Local Business

A Cure for Clutter

Jill Brown seeks to help people get organized and declutter their lives

Getting people of all ages and genders into mountain biking is Amanda Ridgway’s ultimate goal.  “Drift draws my love of mountain biking and my desire to bring more mountain bikers into the world together, <a href=

treatment ” she says. “I can’t really imagine a better way to invest my time on the planet right now.” Photo by Boomer Jerritt ” src=”https://www.infocusmagazine.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/drift-biking-1-602×401.jpg” width=”602″ height=”401″ /> Getting people of all ages and genders into mountain biking is Amanda Ridgway’s ultimate goal. “Drift draws my love of mountain biking and my desire to bring more mountain bikers into the world together, stuff ” she says. “I can’t really imagine a better way to invest my time on the planet right now.” Photo by Boomer Jerritt

The first time I saw the rock ledge on the mountain bike trail I laughed in amazement. “That’s crazy,” I said to my son, shaking my head. “I can’t believe people ride down that!”

But after a while I began to wonder. Clearly many people did ride down the ledge. The tire tracks to and from the feature were evidence of that. And it really wasn’t that steep, was it? You just needed to allow your bike to roll over the smooth ledge, right? Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy for me. I tried a few times, but each time I’d stop at the top and change my mind. The rock began to taunt me every time I was on the trail. I began to doubt I’d ever have the gumption to put my fears aside and go for it. Eventually, the rock ledge became my nemesis.

But a nemesis is meant to be faced and conquered. My instincts told me that I could ride the ledge if someone showed me exactly how to do it. In this case my fear was a good thing—I didn’t have the confidence to try the feature because I wasn’t sure how to ride it. So I decided that it was time for a professional mountain bike lesson. After a little research I contacted Amanda Ridgway, the founder and managing director of Drift Mountain Biking. Based out of Cumberland but serving the entire Island, Drift is the only business on Vancouver Island that specializes in mountain bike instruction.

Originally from Australia, Ridgway first came to Canada after seeing pictures of British Columbia in a magazine. “I remember reading through mountain biking magazines and looking at these pictures of trails in BC,” says Ridgway. “I knew that BC was where I needed to be.”

Ridgway moved to Fernie, BC, where she worked as an international guide. She recalls one life-changing summer when she did nothing but mountain bike guiding and instruction. “It was the best summer of my life. After that summer I knew that mountain biking was my thing—my passion,” she says. “Since then mountain biking has introduced me to joyous and soul enriching experiences that really do make my heart sing.”

Fernie was a great place for Ridgway to get acquainted with mountain biking, but the snowy winters soon became frustrating. “I got tired of putting my bike away for several months each year. I wanted to find a place where I could ride my bike year-round.”

Ridgway asked around and many people told her that she needed to check out Vancouver Island. “I had one friend who said that I just HAD to visit Cumberland on the Island,” Ridgway recalls. So she took a trip out to Cumberland, scoped out the Village, explored the trails, and decided that Cumberland was a good place to pursue her dreams.

After a lot of careful consideration, Ridgway decided to start a mountain bike school. “I knew that I wanted to do something related to mountain biking, but I wasn’t sure what that looked like,” she says. So she did a needs assessment—carefully looking at what the Island had to offer and focusing on the gaps that existed.

“The Island already had a lot of great stuff going on, and I didn’t want to replicate something that already existed—I didn’t want to create competition. People have always told me I’m a great teacher, and the Island needed a place for people to get mountain bike instruction. Creating Drift seemed like the best fit.”

And it didn’t hurt that the trails of Vancouver Island and around Cumberland are some of the best places to learn to mountain bike. “People who live around here—they don’t know how lucky they are,” Ridgway says. “BC has, undoubtedly, the best trails in the world. And Vancouver Island—it’s just amazing.”

Many riders say that if you can comfortably ride the trails of BC, then you can ride just about anything. That’s because, like most of BC’s trails, many of Cumberland’s trails are technical and challenging. Boardwalks, teeter-totters, skinnies, A-frames, roots and rocks, and of course, rock ledges like my nemesis, are all common features. And that’s where Drift comes in.

Ridgway believes that proper instruction is integral to getting the most out of mountain biking. “At this point, most people feel that they can just learn as they go, but getting to the point where you can fully enjoy the trails the way they’re meant to be ridden—that takes a long time, unless you get some instruction.

“Most people don’t think twice about taking skiing lessons, both when they’re new to the sport and when they want to improve their technique,” she adds. “I think that’s how people will view mountain bike instruction in the future.”

According to Ridgway, some good instruction time from a qualified instructor can also help you to spend more time on your bike and less time in the dirt. “Like any very physical sport, mountain biking has an inherent risk of injury,” she says. “But if you learn exactly what to do and you get that technique dialed in, the risk of injury is greatly reduced.”

It is also important to get that instruction from someone who really knows what they’re doing. “Mountain biking has changed a lot over the years. The old ‘get behind your seat’ or ‘don’t use your front brake’ doesn’t necessarily apply anymore. “Specifically, what your biking buddy tells you may not be the right information,” Ridgway says.

“Drift instructors are keyed into the most up-to-date information. They’re all certified, professional instructors who spend time developing their skills to keep up with this rapidly changing sport. We all have an extensive tool kit of techniques to use so we can ensure people get the best bang for their instruction buck.”

As with many things, Ridgway believes it’s important to start with a good foundation when teaching mountain bike skills. “We use the step-by-step approach at Drift. When teaching beginners, for example, we start small and in safer environments, such as a park, to allow riders to really focus on the skills only. Fundamentals are covered such as balance and stance, body-bike separation, gravity management, as well as how to use the bike, the controls and the suspension properly.”

Drift Mountain Biking instructor Gabe Doucet takes on the trails in Cumberland, widely regarded as some of the best trails in the world.  Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Drift Mountain Biking instructor Gabe Doucet takes on the trails in Cumberland, widely regarded as some of the best trails in the world. Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Drift’s instructors will start their instruction by watching students ride their bike. “My instructors know how to analyze a rider,” Ridgway says. “We can watch someone and see where they’re making mistakes that are getting in the way of their riding. We can pick up on subtle changes an individual rider may need to make. And working with the rider, we can present the information in a way that makes more sense. Private lessons are particularly good for this because of the intense individual attention you receive.”

Drift’s instructors use specially constructed wooden ramps and ledges when they instruct at the park. These handmade features can be gradually raised and lowered to increase the student’s confidence and to help the students become more comfortable with features they’re bound to see on the trails, such as boardwalks, A-frames, ramps, and skinnies. The fact that the student actually rode features on the grassy field gives the rider an added boost of confidence when they see similar features out on the trails.

Ridgway is a solid believer that confidence should be based on technical skill, not just bravado. Fear can be a healthy thing, but sometimes too much fear gets in the way of one’s progression. “That’s the hardest part. The mind games are absolutely the biggest challenge,” Ridgway says. “Mountain biking is a lot about conquering your fears. To ride well and to progress, one must consistently step outside of their comfort zone. So I use a lot of visualization when I instruct. I walk the rider through the feature and teach them how to ride it, step by step.”

Drift offers courses to interest all levels of riders, and of all ages. “So far my oldest client was 68. I tailored a course just for her, where we took things step by step—very slowly and with very little risk of falling,” says Ridgway. “And she met her goals that day. It was inspiring for both of us. I plan to be riding when I’m 68!”

Drift can also be of interest to riders who consider themselves quite competent on the trails. “For more intermediate or advanced riders, we may head straight to the trails and perform an assessment with them as they ride. Then we create ride plans and drills to meet their goals—challenging clients just enough and having fun all the while,” adds Ridgway.

“We also offer specialty clinics that focus on a specific skill, such as cornering or jumping, or riding steeps. With our skills development clinics or camps, we design the experience with logical progression—small steps, keeping fun in mind while managing risk.”

Drift also offers courses for women only, and these are proving to be quite popular. “Women tend to learn differently than men,” Ridgway says. “Common phrases such as, ‘Just go faster’, or ‘Just go for it’ really aren’t helpful. Women learn better by having the skill broken down into information that makes sense. It’s also less threatening, and oftentimes, the women form some pretty strong bonds as they conquer their fears together.”

Drift even offers course for kids. “Kids are very experimental,” explains Ridgway. “Spending time talking about the seven steps of a technique is lost on a six year old, but they’ll pick up on a new skill in minutes because their little bodies are sponges, just like their minds are.”

Ridgway strongly believes that the future of mountain biking on Vancouver Island is incredibly bright. “My time at Fernie showed me what’s possible and how biking can bring so many benefits to communities and to their residents,” Ridgway says. “All over BC and Alberta, communities are actively taking advantage of what mountain biking can do for their community.”

Getting people of all ages and genders into mountain biking is Ridgway’s ultimate goal. “Drift draws my love of mountain biking and my desire to bring more mountain bikers into the world together. I can’t really imagine a better way to invest my time on the planet right now.”

You may be wondering about that rock ledge I mentioned earlier—my nemesis. I spent an enjoyable afternoon with Ridgway in Village Park, where she helped me to correct my stance. I also rode the wooden ramps which were set up to simulate the rock ledge. After my session with Ridgway, I knew just how to approach and ride over the rock ledge. I had confidence, but that confidence was based on knowledge—and I was ready to face my nemesis. I took a deep breath and I rode over the feature just as I visualized myself riding it. And just like Ridgway predicted, it wasn’t as hard as I expected it to be.  In fact, it was a lot of fun.


For more information call 250-650-RIDE (7433) or visit www.driftbiking.com

“My purpose with Cure for Clutter is to help people see the big picture when it comes to having an abundance of belongings that are in disarray, <a href=

information pills
” says Jill Brown. “I would never force anyone to get rid of something they don’t want to, but I do work hard to help them determine what items need to stay in their home or office and what they could let go of.” Photo by Boomer Jerritt” src=”https://www.infocusmagazine.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/clutter-jill-brown-602×401.jpg” width=”602″ height=”401″ /> “My purpose with Cure for Clutter is to help people see the big picture when it comes to having an abundance of belongings that are in disarray,” says Jill Brown. “I would never force anyone to get rid of something they don’t want to, but I do work hard to help them determine what items need to stay in their home or office and what they could let go of.” Photo by Boomer Jerritt

It is not surprising to discover that Jill Brown’s house is as tidy as a show home… but with a welcoming ambiance that says “real people live here.” Her office is the epitome of organization. A shelving unit with brightly colored (and neatly labelled) tubs contain office supplies and miscellaneous paraphernalia. Bookshelves and closets are well organized. And she just might be the only person around who can boast that they have a collection of 10,000 labels!

“Look at this,” she says with the delight of a kid in a candy store as she displays a handful of tractor feed white labels. “They don’t make this type of label any more and I was lucky enough to find 10,000 of them on sale! When I go to a client’s home to help them clear their clutter, I take all of the supplies we may need with me. I use a lot of labels.”

The ‘clients’ Brown is referring to are anyone who may feel overwhelmed with clutter in their home or business and who may need a little help getting motivated to deal with it. Or, it could be someone who hires her to clean up and organize their piles of ‘stuff’ for them. Brown is a professional organizer and, with the assistance of the federal and provincially-funded Vintage Advantage training program, she launched a new business—called Cure for Clutter—in the Comox Valley last fall.

The story of how she came to be a professional organizer and how she came to reside on Vancouver Island starts on a 500-acre family farm near the small town of Ludlow, Shropshire, England more than 50 years ago. (The farm is still owned and operated by her brother.)

“We all come by clutter honestly,” says Brown. “I grew up on a farm, with parents and grandparents who had lived through the Depression and the war years. Like most people my age, I was raised in a ‘waste not, want not’ environment, when throwing out extra items was perceived as an irresponsible action. So, I learned to save and to ‘make do’ with what we had.”

After graduating from high school, Brown, like many other young women at the time, felt her career options were limited to becoming a teacher, a nurse or a secretary. She elected an office career over a classroom or hospital and, upon graduation as an executive secretary, moved to London where she secured contract employment with the US Exhibition Team. This lead to an opportunity to move to Hong Kong to work at the US Embassy, where she met a young US marine and fell in love.

In 1977, Brown followed her marine to North America, arriving in Canada with high hopes and a single suitcase. She stayed with relatives in the lower mainland while she patiently waited for a fiancé’s visa that never came.

“I loved Canada, so I decided to stay, despite the fact that my marine was no longer in the picture,” says Brown, laughing. “I became a Landed Immigrant in 1978 then in 1981, I moved to the Comox Valley. I didn’t choose to live in the Comox Valley for any particular reason at the time… I was young and carefree and I liked a small town better than the big city as, I must admit, I was not very well ‘socialized’ having grown up in the country,” she adds with a smile.

For the next decade, employment opportunities took her to Calgary then back to the lower mainland. She soon recognized that, being a single mother at the time, she couldn’t afford to live in the Vancouver area. She moved back to Courtenay and started over again. She married in 1986 (later divorcing), had a daughter and finally purchased a home of her own.

In 1991, Brown took a temporary job at the provincial Access Centre, providing clerical support for the Government Agent Office, now called Service BC. This changed to a permanent job in 2003. Being a working mom of two kids had forced her to learn good organizational skills, but her job at the Access Centre, where she would work for the next 17 years, took that to the next level.

“At Service BC we had to be familiar with over 700 different government programs and services,” explains Brown. “Being unorganized was simply not an option. We needed superior filing systems and excellent clerical skills as we were 100 per cent accountable for every transaction we made in assisting the public. Remember, this was before everything was fully computerized, so there was a lot to keep track of manually!”

Working in such a demanding and fast-paced environment, Brown also honed her communications skills, developing an ability to work well with people one-on-one. This would prove beneficial when she would eventually start her own business many years later.

In 2010, Brown left the Access Centre and moved with her husband, Ken Brown, to Victoria. Soon after, she elected to take early retirement and moved to Powell River to help care for her husband’s aging parents. It was here, while attempting to organize more than 60 years of memories, Brown experienced a proverbial ‘light bulb moment.’ She recalled that, only 30-odd years ago, she had arrived in Canada with only a suitcase and now had a three-bedroom house and garage chock full of ‘stuff.’ She had indeed come from almost nothing and was now living a life filled with abundance.

“As I sorted through and organized my in-law’s basement storage, I came to the realization that, while getting rid of items that are broken or no longer used and loved is important, the focus was not just to get rid of stuff,” recalls Brown. “Instead, my role was to bring order to their possessions, making them accessible and easy to locate. In my in-law’s case, for example, I carefully wrapped and labelled dozens of china tea cups, placed them in totes, and then catalogued them on a spread sheet. Now, these visual memories can be easily accessed and enjoyed because you can actually find them! At the same time, the items are now being honored and appreciated for their historical significance to my in-laws and the family.”

How to turn her idea into a new business that would help people cope with clutter was going to be a challenge, considering that Brown had never started and operated her own small business before. She was thrilled when she applied for and was one of 10 local people accepted into the Vintage Advantage Spring 2013 program.

Vintage Advantage has been offered since 2009 through Creative Employment Access Society, funded by the governments of British Columbia and Canada through the Targeted Initiative for Older Workers.  The program was designed to provide resources to unemployed individuals age 50 to 65+. It winds down in March, after supporting 170 Comox Valley job seekers.

Along with the nine others accepted into the 11-week program, Brown was provided with three weeks of in-class training. This covered everything from career exploration to labor market information, communication and conflict styles, interests, values and other topics to enable participants to affirm or determine their focus for either a job search or the self-employment stream. This was followed by an intense eight weeks of job search or self-employment business plan training. In addition to receiving computer training and having access to short term training and coaching, all participants also met weekly with a project coordinator and job coach to check on their progress and successes and address any questions or concerns they may have encountered.

“My experience with Vintage Advantage was amazing,” says Brown. “In particular, I learned that the basics of a successful business venture were dependent on creating a solid business plan. This was, by far, my weakest area but I was able to pull it together. It was a very empowering experience!”

As part of her research, Brown discovered Professional Organizers in Canada (POC), a registered, national association representing more than 500 professional organizers across the country. POC’s mandate is to provide a supportive environment for its members to share ideas, network and exchange referrals. Ultimately, POC aims to provide credibility, community and connections. She completed the credit courses that would provide her with the necessary training and accreditation to set up her business as a professional organizer and is now listed as one of 15 Professional Organizers in the Vancouver Island Chapter.

“The certification program was really great,” Brown says. “It covered areas that I never would have never thought of, such as being aware of the presence of mold and other contaminants, as well as wearing safety gear for certain jobs. There is more to clutter clearing than you would imagine!”

After months of effort and hours of study, Brown was excited to officially launch Cure for Clutter in the fall 2013. She is now on a mission to help people categorize, organize, or downsize their homes and offices. She has promotional literature, a website and magnetic signs for her vehicle—which she discreetly removes to ensure privacy before visiting a client’s home. She advertises that her services are useful to people in a number of life circumstances: from expecting a child to blending or disassembling households, downsizing, selling your home, starting a home-based business, being the executor of an estate and more.

“My purpose with Cure for Clutter is to help people see the big picture when it comes to having an abundance of belongings that are in disarray,” explains Brown. “I can work side-by-side with them or coach them over the phone to help determine what organizational system will work best for them, to sort possessions into neat, easy to find categories and help them develop the skills to part with items they may no longer need or love.

“I would never force anyone to get rid of something they don’t want to, but I do work hard to help them determine what items need to stay in their home or office and what they could let go of,” she adds.

“Many people really struggle with the concept of throwing stuff away. I like to use an old, unused waffle iron as an example of how people ‘waffle’ in making a decision to get rid of something… or not. You may not have used that waffle iron for 10 years but you hang onto it ‘just in case’ the kids come home because they LOVED waffles when they were little! Joking aside, sometimes you have to make a decision when you can’t keep everything!”

In addition to clutter organization, Brown also offers a paperwork service to help people and small businesses deal with such things as submitting claim forms for all types of expenses and programs, applying for replacement certificates and legal documents, locating important paperwork and certificates, how to obtain and complete federal, provincial and other government forms, and much more. It is something that she loves to do and is very good at, having spent 20-years working in government administration—and it, of course, gives her another way to use up some of those labels!

In a service that is unique in the Comox Valley, Cure for Clutter can help you categorize, organize or downsize your environment to whatever you want it to be, however, the number one objective, according to Brown, is that your home (or business) is comfortable, reflects your values and allows you to enjoy your space and possessions.

For more information visit  www.cureforclutter.ca
For information on the Vintage Advantage Program visit www.ceas.ca/va.php.