It’s spring-cleaning time. To our Victorian ancestors, this was the moment to fling open the windows and let all the accumulated winter dust fly out with the newly warm breeze. But to us, the better weather might not even be perceptible, with those same windows covered by too much mildew, grime or accumulated clutter to even see the unfurling green leaves.
After all, who has time to clean any more? According to Statistics Canada, not many of us. Both the percentage of Canadians who actively tidy indoors and the number of hours spent on such chores declined between 1986 and 2015. About 50 per cent of the population used to spend five hours a week on housekeeping. These days it’s closer to 40 per cent and four hours and 54 minutes. A six-minute drop might not sound like much, but that adds up to more than five hours a year in lost dusting, vacuuming and organizing opportunities.
This might explain why miraculously immaculate spaces are to our home lives what Kylie Jenner is to fashion and beauty – a collective, aspirational obsession, something that’s somehow everywhere yet still seemingly unattainable. Or, as a recent Guardian article stated: “Bleach is the new black.” And the trend is fuelling a boom in bestselling organizational books, popular TV shows and social-media stars.
In some ways, this isn’t a new occurrence. “Cleaning seems to be the cockroach of businesses,” says Toronto-based YouTuber Melissa Maker, whose Clean My Space channel has more than 1.1 million subscribers. “AI, recessions, whatever – it seems resilient.” That’s because despite what’s going on in the world, most of us still desire an orderly abode. What’s singular now, though, is the confluence of uniquely contemporary trends driving the movement – a rising zeal for self-help, wellness and social-media perfection, all mixed with a lack of time to realistically achieve any of the above without professional gurus or the kind of one-on-one help once exclusively available to the ultrawealthy, now more readily accessible in the gig economy.
Marie Kondo might be the most famous of the so-called cleanfluencers – her tomes have sold more than 10 million copies around the world and her recent Netflix series, Tidying Up, was devoured by millions of fans as soon as it came out in January of this year. But she’s hardly the only one. Canada has its own group of neatness gurus, some of whom are acolytes of the Japanese phenomenon, while others predate her rise entirely.
Toronto’s Ivanka Siolkowsky started her career as a primary-school teacher. But in 2015, when a co-worker gave her a copy of Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, as a gag secret-Santa gift, she realized she had a different calling. “I was always the one with the notoriously clean classroom,” she says. “At the time, Marie Kondo was just starting her KonMari training workshops. I registered immediately.”
Siolkowsky left teaching shortly thereafter to become a full-time KonMari consultant, someone who charges an average of $100 an hour to handhold someone through Kondo’s approach of eliminating anything that doesn’t “spark joy” from their home. To some, that might seem like a highly risky bet – giving up a government-backed dental plan for the vagaries of self-employment.
But since starting her business, called the Tidy Moose, in 2016, Siolkowsky has amassed more than 20,000 Instagram followers (“I get 90 per cent of my clients through Instagram,” she says) and penned her own Amazon bestselling book called Declutter Your Way to Health, Wealth and Freedom. She’s also Canada’s only platinum-certified KonMari consultant, a distinction granted to those who have not only completed the $1,500 training workshop, but who have amassed a certain amount of experience. Siolkowsky has done more than 900 hours working with at least 30 clients using Kondo’s methods.
Lisa Orr is one such client. She owns a Toronto-based, eponymous protocol consultancy and has three kids. “As an entrepreneur with a busy young family, keeping things organized and clutter-free tended to fall to the bottom of the to-do list,” she says. “I really needed some professional help to put systems in place that my family and I could maintain.”
Orr and her family worked with Siolkowsky over the course of five months. “It was an incredibly positive experience,” she says. “We tackled the master bedroom, the kids’ rooms, the kitchen, my home office and our storage room, so really the whole house. Six months later, the spaces look very similar to how they looked after the declutter. Sometimes a pair of shoes might be in the wrong spot, but the great thing is that those things stand out now and are easy to fix.”
As with Siolkowsky, Halifax’s Jane Veldhoven had a previous career (“I was a terrible salesperson,” she says) and an innate knack for space planning. “I was a naturally organized child,” she says. “I always had the ability to look at a mess and know exactly how to improve it.” But unlike Siolkowsky, Veldhoven started establishing herself as a cleanfluencer in 2002, long before “spark joy” was a common phrase.
Back then, being a professional organizer was relatively unheard of. The Professional Organizers of Canada (POC), a national group promoting neateners-for-hire, was only a year old with about 100 members (it now has 700). “My friends and family thought I had lost my mind,” says Veldhoven, the first POC member in Atlantic Canada. “They told me: ‘People won’t pay you to do that.'”
Seventeen years later, not only is there so much demand for her services that she often has to refer would-be clients to other POC members, but Veldhoven was recently the subject of a five-part docuseries on Vision TV. Called The Big Downsize, the show followed her as she helped two families weed through all the excess stuff in their lives, including four siblings cleaning out the junk-rammed house where their deceased parents had lived for 50 years.
The show has the predictable heated emotions and flowing tears that come with purging a lifetime of possessions. But Veldhoven’s infectious optimism more than balances out the drama. “I’m really passionate about helping people let go of what they don’t need,” she said recently on a promo stop in Toronto. “In my own experience, I’ve found that whenever I let go of what I no longer need, something wonderful comes along to replace it.”
Melissa Maker also predates the Kondo craze. She launched her video channel, Clean My Space, in 2010. It has more than 100 videos demonstrating how to scrub everything from tubs and tiles to salt-stained winter boots.
A major part of Maker’s appeal is that, unlike overly earnest perfectionists such as Martha Stewart, she has the casual tone of a friend who, like you, would ultimately rather be doing something more fun. That get-it-done-and-over-with attitude is genuine. Maker was the kind of teenager who refused to unload the dishwasher or wipe down the bathroom, often resulting in yelling matches with her mom. Even now, at 36, her resistance is resolute. “I still hate cleaning,” she says.
The aversion might be ironic, but it also inspired Maker’s business idea. At 24, while working as a server at the Keg, she realized that if other people disdained cleaning as much as she did, there must be demand for outsourced solutions. So she started a pay-by-the-hour cleaning service (also called Clean My Space). She taught herself the time-consuming, pre-social-media way: taking books out from the library. At first, she hired herself out as the maid. Now, she has a team of between 20 and 30 cleaners.
Which is not surprising considering that during the big downturn 10 years ago, Maker was initially worried for her then-new startup. The economic contraction, though, proved to be a springboard. “We grew five-fold in 2008,” she says. “We went from five-figure to six-figure revenues that year. … People might not love cleaning, but they love being in a clean space. It smells good, it feels good. During the recession, people were so stressed-out, the last thing they wanted to do, or even had time for, was to clean for themselves.”
The need has stayed strong since. In addition to starting the YouTube channel shortly after (which led to sponsorship deals with Tide, Dawn, OxyClean and others), she’s since launched additional ventures, including a how-to book published by Penguin Random House, a line of microfibre cloths and towels and an online training course to teach others who want to start and run their own Clean My Space-style enterprises. More than 10,000 people signed up before the course went live in February.