How a Pro Organizer Actually Lives at Home—And No, Not Everything Is Beige
In fact, she loves colorful ceramics, art, books, and textiles.
Published Sep 6, 2023 1:20 AM
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It’s a common misconception that professional organizers get into their line of work for the sheer love of file folders, color-coded produce, and matching plastic bins. Usually what drives them is a desire to help create order, ease, and flow in all areas of other people’s lives. “Many of us have gravitated to this transformational work because of our own trauma or grief, including difficult childhoods, divorce, or loss. We have deep empathy and a desire to help,” Shira Gill, longtime organizer and second-time author, writes in her new book, Organized Living: Solutions and Inspiration for Your Home.
Within its pages, Gill sets the record straight on another matter: Professional organizers are not all type A robots who live in perfectly tidy white boxes. Want proof? Organized Living takes us inside the homes of 25 experts across the world and, along the way, Gill asks her colleagues things like “Where do you store your laundry hamper?” and “What’s actually under your kitchen sink?” Ahead, take a peek inside the Montreal home of pro organizer Tinka Markham Piper, who also happens to be a self-proclaimed maximalist and mom of two teens.
Tinka had a dynamic and nomadic childhood. The daughter of a foreign news correspondent, she lived in seven countries in a span of 14 years. Her parents instilled the value of “bloom where you’re planted” so that amid the constant upheaval, she was always curious about new places, people, and experiences. Tinka found comfort in making to-do lists and organizing her worldly treasures and loved creating a nest wherever she went, from her own bedroom to friends’ spaces.
After moving to Montreal with her husband (her high school and college sweetheart), Tinka worked at McGill University in global health and social policy until she finally sought out what she loved most: finding creative solutions to people’s living spaces, which would in turn change their emotional health for the better. By combining her clinical social work skills with her public-health training, she realized she could create a business that united her love of decluttering, organizing, and redesigning. Her business, Solve My Space, was formed in 2012 with a desire for “making home feel good.”
Warning: Entering Tinka’s home for the first time may prompt squeals of delight. The colorful and spacious house is a feast for the eyes, with modern architecture, high ceilings, and things to explore and revel in. She jokes that she’s a bit of a maximalist, a collector who loves to surround herself with art, books, textiles, ceramics, and vintage treasures.
To balance her desire to collect with her husband Andrew’s more minimalist tendencies, she had custom floor-to-ceiling built-ins made to line the walls of the main floor. The cabinets have ample room to store Tinka’s extensive art and office supplies, seasonal treasures, and memorabilia, but everything magically disappears when the doors are closed, creating a clean, minimal aesthetic.
The kitchen island resembles a massive dining table and has more clever concealed storage built in below, perfect for stowing Tinka’s beloved platters, vases, candles, Crock-Pots, serving dishes, placemats, and collectibles. Andrew, a professor of digital humanities at McGill, also has a sharp eye for aesthetics, as evidenced by his stylish (and immaculate) home office furnished with art and books neatly organized by both language and subject.
With two teenagers in the house, Tinka has created several smart systems to help her kids clean up independently. A “teen cleanup kit” lives in the laundry room and includes a cordless mini vacuum, all-purpose cleaner, patterned cleaning rags, and a room aromatherapy spray. On the kitchen counters, a basket tray dubbed the “crap collector” serves as a convenient drop zone for all the miscellaneous items found around the house. At the end of the week, Tinka empties the basket onto the dining table, and everything is relocated or donated (if not claimed). I am struck by how bold and cheery the utilitarian spaces are throughout the home.
There’s the tiny half bath with playful art vertically lining the walls, accented with bright flowers and a candle perched on a tiny ledge. The entry is furnished with bright, welcoming art; plants; plug-in lights; and a bright woven pink-and-fuchsia mat beneath the snow boots. Office supplies and stationery are stored in stacks of neon boxes instead of the dismal alternatives from the office supply store. The kitchen pantry features snacks and cooking staples organized into pastel bins that sit beneath an artful arrangement of boldly colored ceramics, trays, cookie jars, and vases. Even the laundry room, typically known for being a drab, functional area, is adorned floor to ceiling with colorful art, decor, and pom-poms, making it a cheerful and inviting space that makes dreaded household chores ever more inviting.
Q&A With Tinka Markham Piper
Favorite space to organize?
The messiest, most intense, most upside-down spaces. I like the extra-challenging jobs that feel overwhelming, but I know there are solutions that will completely transform the spaces, so my client feels WOW!
Dirty little clutter secret?
I stuff a ton of things into our front hall closet (much to the despair of my patient family). I also use our car as a dumping ground for projects, donations, and client items (also much to the annoyance of my family).
What’s in your organizing tool kit?
Dark chocolate, instant coffee, measuring tape, sticky notes, label maker, Sharpies, transparent boxes filled with all the supplies (scissors, Magic Eraser, binder clips, batteries, cute labels), tissue (sometimes it’s needed), and brown paper lawn bags for donations. Also, an aromatherapy “no stress” spray when we need some motivation, focus, or calm. It reminds us to pause for a bit, take stock of where we are, and reenergize our efforts to keep on going.
Most common misconception about pro organizers?
That we are all type A personalities with impeccable homes and children who are also organized and clean their rooms. Nope!
A risk you took that paid off?
Realizing that I was on a career path that looked right but didn’t feel right. Having the support of my husband, family, and friends to step off that path and start something completely different that felt right. Solve my space, baby!
Actual morning routine?
Coffee, coffee, coffee. Stretching. Mother hen moments with my exasperating yet awesome teenagers. I can’t leave the house without a shower, a made bed, and a tidy kitchen.
Actual evening routine?
Family shenanigans with two teenagers, my husband, and everyone’s favorite family member, Syd (our dog). Calling my mom (I’m her “helicopter daughter” because I call All. The. Time.). Making a to-do list for the next day. Going to bed too late and making another resolution to try again tomorrow.
Reprinted with permission from Organized Living: Solutions and Inspiration for Your Home by Shira Gill, copyright © 2023. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
Photographs copyright © 2023 by Vivian Johnson.
Organized Living: Solutions and Inspiration for Your Home, Amazon ($31)