Copyright 2002 Linda Marcas - All Rights Reserved
Spring is officially here, so we've just had a bigger snowfall than any during the past winter. If the climate can get
away with being so contrary, well, so can I. Faithful readers of this column know by now that I am no obsessive
housekeeper; I have a piling system rather than a filing system, and my dust bunnies have big, pointy teeth.
Nevertheless, I recently returned from a trip to Dayton, where an old friend "hired" me to help her clean and
re-arrange her home office. I've always found that other people's stuff is much easier to organize than my own,
probably because I don't keep everything "just in case I'll need it some day," as I tend to do with my own stuff.
It helped that my friend (let's call her X) is even more tidiness-impaired than I am; whenever I come home from
her place, I feel better about mine, because my cluttered countertops and heaps of textiles seem neat and
well-ordered in comparison to hers. Then again, I'm not running three or four home-based businesses, overseeing the
church rummage sale, providing costumes for the entire cast of my teenager's class play, writing my seventh book, or
juggling the dates of my latest speaking tour against the dates of my husband's military reserve service so that
someone will be home to watch the kid. At least the kid is old enough to drive herself to tennis practice now, instead
of needing a chauffeur.
As you can see, X is no under-achiever; she literally doesn't have time to put anything in its proper place before
she has to go dashing off to another, more pressing task. Now, however, there is so much clutter that she can't
maneuver around it well enough to do the things that must be done; the lake of stuff is freezing over, and she's a
duckling paddling in ever-smaller circles and dreading the moment when she can't move at all.
X called me in to play icebreaker, a drastic solution to a dire situation. Under the guise of a friendly visit, I
bossed her around and forced her to stay on track with sorting and stacking and arranging and making decisions
about what to keep and what to get rid of. It's easy to get distracted away from a job one doesn't want to do in the
first place, but we made an end run around that problem by pretending that I was a "guest" that needed to be
"entertained." We sent her poor hubby out on quests for things like extra tote bins, magazine files, a glue gun, orange
snap-blade razor knives, new fire extinguishers, and pizza. He was in the military, so he obeyed orders well and took
it all in stride with good humor; he could see we were on a roll.
X's office is also her personal library; floor to ceiling bookshelves on three sides of the room. Unfortunately, she
couldn't get at them; piles of books, papers, magazines and newspapers, heaps of textiles, Christmas ornaments,
limited-edition collectible Barbie dolls, tote bags, boxes of photos, computer equipment, tangles of electrical cords,
framed and unframed pictures, porcelain vases, and other miscellaneous stuff was in the way. The open space on her
desk consisted of one half of the mouse pad. A week prior to my visit, all the windows in X's house had been
replaced, so whatever had been in front of a window got shoved aside or moved to other rooms so the workmen
could do their jobs, thereby compounding the general level of chaos throughout the entire house.
I was merciless. We sorted the books into "keep," "sell," and "donate" piles, and shoved all except the "keepers"
out of the room. I didn't let X attempt to re-shelve her books in their proper places, but forced her to get them off the
floor as quickly as possible, so we could move on toward re-arranging the furniture. We stuck magazines into
holders without attention to their order, because that was better than leaving them in slippery stacks. We filled two
large totes with things to "file," and used others to haul multiple loads of things to the basement or upstairs. I banished
all the Barbies, so X wouldn't be tempted to prop them in front of books again.
The project was by no means "finished" when I had to leave for home, but X can get at all her bookshelves again,
and her husband has enough room to move so that he can install the newer computer and get it off the kitchen table.
X doesn't like much television, and she hates soap operas, but I assigned her to watch "Passions" every day, and to
use that hour to work on the totes full of "filing." Once she gets her filing done, she won't have to watch the soap
anymore; I know it's cruel, but it's effective. After gathering up all of her loose pens, pencils, and markers (I filled five
mugs, and took a baggieful home with me, too), I forbade her to buy any more for the next five years. I told her to
buy several more pairs of scissors, so that she won't have to hunt for them when she wants to clip out an article, get
distracted during the hunt, set the magazine aside, and have to start all over again the next time the magazine floats to
My visit wasn't all work and no play; X took me to a bunch of thrift stores and a rummage sale, her treat, and I
came home with a carload of stuff. Her husband even freed up the stuck trunk lock, so that I didn't have to leave
anything behind. I don't plan on doing any spring cleaning at my own house, but, if you feel like you need a
disciplinary cleaning consultant to help you with your clutter, you might consider submitting to me, the Domestic