by Margaret Matray
Kristen Ziegler lives in a modestly decorated 1920s row house where the walls are white and everything has its place. She owns so few things that it takes little time to view them: A living room with a couch and two throw pillows. A simple round table in the kitchen. A clothing rack of no more than a dozen items.
It may sound Spartan, but Ziegler’s 1,020-square-foot home in Richmond’s Fan District exudes a sense of calm and warmth. It’s not drab, or dull; it’s minimal, perfectly reflecting her trademark mission statement, “Make what is necessary beautiful.”
Ziegler is the owner and founder of Minima, a Richmond-based company that since 2010 has helped hundreds of clients de-clutter their homes and businesses.
The home-organizing industry has gained momentum in recent years, popularized most recently by books like Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and documentaries and TV shows that stress living with less. Particularly in a post-recession America, we’ve learned to discern between what we have and what we need, and many of us want to be free of our junk.
But to Ziegler, 33, de-cluttering extends beyond stuff. “You just get really clear about what your life is about and what you need to have in it,” she says.
Peace and simplicity are goals in her life, but Ziegler admits her path to Minima was not simple.
A Northern Virginia native, she graduated from Virginia Tech in 2006 with an architecture degree. She worked for three Richmond firms before losing her job in 2008 during the housing market crash.
A friend who knew Ziegler’s passion for design and organization introduced her to a local chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers. Ziegler, who loved watching home organization shows, recognized in the group her true calling.
She was hired by an organizing company, but she soon wanted to start her own business. But the same day her business license arrived in the mail, she found out she had ovarian cancer. Three months of intensive treatment followed.
“I had everything taken away. In terms of my freedom, my ability to eat, my ability to control when I go to the bathroom, my ability to do anything by myself,” she says. “And being a Type A person who likes to be in control, that was awful.”
Medications drained her energy. As she lay in bed, she daydreamed about what her business would be like when she got well again. Details involving branding, color palettes and websites ran through her mind constantly.
Ziegler, now cancer free, says surviving the disease made her fearless, unafraid to start a business. “I felt like I hit the ground running,” she says.
Six years later, Ziegler has a team of three assistant organizers and typically juggles two big projects and 15 to 20 other clients at a time. Most live in Richmond, but she has some in Fredericksburg and Williamsburg. She also consults with “virtual” clients via FaceTime and Skype in the Outer Banks, the Midwest, Paris.
Ziegler works with small creative businesses – including Richmond-based clothing companies Need Supply and Ledbury. Most of her clients are busy entrepreneurs, women with young, growing families, or empty nesters. Often they are looking for a sense of serenity and control. “Stuff,” she says, has gotten in the way of the activities they enjoy most.
When she enters a home, she does so without judgment. She knows not everyone wants a house as sparse as hers, and says it’s her job to help all clients find their place. She takes a holistic approach and looks at the entire house. She starts by asking her clients: What is your vision? What do you want the space to be?
Ziegler creates a roadmap for a tidier home. Some clients do it themselves after that, but most hire her for hands-on help.
A short project, such as a kitchen or wardrobe, takes about six hours with two organizers. De-cluttering an entire house takes about two days a week for a month and a half, with three organizers on hand.
Brady Zizzo, a mother of two with another on the way, hired Ziegler last year. Zizzo runs a high-volume crafting business out of her home. Supplies and children’s toys were piling up, lacking clearly defined spaces.
Zizzo worried de-cluttering would be stressful. Ziegler was patient, calm and efficient. “She sees the space for what it can be way more than I ever could,” Zizzo says.
Over several months this spring and summer, Elizabeth Baker worked with Ziegler to organize nearly every room in her Richmond home, from the basement to the closets. Baker describes the process as “freeing” and says it brought her closer to a sense of peace and clarity. “It’s been a huge sort of weight off my shoulders,” she says.
That’s the power of de-cluttering, Ziegler says. Get organized, “and you’ll feel more clear about who you are.”