Before designing a plan of action for any client, I try to determine whether I need to teach her organizing skills from scratch or help her reconnect to a derailed ability. Was Barbara never organized? During the breathless overview she had given me of her life, she mentioned that her father died when she was 12. So now I asked, "Was your room messy before your dad died?" For the first time, the nervous agitation disappeared from Barbara's demeanor. "No," she said simply. "In fact, my room was always neat. I never thought of that." Pause. "Isn't that weird?"

It didn't sound weird to me at all. When her father died, Barbara would have felt a huge emptiness inside. And though she wasn't conscious of what she was doing, she began collecting things to fill the void. Living with neatniks—first her mother and then her husband—she'd felt guilt and shame about her piles. She'd never had time to make decisions about her belongings, much less gain comfort from them. Instead she just scooped everything up and put a lid on it.

One of my favorite gadgets of all time is the egg separator, a spoon-like contraption that catches the yolk while the white dribbles through a series of slots. I asked Barbara to keep this image in mind as she sorted through each container, separating essential objects from the comfort ones.

Was there really an organized woman inside of Barbara? 


Next Story