Authors: Judy Baer
“It takes more time to be messy than it does to be neat.”
Chocolate is very difficult to get out of computer keyboards.
Licking the keyboard is not an option.
Eat M&M's. They melt in your mouth, not in your keyboard.
Put all appointments on calendar as soon as you schedule them.
Calendar has gone AWOL.
Use paper towels to hold information instead.
Leftover chocolate chips should be stored in a sealed container for maximum freshness.
Leftover chocolate chips?
Be My Neat-Heart
Steeple Hill Women's Fiction
The Whitney Chronicles
Million Dollar Dilemma
“Angel” Award winning author and two-time RITA
Award finalist Judy Baer has written more than seventy books in the past twenty years, including the bestselling Cedar River Daydreams series, with over 1.25 million copies in print. Her next Steeple Hill single title will be
to be published in September 2006. A native of North Dakota and graduate of Concordia College in Minnesota, she currently lives near Minneapolis. In addition to writing, Judy works as a personal life coach and writing coach. Judy speaks in schools, churches, libraries, women's groups and at writers' workshops across the country. She enjoys time with her husband, two daughters, three stepchildren and the growing number of spouses, pets and babies they bring home. Judy, who once raised buffalo, now raises horses. Readers are invited to visit her Web site at www.judykbaer.com.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
For Dr. Priscilla Herbison, in recognition of her efforts to find the very best in her students.
girl could get killed on a job like this.
I dived out of the way as an avalanche of Tupperware fell out of Mrs. Fulbright's cupboard directly toward my head. In my escape I tripped on a cardboard box full of parts-missing appliances and barely caught myself on the cluttered kitchen counter. The woman owns more foam meat trays than a chain of butcher shops and every margarine tub that ever crossed her threshold. Not only that, I'm considering nominating her for the Cool Whip Container Hall of Fame.
“You aren't planning to throw
out, are you?” Mrs. Fulbright peered doubtfully into a stack of the plastic bowls. In the top bowl the carcass of a house fly was resting in peace. It was clear she hadn't had these out of the cupboard since Granny of
The Beverly Hillbillies
and the transplanted socialite on
were homemaking role models. “I've been thinking of taking up watercolor painting. I'll need them to wash out my brushes.”
Maybe. If you're recreating the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel on the roof of the Metrodome
“Remember the vision you created for yourself, Mrs. Fulbright?” I asked gently. “The dream you've always had?”
She looked at me glassy-eyed, her attention still fixed on the hundreds of ways old food containers could be made into soap dishes, shower slippers and patio furniture. Simple as it might seem to others, wrenching these years of accumulation away from her was a little like ripping out her heart. Even though she'd hired me to do it, it had to be done with compassion. My job as a professional organizer is part coach, champion, cheerleader, friend, objective thinker and part cleaning lady. Interesting, isn't it, how God designs us for a purpose? For me, an incorrigible neatnik, this is the perfect occupation.
I love it when He does this stuff.
“âVision'? Oh, yes. Never again being hit on the head with an aluminum pie plate,” she parroted without conviction. “No more stacking glasses five deep and being unable to pull them apart. Room for the set of dishes my daughter gave me for Christmas. No more stitches in my head when serving platters fall on me.” She looked longingly at the yellowed plastic containers with which she'd bonded. “But it seems like such a waste to throw them away.”
“Don't worry.” I opened another cupboard to reveal a stash of empty squeezable bears, the kind honey comes in. “You'll still have these.”
When I pulled away from the Fulbrights', my car was full of black lumpy garbage bags. In serious cases like that of Mrs. Fulbright, I always take the garbage bags away with me so as to prevent my client from having a panic attack in the night and rescuing the detritus.
Samantha Is My Name, Busting Clutter Is My Gameâ¦.
I scratched out that line in my notebook and tried again.
In Two Hours or Less I'll Un-muddle Your Mess
Tired of being left out of the neatness game? Call Samantha Smith, professional Clutter Coach
Got Chaos? Call Clutter Busters!
“What are you doing, Sam?” My receptionist/secretary/Jill-of-all-trades/clutter-buster-in-training Theresa Wilcox stooped to peer over my shoulder as I wrote.
“I'm trying to create a catchy tagline for a radio advertisement. I'm buying time during the morning commute starting next Monday, targeting harassed commuters who are running late because they couldn't find their kids' homework, their shoes or their briefcases.”
“So you're after ninety percent of the country's working population?” Theresa snapped her ever-present chewing gum. “This morning I couldn't even find my
How was I supposed to know that Hannah had packed her own lunch and was waiting for me in the car?”
“Maybe I hired the wrong member of your family,” I sighed. Theresa is a gem, but she's not naturally gifted with the neatness gene that runs in my family. By the time I was five years old, I could sort laundryâpolyester and cotton, whites, darks, reds, denims, delicates and towelsâand tell the difference between the mushroom soup and the tomato and put them in their appropriate places in the pantry. I also had my Barbie doll's clothing sorted by season, eventâdressy, casual, dates with Kenâand color. I still miss poor old Ken. I can't believe she broke up with him after all these years.
Or maybe I'm just jealous that a plastic doll with bubble hair has a better social life than I do. I admire Barbie's panache and boldnessâdumping Ken and allâbut I'm the kind of woman who sticks to what she knows. I've always
played it safe and a little boring in the romance department. That's probably a commentary on my whole life. Being a professional organizer and clutter coach is a manifestation of my liking to have my world in order. Better safe than sorry is my motto. How pathetic is that?
“Want to hear what's on your agenda this week?” Theresa handed me a printout. “Mrs. Fulbright called. She was wondering if you'd already disposed of those garbage bags. Her neighbor told her about a way to make bird feeders out of the bleach bottles and she's having thrower's remorse.”
Mrs. Fulbright thinks she wants to put her life in order but she's still having a love affair with her junk.
“What's this?” I pointed to today's three o'clock time slot.
Carver Advertisingâconsultation requested
. I was hoping to go home early and take a quick nap before dinner. I'd spent the entire night before dreaming about organizing the bathroom of a client who owns more inventory than Walgreens. Every time I turned my back on her makeup drawers, eyeliners would leap in with the lipsticks and cotton balls, and makeup sponges would proliferate like dust bunnies under a bed.
I'm an organizational consultant and clutter coach. What am I supposed to dream about, Brad Pitt?
“I'm not sure. A secretary called this morning and asked that you were to be there
at threeâor else.”
“Did she really say âor else'?” I put a stray paper clip back in its appropriate container and flipped to a fresh page in my notebook. Theresa says my desk is a metaphor for my lifeâperfectly ordered, immaculately clean and totally predictable. I've thought of challenging her on that but, unfortunately, most of it is true. I'd like to think I'm at least a tiny bit unpredictable.
“She might as well have. You'd have thought she was setting up an audience with the Queen.” Theresa's expression brightened. “Maybe you'll be hired to organize an entire company.”
Theresa has great pipe dreams. Unfortunately, people usually don't realize how much they need me until they lose something really important, like the deed to their house or their diamond earrings. Then, unless they agree to clutter coaching and a class or two, as soon I come in to reorder their lives, they find the misplaced items and revert to their messy ways. You've definitely got to change a messie from the inside out.
A lightbulb went on in my brain.
Let Samantha Smith, organizational consultant and clutter coach, organize your world from the inside out!
y cell phone rang for the umpteenth time. “Your clutter is my business. May I help you?”
“How's my sweet little cluttermeister?” An amused voice tickled my eardrum. “Want some lunch?”
That teasing voice gets me every time. Picturing Benjamin Rand's soft curly brown hair, five o'clock shadow and crooked smile, I could practically hear him reeling me in. Still, I tried to resist. “Can't. I don't have time. I have an appointment this afternoon. A
Ben was typically unimpressed. “Stuffed shirts, brainwashed heads, robotic activities, corporate clutter. Cool.
“Besides, I've already got it cookedâalmost. It will be ready when you get there. It's on The Timer.”
“You know what happened last time you used The Timerâ¦.”
“Mere technical difficulty. I've addressed the fire safety issue. There will be no more fire trucks on the lawn or hoses in the living room, I promise.”
One could only have this conversation with Ben and have it make sense.
“Be here in twenty minutes and a gourmet feast awaits you.”
And without waiting for my reply, he hung up.
Knowing he'd already decided I was coming and would refuse to pick up the telephone again, I succumbed to the lure of another meal made without the use of human hands.
Ben's place, a cozy bungalow-style house in south Minneapolis, is a solid, fifty-year-old stucco. It's a three-bedroom, single-bath home as typically traditional on the outside as it is atypical on the inside. I've known Ben for five yearsâever since he bought the charmingly squat little house from my great aunt Gertie. Gertie, who feared being a “burden to family” in her old age, sold the house, bought a loft downtown and took off on a cruise of indefinite length. So far Gertie hasn't been a burden to anyone but Arthur Mason, the sweet seventysomething man she met in the cruise exercise class and promptly married.
Aunt Gertie has embraced this, her first marriage, like a bride fifty years younger. Poor Arthur has been the victim of Gertie's healthy cooking (miso soup, flounder and roasted cauliflower are her specialties), her constant redecorating of their loft (she's in an ultracontemporary phase right now and there is not a soft or rounded edge in the place) and healthy living (Arthur is currently enrolled in a kick-boxing class). When I'm her age, I want to be just like her.
The house must have a force field around it that attracts eccentrics. Otherwise, how could one home get two of them in a rowâfirst Aunt Gertie and now Ben, who, among his other distinctions is a physicist, research scientist, inventor and inveterate chess player?
He's also a great friend. My mother wishes he were my boyfriend, but it's not going to happen. Ben's very much an “in the moment” type guy. He has to be. He'd probably blow himself up if he weren't paying attention at all times.
It comforts my mother to think that her nearly thirty-year-old daughter has a man in her life, so I don't burst her bubble and tell her that there is not even a remote possibility it could be Ben. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Mom and Dad live in Florida now, where Dad is president of a small Christian college, so she's not available for constant romantic input.
I love Ben, but I don't
Ben. He's a “space saver,” like one of those promise rings young men give their girlfriends to wear on the ring finger of their left hands to save the space for something bigger and more permanent, like an engagement ring. Ben, who is a gem himself, is holding that space in my life right now. Frankly, I'm not sure if there is a diamond of a man out there for me. I worry about that sometimesâbut not enough to do anything about it.
I jogged up the walk and entered the house without knocking. Ben bounded toward me and grabbed my hand. “Come see The Timer, it is operational.”
Ben's working on an extension of the self-timing oven, the kind you can program to start cooking supper while you're still at work. Ben's not satisfied with a mere oven, however. He's invented a device that, in theory at least, will control all one's kitchen gadgetsâor any set of electrical appliancesâat once. Ben grew up with a mother who had difficulty getting the meat, potatoes and vegetables to the table hot at the same time. I think it damaged his psyche in some small way.
As we walked into the kitchen, the alarm rang on the oven, a radio began to play, coffee began to brew, water started to run in the sink and two pieces of toast sprang from the toaster and landed on the counter.
“Too much force,” Ben muttered. “I'll adjust that after lunch. There's soup in the Crock-Pot, a cake in the oven and your toast isâ” he gestured toward the counter “âthere.”
Ben loves to fool around with electricity and he plays with it much too often. He's finally promised me that he will never use The Timer on the electric mixer, heating pads, the electric chain saw or the egg poacher ever again. He's tried and it wasn't pretty.
I dished up the soup while he slathered canned frosting on the too-hot cake and it melted into the top, making a strange, lumpy glaze.
“Why do you keep fooling with this thing?” I asked as I dipped my finger into the odd-looking frosting. “If someone wants a fully electronic house, they can already buy it that way. Aren't you reinventing the wheel?”
“It's fun,” he said cheerfully. “Besides, it's not the destination, it's the journey.”
I suppose there can't be much fun in writing a book on quantum-something-or-other, which he's doing right now. He's got to enjoy life somehow.
Ben's almost too bright for his own good. He likes me because I'm levelheaded, down-to-earth and pragmatic, qualities that do not run freely in his family's DNA. Intelligence, however, is rampant. Ph.D. could be a pet family nickname, since everyone in his clan had one behind his or her name. Most of the Rands live life in the cloistered halls of higher education. None of them, however, can work an iPod, and they all get a deer-in-the-headlights look if I mention something as mundane as watching network television.
Not one of them understands that I enjoy making a living organizing other people's closets and coaching them to become their highest and best selves. Nor can the Rands comprehend that one can actually become certified and credentialed in such an endeavor. They'd all feel better if I said I were working on a project to reorder the thinking processes of homo sapiens between the ages of twenty and sixty with the
intent of creating natural anxiety suppressants. Now
something they could get their minds around.
“Are you going to church tonight?” I asked as I sipped my lukewarm soup. Ben and I often go together. I think of church as a sort of umbilical cord between me and God. The churchâbecause of the preaching and teaching of His word and the fellowship I find thereâis where I go for nutrients. It's one of my spiritual feeding stations, and I'm always hungry for God.
Ben teaches Sunday school, and I, among other things, occasionally volunteer in the nursery. Thanks to a few long stints in the crying room, I understand why my married friends say that spending a few hours with squalling babies is a great form of birth control. It certainly silences my biological time clock. After having my eardrums pierced by a colicky baby, I can't hear a tick or a tock for days.
He looked up sharply. “Is it Sunday already?” Ben also has difficulty with the calendar.
“No, silly. It's Wednesday. There's a concert.”
“Wednesday? I have a meeting at the university. Thanks for reminding me.”
He dished up a piece of cake the size of Rhode Island and put it in front of me. “How did yesterday go?”
“As well as can be expected, considering my client was born in the late 1930s and had parents who lived through the Depression.”
Ben nodded sagely. “Couldn't get her to throw anything out, huh?”
“She grew up with nothing, and is determined either consciously or subconsciously not to let that happen again. People like Mrs. Fulbright fight scarcity piece by piece, container by container. She's saved everything. I have to be gentle.”
Ben leaned forward and chucked me under the chin like I
was his favorite Irish setter. “You can't be anything but gentle, Sammi. You don't know how.”
Maybe I don't know how to be anything but gentle, but by the time I got to Carver Advertising through downtown traffic, two full parking garages, ten miles of skyway, a maze of gate-keepers, a handful of low-level minions and a bossy executive secretary, I was willing to learn.
What made it even worse was the handsome but fuming, ill-tempered man I rode up with in the elevator. He repeatedly punched the already lit button to the 23rd floor and tapped his toe at what he obviously viewed as an extraordinarily slow closing door. The elevator stopped at several floors, and at each one he scowled ferociously at those who entered. Everyone was able to escape his apparent temper by the 21st floor except me, so he glowered at me as if the entire leisurely elevator ride were my fault.
Too bad he was such a grouch. He would have been downright gorgeous without the scowl. He had dark hair, a nicely tanned complexion and eyes the color of a violet-blue sea. I didn't see his smile, of course, but unless he was a real Snagglepuss, he was first rate in the looks department.
He darted out of the elevator and down the hall even before I got a chance to look at the building directory listing the office number for Carver Advertising.
Lord, here we are. As always, I ask that I be Your representative as I meet new clients. Let Your light shine in me. Amen.
I've discovered that business is always better with God as a consultant. His services come free of charge, and He's never wrong. What better advisor could I have than that?
After a trip to the powder room to spruce up, I entered Suite 2307. A secretary looked me up and down skeptically, clearly
wondering what purpose I could serve. People sometimes respond to me that way. It's probably because I'm blond. Really blond. So blond that others assume those blond jokes were actually written about me. I smiled reassuringly at the receptionist and took a seat.
When I was a child my hair was nearly white. I was so fair that my parents insist they were forced to spend my inheritance on sunscreen and umbrellas. I blame my Nordic roots, the ones that also gave me rosy cheeks and wintry blue eyes. Much as I hate to admit it, I do look a littleâ¦wellâ¦Barbie-like, all fluff, no substance. I've spent much of my life dispelling that notion.
The other gift from my ancestors is more useful. I'm tall, long-legged and athletic. I work out a little and look like I work out a lot. And I've been skiing since I was five, when my father took me to Buck Hill and got me hooked. Skiing is great for every muscle group I own.
I sat back in my chair and looked around. Nice digs. A good gig if you could get it. Original artwork on the walls, carpet with a variety of colors cut into it to make the swooping design
for Carver Advertising, on the floor.
There wasn't a tired, out-of-date magazine, a stray dust mote or a streak on the bank of windows overlooking the city. There was nothing on the secretary's polished mahogany desk but the mandatory telephone and computer equipment, a few sheets of paper and a fountain pen. I couldn't begin to imagine what it was these people wanted organized.
It had been a long day, I realized as I waited for my summons into the inner sanctum of Carver Advertising. I rarely have the opportunity to sit down in a clutter-free environment that's not of my own making. It's very relaxing for a person who loves orderliness. I closed my eyes, relishing the tidiness and serenity that cocooned me. Unfortunately it was so relaxing that I nearly dozed off.
When I heard a man clear his throat and speak my name, I jumped to my full five-foot-nine-inch heightâfive-eleven if I count the heelsâand gave a startled, unfortunately loud squawk.
Not cool, I thought to myself as I gathered my scattered wits about me.
“Oh, ahâ¦sorryâ¦it was so calm and quiet in hereâ¦too many Cool Whip containersâ¦never mindâ¦.” I thrust out my hand. “Samantha Smith, organizational consultant. Let me help you organize your world.”
The man, his brown hair prematurely shot with gray, looked at me in bemusement. He was clean shaven in the way of men who use straight-edged razors rather than electric ones, and his well-scrubbed apple cheeks gleamed. He was round in a Has-The-Makings-of-a-Santa-Claus-Someday way, and his light green eyes twinkled.
“Miss Smith, my name is Ethan Carver. Thank you for coming on such short notice.” He eyed me with what was either amusement or indigestion. “I can see that your time must be consumed by many things.”
Totally embarrassed, I followed him into his office. If I were my dog, Imelda, my tail would have been between my legs. Imelda's tail is between her legs a lot, mostly because she lives up to her name.
Imelda, one of those “designer” dogs, a labradoodle, is a cross between a Labrador and a poodle. Imelda loves shoes. Adores them. She will eat as many as she can find. I didn't discover the depth and breadth of her shoe fetish until I'd had her nearly three months. I simply thought that I was forgetting my heels at the gym after work, and when I went back for them, they'd already walked off. The one place in my house that I do not clean weekly is under my bed. I have moveable storage compartments there, which I move only seasonally when I change my clothes from winter to summer
and vice versa. Imagine my shock, then, when I pulled out those containers to discover a horrific shoe cemetery in the space behind my winter clothes.
It took me days to get over the fact I'd been sleeping over a graveyardâthe sad, strange, lonely place my shoes had gone to die.