Hello friendly faces! It’s that time of the week! We’re back with a new CNSMoms’ Meet a Mom spotlight brought to you in part by Mary Gifford of Gifford Law. This week we meet Irene Lo of SimplyOrganized Professional Organizing. Irene shifted from a 20 year teaching career after discovering a passion for organization while helping her parents move! Get to know this Glenview mom and business owner below!
Please introduce yourself. Where are you from originally? What city do you live in now? What brought you here?
Hi! I am Irene Lo of SimplyOrganized Professional Organizing. I was born in Chicago, grew up in Northbrook, lived in Lake Forest, and have lived in Glenview since my husband and I got married. My husband was a New Trier Trevian and I was a Glenbrook North Spartan- rivals!
There are so many reasons why we love living in Glenview: diverse population, more playgrounds and parks than pizza restaurants in town, the Park Center, convenient location, and a direct shot to the beach on Lake Michigan.
You’re a Mom! How many kiddos do you have and how old are they?
We have two children. My son is a sophomore at Indiana University and my daughter is a junior at Glenbrook South. My son is double majoring in advertising and film production. He’s hoping to get an internship or be a production assistant this summer in the film industry. He trains with one of the top IU Cycling teams to race in the Little 500, the largest collegiate bike race in the United States and modeled after the Indianapolis 500. My daughter is hoping to stay in the Midwest for college, but I look forward to taking her to Boston to visit colleges and keep exploring, as well as spending mother-daughter time while visiting. She enjoys participating in cross country running and Track.
What are one or two things people would be surprised to know about you?
I would love to be Meryl Streep who is considered to be the best actress in her generation!
If you ever wrote me a letter or sent me a card, it would be in a memory box in my basement.
What are your favorite local stomping grounds to hang with the kids?
My personal favorite activity with the kids is to be outdoors, especially going camping. Not just any camping, but camping on the beach at Grand Haven State Park or Holland State Park in Michigan. I love grilling meals on an A-frame over a fire pit, sitting around the campfire making s’mores, playing games on the picnic table and falling asleep in our 6-person tent while listening to the waves crashing on the beach, chirping crickets and croaking toads. My favorite time is hanging out at the beach all day and sipping wine by the fire while preparing dinner. I once took my son and several of his friends camping. They built sophisticated sand castles, played Spikeball, went bodyboarding, and buried each other in the sand. It was refreshing to see them have fun with the simple pleasures of sand and water, even at the age of 16.
What are your favorite local “date-night” restaurants?
My husband and I love exploring new restaurants in neighboring suburbs. Not only good food, but ambiance is just as important to us so we can relax and enjoy each other’s company. You can find us at a restaurant where there’s a rooftop, Adirondack chairs, a firepit, or outdoor patio. Some of our favorites include Fred’s Garage in Winnetka, Hole in the Wall in Northbrook, and Plateia Mediterranean Kitchen in Glenview.
Please introduce your professional endeavors. How did you get started in your field? What did you do before this?
I watched my parents own and operate a successful restaurant for 20 years in Wilmette and I have often thought about starting a business of my own. I didn’t know what it would be until a few years ago when I helped my parents move out of their house in Lincolnshire. I managed the entire process by hiring a realtor, decluttering and purging their stuff they had accumulated over many years, selling and consigning their furniture, holding a moving sale, hiring painters, and staging their house to sell. I love overseeing a project from the beginning to end, especially when it’s meaningful and makes a difference in people’s lives. When I was helping my parents, I envisioned their lives in their new home to be less cluttered and more streamlined as they are quickly getting older. I imagined their life to live with more clarity, finding fulfillment, and being more at peace. I took a hiatus from teaching (20 years plus) and decided to start SimplyOrganized Professional Organizing.
Before starting SimplyOrganized, I was a science facilitator and differentiation/gifted teacher, working with teachers in supporting student learning. I realized my job description as an instructional coach overlaps with what I do as an organizer: build trusting relationships, use problem solving skills, listen to and learn clients’ various needs, create structures and processes for collaborative work, and serve as a change agent who fosters a positive culture.
What is the most rewarding thing about this endeavor? Please list at least one real life example.
I received a call from a social service center to ask if I can help an older woman who had chronic pain which restricted her from standing and walking for long periods of time. We helped her unpack boxes and organize her apartment. We also decorated her apartment by displaying many of her fragile collections and artwork. She was also a bit of a fashionista, so we surprised her by turning one of her closets to a boutique-like space with just her clothing accessories, shoes, purses, and jewelry. It was a joy to see her amazement when we revealed the special space we created for her.
Who are your influencers and/or mentors that have helped you get to where you are today and/or continue to inspire you?
I admire classroom teachers whom I had worked with in my previous career. They put in great efforts to differentiate their instruction to meet the needs of all their students, set high levels of expectations, and strive to be good role models in continual growth and achievement to make a difference in the world.
What advice can you give other mothers out there who are looking to start a new business in the current climate?
If you love to learn, know that it is never too late to start a new business. Learn as much as you can in your industry. Get your hands dirty to understand all the operations of running a business so you can appreciate the various roles to make your business succeed.
What are the 2 most common questions that people reach out to ask you? Please also provide those answers.
Question: Is your house organized?
Answer: Life happens so it’s totally okay for my house to be messy and chaotic at times! I don’t fold my undergarments, I don’t have labels on most of my containers, and dirt doesn’t bother me. However, I do like to know where everything is so I can be efficient with my time. I love it when my friends make impromptu visits so it would take me 10 minutes to tidy up before they arrive. I try to create organization in my home by decreasing clutter, streamlining in how I live my life at home and making my home a refuge to come home to as life has as much chaos of its own.
Question: What do you enjoy the most about your job?
Answer: I love making a difference in people’s lives by helping them make their homes a sanctuary where they can find respite, decompress, and be more at peace. I love supporting my clients, especially overcoming an obstacle and seeing a transformation that makes their lives more manageable. Recently a client texted me and it made me smile: “Thank you for teaching me about paper management! I canceled unnecessary subscriptions, paid my parking ticket, made dentist appointments for my kids, updated my calendar. I did one million things at work on my computer. I am still way behind, but getting closer to peace than I ever was before. Slowly crawling my way back to sanity.”
Strangest thing in your purse right now: A measuring tape
Last book you read: The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller
Your binge shows: Schitt’s Creek and Breaking Bad
What’s on the horizon for you both personally and professionally?
I look forward to finally seeing my parents, who moved to another country right before COVID, at the end of May. It’s been 3 years since I last saw them. Professionally, I am excited to hire more organizers who are passionate in helping clients make positive lasting change. I am also planning on creating a Facebook group for women business owners on the North Shore where women can support and serve as a valuable resource for everyone in the group.
Thanks! How can we connect with you for more information?
Email me at [email protected] or call me at 224-766-0518
About Our Meet a Mom Sponsor
A very heartfelt thank you to CNSMoms’ Meet a Mom sponsor, Lake Forest mom of three and owner of Gifford Law, a solo Estate Planning Firm (wills and trusts). Mary, we appreciate your support of local moms in our North Shore communities! Learn more about Mary by visiting her Meet a Mom spotlight here!