Special Guest: Laura Harrison, Professional Organizer.

This post couldn't have come at a better time. I'm in the midst of an organizational crisis, and definitely need some advice and inspiration to get myself in order. Please welcome my special guest, Laura Harrison, founder of Less Mess. More Life., a Bay Area personal organizational service. Laura took the giant step out of event planning in the corporate world after her son Elliott was born to start her company. She's now managing life with a 7-month-old in San Francisco while balancing her growing business - an organizational challenge itself.

Laura took the time to answer a few of my burning questions, so please read on for some great advice and easy tips for how to get organized and stay organized.

I love your company name, “Less Mess. More Life.” It feels like a mantra too, how did you come up with it and what does it mean to you?

It’s definitely both mantra and mission. As for how it came to be, it was really a mix of things…but I have to give Oprah some credit. She was touring a tiny apartment for a large family in the happiest country on Earth (Denmark) on one of her shows and she noticed an extreme lack of stuff in their very small apartment. The father said, “less space, less stuff, more life” and it just struck a chord with me. I started thinking a lot about how mess was getting in the way for some many people…stopping them from living the life that was possible. And so Less Mess. More Life. was born.

How did you make the decision to go from the corporate world to starting your own business?

I loved the life of an event planner (organizing fun for other people? Yes, please.); but it often left me wanting more. I realized that I really wanted to do something that positively affected people directly. After spending a lot of time soul searching, talking to my friends and consulting with my husband, I decided to match my organization skills with my desire to change lives. And now, simplifying the lives of professionals and families at work and at home - and celebrating with clients who finally feel organized - really makes me feel like I’m using my best self to help others. It’s great.

What has surprised you about the experience?

What a difference just a few focused hours can make. It really can change a room, change an outlook and change a life.

How do you balance work with being a mom?

Let’s be honest…it’s a constant struggle for any mom. For me, when Elliott is awake, it is all about Elliott. I try to be really present with him and to not to worry about all of the little things that aren’t getting done. But when it’s nap time, I take full advantage of every minute. My organizing, list-making self kicks in and I dig in to the to dos and start crossing things off. It’s amazing what you can get done in 30 minutes when you have an organized approach.

I always find that when attempting to tackle some giant organizational disaster (like this), the hardest part is just getting started. Can you offer any advice on how to start an organizational project?

I have two pieces of advice:

  1. Set a limited amount of time you are going to work on the project. Maybe it’s just one hour or one baby’s nap, but for that one session, you are solely focused on the task (no texting/emailing/snacking/TV). I set most of my client sessions for between 3 and 4 hours; people simply get burnt out if you ask them to focus any longer and become less productive.
  2. Start in one corner and move across the area. Now you can’t say you don’t know where to start!

By the way, I bet you’d be surprised by how much of your doom pile you do without…I mean, you haven’t needed it in 8 months, or it wouldn’t be in the pile, right?

When do you know it’s time to call in the big guns (aka, you)?

Well, it’s a personal choice. I look at it like hiring a personal trainer. Some people need to lose 100 pounds and some need to lose 5. A good rule of thumb is if you have tried to tackle the problem yourself more than three times without success, it’s time to call someone. And every first consultation I do is at no cost – people need to understand the organizational plan before they really know what they need.

It always feels like a lot of work keeping things organized. Can you offer us any advice on daily habits that help maintain organization in a home?

There’s a place for everything and everything in its place! Everything in our home has an assigned space. Truly, we can clean up the house in minutes, find important documents in seconds and never spend hours wondering where we last stashed the phone charger. And label, label, label everything…just don’t use the word miscellaneous!

What inspires you (creatively, organizationally, etc.)?

Container Store and Real Simple (obviously!), but also DIY projects, before and after pictures, label makers, people’s progress, houzz.com, Excel, saving money, Jonathan Adler, successful entrepreneurs, saving time, other organizers, generosity, apartmenttherapy.com…the list goes on. Everything can be a source of inspiration.

You recently turned your home office into a nursery. How did you go about thinking about that space in a new way and then create the plan for making it work for you?

One of my favorite aspects of organizing is repurposing spaces and finding new uses for items - bedrooms become offices, book cases become shoe racks, and cardboard boxes become drawer dividers. I eagerly accepted the challenge of office to nursery conversion. By finding a new home for the office (in the living room) and adding shelving to the master closet, we were able to have a “room” for the baby. A coat of paint, a new light fixture and a repositioned hanging rod, was all it took to transform the room.

This home office/spare closet/main storage area needed less leaning items and more storage.

A very inexpensive system was installed to give each large item a designated space (no more leaning!) and create another shelf. Storage containers and notebooks (all labeled, of course) were implemented. Imagine always knowing where the ipod/camera/laptop charger are hiding.

Thanks so much for answering my questions, Laura. The transformation from standard (and all-too-familiar) catch-all closet to organized home office and then NURSERY is truly remarkable!

Here's some more of Laura's handiwork. If you are in need of some help getting organized, be sure to get in touch with her.

Too much clutter and no true filing system left this client piling paper and everything else wherever there was space.

After sorting through the clutter, we created a portable filing system and installed white boards to make sure goals were visible and to do lists accomplished.

This garage (too small for a car) had become the holding space for anything and everything, exposing items to water damage and dust. Shelving to keep items off the ground and a walkway make this garage more functional. Now, the clients can easily find the ski gear for quick Tahoe getaways.

All photos courtesy of Less Mess. More Life. Photo of Laura, Brooke Bryand Photography.