November marks the 15th anniversary of working as a Professional Organizer which is quite an accomplishment considering I’m only 38 years old. While this seems like MORE than a reason to celebrate, November marks my 10th year in business in Silicon Valley, the birth of Kuzak’s Closet has blog and as a company. <confetti explosion>
It’s hard to believe that Chris and I hopped in the car with Harper, a few bags of clothing and bedding, an air mattress, and a vacuum and headed across the country to head to Mountain View California. Chris accepted a role at Google which at the time was in the midst of a hiring freeze due to the recession so there was no relocation package. Yep, to all of you Googlers out there complaining about corporate housing we had to handle it ourselves.
Chris and I at one of our pit stops on our drive from Chicago to Mountain View in 2009.
Harper enjoying the view of Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe on our drive across the country in 2009.
The pay was 25% less than what he was making in Chicago and my income went to a big fat ZERO as I had to figure out the next steps in my professional life. I had spent 5 years organizing for clients in Michigan and Chicago and I knew I wanted to pursue it as a full time career but I had to be realistic. With a mortgage on our Chicago home, Silicon Valley rent cost, and the decreased income listed above, I set some goals. I would give myself 6 months to find my first client OR an operations job in tech, whichever came first.
While Chris was enjoying the perks of Google’s free lunches, lunch keg meetings, and heated toilet seats I was tying my best to get acclimated to the area. Well, I can’t say it was all good for Chris. We couldn’t afford a second car so we opted to live in Mountain View, close to Google. We spent the last $300 in our bank account on a bicycle for him to ride to and from work. Coming from a house with no rent and rarely hot water, his chilly ride into work in one of the rainiest years we’ve had wasn’t so bad. At least he could warm up with the Google showers and heated toilet seats, ha!
Our Mountain View rental…
Our Mountain View rental living room, it was a chilly but we made it cute!
With our current budget being limited to $100 per week for food, gas, and entertainment having internet at home was not in the budget. I spent many afternoons at the Mountain View library utilizing the internet for job searches and early promotion for organizing clients. I took advantage of as many free classes and opportunities that I could find that would allow me to meet people and stay busy. After an afternoon at a Pottery Barn holiday workshop I came home with an entertaining banter about how I was shocked that people need help putting up a Christmas tree and don’t know how to set a table, etc.. After about 30 minutes of chatting Chris looked at me and said, “while I think this is really interesting, I think it would be a good idea for you to start a blog to share these insights”. A blog? Chris set me up with a free Blogger account and I started typing.
For the first few weeks I’m quite sure the only person reading the blog was my sister Ashlie. Each day she would comment on my posts and give me feedback on what my next post should be about. I blogged daily about food, fashion, organizing, home maintenance, letter from readers, letter from faux readers (my sister’s made up questions). Basically anything that came to mind. At the time we didn’t have cable or internet at home so I was limited in my world knowledge. For example, Tiger Woods cheating scandal happened that winter and I had no idea until I heard about it from my Grandmother over the phone weeks later. Just imagine my blog post if I was more in the know, ha!
This is my fist Kuzak’s Closet logo…
Up until this point I was just Amanda Kuzak, Professional Organizer. The blog needed a name so I called it Kuzak’s Closet. That is what we called the closet in our Chicago home that was filled with items that I was selling on eBay for clients. The blog did well and kept me motivated to keep pushing forward. After 5 months I finally booked my first California organizing session. Kathy Roth hired me to organize her home, she had just finished treatment for cancer and needed to find order in her home again. After 3 sessions we reached her goals and my phone rang as I pulled out of her driveway after our final session. It was my next client with my Laura Davis. I look back at the before and afters from these early sessions and I’m amazed at how much physical work I was able to do on my own back then. For my early years in Michigan and Chicago smart phones didn’t exist so having the ability to take photos like I can now, man I wish I could go back to some of my early projects in the Midwest, especially Gloria, my first hoarder in Chicago.
After I started working with Laura the momentum started to pick up and I was quickly booked up. Looking back at the start of Kuzak’s Closet I’m thankful that we were too broke to buy another car and Mountain View became home. Having Kuzak’s Closet based on the Peninsula has been amazing and allowed us to expand down to Carmel, San Jose, San Francisco, and Marin because of it’s central location. I’m very thankful that Chris encouraged me to blog and that I had a single reader, my sister, cheering me on so that I could create an audience and a community. I’m thankful that it took 5 months to find my first client because those 5 months pushed me to get outside of my comfort zone – I’m secretly introverted and hate networking and small talk. I’m also impatient. Whenever my staff complains that we are too busy or too slow I think back to those days and how hard I worked and still work to keep us moving at the crazy pace that we operate today. Too busy or too slow is always better than zero and I’m the only person who knows what that felt like.
Kuzak’s Closet has gotten some amazing press over the years. Winning best blog of Silicon Valley was a highlight and we held the title for 4 years, until they discontinued the category.
Other press highlights include magazine features, newspaper articles, and being name to Gentry Magazine’s “people to know” list in 2018.
As Kuzak’s Closet has grown both physically, out of our garage in Mountain View, into our larger garage in Los Altos, into our downtown Los Altos office, the team has also grown. My first hire was a kid named Matt. I say kid because that’s exactly what he was. A college kid who worked with me over the summer and then after graduation for a year or so. He and I went everywhere together, if only I had a dash came in my old F150 to capture some of our funny conversations. Matt was motivated by lunch and it’s amazing that I’m not 350 pounds today with some of the lunch stops we used to make. Shortly after Matt was hired Jennalynn started to help us on nights and weekends, she was 15 years old and a sophomore in high school. I met Matt and Jennalynn through their mother’s at organizing sessions.
Throw back pics with the old crew, we were all so young!
Jennalynn still works at Kuzak’s Closet. Matt eventually moved on but we are still in touch. He works in finance in San Francisco.
I met Billy prior to hiring either one of them but he didn’t start to work with me full time until 2012. He owned a hauling company and we actually met in a dumpster in Portola Valley. He was friendly and funny and seemed crazy with breaking down trash with his machete. He was the first Tongan person that I’d ever met and something about him reminded me so much of home in the Midwest I’m a believer that everything you do, and everyone you meet happens for a reason and meeting Billy that day was definitely not God’s accident. A storage project came up about 6 months later and I knew I needed some muscle to get it organized within the time frame that the client needed. I called my Portola Valley client and asked her if I could get the number for Billy, the man that I met in the dumpster one day at her house. I gave him a call and he was happy to help, the rest is history.
The rest of the team grew with the additions of Ese, Alex, Lau, Sutzi, Def Kris, Pimmy, Kevin, Antonio, Al, Taylor, Jordan, Hope, Sarah, Tammy, Kate, Molo, John, Aloi, Haleigh, Julian, Mike D, Cole. I’ve learned a lot about myself when hiring a team. I’m too generous, I’m too accommodating, I’m too thoughtful. I’m also (still) impatient, I’m a perfectionist, I have a hard time delegating leadership. While these are pros and cons, the mix of them make me an entertaining boss and Kuzak’s Closet a fun place to work. Our team dynamic reflects it. Staff have come and gone over the years making room for new blood, something that is actually needed in a small business. I’ve even had an employee leave and start a similar business which would freak most people out but it happens. There is plenty of room in this world for professional organizers and estate specialists so my advice to anyone that works for me that is thinking of going out on their own, just do a good job.
Our fleet has grown beyond Big Red and my F150. We now have a 16 foot box truck, a Ford transit. Big Red still comes to work sometimes but she’s mostly retired. We could use 1 more box truck and 2 more transit vans but we don’t have a place to park them all.
As the staff and fleet has grown so has the scope of the business. Most of our organizing sessions require 2-4 organizers, we manage huge relocations, we organize and liquidate 125 estates per year and our weekly calendar looks more like a box of crayons with all of the color coded meetings and projects with the average day requiring us to be at 3-4 projects, especially me. It’s a lot to coordinate.
Next week we will be in Oakland, Sunnyvale, Woodside, Monterey, Menlo Park, San Jose, and Atherton. Tired yet? We also handle projects out of the area with our loyal Silicon Valley clients asking us to travel to Seattle, Mexico, Montana, and Lake Tahoe.
The estate services have really snowballed and somehow over the last decade we have become the largest estate company in Silicon Valley. The demand for our estate sales grew and with the demand came the creation of the Kuzak’s Closet estate liquidation and private liquidation services. Our liquidation models were created to meet the demands of the local real estate market while appealing to the shoppers on our loyal 4,000 member email list.
We have really become a household name and I’m proud of that.
Currently we are in an office space in downtown Los Altos, just across from the hardware store. It’s the perfect place for us but our building will soon be torn down. Some people have asked if we will close, others are helping us find a new spot, at the end of the day we will continue to move and shake and figure it out when the wrecking ball comes. We don’t necessarily need a formal office, most days it’s a homebase/snackbar/bathroom for the staff to pickup and drop supplies, leave notes for each other, and pick up and drop the work trucks. Things change and we will adapt.
Our garage office in Los Altos…
Our current office…
Looking back at the last decade in SIlicon Valley, so much has changed while everything is still so much the same. Chris is still at Google. I am still at Kuzak’s Closet. I’m still blogging even though it’s a thing of the past, I also use Insta Stories as a daily blog. Harper is still our sidekick, she’s 14 years old now and feisty as ever. We upgraded from our Mountain View rental (that had no heat and a crazy landlord) into a rental in Los Altos in 2011 and were able to purchase a home in Los Altos in 2017. I still try to get my hands dirty and dig into as many projects as I can while juggling the role of running the company. Our loyal organizing clients and fantastic shopping community motivate me to keep the pace that we keep. We have so many people rooting us on and I’m so thankful for that. Surviving a decade in Silicon Valley without taking out a business loan or looking for investors is an accomplishment for anyone, and for this small business that once had one blog reader and no clients I still find it simply amazing.
Whether you are just finding Kuzak’s Closet for the first time or you’ve been reading the blog for the last decade, I’m glad that you are here and that we can go on this journey together. Thank you for giving me energy, for giving me puzzles to solve, and for growing with me over the last 15 years. Cheers to what comes next!