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Conquering clutter with a pro organizer

An after photo of Catherine McCann's bedroom makeover

An after photo of Catherine McCann's bedroom makeover in Center Moriches. "There were a lot of special mementos ... so instead of leaving them on the dresser top, we made a display on the top shelf of the bookcase, where we also corralled some of the larger stuffed animals," said organizer Lorraine Kimmey of Simply Organized Solutions. Credit: Jonny Milano

Your closets are out of control, your papers are scattered and you cannot find anything when you need it most -- the keys . . . your wallet . . . the dog's leash . . . your child's homework. Many people are victims of their own clutter and find the task of organizing overwhelming.

The top areas in the home where organizing services are requested include the garage, basement or attic, the home office or den, the master bedroom, the kitchen and closets throughout the home, according to the most recent survey by the National Association of Professional Organizers, the New Jersey-based trade group. Too much clutter, general disorganization, a difficulty determining what to discard, as well as trouble finding things are some of top reasons organizers are hired, the survey shows. Most organizers on Long Island charge between $50 and $125 per hour.

"Professional organizers create systems for their clients so a cluttered situation won't happen again," says Jayne Schoenbrun, whose company, Naturally OrganiZen, in Merrick, specializes in helping people declutter their spaces and use their time more efficiently.

In some cases, it is easier said than done. And, what may be a quick fix for one might be a difficult process for another. "One of my biggest challenges is persuading my clients to let go of their stuff," Schoenbrun says. "Rather than having their stuff accumulate and sit on a shelf and collect dust, I tell my clients to donate so someone else can enjoy it."

Newsday found three people with clutter issues -- all were happy to admit it and willing to share -- and teamed them up with a professional organizer for a day to help them transform an area in their homes. The results are neat, to say the least.


Caroline McCann, 46, communications executive, and her daughter, Catherine, 9, of Moriches

ROOM Catherine's bedroom

ISSUE "My daughter's bedroom is so small and she has so much stuff it is hard for her to keep it organized," said McCann.

THE PRO Lorraine Kimmey of Simply Organized Solutions in Blue Point

ORGANIZATIONAL CHALLENGE Stuffed animals (more than 100 of them), dolls (with accessories) and books (lots) cluttered the room. "Things had no 'home,' which made it difficult," Kimmey says.

RESOLUTION "We wanted Catherine to have a place to enjoy quiet-time activities and have friends visit," says Kimmey. They began by categorizing items as they cleared surfaces and then removing certain items from the room altogether. This made space for the dolls. "There was room in the closet for all the clothes and shoes, but we also had some cubbies where we put the stuffed animals so they would peek out when the door was opened," Kimmey says. "We put up picture boards and hung all the track medals from a peg on the wall. There were a lot of special mementos her daughter wanted to see, so, instead of leaving them on the dresser top, we made a display on the top shelf of the bookcase, where we also corralled some of the larger stuffed animals." They also rearranged furniture and labeled drawers and shelves. After the organizing was complete, they donated a bag of toys and clothes.


MISSING ITEMS FOUND Doll clothing, jewelry box pieces and a neon headband (which they bought for Catherine's neon day at school, but lost before the event).

TAKE-AWAY LESSON "It's hard to decide how to organize if you don't know how much of something you have to deal with," says Kimmey. "Categorizing things first helps you decide how ruthless or creative you need to be in the space you have available."

HOMEOWNER'S REACTION "I love that she was able to use things we already had, but reimagine the space to make sense of chaos and provide us with a neat but workable space."


Nadine Hillel, 46, a stay-at-home mother from Bellmore

ROOM Walk-in closet in master bedroom

ISSUE Hillel called her walk-in closet a "scary disaster." She said that it was so cluttered that she couldn't even "walk" into it. "I have no room to breathe in this closet," she said. "I shop a lot but don't get rid of anything. It's such a mess. I don't even know what I have."

THE PRO Jayne Schoenbrun of OrganiZen in Merrick

ORGANIZATIONAL CHALLENGE Hillel shares the closet with her husband, who collects model cars as a hobby. "The cars take up 25 percent of my closet," she said. "They are there because my husband ran out of space in the attic. We probably have more than 100 cars up there."

RESOLUTION "Nadine has a typical closet," said Schoenbrun. "She does have a lot of stuff, but it was manageable, and everything was able to be put away." They purged, sorted, folded and hung her clothes, shoes, belts and pocketbooks, as well as her husband's belongings, and created a system, organizing by color to make decisions faster and easier. Shoes and boots that were in season were placed on the floor; dressy and off-season shoes were stored in stackable plastic containers. The day was such a success that Schoenbrun left with eight bags to be donated to charity.

MISSING ITEMS FOUND A bathing suit cover-up, some jewelry and $100


TAKE-AWAY LESSON "When you organize, things should be 80 percent full and have 20 percent of swing room to move the items inside and out of a drawer or closet," says Schoenbrun. "If the clothes are bunched up, you will not have access to them."

HOMEOWNER'S REACTION "I can actually see the floor."


Karen Goodman, 46, human resources consultant from East Meadow

ROOM Dining room

ISSUE Goodman was using her dining room as an office and what she describes as an easy "catchall" for papers, schoolwork, projects and crafts. "It is a disaster," said the mother of two. "I avoid entertaining whenever possible because I have been unable to declutter the room since my twins were born." (Her twins, a boy and a girl, are now 7). "I have cleared out the room for many occasions, including my son's bris, numerous birthday parties, Thanksgiving dinners and seders, but each time I take one step forward, a couple of days later I am 10 steps backward."

THE PRO Cynthia Braun, who owns Organize Your Life in Lake Grove and is also a certified feng shui consultant

ORGANIZATIONAL CHALLENGE Paper management was one of the biggest issues in the dining room. Goodman also had projects and crafts all over the table that needed to be contained, and she had held onto all of her children's school projects. Cords from different electronics -- printers, camera, phones -- were all around.

RESOLUTION "She doesn't have an easy paper management system," Braun said. "The file cabinet needs to be purged first, and then she needs to set up a new system." In the meantime, Braun set up a system that Goodman could maintain on her own. Interim baskets were set up for papers by topic: personal, financial, work and home. The children's art projects were put in labeled bins in the basement. Braun suggested Goodman keep her children's school projects that were of personal significance and discard the more generic ones. She labeled the electric cords and filed manuals. She collected many bags filled with garbage, bags filled with papers that needed to be shredded and bags with items that were to be donated.

MISSING ITEM FOUND $25 gift certificate


TAKE-AWAY LESSON "People keep everything because they do not take the time to decide what to keep, and organizing is all about making decisions," Braun said. "It has to come into your life on a daily basis, or else it catches up on you." When it comes to paper management, 80 percent of papers should get thrown out or shredded, she says.

HOMEOWNER'S REACTION "The experience is emotionally freeing."


Here are some stylish yet functional products that will keep your home clutter-free and looking beautiful. Happy organizing!

* The Calphalon Oval Ceiling Stainless Steel Pot Rack prevents pots and pans from piling up in the kitchen. Made from heavy-gauge stainless steel and measuring 18-by-36 inches. $139.99 at

* The Corner Hammock and Toy Chain from Dreambaby features a 6-foot chain and 20 movable hooks for hanging toys, stuffed animals, hats, etc. Mounting hardware is included. Items are machine washable. $10.99 at

* The Honey Can Do 8-Piece Room & Laundry Kit has all the essentials for staying organized. The set includes a 12-pair, over-the-door shoe rack, eight-shelf closet organizer, pop-open hamper, mesh laundry bag and four storage drawers. $166 at

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