Organized Chaos: Busy Mom of Three Helps Others Find Order
When Tanna Clark visited family members as a little girl, she often disappeared into a back room to do a little organizing.
“Somebody would say, “Where’s Tanna?” Clark explains, laughing. “And they’d find me going through drawers and straightening them up.”
It’s hardly surprising, then, that Clark, now a 33-year-old mother of three, eventually discovered the field of professional organizing. She stumbled upon it when she was pregnant with her third child and thinking about starting her own business.
“I came across the National Association of Professional Organizers, and I realized that professional organizing is a career,” she says.
After conducting more research and obtaining a business license, she launched Complete Organizing Solutions in 2006 with a mission to help people in Middle Tennessee and beyond streamline their clutter and create order out of varying degrees of chaos. She found her niche working with families with children, and while she tackled specific organizational issues one client at a time, she also blogged regularly to share general tips with anyone interested in getting organized. Today, she still does all that and more, but she’s particularly interested in helping clients with higher organizational aspirations.
“My ideal clients are people who see that there’s more to life than just the stuff, and they are ready and willing to make a bigger change than just organizing what they have,” she says. In other words, she’s looking for clients who are willing to simplify their lives by ridding themselves of more than just a few possessions. Perhaps, for example, a family of five wants to downsize from a 3,900-square-foot home to a 1,900-square-foot home. Sound ambitious? Well, Clark would know better than anyone. That’s exactly what she, her husband and three kids did last summer.
“We knew we wanted to put family first and be better stewards of our time, money and energy,” she says. “By downsizing, we were able to free up some finances to be able to enjoy life and do more with the kids.” Clark’s personal epiphany started about a year and a half ago, when her husband discovered a cancerous tumor in his cheek. “That was our first wake-up call. We’re young parents, and we always thought, ‘When we turn 50, we’ll be empty nesters and we can travel and do all kinds of stuff.’ But then, we have cancer, and we realize we might not have ‘When we’re 50.’”
Doctors removed the tumor the summer of 2010, and that October, the Clark family took their first big family vacation, a cruise to Mexico. A few months later, Clark ventured to Haiti on a mission trip with Soles4Souls, an organization that collects shoes for people in need. “For me, it was about seeing the donation process come full circle,” she says. “I tell my clients that they can donate to various organizations — whether it’s giving eyeglasses to Lions clubs or shoes to Soles4Souls — and I wanted to be able to tell them what really happens behind the scenes.”
After days of washing feet, sizing children for shoes and finding them the perfect pair, Clark returned home with a new outlook on life, and her need to “simplify” grew even stronger. She and her husband put their house on the market, sold half of their furniture and moved into their smaller house in July.
Today — whether her clients are willing to start small or make a drastic change like she did — Clark continues to emphasize one key phrase: “If you’re not using it or loving it, it’s time to think about letting it go,” she says.
She’s constantly looking for new ways to get that word out. Next year, she hopes to launch an online program that will walk people through the process of simplifying and organizing every room in the house. Plus, she’d love to write a book some day.
Clark’s favorite part about her job is getting to see clients have the “a-ha moment,” that occurs when one is exposed to a different point of view. But she is also quick to point out that her house isn’t always the picture of organizational perfection.
“I’m just a mom with three kids, too, and we definitely have those days when we come home, throw stuff down and have to keep going,” she says. “But ultimately, at the end of the day, I’m trying to get it back in place.”
Organizing Tips from Tanna Clark
1. Weed regularly. If you’re not careful, that junk drawer will soon turn into three, and your clothes that you “might wear one day” will have their own closet.
2. Set up a donation box in each closet. The next time you come across something and say, “What was I thinking when I bought this?” drop it in the box, and donate when full.
3. If you aren’t loving it or using it, let it go! Don’t keep anything you don’t use or enjoy looking at. Instead of letting it take up space, pass it on to someone who could benefit from it.
4. Don’t buy containers until you know what you need to store in them. Plan and sort first; containers can become clutter, too.
5. Take a picture; it lasts longer. Pass down memories instead of stuff. Take pictures of memorabilia, put them in a journal and jot down thoughts about the memories that items represent.
“I was putting up my Christmas tree when I got the phone call,” says Teri Johnson-Hiett, referring to the moment she found out she had breast cancer. It was right around Thanksgiving in 2005, eight short months after losing her mother at age 51 to the same disease. Teri was only 29.
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