Fall Real Estate 2004

Publication Date: Friday, October 1, 2004

Coming clean
How to organize the stuff of life

by Susan Golovin

Most 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 with estate planning.

"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 Scroggs to 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 the sale. She discovered that Christmas cards prior to 1950 are valuable, as are Valentines from any era. Similarly, the Michelin guides and travel brochures were keepers. She was counseled 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, and others 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 were clearing her parents' bedroom "was terrible."

"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 Liske 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, creativeoptions@earthlink.net
Out of Chaos, Jane Clarkson, Ginger Franey, (650) 361-0264, tfraney@pacbell.net
Clutterboy, Tom Anderson, (650) 799-4149, www.clutterboy.com
Roberto's Cleaning Service, (408) 973-9643
Regina Liske, quiltmaker, (831) 333-9302