By Martha Thomas
Do you feel buried beneath a stack of unsorted bills, magazines and catalogues? Does a drawer in your kitchen overflow with rubber bands, twist ties, unidentified keys and half-spent birthday candles? Are the shoes you kicked off in the hallway constantly underfoot? Has the Scotch tape disappeared forever?
If you answered “yes,” don’t worry. These are standard-issue clutter problems. You’re not necessarily a “disposaphobic.” Those poor souls can’t throw anything away, not newspapers, not old clothes, not empty bottles or banana peels. At least your household hasn’t gone totally off the rails, you say.
That doesn’t mean you don’t need help. If you really can’t find the Scotch tape and you actually do trip over your shoes every time you walk down the hall, you need professional assistance. Maybe it’s time to call Betsy Fein, founder of Clutter Busters, a Bethesda-based company that will find the tape and much more. (Fein on tape: “It’s like a lost sock. I keep one roll in the junk drawer and one in my office, but if you asked me right now, I couldn’t put my hands on it.” She blames her sticky-fingered children.)
Most of the clients served by Fein’s three franchises have tried other clutter-busting cures to no avail. “They’re done with trying to do it themselves,” she says. “They’re ready to call in the experts.” The average transformation from cluttered to clear takes between 15 and 20 hours — at between $80 and $95 an hour — divided into several sessions. Fein discourages clients from buying anything. “They’ve probably been to Target or The Container Store and bought a bunch of crates and boxes already,” she says. And she strongly disapproves of paid storage. “We’re hostages of our things,” she says. “It’s all coming in, but nothing’s going out, and we end up spending money to store stuff that isn’t even worth the monthly fee.”
Fein recommends that do-it-yourselfers start small: “Don’t try to organize your entire garage or basement in one afternoon. You’ll go crazy. Start by finding a place to put your mail and going through it each day.”
If you create a filing system, make it simple and train yourself to use it. Going paperless will help your clutter problem as well as the environment. Get off mailing lists and do your banking and bill-paying online whenever possible. (See Your Money on Page 54 for more tips.)
Fein does have extreme cases, clients who resemble New York’s notorious Collyer brothers, who were found dead in their Fifth Avenue mansion in 1947 among 80 tons of stuff, from orange peels to car parts. Fein calls such people hoarders and says they account for about 15 percent of her business.
The National Association of Professional Organizers is one of several groups that help people get it together, or get out from under. For information or to find a professional organizer near you, visit www.napo.net(or call 1-847-375-4746) or www.clutterbusters.com(or call 1-866-258-8837).