Making It

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By Elizabeth Chang
Sunday, December 23, 2007

Marcie Lovett was not a normal teenager. If she was nervous before a big test, for example, she'd organize the linen closest. "My mother used to yell at me," Marcie recalls. "I really think everyone thought it was pathological. Nobody ever said, What a great idea." Organizing, Marcie says, "just wasn't a thing then. It wasn't a profession."

But now organizing is both a huge thing (Container Store sales eclipsed $500 million last year) and a burgeoning profession (there are 4,000 members of the National Association of Organizing Professionals, or NAPO). Marcie thinks the craze is a societal reaction to the world feeling out of control. "There is so much you can't control, but you can control your linen closet, you can control the hall closet, and you can control your daggone sock drawer."

Marcie, 48, studied education at the University of Maryland, but she decided she didn't want to teach. Instead, she made a career in human resources, first in Los Angeles, where she moved after college, then back in Maryland. But after a series of layoffs, she figured that she had enough savings to try something else. She had been reading about professional organizing, and "I kept saying, I do this," she says. When she made the leap in December 2004, "most of the feedback that I got was, What took you so long?"

The Olney resident created Organized by Marcie, joined NAPO and made business cards. She got in touch with Realtors, local businesses and moms' clubs. She also does public speaking, writes a newsletter and blogs about organizing on her Web site. At first, she says, she didn't charge much -- "I so gave it away," she says. "I think what finally got me was the plumber came, and the plumber was $75 an hour."

She now charges $60 an hour for a local job, more if she has to travel. Her clients are mostly women, from busy singles to mothers to downsizers and retirees. "Everyone needs an organizer, no matter what stage of life you're in."

Marcie's advice to all is direct: Don't buy anything to get organized; you probably have enough bins in your house. Your things are not your life; they're just things. Just because somebody gave it to you doesn't mean you have to keep it. Purge children's belongings before holiday or birthday deluges, but have the children do it with you, so they learn.

Rockville resident Liz Lewis had been ill when she hired Marcie to help organize her townhouse. "She's fun to work with, and she's very efficient," Lewis says. "It really relieved my mind a whole lot, because I've been sitting around not able to do things for a couple of years. This gave me inspiration and a sense of accomplishment."

It gives Marcie one, too. "There was so much that I loved about human resources," she says. "But when I wake up in the morning, I know that I'm going to have a good day. I know I'm going to change someone's life that day."

There are drawbacks, such as having to pay for her own health insurance and run the entire business, from marketing to finances. And, at this point, she's only making about $30,000 a year, down from the $65,000 she was earning in human resources. She has had to live leanly and dip into her savings. "But it's the most damn fun I've ever had," she says. "And it's what I want to be when I grow up."

Has a personality trait helped you start a business? E-mail changb@washpost.com.


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