Help You Dwell Celebrates Ten Years

Owners Taryn McLean and Caroline Smith, Help You Dwell 10th Anniversary Celebration, Tennessee Theatre, Knoxville, March 2024
Owners Taryn McLean and Caroline Smith, Help You Dwell 10th Anniversary Celebration, Tennessee Theatre, Knoxville, March 2024

A tenth birthday for a business more resembles a hundred years in a human lifetime. The average business ends after just eight-and-a-half years. This month, Taryn McLean and Caroline Smith celebrate their tenth anniversary with Help You Dwell. To mark the occasion, they held a celebration at the Tennessee Theatre last week. I first profiled the business nearly nine years ago with a small paragraph in an article about the opening of The Hive, with the following entry:

Caroline Smith and Taryn McLean are working together on Help You Dwell. Caroline moved from Nashville to Knoxville nine years ago and fell in love with the city. Taryn, a Knoxville native lives near downtown, and the two joined to create the new company. “Help You Dwell is a lifestyle service devoted to bringing order and peace to your living or workspace through organization and simplicity. Our intention is to help free you up to do more of the things you love. We are at your service to create beautiful, organized, and livable spaces where you can reclaim your home and use it the way you’ve always dreamed of.”

I have to come clean: I didn’t understand it and I couldn’t imagine that it would survive. Shows how much I know. Not only has the company survived, but it has also thrived. Along with many employees, they have helped hundreds of people in a wide range of ways to “dwell” better. I met with Taryn to learn more about what has happened over the last years and I actually understand it better this time around.

Taryn came to the business through a circuitous route, but one that makes sense in retrospect. She’s always cared for others in one way or another. She said, “I’ve always been a people person.” She coached sports, worked as a nanny. After graduating from Central High School, she attended UT, where she majored in exercise science and played on UT’s club team. Her husband, who she married in 1999, flipped houses, working with families to get into affordable, safe homes. The couple moved to Asheville for seven years but missed the feeling of “home” they had in Knoxville; both having lived here their whole lives. They returned and moved into the Island Home neighborhood in 2007.

Help You Dwell, Organizing Photos – Before (Courtesy of Help You Dwell)
Help You Dwell, Organizing Photos – After (Courtesy of Help You Dwell)

Out of college she worked at a “physical therapy owned fitness center.” She had arrived after working with athletes at UT and shifted to working with people in their sixties and older. She quickly realized that her experience bore little relation to understanding people who had experienced years of real life and struggles. “All the textbook answers went out the window.” She had a great boss who helped her learn to listen and relate to people. “One of my favorite phrases became, ‘Be kinder than necessary because you never know what battles someone is fighting.'” She learned that physical fitness may be more about helping someone find a better quality of life. She continued in a similar job in Asheville.

On their return, her husband, Matt, began work with his father in real estate. Taryn began working with him by helping people get loan modifications so they could keep their homes during the housing recession when so many people owed more than the worth of their homes. It was new terrain for her, but it felt comfortable to be helping people in a new way. She came up with the name “Help You Dwell” in 2008 to give a name to her portion of the business. Changes in regulations led her away from that and back into rehab, though she kept the domain name.

In 2014, a mutual friend told her Caroline had left her job, and suggested they meet. They met at K-Brew on Broadway in January of that year. Caroline had been organizing people in their homes and Taryn had been staging homes. Both were comfortable being in people’s homes to help and Taryn mentioned that in larger cities professional organizing was catching on.

When we got there, we weren’t even sure what we were going to talk about and by an hour in I said, ‘Why don’t we call it Help You Dwell?’ We had our first client in February . . . We weren’t even sure what our business model was . . . helping go through her late husband’s things that she had not been able to touch in seven years . . . So, our very first job was this intimate and sacred experience of helping make spaces she could look at with love and not dread. We knew this was going to be something different than labeling things and color-coding books.

Taryn’s experience helping people make the best of their sometimes broken bodies and Caroline’s experience as a social worker allowed them both to meet people where they were and make the best of their current season of life. “It’s been incredibly life-giving.” She said they also had some great mentors for the business end. Bruce Charles, particularly, the former head of the change center, has given them great support.

Help You Dwell, Moving Photos (photo by Texture Photo, Courtesy of Help You Dwell)
Help You Dwell, Moving Photos (photo by Texture Photo, Courtesy of Help You Dwell)
Help You Dwell, Moving (Courtesy of Help You Dwell)

She said word-of-mouth produced most of their clients. Dogwood Arts hired them early to organize their storage spaces and they bartered for a space at their House and Garden Show. Despite their best efforts, the experience didn’t work. It was early and people didn’t understand what they were doing. It was a rare early discouragement, but it helped them understand both how to explain the concept (“there was no Marie Kondo, yet”) and how to build the business. They started a blog on their website which told stories of their work and helped people see the value through the stories.

They moved into The Hive in 2015 and hired their first person, Katie, after about a year-and-a-half. She said being at The Hive offered a great opportunity to understand what they could do alongside other businesses. They started collaborating with other businesses and made connections with others. They taught classes on organizing and participated in the Hive Flea where they sold furniture and other items on consignment for clients, which became a new part of the business. They developed relationships with antique dealers and thrift shops. They currently have extensive relationships with many local charities to whom they are able to shuttle great furniture or other items that can help others.

Another turning point came about the four-year mark when clients they had previously helped organize asked if they would pack them for a move. “When that started picking up is when we started hiring more.” While it fluctuates, they now have “fifteen-to-twenty-two women working for us at any given time,” mostly as part-time independent contract employees.” Packing and unpacking became a central part of their job.

Help You Dwell, Organizing Photos – Before (Courtesy of Help You Dwell)
Help You Dwell, Organizing Photos – After (Courtesy of Help You Dwell)

The packing and unpacking and helping people make a home has been such a gift. At the heart of what we do, we are professional organizers who want to make your space more livable for you. We want to use what you have. We realize buying plastic bins may be helpful, but nine times out of ten you have what you need in your home, we just need to talk through how to utilize it. (We want to) hear where you are in life and what you want your home to be for you this season, so we can create that space for you.

She said having such a range of women, some older, some younger and all people who have been through a range of “traumas in their life, celebrations in their life,” often allows for her to pair a client with a worker who can most relate and help in their unique situation. “It’s allowed me to learn from them.”

After about  four years, The Hive closed and the business had to move. By then it had grown to around seven employees. Tim Zitzman, a local real estate broker and developer, helped them get into an older building on Lyon’s View. They shared a space with Brooke Phillips, interior designer and now co-owner of Alchemy. After a few months they moved the business (and a large amount of the furniture you may have seen there) into the gallery 214 Magnolia with owner Megan Stair who has also worked with their team. When it eventually closed, they moved into their current home at Able Trade.

Along the way they’ve liquidated all the contents of homes, spending months working to find buyers for the contents. She’s also been organizing for a person to move out of a house and received a call from another client (who saw her truck in the driveway) informing her that they were moving to the house she was emptying. She helped them pack their old home and move in to the home they had just emptied. She said it’s happened more than once that they empty a house and move the next people in.

June of 2020 was their biggest month so far. After closing for a couple of months they were inundated with requests. In an odd way, the pandemic gave the business a boost as people slowed down enough to take a hard look at their home environment and wanted to make a change. And it didn’t stop. “From the end of 2020 to last year the business grew about 200%.” They’ve won “Best Organizing Company” every year in City View Magazine.

She said the partnership has been critical to the journey and neither could imagine doing it without the other. They’ve not only maintained a great professional relationship but have become “dear friends. This was never our company from the beginning, it was a gift given to us, so we want to steward it well.” She said the testimonials have been moving and profound for how people feel they helped them through sometimes traumatic circumstances from the deaths of children to parents moving in, the loss of spouses, or moves to assisted living.

Whether it is organizing, moving, packing for a renovation, or some other need, at their core the goal is to help people feel as good as possible about where they are, or as Taryn told me, “Bringing order and peace into your space.”

If you’d like to check out their services or make an appointment, you can find Taryn and Caroline via the website, check them out on Facebook, or follow along on Instagram.