'Kids and kitchens': MODE Organizing tackles organization projects both big and small
Gretchen Otness of MODE Organizing in Willmar knows the difference an organized approach to a household makes. She's worked with homeowners since 2019 to streamline their space to fit their lifestyles.
WILLMAR — When Gretchen Otness gets a call for help, it generally involves either kids or kitchens, and sometimes both.
A professional organizer based out of Willmar, Otness decided to start her own business — MODE Organizing — in 2019 to serve as a source of calm and inspiration for homeowners overwhelmed by their possessions.
"The moment that they say 'Oh, we can do this,' but they don't" is when Otness recommends potential clients give her a call. "The minute that they think they're going to get to it and (instead) never do, that's kind of, I'd say, the little red flag. "
Whether it's downsizing, reorganizing a kitchen or creating an office out of a spare bedroom, Otness is happy to help homeowners make the best use of their available space.
"Every project is so different, of course," Otness said. "Every person's needs and what they're looking for and what they're struggling with in their home is so different from person to person."
'A deep love of being organized'
Otness has known the value of a tidy home since a young age, but over the years has come to see how organization comes in many shapes and sizes, and looks different from space to space.
Throughout the process of growing up and moving between homes and apartments as a young adult, Otness determined how little she personally needed in her day-to-day life, and was able to move toward a more minimalist approach to living.
"I think I just, over time, have learned just in my personal journey through owning things — because even as an organized person, I tend to be, even as a kid, somewhat of a pack rat — how stuff can be such a burden and how it can really overwhelm," she said. "The more that I understood I truly needed, I just loved my home space better. It felt calmer, more peaceful; I was wasting a lot less money; I was wasting a lot less time."
She was quick to add, however, that her personal tendency toward a minimalist lifestyle is not one that all of her clients can or should try to emulate.
"I don't require anyone, ever, to remove something from their home," she said. "We could organize and never get rid of anything; that's totally up to them. I try and understand what they truly need, what's best gonna fit their end goal, and (then) help them get to the place where they truly love their home."
Envisioning what life can look like down the road
The majority of the projects that call for Otness' expertise do involve entire houses, working top to bottom to streamline a family's living spaces for both the present time and years to come.
"Whether they're a young family with kids or they're an empty-nest couple maybe downsizing or looking to move in 10, 15 years, I try and help (clients) think about the future," Otness said.
Sometimes that can be difficult, when the first challenge is to get them past what they're feeling now.
"People feel like, in general, they don't have great control of the stuff in their home, and it doesn't seem to be based in one room or one space. It's just all over," she said. "So we dig into why that is, and then we can get through each space and work through the whole home."
Her first piece of advice is to start small. And when she says "small," she doesn't mean the basement, the storage room or even a closet. "The No. 1 thing I like to start with is the infamous 'junk drawer,' because even though I think they're unnecessary and no home should have them, we all do."
Further, she recommends continuing with tiny organization projects — a bathroom drawer, a single kitchen cabinet, getting all of the laundry done and put away in order to gauge exactly how much clothing has accumulated over the years — and taking the win.
"I think people tend to start really big, even with any size room, and say 'Alright, we're going to organize the bedroom today,' and it's just too much," Otness said. "And in reality, you don't have the time, even if you're allotting the full day. It's gonna take more time."
The COVID-19 pandemic helped open clients' eyes to what they actually want or need out of their homes, Otness noted, and also brought new awareness of specific areas of conflict, such as trying to fit a home office where a bedroom or a storage room once was.
"People were like 'Oh, my gosh, I have to work from home and I can't stand this new semi-office space,' whatever it is, whether it's the kitchen table or the random corner they now have for an office," she said.
And for those homes where kids are present, there's the constant question of bedrooms, toys and general kid-related clutter that parents are forever asking "where does this go?"
"But more often than not, it's 'I can't stand my house anymore and I need help,'" Otness said.
Timing is everything
Otness works with clients in three-hour sessions, with a maximum of two sessions per day, as needed. She has both set rates for hands-on sessions, and a separate rate for clients wanting more of a blueprint of what to do, but planning on doing the work themselves.
"I will go first and do a consultation to get a good idea of what their problem areas are and what they're really looking for me to do," Otness said. "Some want like a full-on, where I'm doing the brunt of all the work. Sometimes people just need a little bit of guidance and then they can take it from there."
Every project is different, which means that Otness has to be careful when it comes to scheduling. Keeping MODE as a part-time practice allows her the flexibility of off-hours when her clients have the time to commit to a three- or six-hour block of organizing, which also hits the sweet spot between productivity and frustration.
Some projects have required only two to four sessions because the homeowners were looking at very specific needs and rooms, rather tackling than the entire space.
"It's very much based on their schedule and availability," she said. "It's fairly common that I will end up doing two sessions in a day just because it tends to be a better use of their time if they're taking the day off work or it's the day the kids are with the grandma or whatever. We can really just dive in and get a lot done."
While she tends to schedule only one client or project at a time, there's no limit on how many sessions a client may require.
"It really goes the gamut of how long a project can take," she said. "I have had a client I've been working with for most of 2021; she was more or less a full house plus massive storage basement plus massive garage type of project, so we've been working over the course of many months."
A project that size required Otness to coordinate Dumpsters and haul-away services, something Otness is more than willing to do if clients don't have specific companies in mind. She also offers what she deemed "intensive sessions," in which she will book a full weekend or string of days for homeowners living more than a half-hour away and thus save the drive-time in exchange for longer, more deep-dive organization sessions.
Getting the MODE down to a science
The name of her business came from Otness' process and approach to solving clients' problems: Minimize, organize, design and efficiency.
"Minimizing, aka decluttering, is that first step, and that is the bulk of any project," Otness said. "That's the hardest part — if someone is struggling to get rid of items, if there's sentimental items, whatever the case may be — but minimizing definitely the first step."
Clients are encouraged to remain focused on the end goal, even as the physical labor of organizing makes demands on their time and energy. "It's very easy to get sidetracked as you're going through items, and personal items," Otness said. "For some people, it's harder than others, so they can get derailed on the 'goal of the day.'"
"It is a lot harder than people think," she said. "it can be fun; it's a good process to go through, but it can be daunting for some people."
Organizing, or setting up the process for "where things are gonna go; what makes the most sense for that person's lifestyle, their family's lifestyle; and what's going to actually be attainable for them to continue doing," is the second step of the process, and one that Otness takes her time going over.
"There's a lot of things that would make sense to me, but that doesn't necessarily mean it would make sense to the client," she said.
Design, she said, is a fancier term for figuring out where things go within the space, "which might literally mean 'in this basket,' or 'in this drawer.'"
Sometimes the design process may involve purchasing new pieces of furniture or storage containers, but more often than not Otness prefers to work with the items her clients already have, although they may come from other rooms.
"The efficiency part of it is, again, just really fine-tuning the processes (and) making sure that it is something they can maintain, that their family can maintain," she said. "Sometimes it's even bringing in the family members that weren't part of the whole process because one person in the family hired me, but the rest really have to be on board with what we've set up."
The end goal, Otness said, is not to create a space that merely looks nice. Rather, it is to create a space where her clients can work, play and live, no matter what that might look like. It's about making a space usable, for whatever purpose may be required of it.