“Honey, have you seen my ...?”

What an infuriating question to people who make it their life’s work to stay organized. Somebody is always asking for something – a telephone number, dates for an event, where the duct tape went, or where that lucking fishing vest can be found.

Arthur White, director of jazz studies at Northeastern State University, falls into the category of clutter-bug extraordinaire.

White’s office atop the NSU Jazz Lab is part music studio, part administrator’s office and part bachelor pad – right down to the ironing board set up in one corner, the empty soda cups strewn about his desk, and papers all over the floor.

“My wife has been hounding me for months, in a mostly nice way, to clean this place up,” said White. “She’s well-meaning, but I have a system - sort of. Let’s say, well, parts of it are clean.”

White’s wife, Meghan, is probably one who falls into the group of the infuriated well-organized, and has to answer White’s questions about where he left what.

Despite White’s personal organizational skills, he’s managed to help his students produce a CD of original compositions, “The Hour of the Pearl.” Maybe White fears getting organized would have a negative effect on his creative abilities.

“It’s your standard musician’s office, as best as I can tell,” said White.

January is National Get Organized Month, and for years, the National Association of Professional Organizers - which, for clutter-bugs, could also be named the Society for the Obsessive-Compulsive - has sponsored Get Organized Week. Evidently, for most people, a week is not long enough. So in 2005, NAPO introduced Get Organized Month.

“As the industry grew and the popularity of organizing increased, the need for public awareness grew, too,” said Tom Calvin, NAPO sales manager. “NAPO responded with Get Organized Month. The goal of Get Organized Month is to raise awareness of the benefits of getting organized and of hiring a NAPO professional organizer, in the eyes of both the general public and media.”

You, too, can pay someone to keep you organized. But what about those people who want to do it themselves – people who’ve made that New Year’s resolution to be on time, remember to pick up the dry-cleaning and clean out the garage?

Carol McKiel is involved in a myriad of projects: She’s coordinator for the Cherokee County Health Coalition and medical prevention consultant for the Cherokee County Health Department; she coordinates the three-pronged program Healthy Tahlequah, and is a key participant in Tahlequah’s annual Diversity in CommUNITY symposium.

So how does she keep all of those appointments, responsibilities and speaking engagements straight?

“I’m a techno nut, but I use a plain, old monthly calendar, bulletin board and Post-It notes to stay organized,” said McKiel. “I know about digital planners like the BlackBerry, but it uses such a different language that I don’t think I could embrace the technology.”

McKiel tried taking a tekkie approach, but it failed.

“I used to use one of those computer desktop planners,” said McKiel. “But I found myself sticking notes to my computer to post to the planner, and never opening the planner because I had so many open documents on my computer I couldn’t see it. The planner just got covered up with work, and I thought, ‘Well, this doesn’t work,’ and went back to a calendar where I can see an entire month of days at a time.”

One drastic measure for getting organized would be to nominate yourself or someone you know to be a clutterbug for an appearance on The Learning Channel’s TV show “Clean Sweep,” where a truckload of professionals comes to your home and helps you part with all that “stuff” you think you can’t live without.

Those familiar with the show know participants have everything hauled out of two rooms in their home, and spend the afternoon sorting their “treasures” into a “keep” pile, a “sell” pile and a “trash” pile. The homeowners are aided by a Clean Sweep expert, who sometimes has a hard time getting people to part with things they no longer need.

Linda Spyres, co-owner of Vacations R Us, has no problem purging.

“I was an Army brat,” said Spyres. “I spent my childhood in Japan and Germany, and I’m the one who decorated the office.”

Spyres pointed to the neatly arranged cabinets full of exotic memorabilia in the front of the office, explaining that each one has a specific purpose.

“This cabinet has items from my time as a child, growing up in Japan,” she said. “The one next to it is from Europe, followed by the United States, the South Pacific and finally, New Zealand and Australia.”

All the displays are neatly arranged, dusted and colorfully inviting, but not cluttered.

“My dad was in the military from the time I was 8,” said Spyres. “He was a 20-year man. We moved a lot when I was growing up, and had to ‘thin out’ our things every three years when we moved. Military personnel are only allowed so much poundage, so we had to keep only the things that were really important to us.”

Spyres enjoys purging, and never resists the urge.

“My parents explained it to me this way: Moving is an opportunity,” she said. “It was always a time of new beginnings, new adventures, new friends and new stuff. I always knew I’d get new stuff, so I welcomed cleaning things out.”

Although there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place, Spyres is not fond of housework.

“My daughter teases me because everything is neat as a pin, especially my drawers. I have impeccable drawers,” said Spyres. “But everything has about a half an inch of dust on it. I hate cleaning, but I love organizing.”

According to NAPO organized people save time and money, make more money and have lower stress and frustration levels. However, experts in the organizing industry agree: There are no cookie-cutter solutions to start getting organized. It’s more about finding a system that suits an individual’s personality.

Clean it up!

Professionals at the National Association of Professional Organizers have perfected the art of clutter-free living. The following are a few tips to get you started.

Tips for the home

• Take children with you when you go to donated unused items. This helps them learn to part with things.

• Look up to identify storage spaces in a room; bare walls and above the cabinets are often underutilized. Also, don’t forget behind the door.

• Evaluate whether you want to continue receiving magazines you’re not reading, or consider rotating subscriptions.

• Group items together according to how you use them. For instance, keep all ingredients needed for baking together.

Tips for the office

• Break large projects down into small, sequential steps. Schedule these steps into your day with your planner.

• Keep only supplies you need on a daily basis on your desktop.

• Be clear about the response you need when sending a message to a colleague. They can provide a full response, even if they don’t reach you directly.

• Keep a file index (a master list of names). Check the index before creating a new file so you avoid making duplicates. Also use it when deciding where to file a piece of paper.


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