Squared away the Susan way

Don’t let Susan Parziale’s big blue eyes and a radiant smile fool you: She is a determined commander of shelves, closets and attics, who will make you get rid of all of your clutter and dust-collecting trinkets.

That is because Parziale is a professional organizer, who has been named among the best of Boston for the fifth time in a row by Expertise.com.

Parziale decided to try organizing in 2008 when her daughter, Jenna, started going to a private Autism school, the Nashoba Learning Group, at the age of 5.

Parziale had worked for 10 years at Goodwin Procter as an administrative assistant before and missed being around people. At the same time, she was good at organizing and people told her that she could be a professional organizer.

“I was driving Jenna back and forth from school and I (thought) either I can shop every day or I can take this little thing that I’m really good at, which is organizing, and making it into a career,” said Parziale.

Parziale got her first clients after sharing her interest in organizing with her running group, and then little by little built her business by getting work from friends of friends, advertising on Craigslist and later joining Facebook and real-estate groups. She still has a couple of clients who were attorneys at Goodwin Procter that she worked with.

Today, among the services Parziale provides are residential organization of attics, garages, kitchens, help with downsizing, moving, estate-sales oversight, small-business and home-office organization including work zones, filing systems and office relocation, management of charitable donations, as well as specialty services like wine-cellar setup with barcoding, remote administrative assistance and concierge services.

Parziale said listening to the client and what they want, and being patient is one of the traits that helps her in her work. The client has to be ready to purge, she said.

“You just don’t want to shuffle things around. They have to be ready to let it go,” Parziale said.

Parziale will listen to clients’ stories about every photo, but will also keep them moving along, and help them save the most special things. It can be especially hard on older people who have to get rid of a lot because they are downsizing and going to an assisted-living facility.

“I tell them I’ll have an estate sale for you and everything will go to a new family and have a new life,” Parziale said. “They don’t miss anything once it’s gone.”

Parziale usually works alone, occasionally using the help of her sister or a girlfriend at an estate sale. A job can take her anywhere from four visits organizing a playroom, to five days for organizing an attic, to an entire summer for setting up a home for an international couple relocating to the U.S.

One interesting specialty service Parziale developed is organizing wine and wine cellars. When a friend called her and asked her to organize their secret wine cellar where several families stored their wine, Parziale responded that she had never done it before.

She ended up getting online, perusing wine-chat sites and finding the best program for organizing wine that everybody used. Now, Parziale arranges wine by region and scans barcodes of each bottle.

That is how she got to meet SharkTank’s Kevin O’Leary, a.k.a Mr. Wonderful, whose wine collection she maintains, and many other prominent business owners in Boston.

Parziale also provides a unique service for special-needs families, helping them create and maintain binders with educational materials and medical records and bills.

“I discount my rate to Autism families because I am also an Autism mom,” Parziale said. “The paperwork with having a special-needs child is voluminous and it really needs to be pretty much in one spot.”

She said that tracking all of the paperwork can be overwhelming even for her because new documents come in constantly and very fast.

“(I) really like to help as many families as I can,” Parziale said.

Parziale loves her job. She loves when people tell her that they don’t even miss their old clothes and can now walk into their closet and see everything that they own.

And she advises that people talk to a few organizers before committing to one.

“Make sure that they’re a good fit because you will be working closely with these people,” said Parziale.

Parziale says advocating for her daughter helped motivate her career choice. Jenna was diagnosed with Autism at 2 years old.

Parziale didn’t know much about Autism, except for what was shown in the movie, “Rain Man.” But Jenna did not behave like Dustin Hoffman’s character, Raymond.

“I didn’t realize it was this huge spectrum,” said Parziale. “They say, if you met one person with Autism, you met one person with Autism. I always would tell everybody they are like snowflakes. They’re all the same, but they’re all different.”

Parziale and her husband, Jonathan, immediately started to look at services, including a speech specialist and physical therapist, but there was a shortage of information as social media was not as big 16 years ago. Someone recommended they look into the Autism Support Center.

“They had weekly meetings and I met some really great mothers who just pointed me in the right direction of services, where I could go,” said Parziale.

Eventually, she started the Boston Autism Moms/Dads Facebook group because none of the existing groups were from Massachusetts.

“It just kept growing and growing and growing. And now it’s all parents bouncing amazing ideas off of each other,” said Parziale.

About 2,000 members of the group share information about events, doctors, the best towns to live in, services and other topics. Services are the No. 1 help that Autism parents need, said Parziale. Through her Facebook group she sees how parents of young children struggle to find the right specialists, respite care, funding, good home-skill instructors and other forms of family support. There are waitlists for service providers and neuropsychologists, who diagnose children.

“A lot of times you just can’t move forward with other services if they don’t have that diagnosis.”

A lot of the public schools can’t provide the services the families need and good providers often leave the agencies they work for.

“It’s just never ending. Here we are, you know, 16 years later. And it’s the same stories: better services, better service providers, long wait lists,” said Parziale. “It’s a hard life. It’s not an easy life.”

Another difficult aspect of being Autism parents is that some of them don’t get to experience the usual milestone moments in the lives of their children like prom, graduation from schools, their first boyfriend or girlfriend, driving a car, and getting ready for college. Jenna doesn’t have friends to hang out with outside of her specialized private school.

“A lot of that stuff is hard. That’s the emotional side for parents,” said Parziale.

They do get together with other autism parents and throw birthday parties for their kids.

“Because we’re all in the same boat and there’s no judgment,”

The Parziales do a lot of fundraising and advocacy for Autism. Susan Parziale volunteered for the Flutie Foundation for many years and was a co-chair of its annual gala one year.

Last year they organized their first big Autism awareness event in Lynnfield — a parade — supported by the Lynnfield Police Department. The Parziales are planning on doing it again this year in April for Autism Awareness Month.

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A few tips from Susan Parziale:

  1. If you haven’t worn something in a year or two, get it out of the house.
  2. Don’t hold onto things, don’t hold on to furniture, saving it for your kids. Trust me, they don’t want it. Instead, make a little money by selling your clothes and shoes on Facebook Marketplace, Poshmark, Macari or other websites and apps.
  3. When you go to the mailbox, don’t attack the mail until you’re ready to look at it. Do it over the recycling bin, throw unwanted paper into recycling and take the bills and put them into a dedicated basket. Take the magazines and put them in a rack.
  4. Use the wall space. If you think you have no space to store things, take a look at your walls. Simple shelving can create a lot of room.
  5. That broken item that you said you were going to fix is now clutter. If it takes you longer than a year to get it fixed, then that’s it, it’s gotta go.