Lauren West, founder and “chief expert organizer” of Next Highest Good.
Lauren West, founder and “chief expert organizer” of Next Highest Good.

Q&A: She can help you waste not, want not, clutter not

Lauren West was reaching her mid-40s, running an environmental nonprofit and feeling burnout in 2016, when she asked herself, “What do I want to do when I grow up?” That led to her current career as founder and “chief expert organizer” of Next Highest Good. West says her work dovetails her organizational skills and commitment to zero waste. “Everything kind of came together all at once,” says West, who lives in San Francisco and has a part-time staff of 10, all women.

J.: How do you convince people to shed items in their home?

Lauren West: There are two things at play. I never tell anybody to get rid of anything, but I may challenge them — sometimes by simply saying, “I give you permission to let go of that.” I also tell them that someone else might like it. Then you see the light in their eyes, that yeah, you’re right.

You are committed to ensuring that, whenever possible, discarded items don’t end up in landfills. How do you accomplish that?

It’s a lot about what can go where. I think that’s what we bring to the table. Stuff can be given away, sold, donated, composted, upcycled, repurposed. I like the word “re-homing” rather than donating.

What are some of your favorite go-to places?

Scrap SF — they’re amazing. They’ll take jigsaw puzzles that are missing pieces, wine corks, beer caps, as well as arts and crafts supplies. I also like Make It Home Bay Area, a furniture bank for families and people transitioning out of crisis or homelessness. I’m super excited about One City, a new initiative of Glide Memorial Church’s Walk-in Center, and [indie congregation] The Kitchen, which we just joined.

Who are your clients?

I get people in different scenarios: Maybe they’re moving, adding a family member, have lost a loved one, or they just finally want to park their car in the garage. It’s usually people who are overwhelmed by their stuff and need help.

Is there one room that you especially like to tackle?

I love the garage. I think people tend to stack things in the garage because it’s out of sight, out of mind. Closets, too. I always ask clients: Do you need more storage or less stuff? It’s a math challenge.

Were you a neatnik as a child?

I did have a lot of stuff. People always ask me about my space. I wouldn’t call myself a minimalist by any means, but I can put my hand on something when I need it.

There’s a muscle of what you want to keep and what’s the right balance for you. Each of us has to decide what is the right amount. In organizing, you are growing that muscle of deciding what it is you want to keep and what you gain from the [added] space.

Do Jewish values play a role in your life?

It’s sort of tikkun olam all day long around here. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more in tune to the faith aspect of Judaism. I belong to the Hardly Strictly Jewish Women’s Group — we meet every Friday, make dough, hang out, share a d’var Torah prompt. We laugh, we cry. It’s an anchor, an unanswered prayer for me — a sisterhood that I’ve been craving in a lot of ways. I’m loving this trajectory of the business and the spiritual journey.

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.