The signs were there early. As a kid in small-town Alaska, Katherine Rhoades says, her friends hated playing Barbies with her.
“I was just terrible at it,” she recalls. “I would rather sort the clothes than dress the dolls.
“My family and friends definitely recognized me as a natural for organizing. Even as a child, I would alphabetize my CDs and rearrange my room. It’s always been something that brings me joy.”
But Rhoades, owner of Katherine Renae Professional Organizing, says her natural knack for keeping it neat didn’t make for a clean-cut career decision. She had her sights set on a job as an air traffic controller — and was well into her degree — before life and love intervened.
This week she talked with the Business Journal about how she got from there to here, how organizing changes lives, and how your house is not as bad as you think.
Where are you from?
I grew up in Alaska, in a small town just north of Denali National Park. It’s pretty remote, but it’s on the road system so it’s not completely rural. But I went to a K-12 school with about 250 kids in the entire school — so moving to Anchorage when I was in eighth grade, where the class size is bigger than my whole school, was kind of culture shock.
Your degree [Bachelor’s in Aviation Technology – Management] is interesting — tell us about that.
I was originally going for Air Traffic Control, but I was paying for school all out of pocket so I was working full time also. At the time, I couldn’t afford to stop working and I didn’t want to go into debt, so I switched to a management degree — with aviation emphasis, so I didn’t have to start from square one. So it’s aviation technology management, but it really is just a business degree with aviation emphasis.
How far along the air traffic control path were you?
I had about a year left … I had mostly the labs [left] to do and I guess my heart wasn’t 100 percent in it — I guess I could have made it work and got loans and whatnot. But I decided it probably wasn’t going to work out in the long run, and I met my husband at the same time. I knew if I was going to marry the military that something had to give — and it happens to be the career, for most spouses, at least temporarily. But that’s what brought me into what I do now. …
I didn’t actually start the business until 2017. I met my husband in 2012; I graduated in 2012; we moved to Georgia in 2013; got married in 2014; then made our way to Colorado, and this is where I started the business. In Georgia I was working from home, but it was a phone center job and I didn’t want to be tied to a desk. I love organizing and I love helping people do it. It’s such a life-changing thing. My mom was the one that gave me the idea — and I thought she was crazy. But I started doing some research, and sure enough it’s a real thing, and a real need. That’s how it got started.
How does organizing change people’s outlook and the way they live?
It’s huge. We can complete one small project in somebody’s house and they’re just like, ‘Ah!’ The sigh of relief is visible, it’s audible. It saves people time because they know where everything is. They’re not spending time searching for documents or keys or whatever. In the long run, it saves them money because they know where everything is. So many times I see expensive winter gear crumpled in the back of a closet, then they have another one because they couldn’t find that one. … [Organizing] sets limits too, especially with different containment options — like for your pantry. You don’t buy 18 boxes of rice if you have one container for rice. You go to the store and get rice when you actually need it, not because it’s hidden in the back of the pantry.
How do you tackle this feeling people have: ‘I can’t let anyone in here to help me with this. It’s too terrible.’
That’s the biggest barrier to break down, is getting over their embarrassment. My philosophy is: Everybody has a story, and a lot of times we get to different places in our lives because something’s happened. Often it’s a change in our life — and it may not have been recent, it could have been something 10 years ago that’s just kind of built and escalated to where it is now. Getting married, getting divorced, having a baby, suddenly getting ill and not being able to do the things you used to be able to. Or our culture is just so over-scheduled, busy families with their kids, running them to school, to choir, to sports. It’s not even that all of my clients don’t know how to organize — they just don’t have the time.
How do you approach what the client needs?
It really depends. A lot of people need the whole house done. Others call you in just for an office and then you get done with the office and they’re like, ‘This is amazing! We have to do this and this and this’ — and that turns into a whole home project. It’s about their comfort level too. Once you get in there and they see that the process is truly judgment free, they just get more on board the further into it you go. …
The beauty of what I do is it’s tailored to each individual client. It’s nice when they’re wanting to work one-on-one because … they’re actually taking the time to learn the systems and how it works, and it’s easier to get them involved for the maintenance portion of it. Because it’s not a set-it-and-forget-it thing; to stay organized, it takes constant maintaining.
But then it is really fun to do those transformations while people are on vacation. They come back and they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is great!’ And I think that works better for somebody that is more naturally organized and can maintain it, and just doesn’t have the time to reorganize.
Why does it help to have somebody alongside you in this process?
Accountability, for sure. It’s too easy, especially with busy lives, to say, ‘I’ll do that this weekend.’ And then this weekend comes and it’s beautiful out and you’d rather be going bike riding. So this is getting it on your calendar and keeping yourself accountable.
Has the surge of interest in the KonMari method [home organizing developed by Marie Kondo] had an impact on the number of people wanting to get rid of ‘stuff’?
For sure — especially this year with her show coming out on Netflix. In January in particular I got several calls that I may not have gotten without that. Even going to the donation centers, they’re overwhelmed too. I think it’s where our culture is going — people are tending to unload things. Millennials don’t want their parents’ and grandparents’ belongings handed down to them.
Part of that is because furniture is so much more disposable now. We’re not hand-making our dining room table; we’re getting it from big box stores for much cheaper, so there’s not the sentimental value anymore.
You have a child. Do you find when people have kids, it has a big impact on organization? How do you organize for them?
I have one — he’s 18 months. I even have to learn this myself, but we still have to let kids be kids. And it’s important for them to be creative. But LEGOs — every family I’ve helped, that has been their breaking point. It’s LEGOs. I love working with the kids themselves. Believe it or not, I think parents are the ones limiting the children from letting go of things a lot of the time, because the parents are the ones that spent their hard-earned money for this expensive toy that their kid doesn’t play with or has outgrown. Then also, the parents are the ones that have this sentimental attachment to watching their kids develop with these different things. So it’s harder for us to let that go, whereas our kids are like, ‘Yeah, I’m done with it.’
But LEGOs are a good example: Is it worth the time and effort to color code LEGOs? I mean, most kids aren’t going to keep them that way — so the ‘dump method’ is completely OK. It’s all about containment and finding a way that the kids can put their own toys away.
Do you consider what each client is likely to maintain?
Yeah — and that’s all asking questions. For instance, if they’re used to hanging all their clothes and that’s how they like to do it, there’s no sense in completely changing that and training them to fold their clothes. It’s not going to stick. There’s not a right or wrong answer there — there are just ways to make things better and easier on them. It’s all just asking questions and getting to the bottom of why they’re disorganized in the first place and creating a system from there. And sometimes you have to tweak it a couple of times.
Every couple weeks, I go back to their house and help them maintain it. And now that we’ve done that for several weeks, I can see the same problem areas, so obviously, something needs to be tweaked to make it easier for them to manage. … There are all kinds of ideas out there — and we can try them all.
What’s the best thing about your work?
Helping people and seeing the transformation in their day-to-day life. Hands down. It’s the best feeling. I get text messages and emails, weeks and months after we’re done — and they’re just so thankful.