“I was raised in a really disorganized, chaotic home,” says Julie Clarke, owner of Organized At Last, a professional organizing company. “My mom was diagnosed with MS when I was two and passed away my senior year of high school.”
“My dad was a good provider,” Clarke says, “but he wasn’t the kind of guy who was going to get help in our house. They did the best they could.”
With four daughters, a hard-working father, and a mother decreasingly able to keep up with even the simplest of tasks, the family home was in an endless state of disarray – to put it mildly.
Dirty clothes mixed with clean, while piles of stuff obscured every surface. Pathways wove through the mounting mess.
“We girls had bedrooms upstairs and mom would just throw the clothes or shoes – whatever she was able to reach – onto the stairs,” Clarke says. “It would create this huge mountain, an avalanche of chaos.”
Clarke vividly remembers, in second grade, being at a friend’s house and realizing that things there were done very differently.
“I started paying attention,” Clarke says. “I watched how things were done, the systems and routines. I asked a lot of questions.”
She sought answers to seemingly simple questions: Why do other people seem to be able to get to school on time, with combed hair and socks that match?
Over the next few years, she looked in good friends’ cupboards and drawers, figuring out how other people organized their lives.
In seventh grade, Clarke put her growing knowledge to work in her family’s home.
“I spent about eight months working every day – cleaning out a drawer or cupboard, working underneath the bathroom sink. I just took it one space at a time.
Clarke left her Edmonds home after high school to study home economics at Western Washington University; she stayed in Bellingham after graduating and marrying husband Steve.
Just as she started to work as a professional organizer, her first son came along, and Clarke pulled back, instead teaching and speaking about organizing for many years.
“When my youngest son started kindergarten, I really got serious about starting a business.” She named it Organized At Last, a fitting moniker representing her own journey.
Clarke’s now heading into her 16th year of business. “It’s been a great career,” she says, smiling.
Most customers reach out to Clarke by email or phone, and she schedules a consultation.
She – and often an accompanying employee – meets with the clients, photographs the space, and talks through what’s going on in each particular situation.
Though she’s successfully taken on her fair share of extreme situations, most projects are straightforward: someone is moving and needs help downsizing or is dealing with an illness or injury that causes them to fall behind on home front upkeep. Many times, it’s simply busy lives that make it difficult to manage the day-to-day, until the pantry is overflowing and cars can’t be pulled into the garage.
Clarke and her staff don’t always supply hands-on help; sometimes they simply offer recommendations for changes.
“I charge $100 to come in and walk through your space with you,” she explains, “but a lot of times I’ll say, ‘If you just move your couch to this wall, change the location of that shelf, de-clutter that area, put hooks here instead of bars, and remove this, you’ll free up so much space.’”
Clarke is able to see a room and in an instant know how to transform it. “Often they just need me to guide them with a few ideas using items they already own,” she says.
For larger, more involved projects, Clarke has learned that it’s always way more than just about stuff. Time and again, she’s watched a client’s entire demeanor change, become lighter, as their space becomes more efficient. The Organized At Last motto says it all: Creating emptier, fuller lives.
That means buying fewer things and enjoying life more. “Living with less is really the way to appreciate life,” she says. “You don’t need a lot of toys to be happy.”
Clarke is passionate about her work and attributes that to her upbringing.
“When you spend 25 minutes searching for a hairbrush, that’s a lot of your life wasted,” she says. “When your house is efficient and organized and you know exactly where things go, it takes just a few seconds to put items away, because everything has a home. It makes life so much easier.”
Those childhood experiences have made a profound impact on her career. “When I walk into a really chaotic situation I just want to reach out and hug my client and tell them it’s going to be okay,” she says. “I always say that I grew up to become the person my mom desperately needed.”
Organized At Last
2950 Newmarket St., Suite 101-119
Bellingham WA 98226