De-Clutter Me!

March 31, 2014  
Filed under Business

Eliminating clutter can change the whole feel of a space. (Courtesy photos)

By Phyl Newbeck

At 61, Ellen Gurwitz of Shelburne may have found her calling. Last year, after prodding from friends, she began her new business De-Clutter Me! Gurwitz provides consultations for those looking to eliminate unnecessary clutter from their homes. “It’s a lot of fun to help people get through the process,” she said. “I’ve seen concerned frowns soften into happy smiles. People say they feel lighter. It’s almost spiritual.”

Gurwitz said an important talent she brings to the job is a strong customer service orientation. She used to own and manage a retail mail order business in Burlington and also did customer service for a large company based in the city. “I listen and hopefully respond properly,” she said. “I gain people’s respect fast.”

Gurwitz realized she had a talent for talking to people when she ran for Selectboard in Richmond in the mid 1990s. After only two and a half years in town (“five minutes by Vermont standards,” she joked) she challenged an incumbent who had lived there for most of his life. Walking the streets of Richmond in the winter was the ultimate in “cold calling,” Gurwitz recalls, but she won the race. “I realized I gain trust quickly,” she said. “I know I’m approachable and that helps people relax, as well.”

Although De-Clutter Me! is relatively new, the business is growing, mostly by word of mouth. Gurwitz’s worry is that embarrassment might keep people from contacting her. In fact, some clients told her they wanted to clean up before she arrived. Gurwitz convinces them not to be concerned with the disarray since it’s her job to sift through what’s there and help people determine what they’d like to keep. Many of her clients require multiple visits, in part because Gurwitz has found that after about three hours people begin to burn out. “It’s a lot of work,” she said “but also in the case of inherited items, it can be highly emotional.”

Gurwitz confesses to never having seen the current crop of television shows on hoarding but she believes their existence may have heightened awareness of the problem. None of her clients has reached that level and she believes if she ever found a hoarder, she would recommend counseling in addition to her services. Gurwitz thinks many of her clients call her because they have tired of the “acquisitive culture” in which we live. “They’ve been told that they’ll be happy if they have more stuff,” she said, “but that’s not true.” Other clients contact her when they move into smaller domiciles and simply don’t have room for their accumulated possessions.

Gurwitz said it’s hard to have a rule of thumb for when to get rid of something since each individual situation is unique. However, she generally believes that if something hasn’t been used for six months (unless it’s seasonal), it can be discarded or given away. Clothing that hasn’t been worn in a year should also be culled, particularly for those who have lost weight and no longer have need for their “fat clothes.”

Gurwitz has read that the average person has 88 articles of clothing in a closet and wears 25 of them. Rather than step into a closet and pick out clothes to give away, Gurwitz tends to ask people to point to their favorite clothes and favorite colors, find other items which go well with them, and then take a close look at what’s left.

A sticking point for many homeowners is memorabilia or other items of emotional value. Gurwitz has found that sometimes people simply need someone to listen to the story of the item. After she “bears witness,” they might be willing to let go.

Gurwitz said one way of looking at clutter is to think of all the other people who might benefit from your extraneous possessions. There are a wide variety of options for selling or donating items ranging from Front Porch Forum, Craigslist and Ebay to various charities, the Freecycle Network or just the Re-use stations at solid waste transfer facilities. She estimates the average homeowner has $5,000 worth of unused items in their home.

In her spare time, Gurwitz sings with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and Bella Voce, and produces a two-hour Internet music show called Stone Soup. She also volunteers for a variety of cultural institutions including the Lois McClure schooner.

Gurwitz hopes she can bring her talents to more homeowners to help them rid themselves of clutter while helping others to benefit from new (to them) possessions. “There’s no way to know what to do until you get started,” she said. “It’s all about the forward momentum.”

For more information, call 598-3639 or email


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