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Let the Sunshine In:
With help from a pro, a Webster woman whips her cluttered porch into shape

Democrat and Chronicle, 5/21/05
Lisa Hutchurson, Staff Writer

Clutter to organizedIt's a completely different place in here. Sunlight, no longer obstructed, floods the 9-by-15-foot room. The floor, completely clear, now accommodates the kitchen table. Wooden storage boxes, topped with a tablecloth and lamp, have replaced the gray file cabinets used to store pans.

"I thought it would be functional," remarks Dorothy Madden, "but not this beautiful."

Madden, owner of Organize It! in Penfield, helped MaryLee Bucci clean her enclosed porch last month as part our yearlong series on the problem of clutter.

Bucci explained how her husband, John, stays busy running his own business and how she cares for a disabled niece in addition to her 5- and 8-year-old sons, Maxwell and Noah.

The cleanup of her porch spurred purges throughout the rest of the house in order to create homes for the porch's many exiles. The project took 54 hours to complete over 15 days, cost $200 in storage supplies and yielded 17 bags of garbage and four boxes of donations.

Also, Bucci surprised us by journaling her experience. So here's what she did and how she felt about it:

April 12. Meet with Dorothy.

April 13. With Dorothy's help, sort items that need to come off the porch into piles labeled with rooms where they'll go. Deliver piles to rooms. Brainstorm how to increase, improve storage on porch and rest of house. Take wall measurements for shelving.

April 14. Buy triangular mesh hamper (for corner between two perpendicular shelving units, to hold plastic bags) and 10 large plastic bins. Call stores ahead of time to see what they've got.

April 15. With Dorothy's and another's help, sort food and related items (taken off porch shelves) into labeled plastic bins in kitchen. Toss garbage and rusty baking pans. Empty deep kitchen cupboards to purge old food and make room for vertically stored baking pans and sheets (easier access) and large countertop appliances from porch. Frequently used items in basement pantry go to porch; seldom-used items in porch go to basement. Toss bad shelving. Bring cereal and toaster from porch to kitchen (easier access). Remove Tupperware from back cabinet; use cabinet to hide untidy looking bags of snacks.

April 16. Return recyclables, plastic storage bins and shelving (storage items no longer needed because of change in plans). Buy decor (lamp, tablecloth, etc.).

April 17. Purge clothes from storage room to accommodate porch items. Create labeled donation box. Wash porch windows and sliding glass doors. "I wasn't done washing the doors when Maxy came along and placed his hand on the glass and left his beautiful little handprint! I hate housework. It's never done. ... I would rather be outside with my kids. ..."

April 18. Sort through four boxes. Purge box of clothes. Brother hangs 5-foot-square wire shelving unit in storage room; will hold clothes moved from two shelving units that will now house porch overflow.

"Without someone else here I feel indecisive and completely overwhelmed. I'm looking at the lists Dorothy made and realize I'm adding things."

"I even make a label for one of my clean totes and itemize what has been placed in there. It's so boring! I hate it, but I hear Dorothy's voice and can see the end of the clutter tunnel. ... Right-brained people, I believe, don't mind waiting for the end result of a creative endeavor, but doing this left-brained, monotonous stuff squashes us."

"My mind is spinning from being tired and pulled in a lot of directions. It's so much easier to work without the kids around. ... I have to call it quits for the day."

April 19. Remove winter clothes from storage room. Keep like things together by removing winter pants, jeans from bedroom closet. Sort, refold and line up tees on shelf in color-coordinated stacks. Store winter clothes; donate some; Sort through a box.

"I'm feeling good! I worked an hour and it's looking good. I would work more but motherhood calls. ... I'm optimistic, but reality hits and I realize all the unfolded and unwashed clothes still need to be sorted and put away and/or donated. Probably a four-hour task, easily. I call my mom and beg for help. She'll come if she feels better at the end of the week."

April 20. Sort through four boxes; put away some items, sort others into piles. Continue cleaning and purging porch, working on storage room. Help kids clean rooms. Neighbor hangs shelf in Maxy's room. Schedule donations pickup.

"I even turn down a play date and mommy socialization time to do 'my list' (from Dorothy). I'm further ahead of the game than I'd planned and it feels really good."

"Every day I go into that (storage room), I look at something and wonder, 'Why did I choose to keep this? Maybe it should go in the decide later box,'" and I undo some of what I've done. ... (Dorothy) talks me through my aggravation."

April 21. Finish organizing storage room. "Dorothy's lists are on the fridge, I've calendared my goals and I plan to keep the dates with myself and accomplish what was once the impossible for me!"

April 22. Mom helps with laundry. Purge clothes; donate to make space in storage room.

"You continue because there's a little piece of you that wants life to be a little more orderly and because you have a professional telling you that you're doing great and talking you through the questions. She's the positive drive behind you and it empowers you not to be beaten by those around you who are pessimistic that you'll achieve your goal."

"I try not to dwell on the whole picture. ... (Dorothy) has said it's a big downfall for me."

"Noah ... got some boxes and started organizing his room. I've been talking about my experience and it has obviously had some impact."

"Does anyone realize the emotional energy that goes into this? I may be too attached to things. ...We had a fire in third grade. ... Everything of mine was gone. ... My brother had no set boundaries and would take whatever of mine he wanted. So I became possessive of my belongings. As I realize these things, it's easier to let go of items I no longer need."

April 23. Kids sort through boxes in rooms. Hang kids' artwork on clothesline. Set up table, tablecloth and lamp.

April 24. Itemize donations.

April 25. Dorothy assigns homes to items in piles. "Dorothy arrives around 11 (a.m.). She takes a look around at my progress and is amazed at the porch and the closet. She also looks at Maxy's new shelf and laundry baskets and Noah's clean room that he did himself and is proud of all of us. ... It's a really joyful time for the two of us, and we take a few moments to reflect and look forward. She has all confidence in me that the rest of the house will soon follow."

Reprinted with the permission of the Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, NY