Peter Walsh helps Cynthia Tobin organize her house for summer

Photo: Saverio Truglia

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The winter was brutal, much to Chicagoans' discontent. But now it's spring at Cynthia Tobin's home in a leafy suburb north of the city, and the mood here is warm and hopeful. As the flowers bud outside, organizing whiz Peter Walsh, star of the Oprah Winfrey Network's Enough Already!, sorts through a slow-moving glacier of bills, permission slips, and grade school artwork threatening to take over the kitchen side counter. His goal: to make the space bright and airy—not to mention usable—for summer. You could say he's helping Tobin thaw out her kitchen.

A former financial analyst, Tobin runs her family's lives with impressive efficiency but is less exacting about their home, which, despite ample natural light, spends much of the year darkened by an intractable layer of clutter. As she multitasks to stay on top of her son's Mandarin lessons and her daughter's ballet commitments, Tobin lets the seasons pass without strategic purging; heavy coats dominate the closets well into August. She tries to straighten up each night, but too often this means shuffling papers from one counter to another before collapsing on the couch to watch whatever she's DVR'd—Modern Family, 30 Rock—with her husband, Corey. If none of this suggests hoarding tendencies, neither does it encourage the singular pleasures of summer—an afternoon spent absorbed in a book (the house needs tidying!), a spontaneous barbecue with friends (ditto), kicking a ball around in the backyard with the kids (who can find the ball?). To Walsh, organization means more time to spend with family and enjoy the extra daylight. "The words organic and organize have the same root," he says. "Organic makes me think of things that are fresh, natural, whole, and healthy—and organization brings the same mood into a space."