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Menaced by Mess? Cowed by Clutter? Don't Fret, Help is Available


The urge to get organized is as indicative of spring as lilacs and Easter eggs.

Not completely unhinged, I don't long to wash windows. But I would like to get the winter's accumulation of junk out of my house and transformed into a tax deduction for 1999.

Good genes for lots of things run in my family, but orderliness isn't one of them. So I consulted a professional.

Perusing the yellow pages, I found a half-dozen organizers, including Chaos Control and Clutter Buddies, both of which sounded promising. But Cyndi Seidler, who calls her business HandyGirl Professional Organizing, was the first to call back.

We met at her charming, extremely well-organized home in Toluca Lake.

Forty-six-year-old Seidler has organized celebrities, such as Sinbad, as well as businesses. But she also goes into ordinary residences and helps people deal with piles of old magazines, clothes from slimmer lives past and other things that are unduly complicating their existence.

Her fee is $65 to $75 an hour; the task, she says, usually requires at least 10 hours.

I have long suspected that psychiatrists spend much of their education learning how to refrain from leaping up and screaming at their patients, "That's disgusting!" And I suspect professional organizers encounter some pretty nasty stuff, too.

Seidler, who is politic as well as neat, has probably seen unspeakable crimes against closets but says only, "You really, really have to maintain control over your emotional reactions."

Seidler avoids psychobabble when helping clients achieve an environment in which you can always find your car keys. She doesn't care whether you are messy because you are depressed or angry with your mother.

That's between you and some other professional. She takes a strictly external approach to the clutter issue.

"The key is know-how," she says. "The rest is discipline."

Know-how, she explains, involves developing a system that will work for you, and "part of know-how is knowing what tools to use."

One simple tool she always recommends is a basket. During my visit, the basket in her home office contained yesterday's mail, arranged in a neat stack that parallels the sides of the rectangular container. Since I rip my mail open as it falls from the slot, I am impressed by her self-control.

As Seidler explains, she defers opening her mail until she can sort it and make an initial decision as to what to do with it: act on it, file it or toss it.

She also believes everyone needs a vertical file holder, canted so you can see what each labeled folder contains.

The action file is the critical element here, she says. And everybody needs a master task list (she keeps this list of everything she has to do or plans to do on her computer). This is for goal-setting, she explains. She uses her master task list and her action file to generate a daily to-do list that answers the question, "What are you going to do today?"

"I'm not a fanatic," Seidler says, "but everything has a place, and everything is in its place. I call them homes . . . The idea is to make sure everything gets back to its home. If something's out, and it doesn't have a home, you have to give it a home."

In Seidler's house, current business magazines live in her office, Internet magazines in a basket in the living room and general-interest magazines dwell in neat stacks on the lower shelf of her coffee table for clients to peruse should they have to wait.

The term "anal retentive" is just beginning to enter my consciousness when Seidler says something that I utterly agree with: She believes an organized house appeals to one's aesthetic sense and, thus, is enormously pleasing.

"It allows you to walk in and feel happy," she says. She points to her own modest home.

"It's not modern," she says. "And I've got icky furniture."

Her furniture is far from icky but it is well-worn and anything but a matched set. But her house is artfully arranged, efficient, free of clutter and utterly appealing.

The best way to get your house together is to look around, see what's ugly and out of place and then remedy it, she counsels.

The result, she promises, will be a mood-enhancing environment that nourishes your spirit and frees your mind to think.

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