Top tips on organising your home from Hertfordshire's declutter expert
- Credit: Christina Bull
I have to admit that I’m slightly nervous about my Zoom call to Magdalena Atkins. Should I face my tablet towards an anonymous blank wall or do I risk sitting at my computer where the eye-level camera offers a wide-angle view of my office? Crammed shelves and piles of papers may not be the best first impression to offer a specialist declutterer.
I risk the office panorama and soon find I shouldn’t have worried. Organised possessions are fine, Magdalena reassures me. So long as everything serves a purpose. And she should know. Two years ago, Magdalena launched Simply Space, a professional declutter, organising and home staging service based at her family home near Hertford.
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Whether you feel overwhelmed by a wealth of possessions, swamped by a mountain of mess, or are desperate to create more usable space for a home office or hobby room, Magdalena can teach you how to let go of the things you don’t need.
‘I’ve never had a problem hanging on to physical things,’ she explains, without (I’m relieved to notice) staring past my shoulder at the office clutter. ‘I’ve moved around a lot in my life and so I have been able to let go of material things quite easily.’
Magdalena grew up in Canada, moving to England on a temporary work visa, met her husband, Nigel, and stayed. A natural organiser, she has always been passionate about interiors as well as designing spaces that are both functional and beautiful.
‘It’s just part of my nature,’ she laughs. ‘When I was still at school, I had a job as a cashier in a grocery store and kept getting told off for leaving my till. But I much preferred organising the products on the shelves rather than waiting for customers! And when I came to England, I did PA jobs in London that involved organising both people and places.’
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Ten years ago, Magdalena and Nigel fell in love with a 1930s house in Letty Green that had huge potential but needed substantial refurbishment, including replumbing, rewiring, and a replacement for the 1950s kitchen. Magdalena knew immediately that this was her dream project, despite having to live in a caravan with her three boys. aged two, four and 10.
In 2014, they finally moved in, but the house has undergone many a transformation since. ‘A photographer friend asked if she could use our house for a photoshoot with a lifestyle brand client, and I got chatting to the stylist who said our property was perfect for photoshoots. It has big windows and doors that make it easily accessible for camera crews, it’s adaptable and it’s within easy reach of London.’
So Magdalena signed on with an agency and has since hosted everything from TV commercials to pop videos for clients ranging from Argos, Currys and Waltham Cross furniture and interior design specialist Fishpools to ITV. Not that she sees much of the action. Product photography might take just a day or two, but bigger shoots can take up to a month and mean the family need to decamp. Floors can be altered, false walls built and décor changed, though everything has to be put back afterwards.
‘It means living a pretty organised lifestyle because the house has to look immaculate before a potential client comes to view it – more a stage set than a family house. Do the family mind? Not really. We often stay with grandparents in Ware, which now feels like our second home.’
With her organisational skills fine-tuned, launching Simply Space was a natural progression for Magdalena, an opportunity to use her talents to help others, while fitting in with her own family and lifestyle. She started by working for people she knew, and word soon spread. Now she works for clients across the county – anything from just a few hours to regular sessions over a period of weeks. Everybody’s needs are different. Some are struggling to part with inherited possessions after a bereavement, others find they cannot let go of items collected over many years. Magadalena also works with clients going through a divorce and trying to divide up the assets of a marriage, and others who need to clear space to make way for a home office.
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‘Moving house is the perfect time to declutter,’ she advises, ‘especially if you are downsizing, because you don’t want to take stuff with you that you don’t need. But also because you can make your house look so much more attractive to an estate agent if you get rid of excess clutter first. Tips? Take down all the children’s artwork, and remove family photos and hobby gear so you present a blank canvas to fire a purchaser’s imagination.
‘But whatever their motivation, clients usually contact me when they are desperate and can’t seem to move on with their lives. Often it’s an emotional attachment to possessions when in reality, it’s the memory rather than the possession itself that is important. I can suggest systems to help them with the process.’
In a three-hour introductory session, Magdalena is able to assess each client’s individual situation. As a member of the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers – ‘Yes, I couldn’t believe such a thing existed either!’ – she is fully insured and has a support network of other professionals to draw on. Compulsive hoarders are not, for instance, within her field of expertise, but she will always know someone who can help them.
‘Sometimes all it needs is having someone objective to look at your house, your clothes or your lifestyle to help you see what is important. Most people hang on to possessions and purchases that aren’t serving any useful purpose. Why keep a broken item, for instance, or something you really don’t like? I can help people decide what to keep, what to sell and what to give to charity.’
So what – apart from family and pets – would Magdalena save if she suddenly had to leave home in an emergency? ‘Albums of old family photos are probably the only items I would be really upset to lose,’ she says.
‘But I’ve also filled an old picnic hamper with a few precious memories like pictures, letters, journals and my dad’s old tie and watch. So I’d just grab that and run.’
Is there a risk of regretting a declutter? ‘It’s so easy to hang on to possessions we no longer need, but 99 per cent of the stuff we get rid of will never cross our minds again. Decluttering can save us time, benefit our mental health and give us more space. Start by taking small steps and you could soon see a very big difference.’
Maybe I’ll take a long, hard look at my office after all. Who knows, it could be the start of a whole new me.