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Local home organizer helps spark joy

MIDDLEBURY PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZER Emily Bissonnette was the first certified KonMari Method consultant in the state of Vermont. Using the step-by-step process pioneered by Japanese consultant Marie Kondo, Bissonnette helps her clients examine their relationships with their possessions, a process that can lead to a tidier home and a greater sense of inner calm.

If you really want to see how messy or cluttered your house is, take a photo of the room. It makes it so much more clear to you when you’re looking at it in a photo as opposed to just like being in your space.
— Emily Bissonnette

MIDDLEBURY — When we hear “home improvement” we often think of renovations or additions or other significant changes to the buildings we live in, undertaken by intrepid do-it-yourselfers or hired contractors wielding hammers and saws and beat-up radios tuned to classic rock or country.
But not all home improvements involve constructing (or deconstructing) with wood or metal or glass. Some improvements are more, shall we say, philosophical in nature, or psychological. Maybe even spiritual. And these improvements can have just as profound an impact on the way we occupy our homes as the enlargement or augmentation of our physical spaces.
Emily Bissonnette is a home improver of the philosophical variety, and the tools she wields are rather more quiet than a carpenter’s, especially the most powerful one: listening.
Bissonnette is the first — and until this month was the only — Certified KonMari Consultant in the state of Vermont.
The KonMari method was developed by Japanese organizing consultant Marie Kondo and made popular internationally both through her books and her 2019 Netflix series, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.”
In brief, the KonMari method involves gathering all of one’s possessions, category by category, examining each one and then keeping only the things that “spark joy.”
Several years ago Bissonnette tried the KonMari method on her own, with just the book, and like many people she had limited success with it.
But something changed when she became the helper.
“My dad asked for some help clearing out some of his house in preparation for downsizing,” she told the Independent. “I discovered that I really loved supporting him in clearing out the things that weren’t working for him anymore, and I really loved being The Listener, just being present and supporting the process, which can be intense and emotional, especially the longer someone has lived in a place.”
“I wonder,” Bissonnette thought to herself at the time, “if Marie Kondo trains people to do this work.”
She does, it turns out, so Bissonnette signed up and began a new profession.
“And the more I do it the more I love it,” she said. “I kind of fell into this work by actually practicing the Marie Kondo method, which is choosing what makes you happy in your day-to-day life. That’s the part that really gets me going, doing this with my clients, seeing that transformation, when people start asking themselves ‘What is really going to light me up? I’m going to prioritize that above other things.’ And it’s incredibly awesome to be part of that process with people.”
Though she’s now “kind of a nerd” about organization, Bissonnette was not born organized, she said, and like most kids she found little joy in being made to clean her room.
“This is one of the key things. We tell our kids to clean their rooms but we don’t tell them how to do it in a way that’s actually going to last. Organization is not really a skill that’s taught to people. There’s just sort of an expectation that you’re organized or you’re not, and if you don’t know how to do it you’ll never know how to do it.”
And then we become adults.
“Most adults, especially those with kids, want more time and more space for the people and things that matter most to us, and I think for sure that is part of my own journey,” she said. “I got to a point where I thought all I was doing was picking up after myself and other people, and my kid would ask me to do something with her and I would say, ‘Well I’m busy, I’ve got to put this away.’ Or we would want to do a project on our kitchen table and it’s all covered in papers. Or a friend would call say ‘Hey we’re in town, surprise! Can we come over?’ And the next three hours would be this mad cleaning.” Bissonnette laughed. “This is how we do.”
In her work, Bissonnette tries to help people achieve “outer order, inner calm,” to quote the title of one of her favorite books.
But it can be difficult at times, and the process doesn’t always make people feel warm and fuzzy, she acknowledged.
“It’s an intense journey that’s not necessarily for the faint of heart. If you want someone to come in and organize your spice cupboard for you, there is huge value to that and you can hire someone to do that. But this is a little bit deeper. Confronting your possessions is really confronting yourself and looking at yourself and your life in a slightly deeper way.”
Bissonnette emphasizes that she’s not a mental health counselor and she’s very comfortable informing clients when a situation has proceeded beyond her particular skill sets, or even suggesting that therapy might be useful.
Bissonnette’s focus is more on shifting mindsets through coaching and support, she said, and she takes it step by step.
“In the Marie Kondo method we go category by category,” she explained. “We go clothing, books, papers, miscellaneous — which is everything that doesn’t fall into those three categories, so your bathroom stuff, your kitchen stuff, that box of cords that’s been sitting there for about a hundred years. And then finally we end with sentimental objects, because those are the hardest.”
The process, she said, can be transformational.
“Many people spend years listening to what everyone else wants, what everybody else says is the right thing for us,” she said. “And the voice that’s telling us what’s really right for us gets quieter and quieter.”
Bissonnette gently coaxes people into listening for that voice.
“And the more you listen the louder it gets, and the more you can hear it the more you can act on it.”

TAKE A PHOTO OF YOUR ROOM
Bissonnette is currently working with clients on a limited basis via Zoom, but before the pandemic she would spend time with people in their homes.
“Typically when I’m seeing a person for the first time, one of the first things we do is a home tour,” she explained. “I don’t talk much. I might ask questions, but mostly I let people describe their space to me in their own words.”
Bissonnette also asks people to take photos beforehand.
“If you really want to see how messy or cluttered your house is, take a photo of the room,” she said. “It makes it so much more clear to you when you’re looking at it in a photo as opposed to just like being in your space.”
People often start the process focused on discarding, she said.
“Like, ‘I’ve got to get rid of this clutter, I don’t want this, I don’t want that.’ But if you’re practicing identifying what you want to let go of, all you’re doing is learning how to identify what you don’t like,” she said. “And that’s not actually a skill I want to build with people. Instead I want people to get into their body, their heart, their intuition, their gut, and ask, ‘What do I love? What makes me happy? What sparks joy?’ It’s like an edit. You’re focusing on the things you want to keep, and then it’s just very clear what we want to let go of — with gratitude for what it has given us.”
Bissonnette pointed out that the phrase “spark joy” is sometimes misunderstood.
“The word Marie Kondo uses is tokimeku, which is Japanese word that literally means ‘to beat faster.’ Probably the American equivalent would be to have butterflies in your stomach, like when you see your crush across the room and you get this little thrill. In the translation of the books, ‘spark joy’ is just one of the many terms that’s used. Other translations could be ‘Do you love it?’ ‘Does it speak to your heart?’ ‘Does it give you a thrill?’”
Another misconception often arises around the connection between the KonMari method and “minimalism.”
“Because Marie Kondo is personally a minimalist a lot of the visuals of her spaces and her clients’ spaces have that minimalist look, and people see that and they’re like, ‘I don’t want to get rid of my stuff, like I love books, I love art supplies, I love working with scrap wood, and I don’t want to have to get rid of it.’”
But the KonMari method is not about achieving minimalism, she said, and you don’t have to get rid of the things you love.
There is no set amount of time Bissonnette works with clients, but she tries to establish a “graduation date” within six months of beginning.
“I don’t want people to be working with me forever,” she said. “That’s not the goal. I’m training them and supporting them to do this on their own. You finish it and then you maintain it.”
Besides, she said, people have much more interesting things to do with their time.
“You have gifts to offer to the world. You have projects to do. You’ve got family members who want to hang out with you.”
For more information about Emily Bissonnette and her work, visit yourjoyfullifetidy.com.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected]

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