By Erica Bray
Ann Marie Guenther is on a mission to clear the clutter in people’s lives.
A self-taught “guru of organization,” the former bookkeeper has helped the disorganized become organized for years -- for free. She'd wow friends by organizing their homes, offices spaces and garages with military-like precision.
Guenther eventually wised up to the fact that people would pay big bucks for her skills, and she launched her own organizing service in 2014. She named it Thatgirl Organizes (ThatgirlOrganizes.guru).
In less than a year, business has taken off to a point where Guenther is already using the F-word: franchise.
Guenther is part of a boom in female entrepreneurship. Since 1997, the number of women-owned businesses in the U.S. has increased by nearly 75 percent. What's more, Guenther balances business with motherhood. As a wife and mother to four kids, this suburban Wonder Woman is essentially juggling two careers. Good thing she’s organized.
Guenther spoke with Name.Kitchen about her Chicago area-based business, its quirky name and why she's been called an "angel" by the chronically disorganized.
Have you always been a neat freak?
I grew up in a chronically disorganized home. So much so, when I got into eighth grade I decided to tell my mom I had homework all the time – just so I could be dropped off at the library and wouldn't have to live in the chaos and mess.
Sounds like your organizational talents didn’t come from your mom, then?
I think that it's kind of an obsession. It's kind of a control thing. If I walk into a room where there's just miles and miles of junk, my mind can't handle it. I can't live like that, and I can't stand when other people live like that.
Describe your business.
I get homes and businesses organized – and help them stay organized. Garages, basements, closets, kitchens, pantries, home offices, you name it. I have also cleaned out a contractor's vehicle a couple times. People are always whining and crying about, "Oh there's so much crap everywhere." Well, if you didn't have so much stuff in the first place that would help! [laughter] And second, there's always a better way to organize. A lot of people just aren't organized because they don't know how, or don’t have the time. I put them in a place where they can be.
What's been your most interesting client case to date?
There is a senior I've worked with for four months. She has 1,700 square feet, including her basement. She lives alone, and her entire home is just stuff. She wants to move into [an assisted] living center, but she first needs to get rid of things. And she's very, very difficult to get rid of things. As I go there weekly, she has gotten rid of more, and a lot of times she'll be like, "I don't know why I didn't just give that to donate last week. I'm over it now, so let's get rid of it." Sometimes it'll take people multiple sessions for people to just realize, "I wanted to keep that, but now I realize it doesn't mean anything."
Do you find most of your clients are at a point of desperation? Like, "I can't deal with this anymore! You're my angel!”
I've been called “Angel” very many times. There's a lot to be said about working with someone who is not your best friend, is not your sister. I can say to you, "That's ugly" or "How old is that?" A lot of people, they just have so much trouble doing it themselves, or they'll hem and haw over it.
Insanely good organizational skills aside, how do you balance motherhood with growing a new business?
I'm the first to say it's not easy. I don't know how moms can do it when they live in chaos or have that, because the kids feel that, and that would be an absolute nightmare for me.
You’ve named four kids. What was it was like naming your business?
Honestly, I couldn't come up with anything that was interesting or fun at first. They all just sounded so drawl to me and just so negative. ‘A to Z Organizing’ was one – and that’s boring. I've always heard you should throw your name onto something, but "Ann Marie Organizes" sounded boring, too. "Thatgirl" is a little mysterious, a little more fun, and it was just me.
My nickname has been "That Girl" since I was 15 years old. They just started calling me that -- because my name is Ann Marie. The star of "That Girl" was also Ann Marie.
Why is ‘ThatGirl’ one word?
To me it's more powerful that way because it is different. And I just like the way it looks better than it does separated. It just didn't flow with me right. Making "That" in one font and "girl" in another also separates me from everyone else.
Your domain name is unique, too: It ends in ‘dot-guru’ [.guru]. Why?
My husband came up with a list of new domain names [when we were building my website], and he said, "Guru is super-cool.” And I said, "Well, that's me." A guru is someone who can't stop doing what they love; they know so much about it it's crazy; and they just are incessant about doing it. That's me! I'm a ‘dot-guru’ [.guru]! I'm not a ‘dot-com’ [.com].
What is the future of Thatgirl Organizes?
I plan on, in four years, being a franchise. Right now, I work between three and four days a week, and between six and eight hours, depending on if I have one client that day or if I have two. But the way I'm branding myself and networking to death, things are taking off.
With your organizational skills plotting the course, doubters beware, right?
[laughter] It's going to be one hell of a business.
Learn more about this business by visiting the website www.ThatgirlOrganizes.guru.