Professional organizer Jeffrey Phillip is passionate about helping New Yorkers cure their time and space deficits. Here are some excerpts from his recent interview with BrickUnderground:
What does your own place look like?
I live in a tiny 200 sq. ft. studio in Chelsea in a walkup building. My main room is only 12’X17’. There is a small kitchen off the hallway opposite the bathroom, but primarily everything I do is in that one room. I was told the apartment had a walk-in closet, but that wording is quite a deception. I have to shimmy in sideways to place things inside.
Because of my tight space most of what I own has to be multipurpose. The media cabinet not only has to store movies and electronics, but also has to have many drawers for office supplies. My own space has taught me even though I constantly see things I’d love to put in my apartment, I have to avoid buying them unless they are crucial. It sounds like I would be a minimalist, but I gravitate towards warm and inviting looks like those in Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware. I have shelves that house decorative objects and find room for pictures of family and friends.
What is the first thing you do when you walk into an apartment, whether it's a friend's or a client's?
No matter where I go, I take a mental inventory and take mental photos of the area. Since I’ve been a kid I always loved the puzzle aspect of trying to rework things to make them more efficiently in flow, function, or aesthetics. As a child I was constantly rearranging my bedroom in different ways to see what would work out to be the most fun and yet most efficient.
It’s like your own personal form of Sudoku?
Yes. With clients I love the puzzle aspect of rearranging a space, but I also have to be more clinical. I pay attention to how they live, want to live, and act in their space. I have to do an intake to get to know a person’s lifestyle and build trust with them. I also need to figure out how to approach them about making changes because people are very attached to their belongings.
Are your friends worried that you will be 'grading' them on their organizational prowess when they invite you over?
When I meet new people, they always make the joke about how my place must be immaculate and they’d hate to invite me over. But I don’t use every trick in the book in my own apartment. I am a typical busy New Yorker who also has to do cleanup weekly.
With existing friends they know obviously my nature but we are lighthearted and poke fun at each other so if I correct them or move things in their apartment, they will joke with me in a loving way and never be offended.
How concerned are you about bed bugs as a professional hazard?
One of my friends just told me he had had them and how horrible it was. That’s the closest I’ve come to bed bugs. While I think about them when entering apartments, rationally I know that you could also get them from entering a story or a movie theater, so while I am conscious, I don’t really worry.
Do you ever turn it off--the urge to organize?
Initially I’d love to say yes, but after more thought—only when I’m sleeping. I’m not always compulsively organizing but the urge to is innate. I may not be organizing someone’s apartment but my day-to-day life deals with organizing something: events, appointments, etc. The puzzle in my head always involves shuffling things around.
What is your best spring cleaning tip for a NYC apt dweller?
DO IT NOW! Try to do it before spring hits while it is still cold and dark. One the good weather arrives you will be less likely to want to be inside rifling through stuff. And if it gets to the nice weather you might be encouraged to keep putting it off.
Also, because in NYC we live in such small spaces, one has to go through one’s things on a semi-annual basis--not just yearly. It makes an impact on how you live your everyday life and it affects how much money you spend going forward. You may have great things in your closet you just have to pull forward instead of buying new items.
Daylight Savings time should trigger you to:
- Flip your mattress
- Change the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and replace any smoke detectors older than 10 years and carbon monoxide detectors older than five to seven years.
- Remove any expired items from your pantry and make a list of the items that need to be replaced to ensure you are never short ingredients.
- Sort through your first aid kit and medicine cabinet, and make a list of items that need to be replaced due to low quantities or expiration dates.
- Edit your wardrobe to remove any unwanted items and to make room for the new pieces you will be purchasing for the coming season.
What's the biggest spring cleaning mistake people make?
I think spring cleaning isn’t necessarily about throwing things out. Oftentimes people think that buying something can immediately correct an organizational issue. I’m a big lover of products and think they can offer solutions but they must be combined with doing editing as well or you will end up with more clutter. Even more so sometimes people buy organizers without editing first. It is also good to hold off on buying products until you assess your situation, because you may be able to create solutions with items you already have.
What are some of the go-to items you recommend or items that apply to all?
This is a great question and I was just speaking to a client about this the other day. No matter who you are and how much money you have, everyone in NYC benefits from going to Bed Bath and Beyond for basics. Even if you are rich you will need a garbage can, coat hooks, etc. Then you can build on from there with specialty items such as shelving that is customized to fit your specific apartment in size, color, and material. The Container Store is also an amazing resource. It sounds trite to say but they have everything. Bins, hooks, and things you need but don’t always think about. It’s a great equalizer for all income levels.
Debuting today, "10 Minutes With" is a series of conversations with those who aid and abet vertical life in the big city.