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By Harriett Harrow - Austin American-StatesmanJanuary 30th 2016
From Albert Einstein: “Out of clutter, find simplicity.”
Easy for him to say. If you shelter as much junk as the universe has stars, finding simplicity is, well, relative.
But there’s an industry itching to help. From professional organizers and senior move managers to consignment shops, container makers, hauling services and storage facilities, lots of folks are eager to guide you from chaos to calm.
Publishers noticed. Stores push how-to-organize books; “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” has sold three million copies. Martha Stewart’s magazine, Organizing 2016, competes with others sporting articles like “Edit Your Wardrobe” and “Clear Clutter for Good!”
Everyone has stories. As a child, my friend Richard watched his Mom burn her wedding dress, saying “What’re the odds I’d ever wear that again?” At 55, his Dad emptied the attic, “So we’ll be ready when the time comes.” Dad died 20 years later and Mom, now 89, still lives with that vacant attic overhead.
My sister Carol attached a big safety pin to every piece of clothing in her pack-rat husband’s closet and tied pairs of shoes together. A year later, she gave away every still-pinned or tied item, the majority of clothing. Hubby never noticed the vanishing.
My niece Arlene rose to the challenge of a 100-year-old Atlanta home without closets in two of her three kids’ bedrooms. She uses under-bed storage and won’t let a child buy anything without designating a place for it. Her 16-year-old designed and installed a wall of shelving and drawers in her bedroom.
Arlene, a chef and nanny, blames baby stores for most kiddie clutter. “Clerks give pregnant couples a tour, urging them to pump up their baby registry,” she says. “All they really need is a crib, car seat and diaper bag!”
At the other extreme are hoarders. Niece Beth is a Kansas City real estate investor whose buys include hoarder homes no real estate agent will touch. She donates mountains of items to schools, charities and recyclers of glass, textiles and scrap metal.
Hazardous waste is sent to the county recycling facility. Still, several junk-filled dumpsters must be hauled away.
Austinite Barry Izsak is past president of the National Association of Professional Organizers, a senior move manager and owner of Arranging It All. “With more demands on folks, it’s harder to stay organized,” he says. “The paperless office is a myth.”
His firm has 10 employees to meet demand, including seniors wanting to downsize. He encourages them to give belongings to their children, whom he advises to “take it even if you don’t keep it” — a helping hand during parents’ transition.
Real estate agents often encounter clutter problems, says Michele Blood of Kuper Sotheby’s International Realty. “I bring a stager to help the owner see the house as a prospective buyer. Even beautifully decorated homes need de-cluttering.”
This column was prompted by a dear friend, Lily, as she slipped into dementia. Lily was single with no children, so friends helped her dispose of contents in her three-bedroom house before she moved closer to a sister.
Eager to spare my husband and daughter such duty, I became a clean-out maniac and found Next to New on Burnet Road. Run by St. David’s Episcopal Church, this store offers a 50-50 split on consigned items, with their half funding several worthy charities.
In 18 months, I hauled 156 items to Next to New, earning $311 and an equal charitable tax deduction. I learned that paring down is the addictive counterweight to hoarders’ compulsive collecting. I love gazing into my half-empty closet.
What keeps many folks from uncluttering is confusion about how to dispose of things. Most hate the idea of their discards heaped into landfills. A city of Austin website can help. Search “Austin Resource & Reuse Drop-Off Center” to access links on what the center accepts and how to responsibly dispose of other items. The Austin Materials Marketplace fosters business-to-business reuse of materials.
Finally, uncluttering seems like a modern obsession, but maybe not. From Benjamin Franklin: “For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.”
The Arranging it AllSM team is mentored and trained by a Certified Professional Organizer.
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