While other kids were busy collecting seashells, comics or plushies, organizing consultant Marie Quéru would spend hours sorting through her drawers, gauging the interest of a toy, a book or even mementos.
“I had a real passion for inventory,” confesses the 44-year-old Parisian, who coined — and registered — the term “Écologie d’Intérieur” (or Interior Ecology, in English) to describe her approach to objects and consumption.
Now a grown-up best known to her 40,000-person Instagram following as @larrangeuse (or The Arranger, in English), she’s turned this early capacity for evaluating the place of objects in her life into a five-step protocol and a career as a consultant for private clients, companies and even brands, who all come to her for help in creating handsomely curated and smartly functional spaces.
But don’t cast Quéru as France’s queen of decluttering. “Just because I’m orderly by nature doesn’t mean I love putting things away or that it’s easy for me. I’m lazy and hate it as much as the next person,” she says with a laugh.
The real reason why putting her home and workspace in order is easy-breezy is because Quéru has fewer objects than most, stemming from that early detachment from material goods.
And that’s what she’s trying to share through Interior Ecology, which is not so much about organizing one’s belongings as it is about “changing the relationship to objects and beyond that, to consumption,” according to Quéru.
Shifting those ideas starts with “understanding that ‘too much’ amounts to visual, mental and environmental pollution,” she explains, pointing out that the antidotes are respectively “beauty, practicality and durability.”
For her own journey from calling to career, she took the scenic route.
After studying agricultural engineering and earning a master’s degree in marketing at the ESSEC Business School in Paris, Quéru began her career in strategic consulting and brand identity in design agencies, before veering into brand strategy and eventually becoming partnership manager for luxury and home at the Printemps department store.
Over the years, her nearest and dearest saw her knack for getting rid of things no longer necessary to her life as a quirk that brought gentle ribbing — and even a mention during speeches at her wedding.
“When talking about tidy people, there’s often negative connotations about being obsessive-compulsive or psycho-rigid and for a long time, I saw it [in myself] as a form of neurosis,” she rues, unable in earlier years to articulate her detached relationship to objects.
Even so, she couldn’t help but become increasingly aware that the society of consumption created an endless feedback loop of frustration and excess. After looking into famous organizing methods that reassured Quéru she wasn’t alone in finding a jarring disconnect between “peak stuff” and rising levels of unhappiness, her science background kicked in.
The a-ha moment was realizing “our brain is still wired to hoard, so it finds all sorts of excuses to make us keep an object for the wrong reasons,” she explains, calling this the fundamental cognitive bias of our species, since evolution favored those who had better access to supplies and other goods to ensure their survival.
Hence the word “ecology,” since her approach hinges on a three-way relationship between people, their stuff and the environment. With requests starting to come in, she created L’Arrangeuse in 2019, to offer services to private clients looking for a helping hand.
When COVID-19 struck, decluttering and sorting became a hot topic during lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, a moment Quéru calls a “double wake-up call” that put people face to face and at close quarters with the clutter — material and immaterial — they could overlook in otherwise busy lives.
Turns out the joke was on Quéru’s naysayers all along. “We were taught and encourage to consume, but we never learned how to deal with our possessions,” she notes, adding that rewiring one’s brain to stop seeking the high of incoming new things doesn’t mean going for a joyless penury.
Even for those who aren’t yet ready to reflect too deeply on how and why they consume, Quéru’s protocol comes with an immediate no-brainer benefit: a feeling of space, even for smaller surfaces.
Case in point: the airy-looking and light-filled Parisian apartment that is the star of her Instagram feed and home to her family of four and a cat — with a 650-square-foot surface.
“The reality is that we don’t need a lot of surface to have the impression of having space,” she says, pointing out how the simplest gestures, like tucking away unsightly kitchen appliances in an easily accessible space while not in use, can have immediate impact as “you free up space but you also gain time, efficiency, agility because you know exactly where things are, how to access them and put them away after use.”
Between the average home filled with just-in-case options and the uncluttered spaces seen on Quéru’s Instagram account there are five steps.
First comes idealization, which amounts to taking stock of the situation and setting a goal. Then, visualizing the overflow and where the pain points are. Next comes streamlining, at which point Quéru offers a simple tip: when in doubt, there’s no doubt and out the item goes — donated or recycled preferably. Once that’s done, reorganizing kicks in, to put things away.
The final step is editing, which she summarizes as “developing a lifestyle that reconciles sufficiency and pleasure.” Once there, you’re home free — of future clutter.
Quéru insists that each person should develop a lifestyle that matches their tastes, not hers. Nor should they throw out items for the sake of cutting down.
Because Interior Ecology isn’t minimalism, by any measure. “[Organizing] doesn’t have to be either pleasure through overconsumption or punitive asceticism, in some eco-angst, degrowth cliché,” she says, preferring the word sufficiency to that of sobriety to describe that just-right level of possession. Not to mention that “it’s not about numbers, but finding what your essentials are.”
It sounds more common sense than anything else, especially with Quéru’s kind and no-nonsense explanations, which have now turned into a 214-page book published in French in October by technology and education publisher Eyrolles.
Above all, Quéru sees all this as a form of a self-care that starts with accepting that everything we surround ourselves with is “the sum of all our choices,” be they purchases or gifts.
Take those tote bags and other tchotchkes that we just seem to accrue without meaning to. “Just say no,” says Quéru, who hopes that seeing her turn down samples and unsolicited freebies will help others break the habit of accepting them, either for thoughtlessness or fear of appearing rude.
“Those freebies aren’t free. Somebody is paying for them, whether it’s the person who made them or the environment,” she says, calling reusable totes “public enemy number one.”
A corollary to this is that material objects may be the most visible side, but Interior Ecology can be applied in a range of fields, including time management, one’s relationship to food and even to help combat climate change.
“It’s about a way of life that makes us happier and respects the limits of the planet,” she says, a strong believer in change through individual and collective efforts.
Letting go of frustration or guilt is an important part of the process, too. “The real waste would be not learning from past choices, especially if they were mistakes,” Quéru says. “Once you’re surrounded by objects that you’d reach for without hesitation, every choice is the right choice.”