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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Money & Me: 'I gave up earning amazing money to declutter people's wardrobes'

Shelina Jokhiya of DeCluttr Me, a former corporate law career, is happier helping others discard unwanted items

Shelina Jokhiya says she is more frugal in her spending since setting up her own business. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Shelina Jokhiya says she is more frugal in her spending since setting up her own business. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Shelina Jokhiya is the founder of DeCluttr Me, the UAE’s only licensed home and office professional organising service. Ms Jokhiya, 39, previously worked as an in-house solicitor with Emirates and other corporations in London and the UAE, predominately focusing on compliance, intellectual property and general corporate law. In 2013 she followed a passion for organisation and set up her company, which helps declutter and tailor an easy system for her clients to remain organised. A British-born Indian, Ms Jokhiya moved to Dubai in 2005 and now lives in Jumeirah Village Circle with her cats Jasmin and Oreo.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

My family are originally Indian but my dad was born in Kenya. Mum was born in India but moved to Uganda as a baby. They went to the UK in their early 20s; my dad moved with nothing but worked very hard. He went from struggling for many years in London, then worked in a bank until he retired a few years back, after 45 years, having become high up. He worked for the Bank of China, becoming their longest serving employee, and was very clever with money. Mum was a secretary to begin with, PA to the head of The Law Society. She had us and became a lecturer. She’s got three degrees. They were savvy with money when they needed to be. We never got all the toys; I had three My Little Pony’s. I don’t think I had a Barbie for years; they gave me Cindy because it was cheaper. We weren’t spoilt generally, but they did spoil us in certain ways; we went to private school because they wanted us to have a good education.

How much were you paid in your first job?

About Dh40 a day at McDonald’s. It was the only job I could get; the only place on the whole of the High Street that would employ brown people. I only worked Saturdays.

What brought you to Dubai?

There were three of us working together in the UK at a publishing company. I was in legal. My friend got a secondment to the sister office in New York. We went to see her for my birthday. She said, ‘you should get a job abroad, it would suit you’. I got home that night, went online and saw a job here working for an airline in Dubai as a legal executive, dealing more with intellectual property and trademarks.

What prompted you to change career?

I was head of legal for five years for a company in Jebel Ali. I got to travel around the world and while it was really interesting work, I didn’t like the job. The final year was really rough. I’d thought about being an organiser 15 years ago, in London, but thought no one would pay me to organise them. One day I started Googling and found out it’s a massive industry in the US and Australia, that there’s an association. I contacted them and found there was no one doing it here. I went onto social media and started asking what people thought. All of us are corporate people (in the family), apart from mum; we’ve never been business owners. My parents were very supportive. Dad said, ‘try it, if it fails you can always go back to being a lawyer’. I enjoy this work more. I get energy from it.

Are you a saver or a spender?

Saver. I’m not saving much as a company, but trying. I’m investing back in.

Where do you save personally?

I have a bank savings account. I saved a lot when I was working (for corporates). I had ISAs in the UK but had to sell them to get money to survive because I wasn’t making enough for a year-and-a-half because it was such a new concept. It’s a hard slog going it alone.

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Read more:

Money & Me: 'I am a successful businesswoman but my father does all my investing'

Money & Me: "I was paid $5 a day in my first job, now I run my own business'

Money & Me: 'I can afford to retire but I enjoy working'

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Who uses your service?

Mostly Emiratis; about 85 per cent. They can have massive households and can buy so much. They have maids who know how to clean but not how to organise; it takes a special skill. I’ve done a celebrity, VIPs, some people significant within Emirati society. Canadians are my next big clients, then Americans and British. In 2013 nobody understood - I had to explain for a long time what Decluttr Me was. Now there’s an organiser from Japan who has become a global phenomenon and has books out, so people are more aware of it. People Google ‘too much clutter’ and I come up. When I started I thought I’d get more offices but I get homes, which I like. I don’t push for corporates, but I do workshops about organising/decluttering.

Can clients benefit financially from decluttering?

For most it’s a physical and mental space gain. I do a lot of wardrobes, so you can see clothes properly. My mentality and ethos is you should be able to find everything within seconds, not minutes or hours. I’ve done studio apartments to massive houses. From a money point of view, especially nowadays, I have clients spending a lot on designer clothes and not wearing them; they’re decluttering and they’ve still got tags on. You can’t just donate, because they’re valuable (clothes), so we’re using companies - the Luxury Closet and a few others - to sell to, to try to make some money back. For a lot, the service pays for itself.

Ms Jokhiya set up DeCluttr Me in 2013. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Ms Jokhiya set up DeCluttr Me in 2013. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Has your philosophy towards money changed since starting your business?

Yes. When I was earning amazing money I didn’t have a life, which I see now with clients. A lot are corporate, have no life because they’re working so hard and get rid of the stress when they’re shopping, which is what I did sometimes. I can’t spend like I used to. I’m more frugal in a way, but I’ve always spent on quality rather than quantity.

What is your best investment?

I bought property here. My flat is paid for, so I don’t rent.

What is your most cherished purchase?

My car. It’s a BMW X5, luxury sedan. I love cars and it’s perfect for my business because I have to carry many boxes for clients.

What are you happiest spending money on?

I would rather spend on experiences, holidays. I don’t need any more stuff, although I have a thing about Chanel handbags.

Do you prefer paying in cash or by credit card?

Credit card. I have an air miles one and I’ve had free flights with that.

Do you plan for the future?

My life and career has never been a straight line - it’s always been curvy. I’ve never planned for anything, even this business. I’ve not really planned my future properly. I should do. It seems to all work out. That’s against how I am otherwise; I’m very controlled and organised, but not in that sense.

What would you raid your savings for?

Buying a new car – eventually I’ll need to. And buying a house in the UK.

If you won Dh1m what would you do with it?

Clear the credit card, buy that car, go on holiday, and put the rest into savings.