose to wear it today? Or, when was the last time you used it and why?' People hang on to things that end up weighing them down because they paid a lot of money, or it might fit someday, or it was a gift. With gifts, I remind people that once the gift is given, it has served its purpose. The act of giving is the act — someone wanted you to get the gift, you got the gift, that's where it ends. There's so much guilt in gift-giving! Some people say, 'I'm going to keep it 'til they die,' rather than have a conversation or make a decision."
More than a one-step process
"Americans try to do everything all at once and it's overwhelming. I walk them through the steps. First, we declutter. Then we rest. Then we organize. Decluttering is facing your things. Organization is having a home for your things and a way to put them back in place. Cleaning is a third thing — it's facing nature. "
Throwing out every single paper
"Kondo is radical. She says you should aim to get rid of every single piece of paper. But of course she knows that won't happen. That's her strategy; you start there, and then as you work through decades of accumulated papers, you will end up keeping only the most important things. I just spent three days with a client out of town and she probably got rid of 85 percent of her paper. She didn't even realize how much she had, because she kept it in bins. That's why it's so important to be clutter-resistant and not just run to the store to get more bins. "
"It's easy to see someone else's issues. One partner can see where the other has challenges, but it's harder to see their own part in the whole. In a couple, one person is often deemed messy, but as we start cleaning up, it becomes more and more obvious that both people play a part in the clutter. Everyone is a participant. In the end, I tell people to just focus on your own stuff and likely, your partner will follow. You start in a positive way, making a change for yourself. That's better than telling a spouse, 'You're messy!' That just causes more strife."
"Kondo talks a little about storage, but she has a minimalist mind-set. In America, we have a lot more stuff. If people find joy in their things, I don't want them to get rid of them. I don't care how much you keep! Instead, I think about how to display those things. I have noticed that there are gaps in available storage systems, and part of my business is creating new products. I do custom labels. I help create artfully designed storage that looks really pretty; it's part of your interior design."
"Clients don't believe me when I tell them that the first part — clothes — will take five hours. And I don't work at a slow pace! It takes time to go through it all. I think deep down they do know the commitment required, and that's why it's overwhelming to even start. They probably have tried one weekend and they really don't get that far. That's why I compare this process to a marathon, not a sprint."
"I charge $150 an hour, but it varies if I call in a bigger team, or quote design projects separately. Some people want to do every step with me, and some want me there to start and then they're on their own."