SEATTLE — Professional organizer Melissa Schmalenberger has uncovered many unusual things in her years of helping people get their acts together. Cluttered drawers full of kitchen utensils that "maybe I'll use someday" or closet shelves packed with jeans someone swears they'll fit into again.
But one item is particularly common amongst the disorganized: books on how to organize.
"I can't tell you the number of times I'll find organizing books," Schmalenberger says with a laugh. "They have good intentions, but they've maybe read 20 pages."
So it might seem unusual that Schmalenberger has written her own book, "Simply Organized: Kitchens — 22 Easy Steps to an Uncluttered Kitchen." But Schmalenberger, known by those in Fargo-Moorhead as MS. Simplicity for her organizing business, newspaper columns and blog posts, says she wants this book to help achieve results once and for all.
"I don't want you to buy this book if it's just going to collect dust," she says. "I intentionally created this book to be short and accessible. My goal is for you to actually complete the steps."
The 22 steps include everything from preparing for decluttering by washing kitchen cabinets and learning which pots and pans you need to tactics for ditching the cookbooks but keeping favorite family recipes. Each step is described very briefly and can be tackled on the reader's own time frame.
"I want people to get to the crux of what they really need in their kitchens," she says.
Practice makes perfect
Schmalenberger practiced and in fact, perfected, what she preaches. This past winter, she and her husband, Ray Ridl, moved from their four-bedroom home in south Fargo to a one-bedroom apartment in Seattle.
She estimates she got rid of about 80 percent of their belongings and after six months, she says she still doesn't miss it. She's learned a few lessons along the way.
While working as a professional organizer in Fargo, Schmalenberger sold containers that offered alternatives for storage and organization. But she found just packing up stuff in fancy new storage bins wasn't getting to the heart of the problem.
"It's not a container that will help you get organized. When you have kitchen cabinets that are cleared out, you don't need additional storage. You can reclaim your kitchen and make smart use of your space," she says.
Items you don't need can be donated to charity, and Schmalenberger says you might experience additional lifestyle benefits.
"As a mom, as a parent (she has three sons), I know how important it is to get family around the kitchen table for dinner," she says. "But how many of us have bills and papers and even dirty dishes piled up there? I had one client thank me after I worked with her. She said, 'I don't think you understand, my family can actually sit down to dinner again.'"
Schmalenberger says she admires the work done by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, the men behind the minimalist movement. But she says as two young professionals with no kids, they might not always understand the challenges of downsizing in family life.
"Kids bring clutter in like an avalanche. I know what that's like," she says, "I hope with this book that I'm relatable. I want people to take my advice and say 'Oh, that's like talking to my girlfriend.' I don't want them to feel like I'm lecturing them."
Schmalenberger encourages readers to take on the 22 steps with friends so they can stay accountable. She says you can easily get a clean and organized kitchen in less than 30 days, and all it takes is a leap of faith.
"You just have to take that first step and start. Commit to it. Tell yourself if other people can do it, I can too," she says. "Once you complete this initial overhaul, you will spend less time staying organized in upcoming years."
Buy a book
Melissa Schmalenberger's "Simply Organized: Kitchens" is available to buy at Red River Coffee, 2600 52nd Ave. S., Fargo, and on Amazon.