Sitting With… Shira Gill

Shira Gill didn’t set out to be a professional home organizer. She studied improv at The Second City Conservatory in Chicago and worked in the theater and event planning before realizing her organizational skills could become a career. But once she found it, she realized it was a perfect fit. Now Shira makes her living helping others get their spaces decluttered and organized. Working off of a “less is more” philosophy Shira assists her clients in creating spaces that they love by eliminating what they don’t need. We’ve been following Shira’s work for some time now and were thrilled that she recently took time out of her busy schedule to sit down and answer some questions for us.

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What do you think is the most overlooked space in the home?

A home’s entry area is the first thing you see when you walk in the door after a busy day, so it really pays off to create a pretty and functional space there. It is generally the first space I tackle with clients. Generally, when things get strewn all over the entry area, it’s because they don’t have a clear or intuitive place to go. By taking an inventory of what typically gets dumped there, you can identify everything you need to create a “home” for. Write down all of the items that currently require a storage solution. A typical list might include storage for bags and backpacks, jackets, dog leashes, shoes, mail, keys and cell phones. Setting up a few simple systems to streamline your entryway can make a huge impact on your daily life.

Do you ever have trouble getting clients to part with some of their things? Or are they pretty much ready to cleanse their space by the time they hire you?

Since my business merges organization with minimalist principles, most new clients know what they’re signing on for! Of course, I never force anyone to get rid of anything but I do remind them of their goals and overall vision when they get stuck.

What’s the best way to make a new place feel like home?

Having moved more than 20 time in my life (!) I have lots of practice setting up a new home. Once you are out of boxes and the basics are set up, I like to style a new home with a few personal touches like framed photos, favorite art, candles, and fresh flowers. I also think rugs, lighting and pillows can make a room feel instantly cohesive and pulled together.

What’s your favorite room in your house?

I am currently smitten with my tiny home office. It used to be a porch and it’s the sunniest room in the house, and also the coziest. I keep it pretty clutter-free because I need a clear work-space. I also keep my favorite books and magazines at arms reach, as well as some fresh flowers and a scented candle so it feels personal and inviting. To finish off the room I had a huge linen covered cork board made to display art from my kids and current inspirations.

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What’s the best advice for keeping a home organized when you have children?

Systems! Kids love systems and are great at maintaining them. I always use the analogy of a kindergarten classroom: When you walk into the classroom it’s very obvious where everything is stored — art is in the art corner, books are in the book nook, backpacks go on hooks by the door. Make sure you have clear and intuitive systems set up for your kids to follow at home. I also created a DIY guide, Clutter-Free With Kids, that’s available on my website which has tons of tips on this subject.

How big of a role does being a mother play in your design and organization philosophies?

I think being a mother of two kids has forced me to really look at my values. I believe that experiences are much more important than material things, and I do my best to teach my kids to value people and relationships more than things. Being a mom has forced me to set up limits around how much we bring into our house and has made me quite thoughtful about setting up systems that are easy for our kids. Having a streamlined and organized home takes effort, but also helps our household run smoothly and makes our home a lovely place to spend time together!

What’s your favorite piece of furniture?

I am in love our Room and Board upholstered bed. We splurged on it when we bought our home and it makes me feel like I’m sleeping at a nice boutique hotel.

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What’s your favorite color palette?

Grey and white! I have a very busy stimulating life so I love to come home to a soothing neutral palette.

What is the key item for great organization?

There is no magical product but hooks and bins are pretty high on my list of organizing essentials. I use hooks on almost every job I have for hanging robes, handbags, jewelry, etc. Bins are great for storing everything from toys to firewood.

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When you were younger, did you ever think you’d become a professional organizer, or anything interior design related?

I really didn’t. My environment was always very important to me, and I spent a lot of time helping friends edit and organize their closets, but I never thought of it as a career option. I worked in theater, event planning and talent management before founding my company but now it feels like the perfect fit — I love that I get to be creative, meet all types of interesting people, and help simplify and improve people’s daily lives.

For people doing their own clutter cleanse, what are some of the best organizations for donating no-longer wanted items?

It varies by city — I always suggest looking at local charities, schools, and non-profits who have a need for donations and reach out to them directly.

Do you think your time working in improv helped prepare you for dealing with clients? I’m sure being able to quickly think on your feet is a valuable skill.

Absolutely! I think my training at The Second City and Improv Olympic taught me to stay present, think creatively, and make decisions quickly. I use all of those skills in my work with clients.

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Do you think your time living abroad influenced your design and organization philosophies at all?

Big time. I think it is important to clarify your values when organizing and designing a home. I ask my clients questions like, “What do you really care about?” “How do you want your home to feel?” and “What activities do you want to create space for?” One of the things I was struck by when I lived in Spain was how little people owned in comparison to American homes, and how happy the people I lived with seemed. The focus was on family, community and really enjoying life. Every night we would eat a lovely dinner, take a walk and spend time out with friends. When you have that level of meaning and connection, the impulse to consume like crazy dissipates.

What tends to be the most cluttered room in the home?

Of course it varies from family to family, but kitchens seem to be a magnet for clutter — mail and bills get tossed on the counters, people collect gadgets they never use, and most people have far too many plates, bowls, glasses and Tupperware. As with any organizing project, it’s always best to start with a serious editing session. First, identify what you truly use and love and then discard or donate the items you can live without. You can also use clutter as information — i.e if mail is always dumped in the kitchen is it because it doesn’t have a clear home in the entry or office area? If so, setting up a simple basket to collect mail can be an easy fix.

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Who is your favorite designer?

One of my best friends, Carly Waters, is a fabulous designer. I love her aesthetic and her minimalist philosophy. We recently planned my entire bathroom renovation on the phone in under ten minutes. I took her suggestions, and two weeks later had a new bathroom! It was the perfect collaboration because we are both very decisive and like very clean, streamlined design.

Thanks again Shira, for taking the time to answer our questions! We’re so inspired by your minimalist style and awesome organizational skills and can’t wait to see what you do next.