- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Arlington resident Danny McGibney knows clutter is public enemy No. 1 for studio apartment dwellers. So a few calculated trips to Ikea gave him a wall unit and computer desk to help manage his papers and bric-a-brac.

Winning the battle against clutter isn’t always solved with a savvy department-store purchase. The number of professional organizers is rising rapidly, and entire TV shows are dedicated to simplifying our lives — HGTV’s “Mission: Organization” and the Style Network’s “Clean House,” for example.

Clutter rarely is the life-threatening problem it was for the infamous Collyer brothers. The New Yorkers lived like hermits in the 1940s until a towering stack of newspapers fell and crushed brother Langley, leaving his paralyzed and blind sibling, Homer, alone to starve to death.

Today’s clutter warrior is more likely a hardworking type whose occasional sloppiness comes back to haunt him or her.

Louise Andrews, president of the Alexandria-based Keep it Simple organizing business, understands that one person’s clutter is another’s treasure. To tell them apart, Ms. Andrews suggests considering what it would take to replace an item two years down the line.

“That usually convinces [clients] they don’t need that thing,” she says.

Plenty of clients could start the process themselves, but an outsider can provide the right push.

“With some clients, you’re acting as the catalyst. They just need a sorting buddy,” she says.

The biggest tip she can offer doesn’t sound complicated, but it trips up too many people, she says — never buy a container without knowing ahead of time what it will store.

When it comes to getting rid of extraneous goods, there’s always the charitable solution.

“There are a lot of charities we’re interested in, but we don’t have the money we’d like to give to them,” she says. “If you’re giving with your belongings instead of your money, sometimes the objects are more appreciated.”

Christine Nyirjesy Bragale, director of media relations for Rockville-based Goodwill Industries International, says January usually is the second- or third-busiest month for donations. December usually tops the list.

Last January, 114 local Goodwill agencies, 65 percent of the group’s total agency number, received goods from 2.8 million donors.

Some people simply want all of their extra junk out of their lives.

Claudine Rubin, co-owner of Rockville-based 1-800 GOT JUNK?, says Jan. 2 proved to be her company’s busiest day last year.

Mrs. Rubin’s company, part of a chain that established itself in the metro area in spring 2003, picks up unwanted goods from homeowners and recycles as much of it as possible, taking the rest to the dump.

She says business typically peaks again in March, when spring cleaning commences, then again in June, when schools shutter for the summer.

Mrs. Rubin says her company picks up its fair share of sofas, refrigerators and exercise equipment, particularly treadmills. So much for those fitness resolutions.

Other clients find it hard to let go of some items that eventually find their way into her company’s trucks.

“There are hoarders out there … people are very emotionally attached to their stuff,” she says.

That may help explain the explosion in professional organizers nationwide.

Barry Izsak, president of the National Association of Professional Organizers, says his Chicago-based group began with five members in 1998 and today boasts 3,000 members.

“There’s more to organize than ever before. There’s more paper than ever before. Our in-boxes are overflowing with a constant flood of e-mail,” Mr. Izsak says.

Mr. Izsak says getting organized typically stands as one of the top three resolutions made each New Year.

“It doesn’t need to be complex,” says Mr. Izsak, who suggests finding a reputable organizer via his group’s Web site referral system at www.napo.net. “Some people feel there’s a right and wrong way to do it. The bottom line is, does it work, and do you like it?”

Mr. Izsak offers a few quick tips for an organized 2005. They may sound simple, but it can be hard to stick to them, he says.

“Getting organized is a process. It’s not a one-day event, not a quick fix,” he says. “You need to take the time and commitment to change your behavior.”

A good place to start is by purging any paperwork immediately that won’t be needed over time “so you’re not saddled with one big project,” he says.

People also should put things away when they’re finished with them.

“It’s simple, but most people don’t do that,” he says.

In keeping with a charitable spirit, “When you buy something new, something old must go,” he says. “Have a donation or giveaway box going at all times.”

Melissa Sorensen, president of the Washington, D.C., Metro Chapter of NAPO as well as president of Insightful Solutions, says her clients range from stay-at-home moms to families with two incomes who simply don’t have the time to fight clutter.

People are willing to pay for the privilege. Area organizers can charge $45 to $125 an hour, based on the size of the job and other qualifications, Ms. Sorensen says.

One way to fight clutter is to prevent it from reaching the front door.

“It’s so much easier to say no to something in the store, regardless of what you want to buy — a piece of clothing, food, whatever,” she says. “Decide in the store — do I really need this? Do I have a place for it? It is replacing something I’m going to turn around and donate? Once it’s in your house, it’s harder to get rid of.”

Mr. McGibney is transforming his once unkempt home with a little ingenuity.

He keeps his kitchen clutter at bay by hanging many of his cooking utensils up off the counters. He also opted to rent storage space to keep his seasonal items out of sight, if not mind, for about $55 a month.

Paperwork can clog up even a two-story home, so he began scanning his important papers on his computer, storing the information on stackable discs and shredding the papers when done.

Mr. McGibney says he didn’t consider hiring a professional to help him transform his studio.

“It’s not my ‘forever’ home. It’s not worth the money,” he says. “I feel like it’s almost, in a way, ridiculous. The space is so small I feel like I should do it myself.”

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