On New Year’s Eve in 2015 I bid farewell to the finance company in Shanghai at which I had been working for the past three years. I hesitated for a moment upon leaving the building, feeling a slight pang of apprehension, but I only let it slow my step for a second.
I was about to make a huge change in my life. After graduating university in 2011 with a degree in law, I had been struggling to keep my head above water in the legal department of a company I didn’t like, in an industry that I had no interest in. I finally parted with the law to begin a career as a professional home organizer.
The home organizing industry was born in the United States in the 1980s. Professionals of the trade help people make the most of their living space by systemically arranging their house to reduce clutter. The process is soul-soothing for my clients, most of whom find themselves unhappy coming back to a disorganized apartment. I first learned about this business from Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.”
My mother taught me the importance of arranging your living space well from a young age. I have always loved housekeeping, just like Marie Kondo, but the industry of professional home organizers is still very unknown in China.
I became obsessed with the trade over the next two years and resolved to popularize it in the Chinese market. I studied the art of home decoration and began compulsively reorganizing my house. Soon I realized that the comfort and joy I derived from being in my beautiful home was an important contributor to my overall happiness. I wanted to help others feel the same way.
I finally took the plunge and began going door-to-door, explaining the importance of home organization and offering my services for free. But to my chagrin, I was met with stiff refusal almost everywhere I went. I kept pushing, knowing that all I needed was drive and a better strategy for self-promotion.
Plugging into the Internet was the answer. I met a group of aspiring like-minded professionals online, and from the second half of 2015 we began planning meet-ups together. They taught me a lot, including how to utilize social media to my advantage.
I promoted myself heavily on social media, and from this and the contacts my new friends provided I started receiving requests from strangers to inspect their houses and offer consultations. In under a year I have reorganized 200 homes.
Through my work I have developed a more complex understanding of traditional and modern Chinese culture. I have always loved traditional Chinese poems and plays, which exemplify simplicity and frigidity.
And yet, many modern Chinese families seem to prefer magnitude and clutter. Many of the apartments I’ve seen aren’t big, but are filled with huge pieces of furniture and stocked with years’ worth of daily supplies despite the presence of convenience stores downstairs. I have also encountered what would otherwise be beautiful, extravagant villas whose living spaces have instead been wrecked by poor furniture arrangements.
One reason for this compulsion to overstock of supplies lies in recent Chinese history. Brushes with poverty and famine have contributed to the creation of a hoarding culture. Consequently, homes are filled with a colossal amount of junk.
Another reason lies in the country’s growing gross domestic product. Since Deng Xiaoping began his economic reforms and opening-up policy in the late 1970s, the wealth of the average Chinese family has skyrocketed.
This has brought money into many pockets, and spending it on large, fancy furniture has become a status symbol. These unnecessary objects are often bought and then deposited around the house, without any practical purpose except to function as trophies.
But things are changing. A growing number of families are no longer satisfied with cluttered homes. They are beginning to see the value of upgrading their living spaces.
It has been less than a year since I left the high-flying finance industry. I have already quadrupled my income, but it means so much more to me than that. I finally feel fulfilled.
I’m currently in the process of setting up a home organizing studio in Lujiazui — Shanghai’s financial district. We will try to raise awareness in China about the industry.
I want to try and standardize a different organizational approach that will benefit specific groups, such as the elderly or families with children. I am also hoping to create China’s first home organization association, which will allow us to receive formal licenses and support from the government.
I believe that every person has a fundamental right to a high standard of living in their homes. Our new consultancy will aim to make this a reality for Chinese across the country.
(Header image: Fuse/VCG)