If you look inside the fantasy life of a woman, you will not see her on the cover of a romance novel in the bodice-busting love grip of Fabio. And you will not see her touring her New York City pied-a-terre or her Aspen retreat with Robin Leach.
No. Steal a glimpse into a woman's favorite daydream and you will see her as she truly wants to be: off work for a month, husband and kids mysteriously gone, moving from room to room in her house "getting organized."
There is a Salvation Army truck out front, tomorrow is bulk trash pickup day. She gives away and she throws away.
And there is nobody around to question her decisions. ("But I might need that someday." "You don't see me throwing your stuff out.")
In every woman's life, there is a closet or a room or a whole floor that prevents her from feeling "organized." If only she could get organized, she thinks, she would be more organized.
My friend Patty Waldman touched that place in me last week when she asked if I could watch her kids while she went to a "clutter workshop."
"Oh my God," I said, jerking to attention as if someone had sent an electrical charge through me. "You mean there is such a thing?
"Somebody else will have to watch all our kids. I need to go to this thing. Do you understand? I need to go."
After enduring the predictable comments from our husbands--hers thought it was a ridiculous thing to have a workshop about and mine wondered why I had to clutter our cluttered life with a clutter workshop--Patty and I paid our registration fees and entered a hotel ballroom filled with women just like us.
The woman next to me confessed that she could not bear to give her old magazines away, so she boxed them up and carried them to doctors' offices where she left them in waiting rooms.
I felt as if I were at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
There were plenty of questions about how to be more organized at work--reports and sales meetings and contracts and clients--but I knew the truth of it.
These women--and only a handful of men--were there because their houses are cluttered, and everybody who lives in those houses with them expects them to do something about it. And all of them were overwhelmed by it.
Gaye Ann Lynch, who ran the workshop for CareerTrack, warned us that we did not get disorganized in three hours and we would not be able to get organized in three hours. There is no quick fix. Short of arson, I thought.
We would have to do the work, Lynch said. Make the tough decisions. "Sixty [percent] to 90% of everything in our home is clutter," she said. "It is something we can do without."
Organization has nothing to do with having a clean house, she said. (And I can't tell you what a relief it was to hear that.) It has to do with access and control, being able to find what you want when you want it without having a fight with your husband who sits there like a lump and won't help you look.
Take one room at a time, Lynch said. Attack each room with four boxes and a list. A small box for items that belong somewhere else, a bigger box for items to be stored, a bigger, bigger box for items to be given away and the biggest box for items to toss. Write on the list all the other things you realize you have to do now that you've started this project.
The clutter workbooks distributed to us--which have since joined the other clutter on my desk--contained some oddball suggestions: Keep a box of junk you don't want by the front door and offer it to guests as they leave. (This might also remove some of the friends cluttering up your life.)
And have a trade party, where you get together with friends and swap junk you don't need for junk they don't need. This struck me as a zero-sum game.
After the conference, Patty and I and some friends retreated to the hotel bar, where we cluttered up our daily caloric intake for the day and confessed our messiest secrets.
Rose said she puts all her mail in a giant bag and then sorts through it every so often for bills. Diane said she bought a $20 thing for sorting mail and bills but has never used it.
Patty said her house wouldn't be so cluttered if her husband would stop doing things like buying fruits and vegetables he feels sorry for.
"Everything has a place in my house," said Sandy, "but I have five sons, and everything keeps coming out of its place."
That is the truth of it, I thought. We could all reduce the clutter in our lives, if only that clutter didn't have two legs and an appetite and need a kiss before sleeping.