Rosellen’s Diary  –
A Personal Photo Essay
Saga of a
New Year’s Organizing Blitz!

by Rosellen with photos by Timothy Bell

What follows is the first person chronicle of one woman’s experiences as she embarked on a marathon mission to recapture her “room of doom” and transform it into a Peter Pan-themed guest room/home office.

Diary–The Consultation

O.K. I’ve committed to an
organizer who’s going to transform my room, maybe my life. I’m over worrying about someone seeing my hidden mess. The rest of my house is pretty, and I’ll endure any shame to clear out my spare bedroom-turned-home-office-turned junk room.

I’m expecting someone both perky and uptight, the kind of super mom who sighs when you open a junk drawer. Jill Lawrence, of Jill of all Trades in D.C., appears at my door at 2 p.m. Saturday. She’s slight five-foot-six and funny. I’ve got an expert here and I like what she has to say after a run through my house.

She reassures me. “You’d be amazed how many people with nice homes have rooms as bad as this one. You’re a tucker.”

That doesn’t sound so bad. Tuckers have nice houses but tend to gather clutter and stuff it in an extra room, a garage, a basement. Count me guilty on all three. Our mission is to tackle the room and teach me skills that I can use later on the other black holes.

“This house has a poorly functioning digestive system,” Lawrence explains. “The bowels of your house – the basement, the garage, the spare room – are plugged. The delayed decisions, the cast-offs go there. Your house has constipation. The problem is you don’t have a structure to move things in, through and out.”

There was no room for my mother to tuck. She was a spreader, Lawrence’s other category of messies, which is probably why I’m not. Football cleats, dolls and books landed wherever there was room in my childhood home. Mom preferred poetry to cleaning.

“Spreaders have a high tolerance for mess,” Lawrence says. “Any horizontal surface will do.”

But, I’m a little confused. When I was a young reporter on Capitol Hill in the early 80s, my colleague Marci would ask, after a couple of Absolute and pineapple juices, “Can I show them?” She was referring to my abnormally neat lingerie drawer. Friends from back then ask me if I’m still a neat freak. Well, my spices are in alphabetical order.

If you ask my kids, I guess the answer is yes. My daughter was asked in second-grade religion class what the number one rule would be in her house when she grew up. I’d have hoped for something like: “Be kind,” but she wrote, “Don’t make a mess.”

My earliest childhood goal was a neat house, so how did I end up with a room that’s such a pig sty?

“There are a surprisingly large number of chronically disorganized people who underneath it all are perfectionists. They can’t move forward because they get mired in minutiae those small projects that let them avoid attempting the bigger task.” Lawrence says.

“If it’s iffy they don’t want to do it. One thing that for some people is anxiety-reducing is to work on a small project that they can begin, end and control the outcome, like an underwear drawer or a shiny kitchen floor.  But, tackling an entire room of mess for the same person will seem overwhelming, especially because they have such high standards for the outcome.”

Diary – Preparing for
Work Session #1

I’m already puffing and she hasn’t gotten here yet, but I’m committed. It’s now or never for the sleep-over bedroom with a Peter Pan theme that I’ve been dreaming of since we moved here seven years ago. So yesterday, I dragged out my sister-in-law to shop. We found a red-tag-sale bed at the Bassett Outlet for $399.

I look around the room and feel the rush of studying before a final exam.  I think of things Lawrence told me on my first consult. She’s right about the mattress that somehow ended up here when we were rushing my late mother from rehab to the emergency room. It’s a negative energy source and makes me sad when I see it. It’s going to Goodwill.

Not that there’s anything wrong with mementos, she says. I was delighted on her first visit when she said I could keep my black-and-white-polka-dot bubble cocktail dress. It’s so ‘80s I see it encased in glass at the Smithsonian in a few years.

“Absolutely, keep it,” Lawrence says. “Mementos are endowed objects. They tie people to the past. They shouldn’t just be tossed out. The point is to have some things that tie you to a person or an era but not 25 things from Aunt Mim.”

Diary – Work
Session #1 – Monday

The door bell rings at 10:30 a.m. and Lawrence is there in a funky hip ‘50s A-line red jacket with triangle buttons. It was her Aunt Mim’s, she says. She saved it along with some earrings from her beloved aunt.

We take the junk, one small box at a time, into the master bedroom. There we sort, box by box.

Trash goes in a black bag, give-aways go in blue, maybes go in clear. I don’t have many of them. I find clearing away the clutter a rush. Whatever I decide to keep is put in a neat box marked with its category, toy, memento, sports, whatever.

By 10:30 p.m., I’m exhausted. “Throw it away, throw it away,” is my mantra. I don’t want to think anymore. We have filled 19 lawn-size bags, 10 with give-aways, nine with trash. I’ve cleared 13 linear feet of my old clothes, which were hoarding precious closet space. I’ve dropped 360 pounds of garbage.

I’ve also lost one repeatedly painted dresser with a pizza-size hole in the top, a tin filing cabinet my father-in-law picked up at a garage sale, a broken rocker, a three-legged kitchen chair and a mattress.

Clothes and toys left behind on sleep-overs are in a box marked return to friends or assigned to Goodwill if they’re so old I have no idea whose they are. A blue velvet dress with rhinestone buttons and frill at the bottom, which reminds my husband of a lamp-shade, is also gone. It might make a great Halloween costume but I don’t dress up; my kids do.

Diary – Work
Session #2 – Tuesday

On Tuesday, it’s time to start sorting paper and my palms start to sweat. Anything but this. I’ve been trying to get my husband to clear out mounds of paperwork for years, not to mention my own mess.

I’m thinking this is where the plan falls apart. Now I see that Lawrence is worth every penny.  Lawrence has transformed our bed into another table with a large piece of white cardboard and neon post-it notes marked friends and family, finance, education and several other categories.

We start with an eight-inch-high pile of the kids’school work. This part is fun. We laugh at a poster my son made to run for student council but forgot to bring to school. He’s drawn himself with papers flying everywhere. It lists three attributes – “Smart” is checked; “nice” is checked. “Organized” is blank. O.K. so I’m fighting a genetic war.

Lawrence manages to pull together our tax returns and documentation for the last seven years and puts them in two neatly marked boxes. I tackle a box that hasn’t been opened since we moved here seven years ago. I find a book my sister lent me in the late ‘70s. I can’t wait to tell her. I thought my brother ripped it off years ago.

My most important find comes when we move the dresser. There is the diamond earring my husband gave me on our first anniversary 11 years ago. How did it get there? Thank goodness I saved the mate.

Diary – Work
Session #3 – Wednesday

On Wednesday we return to sorting paper, putting current items into neat expandable folders that can sit on the desk rather than hang in thin unusable folders in a closed drawer. We organize and archive other paper and finish at 11 p.m.

Diary – Work
Session #4 – Thursday

On Thursday Lawrence works out a system for storing mementos, office supplies, kid craft, luggage and all the other stuff of daily life. I’ve cajoled a seamstress into sewing my curtains for my “new” room and found a beautiful comforter for less than half price at a New Year’s Day sale. Together Lawrence and I pull together accessories for the room and we finish a little before midnight Thursday.

Family Feedback

From the Kids:
“When can we sleep in here,” asks the daughter
 “Awesome,” says the son. “Where’s the TV going?”

From the Husband:
“I think that room is just the last room. It’s become the trash room. It’s where we dump everything. If people saw it when they came over you would have cleaned it. Eventually we would have gotten to about 20 years or so.”