Omagh woman sets up a tidy business out of helping people to declutter
Sharon McNulty, from Omagh, tells Helen Carson how buying a book by the Japanese organising consultant Marie Kondo changed the mum-of-three's home -and life
You'll never have to tidy your house again - that's the sweeping promise from Northern Ireland's only KonMarie consultant who espouses the Japanese art of decluttering. It may sound too good to be true but 47-year-old Sharon McNulty, from Omagh, says the techniques used in the KonMarie approach work - and what started out as a passion project has turned into a booming business for her.
Sharon, who works part-time as a health visitor, bought Marie Kondo's best-selling book The Life Changing Art of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising on Amazon in 2014 when it had first been translated into English - and now she's evangelical about the Kondo magic.
"I bought Marie Kondo's book and read it in one day," she says. "She was talking about my life. I started to apply her techniques the very next day and I have never looked back."
The mum of three grown-up children - Niamh (23), Ciaran, (21) and Grainne (20) - says that prior to becoming au fait with the Kondo technique, she thought she was organised, but now realises that wasn't the case.
Once she started introducing the principles outlined in the book, however, she saw an immediate difference. "I was doing the work and I could see my home coming together," says Sharon.
Even her son's previously messy room is now a haven of organised bliss, thanks to the decluttering method which made the book must-have reading for the housework-challenged.
Looking back, Sharon says she felt all her energy went into maintaining a home that was rarely tidy. The Japanese system, however, revealed her weak spot when it came to housekeeping.
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"I thought I was organised at home and KonMarie didn't apply to me, because I had colour coded tasks such as the children's daily schedules," she recalls.
"But the study in my house was overflowing with paperwork which included bank statements, other household bills and stationery. I had more Sellotape than I could ever use in my life. But I felt I didn't need to deal with the mountain of paperwork which needed to be sorted out."
Meanwhile, Christmas decorations which had overstayed their welcome at the McNulty house and were draining Sharon's energy got the KonMarie treatment and she kept only those which made her happy.
"It really refines your relationship with your belongings," she explains.
And once Sharon mastered the Kondo approach she began working on her children's bedrooms, although her eldest daughter Niamh resisted. "She wasn't ready at the time and it wasn't successful. But she came to me in June, now that she is living in Wales, and asked me to help her organise her flat, and loves it."
Having practised the techniques in her own home, Sharon quickly moved on to helping family and friends do the same. "I was evangelical about KonMarie so I decided to go to a seminar in London last year, although I never thought about becoming a consultant. There were 100 people there and I was the only one from Northern Ireland," she says.
While Sharon was surrounded by other nationalities, she says the demand for high level decluttering here is huge. "I didn't think I would get many customers from where I live, but I have."
She explains, in its simplest terms, the appeal of the KonMarie approach. "Most of us have too much stuff and we don't know where to start to reduce it. We spend so much time searching for things (at home) and then end up buying things we already have because we don't know where anything is."
Sharon says our busy work and home lives mean we get overwhelmed. "Our homes are never tidy but KonMarie is different - you will only have to tidy once in your life. We are just so busy now and we need our lives to be streamlined," she adds.
And she knows all too well how things can get out of control on the domestic front: "I was a mum to three kids and was working. I was trying to keep on top of household chores and I was quite organised but I probably also put too much pressure on myself. I felt that I was constantly tidying, tidying, tidying."
Now Sharon spreads the KonMarie gospel all over Northern Ireland, Donegal and Dublin. "People who come to me include pregnant women who are nesting - they want to prepare their homes before the baby is born. Clients also include people moving house who don't want to take all their clutter with them and professional people with little time who want to streamline their offices."
And she reveals there is a science to having an ordered home. "Most of us tidy room by room and find out it doesn't stay like that for long. We do it once only to have to do it again."
KonMarie, meanwhile, breaks down tidying up into sections - clothes, books and papers; Komono which are small things like accessories, miscellaneous and sentimental.
"Clothes is the first section tackled because there is no emotional attachment and 'sentimental' is the last because there is," says Sharon.
And for those who have a wardrobe bulging with clothes and still feel like they've nothing to wear every morning, Sharon says a once-only mother of clear-outs is required. This involves taking everything out of the wardrobes, drawers and cupboards in your room and putting them in the middle of the room.
"Put every single thing out then go through each item and keep only what sparks joy so that you're not holding onto an outfit you wore to a wedding 15 years ago and think may come back in fashion," she says.
"It's actually very freeing to do this, it's good for your mental health. We all know the feeling of ironing something and then having to squeeze it into a full wardrobe."
The technique promises feelgood results. "As soon as I come into my house I get the most beautiful feeling every single day," says Sharon.
But it's not all about loading up bin bags for the charity shop or recycling centre, Sharon says KonMarie is more sophisticated than that.
"One client had 18 identical white tops, but she loved them and wore them. I told her to keep them and remove some of the things she never wore."
Her advice is also to fully enjoy the beautiful things we have too. "Don't keep the stylish coat for special outings, wear it everyday. Don't let the beautiful tea-set sit in a cupboard gathering dust - that's not what it's for, get it out and appreciate it," she explains.
And when it comes to our clothes, how we store them is just as important. "Very few items are hung up in a wardrobe except for heavy coats. Everything else including trousers and shirts are folded in a special way and stored in a drawer so you can see everything - like books on a bookshelf," she adds.
Sharon offers a free introductory consultation for new clients which usually involves a Skype or video call. "I will call out in person if someone lives locally, but distance often means I won't have the time to do this in the first instance."
When it comes to a home visit she asks that the client doesn't tidy in advance of her arrival so she can see where the need is. "I don't judge anyone. I've been there so I know the struggle," she says. "It takes courage to ask for help and people often say they are nervous before I visit. But I don't see an untidy house, I identify the logistical issues which need work."
While she nearly always gets a warm welcome from householders desperate to get over the clutter mountain on one occasion a woman's husband wasn't initially a fan.
"He was resistant at first, but then we got talking about his business and he asked me to apply the techniques there," Sharon recalls. "Research proves that a streamlined workplace increases productivity. I worked with him and now he refers other companies to me."
She says the structured system works 100% of the time with no problems. "What you're doing is taking it all out according to each category and keeping what sparks joy, you are letting go. You will never need to tidy again and that is a revelation."
So the days of unannounced visitors arriving sending you in a panic are over, according to Sharon. "You will never need to run around your house 10 minutes before guests arrive shoving things into cupboards and hoping they don't open them," she says.
With Sharon's children now fully on board with the KonMarie techniques, she adds: "When someone is ready they will follow.
"So often I hear 'my house would be tidy except for my husband' or 'the dog'. If you use the techniques they will do it too. It's about doing what you need to do rather than putting the blame onto someone else. Once they see the change in you then their perspective will change. Everyone has a different experience."
She recalls it was the same with her son Ciaran who had an untidy room: "Now he keeps a lovely room."
Sharon McNulty, KonMarie consultant, visit www.serenitysparksjoy.co.uk or on Instagram Serenity Sparks Joy. Cost, £50 per hour-long session with a minimum of five sessions