On a steamy summer afternoon, Lisa Blake and Mark Maldonis gathered with their three sons and Maltese dog near “Command Central,” a tiny office under the stairwell in their Scituate home.
Mason, 9, and his 8-year-old twin brothers, Hunter and Wyatt, had spent the morning at day camp. In a couple of hours, their mom would be driving them to swim lessons. And after dinner, the family would head out to the harbor for ice cream and a walk.
“With three kids in 16 months we had to have a routine,” said Blake, a professional organizer. “It was survival.”
The start of school is just weeks away, and organization will spell survival — or at least sanity — for families everywhere. But Blake and other professional organizers in Greater Boston can offer strategies for helping families systematize their households and streamline their lives.
Echoing Marie Kondo, author of the best-selling “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” they agreed that freeing a home of clutter creates room for peace of mind, and joy. (Not to mention soccer cleats.)
In the Maldonis home, a ranch with an added second floor, shelves, bins, and other containers are strategically placed in closets, cupboards, and rooms. Whether children or parents are looking for something for the first time or the hundredth, they’ll find it in the same place.
“It’s good,” said Hunter, smiling shyly while Wyatt nodded and their older brother, Mason, waited to add: “It’s easier to find anything. It takes under two minutes to find stuff.”
School notices, invitations, and other paperwork are tucked inside folders on Blake’s desk at Command Central. Sports equipment is stored in labeled bins in the basement. And shoes and boots are within easy reach, fitted into the pockets of a shoe organizer that hangs inside a closet near the door the family uses to enter and exit the house.
At night, Blake’s sons select their clothes and sports equipment for the following day while their mom assembles lunches. In the morning, they make their beds.
“Labeling is key, especially with kids,” said Blake, a professional organizer for Organizing Boston, an 18-year-old company based in Belmont that was started by Sarah Buckwalter.
But in this line of work, one size never fits all.
“What I do at my home might not work for someone else,” Blake said.
So when Blake interviews new clients, she requests a walk-through, asks where the family leaves and enters the home, and recommends boxes, bins, and shelving available at The Container Store, Walmart, Target, and other retailers.
She also suggests that parents assign chores to the children, synchronize their personal calendars, and establish a daily routine.
“One area can affect the whole house,” Blake said. “It snowballs.”
Professional organizers say what’s driving demand for their services is stuff — too much clothing, too many toys, and an overflow of papers, including schoolwork, receipts, and mail.
“The big thing is you can’t bring in [things] and not get some out,” said Blake. “If you buy 10 T-shirts, you can’t keep 500.”
Marilyn Cruickshank, who started Creative Simplicity Organizing and Productivity in Needham nine years ago, said most of the calls she receives are from families looking for decluttering help.
“As a professional organizer, one of my jobs is to keep my client on task,” said Cruickshank, who serves as board secretary for the roughly 115-member New England chapter of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals. “Decisions take time.”
But it’s not just stuff that gums up the works in a disorganized household. What’s also a challenge is managing time.
“They have too much on their schedule,” Cruickshank said in an e-mail. “It can become a vicious cycle in the morning when everyone in the family is trying to get out the door on time with everything they need.”
Anne Sharp, who runs A Sharp Space, a professional organizing business in Winchester, agrees, describing her role as teacher and coach.
“Our job is to transfer skills, teach clients, make them part of the process,” she said. “Every client is different. We’re always tuning in to how they operate.”
Sharp doesn’t lay down rules or offer a blueprint. Instead, she helps clients increase efficiencies, which in turn reduces stress.
“When they experience success early, they’re encouraged and motivated to continue on between sessions,” she says. “They have to be part of the process.”
Attesting to that is My Linh Truong of Winchester. She and her family moved into their home a year ago, and are still unpacking their belongings, including some boxes unopened after a previous move.
“I used to spend two weeks getting ready for a one-week vacation,” said Truong, the mother of four children ages 5 to 15. “If I couldn’t find things, I’d buy new ones [like] triplicates of beach chairs and towels. Anne helped me find what I had inside cabinets and drawers. . . . She had bins.”
But Sharp’s services have also helped the family to start new habits, and stick to them.
Now, most things have a place. The children’s rooms are neater. And there are fewer arguments over missing items.
“It lives here now,” Truong said of what she once had trouble finding in her home. “Why didn’t I do that before?”
TIPS FOR A SMOOTH START
1. Take an inventory to see what you have, need, and use.
2. Use containers, hooks, baskets, shelves, labels, and other tools.
3. Make and synchronize schedules and keep a daily routine.
4. Learn not to overextend. Practice saying “no.”
5. Involve all family members. Assign chores to children.
6. Save school papers in a large bin. At the end of the year, sort and dispose.