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Han Yien"s career has always revolved around giving advice.
Her previous job involved providing legal advice to a financial institute in Shanghai. Things took a turn in 2015 when she left that job to pursue her passion. Instead of legal advice, Han has since been instructing clients on a completely different matter - how to fold their T-shirts and organize their drawers.
Dubbed as China"s own Marie Kondo, the renowned Japanese home organizer who was in 2015 listed in Time magazine"s 100 Most Influential People, Han was born with a penchant for decluttering.
"When other kids went off to play after classes, I was back home tidying my room. While most kids fantasize about sneaking into a candy shop, I was yearning to tidy the messy room of my neighbor"s home which I could see from my home," said Han.
Over the past 10 years of working in Shanghai, the birthplace of her mother, Han came to realize that many people in the city are too preoccupied with seeking happiness through material possessions. She said that this form of happiness is fleeting and unsustainable.
"The problem is that they are only happy when they are buying an item at a store. All their problems, such as credit debt, relationship woes and work pressure, come back the moment they are back home," she said.
Han started to follow in Kondo"s footsteps in 2013. She started offering free home organization advice during the weekends and later managed to charge a small sum for her services. By the end of 2015, Han realized that she hadn"t taken a single weekend off for more than six months. That was when she decided to quit her job as a legal counsel to become a full-time home organizer.
Her rise has been nothing short of meteoric. In just two years, she became one of the most renowned home organizers in China, having featured in numerous television programs, newspapers and magazines. She is also said to be the highest-earning home organizer in the country, commanding an hourly rate of 1,000 yuan ($154).
"My mom was shocked when she first heard about my decision to switch careers. To her, I was giving up a promising career for the job of a house cleaner. And there was no way I could convince her of the significance of my new job because she"s always been nagging at me to be neat and tidy," laughed Han.
Today, Han runs her eponymous consultancy that is staffed by a dozen full-time professional home organizers. She recalled that one of the most challenging and rewarding cases undertaken by her team was when they helped a couple in their 70s organize their 12.5-square-meter apartment. The tiny space, she said, was filled with things collected over 36 years.
Han"s consultancy was hired by the brother of the wife who discovered that his sister had been sleeping on the lounge chair for about two years because the bed was occupied by her belongings. Despite this being a case that Han would not usually take - she declines to take on elderly clients, hoarders and referrals from people"s relatives or friends - she was determined to help the couple because it was clear that the sheer volume of possessions was affecting their lives.
With 21 organizers working eight hours a day for seven days, 58 bags of items, each measuring 1 cubic meter, were discarded by the team. Among the items were eight electric fans, 15 lamps and 20 plastic fans.
"We faced quite a bit of resistance from the couple. On the first day, the wife became highly agitated and tried to call things off after seeing all the things we wanted to discard. We solved the problem by placating her with colorful plastic bags as she likes collecting them," said Han.
Other memorable cases include the one where her team helped a client discard 150 pairs of identical pants. Han said that the client had amassed such an unusual collection because he was once teased about having no pants to wear. Another case involved getting a woman to finally open a gift box which she had not touched for seven years as it was the reason she broke up with her ex-boyfriend.
Looking ahead, Han said she is trying to "tidy up the industry of tidying up" by either creating an authorized association or introducing a regulation so that more people can join the industry.