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A Place for Everything—Someplace: Personal Organizer Rosemary Chieppo’s Cure

By Lavender June 5, 2008

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Home & Yard Blvd. Section

The title of professional Personal Organizer (PO) Rosemary Chieppo’s new book, Clutter, Chaos & the Cure: Or Why You Never Misplace Your Toothbrush, piqued our curiosity. Could we find a local gay man whose “Clutter” quotient would yield to Chieppo’s purported “Cure”?

Photos by Mike Hnida

Our subject, Bryce, a man whose housekeeping motto is, “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing,” agreed to submit his study/office space to Chieppo’s methodology. They communicated through phone conversations; e-mail; and, of course, her book.

Chieppo first asks clients, “How do you want it to look?”

Bryce considered, then answered, “I’d like to walk a straight line in my home—not sidle around, thread through, or hop over.”

“That is such a hard way to live,” Chieppo commented, eyeing the “Before” photos we’d sent. “Your home is supposed to be your refuge, your sanctuary.” Then, shifting into PO mode, she advised Bryce, “You have to really commit to leading an organized life. It’s the same as deciding you’re not going to smoke anymore, or committing to losing weight.”

As gay men are wont to do, Bryce took the Fifth on “commitment,” but began to tackle his Augean office armed with Chieppo’s initial “short answer”: “Start small. It’s a basic organizing rule. Start with a drawer, a closet, or a corner of the area. Once you’ve tackled that, you’ll have the victory of completion, which spurs you on to do more. It also helps to set a timer for, say, one hour. You commit to staying focused for that amount of time, and then, you can take a break.”

Leaving Bryce to absorb and implement these precepts (he had his work cut out just to reach a drawer, the closet, a corner), we conferred in greater detail with Chieppo.

Suppose, we ventured, you’re not only clutter-prone, but also compulsive about something: photos, ephemera, ceramic owl salt and pepper shakers, glass telephone pole wire insulators. You finally have admitted you have a problem, but you’re not ready yet to prune or purge. What then?

“A ‘trick’ organizers use,” Chieppo revealed, “is to box up the ephemera, label it, and store it for six months. If you haven’t given it a thought during those six months, that kind of tells you something, right? Based on years of experience, I can honestly tell you that most clients who have gotten rid of stuff have had no regrets. Quite the opposite, they felt a sense of relief, like a giant load has been lifted. Typically, they don’t even remember what the stuff was.”

And, we queried the PO, what about you? Were you born neat, did you 12-step your way to neatness, or what?

“I called my business ‘Born to Organize,’ because I believe it is genetic,” Chieppo explained. “My sister continually reminds me that, as a kid, I always loved boxes/containers, and containerizing is a big part of organizing. In retrospect, I held a number of executive-assistant positions, and so much of a job like that is keeping yourself and someone else organized.”

Just when did you decide to share your knowledge with others, we quizzed the PO?

“I moved in 1999, and when you’re setting up a new household, you’re organizing,” Chieppo recalled. “I got so involved in the process, I achieved ‘flow,’ a mental state in which you are fully immersed in what you are doing, characterized by a feeling of energized focus and full involvement. It got me wondering if I could support myself making order out of chaos.

“I discovered the National Association of Professional Organizers. That made me realize this could be a profession! Who knew? So, in 1999, I quit a perfectly good job, with an old-fashioned pension and six weeks’ vacation, and took a leap of faith. I’ve never looked back, and would live under a bridge before I’d go back to 9 to 5!”

Thinking of Bryce toiling away, we inquired if the expert would recommend calling in a friend to help, or just sit while you wrestle with the mess—someone to keep you from pondering and reminiscing over each scrap of paper and old squash racquet.

“No, I wouldn’t,” Chieppo stated emphatically. “In my experience, people start by trying to do it with friends or family. They quickly see that doesn’t work, and that’s when they call a PO. At best, a friend can offer moral support, but it’s really better to work with an objective other person. Usually, friends/family can’t be objective, and only end up getting impatient and pushing your buttons. This also brings up one of my pet peeves. Unless friends/family were born to organize like me, why do you think they would know how to do it? Typically, schools don’t teach how to get organized, so unless your parents modeled it, how does anyone know what’s involved? I’d like the public to realize that this is a profession, and there are steps you have to take in order to get organized.”

Meanwhile, Bryce, having read the book, and agreeing, at least in theory, with Chieppo’s dicta, was doing his best to cope with his own packrat genes. Purging a file cabinet, he hied off to a local Big Box emporium, purchasing yet another set of bookshelves, and a low, 2’ x 6’ module for large, fitted cardboard containers. Sorting (to a degree) various types of clutter into each box, he cleared the floor, and walked proudly upright back and forth. Once the initial trauma wears off, he will be able to examine and deal with the containerized clutter, one box at a time.

“The one word I always hear when a potential client calls is ‘overwhelmed,’” Chieppo empathized. “They’ve tried everything, and have hit bottom. Even one session with an organizer can help get you on track. A good organizer teaches. I always say that if I have a client for life, I’ve done something wrong.”

Clutter, Chaos & the Cure covers many more issues than were dealt with in one 10’ x 16’ room, but it is a striking example of the kind of results that can be obtained using the book.

As to the rest of the volume, the author not only works with your mess, but also shows you how to keep from having more mess thrust upon you. One entire page, for example, details how to keep junk mailers at bay. The eight-page chapter “Clutter for a Cause” suggests takers for your old books, cell phones, bicycles, batteries, and what-have-you.

Hassle-free moving? Stress-free (nearly) holiday meals? Tag sales? What to do when your first-grader says, “Mommy, I told the teacher I’d bring cookies tomorrow!”? Chieppo has been there, done that—and is willing to let you in on the secrets of Spartan sanity. She goes beyond your clutter to that of your spouse and children, and delves into the realms of what things you actually need to keep.

Bryce’s study/office was a spectacular success. (“Is that the same house?” Chieppo remarked on seeing the “After” photos). He now is planning to venture out into the hall (barely visible in “Before” photo, page 104) and beyond. Then, his kitchen….

Chieppo concluded, “Remember, it ain’t rocket science! It’s ‘a place for everything, and everything in its place.’ Often, people just need a road map/moral support/kick in the butt, etc. A PO offers all of those things. And once you’ve hired a PO, you’re paying for it. You’re setting aside the time. You’ve made the commitment! I tell clients that even if I showed up, and ate bonbons and watched Oprah, they’d still get more accomplished. Just having a professional there sort of helps you breathe a sigh of relief. Like, yes, this is possible. There is a light at the end of the tunnel!”

Full disclosure: Bryce’s “Before” clutter was not simply shoveled out into the hall (there wasn’t room). Objects were put away—boxed to be sorted later, put on new bookshelving—or discarded.


Clutter, Chaos & the Cure: Or Why You Never Misplace Your Toothbrush
Rosemary Chieppo
Kiwi Publishing
$9.95

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