An Interview with Mara Lazar of Organizing Options of Illinois
by Duane Scott Cerny
(Note: This is the first in a series of articles about good people, reputable services, and most importantly, practical information. I receive no compensation for this endorsement: just the satisfaction in knowing that I’ve helped spread the word about one extraordinary family of vintage experts who can make your life less cluttered.)
Death, Divorce and Downsizing: These are the constants in our lives. Whether you’re buried in the mess of an inheritance, or perhaps one of your own making, how do you get your head above it all? You need perspective. You need help. No shame in asking. We’ve all been there.
If the word “overwhelmed” keeps buzzing in your head if not sputtering from your lips, this is where organizing specialist Mara Lazar shines. After pairing up with her industrious brothers, Brad and Brett Salamon, and Cathy DeLeo, (Brett’s sweety & Mara’s sister-in-law), they’ve been on a 15 year odyssey of helping people at every level of “overwhelmed”, from small one-day clean-outs to mountainous, multi-week long hoards, all the while skillfully separating the vintage “wheat from the chaff.” And yes, if there’s a last nickel to be squeezed from the selling of even a badly upholstered chair, they will find it!
In a professional nutshell, from estate sale services to auction’s end.– sometimes even to the end of a large dumpster– this recycling family can tackle almost anything sent their way. They sort it all out (literally, figuratively, and practically). Best of all, they then resell it for you: Perhaps online or to an antique/collectible dealers, resale shops (or assist in donations to charity thrifts of your choice or their recommendations.) Of course, all tax deductions are yours… an important factor in this changing tax climate.
Quick example: You have a zillion books? They work with a highly reputable book dealer. You have rugs? They have a knowledgeaeble rug expert. Artwork? Glassware? Aunt Sylvia left you 500 ceramic owls? Yup, Mara knows someone that you need to meet… Stop the hooting!
So let’s get started…
DSC: The inevitable question: How did you get into this particular business?
MARA: My business began when I started assisting friends and family when their belongings got out of control. Initially, they’d ask me for help with a room or a closet or other parts of their homes that overwhelmed them. So I’d put organizing systems in place to make their lives easier. At the same time, I’d donate or sell items that were of use or value – utilizing my antique & vintage contacts from shopping in that world for ages. Also, my brothers and I grew up in a museum of sorts. We were surrounded by very fine and serious antiques and spent our weekends as kids going to the best antique shows with our parents and grandparents. It was a great education. I think because we grew up with such a great appreciation for things past, it fostered our love of vintage and antiques today. Though I’ve followed a less serious, more eclectic way of collecting than my parent’s museum. Who knew way back then we were green before the re-use/recycle movement of today?
What started as a favor to people in my life slowly grew as my friends and family referred others who needed help. As Organizing Options got busier, I called in family and friends to work with me. I’m so lucky to work closely with my brothers, Brad and Brett Salamon, and Cathy in a job that we all love.
DSC: What types of challenges do you face in your business?
MARA: Biggest challenge: Letting people know that our services are available to assist them and their families during difficult times. When your family is in crisis mode and you’re dealing with a loved one’s needs or passing, dealing with “stuff” can just be overwhelming. Often people don’t know where to turn: That’s where our services can help. We’ve diligently worked to share our information with assistance agencies in the community, but our service is a unique niche and often hard to quantify.
DSC: What’s the most important thing people should know about your service?
MARA: The fact that we can customize our services to fit our client’s specific needs and remove the burden that their belongings are causing, all while making them money in the process.
DSC: Give us an example of both your best and worst experience?
MARA: Best: When we finish a project for a family and final balances are settled (they pay us or we give them a check from their sales proceeds) our clients genuinely thank us. We feel as if our family is a part of theirs, for a short time at least, as we complete their project. And we can literally see a change in them as we’ve removed the burden of their “things”. It’s very meaningful and very gratifying.
Worst: We’ve seen everything from bloodstains to false teeth to varmints (alive and dead, ICK!) I must admit that varmints are best handled by Brett and Brad– Boy am I glad they’re around! Thankfully our crew is experienced and not squeamish and we treat delicate situations delicately. And always, anything we find that’s confidential is kept strictly confidential!!
DSC: What have you learned from these experiences?
MARA: Roll with the punches! We know in the end our services will be appreciated. Sometimes the process can be rocky or rough and emotional and/or very messy. But by the time we finish everyone feels good about a job well done.
DSC: How has the vintage market changed?
MARA: The economy has definitely affected the world of antiques and vintage. Pieces that may have commanded a larger price tag a few years ago are now going for less. eBay has also affected the marketplace. Now at the touch of a keypad we can sell items to a much broader audience and get top dollar for our clients. Conversely, items that used to be hard to find are now easily found on the web, so prices are lower. Television has also expanded our world of collecting. With the new crop of reality TV shows highlighting pickers, storage unit buyers, estate sales and other vintage and antique scenarios, we find that the public is much more savvy. Shopping estate sales has burgeoned over the years. More and more interested customers make us very happy. And who knew that vintage shopping would become so trendy?
One more thing: Hoarding is a true, real phenomenon. We rarely saw it when we first started in the business. Now it’s a very common occurrence. My theory is that our depression-era homeowners are aging and reaching out for help. I think it’s one of the byproducts of living thru a time when they all had so little. By the way, hoarders can be helped and we take great pride in doing so.
DSC: Where do you envision the vintage market moving in the next five years?
MARA: I see it expanding because we’re much more “green” and vintage is often an affordable way to personalize your home and fashions. What a fun way to furnish and dress– and your look is always unique!
DSC: Given the transitional nature of your clients and their needs, when is the best time for someone to contact you?
MARA: Great question, BEFORE THEY DONATE OR THROW ANYTHING AWAY!! Often the items that our clients think are of least value are of great value and are easily salable by us. Clients often call us in the midst of personal crises; loss of a loved one, foreclosure, downsizing, moving or change in health. We are well versed with dealing with all these issues and can assist families so they can focus on themselves, not their things. So really, anytime is the right time to contact us.
DSC: What can the client do to help you do your best job?
MARA: Be accessible for questions as we work in their home or office– and be flexible. We also ask our clients to feel comfortable about turning over the burden of their home and items, so we can handle it in the most expeditious manner for them.
DSC: How has the economy affected your business?
MARA: In years past we had more clients who took advantage of our organizing services – we put systems in place for easier ways of living. Now we find fewer clients spending money on organizing. More clients are looking to raise needed cash and call us in to assist with that.
DSC: Tell us about your partners, Brad, Brett and Cathy DeLeo.
MARA: Contrary to popular belief, Brad and Brett are my OLDER twin brothers! Let’s just say that being able to work with your family is a gift. We are a team working together. What’s really great is that each of us has different areas of specialty and different roles in the business. It’s quite seamless and effortless to work with someone who you know so well. Thank goodness we’re all grown up and our sibling rivalry is gone now. Brad and Brett have a sales and marketing background. This really helps, especially at our estate sales. Because there are two of them they are much more memorable than me. I just remind everyone that I’m the twin’s YOUNGER sister!
Our partner Cathy DeLeo also comes from a background rich in vintage and antiquing. Originally from northern IN, where she now lives with Brett, she and her kids also lived on the east coast where antiquities take on a whole different meaning than they do in the Midwest. Cathy is gifted aesthetically and has always been the go-to resource for her friends and family when they’re looking for that perfect piece to finish a room or display in their home. Cathy’s discerning eye extends to current and vintage fashion and accessories. Clients at her Northern IN consignment store, Flying Mermaids, count on her to find them that one-of-a-kind outfit for special occasions. And, her consignment shop offers us another venue when we are selling our client’s unique items.
DSC: Finally, and perhaps most importantly: How has vintage changed your life?
MARA: It’s the gift that keeps on giving! We are so grateful to have grown up in the positive learning environment that we did. We are also grateful to be doing work that feeds our souls and helps so many people who literally don’t know where to turn.
For me owning a vintage item with a history is so much better than buying a new, mass-produced item at a chain retailer. And finding new, appreciative homes for our client’s vintage pieces makes us very happy. We love this kind of matchmaking and feel it honors the original owners as their pieces continue to give others pleasure.
For a free/no obligation “eyeballing” of your vintage organizing needs, contact:
Mara S. Lazar @ Organizing Options of Illinois, LLC
E – email@example.com