Publication Date: Friday, October
How to organize the stuff of life
by Susan Golovin
of us have a place in our homes -- a closet, a room, a set of drawers
-- that we keep shut, off limits to company. It contains the willy-nilly
accumulation that accretes as a family morphs. Sometimes the mess
is viewed on a daily basis -- the garage -- and we make regular
resolutions to clear it out, but are defeated by our baser urge:
to accumulate more! Preparing for a move can be a revelation.
Such was the case for Betsy Scroggs. After her parents Joe
and Mary Fran died, she was faced with having two years to vacate
the almost 2,000-square-foot Stanford home the couple built in
1958, three years after Joe Scroggs founded the first personnel
department at the university.
"It has four bedrooms and millions of closets," Scroggs said. "The
garage was full to the brim. My parents grew up during the Depression and saved
everything." Oh, and the attic...
This would be a monumental task for any person. For Scroggs, who has both rheumatoid
arthritis and osteoarthritis, as well as severe asthma, it presented an impossible
undertaking to embark upon by herself.
In April 2003, Scroggs was referred to Victoria "Vickie" Regules,
an organizing consultant with her own company, Creative Options. They started
"She got out her expandable file and we started to organize all the paperwork," explained
Scroggs. "I knew right away that I was in good hands." Typical
of her flexibility in providing whatever the client needs, Regules drove
all her financial appointments.
Regules is a one-woman company. However, for large jobs she often calls upon
the network she has built up through her affiliation with the National Association
of Professional Organizers (NAPO), which also provides training and classes.
To help with the Scroggs project, she enlisted Ginger Franey, business partner
of Jane Clarkson in Out of Chaos.
Interviewed on the day they were attacking the kitchen, the two
organizers were elbow deep in silver chafing dishes and crystal
vases. A ticket
stub from the
1962 Seattle World's Fair was discovered in the kitchen desk. Scroggs,
seated at the kitchen table, was readily available for consultation.
With her direction,
cabinets and drawers were emptied and the contents were sorted into "keep, "sell" and "toss."
The items in the "sell" category were headed for an
estate sale. Scroggs had a list of questions to determine what
to save for
that Christmas cards prior to 1950 are valuable, as are Valentines
from any era. Similarly, the Michelin guides and travel brochures
not to remove old stamps from their envelopes.
"Estate-sale people all have a different way of determining their fees and
you have to know the right questions to ask," Scroggs said. "Some
take a percentage of the sale, some charge a flat fee and a percentage,
charge a daily rate."
Scroggs' parents had traveled extensively and bequeathed her various collections
(not the least of which was oodles of slides, 1,100 of the Philippines alone).
Regules took digital pictures of all the American Indian artifacts, such as Kachina
dolls, and a hand-woven blanket, and sent CDs to an appraiser so that a fair
price could be determined for the estate sale.
The "toss" pile was hauled off by Roberto's Cleaning Service. "Roberto
hauled away 11 van loads from the garage alone," Scroggs said. "He
power cleans too," she added.
The things Scroggs decided to save were carefully packed in labeled, color-coded
(for room destination) boxes that would be moved to her new home. Regules interviewed
several movers, and chose someone she'd worked with before.
Dealing with the kitchen was a relatively painless experience
for Scroggs. However, she admitted that the past Monday, when they
her parents' bedroom "was
"Some days we work a long day, and some days it's just too emotional," Regules
said. After two and a half months, they were nearing the end.
Scroggs donated most of her parents' clothes, but did preserve
their favorite items in a most unique way. She commissioned Regina
of Monterey to
incorporate them into a double wedding ring pattern handmade quilt. "Whenever I need
a hug, I wrap myself in it," she said.
There's a lot of personal closure," Franey said. "It's really an honor
to be invited into people's houses, into their intimate spaces." Among the
finds were all of the love letters the couple exchanged -- along with the dance
card from their first encounter inscribed by Scroggs' father with: "I'll
be seeing you."
In another part of town, Tom Anderson, known professionally as "Clutterboy," was
strapping a 6-foot-tall paper mache bunny to the top of his Jeep. Although this
relic of the occupant's amateur theater career was headed for the dump, Anderson
said that he helps many objects "live again." "Blue jeans can
last for generations in Guatemala," he said.
Anderson often works with Angel Flores and members of Flores'
family. At 6 foot, 3 inches, one of his slogans is: "I'm big
and strong and will move it along."
"Most people are embarrassed by their clutter," Anderson said. This
former performer/comedian claims that he makes un-cluttering fun. "I like
helping people get their sanity back," he said.
"I have a binary system for deciding whether to keep something: yes or no," he
said. If they hesitate, the object makes it to the second round.
"People don't know where to start. The secret is -- start anywhere! But
with me, of course," he added with comic timing.
Anderson, as well as the other professionals, does not make any
decisions about what to discard without specific instructions from
the owners. "I look at
everything," he said.
Recently, he found a trove of Chinese WW II anti-war posters in
a footlocker stored in a back yard shed in Palo Alto. "They now reside at Stanford and
Cornell and represent the best collection of these fragile propaganda posters
in the world," he said.
According to Regules, most organizers charge by the hour, and a ball-park range
is $50-$150, depending on such variables as what the organizer does, his/her
experience, and the level of detail required. Anderson said that he is available
for free 15-minute clutter consultations.
"Life is Hello, Life is Goodbye," Franey summarized.
Creative Options, Victoria Regules, (408) 489-9693, firstname.lastname@example.org
Out of Chaos, Jane Clarkson, Ginger Franey, (650) 361-0264, email@example.com
Clutterboy, Tom Anderson, (650) 799-4149, www.clutterboy.com
Roberto's Cleaning Service, (408) 973-9643
Regina Liske, quiltmaker, (831) 333-9302