Goodwill Contest Winner Reclaims Space for Living, Art, Peace of Mind

As the motorized door of Phyllis Harper’s two-car garage rose Saturday morning, it slowly revealed a large, jumbled pile of belongings that had been accumulating for years.

Exercise equipment, shovels, shoes, torn upholstered chairs, paint cans, carpet remnants, a doll house, a box of dusty art frames, wrenches, books, clothing, a cobwebby aquarium and countless other items filled all available space except for a narrow path to the clothes washer and dryer.

“It was a colossal mess of chaos,” Harper said.

By Monday evening when the door slowly closed, the garage was almost unrecognizable. The pile was gone. In its place were neatly stacked custom shelves, inviting work spaces, freshly painted walls and a clean, wide-open floor.

“It’s just so beautiful and organized,” said the 53-year-old wife, mixed-media artist and mother of two. With a laugh, she added, “and no one is going to mess it up, or I’m going to hurt them.”

The transformation was the result of an extraordinary spring cleaning spree. As the winner of Goodwill’s Great Garage Rescue Contest, Harper received a prize package that included the free services of the Nashville chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers, a garage organizational unit from Garage Solutions and packing/storage materials from A-Z Office Resources.

To enter the contest, Goodwill’s followers on social media were asked in September to submit photos of their messy garages and explain in a sentence why they should win.

“This contest is a Godsend,” Harper wrote. “Due to a longterm disability and a severe lack of funds, I have never been able to organize, which would enable me … to move about freely.”

Walking and bending are painful for Harper, who fell from her attic 12 years ago, damaging her back and pelvis and eventually requiring a hip replacement. The “chaos” that built up in Harper’s garage after her accident swallowed not only the area where the family once parked its cars but also the only space where she could set up her easel and do her artwork. Harper said she last attempted to paint two years ago.

On Saturday and Monday, 13 professional organizers — including some from as close as a mile away and one who drove in from Paducah, Ky. —  worked in four shifts sorting, packing, cleaning and doing a host of other jobs. Initially they emptied almost all the contents of the garage and spread them across Harper’s front lawn. Then they began the process of determining which items Harper wanted to keep, which she wanted to donate to Goodwill and which needed to be recycled or trashed.

The organizers consulted with Harper on every decision, guiding her toward her overall goal of a clean garage while being sensitive to her wishes about each item. Organizer Liz Jenkins offered an example:

“Earlier, when we came across a big bag of stuffed animals, she wanted to put them in the attic,” Jenkins recalled. “I said, ‘Let’s just go through these.’ It turned out her daughter kept four, mom took two that were family pieces, and the rest were donated to Goodwill. It saved an entire bag from taking up space in the attic.”

Goodwill employees pitched in on the cleanup, and a Goodwill truck was on hand to collect unneeded household items Harper wished to donate. By Saturday evening, the truck was full.

Organizers went far beyond the call of duty. Some donated plastic containers. Another bought paint for the walls, which Harper’s family members applied on Sunday. Another purchased clamps for the exhaust hose of the family’s clothes dryer, which had previously been blowing lint into the garage.

Jenkins’ husband Bill, a lifelong craftsman, brought wood and tools to shore up rickety shelving and raise cabinets so Harper wouldn’t have to bend to use them.

On Monday, Garage Solutions owner Todd McCann installed a steel Monkey Bars Garage Storage System in Harper’s garage. Then, the organizers were able to add their finishing touches. McCann said people often don’t realize the impact a cluttered garage can have on their mental well-being.

“The garage is the last place you see in the morning and the first place you see when you come back home, and when you have an organized garage, it eliminates stress,” McCann said.

Harper said her garage had been a source of concern for years.

“Now that I’ve got tons of space and everything is organized, I don’t think I’ll fall down. I was really worried about falling down before,” she said. “I’m so grateful to everyone involved in making this dream come true for me.”

Several of those involved in the Great Garage Rescue, including Harper, said they appreciate Goodwill not only for hosting the contest but for helping Tennesseans declutter and improve their lives. Donations to Goodwill fund its mission of providing education, training and employment across Middle and West Tennessee.

Harper said now that her art supplies are collated and within easy reach, she intends to begin painting again. She said her first painting would explore the theme of human trafficking, a cause about which she is passionate.

Jenkins said there was one more important benefit from the Great Garage Rescue that Harper and her family  — like anyone who declutters and organizes — will enjoy.

“The nice thing about being organized is, when you come in with a new item and it doesn’t have a home,  you have to think twice: ‘Do I have to bring this in?’ It triggers that thought and helps you stay organized in the future,” she said.


National Association of Professional Organizers

The Nashville Chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers is a network of organizing professionals in the Middle Tennessee and surrounding areas who provide various organizational services, advice, solutions, and products. Learn more at

Garage Solutions

Garage Solutions takes pride in every custom garage storage solution that they build, using only top-quality materials and precise workmanship to build the perfect garage for every client. Products include garage cabinets, and garage organizers that optimize every inch of space. Learn more at

A-Z Office Resource

A-Z Office Resource, founded in Columbia, Tenn.,  is one of the largest independent business products dealers in the nation with seven physical locations in Tennessee and Alabama. Learn more at

Organizer’s tips for spring cleaning:
Debbie Keller, owner of Home and Office Transitions and a board member of the Nashville Chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers, recommends donating unneeded clothing and household goods to Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee.

Keller also offers the following suggestions for spring cleaning:

  1. Start small: Begin with a drawer or closet, then take a break and reward yourself by doing something you enjoy. Repeat. Your enjoyment of the spaces you have finished will encourage you to keep going, and you will find you are able to tackle larger projects.

  2. Enlist the help of a friend who will support, encourage and challenge you, or hire an organizing professional.

  3. Pull everything out and divide into categories. Include one pile for items to be donated, one for trash and another for items that you’re not sure about. Don’t belabor decisions at this point — just sort the items.

  4. Love it, use it or lose it: We “collect” and accumulate things for a variety of reasons but aren’t that attached to them, nor do we use them. Donate them to someone who can use them.

For more stories like this read the Spring 2016 edition of The Ambassador – Goodwill’s quarterly magazine which provides readers with stories of events, activities and the inspiring changes Goodwill is making in the lives of others.

  • Phyllis Harper
    Posted at 18:37h, 01 September Reply

    It’s a year and a half later and I’d like to say my garage is just as neat as the day of the makeover, however, I am proud to say it is very, very close! 🙂 I am still so very grateful to Goodwill for changing my life for the better!!

    • GoodwillMTN
      Posted at 08:41h, 05 September Reply

      We are thrilled to hear it, Phyllis! Thanks again to the Nashville Chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers for sharing their time and talent!

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