Hoarding Barbie

I’d always assumed that our gal Barbie had a home as spotless as her appearance. After all, being a fashion icon and celebrity demands a perpetual focus on image and style. But St. Louis-based photographer/artist Carrie M. Becker sees things a little differently.

Becker gives us a glimpse into Barbie’s home here on her Flickr account. Called “Barbie Trashes Her Dreamhouse”, Becker’s installation depicts, in 1/16th scale, what appears to be a hoarder’s typical decor: piles of bags, random papers, empty cups, grimy and cluttered surfaces, heaps of clothing, storage bins and box after box after box.

Most photos of hoarders’ spaces trigger repugnance and disgust, but the comments on Becker’s work have been consistently positive. “Amazing” and “awesome” appear repeatedly. One visitor even wanted to know how she made the teeny brown paper bags. (Becker says she shrunk a template for a paper bag down to 1/16th of its original size.)

Becker told Bust magazine that her inspiration came from watching too many “Hoarders” episodes. I suspect her work’s appeal is that the joke is on the viewer. We initially feel disgust and maybe sympathy for someone afflicted with an obsessive compulsive disorder–but then realize the entire environment we see is artificial and has been manipulated to trigger those feelings. We then feel relief that no such full-size home exists and can marvel at the creativity and steady hands that crafted what is art instead of a cry for help.

Do you find these pictures entertaining or disturbing–or both?

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Easy, quick and effective organizing tips, courtesy of Debbie

My friend Debbie is a blogger extraordinaire, a writer, a mom, a volunteer, a busy person (that goes without saying, I suppose) and a smartly frugal person. So when she had her kitchen remodeled, she came up with some inexpensive (read: IKEA) solutions to keep her kitchen’s small items tidy and easy to find. Check out her descriptions and photos of how she tamed clutter and created simple, practical systems.
Debbie’s strategies show that organizing isn’t about spending thousands of dollars (or even hundreds) on products. Instead, it’s about making your space work for you.

You can see that she’s grouped like items together, such as all cookbooks on a shelf and spices arranged in a pullout spice rack, which I’m coveting. None of her drawers or shelves are crammed with items, either, so she can quickly find what she needs.

And she admits in her post that the IKEA Rationell drawer dividers didn’t fit perfectly into her drawers, but she’s OK with that. Sometimes people get so caught up on having the perfect system in place that they lose sight of what that system is supposed to do. Debbie’s system works for her and her family, and she’s not digging through clutter to find her melon baller and her egg slicer. Really, that’s what organizing is all about.

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one drawer at a time

Spring cleaning has begun in earnest around here, and what better place to start than my desk? And what better way to start than small? Starting small means you have less to lose if you don’t succeed. There’s less at stake. And it’s far less intimidating to begin a small project. You’re also more likely to complete it.

I recently spent about 30 minutes cleaning out my desk drawer. It had become a jumble of office supplies I use regularly. I didn’t need to discard things as much as I need to group like items together so I could see exactly what I had and find it easily. As you can see, the result is a more efficient, less crowded space that lets me see in a glance what I’m looking for. Now I can easily find the whale-shaped paperclips my son bought for me after I finished reading Moby-Dick.

You can use this method to organize any space, too:

— Remove all the contents.

— Clean the space.

— Discard/donate anything you don’t need or want. Put items that belong elsewhere in their proper place.

— Group like items together.

— Return the contents to the space, using containers (bins, boxes, etc.) to keep them tidy.

— Maintain your system by putting items back where they belong and tidying up periodically.

BEFORE. No wonder I was constantly rummaging through my supplies to find paper clips and sticky notes.

AFTER. Ah, bliss. Like items are grouped together, and everything is visible immediately. No more scrambling for staples.

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Bad Organizing Advice

It’s spring, and women’s magazines are bursting with their usual pieces on spring cleaning and, of course, getting organized. Most tips are either really self-evident, such as shred documents that contain financial information or your Social Security number and toss spices that have lost their aroma.

But there are always a few tips that make professional organizers shudder. Here are two from the April 27 issue of All You magazine:

“Gather all children’s books and put them back on the shelf.” That sounds fine to me. But here’s the kicker: “Alphabetize books by author’s name to create a miniature library.”

As if parents don’t have enough to do. Now they’re supposed to play librarian and arrange books alphabetically, only to have a sticky-fingered toddler yank them off the shelf? Don’t even bother. If you have young children, corral board books in a basket or bin so kids can easily find what they’re looking for and can help clean up. If your kids are older, there’s no reason they can’t replace books after they’re done reading them.

“Put plush pals in a large bin or upholstered storage ottoman.” No, no, no. Please don’t. Not unless you want your kids to forget about its contents. For children and adults, out of sight is out of mind. That’s why toy boxes are bad news too. If you must “containerize,” stick with clear plastic bins labeled with a photo of what goes inside so kids can clean up on their own.

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‘Hoarding Goes Digital’

Organizing continues to make headlines. Did you see today’s Wall Street Journal article on digital hoarding? Melinda Beck’s story opens with an Illinois man who has 4,000 digital books, 2,000 CDs and at least 1,300 emails.

Whoa. I feel overwhelmed just contemplating what his in-box must look like. and 4,000 books? This digital hoarder, Mark Carter, says he stockpiles data because “I worry they may vanish from the Net or that I’ll want them sometime when I’m away from from my Internet connection.”

His rationale sounds a lot like what hoarders of material goods say to explain their behavior. Therapists quoted in the article note that digital hoarding can have the same roots as any other type of hoarding: perfectionism, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety.

Of course the sheer volume of digital data we all must handle can overwhelm even the most scrupulously organized. Instead of 24 photos on a roll of film shot at a party, we have unlimited pictures. Email floods our in-boxes at a rate far greater than letters ever filled our mailboxes. And the cloud is pretty much an infinite storage unit: We can keep packing digital data into the ever-expanding cloud and never have to make any decisions about what to keep and what to delete.

How to manage this barrage of digital data? The article suggests unsubscribing to newsletters you don’t read and trying to clear out your in-box daily. I can attest that’s easier said than done. But I realize the items lingering in my in-box are tasks or ideas I haven’t (yet?) followed up on. I could probably empty it if I forced myself to make some decisions or scheduled a few appointments with myself to review those emails and act on them. Not a bad idea, come to think of it.

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Organizer as “clergy and personal savior”?

I think that’s a little much, don’t you? But maybe I’m not giving my profession enough credit. In yesterday’s New York Times, reporter Penelope Green says that in the past few decades, organizers have risen from obscurity of recognized specialists in managing clutter and taming chaos.

She writes: “In a secular culture, clutter may be the closest thing we have to original sin. Following this metaphor, the organizer is both clergy and personal savior.” Check out the full article here.

She also interviews Angela Wallace, president of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), which is holding its national conference this weekend in Baltimore.

Angela’s a Bay Area resident and a familiar sight at our local NAPO meetings. She gives a wide-ranging and educational interview on all things organizing, from whether the proliferation of Container Stores is a good thing to why she doesn’t save clients’ records.

I especially liked her insights on how to choose an organizer. She says, “It’s experience and also chemistry. Will their skills support what you’re trying to do? The organizer doesn’t just come in and tell you what to do. It’s more a matter of working with you and helping you to make the decision. Organization is not a destination. You do not arrive at being organized. It’s a process you have to constantly maintain.”

“Organization is not a destination” … what a great insight. I hope she doesn’t mind if I adopt it as a mantra!


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Handbags: Declutter and do good

Now’s a great time to dig deep into your closets and drawers and pull out the handbags you haven’t been using. Someone needs them. She’s a job seeker who wants to make a great impression in an interview but can’t afford a business-appropriate purse. 

Career Closet of San Jose, which equips as many as 40 job-seekers each week, is in desperate need of business handbags in good, great and excellent condition. This non-profit helps domestic violence victims, at-risk youth, recovering addicts and displaced homemakers enter or reenter the workforce.

Career Closet is one of my favorite causes because I’ve seen the good work they do and how dedicated their volunteers are to serving each client with dignity and kindness. And they’re the perfect recipient of work clothing and accessories.

If you live in the Bay Area, you can drop off your purses at locations in San Jose or Foster City. If you’re based elsewhere, box up your bags and mail them to the San Jose site. 

The next question to ponder: What will you do with all that extra room in your closet?


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