The Spic-and-Span Life of Stacy Vanourny

CleanOrganization

words: Marla Cantrell
Images: courtesy Stacy Vanourny
“If your house is cluttered, your mind is cluttered.” This is one of the first things Stacy Vanourny, owner of Cleaning and Organizing by Design, says to me. It is mid-morning on a sunlit day, and we are sitting on barstools at the kitchen island in one of the prettiest kitchens in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The owners are clients of Stacy’s, a family she’s come to know and admire.

Nearby, the washing machine chugs away, the dryer plays a few melodic notes to indicate its work is over, and two happy pups lumber across the patio, stopping to peer through the French doors for just a second.

If the statement about clutter is accurate, Stacy must have a pristine mind. Since childhood, she’s been obsessed with order, and as she describes her childhood bedroom at her home in Kibler, she mentions first the toy box in the corner, the receptacle that helped keep the rest of the room in ship-shape.

“I’m the oldest child,” Stacy says. “My mother taught me so much about organization. When I was a kid, I didn’t enjoy cleaning that much, but I was always a neat freak. I think it led me to where I am today.”

Back then, she had an old blackboard on the wall, one rescued from a schoolhouse that was being torn down. Her father, who was working at the site, brought it to her. He knew Stacy wanted to be a teacher, and he understood how much the blackboard would mean to her.

In those days, she thought she’d spend her adult life influencing children, teaching them math and English, spelling and science. She did try, making it all the way to student teaching before realizing her dream had changed. She switched to business administration and never looked back.

What she noticed next was that at every job she had, she became the resident organizer. She created supply closets where there were none. She painted scuffed up walls, straightened desktops, implemented virtual filing systems that did away with paper chaos.

And then, she put her house on the market. The eventual buyer looked around, amazed by the orderliness of the rooms, and said, “I wish you’d come clean my house!”

A bit later, after a major life change, she found herself at a crossroads. A job she’d enjoyed was now behind her, and she had a chance to create whatever she wanted. Stacy and a friend opened Cleaning and Organizing by Design in May 2017, and for a while, Stacy worried about the future. “It was just the two of us, and we had four clients. I’m a single mom, and I’d think about all the bills, all the responsibility I had, and I’d wonder what I’d gotten myself into.”

The worry didn’t last long. More and more people were calling, intrigued by the idea of having someone not only clean but organize as well. Stacy says she took over the business a few months later. Today, she has several women working with her, with clients as far away as Booneville and Cedarville.

As she’s describing this journey, she shows me the nearby kitchen pantry that’s part of her handiwork. Each shelf is labeled. There’s a place for vitamins and supplements, for example, for cooking oil, for paper products. Imagine the shelves of your favorite grocery store pared down for only your family. That’s what this pantry looks like.

Not long ago, Stacy and her team organized an 800-square-foot kitchen, pulling everything from the cabinets and putting it all back together again, using a system that Stacy honed in her own home. When I say the extent of that project makes it hard for me to breathe, she laughs. “Really?” she asks. “That makes me excited!”

Which brings up the subject again of her childhood. When she was ten years old, her younger sister was born. That addition to the family sparked something in Stacy, and she reveled in caring for this adoring little girl. Getting her dressed, helping with baths, it made Stacy’s heart sing. It also solidified the notion that you take care of what you love.

When she had daughters of her own, she found the same happiness, and she wanted to help them navigate their lives through order, the same way her mother had helped her. “I taught them early that everything has its place,” she says.

She also taught them that excess is the enemy of order. And so seasonally, she and her two teens go through their closets, weeding out what they no longer need. They donate those clothes to a local charity.

What goes back in the closet is arranged by clothing type and then by color. The end result is closets that are streamlined and functional. Getting ready in a hurry is easy when you can see everything you own. Which is why Stacy also uses clear plastic bins to store socks and tops and shorts. If you can’t see it, she says, you’ll never wear it.

Her clients have come to depend on Stacy’s keen eye, on her ability to scan a room and envision it at its functional best. As she’s talking, she uses her hands, and when she points to a spot across the kitchen, a tattoo on her inner wrist shows. When I ask about it, she extends both arms, and I see the coordinating tattoo on her other wrist. One reads “Faith,” the other “Hope.”

The words read like a mantra, which they are, but they’re also the middle names of her two girls. Stacy smiles as she talks about them. This summer, both worked with her, starting early in the morning and working until the job was done.

She likes what she’s teaching them, not just about work but also about following your dreams. It takes faith, she says, in your innate abilities, in your unwavering devotion that you can create a beautiful life. And it takes hope, especially in the beginning when you’re worried about next month’s bills, next year’s taxes.

Stacy pushes her blond hair off her forehead and walks to the living room to fluff the throw pillows on the couch. When she replaces them, she makes sure the patterns on the pillows are going in the right direction. The pillows are a solid cream color, and the pattern is formed by the ply on the fabric. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t see the difference in the subtle pattern. But Stacy, the self-proclaimed neat freak could. She smiles wide, looking across this lovely home, knowing that when the owners come home, they’ll feel the effects of a sparkling house, of everything being in its exact right place.

Stacy’s Top Organizing Tips

Start by de-cluttering. Take a look at what you actually use. Do you have duplicate items? Clear out what you don’t use and donate it to charity. Your clutter could actually help someone in need.

Visualization is key. Use clear containers for clothing, and in the kitchen. If you use clear canisters, for example, it’s easy to see what you need to buy at the grocery store.

Invest in a label maker. Label your clear containers, and label your shelves in your cabinets, closets, or pantry. Doing this takes the guess work out of your daily routine. You’ll know where everything belongs. And if someone else puts things away, they will too.

Fold your sheets and then store them in the accompanying pillowcase. Takes up much less space in your linen closet.

Use color-coordinated baskets in your bathroom. Each family member gets a color and keeps all his or her items in the basket. Stops a lot of arguments among siblings!

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