Awards Season for Professional Organizers

It's awards season in Los Angeles — and in addition to the Golden Globes and the Oscars, there are awards being handed out to the most organized people in the region. Karen Grigsby Bates reports on awards night at the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

So, football season is almost gone. But, this is awards season. The Golden Globes have already happened, the Grammys are coming, and the Oscars-and last night there was one award ceremony that might have slipped by, except that NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates took notice.

Unidentified Woman: Ladies and Gentlemen, the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers, welcomes you to the 2006 Los Angeles Organizing Awards.

Karen Grigsby Bates, reporting:

Okay, so it's not the Academy Awards, but this ceremony recognizes something with some practical use. Last night, the next to the last day of National Organizing Month, the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers, or NAPO, gathered to honor organizing innovators, volunteers, and products. But first we might want to ask, how did we get into this mess anyway that so many of us need to call a professional organizer to deal with it? Organizer Dorothy Breininger has a theory.

Ms. DOROTHY BREININGER (Owner, Center for Organization and Goal Planning): You know, we used to have smaller homes and bigger families in the 1940s, right? Now we have bigger homes, smaller families, what's going on inside?

BATES: Well, part of what's going on is too much stuff. Julie Morgenstern is the author of several organizing books and is a veteran of many Oprah shows. Morgenstern says for her there's one specific culprit.

Ms. JULIE MORGENSTERN (Author): I think that the thing that drives most people the craziest is paper. That no matter how hard you work, if you turn your back on the influx of paper for even three days, the piles are massive again. So it takes so much diligence to stay on top of it. One, to get on top of it is very hard, but two, once you're on top of it, diligence to stay on top of it and that's a little annoying, but it's a reality you have to deal with.

BATES: Admitting you have a problem with organization means you're ready to deal with it, says organizer Laurie Clark, who is also NAPO's Director of Marketing. Clark says even though she sometimes gets calls to organize someone other than the caller, she won't do it.

Ms. LAURIE CLARK (Director of Marketing, NAPO): Any experienced organizer will know that that just doesn't work. You can't do gift certificates, you know, for organizing. You can't force an organizer on someone. They really need to--it needs to be the person who wants to get organized who's calling you, not the person that necessarily needs to be organized.

BATES: Even when you really, really need it. Dorothy Breininger does some pro bono organizing. One of her projects kept a 76-year-old hoarder out of jail.

Ms. BREININGER: For example, I had a man with 5,000 bike and bike parts inside his house.

BATES: Yeah. His neighbors were so outraged, they had gone to court several times to have him toss his bikes, but he couldn't. His arrest warrant made the front page of the L.A. Times. Breininger was called in as a last resort; the only thing standing between him and jail. She got him totally straight. His house was so lovely, his social life improved and he recently got married.

Now, most of us don't reach that status and there are things we can do right away to make sure we don't get that bad. For one thing, says organizer Cindy Camm(ph)...

Ms. CINDY CAMM (Professional Organizer): Open your mail and deal with it. Throw out 75 percent of it that needs to be recycled and create a home for the rest of it, whether it's bills to be paid or catalogs to be read or invitations to respond to; because once you have a home for things and things have a place, they don't become clutter, they don't become piles.

BATES: Mail does pile up, but Julie Morgenstern says, before you can remove your piles of mail and other stuff, you have to ask yourself something.

Ms. MORGENSTERN: What is on the other side of the clutter that you want? Is it peace of mind; is it improved social life so you can actually invite friends over for dinner parties; is it you want to start a business? Like what's the bigger goal; and if you can identify that, the system will be so much easier to do. You've got to stop looking at the piles and look beyond them.

BATES: So go on. Strike a blow for decluttering. Open that mail and deal with it.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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