IN an increasingly busy world, finding the time to keep a tidy home can be tricky.
Long working hours, hectic social diaries and family commitments all stack up and take a higher place on the list of priorities for many of us than ‘clear out the garage’, ‘tidy the under stairs cupboard’ and ‘empty the loft’.
Lesley Spellman became The Clutter Fairy when she returned to the UK after seeing the work of professional organisers — or declutterers — in America.
With three children, she was ready to go back to work and wanted to combine the organisational skills she had developed in previous jobs with her naturally tidy nature.
“I’ve got three kids, now 16, 13 and nine, and when they were younger, people would come and say our home was immaculate,” she said.
“Everyone has different levels of tolerence for untidiness and clutter. Mine is very low and I freak out when a single thing is left out.”
But it was on the family’s return from America, when they bought a derelict house which had been owned by a compulsive hoarder, that she started to develop her business idea.
Lesley, who grew up in Blackburn and attended St Wilfred’s High School, expected the job’s main task to be the physical act of clearing and tidying, but soon found that the psychological side was key to long-term success.
Her clients, who are spread across the Lancashire, Manchester and Cheshire areas, come from all walks of life, religion and race, and include doctors, an MP, OAPs, a Jewish housewife and prostitutes.
Some have saved for months to afford her service and one person had even visited a loan shark to secure the fee — while others live in ‘chaotic’ £1million homes.
Their needs vary from the compulsive hoarders — as showcased on Channel 4’s The Hoarder Next Door series which ends tomorrow — through to ‘writing lists of things like “open the window”’ for what she calls the ‘chronically disorganised’ or those who have a cluttered cupboard, room or loft.
“Even where it is as simple as sorting out a spare room, there’s always a psychology to look at,” the 43-year-old said.
“It’s a fascinating job; very rewarding and every day is different. It’s all about me being able to change depending on who I’m working with, encouraging their trust and being able to read their signs, and — of course — getting down and dirty.”
But she does draw the line at the extreme side of ‘getting dirty’, where homes border on the unhygienic and insists she that a declutterer is very different role to that of a cleaner.
“I’m also not a psychologist. I can’t solve issues but I’m sympathetic to them and let people work through things in their own way — maybe 75 per cent of my clients cry during the experience.
“The cases on The Hoarder Next Door are extreme and I have worked with people like that but it would take me weeks to get through and I would have to say no as it’s just too big and they have greater needs, such as cognitive behavioural therapy.
“And the levels of squalour can be hazardous in kitchens and bathrooms. But I’m non-judgemental.
“People are already ashamed and guilty about it.”
Lesley does understand the challenge of throwing some items away, such as children’s toys, and has even succombed to her own sentimentality on that front.
“I do draw on my own experience in that instance,” she said.
“One client still had 28 boxes after the declutter process, but she has a massive loft so it wasn’t a problem.”