Monday, August 20, 2007

Chapter Six - Mission Organization

"Every project worth doing has a crisis stage." Luther Reynolds

One of the more interesting HGTV shows I've been watching lately is called "Mission Organization." The perky young hostess -whom I suspect has probably never lifted a finger in her life or she'd have a job that's more difficult than wading through other people's stuff and saying something inspiring like "Oh, my!" with dramatic flare - leads the cameraman around a room piled high in debris that looks like a tornado blew through. In reality this is the way some poor couple has lived for most of their lives. I am not a pot who would dare to call a kettle black, but I am both fascinated and grossed out by the way some people live. Even my son's teenage bedroom or my daughter's grown-up bathroom would look, if not neat, at least liveable compared to some of these rooms. You get the picture ....

After displaying the mess du jour, the hostess turns the couple over to a person whose REAL job is organizing other people's messes. When I first watched this show, I didn't believe there were such occupations. But having googled it and found to my surprise this is a big business, I'm even more curious.* The organizer sits down with the organizee(s) to explain the facts of life about throwing things away. Nothing is sacred to these heartless, ruthless modification demons: stacks of Time magazines that date back to the Kennedy assination are fuel for the proverbial fire. Musical instruments from junior high, favorite books that are being kept for sentimental reasons, as well as the off chance that it will be read again are given the old heeve ho. Old love letters, hiking boots that have never been above sea level, topless magic markers and a childhood blankie ... gone. Madam Alexander dolls in their original boxes and photograph albums vying for space are all fair game for the "sorting" aspect of the show. I watch with both wonder and woe.
I'm not sure how it happens, probably the magic of television, but enough room is made in the center of the cluttered room for three piles. Each is aptly labled: Keep, Donate or Trash. It is the organizee's job to go through the mountain of junk and memorabilia. It is the cameraman's job to stand guard over the pile of treasures that each person will indubitably try to slip past the eagle eyes of the organizer. To her credit, the person in charge of this procedure has the communication skills of a hostage negotiator/marriage counselor. People, I've learned, especially husbands and wives, get very attached to their things. I've never seen the organizer ask them to put one of their children or pets in the throw away pile, but it becomes a close call when sacred objects are about to be tossed by an unwitting spouse.

Finally, out of sight of the camera, the room is cleared. The same people who have been arguing over a terra cotta statue of John Wayne now have to go to bed and sleep together, only to awake bright eyed for the next day's job of putting the "Kept" stuff in its correct space. In walks the organizer with a cup of coffee, bright smile, and an artist's rendering of her design plan. Still a little sleepy-eyed and not yet given to speech, the couple looks at the picture of what their new room is going to look like and don't believe it for a minute.

Then the miracles begin. While the organizees have been sorting, the designer has been visiting the magic wonderlands of Ikea, The Container Store or Walmart. She comes in carrying a wide variety of baskets, boxes, labels, vacuum sealable bags - you name it. Like walking down the school supply aisle of any office supply store, my heart begins to beat faster. I love organzing boxes. I love the feel of them, the way they smell. I love that you can store so much stuff in so many different sized boxes. Let's face it, I may not be totally organized, but I'm a sucker for plastic organizers. Add a label and I'm in heaven!
Then, right before your eyes, everything has a place, a decidely organized place; and takes on a whole new look, a decidely useful look. It all makes sense. What once was chaos now defines my mother's decorating style: a place for everything and everything in its place.

Before you stop reading and tune into this show, I have to tell you that I am convinced it is all done with smoke an mirrors. There is no way one person, even with the help of the not-so-fastidious homeowners, can make these transformations. Forget about making them look easy to do, so people like me go out and buy hundreds of dollars worth of acrylic boxes. I just don't think it's possible for stuff that obviously multiplies in the dark of night to sit still and let itself be corraled into new and tight living quarters. Much less stay there.
Finally my point. Before our kitchen renovation began I was careful as I took things out of the drawers and cupboards. I tossed things into the trash can when no one was looking. I washed crystal glasses that hadn't been used in years so they would look good on Goodwill shelves. I reminisced as I held the monkey pod salad bowl that my mother received as a wedding present 60+ years ago.
I had a plan when I put things in the dining room for the duration of the construction work. Sadly, the plan was all in my head and that's not always a good place to be. By the end of three weeks, there were so many piles of kitchen paraphenalia and canned goods in the dining room that we couldn't even walk through the room. Closing the blinds was akin to dodging land mines in Iraq. It was a job for only the most hardy or lightest on her feet. It was a job done with much grumbling.
After our new floor was laid, my menfolk seemed to think that putting things away was going to be, dare I say - a piece of cake. Even I thought it would be easier than it's turned out to be. I lost two drawers, but gained four. You do the math, it should all go back easily, right? My new cabinets have lazy susans that I can do nothing with except stand an admire. I literally have no idea what to put where.

This might not be the place to admit one of my financial character flaws. But this kind of anxiety usually manifests itself in a trip to Walmart. I'm hoping that looking for just the right container to put on the shelf that BJ built will curb my inertia. I'm obsessed with hanging pictures on the wall, but frozen when it comes to finding a place for 7 measuring cups and too many tupperware bowls to count. I know I could free up one whole shelf if I'd just gently lay the 3 electric knives, my mother's cast iron frying pan and my father's martini pitcher on the garbage pile tonight.
Instead, here I sit writing about what seems impossible for me to do ... finish the job. I'm ready for it to be finished. I want to be the organized lady, the unorganized homeowner, and show hostess all at the same time. I want to cry tears of joy at the transformation. For now, I'm crying tears of frustration and blaming it all on Jack! Go figure!

In case you are wondering if this story will ever be finished, I just want you to know that I am closer to the end than this post might lead you to believe. AND I'm scheduled to have a colonoscopy later in the week. I promise to spare you any detailed photographs but I'm sure the procedure will be good for a story or two.

Going back to the salt mines [whatever that means] but I remain,
Merry ME
* There is actually a group called the National Association of Professional Organizers.

1 comment:

Anti Jen said...

I too love office supplies and organizing containers. Yet I can't get to all my containers for the perilous piles of crap which conceal them. So sad that the gene for appreciating pens and boxes is not automatically paired with the gene for knowing what to do with them. I feel for you. And I am proud you parted with some stuff. (BTW, I would easily toss the electric knives but I would so keep the martini shaker. I think antique bar tools are nifty...) I recently perused my 32+ plastic containers of crap intending to purge. I consolidated, sure, but tossed very little. And yet I would never EVER invite a professional organizer into my home. That would be terrifying. Those people are brutal. Way too matter of fact for me. Anyway, best of luck to you. I know you can do it...