News Summer Pleasures 2002
Clutter-Organizing tips that may save your life.
have to admit, when the Jewish News called and asked if I'd cover
a seminar on organization, I was sure someone had snitched. Having
left the world of television, I'd moved my writing and production
company into my home. Once a sanctuary away from hundreds of tapes,
press kits and books that piled in weekly, now my dining room-all
right, I'll be honest here-every room has a striking similarity
to the cluttered office setting I left behind.
while I laughed at the invitation, I was a willing student. If there
was someone out there who could give me my sanctuary back, but still
allow me to keep all the bits of information creative types need,
I'd be the first to sign on.
assignment was to show up at 9 a.m. at the Michigan Design Center
in Troy and try to take in this new way of thinking. Given the locale,
I wasn't really surprised to find myself surrounded by designers,
but I couldn't help but wonder what they were doing at a seminar
like this. Aren't designers the ones you hire to make your house
a home? But Birmingham's Cleo Nike Bradley set me straight. "Oh
please, we're creative, we don't want to spend the time putting
our own things in place. We save everything, especially magazines-Architectural
Digest, Elle Decor-we might want to go back and look at them; we're
emotionally tied to them. And anyway, one look at the pile and I'm
exhausted!" Suddenly I'm feeling right at home.
we continue to talk, Debi Weinstein, the owner of "I've Got
To Get Organized" is passing out neatly organized files. And
while it's always good to have take-home information, I can't help
but picture the 30 files I already have sitting on the floor and
wonder whether I really need to add another. As she puts down the
light pink, correctly labeled file in front of me, I introduce myself.
She's charming, hardly the drill sergeant I'd imagined I was about
to meet, someone I could actually see myself being friends with,
until she utters those awful words. "Are you disorganized?"
are no worse words one can utter to someone who makes her living
being creative. Well, I suppose there are, but fortunately no one
has said them to me yet. I calmly caught my breath and explained
I knew exactly which pile everything was in. Seeing my sensitivity
on this issue, she tried a new word. "Cluttered, maybe?"
That much I was willing to concede.
good news was, Debbie lights up in the presence of people like me.
I watched her come alive as she asked the audience to raise their
hands if they had a similar situation. The more hands that went
up, the wider her grin. "My favorite kind of people! My goal
today for all of you is that you'll all walk away with just one
organizing tip that will change your life!" Having come with
the hope of simply seeing my floor again, I was about to become
started off slow, knowing that she was dealing with an audience
that didn't frequent stores like Organized Living. "What is
the one part of your life that is stressing you out the most?"
me, the answer was obvious. The files and piles that now fill my
home. But for others, like many of you at home, it's your closet
or your kitchen cupboards. It doesn't matter what your quandary
is, Debi's solutions apply across the board. "Take it slow,
one shelf, one drawer, your files, but whatever you do, don't zig-zag!"
Zig-zagging, she explained, was moving from room to room. Come on,
you've all done it. You start cleaning out your closet and you come
across something that belongs somewhere else. As you walk into another
room, thinking you'll put it in it's rightful place, you're feeling
ambitious, so you start straightening up that area. Lo and behold,
you come across that book you were looking for and suddenly, you're
on the couch reading.
the floor!" Debi says with a knowing smile. "Give yourself
a 10-by-10 area and tape yourself in, then use black garbage bags."
I'm guessing she specifies black, so you can't look in and change
your mind. "Then tie one with a pretty bow and leave the other
hanging. The one with the bow you'll be donating, the other goes
in the trash!" I can sense the woman next to me shaking.
she introduces us to a game called Friends, Acquaintances and Strangers,
and says we can play no matter what our clutter issues are. "You
love your friends. They fit you; they have information you need.
You can't live without them. Those are the things you keep."
A sigh of relief can be heard across the room. "But acquaintances,
they come and go. They're in good shape, but you really don't need
them. Put them in the bag with the bow, they're going to your favorite
charity. Strangers you simply don't have room for in your life.
They're torn, they're tattered. Throw them out."
all seems to make sense, as long as she's talking about someone
else's problem. But when she looks my way and says, "Now let's
talk about all that extra paper," I found myself feeling protective.
My files, I thought, are crucial. And while my system may not look
all that pretty, when a client calls, all they care about is that
their work is at my fingertips. And as far as the trade journals
and magazines, let's not even go there, they're like food for anyone
else. But remaining calm, I try to concentrate on what she has to
say. "You're not the library. You don't have to be the master
suggests a rip-and-read system. "Tear out the articles you
want to read and put them in a file that's always with you. That
way, when you're waiting for a client or in a doctor's waiting room,
you can still be productive. And you've cleared all those magazines
out of your work space."
right, that I can handle, but the files are another story. While
Debbie offered great information about colorcoding files and labeling
them so you know where they belong, it was a little more than I
could see myself putting to use, so I decided to call someone who
could help me do the next best thing-camouflage.
Consultant Jeanine Matlow is known for her eclectic style, so much
so she named her company, Conversation Pieces. But what drew me
to her was the way she looks at furniture.
literally won't buy a piece unless it has at least two functions.
Trunk tables, apothecary tables, tables with two levels. I found
this great old piano bench at a flea market and I put it at the
end of the bed. I use it for storage, but it's also great for extra
seating." Known for using old roller skates to house CD's and
the skateboard that holds books below her nightstand, I figured
she was up to my filing challenge, and could empathize with my disdain
for metal cabinets.
as if she'd just won the lottery, she rattled off solutions that
even I found fascinating. "Old luggage, wine crates, hat boxes,
you can use them all for storage, and if you stack them in the right
way, you've got an end table or a nightstand." What's that
old saying? One person's trash is another one's treasure. While
she's just as content to help her clients buy new things, Jeanine
Matlow is clearly in heaven at someone else's garage sale.
if you've got more conservative taste or simply want your ducks
or, in this case, your clothes in a row, Cathi Lefton's Closet Designs
could be your answer. "No matter what, no one ever has enough
closet space. Architects think about the way a house is going to
appear, so there are beautiful angles; the problem is they're creating
those angles out of what might have been your bedroom closet."
once you've played Debi's Friends, Acquaintances and Strangers game
and parted with the clothes that really weren't your friends, Cathi
can install different levels and cubby holes to relieve anyone's
clutter and, most importantly, keep you from creating more. "When
there's a place for everything, you can find what you have. You
have a place for your sweaters, so you can see that you already
own four great black ones."
not sure you're ready to become one of them? Rest assured, even
the experts admit, it won't happen in one weekend. But Debi assured
me that even a few minutes a day can make a difference. "I
equate it to getting heavy. It took years to get there and you can't
lose it all overnight."
that information in hand, I placed a pile of magazines by the front
door-the first step on my journey to losing the extra 10 pounds
I haven't been able to get rid of. What Debi lovingly calls, "paper
written by Lori Weiss and reprinted courtesy of the Jewish News
(Summer Pleasures, 2002).