At Emily Coplon's home, Passover cleaning started in mid-March. With five children and upwards of 25 guests at each seder, Coplon said, it's a challenge to make sure the holiday doesn't feel more like a stressor than a simcha.
While getting organized is a year-round task, the topic is especially prescient with spring cleaning and Passover fast approaching. For some families, that means turning to a professional who knows not only what it takes to be organized, but what it means to be Jewish, too.
Coplon, a 44-year-old stay-at-home mom, meets the challenge with advice from friend and Wynnewood professional organizer Kelly Galfand, who began hosting "Plan to De-Stress Your Passover" workshops three years ago. Over the past two weeks, Galfand and Joy Effron, her mother and co-owner of "Joy in Your Space," repeated the presentation for the Hadassah Sabra Chapter in Wynnewood, Penn Wynne and Delaware Chabad houses, and an unaffiliated group in Elkins Park.
"It wasn't even so much specifically what we should be doing, but thinking about my seder and what would I already like to be finished with" -- the week before, the day before, three hours before and so forth, said Coplon, who attended the workshops last year and this past weekend.
While Passover requires more preparation than most other Jewish holidays, Galfand said, the strategies she gives during her workshops apply to any time of the year. In fact, local Jewish professional organizers report that for most of their clients, it's not a holiday but day-to-day clutter or a basement brimming with boxes that brings them to seek help.
For Sheryl Greenfield, 54, it was her home office. "I would walk in there and I would just shut down," said the resident of Bryn Mawr. "It was just so much anxiety around this mess."
So far, with the help of an organizer, the woman who's studying to become a coach for people with Attention Deficit Disorder, cleaned out the office and, for the first time in 20 years, her closet.
"I never will be 100 percent organized, but I have to tell you, pretty much every night, I try to put things away," said Greenfield. "Getting rid of all that clutter just uncluttered my mind."
Naomi Shapiro, a part-time Jewish educator, first sought out Galfand's help when preparing to move to a new home in Penn Valley. "There's a stigma attached to it -- why can't you just sort of organize your stuff yourself?" said Shapiro.
It's not that you can't, Shapiro continued, but sometimes, it's just easier to work with an outsider who immediately recognizes what needs to be whittled down without emotional attachment getting in the way; or how an area could be used more efficiently.
"You just get overwhelmed by your space, you can't even see through it," she said.
With guidance from Galfand, Shapiro reorganized her home office, sorted through the aftermath of a basement flood and reworked the front closet with separate bins for each child's winter accessories, as well as a spot for items that need to be put into the car.
"I can now declutter a counter, a room very quickly," said Shapiro. "It's not as overwhelming because I know what to do. It helped me get some control over my life and make room for what's important."
On the other hand, she quipped, there's still a basement full of stuff.
With the house still in transition, Shapiro recently consulted with Galfand to set up the kitchen for Passover. Together, they outlined which cabinets will be sectioned off and what will move to the basement.
Even though most of the work will happen next week, "I feel much more in control of what I have to do," said Shapiro. "It's not like at the last minute frantically boxing stuff up."
As an observant Jew, Galfand, 42, knows how much work it can be to transform an entire kitchen for Passover; pulling out the chametz to sell, eliminating any crumbs and swapping out the dishes.
But the holiday can be overwhelming for anyone, she said, which is why she and her mother began offering focused talks about it. During the sessions, the duo walks the group through planning worksheets and how to pack up from the holiday in a way that makes it less stressful to celebrate next year.
"It is a perpetual issue, it's not a one-shot deal," said Galfand.
Coplon said she's not sure anyone else noticed a difference last year, but she felt calmer after applying the tips she'd learned, even simple ideas like delegating tasks to guests or kids. There are all sorts of great jobs that can be assigned to children, she said, like finding pillows for the chairs and making up the salt water.
It was also helpful just to be "in a room with other women who are all sort of trying to figure it out," said Coplon. "If you're alone and faced with all these tasks to do, it can become drudgery."
While Galfand fills a need at Passover time, her colleagues say their Jewish identity has also helped them connect to clients.
"We understand each other sometimes because there isn't a cultural barrier," said Cindy Eddy, 41, who runs "The Organizing Team," with carpentry help from her husband. "If someone's preparing for a seder, I know what they need."
Or, she said, if the family's planning a Bar Mitzvah, she understands how that strains their time.
Eddy, of Havertown, estimated that 40 percent of her clients are Jewish. For Francine Schneider, 57, a psychotherapist from Lower Merion, the shared bond over religion was just an added bonus.
Schneider went online to look for a professional organizer about 10 years ago, after moving to a new apartment. Organizing was never her strong suit, she said, and problems with her hands and depth perception due to multiple sclerosis only made things worse. Eddy installed racks in Schneider's cabinets and reconfigured her storage jars to make the most of a small kitchen.
"Not only did she help me put things where they need to be, but then she would check back to see if I was actually using it," said Schneider. "That's the most impressive thing. You expect an organizer to organize a certain way and then be gone."
Currently, Schneider said, Eddy's helping her make a major shift in the function of two rooms: An extra bedroom will be turned into the living room, and the living room into a painting studio.
Though Schneider doesn't keep a kosher home, she said she would refer Eddy to friends who do because she knows the meaning behind it and "understands how important it is to do it right."